Excerpt: Shadow Hill by Thomas Kies

Shadow Hill

Chapter 1

Bleach.

The smell is all that’s left behind when the cleanup crew in the hazmat suits have scraped up the blood, brain tissue, and skull fragments. All the evidence of two violent deaths was wiped away.

Except for that lingering smell of bleach and ammonia.

“My father didn’t kill himself.”  Eric Cutter whispered, shaking his head, his eyes wide.  Ever since we’d entered the house, he’d kept his voice low.  As if he didn’t want to awaken any ghosts. “And he sure as hell didn’t kill our mother.”

His wife, Olivia, nodded silently in agreement, stealing nervous glances in the direction of the kitchen where her in-laws had violently died.

The heat in the house was off and there was a February chill in the air.  I involuntarily shivered in the damp living room.

Standing next to me, Nathaniel Rubin, owner of the agency for whom I’d just started freelancing, wore a wool overcoat over his trademark blue button-down shirt, red bow tie, black slacks and black sport coat. He gripped the handle of his scuffed, leather valise that held the police report.  Nathaniel was tall, in his forties, and had a full head of prematurely silver hair.  His thin, clean-shaven face reminded me a little of an eagle with his prominent beaked nose and his wide eyes, unblinking behind wire frame glasses.

It was Sunday afternoon.  On Friday, when Nathaniel had emailed me about this meeting, I’d looked the tony Sheffield shoreline address up online. Situated on the edge of Long Island Sound, the house had been put up for sale about a month before Morris and Julia Cutter died. The mansion’s price tag was slightly under eleven million dollars.

Modest for that waterfront neighborhood.

The home was constructed primarily of field stone and wood, both inside and out, giving it the dark, cold feel of a medieval castle.  It was intensified by the multiple stone fireplaces, thick beamed ceilings, and stained-glass windows throughout the nine-bedroom home.  Nestled in a quiet cul-de-sac, at the end of a long, tree lined drive, the home was surrounded by seven acres of rolling lawn and had a stunning view of the water.  Of course, it came with a swimming pool and a tennis court.  Both were closed for the winter.

The website said that the house had been built in the thirties, but it felt much older than that to me, like it had been there for centuries. But whether it had been constructed during the Great Depression or during the Reagan years, it smelled like every other house there on the shoreline.  It reeked of money.

And now, bleach and ammonia.

That afternoon, before Eric and Olivia had arrived in their seventy-thousand-dollar BMW Series 6 sedan, Nathaniel and I waited in the front bucket seats of my road-salt encrusted, muddy ten-year old Sebring, discussing the police report and looking through some of the photos.  It appeared that the cops had done everything by the book.  Locked down the house and treated it like a crime scene, looked for prints, took photos, shot video, talked to the neighbors, family, and friends.  There were no signs of a forced entry, no signs of a struggle.

They concluded that Morris Cutter had come up behind his wife, shot her once in the head, then put the gun to his right temple and pulled the trigger.

Murder-suicide, case closed.

When it happened, I was still the Sheffield Post crime reporter. The media, including my own newspaper, had a field day with it. The deaths of Morris and Julia Cutter were a huge deal.  To the world, they had it all.  Morris had recently retired from his high-profile position as CEO with Continental Petroleum & Gas and the couple had the money and the time to do anything they wanted.

And yet Morris Cutter killed his wife and himself.

You never really know what bugs are crawling around in someone’s head, do you?

As we sat in the car, motor running, heater cranked up high, Nathaniel lifted his eyes from the police report and spoke to me from around the peppermint lifesaver he had in his mouth.   He confirmed what I was thinking. “The cops were very thorough. They didn’t want to make any mistakes.”

I nodded.  “I get the feeling that we don’t want to either.”

