Our next guest on the Crime Cafe podcast will be Laurie Buchanan.
As a guest post, Laurie has provided the prologue to her latest book. That’ll give you a taste of Indelible, the book she’s giving away.
Just click here to sign up for Laurie’s quarterly newsletter and you’ll be entered into the giveaway.
Now, treat yourself to a sample from the novel.
Indelible: A Sean McPherson Novel, Book One 1
by Laurie Buchanan
“Everything must have a beginning…and that beginning must be linked to something that went before.” —MARY SHELLEY
A bullet explodes between his partner’s eyes. The amount of blood that hits Mick McPherson is small in comparison to what covers the back of the squad car. The sharp taste of copper fills his mouth.
Mick watches Sam slump forward, the shoulder-belt prevents his weight from hitting the steering wheel, but not from gunning the accelerator. The car surges onto the right shoulder, and Mick braces himself for the inevitable impact of metal against the concrete abutment.
The snap of shattering glass mixed with the high-pitched scrape of steel fills his ears. He chokes on the scream lodged in his throat as the squad car collides with the bridge’s unforgiving underpinning.
It hurts to open his eyes. Mick is aware that the underpass is lit by flickering red and blue lights shimmering on cement. He hears people shouting. “This one’s alive, the other one’s dead. We’re going to have to cut him out. Get the Jaws of Life,” one of them yells. “Hurry; I smell fuel!”
Mick hovers over Sam. Am I the one who’s dead? He wonders. But I’m not levitating. I’m suspended, held captive by the seatbelt. He sees Sam’s eyes wide open and vacant, mouth parted. He swallows the bitter taste of bile that hits the back of his throat. Sam is more than a partner. He’s Mick’s best friend.
Five years have passed since the accident. Mick remembers the day when Chief Reynolds came to the hospital and said, “I’m sorry, but I have to put you on indefinite medical leave.”
Mick’s sister, Libby, and brother-in-law, Niall, pick him up at the hospital and take him to Pines & Quill, their writing retreat in Fairhaven, Washington, to live in one of their cottages. Libby assures him, “The Zen-like energy of the wooded acres will help you heal.”
Fists clenching the sweat-drenched bedsheet, Mick sits upright in the dark, his body shudders. His heart races. His relief at the realization he’s in his bedroom is palpable. Just yesterday, Dr. Fletcher assured him that nightmares are a typical side effect of post-traumatic stress disorder—PTSD.
Intimate with this now familiar routine, he knows there’ll be no sleep tonight and heads to the bathroom to take a shower. He steps under the hot spray, tilts his head back, and closes his eyes. Our shift was routine up to the moment the dispatcher sent Sam and me to an accident on the I-280 bridge over the Lawrence Expressway & Creek in San Francisco. We didn’t know we were heading into the crosshairs of a telescopic sight on a sniper’s rifle. A weapon designed for extreme accuracy. Perfect for an ambush.
Hot water rushing over his body, he remembers the call to that overpass on a Friday night. It was their last ride together as police officers. Sam and Mick had just been promoted. The following Monday they were to start their careers as homicide detectives.
He remembers the horrific crash and the helpless feeling at seeing his partner, Sam’s, lifeless body.
He doesn’t remember being life-flighted to the hospital. They told him afterward that he almost died during transport. The surgery that saved his life is a total blank. It left him with a limp and survivor’s guilt.
The most heart-breaking memory he doesn’t have is Sam’s funeral. He was in the ICU.
Mick steps out of the shower and towels off. He can’t make out his features in the steam- fogged mirror, but his clenched teeth inform him that his face looks grim. In a few hours, he’ll head to the airport. He dreads it because every overpass he drives under opens old wounds and cuts fresh ones, triggering a grim reminder of what lays coiled inside him, ready to spring if disturbed.
Jason Hughes can’t help but smile when he unzips the suitcase and sees two immaculate stacks of pristine white hotel towels. Both stacks contain five towels with a name badge pinned to each one. He touches the first rectangular name badge that’s pinned with precision to the folded, thick white towel, and traces his finger over the name. Rose. That simple act, along with the scar on his left wrist, ushers a flood of sweet memories from New York.
After setting Rose’s towel on the side table, Jason picks up the top towel from the second stack and winces a little in excruciating delight as he remembers Yolanda in Jacksonville, Florida. She left a small scar on his right forearm.
