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Beyond Secrets, The Art of Murder

  Beyond Secrets

  The Art of Murder


  Madison Hart



  DB Jones

  This book is a work of fiction. The events and characters are solely from the author’s imagination. Their resemblance, if any to real-life is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright 2015 DB Jones

  All rights reserved. This book or parts thereof, may not be reproduced in any form without permission.

  ISBN: 13:978-1506075174

  ISNB: 10:1506075177

  Library of Congress Control Number: 2015904827

  I would like to give a special thank you to

  Linda Snyder Young, Raelynn Chambers, and Heather Leach Schrader,

  for everything.

  I couldn’t have done it without you.



  Winter Hart was knee-deep in the dust, trying to renovate the old Dupree’ home she bought for one dollar from the community of Cassadaga. The terms were that she must live in the house for one year and it would be hers, debt free. Debt-free my ass, This place is costing me a fortune to restore.  Johnny, her contractor, had become a permanent fixture in the house, trying to decipher the original plans as he refurbished each room to its former elegance.  Fortunately, she had received a heavy reward for finding the lost works of art saved during the invasion of France during WWII. Once the house was completed, she and Cole were planning to throw a huge gala for the entire community, in honor of the woman who lost her life protecting the secret location of the art.

  The one-year commitment was fast approaching. In the beginning, Winter had no intention of staying in the house any longer than it took to finish her story of the mystery of Claire Dupree’. As time went on, she grew to love the old home and the community, not to mention Cole Stuart.

  The once-lavish gardens had been gradually brought back to life by some of the garden club members in town. Winter found pictures of the former gardens in one of the many boxes stored in the house. After talking with her friend Anne Gunter, the local medium, they presented the idea to the local garden club. The club members were thrilled with the challenge of restoring the gardens. Plot by plot, the gardens were restored where Claire Dupree’ had invited so many folks to enjoy. Winter dedicated the gardens to the two sisters, Claire and Belle Dupree’, who risked their lives to rescue the treasures of their friends that were sure to have been looted by the Nazis.



  Chapter 1

  Cole had long ago purchased a home for his mother, who passed away many years prior. He returned there after her death but spent most of his time with Winter in the old Dupree’ home. Occasionally, he retreats to his little cottage across the road from Winter to work on his writings for his book on the Dupree’ sisters.

  Winter was spending so much time involved with the renovations on the house that it had left her very little time for her pursuit of becoming a top-notch reporter. She was not giving up hope that another big story might land in her lap. She was wrapping up some of the last details of the house and excited about finally finishing the long-await project when her cell phone rang.

  “Hi, Winter. It's Jim.”

  “Good morning, Jim. How are you and Jessie doing? You’re up early. What’s up?”

  Jim Tucker was not only the managing editor of the Orlando Sentinel newspaper, but he was the fiancé’ of Winter's best friend, Jessie White. He was the man who gave her the assignment to try and find out what happened to the late Claire Dupree’ who disappeared 65 years ago. Winter threw her entire soul into that story. She even moved into the house that once belonged to Claire Dupree’. Winter had not only found out what happened to Ms. Dupree’, but she had also discovered a secret that had laid hidden since WWII, which changed history.

  “We’re both doing fine and can’t wait to see what you’ve done with the old Dupree’ home, but that’s not why I’m calling.”

  “Is Jessie okay?” Winter asked nervously.

  “Oh, she’s better than okay.”

  “Well, don’t keep me in suspense. What is it?”

  “I’ve got another story for you. I have that same feeling I had with the story in Cassadaga and Claire Dupree’. I can’t put my finger on the reason yet, but I think there’s more to this murder in Maitland than appears on the surface. Are you interested?”

  “Hell yes! You know I am,” she said, without thinking about what it would entail. She was so excited about the possibility of another big story that she almost forgot about the renovations and plans for the upcoming gala.

  “Can you come to Orlando and meet me at Jessie’s this evening?”

  “Sure. What time?”

  “I think Jessie wants to plan dinner for you and Cole, so how about 6:00 p.m.? Is that too early?”

