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MURDER BY HEART

By Nora LeDuc

Published in 2006 by Whiskey Creek Press

 

EBook formats ISBN: 978-1-59374-605-6
Trade paperback ISBN: 978-1-59374-606-3

Author's website:  www.noraleduc.com

Publisher's website http://www.whiskeycreekpress.com/chapters/MurderByHeart_NoraLeDuc.shtml

 

Page ©Copyright 2006 by
Romance At Heart Publications E-Novels
Reprint Chapter by Permission of Nora LeDuc


Publication by Romance At Heart Magazine  ©2006
http://rahpubs.com/



All rights reserved.



PUBLISHED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

 

 

MURDER BY HEART                                                                                       LeDuc   1

 

 

 

 

Chapter 1

 

            Hell, he’d killed Alcott.

            It wasn’t his fault. The man had surprised him. He remembered Alcott’s shocked expression, the sharp crack as he hit the man’s skull, and the way he’d crumpled to the living room floor like a marionette whose strings had snapped.  

            Now he was racing across the lawn, pumping his arms and legs with a sick fear spreading out from his chest. He sucked in the damp air. He couldn’t catch his breath. Licking his lips, he tasted the salty sweat of fear.

            At least in the night, he blended into the safety of the darkness. Panting, he reached his car hidden on the abandoned logging trail in the woods. His breath was coming out loud and raspy. 

            His hands fumbled with the handle. “Come on, come on.”

            At last, the catch released. The door opened, and he leapt

inside. His hands shook on the wheel. No one had seen him. He was safe. Safe. With his shirtsleeve, he wiped the sweat off his brow and expelled a curse. He reached for the white cellophane package of cigarettes on the dashboard. The package rustled as he managed to shake out a smoke. He dropped the box on the floorboard and held his lighter with two hands to steady the flame.

            He dragged on his cigarette. Calmer, he exhaled the pungent smoke. What should he do next? He shouldn’t have run away like a damn coward after he hit Alcott. He’d screwed up. It was the shock that made him run. 

            But he’d pulled it together. He still had time to go back and search. But what if someone came by?

            Kill that person too, his mind shouted. His lips twisted into a smile. Yes, he could do it. He’d park a little closer this time. A surge of adrenaline gushed through his veins. He started the car with one twist of the key. The engine purred to life.

             With the car in gear, he began to circle back to Jeff Alcott’s house.

 

            Here she was alone on a Friday night in a place she hated. The dark. Sitting in the driveway, McCleena Alcott wished her

brother had left on a light. Ever since she’d accidentally locked herself in that trunk when she was playing hide and seek with

Jeff, she’d hated the blackness. She’d been only five at the time.

            After, her beloved brother had delighted in taking advantage and jumping out at her in the dark. Thank the Maturity Gods he’d long given up his juvenile ways. She shot a look at the shadowed house, or maybe not.

            Jeff’s blue clapboard house was silent. She hesitated with her hand over the car’s ignition key. Why would her brother wait for her in a house without any lights when he expected her?

            True, she’d arrived twenty minutes late because she’d miscalculated the heavy weekend traffic exiting from Boston and headed into New Hampshire. But Jeff wouldn’t desert her.

            She glanced again at her gold wristwatch. It was almost

seven thirty. Had she somehow misunderstood? Searching through her mind, she mentally replayed their last conversation. No, he’d told her to come immediately after work at WBST when her vacation officially began. She had the right time. Besides as a TV producer, McCleena Alcott prided herself on her time management.

            Maybe he’d forgotten the butter or something and run out to the store. She was being paranoid. He’d probably left a note for

her on the door. He was forgetful. After all, his school friends had labeled him the absent-minded professor. 

            But, she couldn’t stop herself from stealing glances into

the shadows of the house, searching for murky forms, serial

killers, or whoever lurked in dark places.

            “Get a grip.” She’d watched too many TV programs about

murders, and they were stimulating her overactive imagination.

She gulped the thick knot of fear in her throat. Why was she sitting here drudging up scary memories? Time to forget the past and live in the present. “Happy, Vacation,” she whispered.

