Hi everyone! Welcome to the sneak peek of Book Five, Chapter One of The Lonesome Lighthouse. If you’d like to read the other stories, you can find them here.
This post will be removed from my blog before the publication of the latest McShane Mini-Mystery, The Lonesome Lighthouse on
Friday, March 23, 2018 (hopefully) . [edit: Tuesday, March 27, 2018 (hopefully).] Since you are a reader of my blog, you get a first glimpse of the first chapter. Well, most of the first chapter. I don’t want to give away too many spoilers.
Thanks for reading.
Park at the Mark
In the dimming light of the setting sun, the Lonesome Lighthouse’s long shadow pointed to the sea. Built as a replica in 1980, the once iconic symbol of the SeaMark Resort had been abandoned for more than a decade. The crumbling fifty-foot cylindrical walls, wearing ivy tendrils reaching for its height, left an eerie sensation to the aptly named tower. Constructed in the most northern point of the SeaMark property, the Park at the Mark, the tower bordered a heavily wooded beach-side wildlife conservation area stretching north for two more miles along the coast.
Sam already knew a lot of the history of the SeaMark Resort, but never gave much thought for the abandoned fake lighthouse. When Sasha first asked about it, they did a little research together. Because it bordered a seaside conservation area, the permits became difficult to obtain. They learned that the owners gave up on the cost and the ceaseless administrative battles held with the city and county authorities every time the chemicals required for upkeep needed to be used. Since that surrender, the building had been claimed by the ever-encroaching tendrils of Mother Nature. And vandals with spray paint.
As Sasha bounced with delight next to her, Sam eyed the dilapidated structure with a level of concern. She did not understand Sasha’s fascination for the eyesore. It should have been demolished before someone got hurt. Sasha always had a heart for the underdogs. After all, they met in college at a rally organized to save the old library. Sam did not know of Sasha’s romantic interest in her until years later. Still, they were different people back then. When they reconnected at the beach party that left Chef Walters dead, her old college classmate became her staunchest ally. She helped Sam cope with the loss, and helped ease the ache for Tina. For that, Sam would always be grateful.
Sasha had asked Sam to come here, just the two of them, for a romantic lunchtime picnic. Cynthia Ramirez, ever the pragmatic bodyguard, denied the request. After an hours-long disagreement, Cynthia came here and got the lay of the land. After that, Cynthia allowed the two of them to come out here alone, but only if they promised to be back before nine.
Sasha squeezed Sam’s hand. “Come on, Summer! Let’s go inside!”
Sam pulled back. Her instincts said not go inside. “Um.” The large oak double doors, covered in graffiti, did not appear inviting.
“Oh, come on,” Sasha said with a giggle. “How often do we get away from the she-dragon?”
Sam scowled. “I’ve asked you not to call Cynthia that.”
“You’ve also asked me not to call you Summer. If I promise to never use ‘she-dragon’ or ‘Summer’ again, will you come inside with me?” Sasha’s dark eyes and wide smile were Sam’s Achilles heel. The woman was hard to resist.
Sam sighed. “I’m pretty sure the door’s bolted.”
“Let’s find out!” Sasha pulled Sam in the direction of the front doors.
Their research showed the lowest level held a lounge for special guests of SeaMark. There should be bathroom facilities in the back, and a curved bar along the wall. Sam imagined the wealthy coastal elite sipping Mai Tai’s while discussing Reagan’s trickle-down economics.
The two women stepped through the palmetto shrubs and sandspurs toward the base of the lighthouse. The ornate, heavy oaken doors spoke of true quality, despite graffiti artist’s attempts to cover every inch of the wood.
Sasha opened the door with a gentle push. She stepped in and moved aside for Sam to enter.
A rusty, wrought-iron staircase leading to the observation deck four levels up dominated the room. The fixtures and the bar along the wall, with broken glass swept to the side, gleamed in the dim light. Sam realized there were no hanging cobwebs or clouds of swirling dust. The room appeared clean and ready for business.
“Okay,” Sam said, folding her arms. “How long have you been planning this?”
“Planning what?” Sasha asked with an affected tone.
“Why not just tell me you’d set this up?”
With hands on hips, Sasha said, “And spoil the surprise? What kind of girlfriend would that make me?”
Arms still folded, Sam made no response.
“Fine! I set it up!” Sasha said, throwing her arms in the air. She sighed and said, “When Cynthia came out here this afternoon to make sure there were no hidden dangers,” she used air quotes on ‘hidden dangers’ to mock the bodyguard, “I begged her not to say anything. But that’s when I had to agree on the 9 o’clock curfew.
Sasha grabbed Sam’s hand. “Come on, the best part’s up here,” she said, leading Sam to the foot of the stairs.
