|Coming Nov. 1, 2019, from Iris Chacon:|
A Chinese Univ. of Fla. student & an old Florida farmer disappear, linked only by a canoe trip to a secret sinkhole.
Neighbors, Shepard (a blind radio host) & Miranda (a shy librarian), soon find this double-murder puzzle could cost their lives – or at least their future together.
Sequel to award-winning novel, “Finding Miranda.”
Enjoy this Sneak Preview of THE MAMMOTH MURDERS
(sequel to Finding Miranda).
Had Miranda Ogilvy known of the danger at home, she might have driven faster that afternoon when she left her job in Live Oak, headed for the settlement called Minokee.
Live Oak, Florida, was a small town by almost anyone’s definition. It was a bit smaller than Lake City or Gainesville or Ocala, and much, much smaller than Jacksonville, to the east, or Tallahassee, to the west.
Live Oak had a town square, with an old, red brick, cube-shaped courthouse, white-columned like Tara in Gone with the Wind. Live Oak had traffic lights, sidewalks, grocery stores, and even a public library.
Minokee had none of those things.
Minokee was even smaller than Live Oak.
In the local vernacular, Minokee was “not big as a minute.”
Minokee had cypress and live oak trees, spiky palmetto clusters, and ferns. It had snowy egrets, arc-billed ibis, pink spoonbills, blue herons, redheaded woodpeckers, sandhill cranes, ospreys and bald eagles.
Instead of sidewalks beside its only two streets, Minokee boasted deer paths and pig trails through the surrounding cypress wetlands, oak tree hammocks, palmetto scrub, and pine barrens.
Minokee owned no public building, such as a courthouse, a post office, or a library. The community boasted only a dozen ancient, wood-shingled houses, each squatting behind wide, shady verandas.
Miranda Ogilvy worked in the Live Oak public library. Minokee lay sixty miles southeast, geographically, and seventy years earlier, culturally.
Every person (and many animals) in Minokee knew Miranda, even though she was the newest resident.
New neighbors were rare. Nobody moved to Minokee unless somebody old (usually very old) died. Miranda had relocated from busy, cosmopolitan Miami to her deceased aunt’s creaky, sun-bleached cottage in quiet, isolated, ultra-rural Minokee.
It was part of the magic of Minokee that everyone loved the shy librarian and treated her as family. Back in Miami, Miranda had been virtually invisible.
Even at the small public library in Live Oak, Miranda’s primary co-worker would seldom remember Miranda’s name or notice her presence.
However, one Minokee resident had taken exceptional notice of Miranda, ever since the first time he jogged by her house and discovered its new owner hiding under a leafy castor bean bush.
That day, Shepard Krausse and his dog, Dave, had learned that someone very special now lived in the house just across Shepard’s back hedge. On the same day, Miranda had learned not to try to sneak out for the morning paper wearing only her Sponge Bob Squarepants tee shirt.
Ironically, Shepard was totally blind, but he was the person who spotted her first and tracked her down most often. He saw her better than anyone did, or ever had.
Beginning with their first meeting, Shep had casually proposed to Miranda every day for months.
She always said something equivalent to “Not today. But thanks for asking.”
He called her “Castor Bean,” after the plant she hid under the day they met – the day he caught her on her front lawn in her nightie.
She called him Shepard.
Every day after work, Miranda crossed her back-yard hedge into Shepard’s back yard, crossed Shepard’s back yard to his kitchen door, entered Shepard’s kitchen (it was never locked), and kissed the muscular man with the long blond hair.
Unless he was out, then she kissed Shepard instead.
Just kidding. Shepard was the only big, blond, blind hombre in Minokee.
Most days, he looked forward to greeting Miranda when she returned from work, but something was wrong this particular day. Shep’s kitchen was deserted.
When she called his name, only the softly humming refrigerator answered.
She plucked a cellphone from her pocket and tapped Shepard’s number. A ringtone of “I’m Getting Married in the Morning” chimed from the bedroom down the hall.
The new ringtone was Shep’s private joke: Nobody knew it yet, but Miranda had finally said, “Yes.”
She hurried down the hall and peeked in, but except for the singing cellphone on the dresser, his bedroom was vacant.
Curious, but not yet alarmed, Miranda left Shepard’s house and walked past her own cottage, across the street to the front garden and shady porch of neighbor Martha Cleary.
Seventy-five-year-old Martha spent many hours in her front porch rocking chair, overseeing her garden, with her rifle on her lap.
