PARANORMAL HOLIDAY – CH-5

Here’s the fifth and final chapter of Paranormal Holiday. I would appreciate any comments regarding the possibility of making this a series with these two protagonists. I found writing about the paranormal fun and, since I love mysteries, make that doubly enjoyable. Thanks for reading.

Joan

Also, keep in mind this is a first, unedited draft.

PARANORMAL HOLIDAY

CHAPTER 5

            “That’s odd,” Mark said, his gaze still on the open bathroom door. “Where can she be?” He hoped Randy hadn’t gone too far with her snooping. Carter wasn’t someone to fool with. “Maybe she went back to the car.” He had to appear unworried; he didn’t want to alert Carter. But the man seemed focused on something other than Mark and Randy. Carter had his attention on Brenda, who stood next to him, her entire attitude submissive, though Mark detected some trembling still there.

            “I have an appointment,” Carter said, signaling his wife with his eyes. “If there’s nothing else…”

            “No, that’s fine. Thanks for your hospitality.” Mark exited the house, went to his vehicle, but of course Randy wasn’t there. He grabbed the binoculars and trained them on the living room window, just in time to see the doll morph into the boy, join Carter and then Carter took Brenda’s hand and they both faded into nothingness. Mark sensed the Carters wouldn’t need a car and that this would be the final episode in Chicago, at least for now.

            “Got to get a team here,” he said, and contacted Roy.

            “What’re you on?” Roy asked, a cross between humor and disbelief in his voice.

            “Nothing, but I sure wish I was. Remember the kind of cases we’re on. Get on this, Roy. Everything’s about to blow wide open.” He hung up and minutes later several squad cars screamed onto the block, screeching to a stop.

            Not too long later, Mark had to admit defeat. He’d distinctly heard Mrs. Carter warn Randy about the loose tiles. Yet, all were fine and showed no evidence of anything like that. He pushed back the panic rising in his chest. Then he got a feeling or the sense of something he’d never experienced before. Randy. As if she was trying to reach him. He also received another message, though he had no idea of its source, that the tiles were crucial to her, or their escape. An image of four huddled bodies came to him and he told her in his mind, “Stay strong and look for the loose tile.”

#

            Randy leaned against the cold and damp stone wall, shivering, both in body and mind. She didn’t know what to do next. She’d concentrated on the third boy, talking, cajoling, and finally getting his real first name. Glen. Although he’d not admitted it, he was the one Roy and Mark investigated first, the seven year old. She’d caught a glimmer of hope in him, but now, unsuccessful at locating a way out, had nearly lost hope herself.

            “The tile, tiles,” Mark’s voice appeared in her head. “Find it. Do not give up.” Then there was silence for a moment and the words, “I love you.”

            “Okay guy, listen to me. It’s important.” She got to her feet and pulled them up, one by one. “We’re going to look for a loose tile.” Seeing the doubt on their faces, she said, “I know you don’t believe me, but remember, none of this is normal anyway. We’re going to find the loose tile. Maybe look for a spot on the floor that’s a little different.”

            She assigned a different section for each of them, including herself. “While we’re looking, I’m going to continue asking questions. We can do this, guys.”

            Buoyed by Mark’s words, and the eager faces of the boys, she began testing her area, using the grid pattern the cops did at a crime scene.

            “Glen,” she said, “do you remember the last name of your foster parents?”

            “Foster parents?” he asked, his eyes wide. Then, before she could say anything, he bobbed his head up and down. “Yeah, uh, Street, no, Streeter.” He frowned. “They were weird.”

            “Weird how?” She stepped on the next spot and tested it with her foot. Nothing.

            “Uh, they were, uh, like wooden. Didn’t think they were real at first.”

            Randy realized things were coming back to him and didn’t want him to lose his concentration. “Where and when did you first see them?”

            He frowned, and then scrunched up his forehead as he thought about that. “The park,” he said, “but not her, just him.” He began trembling and wrapped his arms around himself. “It was awful. I saw him at a grave.” He looked up at Randy, his eyes wide. “He…he was coming out of it and then he disappeared.” He swallowed hard, the Adam’s apple in his thin throat obvious. “It was at the park, at the edge of the skating part. It disappeared. Poof.”

            Randy was happy to see the animation, though she shuddered at the reason. Then, she realized Mark needed this information.

            “Mark,” she said silently, “The park and a grave. Edge of the rink.” She repeated this several times, actually heard Mark repeating it, and then she settled down to her search.

#

            Mark and Roy raced back to headquarters, anxious to access records before the City Hall employees left for the day. They needed to learn about any old graveyards in the vicinity. Roy, who had a memory for phone numbers, called a woman he figured could get that information for them. Having ridden with Mark, he jumped out of the car and ran into the building while Mark parked. By the time Mark reached the proper department, Roy was exiting the room, waving a paper at him.

            “Got it,” he said. “There was a Baptist church on the site. Not there now, of course, but they moved two blocks away in 1911. Let’s go.”

            As was often the case back then, the pastor and his family lived in a bungalow next door to the church. Lights were on, a lit Christmas tree was in the window, and the smell of baking bread was in the air as a middle-aged man opened the door. Roy identified himself and Mark, and then said, “We need some information and it’s urgent.”

            The pastor hesitated, and then let them in. “What do you need?”

            “Anything about graves, or a cemetery that might have been on the old site,” Mark said.

            “That information would be next door. I’ll get my jacket.”

            A few minutes later, they had the location of the few graves and they were about to leave when the pastor stopped them.

            “You may want to know this as well. It’s a sad story.” He shrugged. “Back in 1885 a man was accused of poisoning his son’s mind against his schoolmates. Actually, from what I’ve learned through research—it’s a hobby of mine—it was the other way around. They bulled his son, Gary, who killed himself. When they buried him, the father placed a boy doll on his chest, put it in his hands. When the old man died, for some odd reason he was buried in the same coffin. And oh, he uttered some kind of curse before he died.”
            “Musta been a tight squeeze,” Roy said.

