Tuesday Sampler: Murder On Edisto by C. Hope Clark
July 14, 2015
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle has launched a new series featuring writing samples from some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Tuesday’s Sampler is an excerpt from Murder on Edisto by C. Hope Clark. If you’re looking for a great mystery set in the mysterious low country of South Carolina, this is the novel you don’t want to miss. As one reviewer said: With an explosive start, Clark hurls the reader on a roller-coaster ride of anxiety, tension, and drama.
Murder on Edisto was the first place winner in the East Texas Writers Guild First Chapter Book Awards.
A big city detective. A lowcountry murder.
Peace, safety, a place to grieve and heal. After her husband is murdered by the Russian mob, Boston detective Callie Jean Morgan comes home to her family’s cottage in South Carolina. There, she can keep their teenage son, Jeb, away from further threats.
But the day they arrive in Edisto Beach, Callie finds her childhood mentor and elderly neighbor murdered. Taunted by the killer, who repeatedly violates her home and threatens others in the community, Callie finds her new sanctuary has become her old nightmare. Despite warnings from the town’s handsome police chief, Callie plunges back into detective work, pursuing a sinister stranger who may have ties to her past. He’s turning a quiet paradise into a paranoid patch of sand where nobody’s safe. She’ll do whatever it takes to stop him.
SERGEANT DETECTIVE Callista Jean Morgan leaned stiffly against a display beside the drug store pharmacy, hands stuffed in her size six jeans, waiting for a prescription. She moved further away as a woman seated herself nearby, hacking, a tissue wadded up one nostril. Callie had to stay healthy for the Leo Zubov prosecution. Her mind played with future testimony against the man and envisioned her upcoming day in court with the pernicious ass. Thrill shivered up her spine.
The speedier the trial the better. The Russian drug czar deserved nothing but the best the legal system could dole out to the bratchnie. Whatever locked him away the quickest and the longest suited her. Since reaching detective, Callie had spent most of her five years running the mazes Zubov incessantly built through Boston’s criminal underground. She’d pursued one trail after another down a hundred dead ends . . . until last week.
The bastard had threatened her and her family, as well as every cop, clerk, and janitor in the Boston Police Department. This time, however, he’d be dried-up and ancient by the time he got out of jail. Hallelujah and amen!
Her fifteen-year-old son Jeb loitered a few feet away, reading the ingredients on a bag of candy for diabetics. “Oxymoron,” he said, tossing the item back on the shelf. “Why eat candy if there’s no sugar in it?”
“I’m impressed you know the meaning of that word,” she said.
“So you are listening.” Jeb stepped in front of her and stared deep into her eyes with his familiar please-let-me-have-something squint. “Can I drive home?”
She gazed up at her six-foot, dashing young sophomore. Too short to reach the second shelf of her kitchen cabinets, Callie often wore boots with heels. She restrained herself from tousling his blond curls, a contrast to her auburn bob. Instead, she glanced out the store’s plate glass window. Seven p.m. The sun was about gone for the day. “I’m not sure, Jeb. It’s getting dark.”
He acted forlorn. “But the permit says I can drive at night with an adult in the car.”
Callie’s recurring nightmare involved an out of control truck rushing toward her Explorer, with Jeb at the wheel. Sometimes he was seven with pinchable cheeks, sometimes a tall, lanky fifteen. She would throw a protective arm across his chest, her foot stomping a nonexistent brake. She’d wake in a sea of sweat, her pulse thundering.
She never told her husband John. He dreamed nightmares of his own.
Jeb struck a silly pose, eying her, waiting for her answer. “Oh, come on, Mom.”
“Hush, I’m considering it.”
She figured eighteen about the proper age to get his license. Maybe when he went to college. She grinned at the exaggeration, then let the grin slide away as she realized how soon that time would come.
For the sake of their careers, she and John had chosen not to have more children after Jeb. But after a glorious drunken celebratory anniversary weekend, nine months later God gave them Bonnie. Even at thirty-eight, Callie delivered a perfect child . . . then lost her bright-eyed gift one horrific night when Bonnie simply stopped breathing.
Today would have been the baby’s first birthday.
John hadn’t mentioned the occasion. Neither had she. They were both at a loss what to do other than privately, silently relive the hurt.
“Callie Morgan?” called the pharmacist.
A young tech read the order. “Two prescriptions, right?”
“Do you need instructions how to use this medication?” he asked.
Birth control and an antidepressant. What was there to know other than she feared to relinquish either one since Bonnie’s death.
Callie’s phone rang, playing “Dixie.” A waiting gentleman scowled.
“Great, Mom,” Jeb whispered. “The South lost, remember?”
