From the depths of a forgotten grave rise the echoes of a deadly conspiracy
. . .
When widowed financial consultant and sometime detective Bay Tanner flees Paris and the collapse of her short-lived affair with Interpol agent Alain Darnay,
she finds herself drawn into yet another of the dark mysteries that seem to swirl around her father's antebellum mansion in Beaufort, South Carolina. No sooner has she unloaded her bags than she senses trouble between retired Judge
Talbot Simpson and his longtime housekeeper/companion, Lavinia Smalls. Whator whohas driven a wedge between these two people who have been the bedrock of Bay's existence since her childhood? And why won't either of them talk about it? Then a phone call from her partner-in-crime-solving, Erik Whiteside, sets in motion a chain of events that will ultimately expose the dark underbelly of the aristocratic local society in which she grew up.
Erik's old college drinking buddy, archaeologist Gray Palmer, has uncovered a grave on an obscure island just off the South Carolina coast and hints the bones may be those of a murder victim. But before Bay and Erik can learn the details, Palmer turns up dead himself and in a particularly gruesome way. Spurred on by Gray's exotic girlfriend and his estranged father's offer of a sizeable reward, they methodically peel back the layers of deceit and cover-up carefully constructed over decades by those who have everything to lose if the grave injustices of Judas Island are ever brought to light.
. . . . . . . . . .
"Sue Grafton, Sara Paretsky, and Marcia Muller come to mind as the quintessential writers of the modern female private eye novel. Wall, in a quiet and unassuming way, has produced a body of work of equal quality. Highly recommended."
About the Author
Kathryn Wall was an accountant for 25 years in Ohio before retiring with her husband to Hilton Head, South Carolina.
Read an Excerpt
A Bay Tanner Mystery
By Kathryn R. Wall
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2004 Kathryn R. Wall
All rights reserved.
I flung my arm across the wide expanse of bed, but my fingers encountered only rumpled, silky emptiness. I cracked open one eye against the shaft of sunlight seeping into the room through a chink in the wooden shutters. When I had verified that he was in fact gone, I hitched the duvet up around my bare shoulders and snuggled back down into the warmth he'd left behind.
Probably picking up the papers. I stretched and rolled over onto my side, picturing Darnay passing the time with Madame Srabian and her son over a demitasse of the thick Algerian coffee he loved. As I drifted back into a light doze, I hoped he'd remember to bring me the English-language version of the New York Times along with one or two of Madame's croissants. Though my French was fast improving, I still couldn't manage Le Monde, especially on an empty stomach ...
It could have been an hour or only minutes later when the sharp rapping on the outside door finally penetrated my sluggish brain. I rolled out, snatching up the shirt Darnay had left draped on the bedpost the night before. Not much in the way of a robe, but at least it covered the important parts. Besides, I expected my caller would prove to be Darnay himself.
As I padded down the hallway and across the worn Aubusson carpet covering the front room of the vast apartment, I could envision him just on the other side of the massive old door: the newspapers, a huge box of pastries, and a net bag full of fruit from the little stand on the corner clutched to his chest as he fumbled for his keys.
We never had visitors except, occasionally, his chic, sour-faced sister Madeleine, and she, thank God, was spending the month at the house in Provençe.
But the smile of welcome died on my lips when I flung open the door to a young man in yellow-and-black spandex, his long orange hair flowing from beneath a bullet-shaped bicycle helmet. Unconsciously I took a step back, my fingers working of their own accord to fasten the top button of the wrinkled white shirt.
"M. Darnay, s'il vous plaît."
I watched him check out the long expanse of bare leg that constituted a good part of my five-foot, ten-inch frame, his gaze lingering in a couple of places along the way, before his knowing eyes finally fastened on my face. The grin was pure French; and, because I had grown used to their frankness in my four months of living in Paris, I tried not to take offense. "Il n'est pas chez nous. Puis-je vous aider?"
I was pretty sure I'd gotten it right, and Darnay swore my pronunciation improved daily.
"Êtes-vous sa femme?"
"Non, seulement une amie. Pourquoi?"