            “No, because the dad insisted on a bigger coffin.”
            They thanked the pastor and, armed with the information they needed, set about getting an exhumation order. Roy pulled some strings and after some very anxious moments, they were at the park, waiting for the people who would raise the coffin.

#

            Continuing to get encourages messages from Mark, Randy encouraged and praised the boys. They responded, their faces brighter by far, their doubts dissipated. Even Glen chased away his gloom. Randy kept on talking, getting descriptions from each of the boys about foster parents. Jose’s home before the Howlands had included a father and mother who described exactly like Carter. She’d forgotten by now the progression of each boy from home to foster parents, and then here. Except, and she knew this was important, that each set of parents were in some way replaced by a Carter clone, though with different last names. All three were diligent about finding the loose tile, and none had, as far as she could tell, lost hope.

            “Here!” Glen’s excitement showed in his voice and actions. He wiggled as he pointed down at his feet, his voice rising in volume and pitch as he repeatedly said “here.”

            The other two boys and Randy crowded around Glen, staring down at the floor.

            “Move aside for a minute,” Randy said, and when Glen did that, she saw the grayish square. It wasn’t immediately evident, but when she examined it, the edges of the square were clear.

            “I believe we need to step hard on it,” she said. “I’m bigger. Let me do it, but stay close. In fact, we’ll hold hands in a circle.”

            A rumble startled them and Randy, convinced time was of the essence, pressed hard on the exact center of the square. Her heart pounded and her pulse raced and she prayed to beat Carter. That increasing rumble had to be him.

            The loudest squeak she’d ever heard had all of them jumping back as the square opened to a staircase.

            “Come on,” she said, “before it closes again. Glen, you go first and each hang onto the hand of the boy behind you. Jose, you take my hand.”

            They raced down what seemed to be an incredibly long series of winding steps until they came, not to a trap door, but an actual opening. Blue sky was above them and voices, along with the clank of chains. They stepped out into the park grounds and Randy found herself right next to Mark. Still handing onto Jose’s hand, while each boy clung to another hand, they watched as the coffin lid was raised. Randy moved closer, her other hand in Mark’s.

            She looked up at Mark after spotting the doll on top of a skeleton.

            “We need to burn that,” she said, and pointed to a barrel nearby.

            The team with Mark and Roy moved fast, lighting the already present wood in the barrel. Randy, Mark and Roy, along with the team and the boys, all had their gazes on the conflagration as the doll burned. The Carters appeared in the fire, but so briefly Randy wondered if she’d really seen them.

            A sense of peace settled over the park afterward. It would be closed for a while and would reopen once all the graves were relocated.

#

            “What’s next for you?” Mark asked. They were in his living room, his Christmas tree in front of the window, lit with colorful lights and decorated with old-fashioned ornaments, and wrappings scattered below on the floor. Mark had put on the red sweater from her, while the gold cross he’d given her was around her neck on an exquisite gold chain.

            “I don’t know,” she said, snuggling next to him on the couch. “I’m so glad the boys are all back with their parents. I can’t think of anything but that. But what is that odd look on your face?”

            He grinned and hugged her. “Roy and I have been getting reports from all across the country of boys suddenly reappearing in their homes.” He paused, then said, “They were all descendants of the original bullies.”

            “It was a horrible case,” she said, “but that makes it all worthwhile.”

            He gave her a long searching look, nodded, and then kissed her.

THE END

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PARANORMAL HOLIDAY-CHS 3 AND 4

Below you’ll find chapters 3 and 4 of my holiday novella, Paranormal Holiday. I’ve used the same characters in this as in Scenarios, and am considering making this a series. If so, they would be full-size books rather than novellas. I would appreciate any comments or suggestions. This is a first draft and hasn’t undergone any revisions.

Chapter 5, the final one, will be posted Tuesday.

 

PARANORMAL HOLIDAY

CHAPTER 3

            Shivers tracked down every one of Randy’s spine when she heard Mrs. Sheldon tell about Gary and his father becoming one. Her throat closed up and she knew she should say something but it was impossible. She looked helplessly at Mark, who nodded.

            “Can you give us a list of Jose’s friends?” he asked.

            “Yes,” Mrs. Sheldon said and, taking a lined pad from her desk, she quickly wrote down four names and handed the paper to Mark.

            “Thanks.” He put it in his pocket and Randy sensed he was about to leave. She couldn’t allow that to happen. There was more Mrs. Sheldon could tell them.

            “Mrs. Sheldon,” Randy said, thinking how to word her question, “is there anything unusual about any of these friends?” She saw the emotions cross the teacher’s face, the confusion, fear, and then resignation, though the fear hadn’t quite left.

            Mrs. Sheldon nodded. “Yes, I’m afraid so. Steve McManus and Jose have been friends since the beginning of the school year, but a month ago—I don’t know how to explain it—Steve backed away a bit. He began hanging out with someone else, not anyone on the list I gave you, but a boy he claimed lived next door to him. I was never able to get the kid’s name, and then Steve quit coming to school. I tried to follow up, but got nothing. The parents said he was with his uncle now and refused to answer any questions. I heard a young voice, maybe a girl’s, in the background, saying ‘tell about the doll,’ but the father made some kind of excuse and hung up.”
            “I’ll check it out,” Mark said, and asked for their addresses and phone numbers.

            After a few more questions, Mark and Randy left. “Are we going to see the McManus parents?” Randy asked as she buckled herself into the passenger seat of Mark’s vehicle.

            “Yes, but first the PD. I want to check them out.” His expression was grim as he turned on the ignition, but he didn’t make a move to leave the parking lot.

            “What?” Randy asked.

