Blood is thicker than oil—until murder is involved.
Fenway Stevenson doesn’t want to return to the coastal town where her estranged father is practically king. But the death of her mother draws her back home—and the murder of the county coroner draws her into a deepening conspiracy. As the body count rises and all signs seem to point toward her father’s oil company, will Fenway uncover the truth before family bonds become deadly?
Targeted Age Group:: All audiences
Heat/Violence Level: Heat Level 3 – PG-13
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
In 2010, I'd posted on Facebook that I had a great idea for a murder mystery. On October 31, 2017—the eve of National Novel Writing Month—Facebook helpfully posted "7 years ago, you posted…" which reminded me that I had made very little progress on that murder mystery. I promised myself that I'd write that book—and I wouldn't stop to edit or second-guess myself until the first draft was complete.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
My wife was looking into nursing programs back in 2008, and reviewed all the different careers she could go into. She found that in several states (including California, where we live), one doesn't need an M.D. to be a coroner. I started thinking about a coroner with a nursing background, and came up with Fenway Stevenson. While I'd tried (and failed) to write literary fiction as an adult, I'd loved murder mysteries growing up—I devoured Agatha Christie books in high school, and had re-discovered Sue Grafton. I quickly came up with the character of Fenway's estranged father (who would name their daughter "Fenway," anyway?) and the identity of the murderer.
Fenway’s cell phone rang.
She was asleep. The second ring woke her. The third ring made her realize it was a phone call, not her alarm. She pushed her pillow to the side, reached her hand out to the bedside table and picked up the phone. She looked at the screen before answering. It was three twenty-six in the morning.
“Hello?” she croaked.
“Hey, Fenway, sorry to wake you up.” Sheriff McVie’s voice was urgent.
“Craig?” She sat up and tried to shake the sleep out of her head. “I mean, Sheriff? Something wrong?”
“Yes. You and I have to get to your office right away. There’s been a break-in.”
“A break-in like I’ve never seen before. I’m on my way to your place, about five minutes away. Throw some clothes on and get down to the parking lot.”
“Sure.” She got out of bed, perching the phone between her ear and shoulder, and grabbed a bra and a long-sleeve blouse. “I hope I don’t have to match.”
McVie had already clicked off.
She quickly shed her pajamas and pulled on her clothes. She looked in the mirror: her hair was crazy, but she didn’t have time to fix it. She grabbed a hat from her closet. It was a Boston Red Sox baseball cap, a gag gift from her clinic co-workers last year. She picked up her keys and purse on her way out the door. She managed to make it downstairs in time to see McVie pull into the driveway.
She opened the passenger door and got in.
McVie pointed to her cap once she got in the car. “Seriously?”
He floored it once he was on the main road. Fenway glanced over at him; he was wearing a black tee shirt that showed off his muscular arms, flexing slightly as he gripped the wheel. She suddenly remembered fleeting images from the dream she was having when she woke up: her legs wrapped around his torso, his strong arms around her back, her breaths coming short and fast, his lips on hers. She turned her head and stared at the road, feeling the color rise to her cheeks, trying to push the images out of her mind.
They made it to the coroner’s office building in about half the time it had taken the morning before.
“You really need to get a car,” he said.
He pulled around to the side of the building. Fenway’s jaw dropped; there was a hole where the window to Walker’s office used to be. Two sheriff cruisers had their lights going, but no sirens sounded. Three uniformed officers were standing a few feet away from the hole in the building.
“Dammit,” McVie muttered. “Dammit, dammit, dammit.”
He braked hard to a stop, threw the gear angrily into park, and jumped out of the car without turning it off. “Fenway!” he barked. “See if you can tell if anything’s missing.”
She got out and walked over to the planter between the driveway and the side of the building. There was a messy tangle of flattened bushes and shrubs where a large vehicle—maybe a big pickup or SUV—had jumped the curb and punched a truck-shaped hole in the side of the building.
She peered inside the hole. It was dark. She used the light from her phone to get a better look inside. One of the filing cabinets was missing its third drawer from the top.
“Missing file drawer,” she called.
McVie was seething. “How the hell did this happen?” he shouted. “Our coroner gets killed, we can’t gather evidence for days, and as soon as we do, the whole crime scene gets compromised!”
Fenway stood there, not sure what to do.
“Who knew about this? Who knew you were going to look at those files today?”
“Besides you?” Her voice was smaller than she wanted it to be.
“Yes, dammit, besides me!”
“Um, everyone who was here last night. Dez. Mark. Rachel. Migs. The young officer who was watching over me—I don’t think I ever got his name.”
“I don’t know. She knew I was investigating Walker’s office, but I don’t think she knew I was going to look at those files. Whoever was in the evidence room where the keys were, probably. I assume the officer talked to somebody to check out the keys from the evidence room, right?”
“Who else?” McVie pushed.
“No one else.”
“No, I didn’t…” Fenway trailed off.
His head cocked to the side. “You didn’t what?”
“I don’t know. My father called last night, and he asked about the investigation. But I was purposely vague. I told him I had just started and I wanted to make some headway.”
“Did you tell him you were going through the files today?”
“I don’t think so.”
“You don’t think so?”
Fenway shrugged, crossing her arms. “I don’t know, okay?”
McVie paced back and forth. “Fenway, this is an active investigation. We can’t tell anyone anything that’s going on!”
He exhaled loudly. “I know you know intellectually. I know what you read in your textbooks. But out here in the real world, actually keeping your mouth shut about active investigations prevents shit like this from happening.”
Fenway looked down at the ground.
“This is a disaster.” McVie ran his hand through his hair. “I have to get a crime scene team in here. Probably from San Miguelito, even though they have a conflict of interest, but I don’t have a choice.”
He kicked at the ground. “I’m going to have to wake a lot of people up.”
“I can canvass,” she offered. “See if there’s anyone around who saw anything.”
“Come on, Fenway. Look at this place. There’s no one around to canvass. There aren’t even homeless people around City Hall. And it’s the middle of the night, in a sleepy little town. No one’s around.”
“Then I’ll go check the security footage. A truck, or something, plowed into the side of the building, and we’ve got security cameras, so we must have something on tape.”
“Knock yourself out,” McVie said, his tone softer, almost defeated. “I’ll be waking up a CSI team in the next county.”
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