Morris Cutter had been a philanthropist, well known in the community, and Julia Cutter had served on the boards of the town’s hospital and library.  Both were known as being generous.  For days after their bodies were found, the story was front page news both locally and in New York newspapers where Morris had worked.  Conspiracy theories and dark rumors were rampant.  It was difficult to grasp that someone so wealthy and successful could murder his wife and then blow his own brains out on the kitchen floor of his multi-million-dollar mansion.

It had to have been a double murder.  Or at least that was the street gossip.

Fingers were pointed at rival oil companies and oil rich countries like Saudi Arabia, Venezuela, and Russia. Blame was leveled at climate activists.  Even Morris’s own family found itself on the wrong end of murder theories.

The Sheffield cops had wanted to get the investigation right, and so did we.

When I saw the Beamer drive up, I quickly pulled down my visor and checked myself out in the mirror.

My name is Geneva Chase and I’m a freelance journalist formerly with the Sheffield Post and a half dozen other media outlets. Around Christmas, I had a job offer to be a full-time “researcher” at Lodestar Analytics, owned by Nathaniel Rubin.  I didn’t like the idea of being tied down to a single company again, so I agreed to work for him in a freelance capacity, allowing me to work for other media outlets as well. That way I could work on the stories and jobs I wanted and walk away from the stinkers.

I’m crowding forty, and yes, I’m concerned about my appearance. What girl isn’t?  I wanted to make sure my blond hair was in place, the liner accenting my blue eyes hadn’t smudged, and lipstick wasn’t smeared on my front teeth.  I try to ignore the encroaching lines and wrinkles around the eyes and mouth that high priced cosmetics have done well to camouflage.

I could see Nathaniel’s bemused expression in my peripheral vision. “Girl’s got to look good for the clients, boss.”

He smiled.  “Time to meet the aggrieved children.”

…..

“I don’t care what the goddamned cops say.” Eric said, his voice low and tense.

We stood in the living room on thick, wine colored carpeting. In strategic areas of the expansive room were white cloth couches, upholstered wingback chairs and coffee tables replete with stacks of books.  All of it covered in opaque plastic to keep ambient dust from settling on expensive surfaces.

Jutting out of the wall to our right was one of the home’s massive stone fireplaces, cold and empty. Framed paintings of ships on rolling oceans hung on stucco walls.  A single brass lamp, from one of the end tables near the foyer where we’d entered, served as our only illumination.  The only other light came from the dim February sunlight creeping through gaps in the closed curtains of the bay windows overlooking the front lawn.

An antique grandfather clock stood silent sentinel against the wall.  The pendulum was still.  No one had set the heavy brass counterweights.  In this house, time had stopped.

The house was much like that fireplace in the living room.  Cold and empty.

To me, it felt like the life had been sucked out of the home.

I was certain that at some point, the home had been filled with laughter, lively conversations, warm, crackling fires, and filled with the scents of delicious meals.

But at that moment, it was a house of ghosts.

Nathaniel glanced at me with an expectant expression.

I took a breath before I started.  This was the very first street assignment that he’d given me since I’d started freelancing for Lodestar Analytics, a commercial research and intelligence firm based in New York and I desperately wanted to impress my new boss.

I’d even dressed up.  I was wearing a knee-length wool skirt and a conservative long-sleeve top under a black ankle length coat.  Oh, and heels.  I hate heels. I’m tall enough without them, plus they hurt my feet.

I began by asking, “Can you think of anyone who would want to harm your parents?”

Eric’s chin jutted and his eyes narrowed.  “Too many to name. Competitors, politicians, crazy environmentalists, you name it.  You know that he used to run an oil company?”

I nodded. “I do.  Did he ever get death threats?”

“All the time. While he was CEO, the company paid for around-the-clock security.”

“But not after he retired?”

“No. The company didn’t seem to think he needed it anymore. Neither did Dad. Although, he kept a gun with him most of the time.”

Is that what he killed your mother and himself with?

I didn’t ask that question but tucked it away as something I’d want an answer to.

