When Joann Avery's best friend of thirty years, Amy, calls her in a panic to meet for dinner, Joann agrees immediately. Amy is in the middle of a business acquisition near Chesapeake Bay. She must acquire an historic estate known as "The Cedars," but with negotiations at a standstill, Amy needs an ally. She asks Joann for assistance and, knowing the area and the people, Joann agrees.
Soon, however, a hurricane strikes the historic Northern Neck of
Virginia near the Chesapeake Bay. A dead body is found in the area,
but authorities can't tell whether the man died from natural causes or murder. It appears the hurricane and a hungry flock of vultures have contributed to the scene, but there's more to this death than meets the eye. It's got something to do with Amy's business dealings, and Joann is right in the middle of the scandal.
Due to a case of mistaken identity, Joann is in danger of being jailed or possibly killed. The police consider her a material witness, since she recently inquired about the grounds where the dead body was found. Now, the murderer is on her case, too. With the help of her husband, her friends, and an unusual plan, Joann might make it out of this alive
... and catch a violent killer in the process.
|Product dimensions:||5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 0.51(d)|
Read an Excerpt
By Linda Underwood
iUniverse, Inc.Copyright © 2012 Linda Underwood
All right reserved.
"You have reached voice mail for 703-555-0158. Please leave your name, number and brief message at the sound of the tone."
"Joann? Are you there or are you screening your calls? If you're there, Jo please pick up. Pick up!" the frantic voice pleaded.
Even from the first floor garage, I recognized the voice. I raced upstairs to the phone in the kitchen, balancing soggy shopping bags and tripping on the hem of my raincoat in the process. I grabbed the phone just before it went to voice mail.
"I'm here, Amy. Hold on while I put these bags down. Just give me a second." I hit the speakerphone button on the wall phone with one free hand, pulling off my soaking wet raincoat with the other. "Hi sweetie, what's going on?" I said while sorting through the bags to get the milk, cheese, and eggs into the refrigerator as soon as possible.
"Could you and Ken meet me for dinner tonight? My treat. I have to be down in Old Town for a meeting," Amy Hunter, my oldest and dearest friend asked, taking a deep breath.
"I had planned a quiet dinner for us, but sure, we'll meet you. Where? When? I have to talk to Ken first, of course, but I'm sure it will be okay. You know Ken, any excuse to break up the week. Especially when he can have dinner with two beautiful women," I responded and grimaced at the thawing steaks on the counter and the ever-growing puddle on the floor from the dripping raincoat.
"You're very funny Jo. Let's make it easy. How about one of your favorites, The Warehouse Bar and Grill?" Amy asked coyly, clearly wanting me to take the bait.
"Sounds great. How about seven-thirty? Unless you hear from me, we'll be there. I think Ken can make it by then, but I'll have to talk to him. If he's going to be late, we'll just wait for him at the bar. I'll make reservations. Are you okay?" I asked, pleased at the prospect of seeing Amy but a little confused by the sudden invitation. Amy was not a drama queen. Even when extremely upset about something, she would be quietly upset.
"If you can't make it, call me on my cell. See you there," Amy responded, ending the call.
I disconnected the speakerphone option, picked up the receiver, and dialed the handy number to the restaurant. I kept a threering binder of menus, telephone numbers of our favorite carryout, delivery and eat-in restaurants near the phone. I am not sure when I started the practice, but it has always proven helpful. When the restaurant answered, I asked for reservations for three at seven-thirty that evening. "The name is Avery," I said. Unrolling wads of paper towels to mop up the floor from the still-dripping coat, I thought about the rare tone in Amy's voice.
Reaching Ken just as he was about to hit rainy rush hour traffic on the Washington Beltway, I explained that dinner was on Amy, and that we would be dining well and not too terribly far from home. I added that I had already made the reservations. Even with the prospect of dealing with the additional Old Town traffic, Ken seemed surprisingly elated at the change of plans for the evening. "Thank God," I whispered under my breath as the receiver hit the cradle.
Suddenly aware of the cold dampness of the kitchen, I stood for a moment or two looking out of the second-floor kitchen window to the splashing rain on our short, suburban driveway. Not looking forward to going outside in the chilly rain yet again today, I shrugged and put the thawed steaks in the refrigerator and finished bringing in and putting away the groceries.
I took a long, hot shower, put on a little make-up, applied a small amount of greenish-brown eye shadow to highlight my hazel eyes (after all, it was evening), dressed casually-slacks this time, not jeans, red turtleneck sweater, and gray flannel blazer. I pulled my light brown hair into a neat ponytail noticing several thin silver streaks emerging in my thick shoulder length mane. My necklace, a present from my husband with a simple gold "J," had picked up lint from the sweater I had been wearing earlier. I cleaned it and, as usual, wore it outside my turtleneck. I never take it off. The inscription on the back says, "To J with love always" so I wear it near my heart. Dismayed that my slacks were now tighter, and shamelessly blaming the dry cleaner for the fit, which I knew was not true, I convinced myself that a walk before dinner would take off at least five pounds, also not true. As it was still raining for the third day in a row, I donned my now dry raincoat and with plenty of time to spare, headed for Old Town.