  “No, that’s perfect. I’ll see what Cole is up to, and get back with Jessie to let her know if he’s free.”

  She called Cole as soon as she got off the phone with Jim to see what his schedule was for the evening. He answered the moment she pushed speed dial. “Good morning beautiful. I was just about to walk over to your place. Do you have the coffee on?”

  “You know I do,” she said, smiling to herself. Cole had introduced her to the art of brewing her coffee each morning after grinding the beans, and she had just made a pot. She walked out onto the covered wrap-around porch that spanned the entire length of the house and sat down in an old wicker chair that was there when she moved in.

  Cole emerged from the pathway across the road. He opened up the old wrought-iron gate and headed up the newly renovated cobblestone walkway. He looked up and waved. By the time he reached the porch, Winter had his coffee ready to hand to him. He reached up and drew her to him and kissed her. “You sure looked good this morning. Something on your mind, you look like you’re about to bust at the seams?” He took his first sip of coffee.

  “Sit down,” Winter insisted as she returned to her seat.

  “Okay, what’s going on?”

  “Jim just called and wanted us to join him at Jessie’s tonight for dinner. Are you free?”

  “Uh, yeah, but I have a feeling there’s something more to this than just having dinner. Are you going to share it with me?”

  “Well, Jim has another story. He said he had that same feeling he had when he gave me this story about the Dupree’ house and wanted to talk to me about it tonight. Are you game?” She leaned into him and kissed him on the cheek.

  “Sure. I am a little curious, though. Jim doesn't hear voices again, does he?”

  “Not that I know. I think it’s more of a gut feeling. I have to admit; I believe Jim has a knack for knowing when a story is more than just another run-of-the-mill by-line. I trust his intuition.” She leaned back in the chair as she sipped her coffee.

  Winter smiled. “I’ll call Jessie in a minute to tell her you’re coming, and maybe she’ll tell me a little more about the story…I hope.”

  They sat on the porch drinking their coffee and watching the sun rising over the landscape. The heat began to intensify in the afternoons, but the mornings were still cool enough to sit outside. Winter was eager to get everything done by the end of summer, so the gardens would still be in full bloom for the gala. She had planned to have a 40’s theme, having everyone come in the dress of that era. After all, it was during that era that the late Claire Dupree’ gave the parties she enjoyed so much. Winter wanted this gala to be special, honoring the woman who once graced the halls of what is now Winter’s home.

  Cole was just finishing up his coffee and about to go back to his cottage to work, when he saw Johnny’s old blue pi
ckup truck turn into the driveway. Cole waved, and Johnny honked his horn. Cole kissed Winter and said his goodbyes, making his way down the massive steps of the porch.

  “Hey, Cole. How’s your book comin’ along?” Johnny asked as he started unloading his tool box.

  “Coming right along, Johnny.” Cole wanted to ask how Winter’s house was progressing but decided that might engage Johnny into a long drawn out dissertation on each project, so he left the conversation at that.

  Johnny walked up onto the porch. “Mornin' Ms. Winter.” He headed for the front door. Johnny spent so much time at the house that he felt quite at home.

  “How’s your mom?”

  “Oh, she’s fine, Ms. Winter. She’s sure getting excited about the big party you’re going to have here. Everyone in town is talking about it too. Well, I’d better get to work, so we’ll have it done for you in time.” Johnny opened the screen door and entered.

  The Dupree’ home, now Winter’s home, would most likely always be known as the Dupree place, and Winter was fine with that. After all, the Dupree’ sisters made big sacrifices to hide the secrets the old place held. As a matter of fact, Winter had asked a local artist, Cheryl Doltry, to make her a plaque to be hung over the massive front doors.

  Winter sat on the porch finishing her coffee and reflecting back on all that had happened in the past year. It was hard for her to believe that only a year ago she was living in a one-room dump in New York City, waiting for her big break. Now, she was the owner of the most remarkable home in Cassadaga, Florida. And, she had landed the story of a lifetime. She had solved a crime that spanned over sixty years. On top of all that, Cole Stuart had entered her life. What more could a woman ask for?

