Read Dead Jitterbug Online

Authors: Victoria Houston

Dead Jitterbug

Get hooked on Victoria Houston’s
Loon Lake Fishing Mysteries …

Dead Hot Mama

“Enough to make anyone long for the scent of pines. An addictive series … A complicated mystery with plenty of red herrings (and a few muskies) … that will have readers guessing up until the last minute. Another strong entry into a very atmospheric and entertaining series that will have even the most sun-worshipping readers consider digging a hole in the ice, dropping a line in and hoping for a bite."


The Mystery Reader

Dead Frenzy

“Houston has a way with words … Her humor is well rationed … The good doctor is a pleasant, witty voice. The description of a fishing experience is well done, depicting the Northwoods to a ‘T.’ The mystery is plotted well, and there is enough action to keep the reader engaged to the end. The Loon Lake series holds great promise for a pleasurable reading retreat."


Books ‘n’ Bytes

Dead Water

“Dead Water
is her best yet … [Victoria Houston] puts me right there in the Wisconsin heat and cold, lets me know what the fish are biting on, lets me spy on the interesting characters of Loon Lake, and most of all, spins an intelligent and captivating tale. I look forward to more and more.”

—T. Jefferson Parker, author of
Silent Joe

“Victoria Houston’s love for her Wisconsin setting—and her wonderful characters—is evident on every page of her fine series … A great getaway, even if it does keep me up at night."

—Laura Lippman, author of
The Sugar House

Dead Creek

“[A] well-drawn regional police procedural … All the subplots smoothly return to the main theme and there are plenty of suspects to keep the audience guessing … With this fine novel, Victoria Houston will hook readers and make them seek her previous stories.”


Painted Rock Reviews

“What a great story! A book that fishermen of all ages (and species) are sure to enjoy."

—Tony Rizzo, Northwoods fishing guide and author of
Secrets of a Muskie Guide

“Murder mystery muskies! The
X-Files
comes to Packer Land."

—John Krga, dedicated Northwoods “catch-and-release” muskie fisherman

Dead Angler

“Who would have thought that fly-fishing could be such fun? Victoria Houston makes you want to dash for rod and reel. [She] cleverly blends the love of the outdoors with the thrill of catching a serial killer.”


The Orlando Sentinel

“As exciting as fishing a tournament—and you don’t know the result until the end."

—Norb Wallock,

North American Walleye Angler’s 1997 Angler of the Year

“Houston introduces us to a cast of characters with whom we quickly bond—as fly fishers and as good citizens—in the first of what I hope will be a long series.”

—Joan Wulff, world-class fly caster, and cofounder of the Wulff School of Fly-Fishing

“A compelling thriller … populated with three-dimensional characters who reveal some of their secrets of trout fishing the dark waters of the northern forests.”

—Tom Wiench, dedicated fly fisherman and member of Trout Unlimited

“Colorful and eccentric characters … Readers who prefer their fish either in a restaurant or supermarket exclusively will still enjoy this delightful mystery because Victoria Houston hooks her audience from start to finish. The Great Lakes make a wonderful backdrop to fine characters and a delightful storyline … This regional mystery has a powerful (somewhat fishy) taste to it.”


Midwest Book Review

Titles by Victoria Houston

DEAD ANGLER
DEAD CREEK
DEAD WATER
DEAD FRENZY
DEAD HOT MAMA
DEAD JITTERBUG

Dead
Jitterbug
VICTORIA HOUSTON

For John

one

How cheerfully he seems to grin, How neatly spreads his claws, And welcomes little fishes in With gently smiling jaws!

—Lewis Carroll

The
two kids knew better than to go where they went. It’s one thing to fish off your own dock, quite another to park yourself at the end of someone else’s. And while it can be argued that in Wisconsin no one owns the lakes and the rivers, it’s also understood that the water in front of your land is private. At least the first hundred feet.

But the girl and her little brother had lately elected to ignore that unwritten rule. Partly because they were bored, partly because they couldn’t resist the challenge of the feisty smallmouth bass hunkered down under the pontoon boat moored to the end of the McDonalds’ long dock.

It was Jennifer who kept urging them to go one more time, well aware you can’t be arrested for wading. Not even wading with a spinning rod unless you’re sixteen and trying to fish without a license.

But the smallies weren’t the only lure for Jennifer. She knew that Mrs. McDonald was a famous lady and rich. Very rich. It was the rich that fascinated Jennifer. She loved to wade slowly through the hip-deep water about thirty feet out from the McDonalds’ beach, close enough to take in every detail of the big sprawling house.

Built by Mrs. McDonald’s grandfather in the early 1900's, the mansion was one of the few on the Loon Lake chain and visible only from the water. And even water access was not easy as the old man had bought himself property on a 300-acre lake that connected to the chain through a channel so shallow few fishermen were willing to risk ruining their propellers.

With its white frame and forest-green shutters, whose Christmas tree cutouts emphasized its whiteness, the stately home looked like something out of a storybook with its gabled windows and romantic balconies. A white banister porch ran along the entire front of the house, and pots of pink petunias with English ivy cascaded over the handrails, inviting visitors from the lake. An ancient stone stairway snaking up from the dock was bordered on both sides by a lawn, deep green and perfectly trimmed.

At dusk, thanks to the glow of interior lights, the girl was often able to see the outlines of an elegant dining room just inside the French doors. More than once she had glimpsed Mrs. McDonald at the big table, dining alone.

