This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Copyright © 2016 by Katherine Daley
All rights reserved, including the right of reproduction in whole or in part in any form.
I want to thank the very talented Jessica Fischer for the cover art.
I so appreciate Bruce Curran, who is always ready and willing to answer my cyber questions and Peggy Hyndman for finding those annoying typos.
And, of course, thanks to the readers and bloggers in my life, who make doing what I do possible.
Thank you to Randy Ladenheim-Gil for the editing.
Special thanks to Vivian Shane, Jeanie Daniel, Nancy Farris, Kathy Dunn, Robin Coxon, and Connie Correll for submitting recipes.
And finally I want to thank my sister Christy for always lending an ear and my husband Ken for allowing me time to write by taking care of everything else.
Come for the murder, stay for the romance.
Zoe Donovan Cozy Mystery:
The Trouble With Turkeys
Big Bunny Bump-off
Beach Blanket Barbie
Turkeys, Tuxes, and Tabbies
Candy Cane Caper –
Zimmerman Academy The New Normal
Ashton Falls Cozy Cookbook
Tj Jensen Paradise Lake Mysteries by Henery Press
Pumpkins in Paradise
Snowmen in Paradise
Bikinis in Paradise
Christmas in Paradise
Puppies in Paradise
Halloween in Paradise
Treasure in Paradise –
Whales and Tails Cozy Mystery:
Romeow and Juliet
The Mad Catter
Grimm’s Furry Tail
Much Ado About Felines
Legend of Tabby Hollow
Cat of Christmas Past
A Tale of Two Tabbies
The Great Catsby
Cat of Christmas Present –
Seacliff High Mystery:
Sand and Sea Hawaiian Mystery:
Murder at Dolphin Bay
Murder at Sunrise Beach
Murder at the Witching Hour
Road to Christmas Romance:
Road to Christmas Past
Fall is my favorite time of year. Halloween is just around the corner, the leaves have taken on hues of red, orange, and yellow, the days are crisp, the nights cool, and most of the tourists have left the island except for the weekend visitors. As the days shorten, I find once again the world has returned to a pace at which I can take a moment to enjoy the beauty around me. I slow my car as I approach the main street that runs through Pelican Bay, the small town on the south shore of Madrona Island where Coffee Cat Books, the bookstore/coffee bar/cat lounge I own and operate with my best friend, Tara O’Brian, is located. I can’t help but feel a warm glow as I pass trees strung with orange and white lights on both sides of the quaint main street that runs through the heart of town. Most of the shop proprietors have gone all out to ensure that their windows have been decorated with colorful and sometimes spooky adornments depicting scenes from the upcoming holiday.
When I was a child growing up on Madrona Island the town of Pelican Bay didn’t exist. The south end of the island was a hub of the fishing industry, with a large marina and a cannery at its center. I lived in the more established town of Harthaven, to the northwest, a place drenched with history and customs, and I still consider it home in many ways.
As with many of the businesses on the island, Coffee Cat Books is getting ready to return to winter hours as of November 1. During the summer, we’re open Monday through Saturday, but in the winter, when the influx of visitors brought by the ferry slows considerably, we close on Mondays as well. Next Monday is Halloween, so tonight is the last meeting of the Monday night book club Coffee Cat Books has sponsored and I’ve moderated for the summer. The emphasis of this particular book club was mysteries, so for our final meeting I’d invited a popular mystery author to be our guest speaker.
I pulled up in front of the bookstore just as the first of the book club members arrived. I hurried inside to make a pot of coffee and set out the freshly baked cookies Tara had left to serve. I’d already set up the chairs we would need in the cat lounge before running home after the store closed to grab a bite to eat.
“Thank you all for an awesome summer,” I began when everyone had helped themselves to coffee and Halloween cookies and taken a seat. “As you know, this is the last meeting for this group, although Tara will still be running a book club on Wednesdays if you want to hop over to that one.” I paused to allow the information about the Wednesday group to sink in. “I have a very special treat for you tonight. We have a guest speaker who’s made the
fiction best seller list seven times with her edgy mysteries. Her specialty is gathering the facts surrounding real-life crimes and fictionalizing them. Please welcome Amanda Lowman.”
Everyone clapped and welcomed the energetic woman who, according to her bio, was thirty-six and single.