  “I wonder if this story of Jim’s can rival that of the Dupree’story?” None the less, she was ready to get back to investigating a good story. She walked back into her renovated kitchen and marveled at what a great job Johnny had done restoring it to the grandeur it once was. The kitchen had all new wiring, plumbing, and appliances but maintained the 40’s décor. No matter how many times she walked into her kitchen, she knew she would never forget that this was the room where it all started. This room was where the true mystery of what happened to Claire Dupree’ began. However, now it was time to move forward.

  Winter had planned to call Jessie as soon as she showered and dressed, but her curiosity got the best of her. She had to know more about this story that Jim eluded to. She pulled out her cell and clicked on Jessie’s icon. It seemed it only rang once and then, “Hi Winter. I was hoping you’d call. Jim said he talked to you this morning. I hope you and Cole will be able to drive in this evening for dinner.”

  “Yes, we can’t wait. How are things going with you and Jim?

  Still hot and heavy?”

  Winter laughed.

  “I could ask the same thing about you and Cole,” Jessie giggled.

  “Everything is going great with Cole and me, and we’re getting closer to finishing the house and can’t wait for the big party. You and Jim are coming, aren’t you? Remember, I told you I have plenty of space for the two of you to stay the night. I don’t want my best friend driving home after our bash.”

  “We’re counting on it.”

  Winter hesitated for a moment and then eased the conversation toward the story. “Jim tells me he thinks this next assignment is going to be another big one. He has a feeling there’s more to this than what appears on the surface, and I have to say, I’ve learned to trust his instincts. He does not hear voices again, does he?”

  “No. At least he hasn’t mentioned that to me, but he does have a feeling it’s more than someone who went missing.”

  “It’s a missing person’s case?” Winter asked, somewhat disappointed.

  “Well, I don’t know how much Jim wants me to say right now. However, I can tell you this; he thinks this case might be connected to some other missing person’s cases that have come across his desk lately. He told me if anyone could figure it out, you could. That’s all I know.”

  “Oh, I understand. I guess Jim will fill me in more tonight. I can’t wait to see you again. We need a girl’s night out. We have so much catching up to do. I’ve been so pre-occupied with the renovations that I’ve lost track of time, and I miss you, Jess.”

  “That sounds like a plan. I miss you too. I’d better get this house straightened up, and I have some shopping to do, so I’ll see you tonight. Tell Cole hi for me.”

  “I sure will. See you tonight.”

  Winter’s curiosity was peaking. If, indeed, the missing persons are connected, then maybe there is a story there. Her speculations were running rampant. She finally had to re-focus on the projects at hand. She jumped into the shower, dressed and headed downstairs to see what Johnny was doing.

  She hoped he was moving a little faster now. The gala was supposed to be in two months, and there was still a great deal to complete. She wanted everything to be perfect; not only were the people of the town that were going to be there but Summer St Claire, the granddaughter of Claire Dupree’s sister Belle Dupree’ was coming. Winter was excited about showing Summer what she had done with the old place. Jim Tucker was planning on having coverage of the gala as a follow-up story to Winter’s article.

  She walked out to the back porch where Johnny was replacing the railing. The backyard still had a pile of debris from where he had ripped off the old siding and rotted wood. Winter tightened her lips. “I wonder if everything was going to come together in time, especially now, that I’m about to embark on another story. I can’t be in two places at the same time, but I don’t want to miss this opportunity of another great story,” she mumbled to herself.

  Her hands began to perspire, and the rapid increase of her pulse throbbed. I hope I haven’t bitten off more than I could chew. I hate to ask Johnny if I should hire some help for him, but I can only do so much, and we need to finish on time.

  “Hey Johnny, how’s it going?” she cautiously asked.

  Johnny stood up and scratched his head. “Oh, it’s going okay.”

  “Have you got something on your mind?”

  “No, not really. I guess I didn’t measure correctly. It seems I need to order more siding for this porch, and I don’t know how long it’s goin’ take.”

