In Summer Treason by Kate Watterson (writing as Katherine Smith), detective Danny Haase is investigating what looks to be a suicide in his small peaceful hometown of Mayville Indiana, only to discover it might be murder.
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About the Author
Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. Kate also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes. She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, three children, and a temperamental cat named Poot.
Kate Watterson grew up on a steady diet of mystery/suspense novels. If it involves murder and intrigue, she is bound to be hooked. Kate also writes award-winning historical novels as Emma Wildes. She lives in rural Indiana with her husband, three children, and a temperamental cat named Poot. She is the author of Frozen, Charred and Buried.
Read an Excerpt
By Kate Watterson
Tom Doherty AssociatesCopyright © 2006 Katherine Smith
All rights reserved.
Daniel Haase took a deep breath, inhaling the warm, humid air that clung like a blanket over his face. Trying to ignore the ice cream cone discharging a chocolate river over his right hand, he confirmed quietly, "Any manner of death?"
"Yep." Deputy Matthew Burns licked a glob of vanilla cream into his mouth and gave him a curious look. "The medical examiner figures accidental poisoning. Hey, you feeling okay?"
"I'm fine." Danny absently shook off a persistent wasp. The day was clear and obscenely hot, and the trees wheezed with locusts. In the park behind them, children were playing a wilted game of softball, their uniforms sticking to their sweating skins.
"Benzene hexachloride." The county deputy looked vastly pleased, squinting sideways against the grueling sunshine. "It's a pesticide. Use it on ticks and fleas and such. Toxic as hell when ingested accidentally. Old Holburn had some of it in his barn, plain as day. His vet said he used it on his livestock."
"Powder or solution?" Danny gave up on his ice cream and tossed it into the grass. Brown ooze immediately began to puddle out of the abandoned cone.
"Powder." The deputy grinned. "My mama always said to wash up good before supper. Maybe she was right."
"Did he have traces on his hands?"
"No. But he'd cleaned up, according to the daughter. He must have ingested it earlier somehow. I guess it doesn't take much." The other man contentedly crunched on his cone. Danny watched a dribble of white ease down his chin and land on his tie.
"Hell." The deputy noticed the transgression and swore, swiping at the damage.
"What's the reaction time on something like hexa-whatever?" Danny asked, frowning. Holburn had died sometime in the early evening, between seven and eight, according to when he'd answered the call and what Clarrisa Holburn had said about her father going upstairs.
"Varies. Depends on the amount apparently. First they get the cramps, which follows where we found the body."
Locked in the bathroom, key on the inside. Sprawling in a mess in the bathtub, the small window just above illuminating the whole ugly scene. Not the world's prettiest picture by a long shot. Danny had to force the lock, with a hysterical Clarissa Holburn plucking at his sleeve. The smell wasn't all that easy to forget either. It hadn't taken a doctor to surmise that Holburn had been very ill. Danny looked at the small brown river flowing through the grass with distaste.
"The bathtub," he commented. "How do you figure that one?"
The deputy grimaced. "It must have hit him fast. Maybe he thought he just had a case of the flu and couldn't quite make it."
Danny had gotten the call about ten o'clock. Clarissa sobbing into the receiver that her father had complained of a sour stomach and locked himself in the bathroom hours before. She hadn't dared to bother him—Danny knew how he was, didn't he? But finally she had knocked and gotten no response.
Because her father was dead.
"He didn't turn the water on," Danny pointed out.
Deputy Burns shrugged good-naturedly.
"Well," Danny said, getting to his feet and wiping his sticky hands on his pants. "Thanks for the info."
The deputy licked his fingers. "Sure."
* * *
Mayville had the distinction of being the first town in Indiana to ever have the police station burned to the ground by an arsonist. Despite that particular crime, which occurred in 1889, it was a quiet place. Danny had three deputy officers, a dispatcher he shared with Rushville, and two cruisers. Other than the usual Friday and Saturday night hassles with the local teens, he pretty much worked nine to five and slept well at night.
But he hadn't slept well the night he'd found old Elton Holburn dead. There had been the condition of the body, which was damned horrible, even if he did say so himself. And then the two women, Clarissa and her mother, their shell-shocked eyes full of disbelief. Actually, Clarissa had looked pale and strained, but her mother was in the process of slow mental disintegration and had been for some time. Mrs. Holburn had just kept asking for Elton in a singsong crazy voice, those gentle and blank old eyes with a look fastened on Danny's face.
Ugly. It had been ugly. He hoped the two women could get along without Elton. The farm was worth quite a bit itself, and they could sell up, maybe, and get a nurse for the old lady. Clarissa had been wearing herself out for years.
He swung his chair around and stared outside. On Main, a rusty tan pickup truck ran a red light at the intersection right in front of the police station. He watched as the license plate became a blur.
"What should I do with this?" Red Sager dangled a file between his thumb and forefinger, grinning. Red had a reputation for being a stickler for paperwork.
"This being ... what?" Danny gave his fellow officer a sour look.
"The file on that teenage shoplifter at the drugstore."
