Come along for a spicy ride on a journey filled with murder, kidnapping, car chases, gun battles and explosions.
It all begins when socialite, Maybelle Jamison, is stabbed and goes tumbling down the grand staircase at an elegant hotel in Clearwater, TX, picking off wedding consultant, Ginger McCormick, like a spare pin in a bowling alley.
Since Ginger is the last person to see Maybelle alive, her husband, Mace, and their four adult daughters, Sage, Cinnamon, Pepper and Curry must find the real killer before Sheriff Jason Winters throws Ginger in jail for murder.
It’s Murder with a Touch of Spice—six spices to be exact—a cozy mystery novel that’s sometimes funny and sometimes intense, but spicy through and through.
Available as a e-book and paperback (6" X 9", 150 pages, ISBN: 978-0-9842438-4-6)
So far, I've received the following comments about my first novel, Murder with a Touch of Spice:
One of my book editors, Tom Rizzo, author of Last Stand at Bitter Creek wrote:
“What the hell has this been sitting in a drawer for???? I loved it. In fact, I forgot about editing half way thru because I was so enchanted by the story. I think you've got a fun, potentially good selling novel on your hands.”
* * * * * * *
One of my proofreaders, Carolyn Watts, wrote:
"I finished reading your book last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Though my normal response to humorous entertainment is to quietly smile, I found myself frequently giggling aloud! The characters were so filled with life; the Spice family became dear to me early in the novel.
"I finished reading your book last night and thoroughly enjoyed it. Though my normal response to humorous entertainment is to quietly smile, I found myself frequently giggling aloud! The characters were so filled with life; the Spice family became dear to me early in the novel.
"My reading habit seems to center on nonfiction as my counseling practice tends to command that I thoroughly research for cases. Occasionally I just take “me-time” and allow myself to escape to other worlds. And what a delightful world your words took me to. At times I was reminded of 1930s or 40s murder mystery movies. (I must admit I love them!) I was also reminded of the works of Susan Wittig Albert, a San Marcos author who has written novels about China Bayles. By the end of the book I felt as if somehow “007” had slipped in and worked with Texas style Charlie’s Angels.
"I really enjoyed it! Looking forward to more!"
* * * * * * * *
Another of my editors, Larry Watts, author of Cheating Justice, posted the following article on his blog about me and my novel, Murder with a Touch of Spice:
* * * * * * * *
Neesha Hosein, author of I of the Storm, posted an article about Murder with a Touch of Spice on her blog called Novellarella:
Read more book reviews by clicking on the "Book Reviews" tab at the top of this blog.
Please send your comments about Murder with a Touch of Spice to: email@example.com
After taking a creative writing class offered by the Continuing Education Department at my local community college in 2006, I decided to try my hand at writing a novel.
Like most writers, I’m an avid reader, especially of cozy murder mysteries, but many times found myself longing for a different direction in the plot. “Why not write my own story?” I thought. Not only would it provide many hours of creative fun, it was free!
And that’s exactly how I wound up with three whole and two partially finished novels in my bottom desk drawer, thinking they were purely for my own entertainment.
The first two and a half manuscripts were about an interior decorator who finds dead bodies while on the job. At the time I wrote them, I was teaching interior decorating classes at the community college, so my thoughts naturally gravitated in that direction.
For the Murder with a Touch of Spice novel, however, I happened to run across an obituary in the newspaper about the surviving members of the deceased. Three of their names were spices. I had one of those “Aha” moments and couldn’t get to my writing tablet fast enough to write down the plot. And, since I’ve been blessed (or cursed) with a twisted sense of humor, I added a few extra spice characters and couldn’t resist topping it all off with the name “McCormick”.
One of my favorite authors is Janet Evanovich, who writes the Stephanie Plum adventure/mystery series that are filled with non-stop action. Armed with my crazy spice theme, I planned to turn my manuscript into a writing exercise to see how many outrageous action scenes I could squeeze into one book. I never thought it would see the light of day. It had already accomplished its purpose of keeping me entertained for many, many hours during the writing process.
But it wasn’t over yet! Read the story on my Cancer Journey Blog about how my two writing buddies, Tom Rizzo and Larry Watts, inspired me to pull that manuscript out of my bottom desk drawer, where it had languished for seven years, and get it published.
Inspiration is everywhere!
The following are descriptions of the location setting and main characters in the novel, Murder with a Touch of Spice:
Cinnamon: This spice sister is a professional chef who owns her own restaurant in the Galleria area of Houston. She has a well-toned body, sparkling hazel eyes, red spiky hair, but no time for a social life. Cinnamon believes in creative expression in all areas of her life.
Curry and Pepper: These twin sisters are tall, shapely brunettes who turned down careers in fashion modeling to open an upscale clothing boutique in Houston, selling expensive designer clothing, as well as their own original designs. Curry and Pepper aren’t quite as bold as Sage and Cinnamon, but what they lack in spunk, they make up for in spirit.
Ginger: Mother of four “spicy” adult daughters and married to her beloved husband, Mace, she’s a top-notch wedding planner. It’s part of her nature to be a caregiver. Now that her daughters are grown, she transferred her “need to mother” onto her brides, herding them around like baby ducklings; and they love it. Ginger’s wedding planning expertise is in high demand.
Mace: Married to “the love of his life”, Ginger, Mace is an aeronautical engineer at NASA and a proud father to his four beautiful, intelligent and resourceful daughters.
Sage: A criminal trial lawyer at a large firm in Houston, she is the unofficial leader of the spice sisters. She’s a spunky little fireball, with electric green eyes and a short, but shapely figure, and she’s locked in the “dance of romance” with Sheriff Jason Winters. They’re attracted to each other but can’t occupy the same space without generating a shower of electric sparks. Will they ever figure out what all that tension is about?
Sheriff Jason Winters: A former Houston police detective, he returned to his hometown of Clearwater, TX to run for the office of Sheriff. He had set his sights on Sage McCormick a long time ago, but it was taking a bit longer than anticipated to rein this feisty little fireball in. He felt confident, though, that she would come around eventually. Jason is a patient man.
Special Agent Peter Dalton: An F.B.I. agent who is assigned to locate an arms dealer in Clearwater, TX, he loves to cook and is instantly attracted to Cinnamon. Will he return in the future to see where their relationship might go?
