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Authors: Laura S. Wharton

Deceived

BOOK: Deceived
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Deceived

A Sam McClellan Tale

© 2015 by Laura S. Wharton

All Rights Reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the expressed written permission of the author. The characters and event portrayed in this book are fictitious. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

Address all inquiries to:

Broad Creek Press
253 Farmbrook Road
Mt. Airy, NC 27030

Wharton, Laura S.

Deceived/by Laura S. Wharton

Mt. Airy, NC: Broad Creek Press, 2015

813.54

p. cm – (Deceived)

Summary: With the help of sassy sidekick Molly Monroe and other well-rounded characters, Detective Sam McClellan uncovers a vast drug network which winds its way through the resort beach towns of North Carolina.

Print Book ISBN: 978-0-9904662-4-6

[1. Thriller—Fiction. 2. Adventure—Fiction. 3. North Carolina—Fiction. 4. Sailing—Fiction.]

Printed in the United States of America

For John and Darlene.

Truth is often stranger than fiction.

—LSW

Other novels by

Laura S. Wharton

Award-winning novels for Young Adults and Adults:

Stung! A Sam McClellan Tale

In Julia’s Garden, A Lily McGuire Mystery

Leaving Lukens

The Pirate’s Bastard

Award-winning mysteries for Children:

Mystery at the Lake House #1: Monsters Below

Mystery at the Lake House #2: The Mermaid’s Tale

Mystery at the Lake House #3: The Secret of the Compass

Mystery at the Phoenix Festival

The Wizard’s Quest

All titles are available as print and e-books.

To learn more about Laura’s other books,

visit www.LauraWhartonBooks.com

Chapter One

“My partner Lee was lighting another cigarette. I saw the glow when I came out of the store with these Fritos,” said Sam McClellan. He waved the crushed bag in the cop’s face as the man wrote down Sam’s account of the incident. “God, how I hated his stinking up my car.” Sam blinked back glistening tears in the nearly abandoned Circle K’s glaring lights. This particular gas station was just outside Wilmington, North Carolina, near the town of Navassa.

“What happened next, Sam?” The Navassa officer waited patiently for Sam to tell his story as a flurry of activity surrounded Sam’s black Chevy Blazer, its passenger door hanging from one hinge thanks to an over-zealous rescue attempt. Crime scene investigators buzzed about like flies as they collected evidence: samples of shattered glass, samples of blood on the dark seat, and a hunk of matted hair and mangled flesh dangling from the steering wheel. Sam knew that from here on out, it was just procedure. Different police force, same rules.

“We were on our way back from dropping a bunch of kids off at their homes. Lee’s car wouldn’t hold them all after a day of bowling, so I volunteered to help get them home. The kids were friends of Lee’s, I guess. I didn’t ask. He just needed a ride for all of them, so I obliged. After that, we stopped here to grab a snack before I drove him back to the bowling alley to get his car. Then, I dunno. All of a sudden, I heard the explosion of gunfire, and Lee’s head was…gone. Just like that.” He snapped his fingers for effect. “I raced out here, but I was too late.”

“Do you have any idea who would want him gone?” the officer asked without looking up from his notebook. Sam didn’t like the tone of this guy’s voice. Sam didn’t know his name, didn’t even bother to look at his nametag above his pocket. He just knew he hated this particular cop for his show of disrespect toward a fellow officer, even if he was from a different town.

“No.” Sam made no attempt to hide his disgust.

“Did you see the shooter’s car?”

“I was focused on Lee, so I didn’t see anything,” Sam muttered. “But I heard it. A souped-up muscle car. It idled real rough.” He’d file that sound away in his brain. He didn’t have a choice: the sound still rang in his ears, and Sam knew he’d never forget it.

The officer scribbled some other notes before telling Sam to stick around.

“Like I’ve got any place to go,” quipped Sam, wondering whether the officer now trotting away toward the police car could feel the daggers Sam was mentally hurling into his back. Noticing the bag of Fritos still gripped in his hand, Sam threw it to the ground in disgust.

