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SECRETS DARK AND DEEP

Secrets Dark
and
Deep
A Lake George Mystery

by Anne White

ISBN # 1-59133-197-8HC
ISBN # 1-59133-198-6TP

Kindle Edition Available
ASIN: B005A7RNXA

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Boonsboro, MD 21713-0275

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Fax: 301-432-7505

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EXCERPT

Secrets Dark and Deep
A Lake George Mystery

by Anne White

CHAPTER ONE

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

DEDICATION

SECRETS DARK AND DEEP
(from back cover and book jacket)



Chapter One

I should have known better.

Actually, I did know better. That’s what made it so hard to understand how one simple blunder could snowball into the kind of problem I’d been determined to avoid.

The trouble began on one of those cool September evenings the residents of Emerald Point looked forward every year as the busy tourist season wound down. Fall had finally arrived, and the little Lake George resort town where I was serving my second two-year term as mayor was taking a breather. And I was more than happy to take one with it.

I’d dug out a pile of magazines I’d been squirreling away all summer and curled up in my living room in a big recliner I loved, a reupholstered relic from my grandparents’ time. I didn’t even bother to turn on the television.

I was ready for peace and quiet.

The days had grown shorter, and despite upstate New York’s glorious fall weather, the evening was too cold to sit on the porch for my favorite reading accompaniment—the slow, steady beat of the lake.

I’d skimmed through almost a third of the stash of articles I’d earmarked to read, when an insistent banging on my back door sent me running to answer. After three years as mayor, I wasn’t usually summoned for emergencies at night, but once in a while something serious warranted notifying me. My heart beat faster as I swung open the door.

The woman standing in the entranceway outside the kitchen door wasn’t someone I recognized. She was probably in her forties—maybe ten years older than I—and had the wildly unkempt look of a person who’d been running for her life over rough ground. She was doubled over, clutching her mid-section and gulping loud, ragged intakes of air.

“What is it? Are you ill? How can I help you?” I knew firing off a string of questions to someone who couldn’t catch her breath wasn’t the best course of action, but I couldn’t stop myself.

“Mayor Graham? You’re Mayor Graham, aren’t you?” She could barely croak out the words.

“Yes. Yes.”

She steadied herself enough to explain. “I’ve seen you...driving by. I’m Darla Phillips. Staying with the Blakes...moved in a week ago.”

I backed up and motioned her inside. “What’s wrong?”
The woman, looking distraught, followed me into the kitchen.

“I need your help. I saw something, something scary. Can you come with me? I want to show you first, and you can tell me what to do.”

“Darla…”

“Darla Phillips. Please. I need your help.”

“Is it Victoria? Is she ill?”

My neighbor, Victoria Blake, past seventy now, lived with her son Arthur a few houses away. Once the summer families were gone, the Blakes and I were among the handful of people left in the neighborhood.

“No. It’s not Victoria. I’ve got to show you something.” Darla’s voice still sounded weak and shaky, but she found the strength to seize my hand in a vice-like grip and drag me toward the back door.

“Hold on. Give me a minute.” I hadn’t changed out of the slacks and sweater I’d worn to the office, but I’d kicked off my shoes. I motioned for her to wait as I grabbed a jacket from a hook near the door and slipped into a pair of flats I’d left there.

“Want to take my car?” I asked her

“No. No. It’s easier not to.” She turned on a small pocket flashlight and pulled me at an angle across my side yard and up the hill behind the house.

As I struggled after her, she cut onto the dirt road, which ran parallel to the main thoroughfare at the crest of the hill. This bumpy, deserted stretch of road wasn’t my favorite place to be walking at ten o’clock on a chilly fall night. The empty cottages we passed projected a spooky, abandoned look.

When we reached the Blakes’ place, the outside lights Arthur always turned on at dusk cast welcome beams of light around his yard.

“Is Arthur out wandering around somewhere tonight?” I asked Darla.

Ordinarily he would have been. Arthur Blake, known locally as the Bat Man, devoted most of his nighttime hours to his all-consuming passion—the study of bats.

