Monday, August 25, 2014

What's a Roaring Kill Mystery?

Sounds gruesome, doesn't it? And violent. Probably involves animals, right?

Wrong. Roaring Kill isn't a horrible act. It isn't even actually about murder. Roaring Kill is a hiking trail in the Catskills. One of the characters in "Reluctant Witness" and "Inspector Samuelson Investigates a Killing in Kauai" is thriller author Jefferson Cornwall. He's also a TV producer, and he pays homage to the Catskills, where he and his brothers grew up, by naming his company Roaring Kill Productions.

Here are two excerpts from the new Roaring Kill Mystery series for you to enjoy:

Reluctant Witness
A Roaring Kill Mystery Novel, Copyright 2014 by Sara M. Barton

Chapter One --

“Wait here.”

Those two words were the only ones spoken to me as I shivered in the frozen night air, standing coatless and terrified. Even as the emergency responders poured into the park, they weren’t interested in me. They were trying to rescue the woman in the submerged car, the one who didn’t escape. They worked frantically to free her from her metal prison, but as the minutes ticked on, I knew it was useless.

“Put this on,” said a passing firefighter, handing me a jacket, dark and stiff, made of nylon. Hurriedly, I slipped my arms into the sleeves and pulled it around me. It came only to my knees and did little to protect my stocking-covered legs. My long, wet hair was heavy on my shoulders, and I was torn between keeping it under the coat and leaving it exposed to the cold night. I sighed heavily as I watched him run, a man on a mission. I could have told him he was too late. I could have saved him that cold trip into the frigid water. After all, I had been locked in that car for the last three hours.

“Pull it up!” shouted a voice from behind the monstrous emergency vehicle at the edge of that all-to-real nightmare on the shore. I could hear the rattle of a chain as it clanged against the gears on the motorized pulley, fighting the weight of the Toyota Corolla. The icy surface of the pond broke apart once more as the vehicle was yanked out. Huge chunks of ice thumped and thudded against one another. “Get the jaws!”

Frantically, the army of rescuers got into position and began to saw away the twisted metal. I pulled the borrowed jacket closer as I watched, stomping my feet in a feeble attempt to prevent frostbitten toes. A moment later, they had the body free and they loaded it onto the stretcher. The crowd fell away, until there were only four figures working fiercely in the narrow beam of light to revive the limp, lifeless form. The pallet was carefully carried to the waiting ambulance, one man still pumping hard with chest compressions as the others maneuvered it into the vehicle. The engine roared to life the second the heavy doors slammed shut, and with a rumble and loud beeps, the emergency vehicle backed up. The driver pulled a u-turn before steering it onto the road out of the park. A moment later, the siren split the night with an ear-deafening warning as the medical truck headed for the highway.

“Ma’am?” A hand touched my elbow and I jumped, startled by the unexpected contact. “Come with me. Let me drive you to the station for your statement.”

I couldn’t see the man’s face, although I saw the glint of wire-rimmed glasses in the dim light. He was taller than me by a foot or so. From the sound of his voice, I guessed he was in his forties. Why did he make me nervous?

“Ma’am?” He said the word again as I felt those fingers on my elbow, but this time he didn’t let go, even when I tried to shrug him off.

“Don’t touch me,” I told him, recoiling in fear.

“I’m trying to help you,” he insisted, his voice silky smooth, and I almost believed him, until he wrenched my arm behind my back.

“Let me go!” I screamed. “Let me go!”

“What’s going on?” I heard a distant voice shout.

“Help!”

“Hey!” another voice called out. “Stop right there!”

“Nothing to worry about, fellows,” said the man in a confident tone. “I’m a cop!”

“So am I...New York State Police. Let’s see your badge,” demanded a man behind us. “Nice and easy, pal.”

“How about a little professional courtesy?” the stranger asked as powerful spotlight split the darkness with a beam of white light and landed on us. He winced, hand to his face. For a moment, I thought he was trying to hide from his fellow law enforcement officer. “Take my word for it. I’m a cop.”

“I have a better idea,” the uniformed trooper with the flashlight announced. “You show me yours and I’ll show you mine. Here’s mine.”

He pointed to the badge pinned on his chest, but I thought it unnecessary. After all, I could see the New York State Police cruiser some fifty feet away. “Number 143. Where’s yours?”

“I don’t want to release my prisoner,” my plain clothes captor informed him warily. “She might try to flee.”