I glanced at Nathaniel, waiting to see if he was going to jump in at any time.  When it became obvious that he wasn’t, I asked the hard question.  “After he retired, what was your father’s state of mind?”

Eric shot me an evil look.  “You mean was he depressed?”

I nodded silently.

“He’d been looking forward to retirement for years.  He said he wanted to travel just to enjoy the sights.  Not have to worry about business or politics.  He wanted to write a history of the business.  The Cutter family started CP&G before World War II.  Dad was looking forward to having time to do that.”  His expression softened.  “Believe me, he wasn’t depressed.”

“Were your mother and father having any problems?

“With their marriage?” He folded his arms.  “Solid as a rock.  They loved each other. Every marriage should be as good.”

Olivia clearly grimaced.

I continued. “Can you walk me through the day your parents died?”

In his early-thirties, Eric personified the patrician son of a successful and powerful executive. Well-groomed black hair slicked back away from his forehead, clean shaven, perfect teeth, soft hands, manicured nails. He wore black designer jeans and a black Moncler puffer jacket over a white turtleneck sweater.  “It was New Year’s Day and Mom and Dad were supposed to come over to our house for brunch.”

I had my reporter’s notebook out. “Where do you live?”

Olivia answered.  “Ridgefield, 17 Goodwin Circle, it’s about twenty minutes from here.”  Her chestnut hair was shoulder length and swept back in layers.  I couldn’t help but marvel at how perfect her cheekbones and skin were.

Money will do that for you.

Her wide brown eyes glanced at the kitchen doorway again.

The kitchen.  Where it happened.

I turned to Eric and repeated back to him what he’d just told me.  “Your folks were supposed to come to your house for brunch.”

He took a breath.  “Right.  They were supposed to show up at eleven, but when it got to be nearly noon, I tried calling them. Dad’s never late for anything. I tried their landline, I tried their cellphones, all I got was voicemail.”

Olivia glanced at her husband.  “It wasn’t like them at all.  When we’d talked to them on New Year’s Eve, they were really excited about coming to see the baby.”

I smiled.  “You have a baby?”

She gave me a proud grin.  “A little girl, six months old, her name’s Amelia.”

“Such a cute age.”

Like I know.

I’ve never had children of my own.  As close as I’ve come was when my fiancé died and I became legal guardian for his daughter, Caroline, now fifteen-years-old and a rollercoaster ride of attitude and mood swings.  “Who’s watching Amelia now?”

“Maria, our live-in nanny.”

Nice address, live-in nanny, expensive car, we’ve established that everyone involved so far is stinkin’ rich.  “You couldn’t reach your parents by phone.”

“I got worried and drove over here to make sure they were okay,” Eric said.  “When I got here, I saw Dad’s car was in the drive. I figured they had to be home unless they took Mom’s car, which Dad never does.  So, now I’m really freaking out and I knocked on the door but there wasn’t any answer.”

“Was the door locked?”

“Yes, I used my spare key to let myself in.”

I glanced back at the front doorway, a solid combination of oak and stained glass.  I noticed there was a square box with a keypad on the wall next to it.  “Was the alarm on?”

Eric shook his head. “No.  I immediately thought that was odd. They were religious about keeping it on, even when they were home.”

“Anyone else that you know has a spare key and knows the alarm code?”

He thought a moment, shaking his head.  “My sister, Lisa, does.  I don’t know.  Can’t think of anyone else.”

“Your sister.  Was she in town on New Year’s Day?”

He shook his head.  “No, she lives in DC.  Doesn’t get up here much anymore.  She was up over Christmas to see Amelia”

“How would you describe her relationship with your parents?”

“She was okay with Mom.  Lisa and Dad didn’t get along at all.”

“Why’s that?”

He stared at the empty fireplace with an expression of belligerence.  “She’s a meteorologist for NASA. Believes in this global warming bullshit. She claimed that Dad and his company were ruining the earth.
Olivia said, “While she was at our place on Christmas, she told us that if things didn’t change, by the time Amelia is grown-up, the human race will barely be able to survive.  The earth could be a wasteland.”