Location: Clearwater, TX (a fictional town, which exists only in the imagination of the author) is a small town, with a population of only about 22,000, but it’s location on the Gulf Coast, between Houston and Galveston, attracted the attention of wealthy real estate developers who turned it into an upscale tourist attraction with million-dollar waterfront homes, expensive seafood restaurants, huge marinas, and retail/entertainment complexes. The millions of tourists it attracts each year fosters a booming economy.
Read the first three chapters of Murder with a Touch of Spice on this blog.
Ginger knew she shouldn’t have gone to The Grand Hotel that morning. Her intuition kept telling her not to go, but she had an appointment to view a wedding reception site in the Bluebonnet Ballroom on the second floor with one of her brides. As a top-notch professional wedding planner, she couldn’t let her client down. Finally, her sense of duty won out.
The next thing she knew, she was tumbling down a flight of marble stairs along with Maybelle Jamison, in a tangled mass of flailing arms and legs, landing at the bottom on the highly polished granite floor. Then the whole world went black.
When Ginger opened her eyes, she found herself in the emergency room with her left arm in a cast, her painfully sore ribs tightly bandaged and the Morgan County Sheriff lurking outside the door.
* * * * * * * * * *
Nurse Evelyn Crane woke up that morning with the same nagging premonition. “Don’t go! Don’t go!” But then, she had that same feeling every workday morning—she worked in the emergency room at Mercy Hospital. There are a lot of crazy people out there, and eventually they all turn up in the ER. It was fate, or maybe it was just her bad karma. She knew the minute the staircase victims arrived—one unconscious and banged up, the other one dead—this day was going downhill in a hurry.
Just as she started to process the surviving patient’s paperwork, the family members began to arrive.
“I’m looking for my wife,” said a tall, out-of-breath, fifty-something gentleman, running up to the nursing station.
“And you are?”
“Mace,” he replied between gulps of air. “Mace McCormick. My wife, Ginger, was brought in by an ambulance this morning.”
“Dad!” screamed two attractive, identical young women, as they entered the ER doors.
“Pepper, Curry,” he cried, hugging them both.
Lord have mercy, thought Nurse Crane, shaking her head and crossing her chubby brown arms over her ample belly. It looks like we’re starting this day off with a spice rack. We’ve got a Ginger, a Mace, a Pepper and a Curry.
Peering over the tops of her narrow reading glasses at the spice trio, she informed them, “Ginger McCormick is in exam room number four with Dr. Martin. But only one of you can go in at a time,” she warned.
“I’ll be back as soon as I find out how she is,” Mace told his daughters, racing down the hallway toward the examination rooms.
The twin sisters turned to Nurse Crane.
“Is she all right?” asked Curry.
“Is she conscious?” asked Pepper.
But before the nurse could get a single word out, she heard more screams, “Pepper, Curry!”
Pepper and Curry spun around when they heard their sisters’ voices.
“Cinnamon, Sage,” they cried in unison. And once again the group was in a hugfest.
“Lord save me,” exclaimed the nurse. “I’ll never look at spices the same way again.”
“We’re here to see Ginger McCormick,” said Sage. “Is she okay?”
“I just have one question,” said Nurse Crane. “Are there any more of you spices I need to know about?”
The four sisters rolled their eyes, annoyed by her comment.
“No,” quipped Sage, weary from a lifetime of spice jokes. “We’re all here.”
“Hallelujah,” mumbled Nurse Crane, glancing heavenward. “Your mother is fine. By some miracle, her only injuries are a broken left wrist, a couple of cracked ribs and a mild concussion.”
“Oh, thank God,” said Cinnamon.
“Dad is with her now,” added Pepper.
Sage glanced down the hallway toward the examination rooms and locked eyes with her long-time nemesis, Sheriff Jason Winters. Jason and Sage grew up in the same small town of Clearwater, Texas, where both their parents still lived. Years later, they landed in nearby Houston, starting their careers in law.
Jason, a police officer, worked his way up through the ranks to the level of detective in record time. Sage was a criminal trial lawyer, whose defense of a few questionable wealthy clients caused her to butt heads with the cocky Detective Winters on more than one occasion.
Jason later left the Houston Police Department and ran for the office of Sheriff in Morgan County, which included Clearwater. Jason and Sage were like two super-charged lightning bolts, drawn to each other but unable to occupy the same space at the same time without generating a shower of electric sparks.
Sage marched up to Jason, her short auburn curls bouncing with each determined step, “What are you doing here?”
“Murder investigation,” he replied, admiring the way her dark blue suit hugged the curves of her short but shapely figure.
“Murder? What are you talking about?”
“Maybelle Jamison was stabbed with a knife before she went tumbling down the stairs with Ginger.”
"Maybelle was stabbed? But why? Was it robbery?”
“Nothing was stolen,” said Jason. “But Ginger was the last person to see the victim alive, so I need to get her statement.”
“You think my mother killed Maybelle?” asked an outraged Sage, her cheeks beginning to flush with anger.
Jason frowned. “It’s part of any routine investigation. You know that.”
Sage narrowed her eyes, “She’s not talking to anyone without a lawyer present.”
“That’s fine with me, Counselor.”
When Dr. Martin left the exam room, he nodded his approval for Sage and Jason to enter.
“Mother, are you okay?” asked Sage, gently planting a kiss on her mother’s forehead, the only spot left on Ginger’s body without a bruise, scrape or bandage.
“Hello, Jason,” said Mace, stepping forward to greet the young man with a hand-shake.
“Good to see you, Mace,” replied Jason. He turned toward Ginger, wincing at the sight of her injuries. How had she managed to survive such a fall? She was lucky to be alive.
“I know you must be in a lot of pain right now,” he told her, “and I’m really sorry to bother you, but I need to ask a few questions about your accident. We now know that Maybelle Jamison was stabbed before she fell down the stairs, and since you were the last person to see her before she died, I need to take your statement about what happened there this morning.”
“Are you saying Maybelle was murdered?” asked Ginger in disbelief, glancing over at Mace.
Mace lowered his head sadly and closed his eyes. Maybelle was Mace’s first wife. They had been married only two years before she realized that Mace, an aeronautical engineer for a NASA contractor, wasn’t meeting her economic and social expectations. She left him for a wealthy real estate developer with lofty political aspirations. Maybelle was quite a handful, and Mace wasn’t sorry when she left, but he certainly never wished her any harm.