Jason checks his watch and sees there’s still time to enjoy the rest. He chuckles as he remembers Teagan in Chicago. She’s the first one he tested a zip-tie restraint on. After all, I can’t afford to get a scar each time I kill, he muses.
While caressing his way through the rest of the towels and name badges, he revels in memories of Mai in Los Angeles, Teresa in Boston, Linh in Dallas, Amala, oh she was feisty, in Portland, Silvia in Kansas City, Veronica in Denver, and Devi in Philadelphia.
He remembers when Andrew, his fraternal twin, teased him, calling his suitcase “precious” and saying that he reminded him of Gollum. Jason smiles. I don’t have to worry about that anymore now, do I?
After replacing the towels in the appropriate order, he zips the suitcase shut and gathers the other items waiting by the front door—another suitcase, a backpack, and two manuscript-sized boxes that he’ll ship from the UPS Hub on his way to the airport. They’re supposed to contain the manuscript he’s pretending to work on, Rearview Mirror: Reflections of a New York Limo Driver. They don’t.
Not one to leave anything to chance, he verifies, yet again, that “UPS accepts firearm parts for shipment, provided the part is not a ‘firearm’ as defined under federal law; the contents of the package cannot be assembled to form a firearm; and the package otherwise complies with federal, state, and local law.”
The parts in either box by themselves can’t be made into a firearm. It requires all of the pieces in both boxes. Not a problem. I’ll assemble my Beretta when they get to Pines & Quill.
Jason loosens his white-knuckled grip on the steering wheel of the rental car and relaxes.
I’m not excited about the five-hour nonstop flight between Cleveland and Seattle, followed by a two-hour drive to the writing retreat. But I am looking forward to the in-air service. I always enjoy flying with my friend Jack Daniels.
He keeps his backpack and watches as the airline representative at the ticket counter takes the rest of his luggage, tags it, then heaves it onto a conveyor belt. In moments it’s swallowed by a fringed-rubber throat. He imagines its snake-like journey as it makes its way through x-ray machines with TSA officers looking for weapons, explosives, and drugs before passing the wet nostrils of trained dogs sniffing for the same. He’s done this before and knows that no one will bat an eye; no hackles will rise, as his suitcase with ten folded, plush white towels pass through.
Jason’s boarding pass is TSA pre-checked. Unlike the other poor schmucks, passing through security should be fast and easy. After stepping through the full-body scanner, he hears, “Sir, please step to the side.”
“Is there a problem?” he asks.
“No, it’s just your lucky day.” The agent smiles. “You’ve been selected for a random check. Is this piece yours?” he asks while removing a backpack from the conveyor belt.
Jason mirrors the agent’s smile and nods. “It sure is.”
One by one the agent empties the innocuous contents onto the table, stopping when he gets to the stainless steel flask. He gives it a slight shake. “Mind if I open it?”
“Not at all. Help yourself. I wish it had something in it, but I know that’s not allowed.”
With gloved hands, the agent twists off the lid and turns the empty flask upside down over the trashcan, then lifts it to his nostrils and inhales deeply. “I bet it was good to the last drop.” He laughs at his joke. While replacing the items in Jason’s backpack, the agent continues, “I hope to enjoy something like that when I get home tonight.”
“Me, too,” Jason says, smiling. “Am I free to go now?” “Yes, have a good flight.”
With deliberate calm, Jason walks away, savoring the sweet taste of victory. In the event he’s being watched, he stops, and with practiced nonchalance fishes the burner he’s carrying out of his pocket, ostensibly to check his messages. He smiles when he reads a new text. “c u soon.”
I need time away after this last case, Cynthia Winters thinks. The little girl was found where I said she would be, but they were too late. She was dead. The look of devastation in her parent’s eyes was gut-wrenching. She remembers her mother telling her, “Children are their mother’s heart walking around outside her body.”
Life is hard when your heart dies before you do.
In this morning’s television interview, Cynthia said, “I recognize that it’s difficult for some people to understand what an intuitive does.”
The newscaster explained to the viewing audience, “Several law enforcement agencies use Cynthia’s skill of psychometry, a form of extra-sensory perception that allows a person to read the energy of an object.”
When asked to explain further, Cynthia says, “Every item has an energy field that can transfer knowledge about its history. As an intuitive, I can ‘see’ physical places associated with an object, in real time or the past. The detailed imagery I receive often helps law enforcement agencies to locate an item or a person.”
