Blood Will Tell

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About Jean Lorrah
Award-winning co-author of 
Nessie
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Jean Lorrah explores the compelling archetype that is most frequently found in vampire stories, but also in such variations as the Sime~Gen series. The concept of the sharing of life force--terrifying when it is forced, joyous when it is mutually desired.

kiss of death
kiss of life

 

Copyright 2001 by Jean Lorrah

bloodwilltell@simegen.com 

 

BLOOD WILL TELL

 

Jean Lorrah
http://www.jeanlorrah.com
 

 

 

 

BLOOD WILL TELL

DEDICATION

To Winston, for the inspiration,

and Roberta, for the setting.

To the Murray, Kentucky, Police Department,

especially the help of

Larry Killebrew

and

Ronald Wisehart.

And, with thanks for their contributions,

Jacqueline, Judi, Katie, K. L., Lois, Margaret, and Susan

 

 

 

BLOOD WILL TELL

FOREWORD

Welcome to a new adventure. Although I have had sixteen novels published before this one, this is only my second attempt at a contemporary work of fiction. The first is the children's book, Nessie and the Living Stone, in collaboration with Lois Wickstrom, which won the Independent E-book Award for the best children's book of 2000.

Blood Will Tell, though, is a far cry from a children's book!

As you read, please feel free to guess what is really happening in the fictional city of Murphy, Kentucky. If I've done what I intended, each time you think you know, the ground will shift under you once again.

In researching this book, I had the cooperation of the police in Murray, Kentucky. There I discovered that police procedures in small cities in America's heartland are not the big-city tactics seen in books, films and television. They simply don't have the crime scene units and forensics specialists I had in my first draft. I came away from my experience with the local police with deep admiration for their professionalism under difficult circumstances.

My fictional Murphy, Kentucky, police department is not run exactly the way the Murray police department is -- that was necessary for my plot. However, good cops working hard for low pay, without high-tech equipment, yet doing an amazingly fine job despite budget restraints, is an accurate picture of Murray's police. I hope I have conveyed the essence if not the actuality.

Geographically, my fictional community of Murphy sits right on Murray's site. Its people have the ingrained sense of fair play that governs the real West Kentucky community. Some of the chain stores are even the same (and some are not). However, no one in this book is based on any real person, nor do the crimes committed, to my knowledge, resemble any real crimes committed in my home town. I hope the residents of Murray will take all the favorable aspects of Murphy as a tribute, and all its unfavorable ones as fiction.

I believe in interaction between writers and readers, and invite comments on my work. Send them to bloodwilltell@simegen.com .

To keep in touch with readers, I attend two or three conventions and conferences every year, and occasionally teach writing workshops. I also keep my website, http://www.jeanlorrah.com , updated with all my latest news and activities. Now I have added Lifeforce-L, a monthly newsletter where I answer selected questions from readers and provide updates on my publications and activities.

I'm happy to provide information on my projects, or answer your questions in the newsletter. While I cannot become your personal writing tutor, Jacqueline Lichtenberg and I operate WorldCrafters Guild, a professional writing school, at http://www.simegen.com . It's free--please come and have a look.

I am grateful for the encouragement my readers have given me over the years, and sincerely hope those of you familiar with my work will enjoy this new adventure. If you've never read anything else I've written, welcome! I hope you'll find something new and exciting in Blood Will Tell. To old friends, welcome back! I hope you also find something new here, along with whatever has brought you back for more.

Jean Lorrah

Murray, Kentucky

 

Chapter One

 

A Corpse on the Campus

 

Having come of age in the AIDS decade of the 1990's, Brandy Mather reached the millennium and the age of twenty-eight as a virgin. She was not unique among girls grown up in West Kentucky. In high school she learned several ways to bring a human male to climax without intercourse. In college, she came very close to marrying the first man she met who knew how to reciprocate.

In college she also discovered criminal psychology, which led her first to the Police Academy, then back to her home town of Murphy, Kentucky. Brandy was the first female police officer to move from traffic patrol into the crime division. There were no further divisions; even though Murphy was the county seat of Callahan County, and boasted a regional university numbering 8000 students, the city was not large enough to require separate juvenile, vice, or homicide squads. It was all in a cop's day's work.

Brandy had just been promoted to plainclothes work -- mostly because the department felt it wise to have a woman handle the increasing reports of spouse and child abuse as well as rape. That late summer the case occurred that was to change her life. It was a Friday, and Brandy looked forward to having the weekend off.

