Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Episode 14

"Where did you say you are from, Mrs. DuMont?" Ginny Franklin smiled brightly at the young woman across the desk from her. A new client, especially one who had money, always put a smile on her face. This one was wearing a gorgeous fur coat and carried a Barney's handbag. The enormous diamond earrings looked real, too.

"Florida. Sarasota." Jenni DuMont sighed. "I recently lost both my husband and my brother. So tragic."

"How terrible for you," Ginny said, trying to muster a tone of sincerity. Her true thoughts, however, were focused on opportunity, not sympathy. This might be her best chance to sell a property at the new Hunter Ridge development. Ginny and her husband Danny were heavily invested in what was supposed to be a no-brainer real estate deal, but but with only four of the ten proposed homes built, things weren't going according to plan. They desperately needed a buyer or the new work would be halted indefinitely, and nothing killed deals like half-finished, abandoned construction sites.

"My husband was quite a bit older than me and in poor health. He passed away three months ago." Jenni took a lace hankie from her bag and dabbed at her eyes. "Then to lose my brother, Frankie, so unexpectedly, well... that was a shock."

"Frank Lassiter was your brother?" Ginny was intrigued. She loved gossip. Everyone in Pine Lake knew about the man's mysterious death at the Adams' mansion, but who knew he had a sister? This was big news. Ginny focused her attention more closely, "Tell me, do the police have any idea what happened?"

"No, not really. Although Chief Donati said they will be questioning a person of interest." Jenni was tiring of the other woman's questions. She wanted to find a place to live quickly, settle in, and get to work on a law suit against the Adams. "In any case, I've decided to stay in Pine Lake, so I need to find a house."

"What did you have in mind?"

"I want new construction, something nice. I'm all alone, but I'm not interested in some pokey little place. My poor husband was sweet enough to leave me well-off, and I figure real estate is as good a place as any to invest."

Ginny's eyes glittered. "It just so happens I have several properties you might like."

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Episode 13

Billy Adams broke out in a sweat even though it was 30 degrees outside, Pine Lake was covered with snow, and he wasn't wearing a jacket. It was bad enough that he'd been hearing voices--well, a voice--but now he was seeing things, too.

The woman looked like Lassiter: the same dark, beady eyes set in a rodent face, same kind of wire brush hair. It was like she was wearing a mask of his face over her own. Maybe she was an alien, Billy thought. Aliens did that kind of shit. Took over bodies. But why would an alien pick Lassiter?

Billy put his head down as he shuffled along the sidewalk. Just on his way to get some smokes, minding his own business, when he'd seen her, and now he couldn't get that face out of his head. Lassiter was haunting him again. In broad daylight. On a public street.

Every damn day he heard the guy's voice, that same taunting sing-song, "Billy, they're gonna get you. The cops are gonna pin my murder on you and there's not a damn thing you can do about it. You and I know that I fell off that balcony all by myself while I was trying to sneak out of your house. But the cops won't think that. They're gonna think you pushed me, and they'll toss you in the hoosegow and throw away the key. Or maybe they'll figure out you're crazy. You are crazy. Totally gonzo. Either way, looney bin or the slammer, you're done. We all know what happens to little boys in those places."

Billy clamped his hands over his ears. He hadn't touched any drugs since the night Lassiter bought it, but his head was still messed up. Maybe he was crazy. Maybe the aliens were crawling inside him. New panic surged. He wrapped his arms around himself protectively as he continued down Third Street.


"I would have been here sooner," Jenni DuMont had said to the police chief, "but I just buried my husband three months ago." She dabbed delicately at her dark eyes with a hankie and made a small mewing sound. "Tell me again, how did Frankie pass?"

Donati shifted uncomfortably in his chair. 

"Truth is ma'am, we're not sure."

Maybe it was just because Mrs. DuMont looked so much like her brother, but something about the woman triggered Donati's cop sense, that part of his brain that instinctively smelled a rat in the room. As he recounted the facts of Frankie's death, he tried to push this feeling aside, knowing that later, he'd be doing a background check. His instincts rarely failed him.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Episode 12

There was old money in Pine Lake. Most of it came from the logging business, and there had been commercial fishing once, too. The wealthy of Pine Lake build grand homes along the shoreline and expected the best that money could buy.  In 1952, Ralph Robinson had capitalized on that when he opened an upscale clothing store in town. Over the decades, the shop he had founded had consistently offered top-quality casual clothes and elegant evening apparel to Pine Lake's elite. Business had always been good, and now, despite the general economy, was better than ever. This was due in part to Ralph's granddaughter, Gina, who ran the shop with a keen eye for fashion and solid business sense. It didn't hurt, either, that a cluster of new-construction mega-houses, called Hunter's Ridge, had sprung up on the far side of Fish Town. If the old guard of Pine Lake considered the Hunter's Ridge people to be as ostentatious as their sprawling, turreted homes, Gina Robinson was less particular. Her bank balance didn't distinguish between new and old money.

Selena Kallias had never bought anything at Robinson's; the prices were too steep for her budget. However, she had often coveted things in the display windows: a beautifully cut emerald-green silk blouse, an evening gown sparkling with crystal beads, or something as simple as a classic wool coat.