Their footsteps echoed in the chamber as they climbed from the first-floor lounge onto the second level. A door, heavy and carved to duplicate the front entrance, stood partially open to a room once used for storage. Sam peeked in. A sour aroma made her wince. A thin cut out in the stone made to resemble an arrow slit offered a small amount of light and exposure to the outside air. Since there was nothing else in the room, she decided it must have been emptied by staff or vandals.
Back to the stairs, they ascended to the third level. Vandals and trespassers seemed to have found this open floorplan most useful, as the stench of dried urine and vomit assaulted the senses. The odor would have been overpowering if not for the open shaft towering up to the trapdoor of the observation deck. Small slits in the concave wall served as windows for additional ventilation and light.
“Over here,” Sasha said, pointing to a built-in concrete display table that Sam hadn’t noticed. Sasha pulled a flashlight from her pocket and shined it on the drawings chiseled into the surface which boasted of the effort taken to erect this structure.
Sam mumbled, “Huh. I didn’t see this in the archives.”
“I know!” squealed Sasha. “Wait till you see the top deck. The view is spectacular!”
“We’ve already got a spectacular view from the penthouse.” For Sam, the darkening tower escalated the anxiety and suspiciousness of the moment, not enthusiasm.
“Don’t be like that!” Sasha said with a pout. “This is my discovery! I want to share it with you.”
Sam shook her head, her gut feeling telling her she should say no. Instead, “Lead the way,” came out of her mouth.
Sasha spun back to the stairs. The flashlight barely illuminated the fifteen feet of steps leading up to a trap door. Then the light faded out to nothing.
“Dammit!” Sasha exclaimed.
Sam said, “We can use the flashlight on my phone,” Sam offered, pulling it from her pocket. A few taps and the bright light created a lattice-work shadow of the stairs onto the circular wall.
Sasha stepped closer to Sam. “Freaky. I want a picture of this.” She pulled out her own phone and snapped a shot. The two laughed as the camera’s flash obliterated the effect, as well as blinding them for a moment.
Sam suggested she turn the flash off.
Sasha said, “I’m not sure how. You’re good with this stuff. Let’s trade phones.”
“Cool,” Sasha said. “Yours takes better pics in the dark.”
Sam gave over the device, and Sasha used the camera for pics of the stairwell, the table, and Sam’s face, looking quite irritated.
“You’re not having as much fun as I’d hoped,” Sasha said, pouting again.
“No. I’m not having any fun right now. I did get your flash turned off, though.”
“Cool. Let’s go to the top. It’ll brighten your mood.”
“Give me my phone.”
“I’ll hold it for another minute. I want to take a picture of you outside in the moonlight.”
They climbed up to the trapdoor, with Sasha leading the way. The metal covering clanged as the door swung outward with a shoulder shove. Handrails extended to the landing. As the two emerged, a gust of wind pushed them back and whipped their hair into their faces.
Sasha pointed to the east, where the final rays of sunlight from the west reflected in the vast expanse of the open sea. Sam agreed the beauty was spectacular.
Sasha said, “We can see the beach now thanks to the last hurricane that came through. It cleared a lot of the overgrowth.”
Sam nodded. “That was Hurricane Helen. The storm did a lot more damage than to the overgrowth.”
A man with a distinctive hiss said, “There’s an understatement.”
Sam spun to find Reginald Palmer standing on the opposite side of the lookout.
Shocked, doubting her own senses that her murderous enemy was really there, she stared, dumbfounded. The sadistic smile on his face was all too real as he stepped toward the women.
Sam heard herself scream, “Sasha! Run!” as she pushed her lover to the open trap door.
Palms slick with blood and sweat, heart racing, breath coming in gasps, Sam stumbled in the darkness down the final steps to the third landing of the lighthouse.
From the observation deck above, Reginald Palmer screamed curses from the pain of his broken hand. She’d managed to slam down the metal trapdoor as he held the frame. That gave her time to slip through the opening and reach the third landing.
The dim outline of the display table against the wall gave her a twinge of reckless hope. She spun for the cover. Her foot tripped on something unseen. Falling, her head hit the concrete table’s edge, hard. Ears ringing, she managed to pull herself into as small an object as possible to hide in the deeper shadow under the table. Perhaps he’ll run by. Then, I could lock myself on the upper deck and scream for help.
The trapdoor above opened with a clang.
From the first level lounge, a woman called up the staircase. “Reginald, are you alright? Shall I come up to help?”
Sam knew that voice. Constance Patterson, Palmer’s partner in real estate crime.
“No!” Palmer shouted.
“Alright, but be careful. Remember, she’s quick.”
“Thank you. I might’ve forgotten,” Palmer retorted. “No worries, I’ve got her knife, now.” He took a deep, audible breath.