Finding a curb to wait at, Sam fought back the tears he felt welling up behind his eyes. He’d known Lee Elliott since their police training camp days. When they both wound up on the same force, in the sleepy seaside town of Carolina Beach just up the road from the more frenetic Wrightsville Beach, it was natural they became partners. They had hung out on their off-duty hours and enjoyed tinkering around on their sailboats. Sam snorted when remembering how Lee had helped him hook up a new propane stove amid jokes of things that go
boom
on boats, and Sam was grateful Lee was there for him through a rough patch in his life. Sam had few friends, and the last one he had was dead. Now he had to face Jenny. What was he going to tell her?

By the time the tow truck came, Sam was wired on his third cup of black coffee. He accepted a ride as far as the marina where he docked his live-aboard sailboat. As soon as the patrol car, which gave him a ride to the marina, left the parking lot, Sam did too. He practiced what he would say to Jenny as he walked to the beach-front home she had shared with Lee. No matter what he whispered, though, nothing sounded like the right thing to say. He supposed nothing ever would.

Chapter two

Jenny won’t be expecting me,
Sam thought,
but she might worry that Lee didn’t call in to let her know he was on his way.
It was about eight blocks to the beach condo. Sam knew the route well, but he stopped short one block away from Jenny’s home when he saw two unmarked police cars already in the driveway. One was from the Carolina Beach office. Sam didn’t recognize the other.

Sam made his way toward the condo through another’s backyard and snugged up close to the beachfront screened porch, thinking that’s where Jenny would most likely be this evening, but he heard Jenny sobbing in the living room, caught up in one officer’s explanation of what he thought had happened and congratulating her on her husband’s bravery. Adjacent to the screen door was a window to a small den; through the window, Sam could see somebody was rifling through the desk and closet.

“What the…?” Sam caught his voice before a sound escaped his lips. Making his way back to the front of the condo, Sam knocked before entering.

“Hi, Jenny!” he called as he entered the condo’s main room. “I came as soon as I could.” Sam walked directly to Jenny and hugged her tightly. When he released her, she sat robotically on the sofa.

“Word travels fast,” he said to Andy Keller, a fellow Carolina Beach officer, who stood to leave.

“Yeah, I picked it up on the scanner, Sam. Got over here as soon as I could.” He made his way to the door. “Glad to see you’re okay, man. Never know about the crazies anymore.”

“Have you heard anything? Why?” Sam’s question was unanswered.

“Don’t know,” Andy said. “Chief’s going to want answers, though. You want me to give you a ride to the marina?”

“No,” Sam said. “I’ll sit with Jenny a while.” Sam listened for movement in the den, but he heard none.

“It’s okay, Sam,” Jenny said haltingly. “I’ve called my neighbor to come be with me, so you go with him.”

“Call if you need me,” Sam said, his eyes searching Jenny’s for evidence of shock.

“I will…I think I’d really just like to be alone now, though.”

Sam hugged her, then got up to leave. He made an excuse of needing a glass of water so he could peek into the den. All he saw was a window left wide open. He went in to close it, and to search for clues, but he found none. Looking at the rest of the room, nothing seemed out of place.
What was Lee into that would cause this kind of a ruckus?

“Come on, Sam,” said Andy when he returned to the living room. “I’ll give you a ride.” Sam mulled over why there could have been another policeman at Jenny’s, but he decided not to broach the subject with Andy—just yet. Call it shock, call it mistrust. Sam wasn’t willing to consider what the nagging voice in the back of his mind was telling him, though.

When Andy dropped him off at the marina, Sam made his way down the floating ramp to his dock at a fast clip to his boat—his home. His live aboard boat looked like it had been tossed and pummeled by a rogue wave: the hatch boards had been ripped off of their hinges, his propane stove on the stern railing was upside down, and each of the cockpit cushions Sam had just finished recovering in a smart Persian green Sumbrella fabric were slashed to ribbons.

Down below, things looked worse. The salon settee table was torn from the bulkhead, all of his books were off their shelves, and the finely-cut teak fiddles that had so neatly held them in place were splinters. Every bit of food Sam had stored in box compartments under both bunks was strewn around the galley and salon, and the PVC pipes under the galley sink were slashed.