Two benefits accrued from Mrs. Cleary’s habit: (1) Martha knew everything about anybody on Magnolia Street, and (2) any veggie-chomping rodent that entered her garden faced serious consequences.
Mrs. Cleary would know where to find Shepard Krausse.
All the ladies on Magnolia Street (average age 73 years 8 months) kept careful tabs on Shepard. They even scheduled their morning coffee so they would be sure to see (and greet; but mostly see) Shep on his morning jog.
Their handsome, well-built neighbor jogged in shorts and, sometimes (oh joy!), with no shirt. Yes, Martha Cleary was an infallible source of data on Shepard’s whereabouts.
“Good evening, Miz Cleary,” said Miranda, approaching the lady’s garden gate. “You haven’t seen Shepard this afternoon, have you? He’s not at home.”
“Hmmm.” Mrs. Cleary stroked her chin and looked upward as if searching her mind. “Would he be a feller with yeller hair and a big smile? Always wears them sunglasses with the mirrors on ’em?”
“That’s him. Have you seen him?”
The old lady pointed toward the sky.
Miranda’s eyes followed the finger upward, to the top of a streetlamp pole nearby. Forty feet in the air, supported only by his bare feet and knees grasping the pole, Shepard Krausse had his hands full installing a football-size bulb in one of the neighborhood’s six security lights.
All good cheer fled Miranda’s face, replaced by numb terror. She drew breath to shout something, she wasn’t sure what.
Mrs. Cleary murmured, “Prolly not a good time to startle him.”
Miranda blew out her unused air supply. Staring at the top of the pole, she stage-whispered toward the old lady on the porch, “What is he doing up there!”
“Changin’ a light bulb,” said Mrs. Cleary. “Ain’t it obvious?”
“I can see he’s changing a light bulb. I meant, why is he changing the bulb? Don’t these poles belong to Montgomery Power and Light?”
“Sure, they do, but MPL ain’t gonna waste money sendin’ a truck all the way to Minokee to change one bulb. They gimme a few spares ever’ now an’ then. I keep ‘em in my closet, and we change ‘em ourselves when we need to.”
“And by ‘we,’ of course, you mean Shepard.”
“O’ course. No need to fret yerself, honey. Shep’s been climbing everything around here since he was knee high to a grasshopper. Trees, vines, drain pipes, light poles, ever’thin’. He’d be plum insulted if we asked somebody else to do it. He loves it.”
Miranda cast her gaze at the ground and shook her head. “I’m sure he does,” she admitted. She had seen Shepard Krause blithely take on situations much more dangerous than a burned-out streetlamp. Unfortunately for Miranda’s peace of mind, Shep seemed to be fearless.
At that moment, Shep called from four stories above the ladies, “All done, Miz Martha! Any others today?”
“That’ll do ‘er,” Martha shouted. “Come on down, now. Yer scarin’ Miss Ogilvy.”
A wide grin lit his face. “Castor Bean!”
“Could you just come down, please?” Miranda almost stifled the quake in her voice.
“Sure thing!” he called and whooshed down the pole like a firefighter answering an alarm.
An involuntary squeak burst from Miranda. She stepped forward as if to catch him before he hit the ground. He reached the base of the pole ahead of her, or she could have been flattened.
As soon as his feet hit the ground, she leaped upon him, wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and clung there.
“Whoa, Bean!” He chuckled and enveloped her in a bear hug. “What’s this for?”
Her face was pressed against his clavicle. “Mmf cm hv bn kmm!” she said into his pectoral muscle.
She jerked back a few inches to speak at his face, “You could have been killed!”
He laughed and hugged her until she loosened her chokehold and relaxed against his chest. “Don’t worry, Bean. I do this all the time. The secret is not to look down.”
She backed away and punched his bicep with a fist strengthened by shelving lots and lots of heavy library books. “Not funny!”
“You just don’t get blind humor,” he said, rubbing his arm. “And, ouch, by the way.”
“Come home now. It’s time to make dinner.”
“Say goodnight to Miz Martha.”
“Goodnight to Miz Martha,” he parroted.
“And a good evenin’ to both of y’all,” said Mrs. Cleary. “See ya in the mornin’, Shep.” She continued rocking on the porch, rifle always to hand.
Shep and Miranda held hands as they walked toward her house, then past it toward his.
“I have a surprise for you,” Shepard said.
“I promise not to leave the ground for this one.”
“I’ll think about it.”