  Winter’s stomach knotted up. “What can I do to help?”

  “Just wish I had some help so I could finish this faster. I don’t want to disappoint you, Ms. Winter.”

  She took in a big breath of air. “Why don’t you ask your cousin Tom to help you out? You told me he was a good worker and between the two of you, I’m sure you’ll finish in time.”

  “You don’t mind if I get him to help? I didn’t want to ask. I know you’ve spent so much already.”

  “It will be fine, Johnny. Do what you need to do. We’ve got the funds to finish, and if you could use some assistance, I want you to have it.”

  “Ok, I’ll call him when I go home for lunch.”

  Winter blew out her cheeks. Thank goodness.

  She called Cole, “Hey good-looking. I need to get out of the house for awhile. Do you feel like going down to the hotel for breakfast? It’s been awhile since we had breakfast there. What do you think?”

  “Your timing is perfect. I was just about to take a break and call to see what you’re doing. I’ll meet you there in about fifteen minutes.”

  “See you then.”

  Before she completed the kitchen, she and Cole ate every meal at the hotel for months. She missed seeing the regulars that frequented the old Cassadaga Hotel restaurant. She hadn’t seen her friend Anne in over a month. Anne Gunter was not only her friend but a well-respected medium in town. She had an office at the hotel where she gave private sessions. When Winter first moved to Cassadaga, about a year ago, she was a big skeptic and didn’t believe in any of that paranormal stuff until she moved into the Dupree’ house.

  Winter walked up the steps of the wrap-around porch
to the 190-year-old structure and entered the foyer. Walking into the entrance of the hotel was like stepping back in time. The hotel had been redecorated in the 1940’s and had not changed much since then. It was in pristine condition with copper colored paneling on the walls and photos of the period. Rumor had it that Frank Sinatra often visited there. She strolled over to her and Cole’s favorite spot in the corner of the room. No sooner had she taken her seat did Joseph, the server, and part-owner set her cup of coffee down on the table. “Nice to see you again, Ms. Hart. Will Mr. Stuart be joining you this morning?”

  “Thank you for the coffee, Joseph, and yes, he will. It’s good to see you too.” Joseph turned and walked back to the kitchen. No matter how well one knew Joseph, he always addressed people by their sir name, at least in the restaurant. It was something his mother instilled in him. Some of the regulars, he had known all his life, but within those walls, it was Ms, Miss, Mrs. or Mr.

  Winter leaned back in her red-leather covered chair and sipped her coffee as she glanced around the room remembering the first time she came there with her friend Jessie and thought what a charming little town it was. At the time, she never dreamed she would make it her home, but here she was.

  Cole entered the room and waved. He approached the table, leaned over and kissed her on the cheek. “I missed you last night. I’m glad you mentioned coming here this morning. It sure brings back memories, doesn’t it?”

  “It sure does.”

  Joseph placed Cole’s coffee down. “Good morning, Mr. Stuart.”

  “Good morning, Joseph. Good to see you again. How have things been going?”

  “Couldn’t be better. Ever since Ms. Hart’s story broke last year, business has been booming. Mostly curiosity seekers, but that pays the bills, so I can’t complain.”

  Though it had been awhile since Cole and Winter had eaten there for breakfast, Joseph didn’t need to ask what they wanted. They always ordered the same thing, unless it was on the weekends. Shortly, Joseph returned with Cole’s usual pancakes, bacon, and fruit, and Winter’s bagel with salmon, cream cheese, and capers.

  After breakfast, Cole returned to his writing and Winter to overseeing the renovations, but her mind kept jumping to the pending assignment that awaited her. She constantly checked the time. The day seemed to drag on, and she was eager to find out about her new assignment.

  Finally, Johnny packed up his tools and loaded them into his truck. In the entire year, he had been working there, he never once left his tools overnight. “Say hello to your mother for me.”

  “I sure will Ms. Winter.”

  She was eager to get ready for dinner with Jessie and Jim.

