Sixty-year-old retiree Chris Landrum has simple needs: stay healthy, avoid sunburns, and steer clear of vacationers on the small South Carolina island where he hopes to live out his remaining years. But when local teenager Samuel Perkins pulls Chris aside and tells him he just witnessed the kidnapping of a beauty queen right off Folly Beach, Chris wonders if his hopes for a peaceful retirement have just disappeared with the sunset.
While Chris and his close friend, Charles-a faux detective-contemplate whether Samuel actually witnessed a horrific crime, dead bodies begin appearing on Folly Beach. But with trouble brewing within the ranks of the police department and a newly elected mayor nurturing a vendetta against Chris, the two men have their work cut out for them as they launch their own investigation. As the body count rises and the list of suspects increases, Charles suddenly becomes the target for a serial killer intent on eliminating anyone who gets in his way.
In this new installment in the Folly Beach Mystery series, Chris and Charles must rely on help from a few eclectic acquaintances to solve the murders before a cold-blooded murderer strikes again.
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MISSINGA Folly Beach Mystery
By Bill Noel
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2013 Bill Noel
All right reserved.
Chapter OneHotter summers had vacationed on Folly Beach before, or so they said. This was the worst I'd experienced in my six years there. A cheery television meteorologist had shared that the thermometer was pushing triple digits, and with the skyrocketing humidity, it felt much hotter. I had just left my photo gallery, where the ancient, undersized air conditioner had failed miserably to bring comfort to the few-and-far-between customers and the slightly overweight, aging proprietor. If anyone had stopped to offer me an Alaskan cruise, I'd have been packing.
A cruise wasn't in the offing, so rushing was unnecessary. I was in my early sixties and retired, and with the exception of Landrum Gallery, which had been named after yours truly in a moment of egotistical delight, my obligations were few. These included staying healthy, avoiding sunburns, keeping out of the way of the hyper vacationers on my small South Carolina island, and living out my remaining years enjoying the place. And there was much to enjoythe sights and sounds of the majestic Atlantic Ocean, nearby beautiful and historic Charleston, and more friends than I'd ever had. Not to mention the thanks I gave for still being able to get around. Despite those pluses, the heat still sucked.
My cottage was only a few blocks from the gallery on Center Street, the literal and retail center of the island, so I could have walked home. I told myself that with the heat, it was safer to drive. That was my rationalization for driving when it was hot. I had other rationalizations for driving at different times of year. Walking was a close cousin to one of my allergiesexercise
I pulled my SUV into the side yard beside my house. I had learned years ago that on the quirky island, yards often served as driveways. I didn't want to be different.
I was occasionally greeted on my porch by a curious rabbit or a small lizard. But today I was surprised to see Samuel Perkins on my front step, fanning his face with a menu from a local pizza restaurant. It was late afternoon and the step was shaded by the house, but it was still skillet hot.
"Afternoon, Mr. Landrum," said the ever-polite, perspiring young man. It was strange being referred to that way since I preferred being called by my first name, Chris.
Samuel had turned fifteen a couple of months ago, but I'd first met him on my inaugural visit to Folly Beach. I'd been walking around the island photographing sights that I thought were unusual at the time, though I was later to learn that they were the rule rather than the exception, when Samuel startled me as I photographed a bottle tree in his neighbor's yard. The fifteen-year-old Samuel bore little resemblance to the towheaded youngster I had first met, other than his wide-eyed smile that revealed a youthful curiosity. He now stood five foot ten and looked me directly in the eyes. He was still trim, but muscles puffing out the sleeves of his black golf shirt told me that he'd spent more time working out than on a computer. The hem of his bright-red shorts fell far below his knees, and his black tennis shoes had covered more miles than many newer-model cars.
"Hot enough for you?" I asked, being the consummate conversationalist.
He nodded and gave me an exasperated look that was not uncommon coming from teens to the "elderly."
I wiped away a trickle of sweat that had rolled down my cheek. "What brings you here?" I asked.
Samuel turned his head to the left; his long brown hair flopped toward the door. It looked like it had been cut by a lawnmower with a dull blade. I translated the move as his wanting to get out of the heat. He got no argument from me.
He followed me into the small living room. "Something to drink?" I asked. "Got Coke, bottled water?" The refrigerator was also stocked with double bottles of white wine and a six-pack of Coors Light, but I wasn't going there with my young friend.
"Coke would be nice," he said. He watched as I walked to the kitchen.
He started to follow but turned and walked back into the living room instead. I grabbed two Cokes and returned to the room where he was staring out the window. He then walked to the other side of the room. He reminded me of a caged animal not knowing where, or whether, there was an escape route.
I pointed my Coke can toward the old, upholstered chair beside the front door. "Have a seat."
"Thanks," he said. "I think I'll stand." His left hand held the drink. His right hand went from his shorts pocket to his head and then back to his pocket.
I didn't know whether to stand or sit, so I walked to the thermostat and tried to force more cold air out of the vents. It wouldn't work, but it gave me something to do while Samuel relaxed enough to tell me what had brought him to my stoop.