Eric’s face was crimson.  “Who would say something like that on Christmas?  In our own home?”

I needed to get the subject back on track.  Recalling that the house had been up for sale, I asked, “How about the realtor? Does the agency have a key and access to the alarm code?”

“It’s listed with the Pullman Realty Group in New Canaan.  I guess it’s possible.  After what happened, we took the house off the market until we can get all of this settled.”

Something else I’ll check on.

“So, you unlock the door and come in.”

“I came through the front door and called out to them. When I didn’t hear anything, I really got worried.  I walked through the foyer and the living room.”  He waved his hand in the air.  “And then I went into the kitchen.”

He stopped talking. Eric blinked, once, twice, tear pooling in his eyes, then in a voice that cracked under the emotion.  “That’s where I found them.”

Olivia put her arm around her husband’s waist, and she pulled him close.

Eric had his hand over his face when he sobbed, “That’s where some son-of-a-bitch shot my parents and left them on the floor to die like animals.”

 

Chapter 2

athaniel and I didn’t see any reason why either Eric or Olivia needed to come into the kitchen with us.  Not that there was much to see.  The cops had come and gone.  So had the cleaning crew in their hazmat suits.

While the bodies were gone and the blood, brain tissue, and skull fragments had been removed, the memories remained.  No need to ask Olivia and Eric to accompany us into the kitchen.

Nathaniel flipped on the lights. The spacious kitchen was spotless.  The stainless-steel appliances shone like mirrors. The marble floors gleamed in the overhead track lighting. The granite countertops were wiped clean.

While the kitchen was modern, it had an old-time feel like the rest of the house. The ornately carved oak table and matching chairs appeared to be antiques. The walls were red brick.  Heavy wooden beams accented the ceiling.  There was yet another fireplace in the wall.

Nathaniel took the crime scene photos and the police report out of his briefcase and placed them neatly on the kitchen island.  I admired how connected Nathaniel must be.  What he managed to get was a copy of the complete case file, not the sanitized, abbreviated crap that they’d fed to us reporters.

The first photo I looked at was a professionally done portrait of Morris and Julia Cutter while they were still alive.  They’d posed in front of one of their magnificent fireplaces.  I knew from the stories I wrote that he was sixty years old at the time of death.  Standing, with one hand in his pocket and a hand on his wife’s shoulder, Morris had salt and pepper hair and a receding hairline, wore tortoise-shell eyeglasses, and a white shirt with the collar unbuttoned, under a black blazer.  He appeared very dignified.

Julia, age fifty-two, was seated in a winged tip chair, both hands in her lap, wearing a burgundy top under a white blazer. Her auburn hair was layered, ending at the nape of her neck, complete with a cute set of bangs.  Her brown eyes sparkled, and she appeared much younger than her actual age.

Both were attractive as they smiled into the camera.

Then I turned my attention to the rest of the photographs.  They were of the crime scene, including the two bodies taken from every imaginable angle, as well as blood spatters, and any other evidence the police found pertinent.

In the pictures of Julia, she appeared to be kneeling, crumpled in a heap on the floor in front of the counter next to the stove.  Her head and right shoulder rested against the blood streaked cupboard door, her legs doubled up under her, arms hanging limp.

Close-up photos showed that Julia had been shot in the left part of her forehead, near her temple, at pointblank range.

I glanced at the freshly painted cupboard against which she’d slumped. “After she was shot, she must have just dropped where she’d been standing.”

Nathaniel agreed.  “Most likely dead before she hit the floor.”

The other body in the photos was Morris Cutter.  He was on his side, sprawled on the floor, gun in his right hand, entrance wound in the right temple, exit wound in the left.  His head rested in a small puddle of dried blood.