“They were thorough,” Sam said to no one as he started to pick up the mess in the salon. “Wonder what
they
think I have?”

By the time he found his clock in a pile on the salon floor, he saw it was four o’clock in the morning. He pushed the books off the V-berth and fell into a fitful sleep.

Chapter three

Three hours passed. Sam’s cell phone woke him.

“Come on in, Sam. We need to talk.”

Rumpled, Sam started on the three-block walk to police station. Any other time, such a walk in the moist sea air would have been almost pleasant, the marina’s halyards clanging like wind chimes. This early morning walk was labored.

A blast of cold air slammed Sam in the face when he opened the door to the overly air-conditioned building for a hastily called morning meeting with the Chief of Police, Dan Singleton.

“Sam, I’ve looked over the reports and talked with the officers. We still don’t see the leads. The media folks are all over this one. They want a suspect, and so do we. Do you have any idea what this was about?”

“We weren’t onto anything, Chief. Just the regular stuff, nothing major.”

“Word is that Lee was caught up in some sort of love triangle gone bad. Know anything about that?”

“Lee? No way! He and Jenny were tight.” Sam rubbed his unshaven angular jaw and leaned back in the wooden chair, rocking it back on its legs to the point of danger. “I can’t believe there’d be anything to that. Is that what the guys think?”

“Nah; we’re thinking it’s a random act of violence. We’re gonna get the killer, regardless of the scenario. I just wanted to know as much as I could before getting started. I got a call into the Wilmington office, too. They’ll want to help, if they can.”

Dan stood up and reached for his coat. Even though he was shorter than Sam’s 6’2” lean frame, his bulk made him appear bigger.

“Have to go address the team now. There will be a service for Lee later this week. If you need to, take a few days off. You look like you could use some rest.” The chief stepped briskly out of the cool of his office and disappeared down the hall to the conference room.

“I don’t need rest,” Sam muttered. “I need answers.”

Walking slowly to the conference room, Sam felt the grip of grief around his neck. He braced himself for the meeting to come by leaning against the doorjamb. Not wanting the attention he was sure would follow, he preferred to stay to the back of the small pale-blue tactics room now crowded with fellow officers. Stoic, they listened as their chief cited how a valiant officer had fallen—one of the brothers who sought to fight crime on the streets of Carolina Beach—for no apparent reason.

“Lee Elliott was a good man, a good husband, and a good officer. He stood for what was right, and he tried to make things better for the people he met. We all knew Lee as a diligent cop, but what some of you may not know about Lee is that in the years he’s been here, he’s gotten involved with the community through charity work. In his off hours, he gave talks at some of the high schools to help keep kids off drugs. He regularly attended church, and he enjoyed taking teens out on his boat to show them there was more to life than just hanging out, looking for trouble. His efforts helped to keep our town safe. That’s why his death is such a punch in the face. Not only have we lost one of our own, but the community has lost a treasure.” Dan measured his words for effect.

“If anyone has information about why this happened, we need to know now so we can nab the killer,” Dan stated plainly. He sat down heavily and took a sip from a glass of water at the head of the table. “Meeting adjourned,” he said quietly.

The officers left the room solemnly. Some did not make eye contact with Sam, while others stopped momentarily to rest a hand on his sagging shoulders. No words were needed now.

Sam left the building without purpose. His boat was a wreck, his car was impounded, and his best friend was dead. “What did Lee have that somebody wanted?” he pondered.

Before long, he found himself a block away from Jenny’s. He crossed over to the beach and slowly stepped through the soft sand closest to the diminishing dunes. Every time a storm ripped through here, the beach lost a little more ground to the ocean. Often, while Lee and Sam had enjoyed the view of tourists roasting like pecans on the beach just steps away from his screened porch, Lee had said that fragile ecosystems like these barrier islands seemed to be magnets for three things: hurricanes, developers, and nuts. “All the nuts roll downhill to the coast,” Lee had joked.