Prisoner? That didn’t sound good to me, especially since I couldn’t recall breaking any laws. If anything, I was the victim, given that I had just kicked my way out of the trunk of that Toyota. Do you know how hard it is to find the release switch in the darkness, as the icy water begins to creep in through the crack between sedan body and trunk? Trust me, it’s maddening, especially when your fingers are numb and your blood is almost the consistency of a Slurpee.

Apparently, the cop wasn’t buying the stranger’s story either. In the light of a fellow officer’s torch, I could see a determined expression on his face.

“I’m going to have to insist, since you identified yourself as a law enforcement officer.”

My captor must have recognized the look. As Badge Number 143 took two steps towards us, I felt that stranger’s hand pull me back two steps, as if prepared for flight. He spoke.

“Fine. Let me get it out,” was the gruff response. The moment I felt the man’s grip loosen, I yanked my arm away and tried to rub the pain from my muscles, but the danger wasn’t over. A second later, his fist struck the middle of my back with such brute force it propelled me forward, and as I stumbled into the trooper, chaos ensued. Three shots rang out. Bang, bang, bang. I felt something strike my ear, a thwack that stung like a hornet. Hands pushed me down as feet scrambled past me. I felt myself slipping on the slick, frosted surface, and down the incline I went, my stocking-covered legs exposed, my skirt drawn up to my crotch.

“Police! Stop!”

“Drop your weapon!”

More shots followed as I hugged the ground with my tobogganing body. Unable to control the wild trajectory as I picked up speed, I careened on a path that would surely send me into that broken hole on the frozen surface. All I could think of was how long it had taken me to climb up the hill, and in less than thirty seconds, it had all come undone. I was headed back into that horrifying hell. Hoping to hit the water feet first, I tried to twist myself onto my back and turn around, wildly flapping my arms like a demented snow angel. If only I could fly.

Unexpectedly, a dark figure stepped into my path, planted his feet firmly into the snow crust, and spread his legs apart. He bent over, hands extended in my direction, ready and waiting. I closed my eyes, prepared to go through that human croquet wicket at full speed, hoping I didn’t take him with me into the black water beyond, but something banged against my shoulder and then my leg. My body jerked sideways. Seconds later, his fingers tightened around the collar of my borrowed jacket as the man stood his ground and I skidded to a stop. “There you go. Let me help you up.”

Strong hands lifted me to my feet and then released me. I wobbled, still reeling from the dizzying ride. He glanced at my feet and his eyes grew wide, and then he pointed a finger in my direction. “You’re bleeding.”

“Am I?” I looked down. Red droplets spread across the snow. My frozen fingers touched my cheek. It was warm and sticky. And then I remembered that stinging sensation and reached for my right ear. “Ouch!”

“I have an injury here!” shouted my rescuer. Moments later, there was a crowd gathering around me.

“He got away,” said one cop. “Had a car in the parking lot. We’ve got an APB out.”

“Okay. She’s been shot. Put some light on it.”

“Shot?” I uttered. My head felt like it was detaching from my body. Was it shock or loss of blood? How bad was it? Someone turned my head, trying to examine the wound, and I gave up an involuntary gasp. The pain was excruciating.

“Superficial. Nothing that a couple of stitches won’t fix,” someone decided.

“Want me to run her to the hospital?” asked Badge Number 143, as someone ripped open a gauze pad and taped it to my face.

“I haven’t had a chance to question her yet,” said my rescuer. “I’ll ride along.”

“Great. I want to pop into the Quickie Mart for a snack. I pulled a double today and I’m wiped out.”

“No problem. Miss, you think you can walk to the car?” he asked. I took me a few moments to realize he was talking to me. I was too busy trying to keep my head on straight, even as it seemed to roll forward.

“Oh, geez! I don’t think she’s hearing us. Her eyes aren’t quite focused.” That sounded like Badge 143 talking.

“She’s all wet. It’s probably hypothermia. Anyone got a blanket?”

“How’d she get wet? I thought she was just a witness. Someone told me she called it into the station.”

“Maybe she went in trying to rescue the woman in the car,” someone suggested. ‘Gutsy move, if you ask me.”

“You got a purse, miss?” More men crowded around me, and the din from the clamoring voices made my head hurt so much, I thought it would split in two. “Is your car here?”

“Did you drop your phone? Maybe we can get your personal info off of that.”

“I don’t see a purse anywhere.”

“Was she with the guy who got away?”

All these questions just seemed to catch in my brain, like a thousand fireflies trapped in a nylon net, swirling around and glowing, even as I lost consciousness. One minute there was so much noise and the next, nothing.