Nathaniel popped another lifesaver into his mouth and observed, “From the amount of blood on the floor, Morris most likely died quickly as well.”

The police postulated that Morris had come up quietly behind his wife while she was preparing a breakfast casserole for the New Year’s Day brunch.  She must have heard him and started to turn around and he shot her once.  The bullet entered her skull just above her left eye

Then he put the gun tight to his own head and pulled the trigger.

Murder-suicide.

Except that’s not what his son and daughter-in-law insisted.

I glanced around the kitchen again, not knowing what I was looking for.  “Most obvious question, was he right-handed?”

Nathaniel smiled at me.  “Yes.”

“Was the gun registered to Morris Cutter?”

“No, but it wouldn’t have to be if he bought it outside of Connecticut. It was a 9mm M&P Shield Smith & Wesson. It’s thin and lightweight, very good for concealed carry. Perfect for a woman because it fits well in smaller hands.”

I frowned.  “Do you think they were shot by a woman?”

Nathaniel shook his head and answered in a slightly testy voice.  “That’s not what I said.”  He picked up one of the photos showing a close-up of the weapon.  “This particular Smith & Wesson doesn’t have a thumb safety.”

“Doesn’t that make it dangerous to carry?”

“Not really.  But the real value of no thumb safety is the ease of use.  Just aim and pull the trigger.”

“Did he own other weapons?”

“A whole gun cabinet full.  Morris Cutter was originally from Oklahoma. He liked his guns. He kept them under lock and key, unloaded.  The cabinet was locked when the police arrived.”

I studied the spot where Julia had been shot.  “Was the breakfast casserole in the oven when they died?”

He consulted the report.  “No, apparently Julia had just started putting it together.  The oven was on when the police got here, but the casserole was still on the counter.”

I nodded.

“Point of information, Julia’s blood was spattered over it.”

My stomach twisted.  “Thanks.  I think that’s a little too much information.”

Nathaniel looked up from the photos.  “Okay, let’s say for a moment that it is a double homicide.  What does the MO tell us?”

My teeth scraped my bottom lip as I glanced around the spotless kitchen.  “It tells me that if it was a double homicide, whoever the killer was, he or she didn’t do it to make a statement.  It wasn’t a revenge killing or a warning.  It was most likely someone close to them who doesn’t want to be caught up in a murder investigation.  Someone who may have a key to the house and knows the alarm code.”

Nathaniel nodded.  “Or someone they let into the house. The Cutters most likely knew their killer.  It was someone who they were comfortable enough with that the killer could get close to them.”

I tapped the top of the counter with my fingertips.  “If…if it’s a double homicide.  How difficult do you suppose it would be to stage two murders to look like a murder-suicide?”
Looking back at the photos, Nathaniel had his glasses perched halfway down his aquiline nose. He took them off and glanced around the room.  “Not impossible, but certainly difficult.  The killer would have to have all the pieces in place to make a single shot to Mrs. Cutter’s head and then in almost a single motion, bring the barrel of the gun over and shoot Mr. Cutter.”

“Was an autopsy done?”

He consulted the report.  “In Connecticut, autopsies are done on all gunshot victims.”

“Do we have the report?”

Nathaniel looked up at me.  “Of course.  The ME established they each died of a single gunshot.”

“The police are certain this was a murder-suicide.”

He nodded.  “That’s their conclusion.”

“Did Morris have gunpowder residue on his hands?”

“Trace amounts.”

I glanced around the room again, marveling at the size of the refrigerator and the stove.  “I don’t suppose this house is wired for video surveillance?”

Nathaniel slowly shook his head.  “According to the police report, Morris had around-the-clock armed security up until he retired.  After he retired, his company stopped paying for them.  The house has an alarm system.  Maybe that’s all they thought they needed.”

I sighed. “I’m out of questions for now.”

“Ready to go back in and face the Cutters?”