With her slim figure, lustrous dark hair, and classic features, Selena was one of those women who could make any article of clothing look great. Her picture had appeared in "Pine Heart" on any number of occasions--Genevra recognized a born model when she saw one, even if Selena was just a tad too short to be on a big city catwalk. They had formed a mutually satisfying relationship whereby Genevra paid a stipend that she considered ridiculously low, but that Selena was delighted to accept as the magazine's premier model.

When Genevra decided to run a story on the history of Robinson's, the oldest business in town, highlighting their designer fashions, Selena jumped at the chance to model the beautiful clothes. That the man she'd been dating for the past few weeks was now the magazine's full-time photographer sweetened the deal even more.

"So, babe, what do you think?" She stepped into the reading room of the Pine Lake Public Library wearing an ultra-short red satin drape dress with a plunging neckline--less than two yards of fabric that retailed for $620.

Biff Monroe whistled his appreciation. The two of them were in the library after hours because he thought the reading room, with its fireplace and leather wing-back chairs, would make suitable backdrop for the photos and, for once, Genevra had agreed with him.

"You look even more luscious than usual." Biff reached for her, but she backed away.

"Don't smear the make-up," she said, coyly. "Besides, we're not alone."

The head librarian had let them into the building, then had gone off to her office to work while they were shooting.

"We could be very quiet," Biff said, with a suggestive leer. "I've never done it in a library before."

Selena returned his naughty expression, "I have to be careful with this dress."

"So take it off." He stepped toward her.

Selena made a shooing motion with her perfectly manicured hands. "Biff. Get to work. We can play later."

With a frustrated sigh, Biff did as he was told. He was good at his job and for the next two hours, he took shot after shot of Selena in each of the five elegant dresses that Robinson's had loaned for the story. Keeping his mind fully on the task was impossible, though.

Selena was different from any woman he'd ever met. She could match him step for step being rowdy and then, like him, she could turn serious without becoming self-righteous. She was beautiful, irreverent, and smart. Biff thought of all these things as he looked through the viewfinder of his camera. He adjusted the lighting to better show the delicacy of her features, the shine of her hair, and the brightness in her eyes. As he worked, her realized how deeply and truly he loved this woman, and when he asked her to turn a bit so she was facing the camera, he could see in her eyes that she loved him, too.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Episode 11

Genevra Adams sat quietly in her office looking over proofs for the next edition of "Pine Heart." She loved her job as publisher and editor-in-chief of this glossy magazine about the citizens of her community. In the past five years, she'd taken the publication from a thin concept to an eighty-page, full-color periodical full of photos and articles that everyone in town read, whether they admitted it or not.

Today, however, Genevra was finding it hard to concentrate. Thanksgiving had been the usual disaster, and the rest of the holidays promised to be just as grim.

Genevra's son, Billy was being very difficult. He refused to talk to her, and his behavior had been increasingly odd, even by Billy's standards. His newest quirk was sleepwalking. At three this morning, she'd found him crouched in the dark upstairs hallway, muttering to himself about ghosts. When she shook him, he snapped out of whatever trance he'd been in, insisting that he'd just had a bad dream. Everything was fine.

Billy's sister, Whitney, was almost as annoying as her brother. She stayed out until all hours of the night, supposedly at "work." At least Bake agreed that it was completely unacceptable for their daughter to be tending bar, especially at Taverna. Of course, the very reason the silly girl chose the job was to irritate her parents. Blake and Genevra had never made it a secret that they despised Nick Kallias and wouldn't think of setting foot in his restaurant. However, as frustrating as it might be, Genevra knew better than to voice her objections to Whitney's ridiculous employment. It would only stir up unpleasant issues that were best forgotten.

"Morning, Boss." Biff Monroe walked into Genevra's office without bothering to knock. He sauntered over to her desk. "What do you think if the winter wonderland shots?"

"They're fine."

"Doesn't look much like the old golf course, does it?" Biff said, tapping the pink- and blue-hued photo of a frosted landscape that Genevra had selected to be on the magazine's next cover.

"No. I know that course rather well, and I'd never guess. It's a lovely picture."

Genevra had to acknowledge that Biff was an excellent photographer. In the weeks that he'd been working for her, his images of Pine Lake gardens, landscapes, and social events had greatly improved the aesthetic aspect of "Pine Heart." Advertising sales had skyrocketed, and subscriptions were growing.

In spite of his talents, Biff was a risk. There were days when Genevra worried that he might be more of a liability than she could manage. He had a bad reputation, and he was too independent, but so far, so good.

Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Episode 10

Claire's House

By the time Claire Monroe got home, all she wanted to do was put her feet up and enjoy a glass of wine in peace and quiet. Biff was out for the evening (whatever that meant these days), so she didn't have to worry about dinner for him. Cheese and crackers would be enough for her, maybe a few celery sticks so she had something sort of healthy. She'd eaten spaghetti in the hospital cafeteria during her three o'clock lunch break. She wasn't hungry now. Just tired. Two double shifts this week had taken a toll. She wasn't as young as she used to be. Back in the day, she could work a double, go to her classes at nursing school, and head back to the hospital with only three hours of sleep.

There had been a price to pay for that, however. She hadn't always been there for Biff. Claire felt guilty about that, but what choice did she have? Getting pregnant at seventeen had been a total game-changer. Her parents had never forgiven her. They moved away to escape the humiliation she'd brought on them, and they'd never looked back. Never tried to contact her. Didn't care about Biff.

