At forty-two, Dana Cohen has retired from her twenty-two-year career as a detective in the NYPD and moved back home to the rocky cliffs above Long Island Sound to take stock of her life. Her drinking has become problematic, and she increasingly relies on it as her life becomes more complicated. Her estranged husband, Pete Fitzgerald, surprises her at her house, armed with flowers and promises to finally be faithful. Although Dana sends him packing, when he’s later accused of murder, she jumps to his defense. He swears he’s innocent, and she wants to believe him. But with all the evidence pointing directly at him, reasonable doubt is a very scarce commodity.

TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In On the Rocks by Rebecca Marks, Dana Cohen is a retired police detective for the NYPD. When her father gets Alzheimer’s and is placed in a nursing, Dana goes home to Long Island to take care of his affairs, house, and winery. Dana’s estranged husband, Pete, follows her. He’s a detective with the NYPD, but he isn’t in Long Island long before he is charged with murder. Dana knows that Pete is a lousy, unfaithful husband, but he’s not a murder, so she inserts herself into the investigation, trying to prove his innocence. But the harder she works, the more evidence is discovered that points straight at Pete. Between her drinking problem and Pete not being able to keep it in his pants, Dana has her work cut out for her. But the mystery goes much deeper than she realizes, with some dark secrets just waiting to be uncovered.

This is a well-told story with realistic characters; complex mysteries; and a strong, well-thought-out plot. It will catch and hold your interest from the very first page to the very last.

REGAN MURPHY SAYS: On the Rocks by Rebecca Marks is a contemporary mystery/suspense set in Long Island. It’s told in present tense—which I personally don’t care for, especially in a mystery—but that is minor and easy to get past once you get into the story. Our heroine, Dana Cohen, has come back to her hometown to take care of her father’s business after he has to be put in a nursing home due to advanced dementia. She also wants to take stock of her life now that she’s retired from the New York Police Department, separated from her unfaithful husband, and drinking too much. Dana hopes that the peace and quiet of the rural country village will help her put life in perspective. Unfortunately, that peace and quiet doesn’t last very long. She isn’t even settled into her father’s house when her estranged husband, NYPD detective Peter Fitzgerald, shows up at her door, wanting her back. Dana still loves him but she knows she can’t trust him, so she sends him packing. Problem is, he doesn’t stay sent. In no time at all, he’s back at her door, only this time, he’s gotten himself into a mess of trouble, starting with a dead body. Of course, Pete didn’t really commit the murder, did he? Dana doesn’t think so and sets out to clear his name, even though all the evidence screams that she’s putting her faith in the wrong man, again.

I really like that Marks’s characters are flawed and human. No super-heroes or legendary detectives in this one. Just a good solid plot, very believable characters, a complicated and intriguing mystery, and plenty of edge-of-your-seat action.


Every time I need a little peace, a little time to recover from a small or large or imagined crisis, I sit on my sofa, staring out the massive picture window at the Long Island Sound, which ripples more or less along the coastline, lapping at the rocks and calming my brain. There’s an indentation on the couch that matches the size and shape of my ass, and I’m sinking into that now. The events of yesterday continue to zigzag through my head, like one of those old cassette tape players set on auto-repeat, doomed to go on forever until someone pulls the plug or the batteries die. No one’s pulling the plug, and I keep replaying the entire scenario, until I think my head is about to explode. It all started last night with a knock at the door…


“Who’s there?” I’d been puttering around the house, fixing it up in case I decided to sell it, now that Pop was in the nursing home and wouldn’t be leaving there.

I love this house and haven’t been able to make up my mind whether to keep it or sell it, but one way or the other I know I have to be here to figure out what to do with the wine business Pop can no longer run. And getting rid of a bunch of stuff Pete had left here over the years would make it a little more comfortable for the dog and me. The place is daunting, though–so big I have trouble taking care of it myself.

The knock at the door happened yesterday, Saturday, mid-afternoon, a nice early-fall afternoon, when I wasn’t expecting anyone. In fact, I was feeling sorry for myself that, on a great weekend when everyone else was out, I was inside, alone, dusting.

No answer, but another set of raps, louder this time. I put down the Swiffer and went downstairs. Whoever it was had knocked at the back door, and only people who know me well come to the back door. Charlie wasn’t barking, so I figured it was someone whose smell he recognized. As I got to the bottom of the stairs and turned toward the back of the house, I saw the dog, almost jumping out of his skin, his tail beating back and forth so quickly it was creating a small wake behind him. “Who is it, Charles?”

When I rounded the corner of the kitchen, I saw him through the window–Pete. Standing there at the door, looking well dressed, like a little kid whose mother had spiffed him up for the first day of school, his hair neatly trimmed and brushed back, his face scrubbed, so sexy I wanted to take a bite out of him. I stopped short, brushed the sweaty hair away from my eyes, and looked down at the faded pink tracksuit with a hole in the knee. I wasn’t wearing a bra, and my legs needed shaving.

“Shit! Pete, what the hell are you doing here?” I still hadn’t opened the door, and I saw he was shuffling back and forth from leg to leg. Even I had to admit I sounded pretty shrill.

“Are you going to open the door, or do I have to wait here all day and freeze my ass off?”

I opened the door, and he walked right in, Charlie jumping all over him and squealing. “You have a key. Why did you stand out there shivering?”

“I’m trying to be on best behavior here.”