"I'd say ... file it."
Red—middle-aged, precisely thin, and dryly humorous—twitched graying brows together. "Very funny, boss man." Amiably he went over to the large file cabinet and pulled on the top drawer. Even though they did most everything on their computers, he liked the paper backup system.
The door to the office opened, allowing a wave of moist heat into the room. A man came inside, carefully closing out the blast of summer behind him. He was young and well built, and would have been good-looking except for a formidable seriousness in his gray eyes that overpowered all other impressions. Clayton Thomas was Mayville's local doctor, fairly new to town. His practice was only a year old.
Danny rubbed his chin absently and nodded in greeting.
"I need a word," Dr. Thomas said with straightforward force.
"It's fairly important."
"I need to get back to the office." He bounced a glance off of Red, and then his watch. "This won't take but a minute or two. Alone work for you?"
With a shake of his head, Red ambled off toward the back office, muttering under his breath. Danny watched him slouch off with some amusement, and then offered a chair.
"I shouldn't be here." The doctor perched earnestly on the edge of the swivel chair. In the slanting sunlight through the blinds, his jaw was at tight angles with his mouth. His tension seemed incongruous to the hot and lazy day outside.
"Why are you here?" Danny asked reasonably. He was aware of a vague headache beginning to throb between his temples. They were becoming a common occurrence.
"I heard you know the results of the Holburn autopsy."
Danny grimaced faintly. Small towns. News had a way of filtering through the latticework. Whom had he told about his meeting with the Rush County deputy? Red, of course. No one else, though anyone could have seen the two of them eating ice cream in the park.
"Yeah, I know the results."
"Can you tell me?" Thomas leaned forward, elbows on knees.
"Is there some reason you want to know?"
The doctor sat back abruptly. His fine-boned face was grave. "The Holburns are all my patients. I go out to the farm to see Mrs. Holburn every month as a matter of course now that she is reaching the more advanced stages of Alzheimer's. It's easier than making Elton bring her in. The change in environment upsets her and he was kind of stubborn about it anyway."
Attentive, Danny waited. The air conditioner hummed an off-key tune in the corner. "He was kind of stubborn about a lot of things. So?"
"I'm very curious to know the cause of death."
"Because he was your patient?"
"Because of that, yes."
Danny lifted his eyebrows. The doctor's manner was a bit inconsistent with his usual unflappable calm. He asked mildly, "Why shouldn't you be here?"
"What?" Dr. Thomas blinked.
"When you first came in, you said you shouldn't be here. I was just wondering why. Your interest in a patient's sudden death seems pretty natural to me."
Clayton Thomas sucked in a small breath and then gave a humorless smile. "I did say that, didn't I?"
Danny simply eyed his visitor.
Dr. Thomas hesitated, then said simply, "About two weeks ago I was doing my routine checkup on Mrs. Holburn and I was approached by one of the family who had some symptoms they considered alarming. I did an exam and a series of blood tests." The doctor hesitated. "I can't tell you the details. Patient-to-doctor confidentiality is too sensitive an issue. I have a reputation and a practice to protect."
"All right, I understand that." Danny nodded, his curiosity rising a notch. "Go on." There weren't many members of the Holburn family. Just Elton, Clarissa, and the old lady. Clarissa was not much older than himself, in her forties, at a guess. It wasn't likely she would be sick.
"My patient," Dr. Thomas said with emphasis, "was understandably upset with the results of the tests."
"Bad news?" Danny considered how Elton would react to the news he was really sick, knowing that his wife's helpless dependence was staring him in the face. Cancer? Something potentially debilitating? To a man like Holburn? A hard old man used to ruling his household like a petty king? Unthinkable. Elton had long held a reputation in Mayville as a man who was uncompromisingly fair, morally rigid, and undeniably old-fashioned. He would want to be the head of the household until his dying day.
"I'm afraid so."
"Do you?" Dr. Thomas gave Danny another of his direct and unflinching stares. He'd be a good man in an operating room, thought Danny. No imagination. No nerves.
"I think I do," he said gently. "You feel there might be a connection between the reaction of your patient to those tests and the subsequent death of Elton Holburn." Elton might not let nature take its course. Elton might not know about the horrors of death by benzene hexachloride. Maybe he'd just read the label and seen the skull and crossbones. The statistics on suicide among the elderly were staggering. More and more seniors opted for the quick way out rather than the miseries of progressive illness.
"Yes, I do." Was there a glimmer of relief from the good doctor? "Definitely a possible connection."
"And you felt it your duty to come set the record straight?" Danny asked.
"I'm not sure duty is the right word. It bothered my conscience to say nothing. Let's leave it at that."
"Fair enough." Danny smiled. His uniform was sticky with sweat and his head was beginning to pound. "For the record," he offered, "the medical examiner has determined that Holburn died of poisoning, probably after accidentally ingesting a small amount of some lethal pesticide. It should be an official ruling once all the paperwork is processed."
A carefully blank look settled over the doctor's face. "Is that so?"
"That's what they tell me."
