Random Road introduced Geneva Chase"a reporter with a compelling voice, a damaged woman who recounts her own bittersweet story as she hunts down clues," says Library Journalto murders straight out of a nightmaresix bodies found naked and cut to ribbons in a posh Connecticut home.
Having survived this and a personal tragedy, Geneva's story still includes alcoholism and career challenges compounded by the rocky finances of her newspaper employer. But she's working. She's fighting the urge to reconnect with a magnetic yet married lover. And she's raising a rebellious young lady who is not her daughter but a cherished legacy.
Nevertheless the newshound in Geneva spurs her to bad if not downright dangerous choices as two unrelated crimes unexpectedly collide. A fifteen-year-old-girl at her ward's high school has vanished along with her English teacher. Is this same-old, same-old, or something more? And then there's the abused woman who torched her sadistic husband, and how to keep her out of the clutches of powerful mobstersand thus, out of the news.
Out on the crime beat, Geneva works to unravel the connection, if any, between these two disparate stories while her newspaper is put up for sale, a high-flying Hollywood production lights up the town, and her personal battles accelerate. Jarring twists and turns include charming movie stars, treacherous diamond merchants, adultery, sex traffickers, and murder. While the clock ticks and Geneva works desperately to find the missing student, she comes to the horrible realization that she's in over her head.
Darkness Lane, the second novel in the Geneva Chase Mystery Series, hurtles along at a breakneck speed where nothing is what it seems, and where art and reality collide in a terrifying climax.
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I was nearly done editing Darcie's piece on last night's particularly gruesome homicide over on the east side of Sheffield. A forty-three-year-old woman, claiming to have been routinely abused over the course of her twenty-year marriage, waited until her husband, Jim, had gotten blind-ass hammered and passed out in their bed. Then she calmly poured gasoline over his entire body while he snored away and lit a match.
By the time the fire department got there, the house was completely engulfed in flames, and he was long past screaming. The police found Betsy Caviness standing on the curb watching the fire department vainly attempt to extinguish the fire.
She was calmly drinking merlot out of a plastic cup. "I'm just toasting my husband," she told them sardonically.
That's my headline.
I pulled her mug shot up on my computer.
Mrs. Caviness looked like someone had worked her face over with a meat tenderizer. One eye completely swollen shut, her skin mottled purple and black, her lips cracked open — it was a Halloween mask of pain and terror.
I know she had options other than roasting her husband alive and I'm all for due process, but I felt pity for that woman. Twenty years of physical and mental torment can make for a whole lot of crazy.
I also know, because I'd written a story about Jim Caviness last year when I was still on the crime beat. He wasn't a nice guy. He'd been arrested in December for trafficking minors for sex. He beat the charge when the three girls he'd victimized disappeared, seemingly off the face of the earth.
I finished the edit on the Betsy Caviness piece and pushed the button to send it to the computer geeks in composing, when I saw my resident millennial, Darcie Miller, standing in the doorway of my cubicle, her emerald eyes wide, expression somber.
"Genie, better take a look. Got a missing fifteen-year-old." She pointed to the computer screen on my desk. "Isn't that how old your daughter is?"
Icy fingers brushed the back of my neck while the constant clattering din of the newsroom seemed to go preternaturally silent.
I turned, quickly found her entry in the queue, and brought it up on my screen.
POLICE ASK HELP IN LOCATING MISSING 15-YEAR-OLD GIRL
SHEFFIELD, CT-Authorities are actively seeking the whereabouts of Barbara Leigh Jarvis, last seen in the vicinity of West Sheffield High School on the morning of Monday, October 17.
According to the Sheffield Police Department, Miss Jarvis left her grandmother's home at 1217 Bedford St.
to walk to school. School officials report that she never arrived and didn't attend any classes that day.
Barbara (Bobbi) Jarvis is 5 feet-6 inches tall, weighs 110 pounds, has brown hair, brown eyes and was dressed in a purple and white long-sleeved shirt, black windbreaker and blue jeans. She was carrying a black backpack.