            “The list is totally different from Mrs. Howland’s.” He sighed, and then drove from the lot, his expression closed. Randy wasn’t willing to shatter the silence. She followed him to his office and quietly waited while he accessed a program on his computer. Randy scooted her chair next to his so she could read the screen, surprised to see he was accessing records on the Carter family instead of McManus.

            “I thought you’d be looking up McManus.”

            He nodded and glanced at Randy. “That’s next.” They moved to Chicago two months ago. Hmm, that’s odd. They supposedly were from St. Louis. The father doesn’t have a record, no arrests, zip.” He picked up his phone, turned to Randy. “I’m calling a detective I know in St. Louis. Used to work with me.” He asked the detective to check on Terrence Carter and waited, drumming his fingers on the desk. “Okay, thanks,” he said, and hung up. “No record of a Terrence Carter ever living in St. Louis.”

            “That’s strange,” Randy said, a sense of evil coming over her. She suddenly realized the Carters were the center of the problem and that they’d never find anything on them, no records anywhere.

            She watched as he accessed records on the McManus family, Steven McManus, Sr., his wife Penny, Steven Jr. and Amy.
            “Nothing unusual here. They’ve lived here for years. He’s a construction foreman. No record on him either,” Mark said.

            :”What about a missing person’s report on Steve, Jr?” But Randy knew there’d be nothing and Mark confirmed that.

            “Everything’s so okay it’s bothering me,” Mark said. “I’d better access ViCAP, see if there’ve been similar cases in St. Lou9is. Should’ve asked Clark, but this way I can get a wider area.”

            The terrible feeling increased to gigantic proportions when the results showed similar events in almost every large city in the United States. Only Hawaii escaped. Mark let out a huge sigh and said, “I’ll have to follow up on this but first we visit the McManus family, then the skating rink this afternoon. But let’s go to lunch first.”

            Randy was grateful for the respite, though the last ten minutes at the restaurant, a fast food place, were devoted to discussion about the missing child cases.

            “What’s your impression?” Mark asked.

            Randy hesitated, hating to put words to what she was thinking. She closed her eyes for a moment, steeled herself and said, “This Carter guy’s responsible for all or most of ‘em.”

            “Every city?” Mark asked, his eyebrows raised, though Randy saw a flicker of acceptance in his eyes. She realized he didn’t want to, but agreed.

#

            The McManus house was in a neighborhood of older homes three blocks from the school. It was near the end of a block, had an extra lot on either side, which Mark saw resembled the Adams family house too much to suit him. While the design of the home was entirely different, being a bungalow from the twenties, the atmosphere mimicked that of the TV family.

            “Spooky,” Randy said and took Mark’s hand as they walked up the steps.

            Mark’s gaze took in the peeling paint on the storm door, the ragged curtains on the windows of what had to be the living room, and cobwebs in the corners of the windows. Swinging around, he noted dead grass coming through the smaller piles of snow. The sidewalk leading to the house was unshoveled, only their footprints disturbing the latest snowfall. He turned back again. “Don’t think anybody’s living here,” he said, and rang the bell, then twice more, and then turned the knob and the door squeaked open.

            “Jeez, Mark,” Rand7y said, “I don’t know if I want to go in there.”

            “Stay with me.” Mark took Randy’s right hand, unholstered his weapon with his right and proceeded into the house.

            The living room was bare, he saw. Well, except for spiders and the obvious occupancy of mice and such. “Looks older than it should,” he said, pointing with his gun hand at the wide plank floor. He shook his head, and then walked through the archway into a dining room. Unlike the empty living room, this room had a built in china cabinet at the far wall, but it was dusty and some of the knobs were missing and the mirror was cracked in many places.

            He stopped in the middle of the kitchen, which had a stove so old Mark didn’t recognize it, and no fridge. “They couldn’t have lived here. It’s like this place was deserted in the eighteen hundreds, but from the design, it wasn’t built that long ago.”

            “Should we go on?” Randy asked, and he noted her trembling.

            “Come on, Randy. Look how great you did at Scenarios. This should be a piece of cake,” Mark said, wishing he believed it himself. That had been horrible and he’d nearly died. If it weren’t for Randy…he stopped the though and realized something.

            “What now?” she asked. “You’ve got that uh oh look on your face.”

            “I dunno, Randy. Do something for me. Take a look out the window and tell me what you see.”

            “Not without you.” She headed for the lone kitchen window, tugging him along. He saw the pane coated with grease and dust, the white curtain shredded and gray. He didn’t want to look, but they both did. “What is that?”

            Her gaze on him, she said, “You know damn well what that is. What else could a tiny shed like building with one door be other than an outhouse? This gets weirder and weirder.”

            “All right then.” He led her to the front bedroom, which like the living room, was empty. When they stepped into the second bedroom, he froze to the spot. It wasn’t old like the rest of the house but had a captain’s bed of gleaming dark wood, a matching chest of drawers, even a matching toy chest at the foot of the bed. Like most children’s rooms, this one had clothes strewn about: jeans, Nike’s, a couple ball caps, one of the Cubs, the other the Sox. Brief were on the floor and blue sox lay across one of the shoes.

            Randy pointed to the windowsill and he saw, between the slightly open drapes that depicted baseball paraphernalia, a boy doll.

            “We should’ve gotten Steve’s description,” Randy said.

            He nodded and, still holding her hand, quickly exited the room and then the house. “Should’ve gotten a warrant,” he said and shrugged, “but on what?”

#

            It wasn’t time yet for the skating class, but Randy wasn’t ready for that anyway. “I’m not hungry,” she said, “but I want coffee. I don’t think I can stand another weird thing right now.”

            Mark squeezed her hand as they went to his vehicle. “Me neither. My boss is going to get an earful.”

            “You mean you’re gonna resign the spook squad?”

            “Yep.” He opened the passenger door for her, and then got behind the wheel. She was glad when he laid rubber getting away from that horrid house.