"Mr. Landrum," he began, "I feel sort of funny coming here. You've always treated me nice. You sort of listened to me when other grownups ignored me."
I gave him my full attention. We were still standing.
He finally spoke. "Last night, a little after sunsetmust have been around eight thirtyI was sort of walking past the Oceanfront Villas over on West Arctic." He paused and then smiled. "There's a girl there on vacation. I met her on the beach yesterday. Hoped to run into her at her condo. I didn't. Never mind." His smile turned to a frown. "I was up by where the road bends and goes back toward Ashley."
"Near the public walkway?" I asked.
"Exactly," he said. He walked toward the door to the kitchen. "Then I saw it. I know I saw it." He walked to the chair I had offered earlier and flopped down, almost dropping his drink.
I had no idea what was going on and lowered myself into the only other chair in the room. "What'd you see?"
"She was sort of walking toward the street from the beach," he said. He then stared at the Coke can like it was the most fascinating thing he'd ever seen. "She was walking down the ramp to the parking area.
Then it happened."
He stared at the can.
"What happened, Samuel?"
"This man sort of grabbed her"
"The girl from the condo?" I interrupted.
"No, another girl," he said, and then he paused.
"Sorry," I said. "Go on."
"Okay, he grabbed her and dragged her to a car, pushed her inside. His hand was over her mouth. She couldn't scream. I think she sort of kicked, but ... I don't know what. Mr. Landrum, she was kidnapped."
Chapter TwoSamuel's hands trembled. If he hadn't already taken a couple of gulps from the can, Coke would have been all over the well-worn wood floor. I didn't know Samuel well, but I did know that he was intelligent, had always been polite, and was a good friend of Jason, the fifteen-year-old son of Amber Lewis, a waitress at the Lost Dog Café and a lady whom I had dated for a couple of years during my first years on Folly. Beyond that, Samuel could be a budding psychopath, a chronic liar, a near-saint, or a potential mass murderer in red shorts.
"Could the guy have known her and was helping her into the car?"
Samuel looked at me like I was suggesting that the two had come to Earth from the planet Jupiter. "It was sort of dark, and there ain't too much good light out there, but that girl wasn't going anywhere because she wanted to."
I leaned closer and gave him a reassuring smile. "What else did you see?"
His right hand fiddled with a ravel in the arm of the chair. "The car was like a big ol' cop car that they don't want you to know is a cop car, but everybody does."
"Yeah, like the police chief's," said Samuel.
"A Ford Crown Vic?"
"Yeah," he said and took another sip of Coke.
"Not sure. Sort of like black, maybe blue," said Samuel. He looked at the floor. "I'm really not surecouldn't see it too good."
He then looked up at me, shrugged, and stood and walked to the window and then to the kitchen door. I was nervous just watching him.
"I don't know," he mumbled.
"It's okay, Samuel," I said. "You're doing fine. Do you remember anything about the man?"
He settled back in the chair. "Not really. He was shorter than meseemed sort of taller than the girl, but not much." He closed his eyes like he was trying to recreate the event. "His hair was sort of dark, could've been brown." He snapped his fingers. "Oh yeah, it was long. Like a lady's hair. And ... and, he was definitely thinner than you."
Gee, thanks, I thought. "How about the girl? She was coming from the beach, so was she wearing a bathing suit? Carrying anything? Say anything?"
Samuel grinned and looked at the floor. "Umm, definitely a bathing suitbikini. Sort of a small one. Red. She had long dark hair, still wet. Nice, umm, figure."
The fifteen-year-old had his priorities straight. "Anything else?"
"Yeah, now that you mention it, she was carrying a beach towel. Didn't see a bag or a purse or anything. She may have had one, but it was so dark ..." He looked back at the floor and then up at me. "Mr. Landrum, I really can't remember anything else. The guy drove off fast. I couldn't think about it, sort of didn't know what I was seeing at first."
"Could he have been her boyfriend?" I tried again. "Maybe just grabbing her for fun? Are you sure she didn't go willingly?"
Samuel looked me in the eyes. "Mr. Landrum, it was something bad." He paused and looked at his hand, which was still fiddling with the arm of the chair. "I'm not raise-my-right-hand-and-swear sure, but I sort of really think so."
"Did you tell the police?" I asked.
Samuel shook his head and then smiled. "Mr. Landrum, I remember the first time I saw you. You were out in front of old Mr. Black's house taking pictures of his strange blue Christmas tree. You talked to me real adultlike. And then you saw me that other day at the Sea and Sand Festival and actually remembered my name. That meant a lot to a little kid."
I smiled and told him that I remembered.
"Then you caught some killers when the police couldn't. I remember one where the cops said it was a suicide and you figured out it wasn't."
"Just luck," I said.
"Don't think so," said Samuel. "Not according to the paper. That big story back in the winter said you had sort of baffled the cops with how you figured out the killer in Tennessee."
And got someone dear to me killed in the process, I thought.
