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Authors: Morgana Best

3 A Basis for Murder

BOOK: 3 A Basis for Murder
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A Basis for Murder

(A Misty Sales Cozy Mystery, Book 3)


Copyright 2014 by Morgana Best.


License Notes

This ebook is licensed for your personal enjoyment only. This ebook may not be resold or given away to other people. If you would like to share this book with another person, please purchase an additional copy for each person you share it with. If you are reading this book and did not purchase it, or it was not purchased for your use only, then you should return to your place of purchase and purchase your own copy. Thank you for respecting the author's work.


* * *


This is a work of fiction. Any resemblance to any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental. The personal names have been invented by the author, and any likeness to the name of any person, living or dead, is purely coincidental.

This book may contain references to specific commercial products, process or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, specific brand-name products and/or trade names of products, which are trademarks or registered trademarks and/or trade names, and these are property of their respective owners. Morgana Best or her associates, have no association with any specific commercial products, process, or service by trade name, trademark, manufacturer, or otherwise, specific brand-name products and / or trade names of products.

* * *

It is said that in Ulthar, which lies beyond the river Skai, no man may kill a cat; and this I can verily believe as I gaze upon him who sitteth purring before the fire. For the cat is cryptic, and close to strange things which men cannot see. He is the soul of antique Aegyptus, and bearer of tales from forgotten cities in Meroe and Ophir. He is the kin of the jungle's lords, and heir to the secrets of hoary and sinister Africa. The Sphinx is his cousin, and he speaks her language; but he is more ancient than the Sphinx, and remembers that which she hath forgotten.

(H. P. Lovecraft, The Cats of Ulthar)



In the hand of Love I am like a cat in a sack;
Sometimes Love hoists me into the air,
Sometimes Love flings me into the air.
(Rumi, Love is the Master)

Chapter One


It all started when Melissa called to give me the bad news about my job.

"I'm very upset about how
ended. I can't tell you any spoilers, though." Melissa's voice broke on the end of the phone, and I could hear snuffling sounds.

had ended years ago, but Melissa was always behind with TV shows. She hadn't even started watching
The Walking Dead
Game of Thrones
yet. "Melissa, are you crying? It's only a TV show after all."

"No, of course not." Melissa's tone was decidedly snappy. "Anyway, you cried when Misty and Rory left. We're not all Doctor Who fans, you know."

She had me there. At any rate, Melissa was typically months, if not years, behind the times. I'm sure everyone else in the world had known for ages how Merlin had ended.

"Misty! Are you still there?"

"Oh sorry, Melissa; I was thinking." I gently pushed my cat, Diva, away with my toe. Diva didn't like me speaking on the phone; she was an attention junkie.

"Are you alone?"

I groaned out loud. I knew that Melissa was asking if Jamie Smith was still around. He had turned up unexpectedly the other week and then had left again just as suddenly. He worked for some secret government organization like Torchwood, minus the aliens but plus ghosts and the paranormal. I always thought of him as someone like Mulder of the X Files. Of course, Melissa didn't know that, with it being a secret organization and all, so she thought he was a less than satisfactory boyfriend. Truth be told, he wasn't my boyfriend at all. I'm sure he didn’t think of me in that way. "Yes." My reply was a little curt.

"Misty -"

I cut her off. "Please don't start on that again, Melissa. I know you don't like him, but -"

Melissa in turn interrupted me. "No, no. It's just that I have some bad news. I've only just got home from Keith's place, and he confirmed that Skinny Troll is cutting back your hours as of next week."

I had known this was coming. Melissa had all the inside gossip, courtesy of her dating Keith, the boss, Editor In Chief of the paranormal magazine for which I was an underpaid journalist. I sighed. "Just as well you'd already warned me."

"I know, but I'm sure it doesn't make it any easier. Skinny is, well, not a nice person."

I agreed. I wasn't quite as upset as I would have been under normal circumstances, because I had recently received a job offer from Jamie's secret organization. There were three little problems with that. One, just before the men made the offer, I received a mysterious text that said
Job offer could prove fatal
. Two, the men had left after they made the offer and I hadn't heard a word since. Three, I had no idea how much it paid, even if it did. Surely they couldn't expect it to be voluntary. The greater good is all very well, but I have a mortgage.

"What are you going to do?"

"Look around for another job, I suppose." I would have to find another job if I didn't hear about the job offer soon.

"Full time or part time? I'd miss you if you left the magazine."

I sighed again. "Beggars can't be choosers."