            “I wonder,” she began.

            “What?”

            “If we were to go back after solving this case, would the house still be old?”

            A muscle jumped by his mouth. “Never thought of that.”

            She grinned but didn’t feel one bit cheerful. “Well, you’d better get used to it if you, as I suspect, get stuck with the spook squad.”

            He chose a Perkins this time and took a booth at the rear. He leaned back and closed his eyes. Randy felt the same, wanting to be home and safe, to shut out the whole weird part of the universe. She could pretend it didn’t exist but that wouldn’t work. The psychic crap would just seek her out, “Seek and ye shall find,” she uttered.

            “What’s that about?”

            She told him what she’d just thought and he nodded.

            “Okay, Mark, I think we’re on the way to proving my theory, but I’m at a loss to know our next step. What is it? You’re the detective.”

            “Yeah, but they didn’t teach this at the Academy.” He rolled his eyes and she laughed.

            “Maybe they should. You know, there’s more than one FBI series with agents dealing with that stuff. I wonder if there really are such departments.”

            “I’ve read some of them too,” he admitted and, leaning forward, both hands on the edge of the table, said, “Don’t forget those groups are always secret. But I think our next step has to be the rink. I think it starts there.”

            “Could be,” she said, “but what about tropical cities?”

            “Indoor rinks.”

            Their waitress had arrived with their coffee and all to soon, they were finished.

            Mark glanced at his watch. “The skating class should begin in about fifteen minutes. We might as well get this part over with.”

            The rink wasn’t far, and Randy pictured to students eagerly following instructions, some falling, giggling or crying out. What she didn’t expect to see was the padlocked gate, the fence in disrepair, and the deserted and yes, spooky air about the place.

 

PARANORMAL HOLIDAY

CHAPTER 4

            “I think I’d like to go back home, climb under the covers and not get up until New Year’s,” Randy said, speaking in a whisper as if loud talk would rouse ghosts of missing children. She reached out for Mark’s hand and clung to 9it. She needed some semblance of normalcy. Mark was it. Gazing at the unbelievable surroundings, she kept thinking that if she blinked, the padlocks were gone and the kids would begin to arrive, skates flung over their shoulders, their cheeks red with the cold.

            Mark squeezed her hand. “Me too. I’ll be darned if I can figure this out. But I’ve got an idea.” He whipped out his cell phone, made a call and asked someone to check out the history of the park and its rink.

            “Why did you do that?” she asked as he tugged her back to his vehicle.

            “Tell you in a minute.” He clicked the lock open and when they were belted in, drove away, exceeding the speed limit by quite a bit.

            “Good thing you’re a cop.” Randy grinned at him as she clung to the handle as he took a corner fast.

            “Come in handy.” He reached the school, parked and turned in his seat to face her. “I can’t tell you why. Just got a feeling that park has a history.”

            Randy considered what he’d just said and realized she’d witnessed a smidgeon of his psychic ability which, she guessed, he had no idea he possessed. He probably thought his solving of psychic cases was pure old fashioned police detective work and she wasn’t about to say a word to him about that. Let him have his illusions. “Good idea. Who’d you call?”

            He grinned. “One of your rivals.” He named a well known reporter who wrote for the Chicago Tribune.

            “Good guy. I’ve met him, but why are we here?”

            “Remember when you wondered if the McManus house would return to normal when the case was closed?”

            She nodded and he went on. “Got a hunch it changes back and forth. Got no idea why.” He scrubbed his face with his hand. “Shit, I’m going nuts here. Can’t believe what I’m saying. Anyway, though maybe if we followed Mrs. Sheldon we’d find the park back to normal.

            Randy put a hand on his arm to stop him from getting out of the vehicle. “What if it did that because of us, get all deserted, I mean.”

            “Hmm, that means we should stay out of sight when we get back there. Okay, let’s see of Mrs. Sheldon is still here and if she’s still holding a class today.”

            Randy followed him to the school door, practically running to keep up with him. He might claim to hate this spook stuff, but to her, he sure seemed focused on getting answers. His boss was right to keep him on paranormal cases.

            But what did that mean for her? She didn’t like it any better than he did.

            The sound of children’s voices singing Christmas songs reached her as they strode down the hall to the office door. Halfway down the corridor a door was open and Randy wondered if it was the music room.

            The same clerk they’d talked to earlier was just leaving the office as they entered.

            “Do you know if Mrs. Sheldon is still here?” Mark asked.

            The woman shook her head as she shrugged into her coat. “No, she left for the park about five minutes ago.”

            “Thanks.” Mark swung around and he and Randy returned to the car. “We’re going to stay out of sight, and I’ve got binoculars. Should help.”

            Shivers danced down Randy’s spine as she anticipated what they would see. Was this fear or was it another manifestation of her own psychic powers? Not for the first time she wished she could chuck this whole case. In fact, it would be best if she could live a normal un-spooky life. Even boring would be acceptable. In fact, her old job with the back in the fifties chauvinistic boss sounded awfully good to her.

            “What are you thinking?” he asked, a questioning look on his face.

            She told him and he laughed. “Can’t say I disagree.” He parked in a spot where the car would be sheltered by pines, behind a van and with a small black Toyota behind him. He peered through the binoculars he took from the glove compartment—his was an unmarked police car—then handed them to her.

            Randy marveled at the change. Everything was so normal, as if they hadn’t seen the deserted rink, the rusty old padlocks, and the dried grass peeking through the snow. Boys and girls sat on benches, bent over, putting on their skates, laughing and talking. It was probably their last skating class before Christmas and spirits were high. As she saw them stand and move toward the ice, some easily, some hesitating, she wished she could join them and throw all her cares and worries away. As she viewed the various children trying to copy what the teacher showed them, her gaze fixed on one boy. There was something odd about him, as if he were really an old man in a young body. His eyes were ancient, all knowing and, she was convinced, inherently evil.