I woke up under fluorescent lights inside the ambulance. I don’t know how long I was out, but the first thing I noticed was a warm sensation on my belly that was delightful. To my horror, I soon discovered a foil blanket was the only thing that covered my now-naked body. Three men leaned forward on the bench seat beside me, observing. I clutched the Mylar, trying to rise. Heat packs, tucked into my arm pits, dropped down, bounced off the stretcher, and fell to the floor below.

“Don’t move,” warned the paramedic, as he lifted the blanket to replace them. “It can cause a heart attack. Just lay back down and rest. We’re trying to get your body temperature to rise safely.”

Even as he said that, he was checking my heart with a cold stethoscope. I shivered in the sudden draft, but a moment later, that delicious warmth found me again, when he added another couple of Insta-Hot packs, this time on top of a cotton blanket.

“We don’t want to burn you,” he smiled, patting my covered shoulder. “Sorry, but we had to take off your wet clothes. Can you tell me your name?”

My name? I actually paused to consider this. What was my name? Why couldn’t I recall it? Think hard. You know this. Picture it in your mind. You were named after a flower. Genus Calendula officinalis. Pot marigold. The common, ordinary garden variety planted in flower boxes and beds across America.

“Marigold. My name is Marigold.”

“She must be worse off than she looks,” said the man who had rescued me from that disastrous downhill trip. I could see him now, with his crinkled eyes and gray hair. He was dressed in street clothes. “She thinks she’s a flower.”

“Maybe she was without oxygen longer than we think,” said the second paramedic. “What was the response time?”

“Six minutes,” my rescuer informed him. “Dispatch took the call at 10:07 and we arrived on the scene at 10:13. We still don’t know how or why she was wet.”

“Trunk,” I muttered, even as I found myself nodding off. “I was in the trunk.”

That was the last thing I said before I lost consciousness.

 
Inspector Samuelson Investigates a Killing in Kauai
A Roaring Kill Mystery Novella, Copyright 2014 by Sara M. Barton

Chapter One --

“Climb in,” said the man who sounded like he gargled twice a day with gravel. Two wispy words, grunted through tight lips. As an invitation, it left a lot to be desired. There was no formality, no “please” to sweeten the request. It was a command, one I didn’t want to obey. “Hurry up. I haven’t got all day.”

Mesmerized by the large, dark metal object he waved in my direction, I froze. I stared down the barrel of his gun, wondering if the bullets were as big as I thought they must be. How could I ignore the weapon he waved in front of my face, especially now that Johnny Hiro’s slight form was crumpled up and slumped over the upended rain barrel some ten feet from me, a spreading crimson stain just above his heart?

“This ain’t no debutante’s ball. I’m not asking you to join me on the dance floor.” I felt a hard poke in my side with the muzzle and tore my gaze away from the dying man. Johnny had been nice to me. He had led me through the fields to where the meadow ended and the vista below became an endless tableau of aqua sea and blue sky. He had pointed out a pod of whales swimming up the coast as we stood together at the edge of the cliff, taking in the magnificent view. “Move it.”

“Why did you have to shoot him?” I’m not really sure how I got those words out, but I managed to ask the one question that most heavily weighed on me. I wondered what would happen to me. I saw the dented red Nissan pickup just a few feet away. When he pulled up, I had just assumed the gnarly, gray-haired man was lost, stopping to ask us directions back to the highway. That was before we saw the evil gleam in his eyes and the gun in his hand. “I would have gone with you anyway.”

“Don’t need him. A witness is a liability. Now, what are you waiting for, Christmas?” His gaze never left me as he reached down and scooped up something from the ground. I recognized my leather satchel. He tucked it under his arm, the strap dangling, like it was pirate booty. I tried to think why he wanted it so badly. It was a very ordinary brown leather bag. The only thing of value in it was my tablet, with all my work notes stored on the memory chip. At best, he would probably get a hundred dollars at the local pawn shop. Was that enough of an incentive to take a couple of lives?

“You didn’t have to kill him,” I mumbled, suddenly shivering in the heat of the day as the shock of being kidnapped set in. Johnny was dead because he was inconvenient. Just like that, a nice man was no more.

“Sure I did. He was in the way. You’re going to be in the way if you don’t do what you’re told. I can put a bullet in your head and solve my problem.”

With a heavy sigh of resentful resignation, I lifted my right leg, hoisted myself into 60-gallon container, and pulled my left leg in. Standing there, I waited for instructions, even though I knew what he would tell me.

“Sit down.”