I’m sure I rolled my eyes.

“Aren’t you going to say anything?”

“I’m too stunned to say anything,” I said, regaining my composure a little.

“Not glad to see me?” He pushed Charlie away gently and tried to grab me with his free arm, but I twisted away. “I dressed up just for you.” He thrust a bouquet of yellow roses at me. “These are the color you love, right?” I took the bouquet and dropped it on the counter. “Don’t you want to put them in water?”

“I thought we agreed not to see each other for a while. After the…last time.”

“I missed you so much, Dana. And I missed this place.”

I had to look twice to make sure, but there was no question he was pouting, his bottom lip thrust outward the slightest bit. “Did something happen? You always miss me when some woman dumps you and you’re not getting any.”

“You always say things to hurt me. Danni, I missed you. I love you. That never changes.”

“I look like hell. Probably smell like hell too. I hired a cleaning lady, but she’s better at tolerating the dog than getting the place clean and, besides, I have no idea what happened to her. She stopped coming.”

Pete is the only one who calls me Danni, and I hate to admit it’s endearing, as much as I want to be offended. That’s part of the problem with Pete. He does something obnoxious that makes me want to hate him forever, and then he calls me Danni and I melt.

Yesterday’s scenario continues replaying in my head…

“You look beautiful. You always look beautiful to me. Can’t I just stay here for a couple of days? Can’t we just talk about things?”

He reached out to me again, but I snaked away behind Charlie, who was still wagging his tail and trying to jump up on Pete.

“Why do we have to go through this all the time? No. I’m getting this house ready to sell, and you’re going to have to get all your stuff out of here. You agreed to give me some space for a while. Every time I back down, I end up in therapy.”

“I didn’t really agree. I just didn’t say anything. So you wouldn’t be mad. Until I couldn’t stand being away from you anymore. And I thought you were moving in here so you could help with the winery. Why would you leave? We have so many awesome memories in this house.”

“I was hoping you’d respect my wishes for a change and do what I want.”

“Can I get a cold drink? Got a beer or something?”

“How about some water?”

One of the problems with Pete is that he’s beautiful–really gorgeous–and sexy as hell. It sounds like a cliché, but his features are rugged, handsome. He has hair a twenty-year-old would be proud of, full and wavy, sandy brown with just a little tinge of gray along the temples. His eyes are steel blue, the shiny, dark lashes longer than mine. His nose is small and straight but not too small for his face. His lips are still full and naturally red so he can pout with the best of them and kiss with the best of them. He works out, so his body is hard and sculpted, his shoulders broad, his waist small. He has washboard abs and strong, muscular arms. You can even see it when he’s dressed like this, in dress slacks and a button-down shirt. His shoes are even shined so I can see my reflection in them.

“Really? Water? You don’t have anything stronger?”

“Well, are you thirsty, or are you just trying to get me to socialize?” Now he was the one not answering. I turned to open the refrigerator, and he tried to grab my ass as I walked away. “Shit, please don’t do that.” I jerked myself away from his hand, grabbed a half bottle of water, and handed it to him, extending my arm a long way so he couldn’t reach me.

Then he’d put the bottle on the counter next to the flowers, and left. Just like that. Not another word. I thought maybe this time I’d gotten through to him, but history said it couldn’t be that easy.

And then, my mind tracks back again to “Who’s there…”


So now it’s ten o’clock Sunday morning. It’s really starting to look like fall around here. The trees in the back are beginning to turn color just a bit, and it’s the time in early autumn when some of them are still completely green, and others half yellow, half orange, but all breathtaking. Nothing brown yet, or dead and crumbling. I could probably sit here a long time, doing not much of anything, except that it’s been such a weird twenty-four hours. I can’t stop thinking about Pete. I took the flowers, which was my first mistake, and let him in, which was my second. Now he’s back, and I’m dealing with his shit all over again and rehashing the past twenty years ad nauseum. I wish I could give my brain a time-out, but that bad song keeps playing in my head, over and over.

The divorce that should have–but never–happened remains complicated. Dana Cohen versus Peter Fitzgerald. Mom hadn’t approved of my marrying him, but young love trumps good sense and, at the time, I figured it was just a mother being overprotective of her daughter. Plus, she was upset I was marrying a shagetz, although Jewish guys are pretty few and far between on the NYPD. Mom was disappointed I decided not to go to college and marry a lawyer or a doctor.

Pop, on the other hand, had embraced Pete the minute I brought him home. He was the son Pop never had, determined to be a great cop like Pop, interested in all the manly things Pop admired. I admit I’ve been jealous of the bromance between Pop and Pete. Pete and I had both grown up in this town, but we never really got together until the academy class–I was twenty-two and Pete twenty-five. I was dazzled by his looks and his charm.

And he was always a tiger in bed.

Our Long Island upbringing is pretty much the only thing we have in common, but for some reason, once we reconnected in the academy, it was boom–fireworks and shooting stars. He said he couldn’t keep his hands off me, that he was “fatally attracted” to redheads with brown eyes and real boobs, and he didn’t know why he hadn’t noticed me in high school. I’m still pretty sure it was lust, not love, and within a couple of weeks we were sleeping together. The sex was incredible and a great escape from the grittiness of the job. Within six months I was pregnant. Pete’s Catholic upbringing wouldn’t allow him to hear of an abortion, but I told him my parents would be horrified I got knocked up, so we went to City Hall and did a quickie wedding. Then I lost the baby, and it was as if Pete never forgave me for making him get married. After that, I was careful never to get pregnant again. I couldn’t imagine having a kid and doing the police job, and I still consider the job the best thing that ever happened to me. Until the day she died, I don’t think my mother got over the fact that I didn’t pursue a professional career, but all I ever wanted to be was a cop in the big city, and I made that dream come true.