            Shoving her anxieties to the back of her mind, she removed

the key from the ignition and dropped it inside her leather purse. She didn’t need a fast getaway. She was an adult woman capable of caring for herself. Of course she remembered with a twinge of guilt, if she’d bought batteries for the flashlight in

her glove compartment, she’d really prove she was capable. Funny how those little things mattered at moments like this.

            With a deep breath, she opened the car door. At least, the interior light would help. She stepped into the drive. She heard Jeff’s seven year old voice, “Fraidy cat, Fraidy Cat. Scared of the daarrk.”

            Whoa, where had that memory come from? Maybe the dark made her delusional. She shook her head then reached inside the

vehicle. Streaks of dark mascara had smudged her hand. She must have rubbed her eyes. So much for the unsmearable makeup she’d picked out to match her eye color at the Downtown Crossing Mall.

Cool, she’d never be. She probably resembled a raccoon with blue circles round its eyes.

            She ran a hand over the wrinkled skirt of her plum suit, and then unsnarled a stray strand of her shoulder length brown hair from her gold hoop earring. “Hello, country life.”

            In a minute, she had dragged out the first of her three

heavy, black suitcases, knowing her brother would tease her about traveling light. But a woman had to be prepared. This was her first holiday since she’d taken the production job a year ago.

            Around her the crickets were chirping, the only signs of life. The car door slammed shut, leaving her swallowed up in the blackness. She shivered in the warm summer air. If only the clouds would part, and she had a hint of a twinkle from a star. Then she could shake off these creepy feelings. 

            Where else did one get light in the country? Uneasy, she glanced at the narrow road. No street posts lined the narrow pavement, and the nearest neighbor’s house sat on the other side of the woods. Why did her brother want to live in this isolated spot? What was wrong with good strong halogen floodlights and living, breathing people who could overhear your every word through a thin walled apartment building? She lugged the first suitcase across the graveled drive to the breezeway. 

            Okay, she always expected the worse. She was a true pessimist. Time to relax and gain a new attitude. She needed a vacation-frame of mind like those fun-loving people on the cruise line ads.

            She listened to the rocks crunching beneath her feet until she reached the entry of the house. No note. She bit her lip, trying to calm the fear spinning through her mind. It didn’t mean anything ominous. Jeff had simply forgotten to leave a message.

            She’d add the complaint to her list. With her free hand, she pushed the screen door and managed to hold it open with her suitcase until she was inside the breezeway. She eased the luggage to the concrete floor. A light? A light? She felt along the smooth pine paneling until her hand hit the switch. A yellow

glow flooded the small entry. She expelled a sigh of relief. 

            Then her glance fell on the open door that led to the kitchen. Why would the door be open? The queasy ball in her stomach knotted tight with another realization. The entry door behind her had been open when she arrived. Only the screen door was shut, and not locked.

            No lights. No note. No brother. She froze listening. A sound came from the corner. She held her breath. Something sprang forward. She shrieked.

            Jumping away, she stared at the creature with dread. A frog with large bulging eyes stared back at her. She stood still, a hand pressed against her leaping heart. Would she have to spend her weekend fending off wild animals?

            Okay, McCleena. Relax. You’ve been in the city too long.  She was acting ridiculous. She shoved the suitcase between herself and the frog that had now retreated. Just in case it returned, she reasoned.

            With a deep breath, she calmed herself. People probably left their doors unlocked in the country all the time. She’d go inside and make herself at home. She’d search through Jeff’s cabinets and drag out a box of cereal and would greet him with a bowl and a scowl to make him feel guilty for his lateness. What was a younger sister for, anyway?

            She swallowed her apprehension and picked up her suitcase, keeping it low in case the frog did its leaping act again. Her spiked heels clicked on the cement floor as she reached the kitchen doorway. She paused and poked her head around the corner. “Jeff?”

            Silence answered. She reached inside and ran her hand along the wall. “Maybe Jeff suffered from narcolepsy and had never told her,” she muttered. 

            Searching for the switch with one hand, she tightened her fingers about the handle of her suitcase. Relief pored through her as she felt the metal switch plate. 