After studying caller ID, she wedged the phone on her shoulder as she paid the white-coated man. “Sorry,” she said, with her best South Carolina Lowcountry drawl three degrees thicker than usual. “My apologies, sir.”
Red-faced, Jeb walked in the opposite direction toward the vitamins.
Phone to her ear, she answered, “Callie Morgan.”
“It’s Waltham. You sitting down?”
She frowned at her boss’s gravelly, no-nonsense tone. “No, why?” Captain Detective Stan Waltham rarely led with gratuitous niceties. Callie’s Southern gentility usually drew at least one pleasantry out of the man. Not this time.
“The Feds stepped in on your case.”
“Why?” She closed her eyes. No! “Don’t tell me Zubov walks. We have him, Stan. He was at the buy, for God’s sake.” She walked away from the waiting herd of sick people. “What happened?”
“Officially they’ve told me jack shit, but a Homeland Security buddy I served with in the Gulf dropped me a whisper. Apparently Zubov has intel on some terrorist business, so they—”
“Damn it, he’s not walking.”
Drugs, guns, human slavery—the local Russian criminal element did it all, but narcotics were Leo’s specialty. The bastard’s white-powdered tentacles reached into and beyond the city, across the state, into New York and who-knows-where else. Far-reaching, but old school. No history of terrorist activity.
“Not sure about the details, Callie, but you and I are done with him.”
She spun around only to meet a tall, blue-haired woman. Callie glared as they maneuvered to pass each other. “Who the hell do I have to talk to?”
Her phone beeped. John calling.
“You need to take that?” Stan asked.
“Not now.” Callie let the call go to voice mail. “So, whose office door are we knocking on tomorrow?”
John rang again.
She’d left her husband at home with his head immersed in a work file strewn across the coffee table. His distraction from the day’s significance. Hers was to run the drug store errand, taking Jeb for comfort.
“I better take this call, Stan, but this thing with Leo isn’t over.”
“Yes, it is, Callie.”
“We’ll talk in the morning.”
She answered the waiting call, visualizing John running an impatient hand through his thick blond hair. “Everything okay?” she asked. “John?”
“Don’t come home.” His fast, blunt message held an unfamiliar concern, his order so eerily strict.
Callie stiffened. Was he so entrenched in his misery that he couldn’t face her tonight? Dammit, Bonnie’s death wasn’t her fault.
“Talk to me, John.”
The phone died.
Her heart seemed encased in ice. They’d always feared one of their arrests would seek revenge, finding his way to their doorstep. Adrenaline crashed through the chill and pumped madly into her system. She tried to call back. Shit. She tried again. The call routed to voice mail.
“Jeb!” She ran down the aisle where he leaned on the wall reading magazines and grasped his arm.
“Geez, Mom. What—”
She dragged him toward the door, his long legs stumbling. Outside she key-fobbed the locks, jumped into the driver’s seat, and fired the engine. As soon as Jeb shut his door, she slammed her portable blue light on the dash and sped into traffic.
Jeb’s palms slapped the dash and center console as he stared wide-eyed. “Mom, you’re scaring me. What’s wrong?” His voice had reverted to adolescence, breaking between words.
“Buckle your seatbelt.” Callie glanced both ways before she ran a red light.
She dialed dispatch. “This is Detective Callista Morgan. All available units to 475-C Dorchester Avenue. Suspected intruder. Be advised this is the residence of a Boston PD detective and a deputy US marshal.”
She disconnected and dropped the phone in a cup holder.
A horn blared as she gripped the steering wheel with both hands, zipping the car around an Escalade and a minivan.
“Mom!” Jeb shouted as he slammed into the door. “What—”
“That was your dad,” Callie said, channeling all her faculties into driving. She sped around an SUV through an amber light. “Something’s wrong. I need you to hold it together.”
He pushed himself back into his seat, fear etched in his face.
Callie’s heart hammered her ribs as she bridled the gas and brake pedals to ride a razor edge between arriving quickly and not arriving at all, streetlights passing like a carnival ride.
A city bus and a utility van blocked both lanes as she took another corner. Foot hard on and then off the brake, and onto the accelerator, she veered around them via the oncoming lane.
She didn’t want Jeb seeing this side of her. But she damn sure didn’t want him seeing the worst case scenario playing out in her head.
She swallowed once, then again as the first wouldn’t go down. Panic almost overwhelmed her. This could be any of his cases. Any of hers. Names and file numbers raced in her head as fast as the blocks she whizzed past. But it was the Russian’s name that stuck.
She glanced at Jeb. Was the fear in his eyes mirroring hers? She wouldn’t glance again.
Three blocks ahead, in spite of the city lights, an angry glow shone in the dusk, setting fire to the October sky.