Bats were Arthur’s great love, an avocation he was distressingly quick to share whenever the opportunity presented itself. From spring to fall, he roamed the neighborhood at night, tallying and recording his sightings of the bats which darted through the yards and open spaces. He’d dug a small pond in his back yard and hung a half-dozen lights from trees and wires behind his house. The pond and lights attracted insects, which in turn attracted large numbers of bats. Some of the bats, who recognized a good thing when they saw it, then made their homes in the nesting boxes Arthur attached to the trees on his property.

“The bat’s role is far more important than most people realize, Loren,” Arthur told me several times each summer. “A single bat can eat hundreds of insects a night, and bats are one of the few nocturnal insect-eaters. Birds feed mostly in the daytime, as I’m sure you realize.”

Actually, I’d never thought about it, but I took his word for it.

“Arthur’s with his mother,” Darla explained as she led me past his house. “He’s hired me to sit with her so he can get out, but she insisted he stay with her tonight, wouldn’t let him leave.”

Once Darla and I had passed Arthur’s house, darkness closed in on us. When my foot banged hard against an unseen rock, my ankle twisted painfully onto its side and my loafer slid off into the dirt. As I groped along the ground for it, my patience ran out.

“Hold it, Darla. I thought you wanted me to see something close by.” There was a limit to how far I’d go to be agreeable, and the pain in my ankle told me I’d reached it.

“Just a few steps more. Please. We can cut down here.” Darla waited until I found my shoe, then grabbed my hand again and tugged me through an overgrown yard toward a rough stone wall.

I recognized the spot. “Wait. Is this where you’re taking me? This is the foundation of the Blakes’ old house. It burned down a long time ago, years before I moved here.”

“You’ve...got to see something.” Darla slid down a steep embankment and pulled me behind her as she squeezed through an opening in the stone foundation into a kind of tunnel. We inched our way down a rocky passageway in the dark until we hit what felt like a concrete slab.

A rush of cold, damp air bombarded me; the stench of rot was overwhelming. I yanked my hand back. “Enough. I can’t stay in here, Darla. I’m going to be sick.”

“Please, just a few steps more. I know it smells awful, but it looks like somebody’s been hanging out in here.”

She fumbled around on the ground near the entrance and produced a large electric lantern. As she switched it on, I pressed my palm across my nose and mouth, trying to block out the foul odor. We were in a room of some kind, probably the cellar of the old house, now only a large, empty space with no interior walls.

As my eyes adjusted to the light, I saw that boards had been slapped up against the stone sides of the foundation to reinforce the roof. Strips of carpet formed a uneven patchwork on the dirt floor. A sagging couch, once some kind of plaid, and a faded mattress piled with tattered blankets, served as the only furnishings.

How could anyone stay in here? I felt suffocated. I couldn’t breathe. “Darla, I can’t stand places like this. I have to get out of here.”

Darla didn’t acknowledge what I’d said, but continued to pull me toward the back wall. Without warning, she swung the light upward at a jagged hole in the stone foundation.

I strained to see in the glare of the flash. Nothing at first. Then I picked out an oval shape gleaming white against the dirt and debris. I stared, forced myself to process what I was looking at. Suddenly, I saw it—a skull, a human skull, its eyes gaping holes above the grinning rictus of death.

My stomach churned. Bile, sharp and bitter, scalded my throat. I turned away, trying to catch my breath. “What...? Who...?”

When I could look back, I made out fragments of a skeleton half buried in the dirt beneath the skull. A hand reached out, beckoning, as if imploring our help. My knees buckled. I grabbed for Darla’s shoulder, trying to steady myself.

I staggered over to the wall and leaned against it for support as I searched my pockets for a tissue. I was going to be sick. The stench was unbearable, but what I saw in the flashlight’s beam sickened me even more. Hanging from the skeleton’s exposed arm, was a gold watch, clearly visible against the dark earth as a gleaming disk, decorated with ornate scroll work and glittery stones equidistant along the face. Amazingly, only one stone, the one near the six at the bottom edge, was missing.