Sam happened to think he was right. As the sun peeked over the ocean’s dark gray edge, Sam saw a few tourists already lining the beach with their obnoxiously bright coolers, towels, and umbrellas. May was warming up fast. It wouldn’t be long before the road was bumper-to-bumper with traffic and the beach was filled with visitors who all wished
they
were locals.
Little do they know,
Sam thought.

Jenny was sitting on the porch, one leg slung over the arm of the wide wicker chair and the other planted on the floor. Sam waved as he approached her.

Jenny unenthusiastically waved back, then absentmindedly ran her fingers through her short curly blond hair. Coming closer, Sam noticed a thin line of rubber laying across her legs. On the floor was a pie cutter-like tool.

“Hey, Jen, just wanted to see how you were doing today,” Sam called through the door. “What are you doing?”

“Lee had a long list of honey-do’s around here, so I thought I might as well get to them this morning, seeing as how I need something to do to keep my mind off of…things.” She got up and unlatched the screen door to let him in. “The only problem is I don’t know how to do half of what’s on his list. Take this, for instance.” She pointed at the top of the door where a screen was partially blown out. “Am I supposed to pull the whole door off its hinges and take it apart, or can I fix it while it’s on there? That’s why these things were on his list, not mine.” She collapsed in the chair again and started sobbing, her eyes already puffy and red.

Sam focused on the door so as not to join in her distress. He gently took the rubber strip out of her clutch and began to repair the door while she cried. Once it was done, he pulled up a white plastic chair and sat down beside her.

“Jen, there are no words I can tell you right now that will make things better. Lee was a good man and a good friend. I miss him too.” Sam gently placed his hand on Jenny’s shoulder, and she put hers on top of his hand.

“Thanks, Sam. When Andy came last night, he said you couldn’t come by. But you and Lee were together. Do you know what happened?” She was hopeful.

“No, I really haven’t had a chance to look into things yet, but I promise you I will find out who did this, Jen.” He hesitated before continuing. “Jen, when I walked up to your condo last night, I thought I heard somebody in your den looking for something in the desk drawer. I couldn’t see who it was in the darkness. Had you asked Andy to get something for you?”

Jenny looked puzzled. “I…don’t think so. Andy was with me.”

Not wanting to alarm Jenny, Sam changed his tack. “I must have been seeing things.”

“Why did this happen, Sam?” Jenny asked pointedly, as if hearing the news of her husband’s death for the first time.

“That’s the thing. Lee and I weren’t working on anything major, so I thought maybe he had told you about something he had going on.”

Jenny shook her head and wiped at her eyes with the sleeve of her bright yellow T-shirt. “We had a policy around here about him not telling me how his day was. I really didn’t want to know anything more than when he was coming home.” Jenny looked down at her hands, then up at the fixed screen door. “We were talking about fixing this place up to see what we could get for it, so he sometimes kept a list of what he was going to do to bring a higher price.” Jenny paused, then continued. “We were thinking maybe it was time for a house, with a yard. We were thinking, you know, about starting a family.” Sam knew, all right. Lee had talked with him frequently about what it would be like to raise a child on the beach. It might be fun, sure, but Lee was fearful of a toddler running out of the screened door and into the ocean before Jenny or Lee could get to the child. Sam and Lee had been part of one too many rescue efforts to know those sorts of accidents happened all the time.

Jenny got up and walked to the screen door. She ran her hands over the smoothed edge of screen that just moments before was rough. “Thank you for fixing that, Sam. I do appreciate it.” She walked into the condo, and Sam followed.

It took a minute for his eyes to adjust to the darkness and to see that Jenny had crossed the living room and disappeared into the den.

“It doesn’t look like anyone’s been in here, Sam. Are you sure you saw somebody?”

Sam entered the den. There was nothing out of place, nothing disturbed. “Yeah, I know what I saw. Do you see anything that looks…weird?”

“No, Sam. Everything looks the way it did yesterday afternoon when I was in here doing the bookkeeping.” She opened the top desk drawer and pulled out a folder full of bills to be paid. In the drawers below were files filled with statements and paid invoices. “There’s not anything in here worth getting shot over, Sam; I can tell you that. Lee earned just barely enough for us to live on while I worked on my paintings, but he insisted I keep at it. He encouraged me to pursue what I loved, and so I tried to make things easier for him by tending to tasks he didn’t like to do…like paying the bills.”

