Authors: Julie Mulhern
Tags: #amateur sleuth, #british mysteries, #cozy, #cozy mysteries, #detective novels, #english mysteries, #female sleuth, #historical mysteries, #murder mystery, #Mystery, #mystery and suspense, #mystery series, #women's fiction, #women sleuths
Praise for the Country Club Murders
THE DEEP END (#1)
“Part mystery, part women’s fiction, part poetry, Mulhern’s debut,
The Deep End
, will draw you in with the first sentence and entrance you until the last. An engaging whodunit that kept me guessing until the end!”
– Tracy Weber,
Author of the Downward Dog Mysteries
“What truly stands out is the development of Ellison as a very realistic and very likable character…Not to be overlooked is the humor and wit that entertains throughout the novel as readers enjoy following an intelligent heroine completely coming into her own as a compelling, funny, and very intelligent woman.”
– Kings River Life Magazine
“What a fun read! Murder in the days before cell phones, the internet, DNA and AFIS.”
– Books for Avid Readers
“Intriguing plots, fascinating characters. From the first page to the last, Julie’s mysteries grab the reader and don’t let up. When all is resolved and I read the last page, I wanted to read more.”
– Sally Berneathy,
USA Today Bestselling Author
“Ms. Mulhern weaves a tidy tale of murder, blackmail, and life behind the scenes in the Country Club set of the 70s…an excellent mystery, highly recommended, and I eagerly await the next in the series.”
– Any Good Book
Books in the Country Club Murders Series
by Julie Mulhern
THE DEEP END (#1)
GUARANTEED TO BLEED (#2)
THE DEEP END
The Country Club Murders
Part of the Henery Press Mystery Collection
Kindle edition | February 2015
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever, including Internet usage, without written permission from Henery Press, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles and reviews.
Copyright © 2015 by Julie Mulhern
Cover art by Stephanie Chontos
This is a work of fiction. Any references to historical events, real people, or real locales are used fictitiously. Other names, characters, places, and incidents are the product of the author’s imagination, and any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Printed in the United States of America
This book is dedicated with love to my parents,
Charlotte and Steve Kirk
To Sally, Madonna and Sara, you made writing
The Deep End
fun–thank you for your advice and support.
To Margaret Bail–your faith and persistence meant the world–thank you!
The Deep End
is a better book thanks to Kendel Lynn and the staff at Henery. I am truly grateful.
And, most of all, thank you to Matt, Meredith and Katie. I’d promise that dinners will get better now, but we all know that’s not true. Thanks for embracing spaghetti, tacos and eating out. And, thanks for being you!
Kansas City, Missouri
My morning swim doesn’t usually involve corpses. If it did, I’d give up swimming for something less stressful, like coaxing cobras out of baskets or my mother out of bed before ten.
Watching the sun rise over the seventh green is often the best part of my day. I dive into the pool while the water is still inky. When the light has changed from deepest indigo to lavender, I break my stroke, tread water and admire the sky as it bleeds from gold to yellow to pink. It’s a ritual, a metaphorical cleansing, a moment of stolen peace.
After all, I have a teenage daughter, a mother with strong opinions, a Weimaraner named Max who plots to take over our house on his path toward world domination, and a husband. Much as I’d like to, I can’t leave him out.
I kicked off my Dr. Scholl’s, tossed my husband’s button-down onto a deck chair, dove into the dark water and gasped at the sudden, encompassing cold. That shock of chilly water against my skin is better than coffee when it comes to waking up. Maybe not better. Faster.
My legs kicked, my arms sliced, and I settled into the comforting rhythm of the Australian crawl. My fingers knifed through the water, anticipating the smooth parting of liquid. They found fabric and the horrific touch of cold flesh.
I watched the sunrise from a deck chair. It was not cathartic or peaceful. It was awful. The police swarmed around the pool like industrious ants, pausing only when someone jumped into the water and floated the body to the side. They fished it out and laid it at the edge of the pool.
I turned my head away. I didn’t want to see.