Jennifer liked to pretend it was her house. That she could skip through the water, boost herself up onto the dock, dance up those stone stairs, and be welcomed into what she knew must be the most magnificent home in Loon Lake. Dusk was her favorite time to drop a worm and a bobber and linger out front. She brought her brother along just in case someone got upset. Who could be mad at a little boy and his sister trying to catch a couple crappies or fierce-fighting bass?

Tonight, the third night in a row that they had waded down this way, Jennifer was surprised to see Mrs. McDonald sitting at her dining room table in exactly the same spot she had been the night before. And the night before that. Even the low glow of the chandelier appeared identical to what she had seen each previous evening.

“Yow!” Timmy yanked his rod up and back, reeling fast. “Jenny, it’s big, it’s really big.”

“Keep your line tight,” said Jennifer, absently. The overcast sky made the evening darker than usual for early June, emphasizing the dimly lit interior of the big house. The longer she stared, the more Jennifer was convinced that woman had not moved since they saw her last. And she certainly wasn’t moving now.

While Timmy struggled with his catch, Jennifer edged closer to shore. She might be just nine years old but she was used to taking charge. Their mother worked evenings waiting tables at the Loon Lake Pub, and their dad lived in the neighboring town with his new family, so Jennifer was responsible for Timmy and the dog every day from six to midnight. She liked to think of herself as capable and fearless, though right now she was worried. And not a little scared.

Mrs. McDonald knew her. The lady, who had very pretty white hair and was a lot older than Jennifer’s mom, always waved if she saw Jennifer as she walked across the road to fetch her mail from the huge mailbox that dwarfed all the others on the lake road. Summertime, she got her mail every day at the same time. But she hadn’t done so today, and Jennifer hadn’t been home to see if she had the day before.

Jennifer gave herself two options: On the one hand she could wade home, peek in the McDonalds’ mailbox, and if it was empty she would know the lady was all right. Of course, how could she be sure that there had been any mail that day? Or she could walk up onto the porch, knock on the French doors and say that Timmy had stuck himself with his fishhook and they needed a Band-Aid. The second option was the best: the quickest, the easiest, and, if she was lucky, she might even be invited inside.

Feeling a little less worried, Jennifer set her rod on the dock, hopped across the stones at the water’s edge, and walked up onto the beach. She stopped and waved her arms at the figure in the window. No response.

“Jenny, where are you going?” asked Timmy, just as his fishing pole, bent low by the fighting fish, popped into the air. “Darn! Bit right through my line.” He waded toward his sister. “Wait for me. Do you have another hook on you? Man, that must’ve been a muskie to bite right through my line like that. Took my hook, worm, sinker even. Still got my bobber, though.”

The resolute tone in the seven-year-old’s voice made it clear he would treat this loss as a win. He didn’t lose some little bass, no sirree. He just survived a strike from the one of the biggest fish you can catch on the Loon Lake chain. Man, oh man. That would get his dad’s attention for sure.

Jennifer waved her brother over to the dock. From the back pocket of her wet cutoffs, she pulled out a Sucrets tin. Inside writhed half a dozen angleworms, and taped to the bottom of the tin were two fishing lures. The tin was a gift from their mother’s childhood pal, and sometime boyfriend, Ray Pradt.

Ray was a fishing guide and a stickler for not hauling along too much tackle. And he was the only grown-up who had not criticized her habit of wading along the shore to fish other people’s holes. Nope, he had just winked and warned her to be sure to get out fast the minute she saw any lightning.

“Here, Timmy.” She thrust the tin into her brother’s hand. “Be right back. Gotta ask Mrs. McDonald a question. You tie on one of those lures and wait for me here.”

“But I don’t have a sinker,” said Timmy, a long look on his face.

“So? You don’t need a sinker with one of Ray’s lures.”

Before her brother could protest, Jennifer was running up the stone stairs and onto the porch, waving her arms as she neared the French doors. She was right, it was Mrs. McDonald—she could tell from the white hair. But the woman was sitting slightly slumped with her head turned away.

Jennifer rapped on the glass door. Mrs. McDonald didn’t move. What appeared to be a full plate of food was set in front of where she sat at the far end of the long table that ran parallel to the doors. The low glow of the chandelier threw shadows into the room, making it difficult to get a good look at the seated figure.

Worry and fear crowded back into Jennifer’s chest. What if Mrs. McDonald was sick or something and that’s why she didn’t turn around? The girl debated trying the handle on the door, which she knew was trespassing, or just going home and pretending she hadn’t been here or seen anything. But the urge to help was overwhelming.

She reminded herself that Mrs. McDonald had always smiled and waved. And Jennifer’s mom had said that she was very famous and did wonderful things for people. What those wonderful things were, Jennifer didn’t know—but if you did good things for others maybe you wouldn’t be too mad if someone tried to help you….

She pushed down on the handle. It was locked. Jennifer rapped harder on the glass door and called out, “Mrs. McDonald?” Still, the lady didn’t move. Jennifer knew she couldn’t stop now. She called louder and waited. Still no answer. Floor to ceiling windows extended along the wall beyond the French doors, so she moved along the porch until she was directly across from the woman.

A break in the cloud cover sent rays from the setting sun slanting across the table and Jennifer could see that Mrs. McDonald hadn’t been looking away at all. The side of her head was gone. No, it wasn’t. Something was there: something black and twisted and moving.

Jennifer froze, then flew from the porch and across the lawn.

“Timmy! Timmy!” Her screams turned into sobs. “Run!” At the sound of his sister’s terror, Timmy burst into tears. The two of them could never remember how they got home, but they made it. Not until the next morning did Jennifer remember that she left her Sucrets tin on the McDonalds’ dock.

two

Fish or cut bait.

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