“What about his to-do list? Where do you think he put that last?” Sam watched Jenny move to the closet in a smaller room, her studio. He watched as she looked in the closet filled with tools.

“This closet was his workshop,” she smiled. “We thought the next house should have a bigger garage so he could have some real woodworking equipment. We love living on the beach….” She caught herself, stopped,
and started again. “I love living on the beach, but now, I don’t think I can stay in this place without him.” She paused and then rooted around on the makeshift shelves on cinderblocks that held Lee’s tools, tennis balls, and racquet, and some spare parts for their boat. “He kept his list of stuff to do for the boat in here, and a second one of projects he wanted to complete on our condo. Here’s the boat book,” Jenny produced a small green journal with a photo of their 1989 thirty-foot Catalina
Stormy Monday
on it. Flipping through tattered pages, she tossed it to Sam.

“What will you do with
Stormy
, Jen?” Sam asked as he reviewed the maintenance log for the boat’s engine, glanced a few pages further to see the fuel and radio logs, and then closed the book.

“I really hadn’t thought about it yet. There’s too much to think about. I just wish….” She turned back to the closet shelves, now digging furiously through Lee’s duffle bag, then his toolbox. “Here. Here’s the condo list.” Jenny held up a small, royal blue spiral-bound notepad, and handed it to Sam.

Sam immediately recognized it. He’d seen it dozens of times before, peeping out of Lee’s shirt pocket when they went to the local hardware store to get supplies for various projects.

Most of the pages were filled with scratched off projects. Sam remembered helping Lee with many of them: rebuilding the small steps and deck with the outside shower; installing privacy partitions around the shower to keep the wind, sand, and curious eyes off Jenny (she liked to shower outside after swimming each day in the ocean); regrouting the tiles in the master bathroom’s shower. Lee was meticulous about keeping all receipts for supplies, and they were stapled to each of the separate project pages.

“Do you think there’s something there, Sam?”

She looks tired
, Sam thought. “I don’t know. Would you mind if I held on to it for a few days?”

“Take it. Take the boat book, too. Oh, the boat! Sam, I completely forgot about it. Would you mind checking on it? I haven’t been there in a few weeks. We were going to get it ready for the season this coming weekend, but I don’t have the heart to go see
Stormy
now.”

Sam nodded.

Jenny felt around the inside of the closet door for the keys to the padlock on the boat’s hatch boards. “Thanks, Sam; I appreciate it.” She gulped and tears welled up in her eyes again. Sam pulled Jenny to him in a bear hug. It was the only thing he could think to do. “I’ll be here if you need me.” He patted her on the back gently until she stopped crying. “Call me if you need anything, Jen. I’m only a few blocks away, so I can be here in no time flat.”

She nodded, and they walked silently to the back door. “Thanks for coming, Sam. Would you do me one favor?”

“Anything.”

“Find whoever made me a widow.”

Sam nodded and closed the screen door quietly behind him. Jenny’s words echoed in his ears all the way back to the marina.

Sam walked past his slip and six more boats to
Stormy Monday
, her deep blue hull gleaming in the mid-morning sun. The hatch boards were locked in place. Sam opened them and saw that the boat’s interior was straight, just the way Lee would have left it after a day of sailing. Everything was put away where it was supposed to be, and Sam envied the boat’s tidiness. He sighed, then climbed up the companionway steps and replaced the hatch boards and lock.

Stepping back aboard his own boat, Sam threw the two little notepads on a shelf over the galley sink and changed his clothes. He opened all the hatches, popped in an old cassette tape of Elmore James, and got to work putting his boat back in order. As he worked, he tried to recount every call he and Lee had investigated over the past year, but he could think of nothing that would get Lee killed or his boat tossed. But then what were “they” looking for? Who were “they”? Why wasn’t Lee’s boat tossed, instead of his?

Once he got the salon and galley back in place, he made himself a turkey sandwich, grabbed a Foster’s from the top-loading refrigerator, and reviewed the two notebooks. Maybe one held a clue.

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