Even though it was near the end of rush hour, my drive was slow. I seemed to hit every red light and pothole or ended up behind one lost tourist after another. While sitting at my umpteenth snarled intersection, I began to wonder about Amy's call. We seldom discussed work. For the most part, our conversations were chatty, relaying comic events that had occurred in each of our separate lives. Occasionally current events or an opinion about something in the news. That is not the way it had always been. In our younger years, we shared deep dark secrets, telling all about our current loves, or should I say lust interests; took spur of the moment road trips to Ocean City; and during one fateful year, I held her hand when she found out she had breast cancer. I had been there for her that awful year, as designated driver and advocate with the hospitals and doctors. I helped her select wigs when she lost her hair and I was with her the day she was declared cancer-free.
Years earlier, Amy had helped me get through a nasty divorce and although she never had children, she became my Erma Bombeck when I was losing my mind rearing two young sons alone.
When I met and married Ken, Amy's and my relationship evolved into one of quiet, simple warmth for each other. We did not see as much of each other, but each knew the other was there. Fewer phone calls, fewer dinners out, but we were both happy that each was in the other's world. Like going to the closet and putting on comfortable, well-worn pink fluffy slippers on a cold winter's night.
Suddenly my heart stopped when it occurred to me that her cancer might have come back. Of course, I would be there again for her, but I did not want to imagine the heartbreak if it were true.
Even with terrible traffic and taking side streets when I could, I still managed to arrive at King Street a little early. With the nine-to-five crowd almost gone, I was able get a parking space in the underground garage under the Courthouse near the restaurant. Parking in Old Town Alexandria, a suburb of Washington, D.C., had become such a hassle. I walked back to King Street and turned left, walking downhill on the somewhat steep, uneven brick sidewalks toward the river. The combination of pooling water and slippery wet fallen leaves added that little bit of hazard that caused one to be careful with every stride. The Warehouse Bar and Grill was halfway down the block on the other side of the street, but since I was early, I decided to browse through some of the shops and do a little window-shopping. Old Town Alexandria, or just "Old Town" as most locals prefer, had been transformed into a quaint area of 250-year-old buildings with façade protection and new buildings made to look 250 years old. Some remaining, original cobblestone streets and some narrowing, repaved streets made street parking difficult, not to mention the irritating bumper-to-bumper traffic. In the rain, it was a nightmare.
In its earlier life, Old Town, located on the Potomac River, was a major port for shipping and trading products and slaves-not as popular as Baltimore was for larger ships, but important nonetheless. Historic buildings, historic houses, historic commerce. I adored looking at the buildings and, for my personal reasons, the occasional surviving alleys and gardens, probably a legacy of my few years working with the National Trust for Historic Preservation. An appreciation of times gone by and a desire to protect the evidence of the past was another obsession Amy and I shared. My mind always tried to imagine if there had been a small store or house where a vacant lot now sat. Who had lived there; who worked there? I found myself stopping, closing my eyes and trying to hear and smell the past.
Although I am a native Washingtonian, my husband Ken came east from Utah. Ken, a career soldier, had completed his retirement tour from the Army at the Pentagon. It was there that we had met. Wanting more money than non-profit organizations could offer, I learned and excelled at computers. I, Joann Avery, married Ken when I was thirty-something, but now was fifty-something.
Ken and I knew from the very first that we were made for each other. He is a patient man, a smart and gentle man, and he loves women. I could never trust a man who did not love women. Ken loves me. I know it in my soul. After all, as the bumper sticker says, "Virginia is for Lovers." We became the poster children.
Ken left the military and started his own construction-related company—a natural follow-on to his experience as an Army Engineer and Construction Manager. Ken retired as a Lieutenant Colonel. With the income from Ken's thriving business, we had had enough discretionary income to own two houses. For Ken, it also meant that he could afford his new passion, a Corvette convertible.
We had lived in a townhouse in a quiet neighborhood of Alexandria for many years while we both pursued our separate careers. I, was now retired and, our children (from separate marriages) were grown, but we were not unhappy about having an empty nest. Over the past five years, we had also built a home near Mollusk in Lancaster on the Northern Neck of Virginia. The Northern Neck is the peninsula between the Potomac and Rappahannock Rivers on the western shore of the Chesapeake Bay, a place both beautiful and historic.
My routine was to travel between the two houses in Alexandria and Mollusk every week. I called the two houses the "evil twins," not because I did not love them-I love them both dearly-but because they both required my time and attention, and the fact that they were 125 miles apart did not help. The only way I could keep them straight was to have ongoing detailed "to do" and "to buy" lists for both, a throwback from my office manager days. If on my list, it was done or bought; if not, it did not or was not.