Melissa let out a shriek. I wondered for a moment if she'd misheard me. "I forgot to tell you. Just after you left work today, a man came to the office and asked for you."

I was intrigued. "Who was he?"

"He wouldn't give his name. He was very cute." Melissa put great emphasis on the

I thought about the two men who worked with Jamie. They were okay looking, but I wouldn't call them
cute. "Describe him."

"He had a slight accent, English perhaps. Tall, dark, and handsome, the usual cliché. He looked like Captain Jack."

I was getting a little concerned at yet another Torchwood connection. "You mean Captain Jack Harkness from Torchwood?"

Melissa snorted rudely. "No, Captain Jack Sparrow, of course. Well, Johnny Depp, that is. Not as friendly looking though, and a lot more bulked up."

My blood ran cold.
. A member of the Black Lodge, a man who had not prevented a nasty, old woman from arranging my murder. Surely Douglas wouldn't be in Australia, seeking me out. It made no sense. And if instead the mysterious man was a member of Jamie's organization, they were not likely to contact me at my work. They had my home address, for goodness' sake.

"Anyway, in some good news," Melissa continued, "Skinny is sending me to a little town called Hillgrove this weekend, to write up a big feature on ghosts. The magazine's paying for me to stay in a motel overnight."

I knew Hillgrove, a tiny town just north of Armidale, where I had gone to university. "Hillgrove doesn't have any motels, Melissa. There should be a lot of ghosts there though, as there were several massacres there, back in the day."

Melissa groaned. "The motel's in the city of Armidale, silly; it’s only a fifty minute or so drive away from Hillgrove. Anyway, come with me."

I bit my lip. "I don’t know, Melissa."

"Look, it’s free accommodation, and I don’t want to go alone. Anyway, it's not as if I've ever asked you to do any favors for me."

"Oh no? How about the time you made me drive to Perth with you to steal your ex's dog? It took five days to drive there, and five days to drive back, and the very minute we got back, you found out that your ex was so distraught that we had to drive the dog straight back to him."

Melissa shrugged. "She was my dog, too."

"Yes, but that horrible favor I did for you back then lasted about three weeks."

Melissa laughed. "You have a point, but please, come, Misty, please, please."


When a cat has died a natural death, all those who live in the house shave their eyebrows.
(Herodotus 11.66, in 500 B.C.)

Chapter Two


And that is how I found myself driving to the little town of Hillgrove with Melissa the following weekend. We were in Melissa's car, a large Lexus, because I doubted mine would have made the distance. It needed new tires, plus the mechanic had told me to sell it as it the repairs would cost more than the car was worth.

"I need botox."

"What?" I said. We had just left Armidale and were driving out to Hillgrove along a road thickly flanked by old eucalyptus trees. Melissa's botox statement had come out of the blue. "Oh no."

"What's wrong?"

"I just spilled some of the coffee on my jeans." We had been to Armidale McDonald's on our way. Hillgrove didn't have a McDonald's - it didn't even have a single store, no 7-Eleven, no gas station (we call them petrol stations in Australia), no café. "Anyway, Melissa, you don't need botox. Why would you think you'd need botox?"

Melissa sighed. "Well, the other day, Skinny asked me if I'd been crying, and I said
, and she said she thought I'd been crying because of all the lines around my eyes."

I couldn't help laughing. "Oh Melissa, you know she always says things like that. You can't take her seriously. If anything, she's just jealous because you have such good skin. You don't have any lines around your eyes."

Melissa peered in the rear vision mirror, and the car swerved erratically. "I do have lines on my forehead. Can you please do me a favor? Google
botox clinics
on your iPhone."

I waved the phone at her. "Out of range."

I felt more and more uneasy as we approached Hillgrove. I'd been there with friends when I was a student, but back then I hadn't inherited the Keeper's ability to see or sense ghosts.

I was looking out for the turn off when we came to a sign that said,
Bakers Creek Falls (Old Hillgrove Road)
. "Don't turn there, Melissa, but," then I gasped as Melissa turned hard off the road. "No, I said, '
turn here,' Melissa."

Melissa swung hard back onto the main road. Her driving left a lot to be desired. I spilled the last of my coffee down my jeans, and almost missed the actual Hillgrove turn off as I was so busy wiping my jeans with tissues. "Here is it, Melissa." I pointed to the sign that said, "Hillgrove, 5."

"Are you sure this time?"

"Yes, and look, there's sign to the Hillgrove Museum." I pointed to a large sign that said
Visit the fascinating Hillgrove Museum

Melissa swung the car to the right and drove on the middle of the road. It was a narrow, unmarked road, and I was worried that we'd meet a car coming the other way.