Claire had raised her son as best she could, which had been rough on them both. Between the ages of 8 and 18, Biff had been a handful. Rebellious, angry, and too smart for his own good.

She had just settled herself on the sofa, feet propped on the ottoman, glass of merlot at her side, when the doorbell rang. Unexpected visitors after eight at night were not welcome. Reluctantly, she roused herself, prepared to be nasty to whoever was inconsiderate enough to disturb her.

Annoyance was replaced by fear when she opened the door to Chief Donati.

"John? What's wrong? Is Biff all right?" Claire felt the blood drain from her face.

"Hi, Claire." The police chief stood with his hat in hand. He had a sweet smile, but his eyes looked worried. "Biff's fine, as far as I know."

The two of them stood staring at each other while the air between them thickened with tension.

"Can I come in for a minute?"

"Business or pleasure?"


Claire stood aside and Donati walked into the house.

It was a small place and not much to look at from the outside, but Donati noticed the living room was tidy and inviting. He wished this were a social call. Maybe one day he'd get up the courage to see if Claire would have dinner with him, but right now, there were police matters to attend to.

"Biff's not home?"

"No. Why?" Claire's eyes narrowed, and the tension in her face was replaced with a harder expression.

Donati didn't like what he was about to say. "You heard about the body found over at the Adams' place?"


"Biff's business card was found on the guy."

"So what? Biff hands those cards out to everybody."

"Well, I agree it doesn't mean much on its own, but the thing is...we got an anonymous tip that Biff was seen coming through the woods behind the Adams' property pretty close to the time this guy, Lassiter, was killed. I need to ask him some questions."

"Are you kidding me?  He's been back in town three weeks, and the first thing that happens you figure it has to be his fault?"

"I'm sorry, Claire." Donati reached out to touch her arm.

"Just leave," she said, shrugging away from him.

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Episode 9

Nick Kallias was half-asleep on the couch in the family room. The football game was on television, but he couldn't care less who won. He didn't even really like football, but figured he had to have it on just to assert his masculinity in a house full of women.
Helen and their younger daughter, Tiana, were in the kitchen preparing a traditional Thanksgiving meal, in which he also had no interest. On a rare day off from the restauarant, he'd have preferred a burger and fries. When he'd said as much this morning, Tiana had accused him, good-naturedly, of being un-American.
"You behave like a middle-aged, old-maid school-teacher," He'd fired back. "Are you 16 or 60?"
That brought Helen into the argument, "Nikolas! Leave her alone."
And the shouting match was on. Helen won. She always did. Nick grabbed a beer from the fridge and escaped to the family room.
He had to admit the scents wafting from the kitchen were enticing. And if Tiana was a little too much of a mama's girl, at least she was a good girl. Nick was increasingly worried that he couldn't say the same for his older daughter. Selena was twenty-two, but by God, if she lived under his roof--which for reasons he couldn't fathom, she still did--she had to obey his rules. Last night, she hadn't come home until three in the morning, and now she was out again, probably with that damn Monroe kid. Nick was going to have to put a stop to that.


Blake Adams nodded to the maid to remove his plate. Juanita? Rosa? Every week it was a new girl from Fish Town working in their kitchen. Genevra was demanding and the help usually didn't last more than a couple of weeks. Fortunately, there seemed to be an endless supply of new workers.
It had been a rough couple of weeks for the whole family, what with cops and reporters crawling all over the place trying to figure out what had happened. All Blake knew was that a nineteen-year-old drifter by the name of Frank Lassiter did a nosedive from the balcony outside of Billy's room and splattered himself all over the terrace. Nasty business. The cops had been grilling Billy mercilessly; the poor kid was a wreck.

From his place at the head of the table, Blake surveyed his family. Billy was staring off into space, the food on his plate untouched. He looked like crap. Blake wondered if maybe Genevra ought to take him to the doctor. Then again, Billy was in his senior year of high school; he couldn't afford to miss classes and get worse grades than he had already. Getting him into college was going to be tough enough.
His other two children, Whitney and David, both had their heads bowed, the telltale glow from their phones reflected in their faces. The hours Whitney spent bartending at Taverna meant Blake seldom saw her, but they didn't have much to talk about anyway. He was more or less resigned to his disappointment with her, recognizing that she'd only taken that ridiculous "job" to annoy and embarrass him. He really ought to kick her out of the house, make her understand that she needed to do something more with her life, but Genevra would never allow it.
Blake employed his eldest child, David, at Adams' Investment Services. The guy was at the office every day, but that made him no less of an enigma. David had his own small house on the south end of Pine Lake, and rarely came home. Blake had driven past the house once or twice. He'd never been invited in, and he had no idea what David did with his time when he wasn't at work.

Genevra, as usual, was making notes in the spiral she always had at her side. Her phone sat next to her plate, too. She had not uttered more than a dozen words during the meal.

"May I be excused?" Billy asked. His plate was still untouched.
"Yes, of course, dear," Genvera answered without looking up from her notes.
"You haven't eaten your dinner," Blake said.
"I'm not hungry." Billy stood. He looked shaky and pale.
"This is a family meal. Sit down until the rest of us are finished," Blake demanded.
Whitney and David looked up from their electronic distraction devices.
"Does anyone want some pumpkin pie?" Genevra asked, finally raising her eyes from the spiral. "Billy, it's your favorite kind, the one with pecans and coconut."
"I said, I'm not hungry." Billy turned and slouched from the room.
"Damn kid," Blake muttered.
It was the longest conversation of the day.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Episode 8

Caroline Wilson was almost pretty. Clothes looked great on her slim figure, but her face was too sharp: edgy cheekbones, pointy little nose, and short, dark hair cut so that it angled harshly across her forehead. Discontent had made her lips thin and hard, narrowed her granite eyes, and put a permanent crease between her brows. Still, when she made an effort, she could be attractive.