The marriage was passable for a couple of years, but the job kept us on different schedules, and I started hearing rumors about Pete’s womanizing. I tried to ignore it until I couldn’t anymore–some young Puerto Rican police cadet he jilted left a typewritten exposé in my mailbox detailing all of their sexual encounters down to a description of the birthmark under his right ball. So I finally admitted to myself Pete was just uncontrollably attracted to pussy, no matter what color the hair was. For him, looking was just not enough, and one woman just couldn’t keep him satisfied, no matter how good the sex.

I hired this hotshot divorce lawyer, but thousands of dollars and unmentionable heartache later, Pete just wouldn’t sign the papers. That’s when I moved out of our two-bedroom in Boerum Hill and rented a studio on the lower East Side, but every so often he’d sweet-talk me into believing he still loved me and wanted to try again, and we’d pop off to the house on Long Island and have a romantic weekend, rekindling all of the old lust. The sex was always incredible, and I made myself believe that this time it would work. But the old pattern always emerged, and he’d be off with another girl, having another affair. I tried a couple of times to meet other guys, but I was always so caught up in the job, I never really had the time to nurture a relationship. I don’t think I could ever have the great marriage my parents had. Besides, I really don’t trust men after Pete. But that doesn’t stop him from trying to get me back or at least back into bed. I convinced myself that, this time, I was ready to cut the cord once and for all. Selling this house would seal the deal for me.

After I kicked Pete out yesterday, I finished my housekeeping, showered, went to visit Pop at the nursing home, grabbed a burger and fries at Mickey D’s in Riverhead, and went home to crash. I was asleep before my head hit the pillow, Charlie splayed out on the bed next to me, and I was dreaming about something pleasant, although I have no idea what it was, when I heard the storm door slam.

“What the fuck–” I said it out loud to the dog, who was now standing in front of the closed bedroom door, growling. I glanced at the clock on my bureau, its red LED flashing 4:19 a.m. I grabbed my pistol from the drawer in my nightstand and crept down the stairs without turning on a light, Charlie right behind me. The banging was coming from the back door. The dog tore to the back of the house and stopped barking. There, on the other side of the door, was Pete, trying to get his key into the lock. I turned on the porch light, and he squinted and put his hand over his eyes.

“Jesus, what the hell are you doing here?” I demanded. “Where have you been?”

“Dana, could I just sleep on couch? Pliz?” He was stumbling drunk, and his words were beyond garbled.

I opened the door, and he looked as if he’d been in some kind of fight. His shirt was hanging half in, half out, of his slacks. His hair was messed up, and his nose was bloody. He reeked of beer and booze, and he was holding up his pants with one hand.

“Where the hell have you been?” I repeated. “What happened to you? You look like crap.”

“I’n’t know, I kind of gut in fight at this place. Not zackly sure what happen. I got out of there and I didn’t have any place to go.”

“Out of where?”

“Some dive in Riverhead.”

“Some dive, Pete?”

“Not sure what the place is.”

My first thought was to call the police and report the attack, since he looked so beat up, but his obvious state of inebriation made me rethink it. “Did you drive like that?”

Pete shrugged. Of course he had. He was lucky he didn’t wrap his car around a tree. “Please, Dana! Don’ make me go out there again.”

He was so pathetic that, as usual, I took pity on him and let him in. He grabbed the bottle of water that was still on the kitchen counter and took a long drink. The flowers were still there, wilting. He smelled so bad that my kitchen started smelling.

“Do you want to take a shower?”

“Can’t make it to bathroom.”

“I can’t believe you drove fucked-up like that.” I was pissed.

I’m still pissed, and it’s hours later. The conversation continued–

“Don’t be angry with me, honey, I made’t okay.”

“Was there a woman involved in all of this?”

No answer.

“Why didn’t you go home last night? Why did you have to go to a bar and get in a brawl?”

“I’ze depressed you wou’n’t lemme in.”

“Oh Christ, Pete, here we go again.”

“Honey, c’n I pee, please?” He swerved past me–and I was grateful he didn’t try to touch me–and then he lurched into the bathroom on the other side of the kitchen.

“Aim. Don’t mess up the floor,” I snapped at him.

“Be nize,” he slurred, as he slammed the door shut. I had every intention of making him leave after that, no matter how drunk he was, but he somehow managed to slip into the family room and collapse on the couch. And then he passed out. I shook him–tried to wake him up–but either he was unconscious, in a drunken stupor, or he was acting. Either way, he wouldn’t move, so I decided to let him sleep it off and throw him out in the morning. Charlie and I did go to bed, but I couldn’t sleep, tossed and turned, and finally I went downstairs to the living room and turned on the television. I nodded off in a chair after one TV evangelist screamed about the fires of hell and another hawker pushed his course about getting rich in real estate. I slept until the sun rose and the light coming in the window woke me up again, and I’ve been dozing and waking since then.