"Melissa, we're in luck. If that sign is right, the Museum's open this afternoon. I'm going to ask them about the massacres."

Melissa swerved to miss an oncoming car. "What reason are you going to give them?"

When I'd sufficiently recovered from the fright of seeing a car heading straight for us, I said, "Reason? What do you mean? Do I need to give them a reason for asking?"

"Well - massacres - it's hardly a subject for casual conversation is it? And don't say you're a journalist. They might clam up."

We were driving up a slight hill, approaching the town itself, and I said to myself, silently,
We're not wanted here. Something doesn't want new people coming to the area
. I felt as if I couldn't breathe, as if there was a heavy weight pressing down on me. Melissa knew nothing about the Society or of course about me being the Keeper, so I kept my thoughts to myself.

Just then, there was large thump under the car, as if we'd driven over a sizable branch.

Melissa pulled off the road. "What was that?"

"Dunno. I'll look." I got out of the car, looked under and behind the car, but there was not a thing in sight. I hopped back in the car. "I can't see anything at all."

"Weird. This place gives me the creeps. I'll be able to do a good ghost story here; I bet the whole place is crawling with ghosts." Melissa quivered.

We continued on down to the entrance to the Hillgrove mine. Along the side of the road were green signs showing the businesses that had been in those particular locations back in the heyday, such as, "Hillgrove Oyster Saloon," "Quinnell's General Store," "Val Irwin Tobacconist," "Crough's Hillgrove Hotel," and "Police Station Lockup." There were dozens of signs. The road led straight to the Hillgrove mine, but there were high wire fences and huge, electronic security gates. A big sign on the entrance warned people away, and another sign said, "Video surveillance."

Melissa turned the car in a circle in the parking lot and then we drove about fifty yards and parked at a little monument. "What sort of mine is it anyway, Misty?"

"The sign says gold and antimony."

"What is antimony?"

I shrugged. "No idea; I think it might be used in plastic production or something."

Melissa nodded and then laughed. "You know, this will sound crazy, but just then I had a feeling someone was going to chase us."

I laughed, but I'd had the same feeling too. I felt threatened, but not by anything human.

"Let's go back to the Museum. Remember, we saw a sign to it as we drove in."

I readily agreed, but Melissa pulled the car over every few yards so she could take photos of the green signs for her article for the magazine. "Gee, this town would have been quite big for a country town, and now it only has a population of over ninety people." I looked at my notes. "It used to have a population of three thousand."

"That must have been ages ago," Melissa said.

"Yep, back in 1898. It even had its own stock exchange, as well as six hotels, two schools, four churches, a few banks, and a hospital. Wow, it even had a cordial factory and a school of the arts. They had electricity here back in 1895."

Melissa drove down a dirt road. "That's pretty impressive. Look, here's the Museum, but I don't think it's open." Melissa parked the car under a big tree.

"Yes it is - see, that door's shut but there's an
sign on it."

"Oh, great." Melissa sounded less than enthusiastic. "This place is giving me the creeps. Lucky it's broad daylight."

Melissa dragged me into the museum and made the requisite gold coin donation. In Australia, we have a one dollar "gold" coin and a two dollar "gold" coin. No one was in sight. The museum was filled with old photos of local families, regalia from Freemasonry, large samples of minerals, and old mining tools. Not a word about the massacres.

The building was light and airy, with high ceilings and huge windows. Nevertheless it was packed with spirits of the departed. I could hear the sound of ghostly children chanting a children's rhyme, and it was creeping me out big time. The museum was formerly a school, and it seemed to me that several of the inhabitants had returned. I wanted to beat a hasty retreat, but Melissa was fascinated by the photos and stories of early families.

I finally managed to drag her out. I was having trouble breathing again, and I felt as if a wall was pushing against me.

We drove out of town and past a cemetery sign. I pointed and yelled, "Melissa, turn."

Melissa turned hard left, practically on two wheels, and then gingerly drove her Lexus down a bumpy dirt road. Luckily the road was short, and we parked on the corner of a little dirt lane, in front of a tourist sign with information on the cemetery. It said that the cemetery was first in use in 1890, and that there were 739 burials recorded, but that few of these headstones remain.

"Melissa, can you see the entrance? All I can see is an old fence in both directions."

"Down there, I think." Melissa pointed down the lane.

I followed her direction and could see a small iron gate about two hundred yards down the lane.