Their conversation, including his sigh, carried well in the dark, empty tower.
“Sam!” Palmer called in his signature hiss while descending the iron stairs. “You can’t believe you’ll get away. Especially when you’ve made so much noise.”
Sam’s terror-filled brain spiraled. She didn’t dare breathe. Dear God, I pray Sasha got away.
“Damn it!” Palmer cried out again. Sam hoped it was from pain. He should be weakened from all of the slices she gave him before he managed to take her prized knife. She clenched her fist, angry at the memory of her knife being snatched out of her sweaty, clumsy grip. Then receiving a few cuts from Palmer’s inexperienced hand before she got away. The worst of it was a cut on the back of her hand, still dribbling blood.
Constance called from below, “Shall I come up and help?”
“No! You stop her if she gets that far,” Palmer growled, “But she won’t.”
Sam’s heart clenched at the woman’s voice. Constance Patterson. Her one-time friend, who had become her enemy. Partnered with the madman above, the two killed more people than they were convicted of. Their favored method of execution involved poison tea. At least she had the chance of a fight here, rather than suffering their deceitful smiles as she died from poison. Sam hated this pair nearly as much as they hated her.
But why aren’t they still in jail? Neal Rappaport, her lawyer and friend, once Tina’s closest adviser, must have known they’d been released. Why wouldn’t he warn me? She tried not to let fear rule her, but this couple terrified her. If jail couldn’t defeat them, how could she?
Reginald Palmer, the psychotic serial murderer, was on the stairs coming down to the landing where she hid. In a panic, Sam rethought her hiding place. He’ll have me as soon as he reaches the landing! She sprang from her spot under the display table and leaped for the stairs. A warm liquid oozed down her neck. The gash on her head from the table throbbed and hurt like hell, but she hadn’t realized it bled.
The small turret window on the second level cast the soft glow of moonlight on the last few steps. To the left, the door to the storage room still stood ajar. Sam slipped into that opening.
There was nothing in this room but stench and graffiti. She pressed herself against the wall behind the door as Palmer came off the last step.
Sam worried he might hear the terrified pounding of her heart. Perhaps this wasn’t the plan she needed. She drew in a long, slow breath through her nose. Mona Malone’s lesson recalled, Breathe in. Stay calm. Stay focused. Breathe out. The lesson from her mother did bring a small measure of calm.
A touch on her shoulder shattered focus. It was only liquid, Sam’s inner voice consoled. Either she dripped sweat, or the blood flow had increased.
She mentally flailed to find her mother’s calming lessons once again. Breathe in. Stay calm. Stay focused. Breathe out. It wasn’t working. Palmer’s steps echoed as he searched for her. In the height of her wide-eyed terror, she remained paralyzed, now holding her breath, hidden behind the door.
Then she heard Palmer’s steps pass her and go back to the stairs.
Run now, her brain commanded. In her panic state, her legs refused to obey.
“Constance?” she heard him call. “Are you alright?”
“Yes,” she replied. With irritation in her voice, she added, “How did you lose her? I know she’s fast – ”
“Not that fast. Stay there.”
Slow, heavy footfalls, coming back up the steps, then stopped at her doorway.
“Sam,” came the hiss. “Let’s stop this game. There is no other way out of that room, and I’m not stupid enough to come in there with a broken hand to fight a caged animal. Instead, I can stay here and wait for you to come out. You recall I’m a patient man.” He chuckled at his own gallows humor. “However, you might consider my offer of amnesty now, and come out quietly. Someone wants to see you, and I’ve been hired to bring you to them.”
Who the fuck would send this maniac to get me? Obviously, he was lying. She weighed her very limited options. In a flash of hindsight, now that she’s trapped like a rat, she realized this room was a very stupid place to hide.
Sam took a deep breath. Trying to sound calm, she called out, “Sasha knows I’m here. She’ll bring help.”
“I’m afraid not,” Palmer said. “Oh, Constance dear. Is your company still with you?”
Connie responded, “Sasha, tell your little red-headed lover you’re here.”
“Sam?” Sasha’s quavering voice stabbed Sam’s heart.
Her thoughts spun as the worry for Sasha overcame all else. “Sasha?” she shouted. “Are you okay?”
Connie said, “I’m sorry. Sasha is done speaking with you.”
Palpable silence. Sam couldn’t make herself move. Nowhere to move to, or even a chance in hell of running past Palmer to help Sasha.
“Sam,” he whispered, pain etched in his hiss. “What are you going to do?”
JL Mo is a mother of two full grown geeks, and Nana to their geeks-in-training. She is also the author of the McShane Mini-Mystery series, and has had a number of stories published in various anthologies which can be accessed on her Amazon Author Page.