Anyone with knowledge of her whereabouts should call the SPD at 1-800-555-6565.
Adrenaline hit my nervous system hard.
Bobbi Jarvis was Caroline's best friend.
Instinctively, I reached into my oversized bag hanging from the back of my office chair.
Taking out my cellphone, I brought up the family locater app. It allows me to track where Caroline is in real time. A tiny street map appeared with an electronic pushpin stuck firmly where the high school was located.
Caroline's in school, right where she's supposed to be.
I was still new at this mothering thing. I've never actually had kids of my own so raising a teenager was a fresh and exasperating experience.
Worrying all the time was becoming the new normal for me.
I looked at the police press release again.
I've been writing stories for newspapers and magazines for eighteen years, mostly on the crime beat covering murders, assaults, rapes, arsons, robberies, sex scandals, and fraud. If it was ugly, I wrote about it.
I'm a professional so most of the time I stayed dispassionate.
But there were stories that left scars.
They were about kids who disappeared and either showed up dead or vanished altogether.
And that was the worst, because the parents never got closure. It was an open wound that never healed.
I glanced back at my computer screen. The color photograph accompanying the story was a professionally done glam-shot of Bobbi Jarvis smiling into the camera. Her brown eyes sparkled, artificially whitened teeth gleamed in her warm, generous smile, and her long, lustrous chestnut hair was brushed to perfectly frame her pretty face. The coy dimple in her chin added to her girlish charm.
It occurred to me that, in the photo, Bobbi was a teenager trying much too hard to look like an adult.
She didn't look like that the last time she had dinner with us.
My eyes involuntarily moved from my computer screen to the silver-framed photograph of Caroline Bell resting on my desk next to a stack of manila folders. No, Caroline's not my daughter as Darcie, my crime beat reporter, suggested. I'm the girl's guardian.
She's the fifteen-year-old daughter of Kevin Bell. Kevin had been my lover and my fiancé.
The same night I proposed to him ... yes, I proposed to Kevin ... he asked me if I'd take care of Caroline should anything bad happen to him.
And then, tragically, it did.
Caroline is blond, has her dad's blue eyes, an infectious smile, freckles, and she's a bit of a tomboy. In that photo, she was wearing a sleeveless top, shorts, and a Red Sox cap but no makeup. She was gingerly holding a live lobster she'd chosen from a tank for dinner. I'd taken the picture last summer while we were vacationing on Cape Cod.
That had been the one-year anniversary of her father's death. I wanted us to be in a happy place on that unhappy occasion. But as much as we both loved Cape Cod, being there hadn't kept either of us from remembering him and feeling the awful loss. Kevin died before he should have, before we were ready. It was like ripping off a band-aid, quick and painful ... and tearing out my heart at the same time.
Caroline Bell and Bobbi Jarvis were buds and sophomore classmates at West Sheffield High.
They shared the same teachers for English and World History. They loved the same music and movies. They were both in the band and the Drama Club and were passionate about the theater.
They were both just discovering boys.
Or so I thought.
Bobbi was pretty and polite but rarely spoke about her family. I chalked that up to her parents being divorced. She lived with her grandmother. Caroline had told me it was something she wasn't proud of. Neither one of Bobbi's parents seemed to want her in their lives.
That's got to hurt.
Bobbi had been to our house a few times for dinner and to study. She was serious about becoming an actress, taking professional acting classes outside of the Drama Club. One night, Bobbi surprised me by quoting lines from Macbeth and singing a few bars of the song "Popular" from Wicked — a weird juxtaposition of witch theater. All while eating spaghetti and meatballs in our kitchen.
That was the night both Caroline and Bobbi were wearing their baseball caps on their heads turned around backwards. Caroline had on a Red Sox cap. ... Bobbi was sporting the Yankees logo. In my house, that's an insult. But she was a guest, so I let it ride.
That was also the night the two of them attempted something akin to rap that left me in stitches.
It was the evening, when Caroline was out of the kitchen, that Bobbi looked up at me and said, "Caroline's really lucky to have you, Genie."