She slapped a plate of pork chops, green beans, and a baked potato on the table in front of her husband, Matt.

"I sure wish you'd have let me take you to Taverna for dinner tonight," Matt said, picking up his knife and fork.

Caroline drained her wine glass, not the first of the evening, before replying, "What for?"

"Well, because it's your birthday for one thing. And sometimes it's nice to go out. See people."

"Whoop-tee-damn-doo. I'm thirty-eight. Nothing to celebrate there." Caroline helped herself to a half a pork chop and five green beans. "And there's no one in this town I want to see. Besides, I cook better than anyone at Taverna."

"You sure did a fine job on this meal."

There was a long silence. Matt chewed contentedly.; Caroline toyed with her food and sipped steadily at her wine.

"Did you do anything interesting today?" he asked, his eyes on the chop he was cutting apart.

She shrugged. "Not much. Went for a walk down to the Lake."

"Did you take the new binoculars?" For her birthday, Matt had given her some Pentax binoculars that he'd bought on eBay. Caroline liked birds. She had bird feeders hanging from half the trees in their backyard. Sometimes he'd come home and find her standing by the window, watching the birds through an old, scratched-up pair of binoculars that had belonged to her father.

"Yeah. They're good."

Matt wasn't sure how she'd take the gift. Caroline was quirky. She'd told him early on that she'd had a tough childhood. Abandoned by her mother, she'd been raised by a father who was too busy with his law practice to give her much attention. The old binoculars, she'd said, were about the only thing they'd ever shared.

Caroline looked across the table at her husband. He was shoveling in the food like a peasant, which, of course, he was. Sometimes, she couldn't think what possessed her to marry him. Or to come back to Pine Lake. If she'd stayed in D.C., she would have found another job eventually. That place was nothing but scandals, and her little incident would probably have been forgotten soon enough. But no, idiot that she was, she had to go and marry this jerk. She drained the wine glass again.

"So are you finished at Claire Monroe's house yet?"

"Nope. Now she wants me to paint the bedroom."

"Oh, that's just great." Caroline's voice rose. "It's not enough for you to spend two weeks on the outside of her house. Now she wants you in her bedroom?"

Matt put down the piece of bread he was buttering. "Caro, I paint houses. Inside and out. It's what puts this bread on the table."

"My inheritance puts bread on this table."

"That's not true and you know it."

"Bullshit." She got up and poured herself more wine.

"Hey, go easy on that. You know what the doctor said."

"Screw the doctor. And screw you, too. Oh, wait, maybe that's what you're doing at Claire's. Everyone knows she's always been good at that."

"Christ's sake, Caro. Get a grip."

She shot a malevolent glance his way, but sat down again. "Did you know my dad hired Claire to babysit for me one summer? Jeez, what kind of a father has some slut watch over his six-year-old daughter? It's amazing I didn't get hit by a car, or drown, or get kidnapped while she was doing bad things with all the boys in town. Served her right, getting knocked up."

Matt looked away. In the eight years they'd been married, he'd heard this rant before. Either this one or one just like it. Caroline had something bad to say about everyone in Pine Lake. Occasionally, he wondered if there was any truth at all to her spiteful tales. He'd already figured out her father couldn't have been as bad as she claimed, and if Claire Monroe was wild in her youth, she'd certainly changed her ways now.

Anyway, who was Caroline to criticize anyone else after what happened in D.C.? The press had had a field day with stories about her and Senator Coleman. Sometimes Matt thought the only reason she'd married him was to stop the paparazzi from chasing her around. When she'd insisted that they move back to Pine Lake because she missed her friends and the folks she'd grown up with, he'd agreed, but as far as he could see, she didn't have any friends.

"Maybe you need to get out of the house more," he suggested, trying to change the subject.

"What the hell does that mean?"

"I was just thinking you might want to get a job. It would give you something to do."

"Here's an idea. Why don't you get out?" She picked up her plate and threw it across the table at Matt.

"Get the hell out right now!" she screamed.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Episode 7

Whitney stretched and admired Jack Donati's naked ass as he walked across the bedroom. She was as close to happy as she'd ever been. The realization surprised her and made her smile. Pine Lake was the last place in the world she wanted to settle, but at least for now, life was good. Jack was good. And talk about surprises. She sure as hell hadn't planned on actually falling in love with the guy.

Being with Jack was getting complicated. If the two of them got any more intense, her father would figure out what was going on, and that would mean trouble. Blake Adams thought he had his daughter's life all worked out. Although Whitney had always put considerable effort into proving him wrong, she was growing weary of the constant battle.

"My dad is so clueless," she said aloud.

"You think? It looks to me like he knows what he's doing," Jack answered.

"You don't know him."

"I know he's got a gorgeous daughter."

"And two really screwed up sons."

"David's doing okay. Isn't he working for your dad now?"