            A loud raspy sound hit her ears. Her hand halted on the plate. She couldn’t move. Her chest tightened. Tensing every cell in her body, she waited. Seconds. Minutes passed in silence. She couldn’t stand here forever. What if Jeff had slipped and had been unable to regain his feet? Do something. Move. Run. Speak. She pushed his name out of her dry mouth. “Jeff?”

            No answer.

            Turn on the light, her brain ordered. Her fingers moved.

The bulb over the table buzzed to life, illuminating the square room. The silverware drawer lay upside down on the floor with forks and spoons and knives scattered about the wooden parquet. Tossed cook books, papers, and boxes of food littered the path to the open, empty maple cabinets. The plates and glasses, some in fragments, covered the butcher-block counter.

            “Oh, my God.”

            The gravelly rattle floated toward her. She whipped around for a fast retreat when her instinct kicked in screaming, “It’s Jeff!”

            She threw down her luggage and purse and ran across the floor, crunching silverware and fragments of dishes in her way. At the end of the short hall she stopped. The darkness of the next room held her on the edge of the carpet. Her legs refused to move. The flesh on her back chilled, imagining someone creeping up behind her. Her hand went to her throat to shield herself from an attack. She turned sideways, keeping her back to the wall, ready for an attack from either direction. 

            Mic...ky.?”

            He was in here. She squinted into the dim room. She recognized a white shirt on the floor and forced herself to move to her brother. “Jeff?”

            Micky ... help.”

            “Oh, no, oh, no.” She fell to her knees beside him. The carpet bit through her hose and into her skin. Desperate, she ran her hands over his chest, shoulders, and finally his head. Something sticky matted his hair and clung to her hand. Blood.

She raised her hand and stared at it. “Oh, God! Jeff’s blood.” 

            She felt her skin chill to ice. Her brother was bleeding.

Big time. “Oh, my God. No. Please.”

            Hee...llp.” He drew in a gasping death rattle.

            “No. Don’t speak.” He must need every breath. “I’ll call an ambulance.” She tried to regain her legs. They wobbled beneath her, refusing to work. Nausea rose to the back of her throat.

            He caught her hand, pulling her ear to his mouth. “Danger ... Mic. Help.”

            Goose bumps broke out on her skin. “Is ... is someone here?”  She gulped. She darted glances into the corners of the gray room. She couldn’t see anyone. 

            He began to cough. Blood spit from his mouth, spreading flecks of red on his clothes. Wet specks flew onto her face.

            She gave a cry that reminded herself of a wounded animal.

Pull yourself together, her mind shouted. Do something. “I’ll call the ambulance,” she said, her voice shaking. “I’ll call the police too.

            His fingers clutched at her wrist. “Mitch ... danger. Promise...find for me.” 

            “Mitch?” What did he have to do with it? “I promise.”

Jeff lay still.  Couldn’t he speak?  Would he ever speak again? Useless tears stun her eyes. She blinked them away. His grip loosened, and his hand fell to his side.  Get help now, her mind screamed. She leapt to her feet. Where was the phone? She didn’t know. She reached deep inside of herself, seeking calm and memory. In the kitchen--on the counter.

            She raced to the kitchen. She shoved aside the broken bits of dishware with a clatter to find the receiver. She held it to her ear. Dead. What now? 

            Her cell phone was in her purse. She ran to the doorway and scooped up the pocketbook. She shoved her clammy hand into the small side pocket. Her fingers wrapped about her phone. At last, with a firm grip she searched out the numbers on the pad. Did 911 work on cell phones? “Please, God. Let it work.” 

            She punched numbers, and a voice answered. Miraculously, her brother’s address fell from her lips.

            The person wanted more than basic information: “What was the injury? How had it happened? Stay on the line? Did her brother see his attacker? Was someone in the house still?”

            Her hand trembled, knocking the cell against her ear. She couldn’t think. How was Jeff? Were they alone? She shuddered.

             She needed a weapon. A steak knife loomed up at her from the clutter on the floor. She swooped it up. Holding the phone to her ear, she ran to the living room and searched for the light. Think. Answer the questions poring out of the phone from the 911 operator.

            Her brother lay motionless upon the beige carpet.