I smiled back at her, grateful for the compliment.
"She's been through a lot, losing both of her parents."
Bobbi stared off into the distance. "Yeah, but at least while they were alive, they loved her."
That broke my heart. She was certain that she'd been rejected by her mother and father and they didn't love her.
And now she's missing.
I picked up the cup of cold coffee sitting on my desk and took a sip. It was from this morning and tasted sour, like old caffeine and rancid lemons.
Back out in the newsroom, Darcie sat in front of her computer screen, delicately tapping away at the keyboard. I'm her editor. I've been the daytime news editor since last December.
I loved getting the pay raise that came with the promotion.
But I hated being harnessed to a desk. I missed seeing my name, Geneva Chase, on the byline of a good story.
When I got the promotion, I was the one who suggested that Darcie take my place on the crime beat. She was a waif with big, green eyes.
When she was working, her shoulder length red hair was usually tied back in a ponytail. She wasn't particularly tall, about five-five, but she had long legs and, even at her tender age, she knew how much of them to show to get men to talk to her. Darcie had good instincts; she already knew how much concession her looks could buy with men.
Ben Sumner, owner and publisher of the Sheffield Post, had brought her onboard nearly a year ago, straight out of J-School.
Sure, she was inexperienced but she wrote well, got her facts straight, and worked on the cheap.
Initially Ben had put her on features, knocking out puff pieces for the "Living" section, covering the rubber chicken circuit and the grip-and-grins. When I became editor, I took a chance on Darcie and put her on the cop shop where there was real news.
If Bobbi's disappearance had been any other story, I would have let Darcie follow up with the detective on duty to see if there was any information not included in the release. But I had a personal stake in this. I picked up the phone and punched up Mike Dillon, the deputy chief of police.
"Genie?" He answered recognizing my number on his Caller ID.
I visualized Mike. Tall, lean, angular face, clean-shaven, he had the intense brown eyes of a wolf focused on the hunt. I thought he was handsome in a vaguely predatory way.
"Hey, Mike." I let my voice drop. We'd been seeing each other, casually, for the occasional dinner and movie. He was recently divorced and we were friends with infrequent benefits.
Over the last few months, Mike had been pushing hard for us to move our relationship to another level. He wanted us to be more of a couple.
"Genie, what a nice surprise. What happened, did you fire Darcie?" He genuinely sounded worried.
"No, she's still here."
"Good. She's adorable."
"Yeah, that's what I want on the crime beat, adorable."
He chuckled. "What's up?"
I stared at the girl's photo still up on my screen. "What's the deal on Barbara Jarvis?"
He hesitated and I knew he was consulting his ubiquitous notebook. "Let's see, we got a call from Theresa Pittman, her grandmother, yesterday at five-thirty-five p.m. Told us that the last time she saw her granddaughter was sometime around seven in the morning when she left to go to school. Mrs. Pittman grew alarmed when the girl didn't come home. She got really spooked when she found out her granddaughter never made it to any of her classes."
"No Amber Alert?"
"No sign of foul play."
I eyed my coffee cup and toyed with the idea of taking another swallow of the bitter swill that remained. "Have you talked with her parents?"
My voice must have betrayed me because he asked, "Do you know this girl?"
"She's one of Caroline's friends."
"Yeah, we talked with her parents. They don't seem very worried. Both of them think she got into an argument with grandma and she's hanging out at a friend's place. Have you checked under Caroline's bed?"
"I will when I get home tonight." My answer was only slightly sarcastic. Against my better judgment, I went ahead and took gulp of cold coffee. It was nasty. "Is that what you think?
That she's chilling with a friend?"
"Ninety-nine percent of the time, when a fifteen-year-old goes missing, it's because they got pissed off at mom or dad or grandma and split. They hide out for a while. When they run out of money or run out of clean clothes or their friends get sick of them, they show back up again."
"This morning we talked with her teachers and some of the girl's friends at school. We sent out a statewide alert to all the other PD's along with her photo and we e-mailed Darcie a press release. Did you see it?"