A man wearing a truly unfortunate pair of plaid pants broke away from the ants and sat on the deck chair next to mine. “Are you all right? Do you want a glass of water?” He had nice eyes. Brown. Like coffee.
“Coffee,” I croaked.
He waved at the ants and a moment later one of them appeared with a thermos. He poured some caffeinated ambrosia into the red plastic top and handed it to me.
“I’m afraid we don’t have cream or sugar.”
“Black is fine.” I took a sip to prove it.
“I’m Detective Jones. Can you tell me what happened this morning?”
“I was swimming.”
“Without a lifeguard?” I could hear the disapproval in his voice. Detective Jones, purveyor of thermos coffee, wearer of plaid pants, was a follower of rules. I used to like that in a man. There’s something comforting about someone who colors within the lines. Problems arise when a strict follower of rules decides to forsake them. He doesn’t just jaywalk. Nope. A lifetime of good behavior gives him the right to sleep with other women. Or, if he’s slightly more powerful, order a break-in at Watergate. Goes to show, you can’t trust anyone these days. Not husbands. Not presidents. Not cops.
I sipped my coffee while the warmth of the cup thawed my fingers. “The club knows I swim in the mornings. I do it at my own risk.”
His lips pinched together. Clearly, he took a dim view of swimming alone. “What time did you get here this morning?”
“Why so early?”
“I like to be in the water at least twenty minutes before sunrise.”
“Did you notice anything out of the ordinary?”
Just a dead body. “No.”
“What about other people? Cars in the parking lot?”
I shook my head. “No. No people. There’s usually a car or two in the parking lot. If someone has had one too many, they leave their car here overnight.”
“So you parked your car then came straight to the pool?”
What else would I do? “Yes.”
“I dove into the water and started swimming. I’d gone maybe half a lap when I...” I shuddered, “when I touched the body.”
Detective Jones offered a smile that managed to be both sympathetic and encouraging. “And then?”
“I screamed. One of the groundskeepers from the golf course heard me. He called you.”
I took another sip of coffee and glanced around the pool. The morning light still looked delicate enough to break. The weeping cherry tree had lost a few leaves and they skittered across the pool deck in the soft breeze. The police conferred around the body. Then they stepped away and I saw it. Saw her. In that second, my morning went from plain dreadful to the worst ever.
I stared at the ruined dress. Halston. Couture, not off the rack. Everyone who was anyone in Kansas City had heard about how she bought it from Halston himself.
My expression must have reflected my shock because Detective Jones sat up straight in a chair designed for lounging and his nose twitched like a bloodhound’s with a fresh scent. His eyes didn’t look quite so nice anymore. “Who is she?”
I could have told him she was my husband’s mistress. But that word—mistress—it connotes more than an exchange of fluids. Money. Or emotion. Or something.
On the other hand,
the woman screwing my husband
sounded far too harsh. Like I was angry. I got over being angry months ago.
The woman my husband ties to a bedpost and flogs with a cat-o-nine tails
offered more information than I was willing to share. “Her name is Madeline Harper.”
“How do you know her?”
He would find out about Madeline and Henry, eventually. No doubt about it. I ought to tell him, but to talk about it, to say the words aloud, would be like ripping off a well-affixed Band-Aid. “I’ve known Madeline forever. We went to the same preschool, the same grade school, and the same high school.”
“Not the same college?”
“Madeline went back east. I went to art school.”
“You didn’t like her.” It wasn’t a question.
“How can you tell?”
“You don’t seem upset.”
“I didn’t like her.”
The Band-Aid had to come off. It was going to hurt like hell. That little bit of mental plaster had been hiding all the things I didn’t want to see—the things that constituted marriage to Henry. I certainly didn’t want to explain any of them to a policeman. I stared at my feet, long, bony, and resting on damp concrete. I had to tell him. I opened my mouth and chickened out. “We have...had...different values.”
“When was the last time you saw her?”