After I introduced Amanda, I settled onto one of the sofas on which several other members of the book club were already seated. Tara had done a wonderful job making the bookstore feel warm and inviting for the holiday. She’d hung orange twinkle lights around the perimeter of the ceiling, draping them in strategic places to give the room a warm glow, and the windows were decorated with fall scenes depicting the small-town charm Pelican Bay was known for. But best of all, in my opinion, was the large bay window that looked out onto the wharf, where Tara had set up a real Halloween village that had been enchanting both adults and children for the past several weeks.
“Thank you so much for inviting me to speak to your group,” Amanda began. “As our host, Caitlin Hart, mentioned, I’m a mystery writer who uses true crimes as the basis for the books I write.”
“How exactly do you do that?” one of the women asked as thunder from the approaching storm rumbled in the distance.
Amanda smiled and leaned forward just a bit, giving the woman who’d asked the question her full attention. “I’m glad you asked that. It’s a good place to start. Basically, what I do is find a real-life mystery that intrigues me. Then I jump into research mode to find out everything I can about the case. While I tend to mix things up a bit, my favorite subject matter is unsolved mysteries. Once I find out everything about the real-life crime I can, I take the information, fictionalize the characters and location as well as a few of the details, and settle in to write what I hope will become a chart-topping mystery.”
“Why unsolved mysteries?” one of the men asked.
A serious expression crossed Amanda’s face. “I think one of the worst things that can happen to a person is to lose a loved one and never know what happened to them or who was responsible for their absence from your life. I guess by fictionalizing these unsolved cases I can provide an ending to the story, even if it’s pure fiction.”
“Have you ever solved a case that previously had been unsolved while doing your research?” another woman asked as she sipped from her Coffee Cat Books mug.
“No, but I have, during the course of my research, uncovered clues that I was able to provide to law enforcement that enabled them to close a previously unsolved case.”
“Like what?” someone else asked.
It seemed obvious, based on the way almost everyone was sitting on the edge of their seats, that the book club members were fascinated by the type of writing Amanda preferred. I found I was fascinated as well. I’d read a few of her books and I had to agree there was something thrilling about reading a mystery you knew was based on an actual murder.
“I discovered a previously unknown witness in the Coast Road strangler case, for one. It was a fluke, really, that I just happened to notice something everyone else had missed. This witness turned out to hold the key to the case and the killer was eventually arrested and convicted.”
I listened as the sixteen members of the book club continued to ask questions and then hang on every word of our guest’s replies. Amanda was an articulate speaker who was willing to share a lot of very interesting material and I could see the meeting was going to run beyond the time we usually wrapped up. Normally that wouldn’t have been a problem, but I could tell the rumbling thunder that had accompanied the storm, coming from just off shore, was getting closer and closer as the minutes ticked by.
“What are you currently working on?” I asked as a means of moving the meeting along.
“It’s a fascinating case.” Amanda sat forward on her chair. “In fact, I think this one is going to be my best novel yet. I’m sure many of you will remember a case that involved two murders that were committed fifteen years ago on this very island.”
“Are you talking about the teenage girls who were murdered on Halloween night?” a man asked.
Amanda nodded. “The murders were not only strange in execution but there were very few suspects and, as of today, the killer has never been found.”
I was just a kid at the time of the murders, but I did remember hearing about them from my older brothers and sister, who’d been teenagers at the time. One had been at a party with several dozen classmates and the other had been loitering around town with a group of friends. When they hadn’t returned home by the following morning their parents had reported them missing. After an exhaustive search, their bodies were found in the woods miles from where either of them had been seen last. The really interesting—or perhaps I should say gross—thing about the case was that the blood had been completely drained from both bodies, although very little blood was found at the scene. It had been determined that the girls had been killed elsewhere and then dumped.
Amanda continued to speak, maintaining eye contact with her audience and pausing at just the perfect moments. No doubt about it; she had the group spellbound.
She paused for just a heartbeat, then continued. “Due, I imagine, to the two little puncture wounds in the necks of the victims, the fact that their blood had been drained, and that the teens had died not only on Halloween night but on a rare full-moon Halloween night, authorities labeled the case the Vampire Murders.”
“And they never found the vampire?” a woman whispered.
