Title: Coded For Murder
Entry nickname: Croissants kill!
Word Count: 73,000
Genre: Adult Mystery
The body hangs from an oak by the frigid mile-wide expanse of the St. Lawrence River. Where the face should be, the wind whips over exposed, acid-etched bone. And a noose of thick rope coils tightly over a red silk tie.
Chief Inspector Derek James of the Service de police de la Ville de Montréal survived the storm at sea that took his wife and infant son, leaving him with a hand that doesn’t work, and a personality that can withstand a hurricane.
Within hours, James has ID’d the faceless victim as a tech startup executive. But with a twelve-year-old as a witness, and CEO Holly, a gay black woman driven to sell the startup, sabotaging his case, James is no closer to finding the murderer. Holly knows what's going on, but she won't willingly confide in him.
Things go from bad to worse. When his car is bombed, James realizes his boss is trying to kill him. Maybe he shouldn’t have slept with his boss’s mistress, but there’s another reason for the attack, best kept under wraps. For now.
Suspects surround James, all of them liars, and one of them the masked assailant who strung up the body from the tree.
With two more attacks within twenty-four hours, he must choose – going by the book, or resorting to coercion – to unearth the killer, to save his twelve-year-old witness, to expose a conspiracy coded for murder.
“Strung up by the river? Without a face?”
Chief Inspector Derek James of the Service de Police de la Ville de Montréal spoke more to himself than to the team. He tucked his cold hands into his pockets and looked up. A rope looped over the middle branch of an oak in the urban beach park. Above him hung a body with an exposed skull, framed by sparse hair on top, ears on either side, and a wrinkly neck puckered in a noose. The face was stripped to the bone with eroded teeth set in a perpetual grin as if the skull were enjoying a joke at everyone’s expense.
James’s gut tightened, but he stilled the reaction in an instant, regaining his calm. What did it matter how any of us went?
“I’m sure we’re thinking the same thing.” Forensic Pathologist John Seymour’s eyes were bright and keen. “What could this poor guy have done to deserve this?”
James rubbed the short stubble on his jaw. Dawn cast a blue light on the water and snow. It was amazing how the usually peaceful beach park took on a menacing air: the St. Lawrence River choppier than usual, swirls of sand and snow rolling like tumbleweeds, the sky heavy and low. But a children’s playground lay behind the hanging body, and its red swings, bright yellow slide, and empty wading pool offered a marked contrast to the swaying corpse.
“What can you tell me, Doctor?”
Title: Donn’s Hill
Entry Nickname: The Ghost and Ms. Clair
Word count: 83K
Genre: Paranormal Mystery
Mackenzie Clair knew her life would change when her father died, but she wasn’t expecting the grief to give her the ability to talk to the dead, or to end up chasing a murderer through the most haunted town in America.
Twenty-seven-year-old Mac never really figured out what to do with herself. She sleepwalks through her dull desk job every day, tries not to aggravate her controlling boyfriend every night, and relies on her father and their shared love of books and music to hang on to her sanity. When Mac loses her father to cancer and her boyfriend to infidelity all in the same week, she embarks on a mission to reclaim some joy. She abandons the city life and relocates to the place where she’d been happiest in her youth: Donn’s Hill, a small town in Middle America that’s best known for an abundance of paranormal activity, especially the séances at its annual Afterlife Festival.
Mac doesn’t get much time to acclimate to small-town living before an angry poltergeist begins to stalk her, forcing her to quickly come to terms with her newly discovered psychic powers. With the help of the ghost-hunting crew of the nationally televised show Soul Searchers and a spirited tortoiseshell cat named Striker, Mac becomes bold enough to do things she never imagined possible: investigate hauntings, banish poltergeists,and generally feel happy again.
Unfortunately, in the midst of her journey of self-discovery, someone is killing off the town’s residents. Death has followed Mac to Donn’s Hill, and in the weeks leading to the Afterlife Festival, corpses are piling up. Harassed by the ghost of a murdered man, Mac must make a choice: leave town for her own safety, or stay anduse her abilities to identify the killer before she winds up joining the ranks of the spirits who wander the town.
Someone was sitting on my bed.
I’d awoken to the thin mattress shifting beneath me when his weight pressed down near my right side. My body wanted to roll toward that lower point, but I held myself in place, not wanting to touch him. He—and I was sure it was a “he,” though I couldn’t say why—smelled foul, like rotting garbage, but hadn’t harmed me. Yet. Too frightened to scream and risk propelling my intruder into motion, I held my breath and strained my ears to hear his breathing.
I heard nothing but the hum of a car passing on the highway.
Questions pinged around inside my skull and crashed into each other. What’s going on? Is he holding his breath too? Are we locked in some kind of silent contest, the loser being the one who passes out? How did he get past the locks?
And the most pressing questions of all, the ones I’d need to move to answer: Who is he? What does he want from me?
It couldn’t be anything good. People who want to do good things usually knock.
Taking a chance, I opened one eye a tiny bit, creating a narrow slit between my eyelids. The motel room was pitch-black, thanks to the ancient heavy curtains and my having unplugged the digital alarm clock. Keeping my arm under the covers, I crept my left hand toward the nightstand.
Slowly, I told myself. Don’t make a sound.
Faster! my lungs screamed at me.