We put the reports and the photos back into Nathaniel’s briefcase. Then we walked back into the living room where Eric and Olivia were patiently waiting.  The young man asked, “Have you seen everything you need to?”

“Almost,” I answered. “Did your father have a home office or a study?”

“A library. When he was home, if he did any work, it was there.”

He walked us down a short, carpeted hallway and opened a door, flipping on a light as he did.

I felt my jaw drop. The room oozed with old world charm.

There was a massive antique maple desk pressed against the wall adjacent to a bank of floor to ceiling windows that looked out over the gray surface of Long Island Sound. Sitting at that desk you’d have an unparalleled view of the waves lapping on the shore and the boats cutting through the water.

Not that there was a lot to look at on that dreary February afternoon. Through the glass, it was easy to see the cold rain as it drizzled onto the ice and snow in the yard.  Long Island Sound was the color of coal ash under a heavy cloud cover.

The desk and curtained windows were impressive, but not as impressive as the bookshelves that were also floor to ceiling, twenty-feet high, filled with hundreds, maybe thousands of books.

Off to our left was another large stone fireplace. Two wingback chairs and end tables were placed so that the occupants could stare into the flames, talk politics, and sip snifters of expensive brandy.

There were no paintings or photographs hung on the walls.  Instead, there were hunting and fishing trophies.  The heads of two deer silently stared at us accusingly through glass eyes.  Just below them, fish, all of them salt water I thought, were also mounted on the wall.  I’m no expert in game fish, but they looked like tuna, and the grandest of all, a blue marlin.  It must have been ten feet long.

Dead things. It was the one thing about the room that I immediately despised.

I turned and saw Nathaniel standing silently in the doorway.  His face was dispassionate, like a chess player studying the board as he casually glanced around the room.

When I focused back on Eric who was gazing out the window, I noticed a six-foot-tall teak cabinet tucked away in the shadows in the corner.  “What a beautiful library.” I said, ignoring the dead things on the walls.

Eric nodded.  “Dad loved this room.”

I pointed toward the cabinet.  “What’s that?”

He faced where I pointed.  “That’s Dad’s gun cabinet.”

I already knew the answer to my question. “He kept it locked?”

He nodded. “It was locked the day he died.”

“Can I see?”

Eric looked apologetic.  “After the police checked it out, we emptied it and sold the guns.  I don’t like them.  I never have.  I take after my mom like that.  Dad tried teaching how to shoot, but I didn’t take to it like my sister did.  She’s a crack shot.”

“How many weapons did he have?”
He thought for a moment, doing a mental inventory.  “A couple of hunting rifles.  A shotgun.  Three or four handguns.  Our estate attorney has the complete inventory.”

I motioned toward the trophies on the wall.  “Your dad was a hunter?”

“He used to be.”  Eric glanced up at the trophy wall.  “He’d been more into fishing over the last twenty years or so.” He walked over to the desk and picked up a framed photo, holding it out, showing it to me.  “This is Dad pulling in that blue marlin there on the wall aboard the company fishing boat.”

As he put the photo back, his eyebrows furrowed and he appeared confused.
“Something wrong?”

He studied the desktop.

From where I stood, I could see a widescreen computer monitor and keyboard and a clutter of stacked folders and books.

“Yeah, something’s missing. Dad’s laptop isn’t here.”

“Your father used both a laptop and a desktop computer?”

“The laptop was exclusively for the book he was working on.  He was writing about the history of the company.”

I came up beside him. On the desk, there was another framed photo of three dirt-covered, shirtless young men in overalls standing in front of an oil rig.  They were smiling and slick with black spatters of oil.  I pointed.  “Is your father in this picture?”

“He’s the one in the middle.  That was back in the seventies when my grandfather still owned the company.  Gramps had Dad and my uncle start at the bottom working as roughnecks.  Dad said it was a real character builder.  It made him a better man.  It made him a better leader.”

“Who are the other two men?”

“Uncle David and Uncle Parker.”

