Charlie McClung has always known about darkness, it’s part of being a police chief.
But now it’s spreading throughout the town and creeping into his life.
With each body found, the killer deepens the darkness and McClung must put an end to it.
This story begins on Monday, June 20, 1983, in Lyman County, Georgia.
Chief Charlie McClung stared at the pale, bloated body of Myron Wagstaff lying next to his own swimming pool. He’d seen enough bodies to know when dead is dead. And Myron was dead.
McClung glanced at his wife standing near the diving board at the far end of the pool. Marian’s white tee shirt clung to her body and her wet hair was plastered to her head and neck. Hugging herself, she managed a pitiful grin.
Not only was Myron Wagstaff a neighbor and the president of their Homeowners Association, but he was also Marian’s archnemesis.
McClung knelt beside Myron, grabbed his thick wrist, and checked for a pulse. His fingers sank into doughy flesh. Myron’s waterlogged polo shirt looked as if it had been spray painted on his belly, now bloated more than normal.
While McClung held his fingers in place waiting for a beat, he scanned the area. The patio furniture was jumbled together with the garden hose, snaking between the chairs, and stopping at the spot where Myron lay.
That, combined with the fact there weren’t any signs of bruising on Myron, perhaps meant this was an accidental drowning.
“Boss?” Sergeant Thayer asked as he stood behind McClung.
He shook his head as he moved aside for the paramedics to perform their magic. But McClung realized not even Doctor Frankenstein could reanimate poor Myron.
As the emergency team worked on Myron, Charlie hurried toward Marian.
“Are you okay?” He kissed her forehead and pulled her into his arms.
Marian’s body trembled against his chest.
“Thayer! Get Marian a blanket.”
The young sergeant ran full blast and quickly returned.
“I’m okay just, um, just, um.” Marian fought hard to keep her tears in check.
“Here.” Thayer’s breath pounded the back of Marian’s neck as he laid the blanket across her shoulders.
Charlie released Marian, secured the blanket then blotted a tissue under her eyes and nose. “Here’s a clean one.”
“Love the magical tissues.” A weak chuckle tumbled from Marian as she pulled the blanket tighter. “You’d think I’d be sweating in this June heat.”
“Well, it’s not even ten o’clock. It’s cloudy, and you’re soaking wet.” Charlie glanced at her feet. “Where are your shoes?”
“They were muddy, so I took them off before I went into Myron’s house to call 9-1-1 after I failed with CPR.” Marian sighed. “I was afraid that if Myron survived, he’d send me a bill to have the muddy floors cleaned.”
Pointing at the patio doors, she winced. “My shoes are over there.”
Marian massaged her lower back. “I guess I hurt my back getting Myron out of the water. I’ll be okay.”
Charlie squeezed her hand. Ever since Marian had the terrifying encounter with the Paper Heart Stalker and fell from a second-floor balcony last year, he worried about her health.
When McClung came face to face with the Paper Heart Stalker, Marian almost lost her life to save his but unknowingly sacrificed their unborn child.
He crossed over to the diving board and beckoned for her to follow. “Sit down. Here. Back toward me.”
She eased down on the hard plank.
Charlie’s strong hands ran across her shoulders and down her back.
“Does it hurt?”
“No, not really.”
“I guess nothing’s broken, dislocated, or cracked.”
He crossed over the board and sat down. “When I get home tonight, I’ll give you an intense massage once you’ve soaked in a tub of hot Epsom salt water.”
“Sounds good.” Marian watched the paramedics work on Myron.
The team’s jaws were tight as they knelt over Myron’s body. One paramedic rubbed the back of his neck as he stood in defeat while the other one closed Myron’s eyes and pulled a blanket over his face.
“I didn’t think they’d have much luck reviving him. I’d hoped, but…” Marian's voice trailed, her head heavy as she leaned on Charlie’s shoulder.
“You did everything by the book. I still don’t see how you got Myron out of the pool.”
Marian sighed. “I did what I had to.” She studied Charlie’s face, then swallowed hard and grimaced. “I tried to revive him. CPR but maybe if—.”
“Don’t even go down that path.” Charlie scratched his eyebrow. “Dispatch said you saw a man run from the scene.”
