BY: JOHN W. DANIEL
Deeply saddened by the murder of Will Ramsdell, the retired police chief of Wisteria, Virginia, who helped her with her first investigative assignment, Abby Burlew, who suffers from bipolar disorder, heads to Wisteria to make sure Will’s killer is brought to justice. Ignoring the likelihood that she will cycle into mania brought on by the strain of her investigation, she partners with Marty Stith—a friend of Will’s who lives and works at Pinecroft, the mom-and-pop golf course where Will was murdered. Suspects abound, including Marty Stith himself, who Abby has reason to believe is orchestrating what she learns and when she learns it. Two of the suspects are murdered, and a third person, with no apparent reason for wanting Will dead, claims to be his killer. As Abby struggles to make sense of all this, she comes ever closer to losing her sanity—and her life.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In No Reason to Kill by John W. Daniel, Abby Burlew is back on the case again in Wisteria, Virginia, this time investigating the murder of her friend, Will Ramsdell. Will was a big help to Abby in her last case, and also a good friend, so she is determined to see that his killer is brought to justice. Abby is bi-polar, so not only does she have to convince her boss, as well as her mother and friends, that she is capable of handling this investigation, she also has to convince the people in Wisteria that she means business. And even though he is dead, Will is still a help on this case, leaving clues for Abby to find as to who he thinks the suspects will be if something happens to him. Which it did. But then the bodies start to pile up, and Abby wonders if she is losing her grip on reality…
Fast paced, intense, and compelling, this is one that you’ll want to read again and again, just to catch everything you missed before. A really great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: No Reason to Kill by John Daniel is the story of a bi-polar newspaper reporter for a small-town paper in North Carolina. When she reads a story in another paper about the death of a friend of hers in Wisteria, Virginia, Abby Burlew is determined to go to Wisteria to investigate. First, she has to convince her boss that their readers would be interested in a story of a murder in a town even smaller than the one they are in. Next, she has to convince her mother that she will be just fine. Promising to take her medicine, Abby heads for Wisteria, determined to bring the killer to justice. There are a number of suspects, but very few clues, at least ones that mean anything to Abby, and she follows one dead end after another. Then her suspects start dying, and Abby doesn’t know if the deaths are connected, but if they aren’t, how does she explain the sudden crime wave in such a small town?
Well written, with marvelous characters, fast-paced action, and plenty of surprises, No Reason to Kill will keep you enthralled all the way through.
OPENING DAY OF DEER SEASON!
When Will Ramsdell saw the headline, he felt a strong urge to break out his twelve-gauge Mossberg and a box of shells and head across the Shenandoah River to a stretch of lowland where a few days earlier he had spotted several white tails grazing. His shotgun was ready— hadn’t been fired since he cleaned and oiled it nearly a year earlier.
But then Will thought of his old friend Walter Hux. He could almost hear the veterinarian’s voice from the grave. You’re backsliding on me, Will. That’s not exactly the way to honor a friend’s memory, you know.
“Just one deer,” Will muttered. “I’ll make absolutely sure every bit that’s edible gets eaten.”
You don’t even like venison. You’d be taking a creature’s life for the sheer pleasure of it—the thrill of the kill.
“That’s an oversimplification, Walt, and you know it.”
Is it? I suggest you take a close look at exactly what you’d be doing. And while you’re at it, try this on for size: Real men don’t get their kicks from killing animals.
Will started to object, tell his old friend in no uncertain terms that he was being unreasonable. Then he decided that today, at least, he would let him have the last word. Instead of going deer hunting, Will would stick to his original plan and go golfing. “Don’t think you’ve won, though, Walt. Next time we get on this subject, I won’t let you off so easily.”
Will finished eating his breakfast while scanning the Hawthorne Observer for other items of interest. Then, after washing and drying the dishes, he tossed his golf clubs in the back of his pickup truck and headed for Pinecroft.
Twenty minutes later Will climbed the stairs to what doubled as the course’s pro shop and the Langs’ living room.
“Looks like I beat the crowd,” he teased when he saw Jamie Lang standing behind a display case containing an assortment of golf balls, gloves, and tees. Though not as slender as she once was, she still had the ability to quicken his pulse.