“A week ago Tuesday. My husband and I had drinks with her and her husband, Roger.” Polite drinks. Ignore the elephant drinks. We’re-boinking-like-bunnies-and-you-don’t-have-the-courage-to-do-anything-about-it drinks
“I thought you didn’t like her.”
“Sometimes sharing a history is more important than liking someone.”
He nodded as if he understood. “You told Officer Roberts that you’re an artist.”
“I did. I am.”
“What kind?” Detective Jones sounded disapproving again. Like I’d broken another unwritten rule. You shall not swim alone. You shall not be an artist unless you struggle with poverty and personal hygiene.
“So you notice details.”
“I suppose.” My gaze traced the celadon threads in his pants. Where they intersected with navy, the threads looked almost green. When they met cream, they looked gray.
“What did you see in the parking lot this morning?”
I closed my eyes and pictured my car’s headlights cutting through the lot. Ansil Merriwether’s navy Cadillac with the dented fender was parked across two spots. He’d probably been clutching a scotch when he arrived for drinks with his cronies. A jaunty red Mercedes braved the morning dew with its top down. “Madeline’s car is in the lot. It’s the convertible.”
“Any idea why she’d be here in the middle of the night?”
“Middle of the night?” I’d leapt to the assumption that she’d closed the bar, wandered down to the pool after drinks and dinner and more drinks and fallen in.
He nodded. “The club security guard thought he heard something around one. He turned on the lights in the pool. It was empty.”
After nearly forty years, you come to know a person. Their likes, their dislikes, their foibles. So I knew. Madeline hadn’t stopped by the club for a swim in her favorite Halston dress in the middle of the night.
In the unlikely event that the most self-centered woman on the planet decided to kill herself, it wouldn’t be by drowning. Madeline wouldn’t want the water to bloat her features. Not an accident. Not a suicide. She’d been murdered.
The shake of my shoulders had nothing to do with the cool morning breeze. The wronged wife who found her was going to be the prime suspect.
A murder suspect. Me. Ellison Walford Russell. Mother was going to kill me.
I toyed with the idea of asking Detective Jones to put me in protective custody.
Of course, I wasn’t a suspect. Yet. I would be as soon as the detective with the nice brown eyes learned that the woman who found Madeline had a good reason to kill her. He’d find out. No doubt about it. Madeline and Henry hadn’t been discreet. Not remotely.
Getting caught in the coatroom at the club Christmas party was the rough equivalent of renting a billboard. Apparently rubbing Roger’s and my noses in their affair was part of the fun.
I gave it an hour before some helpful, civic-minded woman who spent her days playing tennis or golf or sunning called Detective Jones and told him all about it. I took a deep breath of air scented with damp grass and chlorine. “Madeline was sleeping with my husband.”
His gaze sharpened. It shifted between me and the body on the concrete. “Why are you telling me?”
“Because Madeline would never kill herself. Not like this.”
Detective Jones drummed his fingers on his knee. Long, almost elegant fingers. He waited for me to say something else, using his silence against me. My father used to do the same thing when I came home late for curfew and he wanted to know where I’d been. It was a good technique. I used it with my daughter. It wouldn’t work on me.
The silence stretched. I put down my empty coffee cup and crossed my arms over my chest.
Detective Jones smiled. It was the indulgent smile mothers give to toddlers. A smile that said
I’ll let you win this battle, but I’ll win the war
. It chilled my blood. “How long have you known?” he asked.
He nodded as if I’d answered more than just his question.
His fingers stilled. “Did you kill her?”
The birds warbling, the voices of the men by the pool, and the sound of the water as it lapped into the gutter all faded into silence. “No.” My voice was too loud. “I’m not a killer.” Nope, I was a woman who sounded about as convincing as Dick Nixon when he said
I’m not a crook.
Those nice eyes didn’t look nice anymore. They narrowed.
“Any idea who else might want her dead?”
Who else? Besides Roger and me? I might as well hand him the club directory. I shivered in the sunshine. Someone had killed Madeline. Probably someone I knew. “She wasn’t well liked.”
He raised a brow. Detective Jones was going to try silence again.