“Yes,” replied Jason. “We think she was stabbed in one of the meeting rooms on the second floor, but managed to walk to the main staircase before she collapsed and fell down the stairs.”
“Oh, my word,” said Ginger. “I didn’t see anyone else near the stairs when I got there. About halfway down, I heard a noise behind me and turned around just in time to see Maybelle tumbling down the stairs. She crashed into me, and then we both rolled down to the bottom of the staircase. I blacked out after that.”
“We haven’t found the murder weapon yet,” added Jason, “but the autopsy showed a stab wound to the abdomen. We believe it was a serrated knife—like a steak knife. You didn’t see anyone else on the second floor before you reached the stairs?”
“Just my bridal client and the hotel event coordinator, Jenny Hall, who was showing us the ballroom. But Jenny left about ten o’clock for another meeting on the second floor, and I stayed to discuss a few more wedding details with the bride. After she left, I packed up my briefcase and headed for the stairs.”
“Okay then,” said Jason, jotting a few notes in his notebook before replacing it in his shirt pocket. “I appreciate your time, Ginger. If you think of anything else that might help us with this case, just call me.”
Sage bristled noticeably; glaring at him.
“Or have your lawyer call me,” he revised, with a quick glance in Sage’s direction.
Jason left the room, with Sage following close behind like a testy little terrier nipping at his heels. Ginger and Mace looked at each other knowingly.
“The dance of romance,” said Mace. “Those two have been at it for years.”
“Do you think they will ever let their guards down long enough to figure out what all that tension is really about?” asked Ginger.
“I hope so. They could be a dynamic duo—just like us,” replied Mace, giving Ginger’s uninjured hand a loving squeeze.
Sage trailed Jason down the hallway, her low-heeled lawyer pumps working double-time to keep up with his long strides. “Do you have any suspects for this murder—other than my mother?”
Jason turned to face her. Those electric green eyes and sensuous lips always made his insides quiver. But why was she always so cantankerous whenever he was around? He never deliberately tried to piss her off. He had set his sights on this feisty little fireball a long time ago, but it was taking a bit longer than anticipated to rein her in. He felt confident, though, that she would come around eventually. Jason was a patient man.
“Once again, Counselor, in case you missed it the first time, I’m just doing my job. I can’t ignore the fact that your mother was the last one to see the victim alive, not to mention the fact that they were acquaintances and possibly even rivals.”
“That’s ridiculous,” countered Sage, planting her hands firmly on both hips. “Maybelle left my father long before he met my mother.”
Jason shrugged his broad shoulders and turned to leave. There was no point in arguing over this issue. It wasn’t going to change the way he approached the investigation.
Sage fumed as she watched him walk away. Why did God have to waste that tall, dark and sexy body on such a stubborn, narrow-minded man? Every time she saw him, she bristled and went weak in the knees at the same time. Why did he always affect her that way?
Never mind, she’d have to think about that another day. She and her sisters had their work cut out for them. They needed to find out who killed Maybelle Jamison.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Murder?” exclaimed Cinnamon, when Sage told her sisters about the stabbing.
“Why would anyone want to murder Maybelle?” asked Pepper.
“That’s what we have to find out,” replied Sage, “before Jason throws Mother in jail!”
“He doesn’t really believe Mother killed Maybelle, does he?” asked Curry.
“Probably not,” admitted Sage. “But Mother was the last person to see Maybelle alive, so he has to treat her like any other suspect until he proves otherwise.”
“Or until we prove otherwise,” declared Cinnamon.
“Exactly,” confirmed Sage.
“Where do we start?” asked Pepper.
“We need to find out why Maybelle was at the hotel this morning,” replied Sage. “I know her daughter, Cynthia. Maybe she can help.”
“The killer could have stolen a steak knife from the hotel kitchen,” added Cinnamon. “I could snoop around in there. Gordon, the hotel chef, was one of my instructors at culinary school.”
Cinnamon was a professional chef. After working at several well-known restaurants around the country, she formed a partnership with two other students in her culinary class to start their own restaurant in the trendy Galleria area of Houston. At 29, her talent and hard work had put her on the path to a successful entrepreneurial career, which didn’t leave much time for a social life.
“Curry and I could question some of the hotel employees,” offered Pepper, “to see if they saw anything suspicious.”
“It’s a start,” agreed Sage. “Let’s get on it. Call me as soon as you have any leads.”
The sisters scattered in different directions, hot on the trail of Maybelle’s killer. Sage pulled out her cell phone and searched for Cynthia Jamison’s number. Cynthia and Sage, both 32, were married to their demanding careers. They attended the same law school, starting off as competitive rivals and ending up as close friends, both returning to Houston to practice law at competing firms.
After getting a voice mail message on Cynthia’s cell phone, Sage tried her office number, and finally tracked her down at Maybelle’s house. She should have known the family would gather there in the wake of such unexpected tragedy.
“Cynthia, this is Sage McCormick. I’m so sorry to hear about your mother’s death.”
“Thank you, Sage. I heard your mother is in the hospital. Is she going to be all right?”
“Yes, she should be fine, but the Sheriff was at the hospital and told us Maybelle was murdered.”
“It’s horrible,” Cynthia sobbed. “I just don’t understand why someone would want to kill Mother.”
“I can’t believe it either,” replied Sage. “Jason took my mother’s statement about the incident as part of the investigation, but I want to do some investigating on my own. Could I stop by and talk with you for a few minutes today?”
“I don’t know what you expect to find out by talking to me, but I’ll do anything I can to help. I want that killer caught, too. Come over to the house around one o’clock and we’ll see what we can figure out.”
“Thank you,” said Sage. It was almost noon, so she dashed off to grab a sandwich at Anton’s Deli, her favorite lunch spot in Clearwater. Whenever Sage was stressed, she automatically thought of food. It worked better than tranquilizers to calm her nerves, and the thought of one of Anton’s hot grilled chicken Panini sandwiches with sautéed red peppers and a thick layer of melted cheese made her mouth water.
She scarfed down her sandwich, topped it off with a delectable, fudgey brownie and felt fully charged and ready to tackle the world. Next, she checked in with her secretary to make sure there were no pending crises at the office, and headed over to the local library to do a bit of research on Maybelle Jamison.