She sat up. “Yeah. Do you think he had something to do with this?”
“Possibly, but we won’t know for sure until we’ve gathered the facts.” Charlie shrugged. “To me, every death is suspicious. Been fooled before but never again.”
A year ago, two weeks after Charlie McClung had moved to Lyman County, he was called to the scene of a fatal shooting, Dianne Pannell. Without an investigation, the then chief of police ruled Dianne’s death a suicide, but Charlie proved it was murder after Dianne’s irritating neighbor, his now-wife, Marian, pressed him to look further into the case.
“Yeah.” Marian murmured.
Charlie stood. “Could be the guy got spooked when he saw Myron in the pool and ran away.” He held out his hand. “Come with me. The paramedics need to give you a quick check.”
“Why? My back isn’t hurting that bad.”
His hand cupped her cheek. “Sweetie, please just humor me.”
Marian avoided looking at Myron and let her husband guide her to the ambulance.
They met officers Willard and Marsh at the gate. Photographer Sam Goldstein wasn’t far behind.
“Ma’am, are you okay?” Marsh’s voice quivered, and his eyebrows drew together.
Marian looked at him for a moment. “I’m fine. Just a bit damp.” She bit her bottom lip and blinked several times. “Maybe a little shaken.”
Both officers were like sons to Marian.
A tentative smile eased the furrow between Marsh’s eyes. “Thank goodness.”
Willard scratched his head. “Where are your shoes, ma’am?”
McClung answered. “They’re outside the patio door. One of you get them for Marian.”
“Consider it done, Boss.” Willard took off.
“Marsh, I want you and Willard to help Thayer process the scene.”
Willard returned a few minutes later, holding the less-muddy sneakers. His hands were filthy. “Here you go. I cleaned them up the best I could.”
“Thank you, Willard.” Marian took the shoes.
“You two. Go assist Thayer.” McClung barked.
“Wait.” Marian held up her hand. “I scratched the running guy’s tag number on the sidewalk.”
“Marsh go find it. Willard, you report to Thayer.” McClung directed his trusted men.
The two young men hurried off on opposite paths.
“Sam, how did you know I needed you?”
The silver-haired man tapped his temple. “Didn’t take me long to figure you out. You’re a cop that sees murder everywhere.”
“But Sam, how did you know to come here?” Marian blurted.
Charlie and Sam answered. “Police scanner.”
Marian frowned. “Just anybody can have one?”
“Yep!” Charlie sighed. “In this case, it’s a good thing but mostly it’s not.”
Sam coughed. “I’ll just take a picture or two of that tag number.”
“Yeah, do that. Plus, there’s a lot going on behind the house.” Charlie watched the older man trudge down the sidewalk. Camera bags banged against Sam’s body with each step he took.
One of the paramedics joined McClung and Marian at the ambulance.
“Ma’am don’t fret. There wasn’t a thing you could’ve done for that guy.” The bear of a man shook his head. “I ain’t no coroner, but I’ve been at this job for a long time. He’s been dead too long to be revived.”
The reassurance that she wasn’t a factor in Myron’s death didn’t make Marian feel any better.
“Mel, do you mind giving my wife a quick once-over to make sure she’s safe to go home?” Charlie stroked Marian’s back as he spoke.
Mel removed his latex gloves and put on a fresh pair. He tilted his head toward the rear of the ambulance. “Just sit there.”
“Boss.” Thayer called to McClung from the open gate.
Charlie looked at Marian.
“Go on. Do your job.” Marian kissed her husband's cheek.
He didn’t move from her side.
“I’m fine, just a tweaked back. Besides you’re making me nervous watching me like a hawk.”
“Boss.” Thayer repeated more urgently.
Charlie smiled and gave her a casual salute. “As you wish.”
McClung hurried toward Thayer. “Found something?”
“I think I figured out what happened.”
McClung disappeared behind the fence.
“What is it, Thayer?” McClung followed him into Myron’s house as he pulled a pair of latex gloves from his pocket. “I was hoping I could go a whole year without having to use these.”
“Makes for a mundane job.” Sergeant Thayer said flatly. “Here sir, in the kitchen. There’s a half-empty bottle of whiskey and one glass.”