It had been one of those long, frustrating weeks when leads didn't pan out, stakeouts merely wasted hours, and the local citizenry chose to shoplift, throw eggs at each other's cars and houses, shoot out store windows in the middle of the night, and slash tires. Ex-husbands threatened former wives, visitors forged checks, and the police spent endless hours tracking delinquent husbands to serve flagrant non-support warrants. No satisfying saving of lives or solving of challenging cases. The paperwork thus generated only served to increase stress levels.

By 7:38pm Brandy had finished her final report. "Go home and hug your kids," she told her colleague, Churchill Jones, with whom she shared the tiny detectives' office with its single computer. "Write the rest up in the morning. If you try to do it now you'll be here till midnight." Church was a perfectionist about his written work.

"You okay?" he asked. "Maybe you should see your mom tonight."

Brandy winced. Close to his own parents, Church couldn't fathom the gap between herself and her mother, only grown wider since her father's death. Thank God her mom was dating again, Brandy no longer her sole emotional support.

"I'll be all right," she responded. "The VCR's been taping movies all week. I'm going to be a couch potato."

"Not all weekend," Church told her in a tone that brooked no denial. "You're coming to Sunday dinner -- noon sharp. I'm barbecuing."

"Okay. I'll bring mint chip ice cream." It was his kids' favorite.

So Brandy was alone when the call from Jackson Purchase State University came in: a dead body in Callahan Hall.

"After this crazy week," she commented fliply, "what's another corpse?"

What it was, was a mystery. The body was in the office of Professor Everett Land, but the curious students and faculty who had gathered said it was not the professor. Campus security had made sure that no one trampled through the room nor moved the body. It sat in the chair behind the desk, eyes closed, hands folded over sunken belly, as if the man had just slept away.

Not a bad theory, for the man was extremely old. Face and hands were bony, flesh shrunken, nose and knuckles protruding. Wispy white hair clung to the skull. The eyes were sunk deep in their sockets.

There was no sign of struggle or pain; the man appeared to have died peacefully, a beatific smile on his face.

But who was he?

The office was one of only three in the Classics Department, one of those subjects, like philosophy, that no one would dream of majoring in. When Brandy had attended JPSU a decade ago there had been talk of phasing out such departments in the regional universities. Who in West Kentucky needed Virgil or Sophocles?

The custodian, Mary Samuels, remembered that Land's office had been unlocked -- and that was unusual, as the lights had been off. Dr. Land was normally either in with the lights on, or out with the door locked, when she came to clean.

Samuels was a good witness. "I turn on the lights," she explained, "an' there's this ol' man. But he's ... you know ... not moving. I mean at all. I got a creepy feeling, tried to wake him up. When I touched him I knowed he was dead." She wiped her hand on her smock at the memory.

There were no evening classes on Friday. Very few people were in the building. Next door the Philosophy Department was dark and locked. Across the hall in the History Department, Professor Jane Mason had a meeting with a student working on a Master's Thesis. They had brought a bucket of chicken, and were just settling down to work when the commotion in Classics caught their attention. Another history professor, Miller Kramden, didn't know anything had happened until a student poked her head in to say someone had died.

As word spread, more people arrived to check out the rumor. The body could not be moved until the coroner had examined it and Brandy had taken photos and prints. She let people look from the doorway, hoping someone could identify the corpse. No one could.

Meanwhile, she tried telephoning Professor Land at home. She got an answering machine.

Budget constraints required Murphy detectives to work alone, so Brandy enlisted the help of Campus Security Chief Howard McBride, a retired cop with many more years of experience than she had, to investigate the crime scene. While they were working, Dr. Troy Sanford, the coroner, arrived. "Can't be sure till the autopsy," he said, "but there's no signs of foul play. Looks like natural causes."

"But who is he?" Brandy asked in frustration as she searched the pockets and bagged the contents: pipe, tobacco, butane lighter, 73 in change, pocket knife, handkerchief -- linty, as if carried unused for quite some time -- and chalk in a plastic holder. She gave the man's wallet to McBride to fingerprint.

There was $62.00 in bills, a faculty I.D., and a driver's license. The laminated plastic documents showed a man in his forties, with thick curly brown hair and blue eyes. Brandy read the name on the faculty I.D.: Everett Land, Ph.D., Professor, Classics Department.