  Cole picked her up about 5:15 p.m. and they headed to Maitland. Usually, the traffic was hectic, but that evening they coasted down Interstate-4 with no problems. Though Winter was excited and eager to hear what Jim had to say, she remained quiet most of the trip. “Are you alright?”

  She reached over and patted him on the shoulder. “Oh sure. I’m sorry. My mind is racing with speculation, and for some reason, I’m feeling a bit tired too. Maybe I’m coming down with a little bug. Nothing to worry about.”

  Just as they drove into Jessie’s driveway, Jim was coming out of the house to get some things out of his car. He retrieved a large manila folder, stuffed with papers. He greeted them, and they walked into the house together. Winter went directly to the kitchen where she knew Jessie would be rushing around with last minute details. Winter and Jessie had been close friends most of their lives, but still, when Jessie had guests for dinner, she wanted everything to be perfect.

  “Is there anything I can help you with?”

  Jessie grabbed four glasses and handed Winter the wine bucket. “No. I think I’ve got it. Let’s get a bottle of wine and sit on the lanai.”

  By the time they reached the lanai Jim had spread the papers all over the table and was rummaging through them as he placed them in strategic spots. He was anxious to get Winter’s take on what he suspected, however before he could say a word, Jessie asked him to pour the wine. She hadn’t seen her best friend in awhile and didn’t want them to jump right into business.

  Jim poured the wine, and Jessie raised her glass, “Here’s to great friends.”

  Jim smiled “Cheers.” Winter tapped her glass and then Jim and Cole’s.

  Jessie swallowed a big gulp of air and looked at Jim. “Jim, why don’t you tell Winter and Cole what’s on your mind?” Jim set his glass down and headed for the table with the papers. Winter waited for a moment until it seemed Jim had organized his thoughts. She got up and started towards the table when she became very dizzy and fell against the chair. Cole jumped up and rushed to her side. “Are you okay?” Cole tried to steady her. She shrugged it off to the pressure and stress she’d been under lately.

  Winter straightened up. “Yes. I think I’m just exhausted. Now, let’s see what’s going on here, Jim.”

  Jim started right in with his theory of a missing woman and its connection to the other missing women. “Each one of these cases is similar, and I didn’t catch it until now, but over the past six months there have been several young women that have been reported missing.”

  Cole interjected. “A lot of women go missing every year. Why do you think there’s a connection with these women?”

  “You’re right. However, as these came across my desk, I started seeing a pattern, and that’s why I wanted Winter to look into it. The first woman reported missing was last seen just before heading to an art show at the Maitland Art Center. Her friends said she was going because she knew the artist and wanted to see his paintings. She never arrived there and never returned home. I’d like you to look at these cases and see if you can determine a link between them.” Jim handed the files to Winter.

  “I’ll look at them tomorrow.” But she planned to check it out as soon as she returned home. Jessie called them to the table for dinner. She had made her famous pot roast and veggies and a pineapple upside-down cake. It was Jim’s favorite dinner. Winter was glad to be spending some time with her friends again as she hadn’t been out of Cassadaga in months. All her time was spent trying to get everything done in time for the gala.

  After dinner, they took their wine and sat outside down by the lake. Winter seemed more tired than usual, so Cole made up an excuse that he needed to get back to work that evening because of some deadline and details he needed to revise. They said their goodbyes and started back home.

  “Hey pretty lady, you don’t seem yourself tonight. Maybe you should see a doctor tomorrow.” He reached over and took her hand.

  “I think it’s just the pressure of finishing the house on time. I’m sure I’ll feel better tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.” Cole was not going to insist on coming home with her that night. A good night’s sleep might be just what she needed.

  “Okay, I’ll come by in the morning for coffee.” Cole pulled the car almost to the steps of the porch and then walked with her into the house. He kissed her goodnight and watched as she made her way up the winding staircase. When she got to the landing, she called out to him that she would see him in the morning. He turned, locked the door behind him and then left.

  By the time she got to her room, she was exhausted. She set the folder down on the bed and undressed. She got into bed, turned on the bedside lamp, opened the folder and started reading the material. She got half-way through the information, and then fell asleep.


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