            Without warning, a violent wind came, bringing with it what appeared to be a blizzard.

            “Okay, they were disbanding.” Mark started the car, fo0llowed the odd boy’s progress, or so she surmised, with the binoculars, then pulled away from the curb.

#

            “Somehow I’m not surprised,” Mark said as he parked a couple doors away from the house Gary and his dad entered. The house was next door to the McManus home which, Mark saw, was now back to normal. He would love to know if so-called normal people, unlike he and Randy, saw the McManus house as old, as he and Randy had. He voiced that question.\

            “You could ask,” Randy said.

            “Oh yeah, I think I’ll leave that to you.”

            “Not a chance. What do we do now, Mark?”

            “We pose as an engaged couple, thinking of buying that place.” He inclined his head to the McManus house, which now had a for sale sign on the front snow-covered yard. It looked to be in good shape, well kept up. “And oh, I have a six year old son who’ll be transferring to the school Gary goes to.”

            “What’s his name?”
            “Mark, Jr. Easy to remember.”

            Randy rolled her eyes and they exited the car and trudged up the well shoveled walkway to the house occupied by the Carters. As they reached the porch, Mark saw a car emerge from a garage at the right and speed into the rod and away.

            “Was that Carter?” Randy asked, staring after the taillights of the auto, now out of sight.

            “I think so. Hope someone’s home. The boy didn’t go with him.”

            “How could you tell? They might’ve been…”

            For answer, he shrugged and rang the bell. A tall dark haired young woman answered the door. She looked scared, he thought, and put on his best welcoming smile, explaining that they were thinking of buying the house next door.

            “Come in,” the woman said, opening the door wide to let them precede her. She gestured toward the living room to the right and Mark and Randy sat on a floral loveseat while the woman perched on a piano bench. Studying her as he smiled, Mark was convinced she wanted and needed some kind of help, though why she’d look to strangers, he couldn’t fathom. Maybe he and Randy looked nice and capable.

            “So you’re looking at the house next door,” the woman said, inclining her head to the right in the direction of the McManus place. “It’s been on the market for only a short time.” She shook her head. “Can’t imagine why they left like that. It’s just you and your wife?”

            Mark shook his head. “No, she’s my fiancé. I have a six year old boy, and wanted to be in this school district. Heard they were good.”

            At the mention of the boy, the woman, who finally introduced herself as Brenda Carter, began visibly shaking and the color in her face leached out. Seeing that, Mark gave Randy the pre-arranged signal to snoop.

            “Mrs. Carter,” Randy said, standing, “is it okay if I use the bathroom?”

            “Certainly.” Mrs. Carter rose, walked to the hall and pointed to the right and the back. “The first door on your right,” she said, her eyes downcast. “There’s a loose tile in there. Be careful.”

            Without understanding why, Mark’s nerves took a jolt as Randy left the room. Why was he so scared? It didn’t make sense. And why was Mrs. Carter terrified? Mark knew they’d found the source of the missing children. All he had to do now was to find out how, where, when and why.

            “Sir,” Mrs. Carter began, jumping from the piano bench, “I want…” But she never finished what she was about to say as the front door burst open and a visibly angry Mr. Carter entered. Hoping he wasn’t the source of that, Mark walked to the entry, his hand out to shake the man’s hand. He noted Carter’s sudden switch to a welcoming host.

            “This man and his fiancé are considering buying the house next door,” Mrs. Carter said.

            “That’s a big place for just two people,” Mr. Carter said, frowning.

            “Three,” Mark said. “I have a six your old son.”

            Mr. Carter smiled. “Mine is a bit older but it’ll be nice to have a playmate on the block. Brenda, why don’t you get some coffee or tea for these…” He turned to Mark. “Your fiancé did come in with you, right?”

            “Yes, she’s freshening up in the bathroom,” Mrs. Carter said, her eyes darting to the doorway.

            Mark swung around to look, but caught sight of something out of the corner of his eye that made him want to run. Witnessing a boy emerge from the man’s body wasn’t anything he’d want to repeat.

            When he turned back to speak to Mr. Carter, he spotted the boy doll on the mantel where before there’d been nothing. Fear like nothing he’d ever experienced took hold of him as he stepped toward the doorway, anxiety ridden for Randy’s safety.

            The door to the bathroom was wide open and there was no sign of Randy.

#

            Randy wasn’t far but she didn’t know that. All she knew was that, upon entering the small black and red powder room, she’d stepped on a loose tile, and was now in a dimly lit room that was cold and forbidding. There wasn’t a single piece of furniture in the room and the stone floor seemed to exude cold in waves. She wasn’t alone. Three young boys sat huddled together. Tears streaked the cheeks of two while the third seemed resigned to what fate awaited him.

            Her gaze darted around the small room of the same dimensions as the powder room, Randy detected no means of exiting, but there had to be something.

            Angry and scared, she squared her shoulders and prepared to enlist the help of the three boys.

            “I’m Randy,” she said. “Who are you?” Her gaze went first to Jose, then the boy she surmised was Steve, and last to the one giving up. “We’re going to work together to get out, okay?”

            “What’s your name?” she asked the especially sad boy.

            “I don’t know what my name will be,” the boy said, his face now streaked with tears, his eyes brimming. He shuddered and put his hands over his face. “My time is almost up.”

            What would happen to him? Randy had no choice. She had to get all three out of here, and fast.

Joan K. Maze

MY NEW BOOK

 

 

MY NEW BOOK IS AVAILABLE

 

            I just finished self-publishing my book, The Hierophant, a police procedural/thriller. Not only am I excited about finishing this book, which required a lot of study and learning, I also am pleased and surprised I actually finished the self-publishing route without hiring someone to help.