"Oh, damn," said Brandy. A crime had been committed, even if it was only some obscene practical joke. Someone had planted Land's wallet on the corpse. The money in the wallet made it petty theft. There was a MasterCard, too, a group medical insurance card, social security card, and an automatic teller card.

There were no family photos.

Doc Sanford estimated the death as occurring between 5:30 and 7:00pm. "He could have walked in here alive."

"But someone went over the desk pretty carefully," said McBride. "No fingerprints there or on the bookshelves. A few on the filing cabinet and the doorknob, but they'll probably turn out to be the custodian's."

"You're suggesting someone wiped the prints away?" Brandy asked.

"Looks that way -- very thorough job, too. There's not even a print under here," he showed her as he pulled the last piece of clear fingerprint tape from the bottom edge of the main desk drawer. It was one of those flat, shallow drawers without a handle, opened by sliding it out with a hand on the bottom of the drawer. "Probably not a student," McBride said. "When we've had breakins by kids looking for exams or gradebooks, even when they think to wipe away prints they always forget that spot. This is a pro."

So someone had searched the desk, "But what was he looking for?" Tired and half giddy from no supper and only microwave soup for lunch, Brandy did not like the direction this event was taking. That was how crimes went in America's Heartland: either simple and straightforward and solved within hours, or totally confused, committed by people with warped imaginations and half-baked ideas of witchcraft and Satanism.

Hardly had the thought crossed her mind than she heard the gossip start. Students, faculty, and staff began to speculate, "Who is it?" "Somebody musta stole the corpse and put ol' man Land's I.D. on it. Show what a mean old bastard he is." "No -- it's the Satanists! That is Professor Land. They put a death curse on him!"

The headache that had been incipient all day grasped Brandy's skull with fingers of steel. She bagged the wallet and told McBride and Sanford, "Until we find out who this guy is, and locate Dr. Land, it'll be early Halloween!"

She turned to the gathered faculty and students. "You are not witnesses unless you were here earlier, between the time the secretary left -- ?"

As she hoped, one of the students supplied, "4:30."

"If you were here between 4:30 and the time Security arrived, please try to recall anything that would tell us who brought this body in, and how. Or if you saw the man walk in alive. Did anyone notice when Dr. Land left today?"

There was only head-shaking. The earlier Land had left, the wider the window of opportunity for sneaking the corpse into his office. Brandy remembered her own days as a student assistant in Sociology: even though it was a much larger department than Classics, there were times when absolutely no one was in the suite.

A call to the department secretary produced an answer, of sorts: Land had still been in his office when Ms. Sandoval left for the day.

Criminal intent or a really stupid prank? Brandy had to proceed as if it were the former. The coroner removed the body, leaving her to witnesses with little to contribute until a man Brandy hadn't seen before entered the suite.

Brandy was at the secretary's desk, just finishing taking notes from the history professor who had been working with her grad student. They had noticed nothing.

The new arrival asked, "Are you from the police?"

"I'm Detective Mather," Brandy told him. "We're investigating a body found in Dr. Land's office."

"Rett?"

"No. But whoever put the body there planted Dr. Land's I.D. on it. That means some kind of crime was committed, at least a theft. Do you know anything about it?"

"I guess not, then. I'm Dan Martin, from Computer Science." He pronounced his last name "Martine." "I set up Rett's computer, showed him how to access the Internet."

"Did you see him today?"

He pondered. "All the faculty in this building see each other sometimes, in the elevators or the halls. I don't recall seeing Rett today. I just saw them carrying the body bag past my door. Someone said it was Dr. Land, so I came to see what had happened. Listen, I'm sorry for bothering you." He started to leave, then turned back. "But maybe I can help. You said somebody put the body in Rett's office. Do you know how?"

"Possibly he arrived alive, and died in the office."

"What does Rett say?"

"He's not here or at home. Any idea where he might be?"

Martin shook his head. "I don't know him that well -- academic rather than social friendship, if you know what I mean. But if the body was moved after it was dead, it didn't have to come through the office lobby."

This was interesting. "Oh?" Brandy asked.

"There were some computers stolen a few years ago," Martin explained. "Thieves broke a ground-floor window to get in. The ceilings are false, with heating and cooling ducts and the sprinkler system above them."

The university was notorious for lack of security; funds barely covered maintenance. Broken windows set off no alarms. Offices and laboratories, where equipment and vital data were kept, were all on upper floors or on inner walls with no windows. Most, like Land's, required not only a key to the office itself, but a different key to the suite door.