When in Alexandria, I made a point of staying in touch with old friends. Over the years I have made sure to, at the very least, send funny cards and personal notes for no special reason. I have always felt it nice to get something in the mail besides bills and junk mailers. It seemed to me regrettable that personal note writing had become a lost art, but I tried to keep it alive and well. Whenever I came to Old Town, I always browsed the card shops for new material, and this was a perfect opportunity. The number of card shops in Old Town had declined, but I was able to find just what I needed. I purchased seven cards, stuffed the bag in my purse and realized I still had fifteen minutes or so for some much needed personal time.
I raced down to the Torpedo Factory at the end of the block nearest the river. As the name implied, the building had been used to manufacture torpedoes during World War II and before, but had evolved into an artisan's haven that displays and sells local art and sculpture. The prices were normally out of my reach, so I did some window-shopping and continued my stroll. I glanced at my watch and realized I was now running a few minutes late to meet Amy.
Strolling less leisurely and pulling up my raincoat hood against the heavy drizzle, I noticed that some of the merchants near the river had already begun to stockpile sand bags near their entrances against what might be a flood. Although tropical storms seldom reached Alexandria with any force, flooding during extremely heavy, rainy conditions always raised the headwaters of the Potomac River, which ultimately flooded Old Town.
As I entered the Warehouse Bar and Grill, I asked the maitre d' if anyone had arrived for the Avery table. The tuxedoed man behind the desk said that only one had arrived and was sitting at the bar. I walked back to the small, but finely appointed bar in the middle of the restaurant. Ken would know to find me there. After years of meeting each other's planes or meeting each other for dinner, we long ago had made a pact that if we did not see each other immediately, we would go to the nearest bar. That is where the other would be waiting.
Amy was seated on one of the ten plushly padded bar stools, drinking her usual, a White Russian. I climbed onto the bar stool next to hers and looked first at the drink in front of her and then to her. Amy had never been a drinker. On the odd rare occasion she wanted or needed one, a White Russian was her poison of choice.
The bartender asked me what I would like. I answered with my typical response to that question, "a winning lottery ticket." It took a moment to sink in, but finally this brought first a look of surprise and then a broad smile from the bartender and a weak nod from Amy, who had heard me say it too many times before.
"Well then, how about a Dewar's on the rocks, twist of lemon and water back," I answered and watched the bartender pour and serve my order, placing a fancy cocktail napkin under the two glasses. With my drink placed in front of me, I could not help but admire the quiet ambience of the bar. The mirror behind the bar reflected the precise placement of each bottle, the ensemble looking like a group of differently-sized soldiers standing at attention, each filled with brown, light amber, green, or clear liquor, with attractive labels to entice patrons.
When the bartender walked away to assist another customer, I turned to look at Amy. "Great to see you. You look well," I lied. Actually, she looked like shit, but I thought a compliment might lift her spirits. "How is everyone?" I asked speculatively.
Normally this gave Amy an opportunity to tell me about her large and now widespread family. Instead, she stared blankly at her reflection in the mirror behind the bar, took a sip of her drink, and then fixed her eyes on her hands resting on the bar.
"What's wrong" I inquired, now truly concerned. The menacing "C" word hovered over our conversation.
I had known Amy for almost thirty years—a long time for a relationship in the Washington area, where most people are from somewhere else and they would likely be gone again soon. Neither of us looked our age, or acted like it; never have, never would. Amy was medium height, slightly shorter than my five-foot seven-inches, with creamy white skin, intense brown eyes, lips men liked to think about kissing and short brown hair that she wore curled toward her cheeks just below her ears. She had a small scar in her left eyebrow, a permanent reminder of a bad love affair in her twenties, an affair we had weathered together and one we would never discuss.
Tonight her hair hung loose, her eyes were dull and her absolute lack of makeup emphasized the small scar. This can't be good, I half whispered to myself.
As if reading my thoughts, Amy spoke with uncharacteristic meekness, "I don't know if I should talk about it now. Let's wait until Ken comes."
Somewhat shocked and concerned by her demeanor but ready to put on a happy face, I suggested in a laughing tone, "Well, then. How about a hint so I can be thinking about it?" I said trying to lighten her mood.
At that very moment, as if on cue, Ken was behind us, giving me a kiss on the cheek. He leaned over and gave Amy a peck on her nose, took off the Italian-cut leather jacket I'd given him last Christmas and placed it on the stool beside the one he was sliding onto. Like most men who stay in shape, his six-foot appearance had not changed much over the years. Still a military haircut, but since he was blond, his thinning hair was turning almost white around the temples. I noticed he had already removed his tie. Although his drive had taken him far longer than mine, Ken appeared to be calm, cool and relaxed.
The bartender was in front of us immediately.
"Johnny Walker Black with some ice, shaved if you have it, no water," Ken said, without being asked. His drink was in front of him in a matter of seconds.
"Well, how are my favorite ladies tonight and to what do I owe this rare pleasure?" Ken asked innocently, leaning into me and taking a quick sip of his drink. Ken's steely, yet to me, gentle blue eyes, twinkled playfully in the reflective light.
Excerpted from Storm Damage by Linda Underwood Copyright © 2012 by Linda Underwood. Excerpted by permission of iUniverse, Inc.. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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