 

            There were some bumps along the way with the publishing, such as figuring out some of the steps which, of course, turned out to be easy. Well, isn’t everything easy once you know how to do it? And then, both my PC and my laptop crashed last Thursday and I had to get Xfinity Signature Support to fix them. It took two hours, but they did get it done and by that afternoon I had the book in the process of publishing.

 

            You won’t find it on Amazon or B&N for a matter of hours as I decided to lower the price. But it should be available soon. Pubit is having technical difficulties so it could take a while.

 

            Next, I will tackle Create Space and do the print version. I’m no longer terrified about doing this, especially since they have a template, which should make it a lot easier.

 

            About the writing of the book: I’d started The Hierophant a long time ago and it went through several metamorphoses. I first had it set in Chicago, where I grew up. Then it was in St. Paul or, rather, a fictional city like St. Paul. The next place was Hamlet, Minnesota, my fictional city created for my cozy series, the Mollie Fenwick Series. None of them worked. So, in 2008 I decided to resurrect the book and, this time, set it in a real place, the city I live in, Inver Grove Heights.

 

            Now, since I knew next to nothing about police work, never worked in a police station, and never have been dragged into custody, handcuffed and kicking and screaming, I decided I needed technical help. I called the police station, left a message on the chief’s phone, and figured I’d wait an eternity for a response. Much to my astonishment, a police lieutenant called me back, listed to what I wanted, and asked me to type up a list of questions and give them to him during National Night Out, which was in a few days. I did that, and thus began our association. I will continue to work with him on the second book, having finished the complete first draft during NaNoWriMo. The lieutenant is now Chief Larry Stanger of the Inver Grove Heights Police Department, and believe me, I’m grateful for the wonderful help I received.

 

            I also was lucky enough to participate in the Inver Grove HeightsCitizensPoliceAcademy this fall, a wonderful course that provided lots of good information and the impetus for the new book.

            Below is an excerpt from the first chapter of The Hierophant, actually, the very beginning. You’ll meet the antagonist right off the bat, and then the police investigator who is the main character in this novel, Victor Marino. You’ll also meet the newest investigator, Jennifer Solheim, whom he’s assigned to train in as an investigator.

 

Joan

 

EXCERPT

 

Chapter One

The watcher’s pulse sped up and his heart swelled with pride as he viewed the crime scene through his telescope. He’d succeeded. But would her parents get the message? Would they recognize their crimes, their sins?

And what about Butterfly’s brother, the cop? When would he arrive at the scene, if at all? A patrolman stood talking to the plow driver, getting his story, no doubt. Not enough activity for the watcher. He needed and wanted recognition and acceptance.

Using his swivel chair, he rolled across the floor to his desk, removed a pack of Tarot cards from the center drawer, and laid several down. His hand shook and one more card dropped to the center. As if of their own volition, his eyes focused on the pattern – and then the last, unplanned, card.

Death.

As he gazed, transfixed, a bolt of lightning rent the air.

He shot his fist into the air, and stopped, his arm held aloft, the cry of triumph caught in his throat.

What if he’d misunderstood? Lightning in the winter was rare, but not unheard of. The last time, he’d read Zeus’s sign wrong, and had suffered horrendous punishment. The smell of fear hit his nostrils as sweat ran down his arm, his face, his entire body, soaking his sweat suit. The rest of the deck slipped from his grasp, scattering onto the table, his lap, the floor.

His heart thundered and pain radiated throughout his chest. He squeezed his eyes shut, waiting, expecting to seeMt.Olympus before him, and the twelve gods gathered to discuss his fate.

Would he always suffer for the mistake he’d made years ago? He pictured Butterfly, the beautiful and delicate creature who’d taken the place of the one who’d fled.

He shouldn’t have done that, but hadn’t he made amends – over and over again?

With a wild cry, he tumbled to the floor, vomit spewing from his mouth as tears streamed down his face.

#

“Odd” Victor Marino closed his cell phone and almost missed seeing the blue Ford Taurus at the side of the road, snow reaching almost to the top of the right rear tire.

The driver’s door opened. Legs, long ones, with tight black pants tucked into tall cuffed boots, appeared. His gaze reached the short jacket that ended an inch or so past her waist. Then he saw the fur collar.

The wildlife guys would go nuts.

Best of all was the long blonde hair, whipped by a gust of wind.

The blonde yanked open the rear door, pulled out a shovel, and began digging by the impacted tire. Her cheeks were red from the cold and her lips moved as if she were swearing at Mother Nature.

The nicely rounded derriere belonged to Jennifer Solheim, one of the patrol officers.

Marino put his lights on to warn oncoming traffic, eased out of his vehicle, crossed in front and stopped next to her.

“Need help?”

She stared for a moment, and then recognition flashed into her eyes.

“Thanks, Marino,” she said, giving him a grin along with the shovel, and climbed back into her car.

Minutes later, done with the snow removal, he put the shovel in her back seat and signaled for her to leave. As soon as she drove off, he slid behind the wheel and followed her right into the station lot.  “Damn,” he said, wondering if he dared break one of his do-not-break rules, never date a cop. So far, it hadn’t been a problem. The Inver Grove Heights P.D. didn’t have many females on the force, and the ones they did have were either married or not his type. He didn’t do well with women or partners. Couldn’t keep either. When the memory of his last partner’s death nagged at him, he shoved it aside. Time to go to work.

Calling to mind the message he’d received right before leaving for work, he shook his head. Why did Chief Higgins want to see him before he went to the crime scene? It didn’t make sense. A patrolman had found a body in McGroartyPark. That meant they’d have to secure and work the scene fast.

He entered the station, stamped the snow off his boots and set off down the hall to Chief Higgins’ office, Solheim maybe three feet ahead of him.

Sergeant Steuben, on his way out, inclined his head. “Hey Prof, what’s going on?” He glanced over his shoulder at Solheim, but went on.

“Prof,” Marino muttered. “When’ll they give that up?”