"My brother, David, fakes it better than anyone I know. He's not quite as bad a mess as Billy, but let's just say he has his own problems."

"So you're saying money doesn't buy everything?"

"I'm saying we need to be careful. He will not be happy if he finds out about this." Whitney circled one hand over the rumpled bed. Her father had freaked last year when Whitney took the job bar tending at Taverna. If he knew she was hooking up with John Donati's kid, there would be all kinds of hell to pay. She wasn't much concerned about herself--she could handle her father--but it could get ugly for Jack.

"It's pretty bizarre that we've both lived in Pine Lake all our lives, we went to the same school when we were little, but we never said a word to each other until three months ago," Whitney said.

Jack poured wine in the glass by the light of half a dozen flickering candles. "Maybe that's because I didn't talk to any girls until I was fifteen. And then there's the fact that you hardly qualify as a full-time resident. Four years away at boarding school, a couple of years at college, a year in Australia, a year in New York. How was I supposed to meet you?"

"I was home most summers."

"Doesn't count." He came back to bed, leaned down to kiss her, and handed her the wine glass. "But then, it doesn't matter because we've found each other now."

Whitney breathed in the smokey richness of the pinot noir and took a healthy sip. She set the glass on the bedside table. "Let's work some more on finding each other a little more closely," she said, pulling him down to her.

With music playing in the background and her attention fully on Jack, she wasn't sure how long her cell phone had been ringing, but it soon became apparent that whoever was calling was hitting "redial" over and over.

"Shit. It's almost midnight," she said, rolling over to check the clock. "Who the hell is that?"

"Maybe you'd better answer," Jack said. He got up, fetched the insistent phone from her pile of clothing on his bedroom floor, and brought it to her.

"My dad," she said after glancing at the caller ID. "This can't be good."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

Episode 6

Billy Adams heard the scrabbling sound, like a rodent in the wall, before he opened his eyes. He tried to ignore it, but it wouldn't stop. He banged his fist against the wall. The noise stopped for a minute, but soon started up again. Pissed, Billy sat up, rubbing his hands over his face, still feeling pretty buzzed. The noise stopped.

In the darkened room, he pulled his phone from the bedside table and squinted at the numbers. 10:15. Still early evening. His eyes burned and his head felt like someone had stuffed it with feathers.

He'd ditched senior seminar at school and spent the afternoon at the Roach. Lassiter had just gotten a new shipment and was offering samples to his best customers. Billy couldn't recall how he'd gotten home, but he did remember the stuff smelled jinky. When the other two guys didn't say anything, Billy kept his mouth shut, too. He didn't want to sound like a jerk, but now he thought there must've been something weird in that weed, because it wasn't like Billy to pass out on his bed before ten. As he rubbed his head again, the scrabbling sound returned.

Damn. What the hell was that?

He swung his legs over the side of the bed.

It was coming from the closet.

Billy tried to focus his eyes through the darkness of the room. The hair on the back of his neck rose as his closet door slowly creaked open.  Even though everything else in the room was obscured by darkness, he clearly saw Frankie Lassiter walk out of his closet.

"Dude. What the fuck?"

"Hey, little buddy," Frankie said, casual as could be. "How're you doing?"

"Uh, fine." Billy rubbed his face again. "What're doing in my closet?"

"Oh, was that what that was? Jeez, man, it's a mess. Stinks bad in there, too."

"Yeah, well, stay out. Why are you here, anyway? I thought you had some big plans for tonight."

"Yeah," Frankie nodded. He moved to the other side of the room, sat on a chair at Billy's desk. "My plans got a little messed up. That's what I came to talk to you about."

Billy didn't like the tone of Lassiter's voice. There was somehting vaguely threatening about it.

"So, okay. What?"

"Ah, that's your trouble, kid. You talk too much."

"Bullshit." Billy's head was throbbing. "You're not making any sense. Go away."

Frankie laughed. The hollow sound sent chills down Billy's spine. Something was wrong. Billy couldn't figure out what it was, but Frankie looked creepy, kind of smeary and out of focus. Then Billy realized it must have been the shit he'd smoked earlier that was making everything weird.

"So, kid," Frankie said, "you know how you was telling me that your folks were going to be out tonight?"

"What about it?" Billy fought an urge to pull the blankets around himself.

"I cooked up this little adventure. I figured since you also mentioned you had a couple grand stashed in your bedroom, I'd leave you and those other morons huffing away, while I came by your place. I could help myself to your piggy bank while everyone was out partying. Would've worked good, too, except you came home early."

"I don't remember."

"Billy, I trusted you to stay out and you let me down."

"Man, you're messing with my head. You trusted me to let you rip me off? Are you nuts?"

"No, buddy. You are."

Slowly, Lassiter seemed to be absorbed by the darkness until he couldn't be seen at all. Billy stood, walked unsteadily to his desk, and turned on the light. There was no one in the room.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Episode 5

Billy Adams' Window

The body was sprawled in a pool of blood on the stone terrace. Forensics was processing the scene, which Donati could see at a glance would be one helluva mess to clean up. Despite the circumstances, he recognized the vic. Even lying on his side with his head cracked open like an egg, Frankie Lassiter still looked like the nasty piece of work every cop in town knew. Donati didn't wish death on anyone, particularly a violent death, but Lassiter was bad news and his demise meant one less bad guy on the streets.