McClung arched an eyebrow as he leaned over to study the bottle of Four Roses Single Barrel Bourbon Whiskey. About three fingers of liquid was left inside the bottle, a few drops coated the bottom of the tumbler.
He walked to the sink and smelled the drain. No lingering odor of alcohol. Then he carefully picked up the tumbler. “Thayer, flip on the overhead light.”
The fluorescent tubes buzzed to life.
McClung held up the tumbler to the harsh light. On the rim, was a faint lip print. “Hmm, make sure you dust this for prints and bag it.” He set it back in its original position.
Marsh squinted as he entered the kitchen. “Boss, put me to work.”
“Taking pictures of the deceased before they cart him away.”
McClung rubbed his earlobe. “Tell Mel to instruct the hospital not to release the body until I say so. I want Jack Jackson to do the autopsy, if he’s available.” He snapped his fingers. “And tell Sam I’ll need him in here when he’s finished.”
“Will do.” Marsh headed outside.
McClung studied every inch of the kitchen: the floor, inside the cabinets, oven, and refrigerator. He examined everything as he searched for possible clues. There was no hint to what may have led to Myron’s death.
“Boss, I don’t think it’s murder.”
McClung raised an eyebrow and replied sarcastically, “Yeah? Well then, enlighten me with your hypothesis of poor Wagstaff’s watery demise.” He strolled toward the open patio door and headed for the pool.
As Thayer spoke, McClung studied the jumbled furniture.
“Myron was drunk, got tangled up in the patio furniture, stumbled around, and then fell into the pool. He was too drunk to get himself out of the water.”
McClung pushed out his bottom lip and nodded. “Hm. He was in the shallow end. All he had to do was stand up.”
Thayer rubbed the top of his head. “Maybe he hit his head on the bottom. Knocked himself out.”
McClung wandered around the pool. He stopped where the garden hose lay beside the pool.
The concrete was soaked, and the grass drenched to the point that a small stream had flowed down the incline, out the gate and onto the street.
“What do you think Myron was doing with the hose?”
Thayer hunched his shoulders. “Topping off the pool?”
“Yeah, sounds right.” McClung pointed to the water-logged grass. “The hose had to be on for a long time to have created that miniature creek rolling down the hill and into the street.”
“That goes to show I’m right. He was drunk standing here. The hose got tangled in the furniture. He yanked it. Lost his balance. Dropped the hose. Hit his head on the concrete and fell into the pool. Accidental drowning.” Thayer crossed his arms and grinned.
McClung pulled on his bottom lip. “Plausible.” Something on the concrete caught his eye.
“What does this look like to you?” McClung knelt close to the spot.
“It looks like blood. Must be where he hit his head.”
“Yeah, and what about this?”
McClung touched a hard, yellowish, rectangular-shaped chip, like a half of a Chiclet. He looked around for Sam Goldstein.
The EMTs were talking to Sam as he photographed Myron’s body.
McClung yelled over his shoulder. “Sam, get over here.”
The paramedics began moving Myron’s body.
“What do we have there?” Sam held the camera to his eye, snapping pictures as McClung pointed toward the areas.
“That appears to be blood.” McClung pointed to the yellowish object. “And that, my friend, doesn’t belong here. Possibly a clue.”
Thayer knelt beside McClung. “Yep, could be. It looks like old ivory?”
McClung thought the odd chip looked familiar, but the vague memory faded away.
Sam zoomed to get a few tight shots of the chip and the blood spatters.
McClung glanced at the EMTs. “Thayer, bag it and look for more spatters and anything else in this area. I want a chat with Mel.”
“Mel, where’s Marian? Is she all right?” McClung moved out of the way of the paramedics while they loaded Myron onto the stretcher.
“She’s fine. Just hurt her back. Understandable.” Mel groaned as they lifted Myron’s body. “Even for me this guy is hefty. I’m surprised your wife got him out of the water. She’s a tiny lady. What 5’3’ and 125 pounds?”
McClung snorted as he nodded. “Yep, but she’s stubborn. If she’s got it in her mind to do something, consider it done.”
“Is Marian still sitting in the back of the ambulance?” McClung followed the gurney.