Solheim entered the Chief’s office just ahead of him, the musk scent of her perfume assailing his nostrils.

Suspicion lodged itself in the back of Marino’s mind. Nah, couldn’t be.

Higgins, facing the window, swiveled around, his chair squealing like a damn pig. He rolled up to the desk, placed both palms down on top of a bunch of files, and turned first to Solheim, then him.

“Sir,” Marino said.

“You remember about training someone?”

Aw, shit, it was what he’d thought. Marino ran his fingers through his hair. Weeks earlier, Higgins had mentioned getting a new investigator. Was Solheim the one?

“Yes, I remember.”

Higgins motioned to Solheim. “Marino, Jennifer Solheim is our new investigator. I’m sure you two will work out the details of her training, but right now you need to get out to McGroartyPark.” He coughed several times and cleared his throat. “Have Solheim stick with you on this.”

Then the chief stood, snagged a jacket hanging on a hook by the door, and left, his usual ramrod-straight body sagging.

Marino detected the menthol odor as Higgins passed. He must have dosed himself with something. Marino remembered his mother slapping a cloth on his chest when he’d been a child. Smelly. A lot like what was on Higgins. He hoped it would work. That was a bad cough Higgins had.

Marino exchanged a glance with Solheim before they stood, and then stepped aside to let her go first. She stopped him with a hand on his arm.

“No need to stand on ceremony, Marino. Just treat me like one of the guys, okay?”

Marino gave her the once over. Legs, long hair, beautiful green eyes. He swallowed before answering. “Right. One of the guys.”

She strode ahead of him, full of purpose, her arms swinging by her sides. This would be an interesting association. He couldn’t call it a partnership—they didn’t have partners in Inver Grove Heights, not with just three investigators. It wouldn’t be easy with her looking like she should be modeling swimsuits instead of doing police work. An image of her in a bikini, holding handcuffs, flashed through his mind. He swore under his breath and rubbed the back of his neck. Why hadn’t he seen this coming? Higgins had been concerned about equality in the past few months, leaning over backward to change from his former male-dominant attitude.

Joan K. Maze

writing as J. K. Maze

 

PARANORMAL HOLIDAY – CHAPTER 2

            Mark quickly ushered Mrs. Howland and Randy6 from Jose’s room. He wasn’t so worried about Randy—not after her amazing courage at The Scenarios Inn. But Mrs. Howland was another matter. She looked ready to collapse.

            He didn’t feel so good himself and made a mental note to have a talk with his boss. If that didn’t work, he’d go to the Captain. He shrugged. His chances of getting out of investigating this spooky stuff were just about nil.

            Mrs. Howland sank onto the couch, her entire body shaking, and her face a chalky white. He spied several young faces peeking over the banister, but they scampered back up the stairs when he looked at them. They seemed more curious than frightened. Oh, the resilience of the young. But he knew that could change to trembling fear in seconds.
            He sat beside Mrs. Howland, while Randy chose a recliner across from them and gently rocked back and forth. By her tightly clenched hands, he knew she was scared; Mrs. Howland wasn’t the only one.

            “Mrs. Howland, I know this is hard, but if I can ask some questions, I can begin searching for your son. Okay?” He shifted in his seat to face her and saw the shaky breath she exhaled. She reached for a tissue from a box on the end table beside her, and nodded, then blew her nose and put her hand up, signaling silence.

            “First, let me tell you how we got him.” Her voice cracked and tears began flowing, but she wiped them away, putting a determined look on her face and squaring her shoulders.

            “My son, Keith, knew him from school,” she said, her voice gaining strength. “They’re about the same age. I first met him hen I picked up Keith from skating practice. Jose was sitting on a bench, crying hard, shrinking away when a man—I don’t know who he was—started toward him. Then there were sirens and the police came and took the man away. I took the boy over to the teacher, who was busy tending an injured classmate. She called his house, got his foster mom, who said she had to go to the police department, that she couldn’t be bothered with Jose. I contacted my case worker who had arranged for me to get Keith, and took Jose home. That was a couple months ago. We started adoption proceedings and it should go through soon.”

            “Have you talked to him about his foster parents?” Mark asked.

            She nodded. “He shrugs when I mention his foster mom, but with no warmth in his voice when he says ‘she’s okay.’ But he refuses to talk about his foster father or even look at me when I speak of him.”

            By the time Mark finished questioning Mrs. Howland, he had the names of Jose’s friends, the school and the kindergarten teacher’s name, as well as that of the skating instructor. Then he and Randy left for his precinct, put out an amber alert and then checked with Roy Bascomb, his partner, for any updates on their previous, still open, case, that one a seven year old boy from the same school. They’d gotten the call two days earlier.

            “Roy, did you get the name of the previous foster parents?” Mark asked, a chill going down his spine.

            “Yeah,” Roy said, shuffling through some pages in his notebook, “a Warren Streeter, his wife, Lorna. Seems they vacated their house some time ago, maybe a month. No one knows. Musta moved at night.” He looked through more papers and gave Mark the address.

            “Okay, Roy, thanks,” Mark said, and gave him a report of the new case.

            “Shit,” Roy spat out, then scrunched his eyebrows together, creases appearing on his forehead. “It’s only two days since this one.” He jabbed a finger on the file pertaining to the seven year old. “Can’t have this happen again.” He looked startled. “Bobby was in the skating class too.”

            “Yeah.” Mark blew out a breath. “We need to talk to that skating instructor, but we’ll have to wait until tomorrow when the school’s open. What’re your plans?

            Roy gave a long list of tasks in connection with another case they were close to winding up. “Why don’t you do it?” He nodded to Randy. “Take her with you. She just about solved that damn Scenarios case for you.”

            Randy rolled her eyes, and then laughed. “We solved it together.”

            “Whatever,” Roy said, grinning. He turned to Mark. “How about it?”