After leaving Mace, Maybelle married a wealthy real estate developer named Henry Jamison. He was one of many developers who capitalized on the Gulf Coast location of Clearwater and turned it into an upscale tourist attraction with million-dollar waterfront homes, expensive seafood restaurants, huge marinas, and retail/entertainment complexes. Even though Clearwater was a small town, with a population of only 22,000, the millions of tourists it attracted each year fostered a booming economy.
Maybelle thrived on social status and wealth. As Sage scanned the social columns in the local newspaper, she noticed that Maybelle was the star attraction for most of the social and charity events. Her husband was elected Mayor of Clearwater, and then moved on up the political ladder to the office of U. S. Representative. But somewhere along the way, Maybelle made a dangerous enemy.
* * * * * * * * * *
While Sage gathered information about Maybelle’s social status, Cinnamon called her former instructor, Gordon Ellis, head chef at The Grand Hotel. She explained the situation her mother was in because of Maybelle’s untimely demise, and asked if he could help her with a little investigating.
“Of course, Cinnamon. I’ll do whatever I can to help,” he replied. “But the deputies have already searched this hotel from top to bottom looking for the murder weapon, and they came up empty handed.”
“I just want to check things out for myself,” explained Cinnamon. “My mother is on the Sheriff’s murder suspect list, and I need to do everything I can to get her off.”
The Grand Hotel, built as a palatial residence for a ship-building magnate in 1925, overlooks Pelican Bay, a tiny inlet on the Gulf of Mexico. Well-known business developer, Clinton Tate, purchased the building a few years ago and turned it into an elegant hotel with a five-star restaurant on the first floor, spacious ballrooms and meeting rooms on the second floor, and luxurious guest rooms on the third floor. The beautiful, sweeping marble staircase in the entry is a favorite photo spot for brides.
Cinnamon planned to arrive at the hotel close to noon, during the lunch time rush, so she could snoop around without being watched too carefully—not an easy feat for a woman who’s two inches shy of six feet tall, with short, spiky, reddish-blonde hair. And like her mother and three sisters, she was blessed (or sometimes cursed) with a dogged determination. Just like bloodhounds, when they latched onto a scent, they refused to give up until they caught their prey. The hunt was on!
“The Sheriff said the murder weapon might have been a steak knife,” Cinnamon told Gordon. “Is there any way to tell if one of your knives is missing?”
“Unfortunately not,” he replied. “We have hundreds of steak knives.”
“Did you see Maybelle at the hotel this morning?”
“No, I was in a meeting with Jenny Hall at ten o’clock, and I didn’t see Maybelle until after the accident. Jenny and I heard screams in the lobby and ran out to see what was going on. That’s when we saw Maybelle and Ginger at the bottom of the stairs.”
“Do you have any idea why Maybelle was here at the hotel this morning?” asked Cinnamon.
“She’s been here several times during the past few weeks, taking tours with the owner, Clinton Tate, and meeting with the hotel manager, Glen Durst,” replied Gordon. “I don’t know what was going on, but if the owner was involved, it must have been something big.”
“Do you mean she was planning a big event?”
“No one told me anything about an event, which is unusual because I’m responsible for the food orders and preparations for large events. Maybe it was something else, but it must have been high priority.”
“Then I need to find out what it was,” she said. “Thanks for your time, Gordon. If you hear anything about the murder, will you call me?”
Cinnamon left the kitchen and ran into Pepper and Curry in the lobby.
“We’ve been talking to a few of the employees to find out if anyone saw something suspicious involving Maybelle,” said Curry.
“Yes,” added Pepper, “and we discovered something that might be important. We talked to the housekeeping supervisor. We met her last winter when we donated some clothing from our boutique to a charity event she was chairing. She saw Maybelle arguing with Glen Durst, around nine o’clock this morning outside his office. She couldn’t hear what they were saying, but she could tell they were angry.”
“That is important,” agreed Cinnamon. “Did she tell Jason about the argument?”
“Yes, she told him; I’m sure he questioned the manager about it.”
“I wonder how we could find out what they were arguing about?” mused Cinnamon.
Pepper and Curry glanced at each other in nervous anticipation. Cinnamon was getting that familiar gleam in her eye. They knew she was concocting another one of her crazy schemes that, more often than not, landed them all in a heap of trouble. Like the time when the twins were eight, and Cinnamon decided they should try parasailing off the roof of the garden shed in the back yard, using their mother’s best Damask table cloths. Curry wound up with a broken ankle, and they were all grounded for a month.
The twins could see the wheels turning in Cinnamon’s wickedly inventive mind. Never ones to back away from a challenge, in spite of the risks, they waited anxiously to hear the game plan. Their mother’s life was at stake here, so they would just have to worry about the consequences later.
And there would be consequences. Too bad their intuition wasn’t setting off alarms and flashing red lights, warning them to back off. They had no idea at this point the magnitude of evil that was unleashed on their quiet little community. But they were about to find out—first hand.
Across town, in a new subdivision of multi-million-dollar mansions, Sage rang the doorbell at the home of Maybelle Jamison. A maid ushered her into a small sitting room where she waited for Cynthia to arrive. Her cell phone rang. It was Cinnamon.
“I didn’t have much luck with my search in the hotel kitchen,” she said. “Gordon told me Maybelle has been meeting with the hotel owner and manager. He thinks something big was in the works, but doesn’t know what it was.”
“I’ll ask Cynthia,” offered Sage. “Surely she knows what her mother was planning, if it was that important.”
“Good,” replied Cinnamon. “Cynthia is probably the only source we have for checking up on Maybelle’s plans. But, Pepper and Curry found out something important. The housekeeping supervisor told them Maybelle had an argument with Glen Durst, the hotel manager, this morning. We need to find out what they were arguing about. He could be a possible murder suspect.”
“We’ll definitely add him to the list,” agreed Sage. “Did the supervisor tell Jason about Maybelle’s argument?”
“Yes, I’m sure he’s following up on that lead, too.”
“I hope so,” replied Sage. “I’m at Maybelle’s house waiting to talk to Cynthia. Let me see what I can find out here, and then I’ll meet you back at the hotel.”
“Sure. We’ll hang around here and have lunch. Maybe we can pick up some more info. Call me when you leave Maybelle’s house.”
“Will do,” said Sage, hanging up her phone, as Cynthia entered the room.
“Thank you for seeing me, Cynthia,” she said, giving her grieving friend a warm hug. “I know how upset you must be over your mother’s death.”