“Not a soul on the course, Will. Figured you’d be out chasing Bambi like everybody else.”
“I considered it. Decided I needed a real challenge—Pinecroft’s back nine.”
In the process of paying some bills, Jamie slid a check into an envelope and licked the flap. “The woods are full of hunters today. There’s less chance of getting hit by a stray bullet if you play the front.”
“I haven’t had a decent round on the back all year, Jamie. I’d like to change that before the snow flies. Is Nelson hunting?”
“He was up at the crack of dawn.” Jamie affixed a stamp to the envelope and set it on top of two others. “Said he was going over to Herman Williams’s farm.”
“What about Marty?”
“He’s out cutting brush.” Jamie tucked a loose strand of blonde hair behind her left ear and leaned against the case, her right arm resting against the glass top. “You’ll probably run into him if the hunters don’t get you first.”
“I’ll be careful. Got any Precepts left?”
“Laddie or Lassie?”
Will chuckled. “I’ll leave that up to you.” He extracted a score card and a stubby pencil from the small plastic container next to the cash register. “How are things going with you and Nelson?”
“You don’t sound too sure about that,” Will said and reached for his wallet.
Jamie shrugged. She handed him a sleeve of balls with “Laddie” printed on the side and took the twenty-dollar bill he extended in her direction.
“I see you’ve got a bruise on your arm. Nelson’s not responsible for that, is he?”
“No, that was my own damn fault. I slipped on the back steps yesterday when I was bringing in groceries. Not as young as I used to be, Will—or as agile.” Jamie’s lips formed a smile her eyes didn’t fully participate in. “Don’t worry about Nelson and me,” she said, handing Will his change. “We’re doing okay, especially now that Marty is helping out. We’re actually starting to make a few improvements to this raggedy-assed golf course.”
“If things with Nelson start going south again—”
Jamie touched a finger to Will’s lips, stopping him in mid-sentence. “Time to focus on your golf game, Will Ramsdell. The golfing world is waiting to see who’s tougher, you or the back nine. My money is on you. I think you’ve got a good round coming today.”
“I hope you’re right. When do you expect Nelson back?”
“Not until late this afternoon. Why?”
“There’s something I need to discuss with him—and you.”
Jamie’s brow furrowed. “What’s it about, Will?”
“I’d rather not go into it until I’ve got the two of you together. I’ll tell you this much, though—what I’ve got to say will come as a surprise, maybe even a shock, especially to Nelson.” Will tipped the orange hunting cap he was wearing in place of his usual golfing hat and headed for the stairway.
Before Jamie could find the words to say anything else, he was down the stairs and out the door.
Will began his round with a double bogie on the tenth hole, a narrow par five that invariably seemed to give him trouble. He got a stroke back on the par-three eleventh when his chip shot, which he thought for sure he’d hit too hard, clanked against the pin and dropped into the cup.
“Yeah!” he yelled and pumped his fist in his best Tiger Woods impersonation. “All right!”
As though in response, a shotgun boomed, the sound reverberating through the hills. Will extracted his ball, kissed it, and headed for the next tee, hoping his good luck would continue.
Although surprised that Jamie had referred to the course as “raggedy assed,” Will knew the term wasn’t inappropriate. By conventional standards Pinecroft was not a good golf course, especially the newer holes, which had lumpy greens and rocky, uneven fairways. Few people who took their golf seriously played the course more than once.
Will was a serious golfer, though, and he rarely played anywhere else. The other courses in the area were too crowded for his taste, even on weekdays, but if he arrived at Pinecroft before nine in the morning, chances were his truck would be the only vehicle in the parking lot. No other course let him play at his own pace, regardless of the type of game he brought with him that day.
Pinecroft had another advantage too, particularly this time of year when the hills were still awash with color. Will often found himself stopping in the middle of a round and gazing at his surroundings, soaking up the beauty. The fact that there would be few, if any, golfers in his field of vision made the view all the more special.
In spite of the fact that the twelfth fairway resembled a pockmarked moonscape and the green was riddled with bald spots, Will managed to par the hole. On the thirteenth, a long, down-hill par three, he pulled his tee shot badly. The ball disappeared in the woods well short of the green, not far from where a young man wearing an orange hat similar to Will’s was yanking on a vine attached to a birch tree.