I shook that dreadful memory and looked at Samuel. "What's that have to do with what you told me?" I asked.
"Mr. Landrum, I didn't tell the cops." He shook his head. "You've always treated me like I had some sense. I think if I went to the cops with my story, they'd laugh me right out of the station house. I know you'd know what to do, so here I am." He sighed like a weight had been lifted off his broad shoulders.
"Let me think about it."
"I sort of hoped you'd say that."
What have I sort of gotten myself into now? I wondered.
Chapter ThreeKaren Lawson was a detective in the Charleston County sheriff's office. Folly Beach is located in Charleston County, although many of its bohemian residents would like to deny it, and the sheriff's office investigates the more serious crimes on the barrier island. Through no fault of minewell, maybe a littleI had become familiar with a handful of murder investigations that had taken place on Folly Beach over the past few years, along with several of the detectives.
Detective Lawson was in her midforties, had chestnut brown hair, was runner-trim, and had been my girlfriend, for the lack of a better term, for the last year. To confound my leisurely life of retirement, her father was Brian Newman, who for the past eighteen years had been Folly's director of public safety"police chief" or "top cop" to the less-formal citizenry. We had become friends before his daughter and I had started dating.
Karen's work schedule was often dictated by inconsiderate killers who didn't limit their indiscretions to the traditional workweek. My schedule was more structured since I opened the gallery each Thursday through Sunday.
The day after I spoke to Samuel, Karen and I watched a matinee at the Terrace Theater, one of Charleston's better movie theaters, located off Folly Road near Karen's house. She liked it because it showed a wide range of movies, from first-run to The Sound of Music or Psycho. I liked it because Karen liked it and because it sold beer, wine, and champagne. Sunday had been one of the busier days at the gallery, and I used that as my excuse to nearly fall asleep during the tedious, how-many-facial-expressions-can-the-star-make chick flick. Karen, who wasn't as traumatized as I was by watching a romance, agreed that the film, whose title I'd already forgotten, didn't have enough action.
It wasn't as hot as it had been the last couple of weeks, so she suggested that we drive to the Battery and walk some of the flower-laden streets, ogling the mansions facing the Charleston harbor. After the initial shock from stepping out of the freezing theater into the eighties-plus, humid South Carolina afternoon, I decided it wasn't such a bad idea. It might wake me up. It took two trips around the block to find a parking space on East Bay Street. I parallel parked as the distinctive white-with-red-trim Carnival cruise ship slowly pulled out of the harbor on its way to exotic locations.
The temperature was more tolerable than in recent days, but after we walked up East Bay Street and a couple of blocks over Tradd Street, we agreed that the shade-covered benches in White Point Gardens looked inviting. We strolled hand in hand down Meeting Street and grabbed one of the traditional wood benches in the historic gardens that overlooked the bay. I had made the walk countless times but was still taken by the beauty, majesty, and history of the area.
I had debated whether to tell Karen about my conversation with Samuel, and the more I thought about it, the more I knew I couldn't keep it to myself. Besides, her experience could shed light on his story.
I caught my breath and took off my fedora-style, canvas Tilley hat and waved it in front of my face. It wasn't a blast of cold air, but it helped. We both wore shorts, and I could see drops of perspiration rolling down Karen's well-toned legs. I gave her a summary of Samuel's tale.
"Can you trust him?" asked Karen when I finished.
"I'm not certain. I've known him casually for years. He's a good kid, friendly and intelligent." I put the hat on the bench beside me and leaned back. "But truthfully, I don't know what he saw."
She reached across my lap, grabbed my Tilley, and began fanning her face with it. "I'm no expert on teenagers," she said. "Lord knows it's been years since I was one, and I'm not around them enough to know much. I know they have vivid imaginations."
I had spent some time a couple of years before with Jason, Amber's son, so I'd spent a modicum of time observing the mind of the young adult. "My experience is limited too," I said.
Excerpted from MISSING by Bill Noel Copyright © 2013 by Bill Noel. Excerpted by permission.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews
Love his simplistic style, but he always keeps you guessing...
5 Stars...Hands Down! Bill Noel continues to provide sensational entertainment in MISSING; just as he has in all the previous Folly Beach Mysteries. I was hooked ever since I read the first one and I can hardly wait for the next! Mr. Noel's "Chris Landrum Series" are all a MUST READ and I suggest reading them in the order of the series. I have lived 2 miles from Folly my entire life and love it and know it well. Mr. Noel depicts the island and its surroundings perfectly in his books! I enjoy his photography as well! Kimmy, James Island, SC
Well, Mr. Noel, you and you unusual cast of characters, Chris, Charles, Dude, Amber, and all the others have succeeded in capturing my heart once again. Folly Beach is my home away from home and, as anyone knows who has that favorite beach they travel to time and time again, there is always that hole left in your heart everytime you leave. You are able to fill a small portion of that hole with your amazing stories, your unique characters and your vivid recreation of actual places on Folly that I've come to know and love. Thank you for burying my roots just a little deeper in the Folly sand.