It probably hadn't been more than six weeks since the last time Lassiter had been busted. Possession of alcohol and driving on a suspended license. Before that, he'd been nabbed for speeding while smoking a pipe-full of K-2. He'd weaseled out of the drug charges, since K-2 wasn't yet on the books as an illegal substance, and he'd simply ignore the license suspension.  Before that circus, Donati had spent the better part of a year trying to connect Lassiter to the drug supply at the high school, but the guy was too slippery. Lassiter was young, not even twenty-one. He was a drifter with records in Florida, New York, and Michigan, and Donati wanted him gone, but not like this.

"Hey, Chief, we got something." Sgt. Connell handed over a slim wallet that had been in the dead man's pocket. Donati didn't need to open it to know that Lassiter's current address was 630 Kincaid, a rundown rental property in the unincorporated area three miles south of Pine Lake. The house was nicknamed "The Roach." Toss-up as to whether that was for the critters or the smoking materials.

That area south of Pine Lake, known to the old-timers as "Fish Town," was a magnet for trouble. In addition to the underpaid busboys, landscapers, and maids who worked in Pine Lake but couldn't afford to live there, Fish Town was the kind of no man's land that attracted an unsavory element.

"We also found this," Connell said, handing his boss a plastic evidence bag encasing a blood-stained business card.

There was a lot of blood. Donati looked down at the corpse. Lassiter was on his left side, left arm bent out underneath his torso, right leg hooked up at a forty-five degree angle. The one eye that was visible was open. Judging by the state of the left side of the skull, he must have landed head first. The blood splatter was impressive: it had strafed the French doors and run heavy enough from the wounds to form a dark pool under the body and cascade down three of the flagstone steps.

Glancing up, Donati saw there was a shallow balcony just above. Obviously, Lassiter had taken a nose dive from there. Less obvious was if the guy had jumped, fallen, or been pushed. And least obvious of all--what the hell was a low-life like Frankie Lassiter doing at the Adam's mansion? With Biff Monroe's business card?

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Episode 4

"Everything all right?" Helen asked, knowing full well it wasn't. She'd been handing Mr. and Mrs. Palmer menus when she'd seen Nick storm over to the table where Selena and Biff were sitting. Whatever Nick had said to their daughter and her date had caused them to get up and leave without even touching their drinks. Now Nick stood beside the empty table looking as if he was half a second away from a king-sized temper tantrum.

Nick glowered down at her. "When the hell did that Monroe kid come back to town? I thought he was gone for good."

"He's been back for a couple of weeks," Helen answered casually. Just to push him, she added, "What did you say to those two? You know it looks really bad when people walk out of here like that."
"I don't want him around our daughter," Nick replied.

"Selena's twenty-two; you can't tell her who she can see and not see anymore."

"I can in my own restaurant. And Monroe is no good."

"You're overreacting. Biff might have been a little wild as a kid, but that was years ago."

"Yeah, well, he comes from bad stock. Everyone knows Claire Monroe is a slut."

"Nick, watch what you say. We're in public." Helen glanced nervously around the roomful of diners, but no one seemed to be taking note of their conversation. "And as far as I can tell, Claire is a lovely person who made one mistake when she was young. And that was so long ago, you have to be the only person in town who ever gives it a thought."

"Not true." Nick Kallias gave his wife a look of annoyance. "You didn't grow up here, so you don't know. I don't want that fellow within ten miles of Selena."

"This isn't the time or place to discuss this," Helen replied. She turned away, heading toward the party of six that had just come through the front door. 

In the time it took her to get the newcomers seated, Nick disappeared. He was probably in the kitchen venting his rage on some hapless busboy. Helen had been married to him nearly twenty-five years, and she knew his temper. He was the stereotypical fiery Mediterranean, quick to anger, quick to love. Bossy, controlling, chauvinistic. Loyal, protective, and passionate. He could be a total pain in the ass, but Helen loved him. Over the years, he'd put that love to the test a few times, but Helen had never wavered.
If other men found her attractive (and she'd been offered a few opportunities to play around), she wouldn't dream of being unfaithful. Helen knew that underneath the rough facade, her husband was as emotionally vulnerable as s child, and she could never bring herself to hurt him. Still, she didn't understand his unreasonable dislike of Claire Monroe and her son, Biff. Nick's insistence that Claire and Biff were trash didn't ring true. Most people in town regraded Claire as a kind and thoughtful person. If she had steadfastly refused to tell anyone, including her son, who his father was, well, that was her business.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Episode 3

Biff Monroe's Car

"Come on Biff, let's go to the Rainbow," Selena said. She was talking to Biff Monroe, but she was looking at her father, quite enjoying the expression of frustrated rage on his face. 

Biff was the first guy Selena Kallias had ever kissed. Her father had gone ballistic after catching them in a lip-lock out in the parking lot. He'd fired Biff on the spot. Selena thought he was way overreacting, even if, at the time, she'd been only fourteen. So what if Biff was twenty-four? It was only a kiss, for God's sake. She'd been trying to get him to notice her for the entire six weeks that he'd been waiting tables at Taverna, and it was totally unfair that her father had to ruin everything. 

For most of the eight years since then, Biff had been away from Pine Lake. Now, he was back in town; she'd seen him in Starbucks this morning and impulsively, she'd asked if he'd have dinner with her. Now she felt guilty that her father was being so rude. Biff wasn't as bad as everyone said, but no one in this town had ever given him a break. 