I nervously returned his gaze, taking in the color of those dirty brown eyes; they narrowed at my hesitation, confirming my worst fears. I had no doubt he was a cruel man; the signs of his vile nature were etched into his face, from the set of thin, unyielding lips to the way his paper-thin, pale skin was pulled taut across the high cheekbones. This was a miser, stingy and mean. He wasn’t giving anything away today, not even compassion.

Squatting, I wondered how I could fight off the wave of panic that took me as the top was locked into place with a firm click. I was now cut off from the outside world, invisible and alone, in the place Johnny thought might make a good backdrop for the Namnoun-Birken wedding. They had asked for a spectacular view, so he and I had gone scouting for a unique place that would be breathtaking. Now it turned out that we had literally found it. It was where my associate surrendered to a gunshot wound, and probably also where I would do the same. My beloved Jeff, the man who had given me my life back the last time someone tried to take it away, might never know why I disappeared from the face of the earth, let alone where my body was stashed away. Jeff. How I wish he was here now. A large lump of sorrow, too big to swallow, caught in my throat.

The bright afternoon sunlight filtered through the thick plastic container that would be my coffin, bathing me in a serene blue glow. I tried to stay calm, but as terror robbed me not only of my dignity, but also my sanity, I began to gasp, gulping every smidgen of oxygen left in that small space. Bereft of hope and fresh air, I smelled the chemical vapors of the barrel’s resin as it heated up in the sun. What would I do when the last bit of breathable air went into my lungs? I dreaded suffocation. Breathe, Chris, but control it. Let it in and out. Slow it down.

Whimpering, I felt the sting of salt water as tears filled my eyes. Frustration bubbled up in me as I fought the impulse to scream. With no one to hear me, it would have been an exercise in futility, satisfying no useful end, sucking up too much of my remaining oxygen. That realization just made me cry harder -- big, hard, gob-smacking, anguished sobs. In the narrow confines of my barrel prison, I found it difficult to raise my arms without great effort, so I squeezed my eyelids shut to expel the tears; they rolled slowly down my cheeks before dripping onto my tee shirt. I indulged in a solitary pity party, imagining the blue plastic container filling up, teardrop by teardrop. Death by drowning, the police report would say. Sorrow overtook the victim.

I heard my captor grunt as he shifted my plastic coffin. Tossed about like a cocktail peanut in a can of Planters when he lifted the rain barrel up and into the back of his pickup truck, I felt my own weight push me against the hard wall of the container and wondered if my knees would press against my larynx, cutting off my air supply. Oh, such a terrible way to die. After what I’ve already been through, I deserve better.

My kidnapper muttered a curse as the rain barrel slipped from his grasp and dropped onto the metal bed of the truck. I felt the cruel blow of plastic against metal; my head took the full impact and I winced. Two full rotations of the barrel seemed to move me further onto the truck, and a moment later, with another grunt or two, I felt the container being righted. The relief was immediate as I shifted myself into a more comfortable position.

It didn’t last long. I heard the creak of a door in need of lubrication, felt the man settle his weight in the driver’s seat, and then the ignition switch was turned. The engine sputtered to life. The truck shuddered as the driver shifted the transmission; the gears grinded briefly and then we were rolling, presumably in the direction of the Kaumualii Highway. As the truck traversed the open field, I was tossed about, thanks to every stick and every stone the four tires lumbered over.

The driver drove slowly. I thought this was more the result of the treacherous road than a desire to take his time. The barrel almost tipped as we headed down the hill. I tried to lean back, keeping my weight even. When my kidnapper reached the curve, he suddenly swung the wheel to the left. It hit me like a jolt out of the blue, just as the red Nissan gathered speed. One moment I was upright in a rain barrel in the truck bed, knees to chest, arms tucked in at my side; the next, I felt the container go airborne.

When it landed, it came down with a big thump that shook every bone in my body. I bit my tongue so hard my teeth pierced it. The barrel bounced a couple of times on a downward trajectory and then it began to pick up speed. I steeled myself for the big, dramatic crash, trying to recall what I had observed on the way up the hill with Johnny Hiro. There were large rock formations, but they were quite some distance from the road. A few rusty pieces of old farm equipment had been abandoned in the meadow, like skeletal remains of a stripped carcass. But everywhere else, as far as the eye could see, there was nothing but knee-high grass, wild flowers, and scrub brush. I closed my eyes, preparing myself for the worst, hoping for the best, as I continued to tumble inside the plastic cylinder. When it finally slowed down and came to a gentle stop, I sobbed, “Thank you, God!”

