An Uncollected Death, p.1Meg Wolfe
An Uncollected Death
A Charlotte Anthony Mystery
By Meg Wolfe
Wolfe Johnson Inc.
Copyright 2014 Meg Wolfe
All Rights Reserved
Contact: [email protected]
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.
Thank you for making it possible.
Writing a novel requires a nearly sociopathic degree of focus, yet it can’t happen without the help of the world outside the writer’s head. I feel so fortunate to have an enthusiastic Reader Team whose feedback, input, editing and proofreading kept me going from the first third of the book all the way to the end and beyond. The first one out the gate has always been Karin Kirulis, backed up by her husband John, with fine-tooth comb proofreading and copy editing—and bonus fellowship, meals, and wine. Tamara Brown and Linda Minard caught typos and loose ends, and along with Marilyn Phillippi took Charlotte and her friends into their imaginations, which was invaluable for developing the characters and inspiring future story lines. Additional thanks to Linda Price, Ian Johnson, LaDonna Pride, and Alice Sasak, and to the many others since for final-draft and advance reader copy feedback and encouragement.
A special thanks to my son, Nick Maxwell, who showed me how I could write seriously again at a time I thought I didn’t have any more options, and for bringing Amy and Ellie into our lives. Thanks also to my mother for showing me how to make up stories and poems when I was very small, taking me to the library in town every week during the summers, and teaching me to type really fast—I think it did some good.
Most of all, thanks to my husband, Steve Johnson, who actually had to live with Meg-as-novelist, then provide encouragement, feedback, editing, technical help, layout, cover design, and tea—all on demand. Yet there’s so much more to this story than meets the eye; my gratitude runs very deep.
Table of Contents
About the Author
Friday, September 13th
Charlotte Kleid Anthony took a big red mug of black coffee out to the deck, and the first cold barefoot steps in the morning dampness shocked her head clear. The hot mug felt so good in her hands. She took some deep breaths of fresh air, just making out the first ripe tang of autumn, and heard the crows calling to one another in the pines behind the house. Back in the kitchen the letter from the lawyer sported several purple rings from the Merlot she drank the night before. Her mouth was dry, she’d burned her breakfast bagel, but, all in all, it had been worth it.
She squinted from the bright reflections of the sun off the lake, and off the bank of windows at Helene’s old house across the way, where it nestled amid the tiers of other hillside houses and trees. It was almost time to go to Olivia’s, but she took a few more moments to ground herself, her fingers stroking the bleached cedar deck rail. Her instinct was to commit the texture to memory, because at some point that is all it would be. The crucial clause the lawyer quoted from the settlement played over and over in her mind: “…or at such time as the child should begin college or professional training, at which time the support money will cease and the expense will be borne by the father.”
He was right. It was always there, had been for the past ten years, of course, only not in the front of her mind in her rush to prepare Ellis, who had just turned sixteen, to attend the Paris Conservatoire to continue her piano studies. And not in front of her mind after the news last Friday (had it only been a week?) that both Fine Design and Emerson Home Monthly suddenly ceased publication, leaving Charlotte without a quarterly check for the first time in years.
Diane, her accountant, boiled it down: “You can’t afford to live in your house anymore. You can’t afford anything much, actually.” Then came a flurry of phone calls to the bank and the publishers, all to no avail.
Charlotte realized that she was going to have to throw over her entire life for the second time in ten years. But a few hours of wine and brooding in front of the fireplace was enough to get past the initial panic and see, if she was perfectly honest with herself, that she welcomed the distraction from suddenly having an empty nest. And now, as she surveyed the sparkling blue water surrounded by hills, architectural homes, and dozens of For Sale signs, she no longer saw Lake Parkerton as a magical valley but as a money pit.
Snap out of it, she told herself, and strode back into the house. Time to get ready. Charlotte added a cardigan to her white tee and straight jeans, and slipped on a pair of loafers. At the last minute she dabbed on a bit of lip color, and bent down from the waist to fluff up her shoulder-length hair. Helene warned her not to wear anything that required dry cleaning, describing her sister Olivia’s house as “cluttered” and “a bit heavy on the potpourri,” but it was the little things, thought Charlotte, that gave one confidence. Strictly speaking, she was qualified for the job, but her academic chops were rusty.
The news was on the kitchen TV, and her attention was caught by the young female reporter standing in front of Warren Brothers’ Pawn and Payday. One of the pawnbrokers hit the jackpot when he found a rare first edition of the novel Least Objects and sold it at auction for some ungodly amount of money. The story was getting a lot of play, and now everyone thought they might have a valuable book, too.
Charlotte watched as the camera panned the parking lot full of cars, pickup trucks, and potholes, to a line of people with books extending out the shop door across the length of the strip mall. She was working up the nerve to go there herself and pawn her jewelry and silverware. The Jeep needed work, and Diane warned her not to use credit cards anymore, no matter what.
The reporter wrapped up. “There you have it, Floyd, rare book fever among the truck stops. This is Judy Sargent, reporting from Elm Grove, Indiana.”
Floyd the news anchor followed it up with a two-sentence bio of the book’s author, Seamus O’Dair, whose photo was up on the screen next to him. Charlotte wondered if someone at the studio chose it deliberately, playing up the dullness of the blow-dried talking head on the left side of the screen with the auburn shock and hollow cheeks of the genius on the right. Couldn’t blame them if they did.
She switched off the TV, packed up a notepad, pen, bottle of water, sunglasses and reading glasses (that badge of one’s middle age), and loaded everything into her sand-colored Jeep. She let out a breath of relief when it started up. Day by day. It was Friday the 13th, but she felt that enough bad things had happened lately that, even if she was superstitious, the odds were against her luck going any further south.
The thirty-minute drive on the four-lane highway from Lake Parkerton to Elm Grove was a lovely stretch of rolling farmland and trees, save for the billboa
Luck, thought Charlotte, had an amazing amount to do with whether or not one was successful in a bad economy. She thought it was pure luck, for instance, that Helene thought of her for Olivia’s project just as the magazine work dried up. Gratitude surpassed whatever pretense to dignity she harbored about needing the work. But when Charlotte expressed that she hoped to be able to return the favor one day, Helene shook her head and said, “Just finding a way to work with my sister will be favor enough. Trust me.”
Olivia Targman, née Bernadin, turned out to be a crabby, impatient nonagenarian with a hard-done-by attitude who had been keeping a series of notebooks, part memoir, part novel, for the past forty or fifty years. When Helene performed the introductions, Olivia just grunted and asked, “So what do you do?” It took a while to assure her of Charlotte’s credentials, but she seemed to relent and handed over a spiral-bound notebook.
“You must find all of the notebooks,” she asserted. Her bony finger pointed at Charlotte for emphasis, and her dark eyes framed by an aquiline nose warned against argument. “The one
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