Now it’s morning and I’m sitting here, half awake, some raucous person yapping on the TV about a deal for $19.99 that will fix everything wrong with my life. At eight o’clock, I let Charlie out and went into the kitchen to make myself a pot of the fair-market organic coffee I splurged on at Whole Foods. Mom would be proud. After I drank the coffee, I dozed off again–coffee doesn’t have any effect on me after all those years as a cop.

So I’m still in my pajamas, on the couch, dozing on and off, trying to erase last night’s catastrophe, looking out the picture window at the Sound, which is gorgeous today–kind of small, fluffy whitecaps playing on ice blue water–thinking of what I’m going to do about Pete and this house and the business. I’m not sure how long I sit here, but the sound of the phone jangles me out of my semi-conscious state. I get a little chill, like I used to get when I was on the NYPD and something bad was about to happen–a sixth sense or something. And then, before I can reach over and get the phone, my cell phone starts ringing too. Jesus, it doesn’t rain but it pours. I don’t know which one to answer first, but the cell phone is closer, so I pick it up. “What?”

“Oh God, Dana.” Marilyn Jackson is the floor manager of the winery my father bought after he retired from the police chief job here in town. She’s been with us ever since, probably at least ten years now, and she’s been a good friend to me, one of the few I have here, but we haven’t been out together much, because I lived in the city. She’s steady, reliable, a real problem solver, just an all-around good person. She doesn’t wait for me to respond. “Something awful happened here.” Marilyn’s voice is staccato and panicked, as if she is having trouble breathing and talking at the same time.

The hair is standing up on the back of my neck. “What is it? What happened?” Now I realize the landline is still ringing. “Wait, can you hold on a second? I have to answer my other phone.”

“Please don’t hang up on me!” she gasps.

“Are you safe?” If I could control myself, I’d rather the knee-jerk police protocol stuff didn’t kick in, but I can’t help it. Twenty-two years on the police force is hard to shake off in a few weeks. “Did you call 9-1-1? What the hell happened?” I’m holding the cell phone to one ear, picking up the landline with my free hand. “Hello,” I say, and I know my voice sounds shaky, “Can I help you?”

“This is Detective O’Donnell, Ms. Cohen. I’m afraid you’ll have to get over to Sound View right away.”

In the other ear, “Dana, are you still there?” Marilyn sounds desperate, breathless, like she might keel over from hyperventilating.

“Just get over here now, please, okay?” He sounds annoyed, which is annoying me as well. “I’ll take care of Ms. Jackson.”

I still have no idea what’s going on.

“Dana, don’t–” is the last thing I hear Marilyn say, until both phones click off.

I’ve known Detective O’Donnell since I was a little kid. He was one of Pop’s protégés in the village police department, and he is now the lead detective on the small village force. I’m freaked out he called me Ms. Cohen. He always calls me Red, or Curly, and when I was a kid, I used to punch him in the arm and call him Irish, the way Pop did. What the hell is going on? My first impulse is to rush out of the house and drive to the winery. But either rebellion or denial guides me to the kitchen, where I pour myself another cup of coffee and drink a few sips. It burns my tongue. Crap–first Pete, and now this.

I walk to the family room, and Pete is still on the couch, in the same position as he was earlier, snoring. The whole room smells like body odor and stale beer. In the morning light, he looks even worse than he did last night. From what I can see, he’s getting a bad black eye. I go back to the kitchen, put down my coffee cup, and put a saucer on top of it because I hate lukewarm coffee, even though that’s a little ridiculous, but it’s such a habit, I can’t help myself. Now I’m having a short, internal struggle about whether to get dressed or just throw on a trench coat and drive over there. The thought of going upstairs and changing clothes exhausts me.

What’s freaking me out is that Marilyn is one of the steadiest people I’ve ever known. She can handle nasty customers, unruly kids, screaming babies–even thwarted an attempted robbery once. But just now she sounded hysterical. Obviously, she’s at Sound View to open up for the big crowd that usually starts showing up around noon on Sundays, especially during the fall when people are out to look at the foliage and take their kids through our corn maze. She gets in, does the cleanup, the setup–the same thing she’s been doing for years. The rest of the showroom and tasting room staff shows up a few minutes before noon.

I throw my trench coat over my pajamas and head out. In the car, I wish I had a red light to put on the roof and a siren, but I drive as fast as I can anyway, and the normally fifteen-minute drive to Sound View Cellars takes half as long. I can’t help thinking about Sound View and all it’s meant to us. Pop had bought the place after he retired as police chief here twelve years ago, after Mom died. It had been his dream, a sweet little vineyard and winery where people could come and taste wonderful wines from local grapes. A couple years later he started doing the corn maze. He was always so good with people, couldn’t imagine not being around them all the time. Then, when he’d become incapacitated by Alzheimer’s Disease enough that he had to go into a nursing home, I’d been tempted to sell the winery, because I wasn’t really interested in running it. Pete was the one who’d been enthralled with the idea of retiring out here and continuing with the business and, until Pop got sick, the two of them would walk out in the vineyard for hours, discussing their plans. But I was the one who retired from the police while Pete decided to stay on. And I still haven’t made up my mind about selling, because I keep thinking maybe I should try to run the place to get my mind off my deteriorating marriage.

