Isabel Long, the protagonist in my mystery series, is always on the lookout for a new case to solve. She hasn’t been at it very long. Those who have read the first book will recall she started after a bad year — her husband died and she lost her job as a paper’s editor-in-chief — and decided to use the skills from her journalism days to solve cold cases in the sticks of Western Massachusetts in the U.S.
Her first case involved discovering what happened to a woman who went missing 28 years ago from her small town. That was in Chasing the Case.
In the second, Isabel proves a junkyard dealer was murdered and not too drunk to get out of his house after it caught fire. His daughter approached her in the bar where Isabel worked part-time. That was in Redneck’s Revenge.
For the third, she was hired by a local drug dealer to find out the true circumstances around his brother’s death. He supposedly jumped off a bridge known for suicides, but maybe he was pushed. That was in Checking the Traps.
So what case does Isabel solve in book number four, Killing the Story, which will be out Aug. 26? This one is near and dear to her because it involves the death of a small town newspaper editor. How does she find this one? Isabel and Marie, her 93-year-old mother and her ‘Watson,’ attend the open house for the Pit Stop, a gas station and convenience store in the small hilltown of Caulfield. The new owners are cousins Annette (daughter of the junkyard dealer from case no. 2) and Marsha (alibi for a suspect in case no. 1), who celebrate with a pig roast, cheap beer, and a band called the Country Bumpkins. It’s a lively event, and a fortuitous one because that’s where Isabel finds her next case.
Here let me give you an excerpt. Isabel went to fetch food for the two of them, and when she returns she finds her mother talking with a man.
Ma looks up when she sees my approach. I hand her the plate loaded with pork. The man stands. That’s when I notice the camera hanging by a strap around his neck.
“Isabel, this is Mr. Emerson Crane,” she says. “He’d like to talk with you. He might have a case you’d be interested in pursuing.”
Emerson Crane grabs my free hand in a shake, warm, dry, and not too tight, which I take as a good sign.
“Isabel, I heard you’ve been successful solving a few cold cases in the hilltowns,” he says. “I was telling your mother I’m hoping you’ll take mine.”
Some guy bumps me from behind, and after a “sorry” and a splash of beer on my blouse, I glance around for another free chair.
“Why don’t you grab that chair, Mr. Crane, and we can have a talk,” I say.
“Please call me Emerson. And in case you are wondering, I am named for Ralph Waldo Emerson. My mother was a big fan.”
While the man does as I ask, I note his clothes, a button-down blue shirt with short sleeves and khakis that seem a bit worn. I’m guessing this wouldn’t be a get-rich case although I have to admit after I checked the envelope, I found Gary Beaumont paid me more than I expected, so I’m set for a while. But as Jack often reminds me, I probably make more money tending his bar one night a week than I do chasing criminals.
I wait with the plate on my lap. I’m more interested in hearing the man’s story than eating although I note my mother has already sampled the pork. The woman has a satisfied smile.
I ask my mother, “Murder or money?”
“I’ll let him tell you. I think you’ll be interested in this one. It involves a newspaper.”
Newspaper? Ma knows how to get my attention. As many of you know, I worked for the Daily Star in Hampton for a gazillion years, starting as the hilltown reporter getting paid by the inch to running the damn paper as its managing editor for fifteen years until I lost that job when the Star went corporate. I was ticked off at the time that the new owner had the nerve to say I had to reapply for the position as if I hadn’t been doing a good enough job. Okay, it wasn’t like I was singled out. Everybody had to reapply. And frankly, it was probably the best thing that could have happened to me. Now, I get to use the skills I had as a journalist working as a private investigator. I still get to be paid to be nosy although so far, not as much. And I sure don’t miss living by deadlines.
Emerson Crane grunts as he drops his body onto his seat. His back is to the crowd.
“Well, Emerson, I’m all ears.”
“I own a little weekly paper called The Observer in Dillard. We cover all the towns in our county,” he says. “I actually came to take photos and do a little writeup about the opening, but then I heard you were here.”
It’s coming back to me. The Observer is one of those small-town papers that report the news the bigger papers don’t print or even care about. There aren’t any wire stories with national news. That’s not what people up here are interested in anyways. They can get those stories on the TV or internet. They want to know what’s happening locally like town meetings, game suppers, and the grand reopening of a gas station. I picked up a copy at the Pit Stop and found it admirable that in these troubled times for newspapers this one appears to be chugging along.
“I used to cover events like this when I was a reporter,” I say.
“I’m familiar with your background. I used to follow you in the Star.” His chest rises and falls in a bit of a wheeze as he takes a pause. “My case is about my mother.”
I take a peek at Ma, who has an all-knowing smile on her lips. Dang, she’s got one over on me.
“Your mother,” I say. “Please, tell me more.”
“She died nine years ago. My mother, her name’s Estelle Crane, owned The Observer. Actually, she and her sister, my Aunt Alice, inherited it from their father when they were in their twenties. Aunt Alice took care of the business side. Mom was all about the news. She wanted people to know what was going on in their communities. She used to say the goal of a newspaper is to inform people, so they can make good decisions about their towns.”
I start smiling.
“That was my philosophy when I was in the business.”
Now, Emerson is smiling.
“I started reporting for her when I was a kid in middle school,” he says. “She drilled that into my head.”
“Tell me more.”
“One night after she put the paper to bed, she was walking home. We didn’t live that far from The Observer’s office. It was mid-winter. She was supposed to have slipped on some ice and hit her head on the pavement so hard she died.” His voice cracks. “I was the one who found her. I went to look for her after she didn’t come home.”
Ah, I hear that telling word “supposed.”
“I take it you don’t believe it was an accident.”
His smile is gone. His head bobs in long arcs.
“I did at the time,” he says quietly. “But not anymore.”
I glance behind Emerson. This conversation deserves privacy. Too many people are within earshot, and now, those Country Bumpkins are blasting Garth Brooks’ “Friends in Low Places,” and fans are hollering their heads off, so it’d be hard to follow what Emerson has to say.
“Why do you think that?”
“I believe it had to do with a story she was chasing.”
I glance at Ma. Her brows flick upward once. I can read what’s on her mind.
“Emerson, I am interested in hearing the details, but this obviously isn’t the place for it. I can barely hear myself talk. How about we meet at your office instead? Name a day that fits your deadlines.”
“How about tomorrow?”
This guy wants to jump on this opportunity. I like that.
“That works. How about eleven?”
We exchange phone numbers, and then Emerson Crane is gone. He removes the reporter’s notebook from his back pocket and takes the pen from behind his ear. He’s back at work.
Ma and I dig into our food.
“I figured the newspaper part would get you,” she says after she swallows.
“As usual, you figured correctly.”
You can order Killing the Story, in Kindle and paperback, on Amazon. Here’s the link: Killing the Story on Amazon
ABOUT THE PHOTO ABOVE: Vibrant coleus plants I found on my walk around our village.