But now that Martin mentioned it -- "I remember," said Brandy. "They went over the ceilings into some offices and stole several PC's. I was a student at the time."

"It was before I arrived," said Martin, "but they still talk about it. Wouldn't be worth a thief's while today; most of the equipment is badly outdated."

"That must be frustrating," said Brandy, "trying to teach computer science on outmoded equipment."

"Oh, we've got some new technology for the upper-level students. Anyway, the ceilings are just a thought, if the coroner says the body was moved."

Brandy found herself smiling at Martin. She liked him ... and didn't know why. He certainly wasn't her type.

She didn't care much for intellectual men, although she got along well enough with the university faculty on professional matters. Murphy was three hundred miles from the police laboratories at Frankfort. It was easier to ask a local expert than someone that far away, and JPSU had the largest variety of experts in Western Kentucky.

Brandy didn't generally think of herself as preferring a particular type of man; she had dated blonds, brunettes, and redheads over the years. However, they had always been large and strong and all-American. This man was lean and wiry and faintly exotic.

Like many of the JPSU faculty, he didn't sound like a West Kentuckian, but his accent was Midwest American, nothing foreign about it. His hair and eyes were midnight black, his skin a fine, even gold, but his voice, deep and just a touch gravelly, was both memorable and sexy.

He was nothing like any man she had ever taken an interest in before.

And what was she doing taking an interest in the middle of an investigation? What in the world had sent her mind wandering in that direction? Brandy realized she had been smiling at him like a fool for several seconds, and broke the gaze to pick up her pen.

But she had nothing to write. Professor Mason had gone back to her office, and the custodian was waiting to lock up. "I guess I'm finished here for tonight," Brandy said. "Let's check your theory before I seal Dr. Land's office."

Back in the office, where the tape on the chair did not look anything like the shape of a body, they saw no sign that the large ceiling tiles had been moved. But Martin spotted something else. "Rett's backup disks are gone."

"His what?"

Martin gestured to an empty spot on the neat desk. "There should be a box of zip disks right there with all his backup files." He looked over at the bookcases, but there were no boxes of disks there, either. "No one that I train relies on a hard disk as his only copy!" he commented.

"Maybe he took them home. But I'll add it to the report, and we'll see what the autopsy says," Brandy said, locking the door. Then she ran the yellow tape across the door frame, to warn anyone from disturbing the scene.

"Where are you going now?" asked Martin.

"Back to the station. I have to write up a report."

"Now?" he asked in surprise.

Brandy looked at her watch. "It's only 8:50. I'll still get home in time to start a lazy weekend."

Martin walked with her through the corridor, and punched the "Down" elevator button. Then, rather sheepishly, he said, "Look ... this may sound foolish, but I guess we're all curious about real police work, as opposed to what we see on television. Could I come with you, see what you do -- then maybe buy you a pizza?"

"I warn you," said Brandy, "it's not very exciting!"

"That's all right."

"Okay -- I'll meet you at the station."

"Uh ... could I hitch a ride? I walked to campus today," he said as they rode down in the elevator.

"Sure. Just remember, if you have anything weird in mind, I carry a gun."

He chuckled, a small, quiet sound. "Anything I had in mind would not require a gun -- or handcuffs, either, in case you were concerned."

On the ground floor they stopped for Martin to turn off the monitor on his computer. "It's still running," Brandy noticed as the power light stayed on.

"Faxes may come in over the weekend," he explained.

Then he locked his office, a claustrophobic one without windows. There was no one else in the Computer Science suite, either, so he also locked the outer door, and they walked out to the parking lot.

The night was almost as bright as day, the full moon riding large over the rooftops. It would be early fall in New England and along the Great Lakes, sweater weather, football weather. In Western Kentucky it was still late summer, hot by day, warm at night.

They talked easily, like old friends, but Brandy could not have said what about. At the station Brandy wrote up her report as quickly as possible, growling as her tired fingers hit the wrong keys.

Martin came up behind her, so silently she didn't know he was there until his soft voice asked, "How long have you been on duty?"

Through a yawn, she replied, "Over twelve hours now." She didn't mention how badly she needed the overtime.

Warm fingers touched the back of her neck, massaged gently. "Relax." The deep voice was hypnotic, the hands magic. He rubbed from her hairline downward, the pain and tension seeming to follow his fingers down out of her head.

Brandy felt like a contented cat, ready to purr under Martin's petting. The cares of the endless week drifted away, and she leaned into his touch, entranced.