I screech into the parking lot, and it’s teeming with police cars, all their lights flashing, the Suffolk County Medical Examiner panel van and a couple of CSI trucks parked nearby. I almost forget to push the Off button when I jump out of the car, the trench coat belt dragging on the ground behind me, my sneaker laces untied. Everything else looks eerily normal–the landscaping outside the showroom, all the varicolored mums planted over the past couple of weeks, twinkling like shining stars in front of the door, the perky blue and white sign above the entrance that says Sound View Cellars, the corn maze towering like a fortress over the east side of the parking lot, the fresh billboard–Corn Maze: $10 Adults, $5 Students and Seniors–in place with its arrow pointing toward the entrance, which is now bordered by yellow police tape with the warning, Police Line–Do not Cross.

But the place is lousy with cops, latex rubber gloves secured up above the wrist, scouring the entire area for…what?

“I’m looking for Detective O’Donnell?” I approach one of the cops milling around, pulling my trench coat tight around myself. Maybe I should have gotten dressed, I’m thinking.

“This is a crime scene, miss,” he says. “No one allowed here. What do you want?”

“My father…I’m the owner.”

He gives me a look up and down before he sticks his thumb toward the showroom building and then continues to go about his business.

“Thanks, officer.” I try to sound calm, but I’m shaking as I run toward the building that has always seemed so cozy, like a tableau out of a vintage movie, white clapboard with black shutters and a red door, the sign attached above it in an inviting arc.

“Marilyn? Detective O’Donnell?” I call.

They both come rushing out from the back and start talking at the same time.

“Ma’am.” O’Donnell puts an arm around Marilyn’s shoulder, and then he looks her in the eye and speaks to her the way someone might talk to a child. “Please have a seat. I’ll do the talking.”

Marilyn retreats to a stool behind the counter. She looks like holy hell.

“God, Marilyn, you’re pale as a ghost.” I try to move toward the dark-skinned black woman to comfort her, but the detective pushes his arm out, as if to keep me at arm’s length. “It doesn’t make sense, but you look pale, like you got scared to death,” I say. Marilyn looks up through her tears and, if it weren’t something horrible, I know we would be laughing about it. She really does look pale.

“You can talk to her afterward,” O’Donnell says, serious.

Marilyn hangs her head, covering her face with her hands.

“What the hell is going on?” I try to mask my anxiety with officiousness, but I know the ruse is failing.

“Would you like to sit down, ma’am? Like some water?” O’Donnell is doing his job by the book–calm down the people first before you try to give them the bad news. It’s like if he lets down his guard, one of the people milling around outside might notice and call him on the carpet.

“I’m fine. Just tell me.”

He approaches and puts his hand on my arm, and I consider shaking it off, but I end up not fighting him.

“Ms. Jackson came to work, and everything seemed normal, but when she went to check the maze, the shit hit the fan–pardon my French.”

“No worries, Detective.”

“Yes, ma’am, so, as I was saying, when Ms. Jackson went into the maze, she found it–the body, that is. I’m afraid I will have to take you over there and show you, see if you know who it is.”

He’s talking, and, at the same, time a wail like I’ve never heard comes out of Marilyn’s throat, as if it had started at her toes and gathered steam until it exploded from her mouth. My first instinct is to go hold her, give her a big drink of something strong, a sedative shot, anything to help her. “You okay?”

She shakes her head no several times.

“You need a doctor? Need to go to the hospital?”

She shakes her head no again. “You won’t be able to recognize her,” Marilyn manages to blurt out, although the words are muffled behind her hands. “It’s awful.”

“I’m ready.”

O’Donnell leads the way, holding the door open. The weird thing is, I’ve been through this so many times it shouldn’t bother me at all. But when it’s happening at your place, it’s a whole different story.

O’Donnell walks in front of me, not fast, not slow, determined, as if he were leading some sort of honor guard. The patrolmen in the parking lot make like the Red Sea parting in front of him as he marches. He’s standing so stiff it’s almost comical, and I find myself stifling a laugh. I can’t let myself laugh, it wouldn’t look right. What’s wrong with me? When we reach the entrance to the corn maze, he looks back for the first time and throws his right arm over his left shoulder toward the opening, his index finger pointed out straight. Like Teddy Roosevelt at San Juan Hill, I think, except he has a look of terrible pain on his face. “In there,” he directs.

How gruesome is this? I somehow find the strength to push past him, pretending this isn’t bothering me at all, and about ten feet into the maze, one turn, and there it–she–is. It is recognizable as a “she” by the remaining clothing and the size and hair, which is long and blond and disheveled, but the face is beaten, swollen, bruised, and battered beyond recognition. The body is arranged, nude from the waist down, legs spread as if she’s ready for sex, arms placed with the elbows out and the hands under her head. But her face is so mangled, like it was beaten with a hammer, it’s impossible to see any features, just a mass of blood and pulverized tissue. And then I notice the belt around her neck. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like a man’s belt with a silver buckle. The sun is shining in through the top of the maze, reflecting off the buckle so I can’t see if there’s any decoration on it, but I don’t feel like going any closer.

How many of these have I seen in my time on the force? I’m thinking. So why do my knees feel weak now, and why do I feel like throwing up? And then I start to analyze that, probably as a way to mask my feelings of disgust/horror. I never imagined I would see a murdered person here. It’s too common on the mean streets of a city ghetto, not in the upscale North Fork of Long Island.