"Hence the symptoms of vomiting and edema."
"Hence," Danny agreed.
Thomas stood and offered his hand. "I need to be running along."
The dusk came down slowly, in a filmy curtain of shadows and evening smells, manure and garden roses and damp, steaming grass. Dry, narcotic ivy climbed the old walls of the frame house and clung there like a thousand limpets. The cows lowed softly, but the sound was muted, as if far away, or part of a dream. A man's voice droned in the foreground, the words tumbling out but not meaning anything, as she wasn't listening to half of it.
It was unbearably hot. Clarissa Holburn pushed wearily at the hair sticking to the back of her neck and opened her eyes. Reverend Johnson went on speaking, his mouth moving passionately in his quest to reassure. She found it oddly repulsive, though she had never thought of him that way before. He had always been her anchor, her comfort. The church had been her salvation all these years as she had watched her youth—then her mother's mind—waste away. How strange that it offered nothing to her now.
The sound of a car pulling up to the house finally halted the verbal flow. The minister stood up and went to peer out the screen door. His body was outlined there, thickly built, square in the shoulders, firmly encased in a black suit and white collar. Thinning blond hair brushed back from a high forehead, and he had quick eyes and a thin-lipped mouth. He turned back and said, "It's Daniel Haase, my dear. Should I stay?" His anxious gaze flickered from her face back to the door.
She shook her head. Go, she thought. Just ... go. From the living room, she could hear the sound of television sirens. Her mother would sit there forever, if permitted. The television had become a fascinating light show, flicking color and moving images to a brain that no longer could decipher their meaning. Clarissa felt guilty when she left her sitting there for as long as she had this evening, but sometimes she just needed space.
Space. Her own space. She would have it soon. Once the farm was sold, she and her mother would move away. Maybe buy a small house in Indianapolis, someplace close to shopping and a hospital. It was impossible to stay at the farm. She couldn't work it herself, even if she found someone to take care of her mother full time.
Danny Haase came in as Reverend Johnson took his leave. She watched them pass in the doorway, heard their polite exchange, and roused herself to at least attempt a smile and swipe at her disheveled hair. She knew she looked tired, she knew she looked worn and faded and used up, but still she tucked some loose strands into the bun at her nape and smoothed her dress with thin-fingered hands.
"Sorry to bother you." Officer Haase stood inside the doorway and smiled gravely. "I simply came by to tell you in person the results of your father's autopsy. The Rush County police have concluded their part of the investigation."
Clarissa motioned woodenly to the coffeepot. "Some coffee, Danny?" She hoped he would say no. God knew how that coffee would taste. She had made it hours ago. Her father would have been furious to know she had offered a guest some stale, stagnant coffee that she knew would be awful.
"No, thanks. May I?" He indicated a chair.
A relief. "Yes." She stayed where she was, a limp puddle of humanity in her high-backed oak chair. "Please. Of course."
He sat down, watching her face with quiet, probing eyes. Daniel Haase was a nice-looking man: blond, clean-cut, with an intelligent face. She was suddenly and acutely aware of her own mousy brown hair, pale thin features, and unremarkable figure.
"Your father died because he ingested a common pesticide, something he used on his livestock." Danny spoke calmly, with matter-of-fact inflection. "There was a routine investigation, as there always is in a case when the subject is deceased upon arrival at the hospital and no attending physician was present at the time of death."
"I see." Her voice was small. "So what happens now? Can we have ... the body? For the funeral, I mean."
"Of course." His tone was kind. "The ruling is accidental death by poisoning. He had access to the substance and did use it, according to the local vet. He must have ingested some by accident. His age was a factor in such a violent reaction, as was what he had for dinner."
"For dinner?" Clarissa felt her lips move stiffly.
"Ham, gravy, buttered potatoes ... The substance is more soluble in fat and it enhances the effects." His expression was sympathetic. She felt her stomach clench in memory of that night and what had happened.
"Yes," she heard herself saying. "I know what he ate. I fixed it myself. It was his favorite."
There was a pause. She stared at her work-roughened hands as if mesmerized by the crisscrossing of lines and wrinkles. Where had the time gone? Wasn't it just yesterday she was sixteen and in high school?
"Did he complain often lately of not feeling well?" Danny asked the question softly.
"Often?" She looked up, "No, just that evening." She really didn't want to talk about it. But she could hardly say so, could she? Officer Haase had come out just to tell her the news. Taken time from his day. And his wife. He had a pretty wife. Clarissa had seen her at church now and then. She pressed her fingers to her temple and tried to ignore the churning of her stomach.
The room began to swim. She sweated. Cursing with inward hysteria, she got unsteadily to her feet and ran out of the kitchen, her hands pressed beseechingly over her mouth, eyes watering. She barely made it to the toilet in the bathroom down the hall.
Excerpted from Summer Treason by Kate Watterson. Copyright © 2006 Katherine Smith. Excerpted by permission of Tom Doherty Associates.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Excerpt from Fractured,
Tor Books by Kate Watterson,
About the Author,