“We’re all still in shock, Sage,” said Cynthia, blotting tears from her red, swollen eyes. “Why would someone want to murder my mother? I know she was overbearing and self-centered, but that’s no reason to kill her.”
“Do you know why she was at the hotel this morning?”
“Yes. She was planning to buy the hotel from Clinton Tate. He put the property on the market a couple of months ago, and Mother became absolutely obsessed with the idea of owning it. She needed a new pet project to occupy her time; and when she found out Clinton wanted to sell the hotel, nothing was going to keep her from getting it. She even had the insane idea that she wanted to run it herself.”
“You mean she didn’t want to have a manager?”
“Exactly. It was a crazy idea. Mother didn’t know the first thing about managing a hotel, not to mention the fact that she would need to give up all her charity projects.”
“Did she tell Glen Durst about her plans?”
“Who is Glen Durst?”
“He’s the current manager at the hotel. I just found out that Maybelle had an argument with Glen this morning, but we don’t know what the argument was about.”
“And you think he killed her?”
“Well, most people wouldn’t go that far to keep their jobs, but stranger things have happened. You’re an attorney—I’m sure you’ve seen plenty of weirdoes in court.”
“You’re right about that,” Cynthia said. “What are you going to do now?”
“My sisters are waiting for me at the hotel. I’m going to see what I can do to check out Glen Durst.”
“Aren’t you going to tell the Sheriff?” asked Cynthia.
“You mean you haven’t told him about your mother’s plan to buy the hotel?”
“Not yet. He’s supposed to come by later this afternoon.”
Sage smiled. “Sure, I’ll tell him,” she lied. She really did plan to tell him, just not right away; maybe later, after she had a chance to do a little more sleuthing. “I’m going to try my best to find out who killed Maybelle, Cynthia, for her sake as well as my mother’s.”
“Thank you, Sage. I appreciate anything you can do.”
“No thanks necessary,” Sage said. “You’d do the same thing for me.”
Cynthia smiled bravely, as her puffy eyes began to tear-up again.
“Call me if there’s anything I can do to help you get through this nightmare,” offered Sage, remembering the fact that she had three sisters and two loving parents to help cushion life’s blows; but Cynthia was an only child, whose parents, for the most part, were self-absorbed and totally absent. Even more incentive to catch this killer, she thought, as she returned to her car. She dialed Cinnamon’s cell phone. “Stay there. I’m on my way.”
Sage made a beeline for the hotel and met her sisters inside the restaurant, where they were chowing down on Friday’s lunch special—Seafood Bisque with tiny herb biscuits and a side of fresh fruit salad.
“That looks yummy,” remarked Sage.
“It’s scrumptious,” said Cinnamon, scooping up a steamy spoonful of the fragrant soup. “Gordon really knows his way around seafood, and the spices are perfect.”
“Want a bite?” asked Pepper.
“No thanks. I’m stuffed,” replied Sage. While Cinnamon, Pepper and Curry finished off their lunch, Sage told them about Maybelle’s plans to buy the hotel and possibly fire Glen Durst.
“I guess that’s what they were arguing about this morning,” said Cinnamon. “Do you think he would kill her because of that?”
“I have no idea,” admitted Sage. “But right now, he’s our only suspect, and I intend to search his office. If he killed Maybelle, he might have hidden the knife there. The deputies have searched everywhere and didn’t find it.”
“That’s what Gordon said, too,” added Cinnamon. “Let’s check it out.”
“How are you going to search his office without him knowing about it?” asked Pepper.
“We’ll need a diversion,” replied Sage. “You and Curry think up a way to get Glen out of his office for at least thirty minutes. Cinnamon, you can stand guard in the hallway and let me know if anyone is coming, while I search Glen’s office.”
It never occurred to Sage’s three siblings to question her plans. If she decided they needed to search Glen’s office, then that’s exactly what they would do. As their unofficial leader, they had every confidence that Sage knew what she was doing—most of the time.
Pepper and Curry conferred for a moment over how to accomplish their mission, and then left the restaurant, heading for Glen Durst’s office. Sage and Cinnamon kept their fingers crossed that the twins could entice him from his lair. Glen was in his mid-thirties, average height, and somewhat of a geek; but he was a typical male. He wouldn’t be able to resist the attention of not one, but two tall, shapely brunettes.
Pepper and Curry turned down careers in fashion modeling, choosing instead to open an upscale clothing boutique in Houston, selling expensive designer clothing, as well as their own original designs. The “Grand Opening” for Panache was held last fall to celebrate their 27th birthdays. They are quite a team, and their sisters didn’t doubt for a minute they would launch their own successful line of clothing in the very near future.
Shortly after the twins left the restaurant, Glen strolled through the lobby with Pepper hanging onto one arm and Curry draped over the other. He was all smiles and basking in their glow. As soon as the trio was safely out of sight, Sage and Cinnamon made a dash for Glen’s office. Cinnamon took up her station outside the office door, while Sage sneaked inside to begin her search.
She tackled the desk first, opening drawers and rifling through the contents, even checking to make sure nothing was taped to the backs. The only evidence she discovered was not murderous but erotic—a copy of Penthouse Magazine in the bottom drawer. “Shame on you, Glen, and on company time, too.” Next she moved over to the filing cabinet, flipping through all the folders, but found nothing suspicious; just the usual business correspondence, schedules and memos.
The book cases were last. Sage fanned through each book, hoping to find something inside. Fortunately, Glen wasn’t big on reading, so his library was limited. As she opened one of the books on the last shelf, a folded piece of paper fluttered to the floor.
She unfolded the elegant stationery and discovered a Chicago newspaper clipping inside. The headline read “Local Man Embezzles $5,000,000 and Disappears”. There beside the headline was a picture of Glen Durst, but the name printed underneath his picture was David Groves. Double shame on you, Glen, she thought. That little geek had managed to pull off a multi-million-dollar heist and get away with it.
Sage scanned the brief, hand-written letter. It was from Maybelle. “I don’t want any scandal attached to this hotel,” the letter read. “Withdraw your purchase offer and move on quietly, so I won’t be forced to reveal your true identity.”
“Whew,” whistled Sage. “Now there’s a motive for murder. They both wanted to buy this hotel, and Maybelle was using blackmail to gain the upper hand.” Sage had no idea why Maybelle would commit a Federal crime to get what she wanted, but Cynthia was right about her mother being obsessed with the idea of owning this hotel.