“Hope you saw where my ball went, Marty. I’ve got a decent round going.”
“There’s good and bad news about your ball, Will. It ended up in that pile of brush I’ve been adding to all week. No way you’ll ever find it. Fortunately, that pile is a temporary, man-made obstacle, so you’re entitled to a free drop.”
Will headed in the direction Marty was pointing, soon realizing the futility of searching for his ball. The brush pile, full of vines and limbs of all sizes and shapes, including numerous saplings, was large enough to hide a small automobile. Will dropped a ball two club lengths from the obstruction, picked out an area between two pine trees, and chipped back to the fairway.
“Smart play,” Marty said. “By the time spring rolls around, I hope to have all these overgrown areas thinned out. Any decision yet on the mayor’s offer?”
Will slid the seven iron back in his bag. “I’ve decided to take him up on it, Marty.”
The young man stuck out his hand. “Congratulations, Chief! When do you resume duties?”
“First of the month. Any chance I can lure you back to the force?”
Marty shook his head. “I really enjoy it out here, Will. Not that I didn’t like working for you. But what I do for the Langs doesn’t seem like work. It’s more like therapy.”
A shotgun boomed in the distance. Before the echo died, there was a second blast and then a third, the reverberations rumbling like thunder.
“Glad things have worked out for you, Marty. Try not to make this course so player friendly folks will start flocking out here in droves.”
A moment later Will pitched onto the green and, thinking his chances for a good round had slipped away, two-putted for another double bogie. After scrambling for pars on the next two holes, however, he revised his opinion. He parred the sixteenth hole as well, and as he headed for the seventeenth tee, he realized he was in position to accomplish something few people had ever achieved: break forty on Pinecroft’s back nine.
As he approached the elevated tee, a series of shotgun blasts cascaded from the hills. Will paid no attention to the noise, too absorbed in what he needed on the final holes—two more pars, a bogie and a birdie, or a double bogie and (yeah, right) an eagle. Totaling no more than eight strokes on the next two holes would require his best effort—and a lot more luck than he had a right to expect.
Setting his golf bag on the ground, he took out his driver and removed the club’s headcover his wife had knitted for him the summer she died. He set up on the right side of the tee box, hoping to hit his normal shot, a power fade.
As he started his waggle, he detected movement out of the corner of his eye and backed away from the ball. Someone carrying a shotgun and wearing an orange hunting vest and matching hat emerged from the honeysuckle thicket on the right of the teeing area.
“What’re you doing up here?” Will asked in surprise.
Without replying, the person took two more steps in Will’s direction and then stopped and chambered a round.
“This some kind of sick joke?”
When Will realized the answer, fear surged through him like a cold jolt of electricity. Out of desperation, he flung his driver, hoping to disable his assailant. The club landed harmlessly in the weeds.
The shotgun boomed, the blast knocking Will backward and to the ground. Gasping for breath, his chest heavy with pain, he closed his eyes, hoping the person would think one bullet was enough.
Realization quickly set in. It didn’t matter if there was a second shot or not. Will’s body was shutting down.
Soon he would be dead, even without another shot being fired.
Will felt a tangle of emotions, fear at first then regret. He thought of Abby Burlew, wishing he hadn’t written that ridiculous poem for her and Marty to find. How could he have been such a fool?
He opened his eyes and, with effort, slowly inclined his head toward the honeysuckle vines. His vision was too blurred to make out anything but a vague colorless shape. He tried to speak, say the words of explanation he wanted the shooter to hear. “You…” he muttered, but that was all he managed to say.
Overhead, a dappled sun shone through the branches of a nearby maple tree, its red and yellow leaves ruffling in a gust of wind Will could no longer feel.
Abby Burlew sat in her cubicle at the Scarboro Gazette and stared in stunned disbelief at her friend and co-worker Becky Stroup. “Will is dead? Murdered?”
“Here’s a copy of the story. I ran across it in a Richmond Times-Dispatch I was checking for something totally unrelated. I’m sorry, Abby. I know how much you thought of him.”