When Martin stopped, Brandy wondered if she had been literally in a trance, for she was suddenly wide awake, refreshed, and serene. "If you could bottle that," she told Martin, "you'd be a millionaire!"

"I don't want to be a millionaire," he replied. "I'd have to worry about people liking me only for my money."

It was easy, once her headache was relieved, for Brandy to finish her report. She signed out at last, and they drove over to Pizza Hut. There they discovered that they both liked pepperoni pizza.

Brandy was by now ravenously hungry. They had ordered a medium pizza ... and only as she halted her reach for the last piece did she realize to her embarrassment that she had consumed four slices to Martin's one.

"Go on," he said when he saw her hesitation. "I had dinner earlier. You obviously didn't."

The place was crowded with college kids, and there must have been a dozen cheery "Hi, Dr. Martin!"'s from students going in and out. But then, the new semester had just begun. Brandy recalled that students tended to like all their professors till about midterm.

She took in stride the stares she received, remembering how odd it was to realize that one's teachers had a life outside the classroom. Probably, she thought, his students wouldn't think much of Martin's taste in women. Brandy was in her plain-neat-suit work clothes, her hair scraped efficiently back into a twist, her makeup minimal.

Now that she thought of it, she was pretty much at her worst. Martin's interest seemed genuine. He asked about her work, family, education ... and as they sat nursing the final drops of Pepsi in red plastic glasses she realized, "You know all about me -- but I know nothing about you!"

"I grew up in Iowa," he said, "until I was twelve. Then we moved to Nebraska. I did undergraduate work in Computer Science at M.I.T., then got my doctorate at the University of Central Florida. I taught for a while at Florida State, then came here. I guess I like Kentucky because I'm still a farm boy at heart."

"You had a farm in Iowa?"

"Till my dad died. Mom couldn't scrape together enough money to run the farm and pay taxes at the same time, so she sold the farm and we moved in with her uncle in Nebraska. One of those big old houses in the middle of wheat fields, not another building as far as you can see."

"We drove across route 80 out to California one summer," said Brandy. "I remember thinking Nebraska was the emptiest place I'd ever seen. That was before we saw the Mojave Desert!"

"Yeah. I like it a little more populated, like here, or Indiana, or Iowa or Ohio."

"Ohio? I grew up in Ohio in the middle of a big city!" said Brandy.

"I meant the farmlands in the southern part of the state. I guess I'll never be completely happy as a city boy. I'm up for tenure this year. If I get it, I'm going to buy a place in the county. Not a farm; there's no future in small farms today, and I really love teaching. But I want some land, some woods, maybe a pond. A place where I can have a garden. And a nice, big, comfortable old house."

Brandy smiled. "I know what you mean. When Dad moved us from Cleveland to Murphy, it seemed like the back of beyond. I thought everyone was a redneck, the kids a bunch of yokels. But I've lived here more than half my life now, and y'know, Murphy's about the best compromise you're gonna find. Big enough to be civilized, small enough to be friendly. There are drugs, but not gangs, and we're not big enough for major dealers. We've got bootleggers, but nobody cares except during election campaigns. If it weren't for the chop shops and family fights, and the drunk drivers, there wouldn't be much for police to do."

"Except investigate mysterious corpses," he said.

"I'm glad I took that call," said Brandy. "This case could take genuine detective work. I went into police work to solve crimes. Except for the ongoing drug operations, not a lot of real detective work is required on my job."

"No unsolved murders?" Martin asked.

"You read the papers. It's always the husband, the wife, the boyfriend, the girlfriend. No work to solve it. Hey!" she realized, "you've turned the conversation back to me again! I want to know more about you. You said your father died when you were twelve. Your mother?"

"Died in a car wreck when I was in college."

"Brothers and sisters?"

"One brother, died in the Gulf War."

Brandy did a quick calculation. "He must have been much older than you."

"No -- he went in the army at nineteen."

"Rough. You're pretty much alone, then, except for that uncle."

"He was Mom's uncle, and he's dead now, too. I guess I've still got some cousins, but I never stayed close to them. What about you?"

"My little brother died when I was ten. Hit by a car. I don't think my mother has forgiven me to this day."

"Forgiven you?"

"I wasn't watching him. I wasn't told to watch him that day -- it was right after school, no different from any other day. Les was playing ball. I was skipping rope with some other girls. I didn't know what had happened until I heard the boys screaming."

"It wasn't your fault," Martin said.

"I know. I knew then, although Mom almost convinced me I was wrong. But Dad stuck by me, and eventually we got over it."