Unfortunately, Maybelle miscalculated the consequences of her actions, and look what that mistake had cost her. But if Glen killed Maybelle, where did he hide the murder weapon? Sage had turned that office inside out and not found it. Frustrated, she plopped down in the desk chair, staring blankly at the serene oil painting hanging on the wall in front of her.
“Oh,” she said, jumping up from the chair. “Of course, why didn’t I think of it before?”
* * * * * * * * * *
Sheriff Jason Winters and Deputy Sam Davis climbed the main staircase in the hotel lobby in search of Glen Durst. After conducting a lengthy background check on the otherwise mild-mannered hotel manager, the Sheriff had turned up some rather unsavory news. Apparently Mr. Durst had sticky fingers when it came to other people’s money.
The front desk clerk had directed the two lawmen to the second floor. “He’s in the Magnolia Ballroom,” she said, “assisting two clients plan for an event.”
As they reached the top of the stairs, they spotted the hotel manager chatting amiably with Pepper and Curry McCormick. He was giggling like a chubby little kid on a roller coaster, as the spice twins flirted with him shamelessly.
“I smell a rat!” said Jason. “If Pepper and Curry are here, then Sage and Cinnamon can’t be far behind.”
“Who?” asked the confused deputy.
“I think what we’ve got here is a diversionary tactic. That means Sage must be stalking Glen Durst, and I’ve got a good idea where to find her.”
Jason dashed down the stairs, taking them two at a time, with the puzzled deputy struggling to keep up. He knew he’d find that nosey barrister snooping around in Glen’s office.
Meanwhile, Sage, who was completely unaware of the whirlwind bearing down upon her, ran around the desk and lifted the large oil painting off the wall. She turned it over, and there, taped to the back of the canvas, was a plastic bag holding a large steak knife.
She shuddered at the traces of blood still visible on the blade, thinking how shocked poor Maybelle must have felt when her attacker struck—first pain, then outrage and finally the fear of losing her life as she struggled to reach the staircase.
Outside the office door, she heard Cinnamon’s voice, “Jason. What are you doing here?”
Before Sage could react, Jason burst into the office, glaring at the back of the painting she still held in both hands.
“Your finger prints had better not be on that bag,” he warned.
“Do I look that stupid?” she countered. “I should think you’d be grateful that I discovered the murder weapon and the motive,” she added, nodding at the letter on the desk.
“I was already on my way to arrest David Groves,” he replied. “I can’t just break into people’s offices—I have to go through the proper legal channels and actually take the time to get warrants.”
“I didn’t break in,” argued Sage. “The door was open.”
“And you think that gives you the right—legal or otherwise—to go poking around in someone’s private space?”
“When my mother’s life is at stake, yes, I do!”
David Groves, a.k.a. Glen Durst, stepped into the office, “What are you doing in here? Get out of my office!”
“It’s too late for that,” said Jason, holding up a warrant. “David Groves, I’m arresting you for embezzlement. Read him his rights, Sam; then take him down to the station.”
Deputy Davis hauled off the confounded Glen Durst, as Cinnamon, Pepper and Curry gathered outside the office door.
“Embezzlement?” asked the equally confounded Sage. “What about murder?”
“Unfortunately, you didn’t do your homework, Counselor. Glen Durst has an airtight alibi for Maybelle Jamison’s murder. He was in a meeting with a room full of people when she was stabbed,” explained Jason.
“But what about the blackmail letter from Maybelle?” argued Sage, holding up the letter for Jason to scan.
“He might have had motive,” agreed Jason, “but he didn’t have opportunity.”
“Maybe he hired someone to do it,” offered Sage, in a desperate attempt to make her theory fit.
“I intend to explore that possibility, but, in the mean time, I expect you to keep your nose out of my investigation.”
Cinnamon, Pepper and Curry, standing outside the office door, stepped back, anticipating the inevitable fireworks from yet another Sage and Jason confrontation.
Sage’s bright green eyes glittered with anger. Her three sisters gasped and backed up again. Pulling herself up to her full five feet, four inches—in heels—she glared up at Jason—a good ten inches taller.
“Not a chance in hell!” she growled. “Not as long as my mother is a murder suspect!”
“Dammit, Sage,” said the exasperated Sheriff. “You know I don’t believe your mother killed anybody, but this is a murder investigation, and I have to follow all the leads—no matter where that takes me.”
“Then you can expect me to be following leads, too,” countered Sage. “I know you’re a good investigator, Jason, but this is my mother we’re talking about. I will not stop until this case is solved.”
Jason sighed. He might as well be arguing with a brick wall. “You can’t do much investigating from behind bars, and that’s exactly where you’re going to wind up if you keep breaking into offices and tampering with evidence.”
“Humph,” mumbled Sage, putting her hands on her hips in defiance. But her belligerent stance was just a bluff. She knew he could toss her skinny ass in jail if she didn’t play her cards right.
“Can I count on you not to break any more laws?” he asked.
Sage paused briefly, her knees feeling limp under the gaze of his smoky brown eyes. She wasn’t about to make any promises at this stage of the game, so she gave a quick nod instead. The trick here was not to get caught. She’d just have to be more careful in the future.
“I know asking you to be patient is like asking you not to breathe,” added Jason. “Just give me a chance, and I promise I’ll find this killer.”
Sage relaxed a bit. She knew Jason was doing his best, but it couldn’t hurt to have a backup investigation; and there was no way in hell she could sit around and wait. Once again, she nodded, without making a verbal commitment.
“Truce?” asked Jason, with a guarded smile.
“Truce,” replied Sage, feeling like a tap dancer on a tight rope.
Cinnamon, Pepper and Curry breathed a sigh of relief—another battle with no bloodshed—now that was progress.
Jason packed up the blackmail letter and murder weapon that Sage uncovered during her quasi-legal search of Glen Durst’s office, and left the scene. Sage and her sisters, disheartened to learn that their prime suspect in Maybelle’s murder had an airtight alibi, returned to the hotel lobby to rethink their strategy.
“Now what?” asked Cinnamon. “If Glen Durst isn’t the killer, we’re back to square one.”
“Not necessarily,” replied Sage. “We don’t know for sure he’s not the killer. He could easily have hired someone to murder Maybelle.”
“So how are we supposed to check out that possibility?” asked Pepper. “Hired assassins aren’t exactly listed in the Yellow Pages.”