After an impressive on-air demonstration, the newscaster asks, “What does it feel like to be an intuitive?” Cynthia responds, “The work of an intuitive consultant can be draining. In particular, when a missing person is found dead. However, it’s rewarding when they’re alive, or when the police find the perpetrator.” She went on to say, “In addition to psychometry, I love to read people’s palms. It’s gratifying when I’m able to help someone by reading the lines on their hands.” After another on-air demonstration, this time reading the newscaster’s palm, she’s asked, “What’s next for you?”
“From here I’m catching a flight to a writing retreat in the Pacific Northwest to complete the book I’m working on.”
In the limo that takes her from the news station to the airport, Cynthia smiles as she thinks about the title of her manuscript, Guide Lines: The World in the Palm of Your Hand. Close to the end, she’s hoping to finish it while at Pines & Quill. She’s not surprised there’s a waiting list for the retreat because she’s heard and read rave reviews about the MacCulloughs, the husband and wife team who own it.
The glowing online praise says, “Libby provides guidance for writing that authors find inspiring. She offers insightful teaching and discussion of the writing process, as well as provides feedback on participants’ writing. And she offers tai chi classes in the morning as a way to prime the writing pump.”
The many enthusiastic reviews for Niall’s cuisine agree. “He’s an incredible gourmet chef who also possesses the working knowledge of a sommelier.” One person wrote, “His food tastes like heaven!” And several people admitted to gaining weight during their month in residence because they couldn’t resist his delicious meals, desserts, and wine pairings.
I’m looking forward to the nonstop flight from Tucson to Seattle. It’s short at two hours and forty-five minutes. And I always enjoy picking up on the energy of passengers sitting near me when I fly. It’s like “people watching,” but at a much deeper level.
But there’s something else about the destination. I can’t explain it, but I feel drawn. I’ve never been to the location before, nor do I have any ties in that area, so it doesn’t make any sense. Yet the sensation is intense; it’s like I’m being summoned.
I think it was Eleanor Roosevelt who said, “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.” Well, she was wrong, Fran Davies thinks, packing her suitcase. My ex-husband took my self-esteem. When he found out that I can’t have children, he pulled it right out from under me, just like a rug. And I fell flat on my backside and haven’t gotten up since.
Fran looked into surrogacy, but her husband said “no.” She looked into adoption. Again, he said “no.” And that’s when he also said “no” to her. That’s when he announced that he didn’t love her anymore and that he wanted a divorce. His disappointment in me—my infertility— trumped his love for me.
“You can have the house, the car, and the bank account,” he told her. “But you can’t have children, and that’s a deal breaker.”
“But it’s not my choice,” she cried. “This is out of my control.”
Do I hate him? No. Do I hate myself? Yes. But not for that reason. I’m angry that I’ve allowed myself to become a rigid, dried up old prune. I’m forty-one, but to look at me, you’d think I’m well into my fifties.
Upon learning that she couldn’t have children, something out of her control, Fran became obsessed with controlling things she could. Her hair, weight, and wardrobe—precise and exacting—bear evidence of a choke hold, of being beat into submission.
Some people don’t understand how hard it is for a woman to watch her friends and family members conceive and have babies, while she can’t seem to. And when the attempts to conceive fail month after month and it becomes a case of infertility, it’s even worse.
Fran thinks about being overwhelmed by failure. That’s when I started seeing a therapist, Traci Schneider, she remembers. One of the most important things Traci told me was, “Fran, while you’re dealing with infertility, you need support to help you vent your frustrations, worries, and fears.” She went on to say, “Support is key for women struggling with infertility. It’s a disease that affects women’s core, and it can affect their relationships with family, friends, and even people at work.”
“Okay,” I agree. “I’ll attend an emotional support group for infertility.”
At Fran’s first meeting, it becomes clear that the director, Maddy Shea, is a proponent of journaling. Maddy is fond of saying, “Writing your way to the heart of a matter is therapeutic.” At the end of the session, she welcomes Fran, hands her a leather-bound journal with lined pages and says, “Write anything and everything that comes to mind.”
A few months later Fran shares her writing with Maddy. She’s nervous about how Maddy might respond. Fran smiles when she remembers the conversation. When she handed the journal back to Fran, Maddy smiled and said, “This journal is full of helpful insights. It would make a wonderful book. So many women could benefit from it. I’d like to put you in touch with my friend, Libby MacCullough. She and her husband own Pines & Quill, a writing retreat in Washington state.”