She blinked. "You did it again! What have I known you for -- two hours? And you've got my whole life story! I didn't tell my best friend about Les till we'd known each other for months."

"I'm just a good listener," he said. That was when Brandy noticed that he didn't smile the way other men did when they uttered such pleasantries. Had she seen him smile at all? She wasn't sure.

"Well, good listener, I'm afraid it's time to go home," said Brandy as a new rush of customers entered the restaurant. She was amazed to see that it was 11:23. The 9:00pm movie must have just let out.

Ten minutes later Brandy found herself pulling up outside her own apartment building, Dan Martin still in the car. She didn't feel tired, though, and the night was bright with the full moon. "Wow. I must be so tired I spaced out," she said. "I didn't even ask where you live."

"That's okay. I'll walk home. But I'll see you to your front door first."

Brandy laughed. "I'm perfectly safe. I'm a cop, for goodness' sake!"

"And I'm a gentleman," he replied, getting out and coming around to open her car door. No man had done that since a couple of extremely shy boys in high school!

Deciding she did enough roaring as a police officer, Brandy let him hand her out of the car and walk her up the stairs. At her door, he said, "I want to see you again."

"I'd like that," she replied, and fought down a strong urge to invite him in. This was not the swinging 70's, when safe sex meant not banging your head on the headboard!

She had wanted men before, but never so strongly ... and never, ever, on a first acquaintance. She had always resisted, successfully.

Dan Martin took her in his arms, and Brandy discovered how comfortable it was to be held by someone only a few inches taller than she was. Their lips met without either getting a crick in the neck. It was as if they had kissed a thousand times before, knew each other's texture and rhythm.

She opened her mouth to his, found warmth and gentle teasing. He nibbled at her lips, then stroked his tongue under her chin and down her throat. It felt both weird and wonderful. She tilted her head, let him caress her neck.

Although they were standing, she practically lay in his arms. How strong he was, never a quiver of his muscles under her weight. She felt secure, protected, and eager. Finally, she knew what she had preserved her virginity for!

But even as Brandy sought to find Martin's mouth again with hers, he let her go. "I'm sorry!" he gasped, breaking the spell. "Please -- forgive me."

"There's nothing to forgive," Brandy said, caught between confusion at his sudden change and the lingering desire he had evoked in her. "Why don't you come in?"

"Not tonight," he said, too hastily. "Please -- go inside, Brandy. You're too intoxicating by half."

It was not until the next morning that she realized she could not remember telling him her nickname. She had introduced herself as "Officer Mather." He would have seen "Brenda Mather" on the nameplate on her desk. But she hadn't misheard that remark about intoxication.

Brandy woke to her cat kneading her shoulder at 10:00am on Saturday morning. When she recalled last night's strange events, she knew she would have to find some pretext to look up Dan Martin again.

Unless he contacted her first.

But the weekend passed with no word from Martin. The phone did ring, twice. First it was her mother. Brandy insisted she was too tired to go out to dinner that evening. An hour later, once she got over her disappointment that it was not Dan Martin, the second call made her glad she had refused her mother's invitation.

"Hi, Kid!" It was her friend Carrie Wyman.

"Carrie! Hi. What's going on?"

"I have an empty Saturday night on my hands. I know it's short notice -- "

"Come on over!" Brandy told her. "I've got movies and popcorn and nothing else to do!"

Sated on popcorn and the dramatic excesses of Francis Ford Coppola's Dracula, the two women turned off the tv to talk. "Why do we still believe in love that will last through time?" Carrie asked.

"I don't believe in it," Brandy replied. "It's just nice to fantasize about. What I really want to believe possible is to have my work and still marry a nice man and have a family."

"Dream on!" Carrie said sarcastically. She was only Brandy's age, but last year her husband had walked out on her in favor of a nineteen-year-old. Once she knew that he had been unfaithful, Carrie let him have the divorce. It would be hard for Carrie to trust another man anytime soon.

Like Brandy, Carrie was a hard-working, underpaid career woman, the city's last remaining senior social worker. Budget cutbacks had downsized Murphy's social services just when they were most desperately needed, and most of the experienced staff had been replaced with low-paid assistants. Carrie believed in her work, and had added to it a weekly radio show in which she tried to encourage families to find solutions before abuse, drug use, or alcoholism sent them into her overcrowded programs. She was also setting up self-help groups through local churches.