Now that we'd established that Darnay was not there, and that I was not his wife but merely a friend, the courier seemed at a loss. He consulted his watch then flipped through some papers attached to a metal clipboard. Finally, with a shrug that exemplified the live-and-let-live attitude of almost everyone in this marvelous city, he thrust a pen into my hand. "Nombre sept, mademoiselle."
I scratched Bay Tanner on line seven and accepted the bulky envelope. It bore no return address, but the label looked as if it had been computer-generated. Perhaps something he's ordered, I thought, although a catalogue shipment would have come through the mail or by one of the overnight delivery services, not a special courier. I turned the package over in my hand then looked up, surprised to see my admirer still studying me intently. I was trying to formulate a stinging rebuke he might possibly understand when it dawned on me he was waiting for a tip.
Since I so obviously had no pockets, I left him standing in the doorway as I dropped the envelope onto the Louis XIV console table and sprinted back into the bedroom. I snatched a few francs from my wallet and paused long enough to pull on a pair of black leggings before returning to thrust the bills into the messenger's hand. He looked disappointed, whether from the size of the tip or from my more modest state of attire, I couldn't tell.
Again I studied the package, squeezing it gently in an effort to determine exactly what it might contain. It felt like a thick wad of paper, although that could have been padding for something fragile or easily crushed. Which might explain the courier. The French postal service was no better than its American counterpart when it came to complying with such optimistic requests as "Handle with Care." With a shrug I propped the envelope up against one of the heavy brass candlesticks on the console.
I was heading down the hall to our one bathroom, visions of a long soak in the mammoth, claw-footed tub sending little murmurs of anticipation vibrating in my throat, when I heard the click of the lock. Alain Darnay, burdened much as I had imagined him just a few minutes before, sidled into the entryway and pushed the door closed with a sharp thrust of his right hip. I hurried to meet him, laughing as I disentangled his long fingers from the string bag of oranges and peaches dangling from his hand.
"Thank God!" he exclaimed and dropped a brief kiss on the end of my nose. "I thought I might not make that last flight of stairs." He hurried into the narrow kitchen to deposit his other treasures on the old oak table. We took most of our meals there, despite the magnificence of the formal dining room just a few steps away.
"Here, let me help." I stacked the heavy newspapers off to one side, drew a sharp paring knife from the old wooden block on the counter, and cut the twine on the pastry box while Darnay shrugged out of his jacket.
Even in the bulky fisherman's sweater and baggy corduroy pants, he looked too thin. I had made it my mission over the past few months to feed him back into the vigorous health he had enjoyed before an encounter with a bullet nearly ended our burgeoning love affair, along with his life. That my amateur investigation into a series of gruesome murders had been the cause of this misery still lay like a hard kernel of guilt in my chest.
"Jean sends his regards," he said, rubbing his hands together to warm them as I set the kettle on for tea. Despite the time-worn words of the old song, April in Paris was turning out to be gray and decidedly cold. "He wants to know when you'll be available for his next lesson."
Madame's twelve-year-old son and I had worked out a mutual assistance pact, he for his English and I for my French. We met as often as his schoolwork allowed, usually while exploring the markets, shops, and parks which abounded in our little neighborhood of tree-lined boulevards.
"I nearly forgot," Darnay said, pausing in the midst of peeling and slicing the fruit to reach for the jacket he had slung over the back of a chair. "I picked up the poste on my way up. There seems to be something for you." He grinned as he waved the white envelope. "From the colonies, I believe." I snatched it from his hand just as the kettle set up its insistent whistle. "Go ahead and read it, ma petite. I'll make the tea."
The letter was from my father. Retired Judge Talbot Simpson, wheelchair-bound after a series of strokes, steadfastly refused to succumb to such modern conveniences as e-mail or the trans-Atlantic telephone system. While I kept in close touch with most of my friends and acquaintances via the Internet, I was still forced to wait upon the whims and vagaries of the international postal service for word from the Judge.