Fran is filled with nervous excitement because today she’s catching a nonstop flight from Boston to Seattle. She doesn’t enjoy flying, but she tolerates it. Travel is part of her job. Because it’s a five hour and thirty-eight-minute flight, Fran is taking her laptop on the plane to focus on her manuscript, Mother in Waiting: The Stigma of Childlessness. If she’s lucky, she might even make a bit of headway.
After zipping her suitcase shut, Fran thinks, I’m giving myself this month away to scrape up the courage to remove the wedding band from my finger.
A year ago, I didn’t know if a trip like I’m packing for right now would ever be possible again,
Emma Benton muses, remembering what it was like to wake up one morning, paralyzed from the waist down.
She wanted to be a clay artist ever since she was a little girl watching her mother at her potter’s wheel. When she grew up, she earned a Master of Fine Arts degree in Ceramics at Penn State School of Visual Arts, and then moved back to southern California to be closer to her family and open a small studio shop.
Last year I was delighted to be one of the artists invited to show my work at Gallery in the Garden—Celebrating Art in Nature, a two day, outdoor event. My best friend, Sally, helped me pack all of the materials in and back out again. It was hard work; pottery is heavy. But I felt that the opportunity for a wider brushstroke of visibility was well worth it. Sally agreed. The morning after the show I woke up paralyzed from the waist down.
At the hospital, they run batteries of tests. “Have you recently been out of the country or had any vaccinations?” Dr. Christianson asks. Another member of the medical team, Dr. Davidson, thinks it might be the West Nile virus. “Have you recently been bitten by a mosquito or suffered any physical trauma?” After ruling these out, they test her for multiple sclerosis and Legionnaire’s disease, but everything comes up negative.
By the second day, the symptoms Emma presents indicate that she has Transverse myelitis, a neurological disorder caused by inflammation of the spinal cord. It can develop in a matter of hours or take several weeks. Emma’s happened overnight.
It can occur in the setting of another illness, or in isolation. Emma’s is isolated. When it happens like hers did, without an apparent underlying cause, it’s referred to as ‘idiopathic’ and is assumed to be a result of abnormal activation of the immune system against the spinal cord.
Emma has been in a wheelchair since that time. Her medical team remains baffled. They tell her, “Your recovery may be absent, partial, or complete. At thirty-five, you’re still considered young, and other than Transverse myelitis, you’re healthy. More importantly, you have a positive outlook.”
“My friend, Sally, says that I’m ‘unabashedly optimistic,’” Emma says, smiling.
At first, Emma stayed at her parent’s home. It helps that she’s from a family of creatives. They speak the same language and value the same things that she does. They understand that creativity is in her blood. Because of this experiential knowledge, they’re supportive. Her dad and her brothers modified her home, art studio, and potter’s wheel so that she can live independently and continue to throw pottery.
After adding the final items to her suitcase, Emma smiles, thinking about her family. Mom’s worried. Dad says he’s not, but I can tell that he is. And my brothers are happy for me.
In addition to physical therapy, part of the recovery work she’s doing is writing a memoir, Moving Violations: A Sassy Look at Life from a Wheelchair. That’s why she’s excited to catch a flight today from San Diego to Seattle. She’s looking forward to being a writer in residence at Pines & Quill. One of their cottages is designed for people in wheelchairs.
So far Emma’s recovery’s been partial. I’ve regained some feeling in my hips, and I’m able to stand long enough, without collapsing, to transfer myself into a car, chair, or bed. One of my goals this month is to be able to stand at the bathroom sink long enough to brush my teeth. Who knows, maybe I’ll even take a step.
I’m a writer, photographer, and avid reader. I carry a laptop, book, and a camera with me wherever I go.
“Never trust anyone who has not brought a book with them.” —LEMONY SNICKET
Growing up, I wanted to be a magician, international spy, and a mad scientist. There’s still time!
I live in the Pacific Northwest with my pilot-husband, Len, and our Irish Wolfhound, Willa—the real-life inspiration for Hemingway in the Sean McPherson novels.
I enjoy yoga, bicycling, camping, and travel.
I love walks—long walks! I walked across Scotland, a 211-mile journey from the North Sea to the Atlantic Ocean. At the mid-point, I climbed Ben Nevis, the highest point in the British Isles.
My Achilles’ heel? Red licorice. I adore it!