First Chapter First Place Book Award: Dead Man Lying by Scott Bury
August 5, 2016
Dead Man Lying by Scott Bury is the First Place winner in the Mystery/Thriller category of Works in Progress for the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards. The novel has recently been published.
A Lei Crime Kindle World Mystery
She knows when you’re lying …FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm is back on Maui to catch a killer.
With lush rain forests, black sand beaches, and a laid-back lifestyle, Maui offers the perfect retirement location for once-famous country singer Steven Sangster … until he ends up dead.
As the killer, or killers, strike again and again, Detective Lei Texeira and FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm must untangle the lies spun by the singer’s associates, friends, family — and the singer himself before the music dies.
Award-Winning First Chapter
Two young women stood on an eroded, rough low platform made of volcanic rock that had been placed in the midst of the rain forest. Long fronds and branches hung low over it, weighted by rain that had only recently stopped. Yellow tape strung from tree to tree in a rough ring around the platform drooped with the weight of the rain, too, obscuring the words “Police Line Do Not Cross.”
The air was heavy with moisture and the smell of wet soil, flowers and the unique, spicy aroma of Hawaii.
The taller woman was fit, with shoulder-length dark blond hair and large green eyes. She wore the office-formal blue blazer, dress pants and shoes that broadcast “FBI.” She leaned carefully over one edge of the eroded platform, where some shifting in the earth below it had opened a narrow gully. Its bottom was littered with lava boulders that matched those remaining on the platform. More fronds reached over its edges from the forest around it, as if they were also trying to see the bottom.
“It doesn’t look that deep — maybe ten feet,” she said. FBI Special Agent Vanessa Storm’s foot slipped on the wet rock and she took a step back. The next time I come to Hana, I’m wearing hiking shoes, she thought.
“It wasn’t the fall that killed him,” Maui Police Detective Lei Texeira answered. “The coroner feels he was dead before he fell off the edge. That’s his initial thought, anyway. It will have to be confirmed in the lab.”
Vanessa looked down into the narrow pit again. “There’s nothing to mark where the body was,” she said.
“The rain washed it all away,” Texeira replied. “At this time of year in Hana, it rains every day.”
“It looks like it,” said Vanessa. The forest here was thick, and the path that led from the estate down the slope to the lava platform in the forest was like a tunnel. Vanessa could just make out the corner of one of the outbuildings far below. Hidden in the branches, birds twittered and peeped, and occasionally she could hear large drops of water hitting lower leaves or the forest floor. “Should we be standing on this? It being a historical artifact?”
“Not really,” Lei answered. “The local Hawaiian cultural organizations are going to complain about it. But this is the only way to see the death site.”
They stood on top of the remains of a heiau, an ancient Hawaiian temple. All that was left was an uneven platform of piled lava rocks, worn by rain, maybe twenty feet across. The creeping roots of the rain forest had eaten its edges. Vanessa eyed the side that had collapsed into the gully, wondering how big the ancient temple had been when it was built.
Watching where she stepped, Vanessa carefully made her way across the heiau, toward the path through the jungle back toward the house and other buildings on the estate. “Is that typical, a historical, cultural artifact on a private estate like this?”
Texeira was right behind her. “It’s unusual. This heiau was abandoned and forgotten centuries ago, and rediscovered only after Steve Sangster had bought the property. Now that he’s dead, you can bet some cultural organizations are going to be making a lot of noise for it to be turned over to the government or a museum.”
Vanessa paused at the edge of the forest to try to rub some of the dirt off her shoes. “Steve Sangster. I can’t believe I’m investigating his death. Did you like his music, Detective Texeira?”
“Call me Lei. Yeah, I love all that folksy-rock stuff. I even had one of Steven Sangster’s albums as a girl. Did you?”
Vanessa could not repress a smile. “I was a big fan. I had all his old CDs — still do. I had such a crush on him when I was 16. He was so handsome.”
Lei smiled back. “The blue eyes and the square chin, huh?”