“I guess we’ll have to leave that part of the investigation up to Jason,” admitted Sage. “The deputies have contacts and informants who can check that out. What we can do though, is find out more about Maybelle—talk to her friends, neighbors, acquaintances and family to see if she had any other enemies. If she resorted to blackmail to get what she wanted from Glen, she’s probably pissed off a few more people in the past.”
“That could take forever,” complained Cinnamon. “Maybelle Jamison practically ran this town.”
“Mother might be able to help,” offered Curry. “She’s lived here as long as Maybelle.”
“That’s true,” agreed Sage. “Let’s go back to the hospital.”
* * * * * * * * * *
Once again, the four sisters converged on the nursing station in the ER, where Nurse Crane was packing up to leave for the day.
“Oh, Lord,” she said, when she realized the spice group had returned.
“What happened to our mother?” asked Sage. “The exam room is empty.”
“They’re moving her to Three-South,” replied the nurse, nervously checking her watch. Just six more minutes and her shift was over. She had actually managed to make it through the rest of the day without any more weirdoes showing up—until now, at least. Just six more Friday minutes, and she could go home and put up her tired, sore feet and forget about this loony bin for the entire weekend.
“So which room is she in on Three-South?” asked Sage.
“She’s not in any room yet,” said Nurse Crane. “She... Did you say empty?” she frowned, looking from the spice sisters to the hallway and back. “Maybe you checked the wrong exam room,” she smiled, mentally ticking off the seconds.
“We can read,” argued Cinnamon, her spiky reddish hair vibrating with irritation. “Room number four is empty.”
Nurse Crane bounded out from behind the desk and waddled as fast as her short legs could carry her down the hallway, with the spice group tight on her heels. She pushed open the door to exam room four and pulled up short at the sight of the empty bed. The four sisters piled into her before they could stop.
“You don’t know where she is?” asked Sage, grabbing onto the nurse to keep her from falling after their abrupt collision.
“Stand back,” demanded Nurse Crane, fighting her way back through the tiny, crowded space. She hit the hallway at a gallop this time, with the sisters hanging back at a safer distance.
She grabbed the phone on the desk and punched in a few numbers. “Sandra,” she said, gasping for air. “Did you send someone to pick up the patient in exam room four, Ginger McCormick?” The nurse winced at the stitch in her side—she wasn’t accustomed to doing the fifty-yard dash during her shift. Damn these people! They weren’t supposed to move her patients without telling her. As if this job wasn’t stressful enough, now she had to play detective and track down the whereabouts of her patients.
The four sisters stood in wide-eyed silence while Nurse Crane waited for a response.
“No,” replied Sandra, the equally frustrated nurse on Three-South. “Just keep your panties on. We don’t have a room ready yet. We’re packed to the gills up here and can’t get these damned doctors off the golf course long enough to release their patients. Are you backing up down there in ER?”
Nurse Crane paused with a heavy sigh. “No. We’re good. I’ll get back to you later.”
She hung up the phone and drummed her short, chubby fingers on the desk. Now what? Four anxious family members on the verge of hysteria were standing right in front of her, expecting an answer—now. “I don’t know” was not an option at this point.
“If you ladies will just have a seat in the waiting area,” she said as calmly as she could, “I’ll make a few calls and we’ll get this cleared up.”
* * * * * * * * * *
The wary sisters made their way over to the sparsely populated waiting area, claiming a row of alternating turquoise and burnt orange vinyl upholstered chairs, while they awaited the verdict. They had no choice really—what else could they do?
“I don’t like this one bit,” complained Pepper, trying to keep her voice low, in spite of her mounting concern.
“Somebody screwed up big time,” snarled Cinnamon, sliding down in her seat and propping both feet on the magazine-littered coffee table. “And now they’re trying to cover their butts.”
“Let’s call Dad,” said Sage. “Maybe he knows something.”
* * * * * * * * * *
An exasperated Nurse Crane called the Chief Administrator to put out an alert for a missing patient. Did she leave the hospital against medical advice? She was supposed to stay overnight for observation, but not everyone agreed to follow doctors’ orders.
Somehow the nurse didn’t think this was the case for Ginger McCormick. A shiver ran down her spine. That nagging premonition was back, but this time it wasn’t for herself. She had a bad feeling about Ginger McCormick’s disappearance. This situation was going to get worse before it got better—if it got better.
* * * * * * * * * *
“Dad?” said Sage, when Mace answered the phone. “Did you check Mother out of the hospital? Is she home with you?”
“What are you talking about?” he asked. “The hospital staff said they were going to move her up to Three-South. I came back to work for a while and planned to return to the hospital tonight to visit her. Did you check with the nurse?”
“Yeah,” replied Sage, slowly, not wanting to alarm her father. “The hospital is checking into it now to see if they can locate her.”
“What do you mean—locate her?” he cried. “The hospital has lost your mother? Oh my God!”
“Calm down, Dad. I didn’t say they lost her. I said they’re checking into...” Click. The phone call was terminated abruptly by an overwrought Mace.
“Well, damn!” said Sage.
“What did he say?” asked Cinnamon.
“Did he check Mother out of the hospital?” asked Pepper.
“No,” replied Sage. “He didn’t check her out and now he’s gone ballistic over the news that she’s missing. It will be a miracle if he doesn’t stroke out before he gets here. At least, I assume he’s coming here—he didn’t really say.”
“What a mess!” exclaimed Curry, on the verge of tears. “What could have happened to Mother?”
For the first time in her life, Sage’s “damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead” attitude had deserted her. She had no response to that question.
“Ms. McCormick,” said a short, slightly plump, balding man.
“Yes,” replied all four sisters in unison.
“Oh,” he raised his dark, bushy eyebrows in surprise as he surveyed the motley group of young women. “I’m Norman Spears, the hospital’s Chief Administrator. We seem to have a slight miscommunication involving Ginger McCormick, who is your mother, I understand?”
“Miscommunication?” squeaked Cinnamon, as mounting anger turned her otherwise creamy-white complexion three shades of red. “Is that the official term for losing one of your patients?”
Sage rested her hand gently on Cinnamon’s arm, hoping to thwart a nasty confrontation—at least until they determined the appropriate target for their combined wrath. “Yes, Ginger McCormick is our mother,” she replied, willing herself to remain calm. “We just spoke to our father, who told us he did not check her out of this hospital; so she must be here somewhere.”