Abby read the brief article. Will Ramsdell had been shot to death while playing golf at a family-owned course seven miles east of Wisteria, Virginia. Although his death was being treated as a homicide, the sheriff investigating the case hadn’t ruled out the possibility of an accidental shooting by a careless hunter.
“He was like a father to me, Becky. This is just awful.”
The young woman gently patted Abby’s shoulder. “Is there anything I can do?”
Only if you can turn back time, give me a chance to do for Will what he did for me. “No,” she said with a sigh. “Assuming I can pull myself together, I’ll try to find out what’s happened since that article came out.”
“I’ll be glad to make some calls for you.”
Abby shook her head. “Thanks anyway.”
After Becky left, Abby went down the hall to the women’s bathroom and locked herself in a stall. For a long time she wept, the knowledge that Will Ramsdell was dead almost more than she could stand. After splashing cold water on her face, she returned to her desk and gazed out the window, staring toward, but not really seeing, the three-story bank building and the double-decked parking garage next to it that loomed in the middle distance.
Eventually focusing on her computer, Abby looked up the Wisteria Police Department’s phone number on the Internet. Her hands trembled as she dialed it, and her voice cracked as she asked to speak to Marty Stith. When told that he no longer worked there, Abby explained that she had been a friend of Will Ramsdell’s and asked if any progress had been made in solving his murder.
“You’ll have to ask the sheriff about that. The shooting took place outside the town limits, so it’s his jurisdiction.”
“I’d like to talk to Marty before I do that. Have you got a phone number where he can be reached?”
“Last I heard he was living out at the golf course where Will was killed. Apparently, he sank some money in it a while back. Bad move if you ask me. Hold on, I’ll see if it’s in the phone book.”
A few moments later Abby dialed Pinecroft’s number. The man who answered told her Marty was out on the course and asked if he could take a message.
“I need him to call me as soon as possible,” Abby said after identifying herself and explaining that she had been a friend of Will’s and had just learned of his death. She was about to provide her cell phone number when the man cut in.
“Hang on. I just heard a golf cart drive up. It’s probably Marty.”
A half hour later Abby knocked on her boss’s partially open door and entered the office. A short, plump woman with a myopic squint, Charlene Greer had just returned from a meeting which, judging from her mood, had not gone well.
Her mood didn’t improve when Abby requested time off to investigate a friend’s death.
“What friend are you talking about?”
“Will Ramsdell. He helped me with the Sheila Bostrum investigation. He was murdered last week.”
Choking back tears, Abby explained what she knew about Will’s death. Even before she finished, her boss was shaking her head.
“I don’t want you getting involved in that. The Gazette needs you right here in Scarboro covering local news.”
“The man saved my life, Charlene. I owe it to him to make sure his murder is solved.”
“What makes you think it won’t be solved without your help?”
“I just got off the phone with an ex-cop who knows all about law enforcement in the Wisteria area. He doubts the sheriff is capable of solving the crime, and he said the acting police chief actually had a motive for killing Will.” Abby explained that Will had recently been offered the police chief’s job, the same position he resigned two years earlier, after his wife’s death. “That wouldn’t have been welcome news for the acting chief.”
“I hate to be hard-nosed about this, Abby, but the answer is still no. Now if you’ll excuse me, I have another meeting to prepare for.”
Abby’s temper flared. “Damn it, Charlene. You’re being unreasonable about this.”
The woman locked eyes with Abby. “Apparently, you think it’s reasonable to take time off to investigate a murder that has nothing whatsoever to do with your job,” she said in a measured tone. “It makes me wonder if you’re still taking your meds.”
Abby glared at her boss. “I don’t appreciate that, Charlene. In fact, I resent the hell out of it.”
“And I resent you swearing and raising your voice at me. Do it again and you’ll find yourself looking for another job and having less than a glowing recommendation from me.”
Her cheeks burning, Abby was the first to break eye contact. “Sorry,” she said and took several deep breaths, trying to tamp down her anger. “Will was a wonderful friend.”
“I understand that. But it makes no sense to get involved in his murder investigation. I won’t allow it.”