“No, sir. She’s sittin on the front stoop waitin on you.”
Officer Billy Crawford met them inside the gate.
McClung couldn’t help but smile at his oldest officer. Crawford was always in a jolly mood.
But not this morning.
“Boss, sorry it took me so long to get here.” Crawford wore a rare frown.
“What’s the matter?” McClung waved the paramedics to go on.
Crawford shifted the criminal investigation kit from one hand to the other. “Ah, the missus got news her favorite uncle isn’t doing so good and her dad’s not taking it none too well. If her uncle dies, my father-in-law will be the last one left in his family.”
McClung gripped Crawford’s firm shoulder. “I’m sorry to hear that. Are you sure you should be here? Your wife needs you.”
“Thanks, but I’m not much help. Best thing for me is to stay out of her way.”
“Okay, but don’t be shy about asking for time off. Understand?”
“I appreciate that, Boss.”
“If there’s anything we can do, don’t hesitate to ask.” He shook his index finger at his officer. “I mean it. Ask. Marian will make sure you’re fed, you got that?”
“Yes, Boss. But I saw her sitting out front, and she doesn’t look so good.”
McClung’s eyes widened. “What?”
“You didn’t know she’s here?” Crawford pulled back his head.
“Yeah, but she said she was fine.” McClung patted the officer’s back. “Let me go speak with her. I’ll catch up with you later.”
Charlie hurried to find his wife, but stopped a few yards away to observe her.
So many questions he needed to ask, but he was worried about her. Marian didn’t need this stress. Not now.
Marian looked like a triangular-shaped lump of coal. The dark gray blanket was wound tightly around her body and she was resting her forehead on her knees, which she’d pulled up to her chest.
Charlie wondered how she was able to breathe. He sat beside her and rubbed her back. “Sweetie?”
Marian’s head popped up. “Hey! I didn’t hear you come up. I must’ve dozed off as I was praying.”
“Yeah? Are you sure you’re okay? You don’t look so hot.” Charlie wrapped his arms around her.
Marian winced. “You’re such a sweet talker.”
Charlie released his embrace. “Sorry.” His fingers massaged her lower back.
“That’s okay.” Marian pulled off the blanket and neatly folded it. “I’m tired. I want to lie down. Is it okay for me to walk home, now?”
“Nope, it’s at least a mile and a half. I’m driving you home.”
She straightened her legs. “Might as well. These sneakers are ruined. Not good for anything but stomping around in the yard.”
Marian tucked the thin blanket under her arm. “What about the investigation? Aren’t you going to question me?”
“Your well-being is more important to me. Besides, Thayer’s opinion is this is an accidental drowning. My best team is on this. They don’t need me telling them how to do their job. And you can tell me what happened when you feel like it.”
“Do you honestly want to talk about it now?”
Marian whispered. “I need to, but—”
“But means later. Tonight?”
Charlie held her hand as they walked toward the gate. “Let me tell the guys I’m taking you home.”
McClung passed the EMTs as he disappeared behind the fence.
Marian shuddered as she watched the paramedics load Myron’s body inside the ambulance. “I’ve witnessed this scene too many times in the past year.”
Born in Mercedes, Texas, Mary Anne has lived in Georgia for most of her life. A life-long fan of authors such as Agatha Christie, Anne Perry, Caroline Graham, and Elizabeth Peters, it wasn’t until a few years ago that Mary Anne listened to the voices in her head and began writing her own series of traditional mysteries featuring Detective Charlie McClung.
The first book in the series, Brilliant Disguise, was released to critical acclaim in January 2014. The next three in the series, A Good Girl, Criminal Kind, and Sins of my Youth were released soon afterward. The fifth book in the series, Flirting with Time, was released on June 30, 2017. The sixth book, How Deep is the Darkness, will be released on December 2, 2019. She is working on the seventh book, Complex Kid, with at least three more to follow.
Mary Anne and her husband live in Smyrna, GA with an ill-tempered Tuxedo cat named Gertrude. Mary Anne is a member of Sisters in Crime and sits on the advisory board of Rockdale Cares, a non-profit advocacy group for the developmentally challenged.
Tour hosted by: Partners in Crime Tours