“Right,” confirmed Norman, nervously pulling a white handkerchief from the pocket of his dark pin-striped suit and blotting a trickle of perspiration running down the side of his bald head. “Our records also indicate that she has not checked out.”
“So, what’s next?” asked Sage, trying not to jump to any conclusions. “Could she have been moved to a different floor of the hospital by mistake?”
“We’ve already checked all the nursing stations,” he replied, tugging uncomfortably at the heavily starched collar of his white business shirt. “Unfortunately, none of them received a patient from the ER this afternoon.”
All four sisters stared at him in silence, trying to understand the implications of this news. They looked at each other, then back at Norman, waiting for another explanation—anything but “she’s gone and we don’t know where she is.”
Norman understood the pleading stares. “Is there any chance that she might have left the hospital on her own?” he asked futilely.
“Oh, my God!” cried Curry. “She’s been kidnapped!”
At that moment, all hell broke loose. Pepper and Curry began to sob uncontrollably. Cinnamon launched into a tirade, screaming at Norman Spears about hospital negligence and security incompetence. Sage whipped out her cell phone and called 911 to report a kidnapping.
Nurse Crane, deciding there was nothing more she could do to stop this avalanche, sneaked out the back entrance, trying desperately to save her own sanity.
* * * * * * * * * *
Jason and Mace arrived at the entrance to the ER at the same time.
“Ginger’s been kidnapped?” asked Jason.
“She has?” replied Mace, in horror.
The two men stared at each other in a moment of confusion, as three more deputies arrived on the scene. They all tumbled through the ER doors into total chaos.
The chief of hospital security, Dan Bartels, who had arrived just moments before, was backed into a corner by four hysterical daughters and one frantic administrator—all demanding the return of the missing Ginger. Upon Jason’s arrival, the entire group transferred their angst onto the beleaguered Sheriff; as Mace tried desperately to get an update on Ginger’s status.
“Stop!” yelled Jason. “I can’t understand a thing any of you is saying. Norman, tell me what’s going on here.”
“Ginger McCormick is missing,” replied the frazzled administrator. “She didn’t check out of the hospital, she wasn’t moved to another floor, and no one saw her leave.”
“Oh, no,” cried Mace, sinking down onto one of the waiting room chairs. His daughters rushed over to comfort him. Sage held his hand, trying to reassure him that everything would be okay, while Cinnamon fanned his pale face with a dog-eared copy of Woman’s Day Magazine, fearing he would pass out from shock.
“What have you got so far?” Jason asked Dan.
“Nothing—I just got here, but I plan to check the videotapes in the security cameras.”
“Let’s do it,” ordered Jason. “The rest of you wait here. We’ll be back as soon as we can.”
Once again, Sage locked eyes with Jason. Only this time, her eyes were pleading for help. He understood, and gave her a slight nod before racing up the stairs to the security office.
* * * * * * * * * *
Dan pulled the videotape for the ER exam room hallway and put it into the tape player. He pushed the fast forward button to advance the tape to the afternoon footage. The two officers watched as the ER staff went about their usual routine, taking patients in and out of the various exam rooms; but their attention was focused on exam room number four.
Around three o’clock, Mace left the room. At 3:15, a man wearing a hospital scrub suit wheeled an empty laundry cart slowly down the hallway. A scrub cap covered his hair, and he kept his head lowered to avoid a direct view from the security camera.
Jason and Dan moved to the edge of their seats, intently watching his every move. After pausing in front of room number four, he glanced in each direction down the hallway and pushed the cart into the room.
Each officer held his breath as they waited for the man to emerge. Finally, the door opened. The suspect checked to make sure the hallway was empty, and then pulled the laundry cart out of the room. There was a large, white bag inside, and it was much too big to be a laundry bag. Jason and Dan stared at each other in stunned silence, and then watched as the man wheeled the cart slowly down the hallway toward the exit.
All Jason could think about at that moment was, “How am I going to tell Sage?”
They returned to the ER to deliver the bad news about Ginger’s kidnapping, feeling certain that she was in the laundry cart the suspect wheeled out the back exit to the hospital delivery parking lot. The parking lot camera recorded him loading the cart into the back of a black van, but the license tags were covered to prevent identification. They weren’t dealing with amateurs. These kidnappers had their act together.
* * * * * * * * * *
“We believe she was taken out of the hospital in a laundry cart and loaded into a black van,” Jason told the incredulous family members, who stared at him in helpless shock.
“Why would someone kidnap Mother?” asked Cinnamon.
“It couldn’t be for money,” added Mace.
“It has to be Maybelle’s killer,” surmised Sage, her criminal lawyer mind rapidly clicking the tumblers into place. “He thinks Mother saw or heard something at the murder scene.”
Jason nodded sadly to confirm his agreement with her theory.
“The killer has Mother?” cried Curry, sobbing once again. “Is he going to kill her, too?”
Mace dropped his face into his hands, stricken with grief and fear.
“I’ve already issued an APB on the van,” said Jason, trying his best to offer hope in what appeared to be a hopeless situation. “There’s nothing more you can do here, Mace. I think it’s best for you to go home now, in case the kidnapper calls. I have a deputy assigned to stay with you. We’ve called in extra police officers from the surrounding areas to help with the search. We’ll find her,” he added, trying to sound more confident than he felt.
Mace nodded sadly and left the hospital, escorted by one of the deputies. He had never felt so helpless in his entire life. Just when he managed to recover from this morning’s heart-stopping scare, he was hit with another life-threatening blow. How could this be happening? He had to do something to save Ginger. But what could he do? And then he smiled, remembering his four beautiful, intelligent and resourceful daughters. “We’re on our way, Honey,” he whispered. He knew in his heart that, with his daughters’ help, he would find Ginger and bring her home safely.
Jason switched into high-gear, barking orders to his deputies, as they tripped over each other in their haste to carry out their life-saving missions. “Sage, get me a recent photo of your mother. We’ll hand out flyers and give notices to all the local T.V. and radio stations.”
Sage jumped up, glad to have this assignment to boost her morale. She promised to e-mail a photo to the Sheriff’s office within the hour and gathered her sisters around her to plan their search strategy. She was a fighter—she wasn’t about to give up yet.
Jason saw the hope in her eyes and knew she was back on board. That’s what he loved about her—that feisty spirit. Hell, at this point, he didn’t care if she broke into offices and tampered with evidence. He could use all the help he could get.