But I still find it impossible, even after retirement, for the detective in me not to kick in. I can’t help looking for signs: there’s no blood–none, or at least none visible. Just this lifeless, disfigured mannequin–Why can’t it be a mannequin?–lying there, motionless, like a kick in the ass in the middle of this great natural funhouse where people of all ages get a charge out of discovering the twists and turns, laughing and spending a carefree hour of their life. Not today, they won’t. I force myself to turn away. If you weren’t looking directly at the body, nothing seemed out of place. I’m retired, aren’t I? I don’t have the responsibility to gather every ounce of information possible at this scene. I’ve got to get out of here. I turn around and almost collide with O’Donnell, who is walking toward me with his arms out.

“I’m sorry, Red. This really sucks.”

I reach out for him, and he envelops me in a tight embrace. I feel myself starting to cry, despite my best efforts to stay emotionless.

“God, Irish. What the fuck happened here?”

O’Donnell holds me for a while, cradling me in his strong arms. “I don’t know but we’re gonna find out. That’s for sure.” Then he pauses a moment before he talks again. I see his eyes narrow into slits, and the deep lines form across his forehead. “What do you think about that girl?”

“You mean that girl?” I make a motion with my chin toward the direction of the body.

“No, I mean the girl in front.”

At first I don’t know what he’s talking about.

“You know, the black one.”

“Marilyn?” I’m more shocked than my voice sounds.


“You’re kidding, right? She’s been an employee here for over ten years. She’s my best friend.”

O’Donnell keeps staring at me with that look.

“No way in hell she had anything to do with this. She’s like my father’s other daughter. I think she visits him more than I do.”

“You’re sure?” O’Donnell’s face has contracted into a contorted, accusatory mask.

“Why would you suspect her?” I can’t help wondering if he’d be acting this way if Marilyn were white. I try to wipe that thought away, but I can’t.

“I don’t really suspect her, but she was the only one here, you know? And she found the body.”

“And she called 9-1-1 right away, right?”

“I still want to question her. She’s got an attitude. Maybe she has some kind of beef with you or your father. Has she gotten a raise in the last ten years?”

The thought of Marilyn having any involvement in this makes me want to laugh because it’s so preposterous. “Do your job, but no way Marilyn had anything to do with that body, other than finding it.”

“I’d still keep an eye on her if I were you.” He puts his index finger beside his nose, as if he’s about to point it at me.

“Whatever you say, but I want to help figure out who the real killer is. I have to.”

“Maybe that’s not such a good idea, huh, Dana? Maybe you should just let us do our job.”

“I know, but I need to be involved in some way.”

“Just be grateful your father won’t have to know.”

“Yeah, he’d probably bust out of the home and then forget why he did.”

We both laugh. He hugs me again and then lets go.

“It seems a little disrespectful to the deceased to be standing here laughing,” he says.

“You’re right. Come on, I’ve seen enough. I wish we could cover her up.”

We make our way back out to the parking lot, this time faster. Detective O’Donnell isn’t walking ramrod straight anymore, his shoulders hunched forward as if to impel him out of there as quickly as possible. And I can’t erase the gruesome image of that DB. It’s etched into my brain, and it’s hard for me to accept my near breakdown, but if I’m being honest with myself, I realize it will take me a long time to shake it.

The two deputies from the medical examiner’s office walk around the grounds, writing in their notepads.

“Any ideas?” I don’t know why I feel the necessity to make small talk, as if that somehow makes the situation better. It’s an open-ended question, and even though I suspect they won’t tell me anything, I still want to see if they would.

“Good morning, Detective Cohen,” the woman says. “Not a great way to start a lovely Sunday, is it?”

So she knows who I am. Looks like everyone knows who I am. Now I’m pretty sure they aren’t going to share anything with me.

I keep trying. “Any decent evidence so far?”

“Well,” says the man, “All we know is it looks like there’s no blood in there.”

“Yeah, I noticed that.”

“She was probably killed somewhere else and dumped here, but arranged in the way she was after she died. At first we thought it might be related to the string of prostitute murders on the South Shore, but we don’t think so, although it’s impossible to tell yet. But the MO doesn’t match. The way she was left there–in your corn maze–looks like there’s a message someone’s trying to give you.”

“But why?” For the first time the frustration is hurting me physically, even though I’m trying to fight it. I’m thinking, Does twenty-two years of training and experience just disappear when you surrender your badge and your gun? I almost say, It’s not fair, but I somehow restrain myself. These guys know it’s not fair. Now I start to wrack my brain. Could it have been someone Pop or I put away? Released from the can and trying to get back at us? But why would they murder someone else to do that? I try to remember whether anyone got out recently–I’ve always kept tabs on that–but I can’t concentrate. My mind is racing too fast with everything else.

This day is up there for the worst day of my life.

“We have a lot more investigating to do before we can ever answer why,” the female medical examiner says.

“Wouldn’t even care to surmise yet,” the male agrees.

These two seem to have some kind of arrangement where they alternate their responses. It strikes me funny, but I turn my back on them because I don’t want them to think I’m having a meltdown, which, if I were being honest with myself, they’d know I’m on the verge of having.

“I think I need to go get a drink, and I don’t mean coffee.”

“Well, knock yourself out,” the male medical examiner says.

“Was she sexually assaulted?” I know they can’t tell me.

The female takes her turn. “We won’t know much more until the autopsy, analyze the DNA evidence. You know the drill.”

“I get that, but this is so hard to understand.” Now I’m feeling completely alone in this sea of people. I can never tell Pop. It doesn’t make any sense to upset him like that, but it makes me furious with Alzheimer’s. He would have been such an amazing help with this when he was in his right mind. I’m grateful my mother doesn’t have to see any of this. “Any guesstimate how long it might take?”