"I'm looking at it right now. We'll run it in the morning, but I'll post it on our website just as soon as I'm off the phone with you."
"Like I said, there's no sign of foul play. We've talked to everyone we can think of. We wait and keep our eyes open."
"I'd be about crazy if Caroline went missing."
"I know. I'd feel the same way if something happened to Davy." Mike was speaking about his son, also fifteen and a student at West Sheffield High School.
"Have you asked Davy if he knows Bobbi Jarvis?"
"I called him at his mom's house last night.
He says he doesn't know anything more than she's a theater geek."
That's what all the members of the Drama Club called themselves.
As I said good-bye and hung up, I thought about Mike. When I first moved to Sheffield and became a beat reporter for the Post, he and I had a flirt-cute thing going on but never followed through on it.
Back then I was in the middle of an affair with a married man, and Mike and his wife were still together. No way was I going to date two married men at the same time.
A girl has to have standards.
Then everything changed when I fell in love with Kevin Bell.
But my time with Kevin had been all too short and I found myself tragically alone.
About the same time Kevin died, Mike went through a divorce and we gravitated like a couple of lonely planets. Needing the company of each other but circling in distant, comfortable orbits.
Friends, but not much more. A few dates, a few movies, a few awkward nights in the sack. I liked Mike, but I didn't think I'd ever love him.
The spark just wasn't there.
I enjoyed having him ask me out, though. A woman needs to feel attractive.
And I keep telling myself that I am. I'm tall, five-ten in flats. Shoulder-length blond hair that my hairdresser does her best to keep looking good. I haven't resorted to Botox but I'm noticing some wear and tear around the corners of my blue eyes and the corners of my mouth. Depending on what I'm wearing, I still get approving looks when I walk into a room.
I go running when I get the chance and work out at the City Center, mostly sweating on the elliptical. As far as long legs, mine put Darcie's to shame.
"Ben wants to see you in his office." I looked up from my computer screen. The advertising director, Dennis Marion, filled the open portal of my cube. In his fifties, he had a stomach that spilled out over his belt and wore clothes that never seemed to hang right. His tie was loosened and, judging from how bloodshot his eyes were, he was more hungover than usual.
He affected a gray-and-brown goatee that I thought resembled a gerbil clinging to his chin.
Over the last year, our professional relationship was best described as strained. He and I had gone a couple of rounds in recent months, generally stemming from one of his advertisers getting arrested or sued for something newsworthy.
Dennis would stamp his feet and argue that if I ran the story, they'd pull their advertising and I'd be costing the newspaper money.
Yeah, well, that's life.
"What's Ben want?" I asked.
His doughy face, usually ruddy in complexion, was beet red. The ad man wore the doomed expression of a chubby rabbit looking down the barrel of a shotgun. "Paper's got a problem."
Without another word, he shuffled out of my cube.
I felt the coffee acid churn in my stomach.
The last time I heard Dennis mutter the words, "paper's got a problem," I had to lay off one of my reporters.
* * *
The building's original use was as a furniture store. The open layout of the Sheffield Post was one cavernous room on a single floor, chopped up by butt-ugly green, cloth-covered, movable partitions about five feet high used to define departments. The drab interior walls of the building itself were a chipped and discolored tan, and a quarter of the fluorescent lights either had bulbs blown or bad ballasts. The gray carpeting was coffee-stained, frayed, and threadbare. The office furniture was a well-worn collection of mismatched desks, chairs, and filing cabinets.
The gray lady was showing her age and nobody was willing to buy her any makeup.
All the reporters, ad salespeople, graphic artists, and IT guys have desks clustered together in their own departments like warring tribes of Bedouins forced to work together to survive. Company managers — the editors, ad director, classified ad director, and the graphic arts manager — all had glassed-in cubicles that we worked in. We sarcastically called them fishbowls.
Excerpted from "Darkness Lane"
Copyright © 2018 Thomas Kies.
Excerpted by permission of Poisoned Pen Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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