So this is the famous Lei Texeira, Vanessa thought, looking at the slender detective with her peripheral vision while appearing to study the heiau. She was small for a cop, but athletic, with beautiful big brown eyes and a sprinkle of freckles across her cheeks and nose. Her features spoke of a mixture of Hawaiian, Asian and European extraction. Her dark brown curls rippled to her shoulders, and Vanessa wondered briefly how much of the curling was due to the incredible humidity of Hana, on Maui’s rain coast.
“Is this where it happened?” said an unfamiliar voice. Vanessa and Lei turned and Vanessa’s shoe slipped again. Her knee buckled and she almost went down, but Lei’s small hand grabbed her arm, steadying her. Vanessa was impressed — Lei was stronger than she looked.
Steady again on the wet lava, she looked up to see a short, balding man letting the yellow police tape down behind him.
“Don’t the words ‘Do not cross’ mean anything to you?” Lei demanded, stepping toward the man.
“I’m Simon Sangster. He — the victim … I mean, he was my father,” the man stammered. He did not step back, but actually put a foot up on the lava rock.
“I’m sorry for your loss, Mr. Sangster, but you still cannot step past the yellow tape.”
The man scowled, straightened his back and puffed out his little chest, which did not protrude nearly as much as his belly. “Now that my father is … this is now my property.”
“Even so, this is a crime scene and you’ll have to step back past the yellow tape,” Lei retorted. She lifted the tape for him.
“It’s so that no one compromises the investigation,” Vanessa offered. “Please, step back.”
“In-investigation?” he said, seeming to deflate. “I thought it was an accident?”
“We’ll have to wait for the coroner’s final report to know that,” said Lei. She stepped off the heiau and took the younger Sangster by the arm.
Vanessa had one foot off the lava platform when a tree beside the path exploded and a boom rolled up the hill. Lei dove between the trees, pushing Sangster with her. Vanessa dropped and rolled, conscious of her jacket tearing on the rock, ending up half buried under bushes with long, pointed leaves. The top half of a young koa tree toppled. She waited, counting to five before lifting her head. Her face was wet from the bushes and covered with bits of shredded wood.
No more shots. She looked down the slope and could just see one corner of one of the estate’s buildings, but no people and no movement. The birdsong had stopped. All Vanessa could hear was her own pounding heart. She made an effort to breathe.
“Agent Storm, are you okay?” said Lei from her hiding place among the trees.
“I’m fine. You?”
“I’m good.” Lei rose to a crouch, extending her arms to aim a Glock toward the house, then down the path.
Vanessa drew her Walther PPK from its shoulder holster, checking in the opposite direction. “What about Sangster?”
“I’m okay,” he called with a tremor in his voice.
Nothing. No movement other than dripping water. A single bird tried a tentative chirp. Then others piped in, too, and soon the forest’s usual chorus returned.
A uniformed Hana policeman came into sight, gun in both hands pointed down. “Detective Texeira! Are you all right?”
“We’re fine,” Lei answered. She scowled at the cop. “How did you let him come up here alone?” She tossed her head to where Simon Sangster was slowly rising from the ground, wet and covered in leaves, soil and fragments of new wood.
“I’m okay,” he said, voice still shaky. “Was that a gunshot?”
“Sounded like a shotgun,” said the cop. He was young, fit, and tall. His light brown hair had a decidedly non-cop wave over his forehead. Righetti was stitched across the right-hand breast pocket of his black uniform shirt.
“Well? How did he get up here alone?” Lei demanded.
Righetti swallowed. “I’m sorry, Sergeant. I’ve never seen this man before.” He glared at Sangster. “You’d better come with me.”
Lei pulled a walkie-talkie off her belt. “Hana station, this is Detective Lei Texeira, seconded from Kahului. I want a forensics crew to meet me ASAP at the Sangster estate. Someone just fired a shotgun at an FBI agent.”
Vanessa realized that her heart rate and breathing had returned to normal, but she couldn’t help but look over her shoulder every few steps. Texeira, on the other hand, appeared cool as ever. What has she gone through that she’s not even fazed from being shot at? she wondered. She remembered the stories about Lei Texeira, how she’d been targeted by a Maui crime family; how the “shroud killer” had sent death shrouds as threats to her and her husband; how her grandmother had been murdered. Forged in fire.