They both shrug. “Depends,” says the woman.

“Hard to say until we open her up,” says the man.

“Ms. Cohen,” O’Donnell is back in the showroom and calling me from there, doing his formal cop act.


“Could I speak to you, please?”

“Sure.” I walk into the showroom, and Marilyn is still sitting in the same place on a stool behind the counter, her head in her hands. I feel the worst for her. She discovered the body. “But I’d like to go home and get dressed.”

“We need to ask you some questions, you know, about…everything. And you too, Ms. Jackson.”

It’s so funny how these cops treat me, I’m thinking, even one I’ve known forever, pussyfooting around like he’s not sure what to say.

“I know you’re doing your due diligence, but is there any way I could come by the station tomorrow? It’s been a big shock, and I’m not dressed. And, frankly, I need to get out of here and get a drink.”

He looks around at the pictures of wine, the cubby holes filled with bottles of the vineyard’s best stuff, and then he looks at me with a combination of incredulity–his eyebrows raised, the forehead furrows deep and round–and ridicule. “Not for anything, Red, but couldn’t you get one of those here?”

“I’m afraid it’s not Merlot I’m craving.”

“I need to ask you at least a few general questions, Detective Cohen.”

“Sure, but please quit the Detective Cohen crap,” I snap back, “And I know absolutely nothing about this or why it happened here.” The last thing I feel like doing now is answering questions, and I’m not ready or willing to empathize with his cop protocol I’m so well acquainted with. Get them when they’re fresh, before they can think of stories. People who are shocked tend to be more honest, because they have trouble doing the multitasking that lie-construction requires. Yadda, yadda, yadda…

“I’m sorry, Red, no need to get upset. Can you please tell me whether you have any idea who might want to kill someone and leave the body in your corn maze?”

Now I’m back thinking about all the people arrested over the years. For sure, my tenure with the NYPD wouldn’t have been successful if all the perps went away loving me. “I think there could be dozens, maybe hundreds of people who want to get back at me for, as they see it, being responsible for their, um, unjust incarceration. Most of those people do get out of prison, and even the ones who don’t–they make friends with others who do. Who knows what these people will do and for what? But I’m not even sure they’d know about this place. I only just moved out here from the city. And anyway, I have no idea who would want to do this to us. Or why they would do it this way. Is that enough?”

He’s scribbling on a dog-eared yellow pad, and it’s annoying me. Why couldn’t he just ask me if he could record the statements? Maybe this town doesn’t have the money for handhelds. They don’t have to deal with gruesome murders very often here. Mostly it’s vandalism of people’s cars or DUIs and automobile accidents, kids smoking pot at night in the schoolyard. Lucky me.

“Do you have any idea who the deceased could be?”

“You saw the condition of the body. I have no idea who she is, none.”

“You didn’t recognize anything about her? The clothing? The hair? Anything?”

“Absolutely nothing. Not a thing.”

“Are you sure? Can you please give it some more thought?”

“Detective!” I’m trying hard to look neutral, but I know my annoyance is obvious. I love this guy, and I know what he’s doing–what any good detective would do in a case like this. Keep harping on something, hoping the questionee will think of something, remember something, come up with something that might help, change a story, self-incriminate, whatever.

He’s doing his job, but it’s pissing me off big-time, and the stress is making me sweat. I’m feeling grubby and embarrassed because I’m not dressed, and that’s pissing me off even more.

“You understand why I’m asking, don’t you? We’re on the same side here.” He shoots a look at Marilyn, who won’t give him eye contact.

“Look, I know absolutely nothing about this terrible, um, incident. I’m in shock. I’m standing here in my pajamas, freaking out, watching my employee over there losing her mind. What do you want me to say? God knows, I understand. But I ask you to understand where I’m coming from. I have no idea who she is, how she got here, who would do such a thing, why they would dump her in my corn maze. Capisce?”

Marilyn has now left her stool and come out to put her arms around me, and the two of us hug each other. I feel her tears dripping under the collar of my trench coat and sliding down my neck. I wish this were a bad dream, but instead it’s just a nightmare.

“You know all I want is to find out who did this. The more we know, even the smallest detail, might help solve this case.”

“I would be more than happy to come to the station and be interviewed for as long as you want me. But is it okay if we don’t do it today? Once the shock wears off a little, maybe I’ll be thinking straighter. Maybe I’ll be able to come up with some connection. But today, here, I’m basically useless. When I recover, I will help solve this thing.” Marilyn and I are still holding each other, and she’s buried her head in my shoulder. I smell the shampoo she used this morning, and it smells pretty. I take a deep breath–maybe it will kill the hideous smell of this entire morning and last night.

“Against my better judgment, I’ll allow it. But we have to talk soon, okay?”

“I’m not going anywhere.” The two of us sigh at the same time. Marilyn loosens her grip and glares up at him.

“You, too, Ms. Jackson, please. I’ll need to talk to you more.”

“What more do you think I have to say, Detective? You already gave me the third degree,” Marilyn says, snapping to, more like the Marilyn I know. “I just came to work and found her, you know? I don’t know what happened before. My only mistake was coming to work.”