"I'll take some photos for the article," she said, while I ferreted in my purse for nine coins. I'm always careful to observe protocol, spiritual protocol that is, when entering and leaving a cemetery. I always make an offering of nine coins in a little bottle of red wine, and ask permission to enter. I hadn't thought ahead, or I would have had some wine with me. At least I had the nine coins.

Melissa knows I'm a bit weird, so she thought me pausing at the gate seemingly muttering to myself and then throwing nine coins on the ground wasn't too strange. Permission to enter from the spirit over the cemetery didn't take long in coming; in fact, I knew we were welcome the moment we stepped from the car. It seemed as if there were many spirits inviting us in. I kept that to myself, of course.

I was saddened to see that the graveyard hadn't been tended for a long time. Trees were growing through actual graves, and some headstones were buried under thick tree growth. Long grass was everywhere, and some monuments had tipped over.

The cemetery had a completely different vibe from that of Hillgrove itself. It was friendly and welcoming. I felt the spirits there wanted us to stay for some time. They obviously didn't have visitors too often.

I could have spent hours, days even in the cemetery. The tombstones were fascinating, and some graves were surrounded by exquisite wrought iron work. Some of the headstones were massive and ornate. It was sad to see the little graves of young children, and to read of all the drowning victims. I realized I must have been walking on unmarked graves at times, but could do nothing but apologize aloud.

Melissa and I were soon on our way back toward Armidale. I had walked out the cemetery backwards and then insisted that Melissa make three turns in the car after leaving the cemetery. She complained at length but did as I asked. Melissa said that she wanted to call in at Bakers Creek Falls, the scene of a massacre and thus overflowing with ghosts, or so she'd been told.

The dirt road to Bakers Creek Falls had washed away in parts and Melissa slowed the Lexus to a crawl. "Misty, have you ever been on this road before? I don't like the look of that bridge ahead."

"Cars must go over it every day. There are recent tire tracks."

"Who would drive out here?" Melissa's tone reflected her disbelief.

"Massacreists, for one."

"Gee, Misty, that's comforting. I'm not coming back out here
, not even if Skinny insists."

I was wondering if there was such a word as
as we drove back to the main road, past a sign that said, "Chinaman's Gully Road," which pointed down a narrow, dirt road.

"Do you want to drive down there?" Melissa asked.

"Yes, that would be great, thanks."

Melissa snorted rudely. "No way! I was joking. There's no way I'd drive down that road. There's no way I'm ever coming back here."

Melissa was still complaining by the time we reached the lookout at Bakers Creek Falls, just a short drive from the bridge. I had to go on foot to guide her into the parking area, as thick tree roots were poking out above ground level and crisscrossing the entrance. There was another car in the parking area, but we couldn't see any sign of people.

I hurried over to the viewing platform which overlooked the Falls. Before me was a mass of perpendicular cliffs; I judged a half mile straight down into the gorge. The gorge ran as far as the eye could see. To say it was dramatic would have been a major understatement. The huge slabs of granite were as magnificent as they were terrifying. It was one dramatic, giant, sheer drop which continued for miles, as if someone had taken a knife and sliced cleanly downwards on two sides and then removed the middle section.

I was staring in awe when I realized that Melissa, still in the parking area, was calling to me. She was pointing to the tiny public toilet. In Australia we call outdoor toilets "dunnies." This dunny was a ramshackle, wooden building. "I'm desperate," she called. I nodded in reply.

Melissa emerged from the toilet and joined me on the platform. "That was disgusting; there are holes in the old, wooden door. Why would there be holes in the door?" Before I could answer she continued, "And there's nowhere to wash your hands." She held her hands out in front of her like a zombie and then pointed to the edge of the cliff. "Oh no, I'm afraid of heights; can we go?"

Just then a man popped out of the bushes, and we both screamed. The man looked amused. "So sorry to scare you. I'm a local photographer, Ethan Williams."

We introduced ourselves and he shook our hands. "I didn’t think there would be anyone here," he said. "We rarely get tourists in these parts."

I looked at him. He was young; I guessed mid twenties, and good looking in a boyish sort of way. "Are you taking photos of the cliffs?"

He laughed. "No way; I'm scared of heights; you won’t catch me anyway near them." He pointed to the brick wall. "This is as close as I get to the edge. Anyway, I'm a wildlife photographer."

"What sort of wildlife?" Melissa asked with a hint of fear in her voice.

He shrugged. "All sorts, really. I managed to take some good photos of a snake just then. It looked like an Inland Taipan, but it's probably only a Tiger Snake. We don’t get Inland Taipans this far east."

BOOK: 3 A Basis for Murder
3.06Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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