I spread the pages out on the table while Darnay poured tea. I marveled at the steadiness of my father's handwriting, despite his infirmity and the fact that his eightieth birthday was fast approaching. Absently I slathered butter on a still-warm croissant, smiling to myself at the gossip which had become the lifeblood of the Judge's existence in the small town of Beaufort, South Carolina, just up the road from my own home on Hilton Head Island.
Home, I thought, my eyes darting to Alain Darnay.
He had spread out the newspaper Le Monde across the old wooden table and sat hunched over it, absorbed by some article, while he sucked the sweet juice from a dripping section of orange.
I sighed and blew across the rim of my cup, then sipped the hot, strong tea.
As soon as he had been pronounced healed by his bosses at Interpol, who had spirited their best undercover agent away immediately after his wounding, I had sped to Paris. To this apartment, this life. Widowed nearly two years before by my husband Rob's murder, it had seemed imperative to find out if I could find it in myself to commit to another man. To Darnay. Four months later, I still didn't have an answer.
I flipped to the second page of the letter, smiling despite myself at my father's seemingly endless store of anecdotes about his old cronies in local politics and law enforcement. Including my brother-in-law, Beaufort County Sheriff's Sergeant Red Tanner, a younger, shorter version of my dead husband. Red occupied a special place in my life, the spot I would have reserved for an annoying but well-loved brother if my parents had seen fit to provide me with one. I missed him, too.
The paper rattled as Darnay turned to a new section. I looked up to find his steel-blue eyes fixed on mine. "Everything all right?"
"Fine," I answered and popped the remaining bite of croissant into my mouth.
"Bien." He bent again to his newspaper.
I read through the remaining few paragraphs, pleased to find that Lavinia Smalls, our family's housekeeper through most of my childhood and now my father's caregiver and companion, had added a few lines at the bottom. She conveyed news of my longtime friend Bitsy and her children, reported on the health and well-being of her own son and his family, and asked when I thought I might be coming home. Twice.
"Bay?" Once again I found Darnay staring at me from across the table. "Are you sure everything is fine? You look troubled, ma petite."
I smiled and shook my head, confused and embarrassed at the wave of longing that swept over me at Lavinia's question. Home? Of course it was. But Darnay's life was here. Despite having retired from Interpol, he was bound to France, not only by his father's heritage, but by the land. The small vineyard would be his as soon as his health permitted him to claim it. His sister Madeleine could barely wait to take possession of the sprawling Paris apartment.
At first we did not discuss our life together any farther than the next day, the next outing — to the palace at Versailles, to the marvelous castle at Chenonçeaux, to Monet's gardens at Giverny, no doubt bursting soon, in spite of the cold, into glorious spring color. We had both been content to let the days of rediscovering each other drift from one week into the next, both of us fearful of planning too far ahead. Life had taught us the futility of that, but sooner or later we would have to decide.
I would have to decide.
Absorbed in my own thoughts, I hadn't registered his moving until I felt his warm breath against the side of my neck. I leaned back into his arms.
"You are homesick, n'est-ce pas? Would you like to go for a visit?"
"Could we?" I tried to keep the excitement out of my voice, but all of a sudden the idea of it seemed to consume me. "Are you sure you're up to it? I mean, you are nearly finished with the doctors, but what about therapy? Are you strong ...?"
"Sshhh! Tais-toi!" He pressed one finger against my lips. "Why don't you check the Internet for flights, see what can be arranged? Go on, let me finish my newspaper in peace."
I kissed the hand that trailed across my cheek then flew toward the bedroom where Alain's laptop computer rested incongruously on an ornately gilded little bureau. I could be booking flights in a matter of minutes. By this time tomorrow, I thought, we could be stepping off the plane in Savannah into warmth and sunshine and the sweet scents of home.
I checked my headlong dash down the hallway as I passed the console beneath the heavy gilt mirror. I scooped up the package and reversed my steps back into the kitchen.
"Alain, I completely forgot! This came for you by messenger just before you got home."
I slid it onto the table, startled by his grunt of surprise and a barely perceptible recoil, as if the padded envelope were alive — and dangerous. For a moment he stared, his hands still gripping the edges of Le Monde, his cheeks drained of even the faint color the chill April sun had given him during his morning walk.