“Just stay available, please.” And then he pats me on the top of my head and swings out of the showroom toward the morass of uniformed personnel still milling around in the parking lot. “Tomorrow morning, Red? Say ten o’clock? At the station.” He actually tips his hat as he goes out the door. The man has no lips. I can’t help staring at the straight dark line that goes across where his lips should be. I don’t usually trust people who have no lips, but I trust Irish. He will protect me. He owes it to Pop. And whether he likes it or not, I’m getting involved in this investigation.

After he leaves, Marilyn and I look at each other, her face twisted into a question mark–and likely mine as well.

She finally breaks the silence. “Who in hell would have done this? And who is–was–that poor woman?”

“I wish I knew. Why don’t you go home and try to chill? Sound View is closed for the day–obviously. Did you contact the other employees?”

“Yeah, I sent e-mail to all of them, told them not to come in. I guess we have to let the farm work keep going on, though?”

“Definitely. It’s our biggest harvest season. We’ll be screwed if we have to stop making the wine.”

“How long do you think we’ll be closed?”

“Not sure, but I suspect it’ll be a while.”

“It’s the visual, Dana, it’s the visual. I can’t get the sight of her out of my mind.” Marilyn puts her head in her hands again, as if that might erase the awful memory.

“I know. It’s gonna take a long time to get our brains washed clean.” I hug her again.

This is bad enough for me, and I’m used to it. She’s not. No one should be.

When I get home, Charlie is sitting on the deck by the side door, kind of wet and scraggly, his long yellow fur stringy and hanging over his eyes. He’s a hairy dog, and it’s a chilly day, so it will take him a long time to dry off.

I figure Charlie bugged Pete to let him out, and then he must have gone for a swim in the Sound, which he loves, but Pete went back to the couch and wasn’t conscious enough to open the doggie door for him.

Charlie scampers into the house, wagging his tail and shaking his wet self all over the place.

“Oh, crap! Pete is a terrible daddy.” I chase Charlie with the first thing I put my hands on, a dish towel, and after I finish blotting the muddy water off his fur, I give him a big dog biscuit, which he takes into his favorite spot and starts to work on, scattering Milk Bone crumbs in every direction as he chews but confining his wetness to one corner of the kitchen. I love that dogs don’t hold grudges. I wish humans didn’t either, even though I do.

While the dog destroys his bone, I pour myself a half glass of orange juice and fill up the rest of the glass with vodka, because it’s the only liquor in the cabinet. Then I drink it too quickly. One more–I refill the glass and drain that too. Then I call Pete, who doesn’t answer. He’s still sleeping it off on the couch.

“Pete!” I raise my voice. Pete pulls a pillow over his head. “You have to get up. We have a problem.”

“What?” Muffled, from under the pillow.

“Something happened at the winery.”

“What?” he says again. “Vintage not dry enough?”

“Get up!” I shriek. “I have to talk to you.”

I turn on the overhead light and lean over him, yelling in his ear. He turns over on his back and slides the pillow off his face.

He shields his eyes with the back of his hand. “What?”

“Jesus, your breath stinks.”

“What do you want?” He looks like hell, eyes puffy and almost closed, one of them now turning a deep blue-black around the socket, as he fights to get accustomed to the bright light.

I notice a gash along his cheekbone I didn’t see last night. “There’s a body in the corn maze.”

“What?” Now he sits up straight, knocking the pillows onto the floor. “What do you mean there’s a body in the corn maze?”

“A girl got murdered and dumped in our corn maze,” I say, and then I sit down on the end of the couch as it hits me again. The vodka is having no effect at all.

“Shit, who did that? What girl?”

I move away from him. “If I knew, I’d tell you, or maybe I’d make you brush your teeth first and then tell you.”

He grabs his stomach. “Oh, shit. I feel like throwing up.”

“Don’t do it on the couch.”

Pete gives me a dirty look.

“Where the hell did you go last night?” I have to restrain myself from slapping him. If he weren’t so battered, I would.

“I’m not sure.”

“Did you black out?”

“I just don’t feel good.”

“Look, do you want me to put some fresh coffee on?” I make a move toward the kitchen.

“Ugh,” he groans. “That makes my stomach churn, just the thought of it. You got any Coke or ginger ale?”

“Maybe in the fridge. Then please go take a shower in the bathroom down here. You smell awful. There are towels in there, you know. I’m going upstairs and do the same. I’ll throw down some clothes for you.” I’m glad I didn’t pack up all his stuff yet.

“Oh, honey, can I take a shower with you?” Now I do slap the side of his head. He groans again and covers his face with his arms. “Ow, you hurt me.”

“Come on, boy,” I call to the dog, who grabs the remainder of his dog biscuit and beats me up the stairs.

I should shower and get dressed and get ready for God knows what, but once I get up there the bed looks really inviting and the alcohol is starting to do its magic. The dog and I get into bed, and he drags his still-damp fur and Milk Bone slobber over the blankets, but I’m too far gone to care. I don’t think my head hits the pillow before I’m asleep, and it’s one of those sleeps that happens when you’re so upset you have to disappear from the world for a while.

© 2015 by Rebecca Marks

 {tab Mary Norris, Best-Selling Author}

Author, Mary Norris:

On the Rocks is terrific! Honest, I couldn’t put it down. An appealing narrator/heroine, interesting setting, great suspense. Congratulations! Looking forward to the next Dana Cohen mystery. ~ Mary Norris, the best-selling author of Between You and Me: Confessions of a Comma Queen