But my ordeal was far from over. There was still the matter of escaping from the barrel. How was I to do that? The man with the gun had screwed on the lid. My mind desperately sought a solution to my conundrum. How much time did I have before my tormentor realized the rain barrel and I were missing? I strained my ears, listening for the sound of the truck returning, but all I heard were birds chirping in the distance.

Lying on my back, I maneuvered my hands up the side of the barrel, snaking my confined limbs back and forth until I could reach up and touch the top. Was there any way for me to unscrew it myself? I didn’t think so, but I felt my way along the plastic surface anyway, hoping to find some way I could grasp and turn the circular disk. My fingers came across something unexpected as they probed inch by inch, something that protruded into the container. Leaning my head as far back as I could and tilting it to the side, I glanced up to see it was a rubber plug covering the hole for the water tubing. A mere three or four inches in diameter, not only could it serve as a conduit for fresh air if I knocked it out, I might be able to somehow twist the lid off if my fingers could grasp the sides and twist.

I don’t know how long I worked at it, but by the time I felt that first small movement of the lid, that tiny bit of success, I was drenched with perspiration. I felt like a pig in the pit at Smith’s Tropical Paradise Garden Luau in Kapaa, baking in the sun. Every once in a while, I stopped briefly to catch my breath and take in a whiff of hot air. It smelled of crushed, sweet-smelling grass and soil, the fragrance unleashed by my rocking movements inside the barrel. The heat was getting to me now as I worked and my throat was parched. I longed to leap into the nearest body of cool water; how far was it to the ocean? At that moment, I’d have even taken the plunge if it was into shark-infested seas.

When I finally wrestled the cover of the container off, my physical relief was almost immediate. I managed to wriggle out by grasping the edge of the rain barrel and shimmying from side to side until I was free. The moment I was, I grabbed the collar of my tee shirt and wiped the perspiration from my face and set my mind to figuring out what to do next.

“I need help,” I said aloud, the sound of my own voice almost reassuring. “How am I going to get it out here, in the middle of nowhere?”

Standing up, I studied the horizon. Should I make an effort to head to the road or find a place to hide, in case that wretched man returned? He struck me as someone who would search every nook and cranny until he found me. And then I remembered what I had in my pocket.

“My phone!” As soon as it was in my hand, my fingers tapped on the glass.

“Nine-one-one. Can I have your name and phone number please?”

“Ah...Chrisanth Neeson. My number is....” I rattled it off, trying hard to control the panic I felt.

“Where are you located and what is the nature of your emergency?” said the voice on the other end. The first question caught me off-guard. My mind went blank as I struggled to describe the dirt road off of Route 50. Somehow I managed, and then, with a voice that quavered, I described Johnny Hiro’s shooting and my own ordeal. The dispatcher told me not to hang up. “Can you move away from the barrel and conceal yourself, in case the man comes back?”

“Okay,” I agreed, now moving on automatic pilot. My gaze surveyed the horizon, seeking some refuge. I finally decided upon a spot just up the hill, where the boulders were long and flat, but I could lie down in the tall grass and make myself nearly invisible.

It took nearly ten minutes for the first police SUV to arrive from Koloa. When it was still a hundred yards away, I stood up, waving my arms and ran down the hill to meet the officers.

“Where is the dead man?” said the first, opening the back door for me. I climbed in.

“Up there.” I pointed to the top of the ridge. I felt the dread of returning to the scene of the crime. I didn’t want to remember that awful sight.

Johnny Hiro’s form was now prostrate on the ground beside the rain barrel, just a few feet away from his beat-up old Jeep. His right hand hovered over the obvious wound.

The driver stopped the Kauai Police Department emergency vehicle about twenty feet from the body, spitting out orders as his partner radioed for assistance; both men clambered out and hurried over. I watched the first reach down and put his fingers alongside Johnny’s neck. He dropped to his knees, his hands suddenly pressing on Johnny’s chest. The two cops quickly exchanged a few words before the other grabbed his radio again. A few seconds later, he came running toward the SUV, went around to the back, and lifted the rear door.

“He’s still alive, but just barely,” the officer announced, as he grabbed the first aid kit. “The ambulance is on its way. Here’s hoping it gets here in time.”

You can find Roaring Kill Mysteries at Amazon, Kobo, Barnes and Noble, and other digital publishers. Reluctant Witness is available as an ebook or paperback. Inspector Samuelson Investigates a Killing in Kauai is available as an ebook.