The two of them walked out of Taverna, leaving Nick standing beside an empty table with two full glass of red wine. Never a good sign to other diners.

"I'd forgotten about the Rainbow," Biff said as they drove six blocks across town in his dark green Mustang Cobra. Selena was impressed with the car. It wasn't new, but Biff obviously kept it in top condition, and while he drove fast, he was careful. He kept his eyes on the road. He wasn't the handsomest man she'd ever been out with--his shaggy blond hair was dull and his nose was crooked-- but there was something kind in his gray eyes. 

"The Rainbow hasn't changed," Selena replied. "It's still nothing but a greasy spoon with cheap liquor."

"So it doesn't give Taverna much competition?"

"No. Completely different clientele. But Dad hates the place anyway. He says it gives the town a bad name and draws in creeps."

"He could be right about that."

"And he could be wrong. My dad doesn't know everything, though he'd like you to think so. Anyway, why are you defending him after the way he treated you?"

"I haven't always been a model citizen, Selena. And he'd just trying to protect you. I can't fault him for that."

"He treats me like a child."

Biff deftly maneuvered the car into a parallel parking place half a block from the Rainbow. He turned to her, tracing a line from her cheekbone to her chin with his index finger. "Pretty girl, I promise I'm not going to treat you that way."


Genevra Adams was accustomed to being in complete control over any situation. She could handle anything. Hadn't she single-handedly created her own publication? Pine Heart, a gorgeous (if she did say so herself) glossy magazine, covered interesting events, people, and businesses in and around Pine Lake. Subscriptions were on the rise in spite of the economy, they'd recently won an award for best small publication, and she loved her job. Two weeks ago, she'd hired Biff Monroe as a full-time photographer, which might have been going out on a limb a little bit, but he was talented. She'd seen the work he'd been doing in the last five years as he traveled around the country freelancing, and she was willing to give him a chance.

They would not, however, be covering what would no doubt be the story of the year. John Donati was on the terrace right now, standing over the body that Genevra had discovered shorty after she and Blake returned home this evening. Taking another large sip of her scotch, she relived the shock of the moment.

Both she and Blake had arrived home around half-past eight. (The police would be asking for a statement; she needed to think over the details.) After pouring a nightcap, Genevra had gone to the garden room to relax. The late September evening air was pleasant, so she'd opened one of the French doors. At first, she'd thought Billy had left  pile of clothing on the stone terrace, but as she looked more closely, she'd seen that it was a person--a man--lying in a pool of dark blood. She'd screamed, actually screamed, Blake's name, and for once, he'd come running.

Genevra heard voices in the hallway. Chief Donati stepped into the den. "Mrs. Adams, can we talk?"

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

Episode 2

The Adams' House

John Donati figured he was in for a weird shift. He'd lived in Pine Lake his entire fifty-two years, and he knew the place better than anyone. Knew all the streets, most of the people, and more than his fair share of the secrets. He could tell by the feel of the air how things would go down on any given day. It was part of what made him a good cop.

Since this morning, he'd sensed something in the air, kind of like a low hum, but so far nothing had been out of the ordinary on this late September day as he cruised Zone 6. The first couple of hours had been typical evening shift. By the end of rush hour, he'd popped three cars for speeding. Just after dark, he'd caught a couple of high school kids with a twelve pack of MGD. Half an hour late, he'd run by Matt and Caroline Wilson's to cool down a domestic. Again. John didn't get what made a couple stay together when they fought that hard and often.

He was tempted to swing out to Zone 3, see if April was home. Eight-twenty by the dashboard clock. He'd wait until later. Or not go at all. Last time he went, it just pissed him off. He'd been working midnights and had driven past her place at two in the morning. There was a sleek BMW 650 in the driveway, so naturally he'd run the plates. Car belonged to a Paul Harrison, white, male, 56. Chicago address that sounded pretty swanky.

Well, bully for her. They'd been divorced for eight years and John still didn't know if he loved her or if she made him too crazy to function in the real world. Probably both. The only good thing to come from their marriage was Jack. Great kid. John just wished he'd grow up a bit.

At twenty-five, Jack should be getting himself established in a solid job, instead of screwing around waiting tables and hoping to be discovered as the next Brad Pitt. Not that the kid didn't have looks or talent. Especially the looks. John glanced in the rear-view mirror. His last name might be Italian, but he and his son both had the coloring and features of John's Irish mother. Dark blond, blue eyes, symmetrical features that most women found appealing. April was still pretty hot, too, for a woman past forty. John rethought doing a quick drive-by.

He was headed south on Sheridan when he caught Tanya's voice on the radio. Though the frequency was shared by three towns, all the cops on the Pine Lake force recognized Tanya's voice above the general chatter.

"Zone six, we've got a reported D.O.A. at 1600 Lake. Ambulance enroute."

Holy crap. 1600 Lake was the Adams' mansion. Who the hell had died?


Built in the 1920s, the house at 1600 Lake Road was not the only mansion on the shores of Pine Lake, but it was among the most impressive. Artisans from all over Europe had been imported to create the decorative plaster moldings, install flooring fashioned from 19th century sailing ships, and set the extraordinary tile work in the master bath.