Both Brandy and Carrie had such grueling schedules that it was rare for them to have an evening like this one. But they were old friends from college days. It didn't matter if they didn't see each other for a month; when they got together it was like being with the sister neither one had.

Brandy found herself telling Carrie about Dan Martin.

"You like him," said Carrie with a knowing smile.

"I hardly know him," Brandy protested.

"But you'd like to."

"Maybe. He hasn't called."

"Your phone's unlisted," Carrie reminded her.

"Arrgh! You have no right to be so pretty and so smart!" Brandy growled, tossing a pillow at her friend.

Carrie looked like a young Elizabeth Taylor, or Vivien Leigh as Scarlett O'Hara: huge blue eyes, magnolia blossom skin, and the kind of slender figure designers loved to drape fashions on. Carrie even looked great in the outsized teeshirt and bunny slippers she wore tonight. Furthermore, she had been endowed with thick, wavy brown hair and long black eyelashes. If she weren't so damn nice, it would be easy to hate her!

Observing Carrie's marriage from the outside, Brandy had been able to see what Carrie couldn't: George Wyman had fallen in love with the cute, pretty, bubbly outside, and never seen the serious, dedicated woman within. As Carrie had taken on more responsibility in her work, he had become less supportive ... and eventually had found himself another cute, pretty, bubbly girl. Brandy could only hope that this one was genuinely shallow; if so, she might be able to keep his interest.

Carrie had intended to stay the night, but at 11:38pm her beeper sounded. She phoned her service, and turned apologetically to Brandy. "It's an abuse case -- I've been trying to get this woman to take her kids and run before someone got seriously hurt. Her husband got drunk and hit her three-year-old. Thank goodness it's only a broken wrist. But I've got to go to the hospital and keep her from going back to that louse, at least tonight."

"You need help?" Brandy asked.

"No. She's fragile, Brandy. She believes that beast is her only support and protection. Until she believes otherwise, police intervention will only scare her back to him." Pulling on jeans and searching for her loafers, she added, "This is a breakthrough. Really. A strong woman like you can't believe how battered women think. She's finally asking for the help she needs."

"I understand," said Brandy. "Too bad we couldn't talk all night the way we used to do in the dorm. But a night's sleep will probably do me good. Call me."

"You know I will," said Carrie. "You're my lifeline, Brandy. Thanks for being there. And hey -- good luck with the new man. Maybe he'll turn out to be the one in a million who's not intrinsically a bastard!"

On Sunday, Brandy went as promised to Church's house at noon. Churchill Jones and his wife Coreen had the kind of life Brandy had always thought of as normal ... and not hers. Their house was comfortably cluttered. In the back they had built a deck that they planned to screen in. The gas grill was fired up, foil-wrapped potatoes baking, a plate of hot dogs and fish fillets waiting to be cooked. The family had been out to the lake yesterday, where they had caught the fish. The two children, Tiffany and Jeff, were playing with their dog, a golden retriever named Sandy.

If anything, the Jones family was too ideal. It occasionally crossed Brandy's mind that they played it so stereotypically middle class because they were black. She didn't know whether they were pursuing the American dream right down to the latest kitchen appliances, or whether they felt a need to show neighbors who even in the 1990's had resented an African-American family moving onto their street that they were an asset, not a liability.

Actually, race relations were usually calm in Murphy, with errors usually on the side of ignorant good intentions. For example, Brandy had known perfectly well when she was in high school that there would always be a black cheerleader. Although the cheerleaders were chosen by vote of the student body and there were nowhere near enough black students to elect one of their own, the teachers dropped the lowest winning white candidate in favor of the black student with the highest number of votes. Brandy had been in college when what "everyone knew" and believed to be "only fair" became a temporary scandal. Interestingly, the next year there was, as usual, one black cheerleader, no further comment, and so it had gone ever since.

The determined attempts of white Murphians not to offend, to be "fair," might be clumsy, but Brandy found them preferable to the open hostility she had grown up with in Cleveland, the detente that had her going to school and her parents working side by side with ethnic minorities, but never making friends. Churchill Jones was the first close friend she had ever had who was black.

Church was enough older than Brandy for her to respect his experience, but young enough not to be a father figure. Her only problem was, he frequently read her better than she read herself.

Today Church was full of questions about the body in Callahan Hall. He quickly noticed that she had left something out. Unlike Carrie, who would wait encouragingly until someone was ready to talk, Church pounced and questioned. When he pressed, Brandy explained, "There was one more witness, who turned out not to be one. One of the professors had a theory about how the body got there. Everybody thinks they're a detective."