“No. As I said earlier, the killer was never identified. It was determined, based on the fact that the girls were killed in the same manner and by the same method, that they’d been murdered by the same person. And as I also mentioned, it was apparent that, due to the lack of blood where the bodies were found, the girls had been killed elsewhere and then dumped. Law enforcement personnel tried to determine a link between the two teenagers but one was never determined, other than their age and the high school they attended.”
Amanda paused and looked around the room. I wasn’t sure if she was going for dramatic effect or she simply needed to determine where to take the story next. Eventually she continued. “Bronwyn Hampton was a popular junior at Harthaven High School who was enrolled in advance placement classes and was involved in sports and after-school clubs and activities. She had been at a Halloween party at a classmate’s home on the night she died. She’d come with friends but, according to witnesses, she’d received a call that prompted her to leave early. It’s believed a boy she dated casually had been the one who called and arranged to pick her up from the party.”
Amanda took a sip of the water I’d provided her before going on. “Ruby Collingsworth was also a junior at Harthaven High. She had a reputation for being a bit of a troublemaker, although I think her rep as a troubled teen was overstated. On the night she died she’d been loitering around town with friends, getting into mischief the way kids do on Halloween. None of the friends interviewed claimed to know when she had left the group or where she had gone after leaving.”
“It really doesn’t sound like the girls had anything in common,” one of the women said.
“I agree, it doesn’t. And the law enforcement personnel who investigated the crime at the time determined the killings were random, that no link existed. I, on the other hand, disagree. One of the things I hope to do during my stay on the island is to try to prove that.”
“That sounds so interesting,” I commented. “And I’m sure we’ll all want to read your book when it’s published.”
There were general murmurs of agreement in the room.
“Did the sheriff come up with any suspects at all?” someone in the crowd asked.
“Sounds to me like some creature of the night assaulted them, took them back to his lair, had them for dinner, and then dumped the bodies,” one of the younger book club members asserted.
“That would be a good theory if this were a John Carpenter movie,” Amanda agreed, “but there were never any vampires on the suspect list, so the investigators determined that the murders had been carried out by a mere mortal. The prime suspect at the time was a man who went by the name of Dracon Moon. He was an old man who lived in a secluded old house on the north shore. The house is no longer there—in fact. it burned to the ground the day after the murders—but at the time there were quite a few islanders who believed Mr. Moon was the guilty party.”
“Why did they think he was guilty?” a plump woman who had moved to the island just two years earlier asked.
“Because he was a grouchy old recluse who lived in a spooky house and seemed to fit the profile of someone who might actually be a vampire. He disappeared after his home burned down, and as far as I know, he was never seen on the island again. It was determined the fire was set intentionally, and while there were quite a lot of islanders who spoke out against him, his guilt was never proven.”
“Maybe he perished in the fire,” someone speculated.
“There were those who believed Mr. Moon died in the fire,” Amanda confirmed. “The problem with that theory was that investigators didn’t find human remains in the rubble. There were a lot of people who believed Mr. Moon killed the kids and then set the fire to hide evidence of his bloodsucking hobby. They felt he somehow managed to flee the island in a private boat under the cover of night.”
The room was quiet as the thunder rolled on to shore and wind-driven rain began to hit the windows overlooking the harbor. It was the perfect backdrop for a spooky story.
“I don’t know what actually happened that night,” Amanda continued, “but I do know it makes for an interesting story and I hope to come up with enough information to fuel the plot of my book. I’ll be on the island for the next two weeks, interviewing people who were around back then. I’ve left some of my business cards on the front counter near the books I brought to sign. If you have anything at all to share about the incident, please feel free to email me.”
A loud clap of thunder shook the building at the same time the lights flickered.
“As interesting as this meeting has been, it looks like the storm that’s been lingering off shore for most of the day has arrived,” I announced. “I’m calling the meeting to an end so you can get home before the worst of the rain hits. Let’s all give a round of applause to Amanda Lowman for sharing the details of her work-in-progress.”
I set to cleaning up as soon as the others left. I wanted to get home myself before the worst of the storm hit, but I didn’t want Tara to have to deal with empty coffee cups and cookie crumbs when she arrived in the morning. I’d planned to meet my boyfriend, Cody West, when I got home, so I called him to let him know I might be a few minutes late. He agreed to come over to the store to help me finish up here, and then we’d be able to relax and watch it storm.