Blake Adams paced the hallway between the formal living room at the south end of the house and the rooms at the north end where the family spent their time. On a normal evening, he'd be in his study reviewing the day's transactions. Genevra would be in her office or the garden room. Of their three children, there would be little evidence. David had his own digs in town. Whitney spent most of her time at Taverna or with her friends. Their youngest, Billy, would be wherever the hell Billy went these days.

Tonight, Genevra was in the den with a large scotch. The garden room, her favorite place, was not a good choice tonight. Even she wasn't that cold-blooded.

Blake heard the sirens, and his stomach roiled. Reaching in his pocket, he tore a couple of Rolaids from the packet he always kept nearby. The chalkiness almost choked him, but without the stuff, he'd be doubled over in pain. He bit his tongue to encourage saliva flow, swallowed a couple of times, took a deep breath, and went to the front door. In a few minutes, whatever peace there had been in this house would be shattered for God knew how long.

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

Episode 1


Nick Kallias had been in the back office behind the kitchen for two hours trying to sort out the books. He wasn't exactly "cooking" them; it was more like creative accounting. Running a restaurant was a constant battle to stay afloat financially, keep his staff happy, and provide a menu and service that the community would find consistent without being boring.

He'd finished his final office chores for the day: firing the sous-chef for being skunky drunk (no loss) and contacting his supplier about the 30 pounds of slimy rotten eggplant that had been in this afternoon's shipment. A glance at the clock told him it was 7:30. Time to scope out the dining room, see who was in this evening. This was his favorite part of the job, the part he'd envisioned twenty years ago when Taverna was still a pipe dream.

Nick stood and stretched. He was a large man, dark and heavy featured with the prominent nose and brooding eyes of his Greek ancestors. He was the kind of man who should have had sons, but that was not to be. Helen had given him two daughters, both of whom had taken after their mother in looks. The three of them were tiny, delicate creatures with classically beautiful faces, almond-shaped brown eyes, and smiles that could--often did--melt the hearts of those fortunate enough to be in their company. Each time he thought of them, his breath caught. How had an oaf like him managed to surround himself with such women? It was a strange and wonderful thing which he tried never to take for granted.

He made his way through the chaos of the kitchen. Diego, the head chef, was flinging orders and food with equal abandon; one of the waitresses and Rita, the salad girl, were shouting at each other in unintelligible Spanish, all above the normal din of pots and pans.

The dining room, by contrast, was peaceful. Helen was hosting this evening. Nick caught sight of her as she led two older couples to table six, one of the best in the house. He hoped they would order more than soup and coffee. Nick watched his wife work her magic, fussing over the men, charming the cane-wielding old women. Helen acted as if she knew them. He would have to ask her later who they were.

The bar was bustling and most of the small tables there were filled, which was good for a Wednesday night. Nick glanced around, waving to Ben and Violet Johnson at table two, nodding to other patrons he's seen before but didn't know by name. Then, at the edge of the room, he noticed his twenty-two year-old daughter, Selena, with a date. It was not unusual for her to bring friends here for dinner. Nick welcomed it and was happy to comp most, if not all, of their meals. The man sat with his back to Nick, but something about him seemed familiar. As recognition dawned, Nick's face hardened. He strode across the room.

"Hi, Daddy," Selena said.
Nick ignored her. He kept his voice low and his eyes on the man. "What are you doing here?" 
Biff Monroe stood, reaching out his hand. "Hello, Mr. Kallias."
"I believe I told you five years ago to stay away from my daughter." Nick's eyes flashed.
"Daddy, don't be so rude," Selena put her hand on her father's arm. "That whole thing was so long ago. I was in high school. I'm an adult now."
"You're still my daughter, and I forbid you to spend time with this low-life." His tone, though soft, conveyed absolute authority.
"What is the matter with you?" Selena allowed her voice to rise a bit. She knew attracting the attention of other diners was a sure way to get her father to back off.
"You don't know what you are dealing with," Nick replied.

 If Selena was about to make a come back, she stopped when their waiter arrived, hovering behind Nick with two glasses of red wine.
Selena caught his eye and said, "Oh, thanks, Jack. You can put those right here." 

Jack, sensing tension between his boss and his table, put the drinks down and asked nervously, "you guys want to order food?"
"They do not," Nick answered.
"Okay, then." Jack scampered away, glancing over his shoulder. Who the hell was the guy with Selena and what had he done to make Nick so mad? Whatever it was, Jack wanted no part of it. He made his way back to the bar, wondering if Whitney had any idea who the guy was.

Whitney Adams had been the bartender at Taverna for over a year. At the moment, she was multi-tasking, as usual. Four appletinis, a Manhattan (who the heck orders Manhattans?), and a strawberry daiquiri. She had the tray almost ready as Jack approached the pick-up point.
"Is that my table four?" He nodded at the tray of drinks.
"Just about." She poured the daiquiri from the blender into its glass, scraped the overhang with her finger, which she popped in her mouth.
"Hmm. Not bad. How's it going out there?" she asked, topping the Manhattan with a maraschino cherry.
"Okay. Still pretty quiet. Say, do you know the guy Selena's with?"
Whitney looked out toward the dining area. "No. Why?"
"Nick basically told him to get out. Didn't want them ordering any food."
"Jeez." She twisted her California-girl features and brushed a stray blond strand from her face. "I wonder what's up with that."

Across town, Whitney's father, Blake Adams had just called the police.