I glanced at Eric who was staring at the photo.  I wondered if he wished he could have been one of the men in the photo.  I was certain that Morris Cutter had never made his son prove himself by working his way up the corporate ladder. Nathaniel had told me that Eric Cutter made his money by investing in real estate, mostly in Manhattan and parts of New Jersey.

It made me wonder what Eric’s relationship had been with his father.

There was a third photo of a young Morris and Julia Cutter with a little boy and girl standing in front of them.  I pointed to it.  “Is this you and your sister?”

For the first time that day, Eric smiled.  “I think I was about eight at the time and Lisa was six.  That was taken at the CP&G hunting lodge up on Juniper Lake in the Catskills.”

“Looks nice.”

“It’s a place they used to take politicians and businesspeople to.” He nodded toward the photo.  “We were up there every summer when we were little kids. The company sold the lodge the year this picture was taken.”

Hearing what he said about his sister being a crack shot, I recalled again that Nathaniel had made a point of saying the murder weapon was perfect for a smaller hand.

“Why did the company sell it?”

Eric looked up at me.  “It was the year Lisa wandered away from the lodge.  Mom and Dad were frantic.  She was missing for hours. The state police came and they were about to call in a helicopter when the owner of a neighboring lodge drove up.  Turns out Lisa had seen another little girl by the lake, they made friends, and Lisa went off to play with her.  Just before dark, the little girl’s father saw them in the yard and knew something was wrong.”

Nathaniel spoke up.  “That must have been scary.”

Eric answered.  “Enough that we never went up there again.”

Off to one side of the desk was a stack of books.  I read the titles out loud. “The Path to Power, Three Days in Moscow, Churchill, Presidents of War.”

Eric explained. “Dad devoured books.  He loved history. He loved biographies of powerful men.”

Then I picked up something that surprised me, The Uninhabitable Earth—Life after Warming.  I held it up.  “I wouldn’t have expected this to be on Morris Cutter’s bookshelf. “

According to the book jacket, it was “a terrifying, apocalyptic description of what the earth will look like if we keep pumping carbon into the atmosphere”.

He rubbed his face.  “Most likely something my sister gave him.”
“Tell me about the missing laptop.”

“I suppose it could be still in his office in New York.”

“He had an office in the city?  I thought he was retired.”

Eric answered with a small grin.  “CEO emeritus. He still went into the city a few days a week to offer advice when it was needed.  Truth be told, he might have missed the hustle and bustle a little bit. Plus, he was working on his book. By being in the city, he had access to company archives and records.”

That made me curious.

Eric said that his father had looked forward to retiring and yet he continued to keep an office in the city.

He motioned to an empty place on the top of the desk.  “When he was home, this is where he worked.  He kept all of his notes on that laptop.  He never plugged it into the internet.  He said he didn’t want to take any chance that some hacker could get into his computer and delete or steal his notes. If he used the internet, he did it on the desktop computer.”

When he went silent, I glanced up at him.

Still staring at the desk, he said, “I just can’t imagine he would have left it in New York over the holidays.”

“Did you father use a calendar or an appointment book or did he keep all of that on his phone?”

Eric sat down at the desk and started going through the drawers.  “He was too old-school to use a phone for much more than making calls.  He had an old-fashioned leather-bound appointment book.”

I watched as he fruitlessly opened the drawers, searched them, then shoved them shut.   Exasperated, he looked up at me.  “Son of a bitch.  That’s not here either.”

 

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*****

Author of the Geneva Chase Mystery Series, Thomas Kies lives and writes on a barrier island on the coast of North Carolina with his wife, Cindy, and Annie, their shih-tzu. He has had a long career working for newspapers and magazines, primarily in New England and New York.  His fourth novel, Shadow Hill, is scheduled for release in August.

“Kies’ fourth is sleek and engaging. If you miss Kinsey Millhone, you might give Geneva a whirl.” —Kirkus Reviews

 

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