"What is it? Alain?" I prodded when he didn't reply.
With leaden arms, he lowered the paper and ran his fingers lightly across the address label. He turned it over, testing the contents much as I had done when it had been placed into my hands. Then with a sigh he said, "Un couteau, s'il vous plaît."
I handed him the same small knife I had used for the string on the pastry box, and he slit open the envelope. It was paper, several sheets of computer printout, with a handwritten note clipped to the upper left-hand corner. I could make out nothing of the heavy script except for the signature: LeBrun.
I didn't need a translator. The guilty excitement in Alain's eyes told me all I needed to know. LeBrun ran Interpol. Darnay had indeed recovered enough to travel.
And they wanted him back.CHAPTER 2
The Airport limousine negotiated the last of the ruts in the dusty dirt road and eased into the circular drive in front of Presqu'isle. I'd had the window rolled down during the entire one-hour trip from Savannah, and I leaned out to reacquaint myself with the sight of my childhood home. The tall, square-columned house sat high on its arched foundation of tabby, its split staircase gleaming with a fresh coat of white paint in the late afternoon sun.
The driver shut off the engine then moved around to the back of the vehicle to fling open the trunk. Behind me I heard his grunts as he hefted the luggage onto the ground. I sat, my chin resting on my arms, savoring the familiar smell of pluff mud and decay drifting up from the narrow strip of marsh that bordered St. Helena Sound at the rear of the property. In the warm silence of April in the Lowcountry I heard the muted cries of the curlews and ibis, the drumlike cadence of a woodpecker attacking the bole of a loblolly pine, and the high scream of a solitary gull as he skimmed along the shoreline in search of food and his fellows.
The driver paused, one highly polished black shoe resting on the first of the sixteen steps leading up to the verandah. "Ma'am," he called, indicating with a nod the two oversized suitcases he struggled with, "you want them all up here?"
"What?" I mumbled, startled by the sharp interruption of my dreamy reverie, then, "Oh, the bags. Sure. Up on the porch is fine. I'll be right there."
I retrieved my tote from the floor next to my feet and pulled a twenty from my wallet, glancing to the empty seat beside me. With a brief shake of my head to clear the tears I felt rising in my throat, I pushed open the car door. I slung the jacket of my rumpled suit over one arm and followed the driver up the steps.
I leaned against the railing and gazed out across the front lawn. A carpet of pink and white petals lay strewn beneath the line of shrubs bordering the road, evidence that I had missed the azaleas in bloom. If the weather gods smiled, spring almost always came early to this southernmost tip of the Carolinas, bathed in soft breezes out of Florida and nudged gently by the warmth of the Gulf Stream as it meandered by off shore.
"I can take these inside if you like."
I turned at his voice, the nasal twang and harsh vowels betraying him as a Yankee transplant, one of thousands who swelled our already exploding population every month.
"No thanks, that's fine." I reached to hand him the twenty as he set the last two smaller cases next to the larger ones, arranging them so that all the edges were perfectly aligned.
An obsessive-compulsive Yankee, no less, I thought and smiled at his nod of thanks. He'd go far in this land of "Fiddle-dee-dee, I'll just worry about that tomorrow." No doubt he'd own the limousine company one day.
The longing for a cigarette jolted me, and I actually felt my hand reaching into my bag before my conscious mind ordered it to halt. I had quit, with only a little help from the various nicotine-replacement aids, as soon as it became apparent that Darnay's damaged lung could not tolerate the intrusion of smoke — his own or anyone else's. With that kind of incentive it had been much less stressful than I'd ever imagined. Strangely emancipating as well, and not just because I was no longer burdened with the paraphernalia of smoking. For the most part I had conquered the need. Incredible, too, that I had found the commitment so easy to keep in a country where everyone lit up everywhere, and no-smoking signs were as rare as restaurants that didn't serve wine.
Excerpted from Judas Island by Kathryn R. Wall. Copyright © 2004 Kathryn R. Wall. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Little disappointed with the abrupt ending but overall a great book