My grandmother had owned a watch like that, a gift from her father in honor of her high school graduation. Even now, I could see it clearly in my mind—its band, an elegant gold filigree, its oval face with the old-fashioned Roman numerals set with small diamonds in several places on the dial.

She wore the watch on Sundays and special occasions, took it off when she did the washing up after dinner, laid it in a little china dish she kept for that purpose on the windowsill above the sink. I’d loved that watch. Whenever I helped with the dishes, I’d admire it lying there twinkling in the light.

I’d never known what happened to the watch after she died, and I’d never wanted to ask my grandfather. Of course, this couldn’t be the same watch. No way could my grandmother’s watch have ended up in this dank basement, dangling from a skeleton’s outstretched arm. That would have been impossible.

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ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

My sincere thanks to:

Stephanie and Shawn Reilly of Hilliard and Harris for accepting and publishing my Lake George Mystery Series.

Matt Witten, Supervising Producer for the CW Show Supernatural, for being an extraordinary teacher and adviser.

Grace Morgan, my agent, for invaluable advice and assistance.

Suzanne Merrill for offering her friendship and moral support, for answering a hundred and one questions about present-day books and authors and for patiently unraveling the mysteries of grammar and punctuation for me.

Doris Quick for her help in finding an appropriate title and for sharing a wealth of ideas and information on writing.

The Malice Domestic organization for awarding me an Unpublished Writers’ Grant in 1999 and a Malice Domestic Best First Mystery Nomination in 2002.

John Strong. Executive Director; Laura Von Rosk, Gallery Director; and members of the Lake George Arts Project for outstanding writing workshops.

Nathalie Costa and the dedicated people at the Adirondack Center for Writing for their assistance and encouragement to area authors.

LARAC, The Lower Adirondack Regional Arts Council: Patricia Joyce, longtime Executive Director (now retired); Ellen C. Butz, current Executive Director; Anne Smoczynski, Grants and Membership Director; Patrice Jarvis-Weber, Administrative Assistant; and Diane Swanson, Gallery Director, for their ongoing support of writers.

The Unusual Suspects Mystery Writers, my Saratoga Springs writers’ group always ready with helpful critiques and suggestions.

Susan Fox and Naftali Rottenstreich at Red Fox Books and Kim and Mike Smith at Dog Ate My Homework for bringing two bookstores to downtown Glens Falls, something which for many years had been beyond our wildest hopes.

And last, but by no means least, my husband Charles, and my children Kate, Michael, James, Richard, Chuck and Steven and their families for their continuing love and encouragement.

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DEDICATION

To the Tuesday and Thursday Water Aerobics Class at the Glens Falls YMCA, the most loyal and supportive group of readers any writer could hope to find, and to our unbelievably patient teacher Phyllis Hudson and her daughter Alexis who pull out all the stops to turn book signings into very special events.

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Secrets Dark and Deep.
(from back cover and book jacket)

Reviewer Betty Webb calls Mayor Loren Graham “compassionate and savvy, likeable and witty without crossing the line into terminal cuteness. Emerald Point couldn’t ask for a better mayor.” Mystery Scene #96, Fall 2006.

Mayor Loren Graham recognizes an ultimatum when she hears one, so when Sheriff’s Investigator Jim Thompson tells her to stay out of law enforcement business or risk losing his support, she resolves to do just that. But after a stranger drags her out on a cold fall night to show her a skeleton, Loren is caught up in a mystery which threatens to blow the lid off a 30-year-old-secret.

Millicent Halstead has returned to the lake, confident everyone’s forgotten her youthful role in the wild goings-on dubbed sexcapades by an old scandal sheet. But local bat expert Arthur Blake and his reclusive mother Victoria remember all too well. As Loren tries to ignore the tension between her neighbors and concentrate on repairing her own strained relationship with Don Morrison, she stumbles on a terrible secret and is forced to confront her greatest fear.

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©Copyright 2005-2012. Anne White. All Rights Reserved.
*Photos courtesy of Lake George Chamber of Commerce
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