            Please God, make the ambulance speed to Jeff’s. She moved the mouthpiece of the receiver away from her mouth. “Don’t worry, Jeff. I’ve called 911. Help is coming.”

            Where was the lamp in here? Hugging the phone to her ear with her shoulder, she stumbled across one of the table lights on the rug. She retrieved it, placed it on the overturned table, and turned the switch. 

            The bulb clicked to life revealing another ransacked room with the overturned coffee table, cushions flung about, and pictures torn from the wall. This was a nightmare.

            Her brother lay on the carpet. Bleeding. His eyes were closed. His parlor matched the white of his shirt. She wanted to cry. She wanted to run away. This couldn’t be real. The person on the line talked with the monotone of a newscaster. “Stay on the line,” the useless droning voice ordered.

            This long distance person couldn’t do any more for her. She hit the end button. She fell on her knees again beside him, willing Jeff’s chest to rise and fall. Rise and fall. The silence of the house pulled on her raw nerves. Straining to hear any noises, she prayed the intruder had fled. He couldn’t still be in the house. Hiding ... waiting to attack her. She clutched the handle of the steak knife tighter to her chest.

            The time crawled. Beads of perspiration formed on her forehead and ran down into her mouth. She tasted the salty beads of fear. In the quiet, the mantle clock ticked and the  florescent kitchen lights buzzed. Then she heard it, a creaking.

            She snapped to alert, praying she was wrong. Another sound came, the crunch of a footstep on the broken dishes.    

            She forced the words out of her dry mouth. “Who is it?” 

            Silence hummed in the air.

            She covered her lips with a shaking hand, trying to hold

back her uncontrollable whimpers of terror. Was she crazy? A chill raced over her arms. Was it a breeze from an open door?  No, oh no. The attacker had come back!

            She stood. Her legs were shaking. She tightened her grip on the knife, tensing, listening, hoping she was wrong. Then she heard it. Another crunch came from the kitchen.

            Please, no. The skin on her neck prickled. Her breath clogged in her throat, choking. She raised her knife and wildly glanced about the room, searching for a place to hide. But she couldn’t leave Jeff. Oh, my God, what should she do?

            The sound of a siren pierced the night. Red lights flashed in the windows, flickered on the walls. “Help’s here, Jeff.”

            Ecstatic with relief, McCleena ran to the kitchen. The room was empty. She halted. Had anyone been here? The door was open.

Hadn’t she shut it, or had she? 

            The police car pulled up near the house. The sight eased her panic. The imaginary or real attacker had fled. She was safe.             

“Come in here. He’s in here,” She yelled, running outside to meet the police. The ambulance was pulling up beside her car. Two men and a woman jumped out and paused to bark out questions. She answered them, and they moved inside. She trailed after them, trying to make them listen to her fears about the attack and Jeff. They ordered her to stand away from her brother. 

            “Head injury,” one whispered. 

            A cruiser blocked the path of the ambulance. A man in a police uniform appeared, wanting more information, pulling her away from her brother. He was short, rail thin.

            With an uneven shuffle, the EMTs carted Jeff away on the stretcher. She tried to follow. The uniform blocked her path.

He threw a suspicious glance at the knife clutched in her hand.

            She gave a weak smile. “I picked it up for protection.  I heard something.” She retreated a step and let the blade slip to the over turned coffee table.

            “Where are you staying?” the cop asked. His Adam’s apple worked up and down in his bird-like throat.

            “Here.” A pain cut across her stomach as she scanned the tossed, blood stained room.           

            “Good. You’ll need to stay in town. Detective Carney will want to speak with you.”

            In town? Was he informing her she was a suspect? “Of course,” she said, although her conscience whispered she was lying. She intended to go anywhere she wanted, especially away from this horrible spot. 

            “Can you think of any enemies or anyone harboring a grudge against your brother?” The officer persisted. “Take your time.”

            The answer came in a flash. Mitch, her brother’s ex best friend. Why had Jeff mentioned his name? Give the police his name, her conscience urged.

            Why did it have to be the man she once adored? He was the one who’d rescued her from the dark of the locked trunk.

            “Anyone at all,” pressed the man in the uniform.

            “Mitch Kimball.”

 


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