Church studied her. "So why did he impress you? Was he a nuisance?"

"Who said he impressed me?"

"Uh-huh," her friend said wisely.

"Okay, he took me out for pizza," she confessed. "Somebody saw us, right?"

"Not anyone who felt the need to tell me. So why are you paranoid?"

"You always say I'm paranoid when you're the one who's suspicious. Anyway, I'll probably never see him again."

"Do you want to?"

"I don't know," she equivocated. "He's a computer nerd, hardly my type. But not bad looking."

"Even with tape on his glasses and a pocket protector?" he teased.

"No glasses, and no pocket protector either. And he's a real old-fashioned gentleman. We'll see."

On Monday when Brandy got back from lunch, the coroner's report on the body in Professor Land's office was waiting on her desk.

No evidence of foul play. Lividity indicated that the body had remained where it died. Death was from multiple systemic failure due to extreme age. Doc Sanford had appended a note: "The mystery is not how the man died, but where he got the strength to walk into that office."

She added that to the fingerprint results: no prints on the wallet, except for some unknowns on the MasterCard. Why had someone done such a thorough job of wiping prints?

Furthermore, no one had yet located Professor Everett Land. Even if the man had gone out of town for the weekend, surely he would have missed his wallet! The very case that had had Brandy hoping for some real detective work was rapidly turning into another frustration.

Church came in while Brandy was studying the contradictory evidence, and picked up the top folder in his "In" basket. "Hell!" he exclaimed.

"What now?" asked Brandy.

"Judge Callahan ordered the Mortrees let go. All that work for nothing!"

Two weeks ago the Murphy police had participated in a raid on a local farm growing marijuana -- probably Kentucky's largest cash crop, if it were possible to get accurate statistics.

State, county, and local law enforcement had cooperated in the confiscation of more than five hundred plants. They had arrested the owner of the property, one Jerrod Mortree, his two shiftless brothers, and an uncle. The police had hoped to bargain with the accused men for names of distributors -- but all four men had now been released.

It was not the fault of the police who had raided the farm; everything had gone by the book. They had been certain that this time there would be no legal loophole.

"I knew it," said Church. "Any time it's the Mortrees, there's no chance of an indictment. That family's been sharecroppers on Callahan land for generations, always handy to do the Callahan dirty jobs while ol' Massa keeps 'em out of trouble with the law!"

Brandy knew Church suspected, but couldn't prove, that Judge L. J. Callahan was in on the local drug trade. Every case that came before him ended in a dismissal or an acquittal when the accused was one of the county's good ol' boys. Only independent operators like Dr. McLaren, who traded in prescription medications, were ever convicted.

If only they could find out exactly where Judge Callahan fit in. A corrupt judge, both detectives agreed, but that didn't explain whom he was working for. It was no secret he planned to run for governor in the next election -- if he were simply a pawn of some drug lord, he would be discouraged from leaving his very convenient current post.

No, there had to be more to L. J. Callahan. He was power-hungry -- there were even rumors that the governorship would be the first step in a campaign for the Presidency. If so, he was gamemaster, not a piece on the board. But ... what was his game and who were the other players?

To Church's annoyance, there was no way of connecting what had gone wrong this time to Judge Callahan, although of course it was possible that he had paid someone to destroy the evidence. It was "an accident." It "could have happened to anybody." "Sure," Church growled, "anybody who couldn't read evidence tags!"

The 500 plants confiscated from the Mortrees had been stored with evidence from other cases. When they burned the pot from the closed cases ... somehow the 500 from the open case in Callahan County were destroyed along with the rest.

If this sort of thing happened only once, or once in a great while, it would be frustrating enough. But every time they arrested one of Judge Callahan's cronies they lost the case, in court or beforehand.

But the Callahan family was so old and powerful, the very county was named for them. Church never dared make his suspicions official. All he could do was stay vigilant until he found something that would stick.

Brandy understood her colleague's frustration as she took the thick folder out of his hands, and filed the latest Mortree case as closed.

The phone rang. "Detective Mather," Brandy answered.

"Brandy, this is Dr. Sanford. About your John Doe at the college? You're not gonna believe this. I took dental x-rays, of course, but I didn't expect a quick answer because nobody seemed to know that old man. But I've got an answer already, from Dr. Mulcahey. It's one of his regular patients: Professor Everett Land."

End Chapter One

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