            “If you mean taking Randy, yeah, that’s a good idea.” Mark shifted his gaze to her but got a conflicting response, both a smile and a grimace. “Which is it? Yea or nay?”

            “Yes, I’ll go, but I still get the willies over that Scenarios thing. I don’t much care for this paranormal stuff.”

            Mark didn’t know why that startled him, since he’d recognized the clues to the fact that this was a paranormal case when they were in the boy’s room. “I don’t like it either, but let’s go about nine tomorrow.”

#

            “I’ll never complain about boredom again,” Randy said. “Yesterday I was regretting quitting the paper, restless and pacing until I called Mrs. Howland and decided to go shopping. I’m worried about Jose and that other boy you’re looking for.” She didn’t mention the awful feeling of doom settling over her, urging that they hurry before it was too late.

            “I understand,” Mark said. “I don’t want any more of these cases, but right now, something tells me we’d better not waste time.”

            Mark parked in the school lot and he and Randy got out and headed to the door and then the office to ask for the skating instructor, Mrs. Sheldon.

 

            “She’s in class,” the woman in the office said. “She’s the art teacher also. Should be free in half an hour.”

            “Okay, how about the kindergarten teacher?”

            “She has a class too but she has a helper.” The woman shoved her chair back and stood. “I’ll go with you. I’m sure she’ll agree to see you.”

            A few minutes later, Randy and Mark were following the kindergarten teacher to the teacher’s lounge. Mrs. Hanks offered them coffee, which they declined.

            “Are you here about Jose?” she asked.

            “Yea,” Mark said. “We’re looking for him. He disappeared yesterday. Have you noticed he’s been upset, or seen any out-of-character behavior? Or anything that might help us?”

            Mrs. Hanks shook her head and said, “Nothing at all. I wish I could help but you know young children are sometimes afraid when they start kindergarten.
            Yeah, Randy thought, but this isn’t the beginning of the school year. She noted the calm but flat voice, accompanied by a look of abject fear in the teacher’s eyes. She glanced at Mark, saw he’d caught on as well and wished there was some way to get to the teacher alone. Maybe she’d talk without a detective being present.

            “I have to check on something,” Mark said, rising. “I’ll meet you back her.”

            Randy mentally thanked him, and then when she heard the teacher’s sigh, said, “I know he can be intimidating, but I sense you’re scared.” She leaned forward. “Mrs. Hanks, I’m not a police officer, just a friend of the Howlands. Please…”
            “Yes,” Mrs. Hanks said, interrupting Randy, “there was something, but it was so weird I was afraid to voice it.”

            Randy knew what she meant. It was as if talking out loud made something real. “I understand. I’d feel the same way.”

            Mrs. Hanks laughed. “I’d gone to see the kids skating. They were learning figure eights and I wanted to see that.” She cleared her throat. “It was a nice day, partly sunny, not too cold. They had a new student from the second grade. He was doing really well with the eights, when all of a sudden he stopped and stared toward the far end of the rink. A man stood there. He was tall and big, but not fat. I couldn’t see his face as it was in shadow, but, and I don’t understand this, his eyes gleamed like fire.” She took in a shaky breath. “You’ll never believe this but I actually saw a beam extending from the boy, Gary, to the man. It seemed to pull him until he was with the man, and then they vanished without walking away.”

            “Wow!” Randy’s body took on the sense of being enclosed in a huge block of ice, unable to get out. She shivered. “Was that Gary’s father?”

            Mrs. Hanks nodded. “Yes, and he came back to class and everything seemed normal, at least that’s what his teacher told me. The odd thing is that no one else noticed anything at the rink. I can’t understand it.” Her gaze became intense. “That’s…that’s some kind of psychic phenomena, isn’t it?”
            Randy nodded. “Yes, and not everyone is receptive to it. What’s their last name?”

            “Carter. You might talk to Mrs. Sheldon. She may have seen him since Gary is still taking the skating class.”
            Mark returned then, show8ing no expression on his face. Cop face, she thought, understanding Mrs. Hanks’ reticence.

            When they visited the art teacher/skating instructor, Randy noticed she wanted to talk but was nervous, her gaze darting all around the room, eventually settling on the open door. After Mark introduced himself and Randy and told why they were there, she came out from behind her desk, shut the door and locked it. She returned to her chair, indicated student chairs for them, but Randy saw they were little.

            “We’ll stand,” Mark said, eyeing the desk, “or we can sit on a desk.”

            “Go ahead,” Mrs. Sheldon said, “but don’t pick one with paint on it.” When Mark and Randy each chose a desk, she said, “I’m guessing you’re here about Jose, and maybe Bobby.”

            “Yes,” Mark said. “Is there anything you can tell us?”

            Mrs. Sheldon studied her visitors for several moments. “I’m going to go out on a limb here. You,” she said, pointing to Randy, “have been involved with the Howlands and I understand you had something to do with solving the Scenarios situation.”

            Randy was startled, and her heart skipped a beat. She’d written, but hadn’t published her accounting of what happened at Scenarios. “How did you learn that?”

            “Don’t worry. I don’t talk about it, but Lucy Bennington’s a friend. Anyway, has Mrs. Hanks told you about the incident at the rink, the light beam between Gary and his dad?”

            “Yes,” Randy sa8id, “but I haven’t told Detective Clarendon about it.” She then told him what Mrs. Hanks had told her, then turned her gaze to Mrs. Sheldon. “Do you have anything to add to that?”

            “I sure do,” Mrs. Sheldon said, a grim look on her face, “but I’m not sure how to explain it.”

            “Do the best you can,” Mark said.

            “Okay.” Mrs. Sheldon twisted her hands in her lap. “The boy, Gary, is as odd as his dad. When I saw that beam thing, I couldn’t take my eyes off him. When he got to his father, they became one, then they disappeared.”

I will post chapter 3 next Saturday.

Joan K. Maze