On the verge of returning to her cubicle, Abby thought of something that might bolster her argument. “What if I went to Wisteria as a reporter and submitted articles about Will’s murder and the efforts to find his killer?”
“That wouldn’t be remotely interesting to the Gazette’s readers. Will wasn’t Scarboro’s police chief. He probably never even lived in North Carolina.”
“But Sheila Bostrum and Rhonda Tolbert did. Our readers lapped up everything we could print about those murders. If they knew Will helped me solve them and saved my life in the process, don’t you think they’d be interested in knowing what happened to him and why?”
Charlene’s face showed a flicker of interest. “That’s an angle I hadn’t considered. I’ll give it some thought and let you know my decision this afternoon.”
“My guess is she’ll agree to it,” Becky said as they waited for their orders at Curley’s Chicken Shack, their favorite lunchtime spot. “You’ve already proved you can investigate a murder, and this sounds like a perfect story for the Gazette. I know I’ll be anxious to read it. Did you ask your mom if she’ll take care of Kevin?”
“Not yet. But that shouldn’t be a problem.”
They were sitting in a booth across from the take-out window. Abby had ordered iced tea and a salad, the news of Will’s death having robbed her of her usual hearty appetite.
Becky had selected her old standby, a chicken barbeque sandwich, and a side order of coleslaw.
“Tell me more about this ex-cop who works at the golf course where Will was killed,” Becky said. “When did you meet him?”
“Last year when I stopped at Wisteria’s police station. Marty gave me directions to Will’s house. The next day he provided information that turned out to be crucial to my investigation.”
“I remember that—and meeting you in Caledonia later that day with some useful information of my own.”
Abby nodded. “If it hadn’t been for the two of you, the high point of my journalistic career would have been covering the debutante ball.”
Becky chuckled. “Working at a golf course is quite a come down from being a cop, don’t you think?”
“Apparently, Marty is part owner. Don’t ask how he managed that on a cop’s salary.”
“Sounds like an interesting guy. Are you taking your golf clubs with you?”
“I don’t have any golf clubs, Becky. Besides, I’d be surprised if Charlene lets me go.”
“Not me. One thing you can count on with our little Napoleon—she never misses an opportunity to make herself look good.”
It was almost five o’clock, Abby’s normal departure time, when her phone finally rang and she was summoned to her boss’s office.
“Have a seat and tell me the latest about the Wardlaws,” Charlene said, looking more relaxed than she had earlier in the day.
Abby told her that Earl and Donna Wardlaw were still staying at the Knight’s Inn on Scarboro’s west side. “I tried to interview them by phone and in person, but they refused to talk.”
“What about their kids?”
“The daughter is out of intensive care, but it sounds like she might have some brain damage. At least, that’s what one of the nurses told me off the record.”
“Any mention of a lawsuit?”
“Not yet. My guess is the Wardlaws are playing a waiting game. If they really were operating a meth lab, they’ll probably wait to see if they get charged for that. I think they’re also waiting to see how well their kids recover.”
Abby explained that she had contacted the gas company earlier that morning and its position was the same—the explosion wasn’t its fault. “The cops are still tight lipped about the whole thing, though my source at the police department did say they sent a segment of cracked pipe found near the Wardlaws’ gas meter to a testing lab. The results should take about ten days.”
Charlene adjusted her glasses and leaned back in her swivel chair. “Sooner or later this case will break wide open, Abby. When it does, I want you available and ready to run with it. Regardless of what caused that explosion, there’s a follow-up story here, probably a whole series of them. Right now I don’t see a problem with you leaving for a few days, as long as you’re prepared to return at a moment’s notice. Call me when you get to Wisteria and let me know where you’re staying. And keep your cell phone on. If I need you in a hurry, I don’t want to get your voice mail. Comprenez vous?”
Abby nodded, stifling the urge to reply Mais oui, Madame Salope.
“One other thing. You’re going to Wisteria as a reporter for the Gazette, not as a private investigator. Have you got a problem with that?”
“No,” Abby said, still too overwhelmed by Will’s death to savor, even for a moment, this small, rare victory over her bitch of a boss. “No problem at all.”
© 2018 by John W. Daniel