Wednesday, 16 January 2019

Available Now: Lake of the Dead by Susan Clayton-Goldner

A Winston Radhauser Mystery, #5
Susan Clayton-Goldner


99c through Sunday, 30th
FREE on Kindle Unlimited

When Parker Collins, a gifted writing student at Southern Oregon University in Ashland, fails to show up for the first day of fall classes, his frantic girlfriend, Rishima Reynolds, files a missing person’s report. Though Parker has a history of alcohol abuse, disorderly conduct, and truancy, she insists he is committed to his writing classes, and is adamant something is very wrong.

Persuaded by the depth of her conviction, Radhauser drives up to a cabin at Sunset Lake where Parker spent the last month finishing a novel. It’s a manuscript his mentor, Professor Madison Hollingsworth, claims is brilliant. The Hollingsworth cabin has been trashed—the padlock on the liquor cabinet cut and empty bottles are strewn around the kitchen. It appears Parker has gone on a binge and disappeared with the Hollingsworth boat. Radhauser knows appearances are often deceiving. He returns to Ashland, hoping Parker is out on the lake and nursing a gigantic headache. But something about the cabin scene nags at Radhauser and won’t let him go.

The following morning, 72-year-old Homer "Sully" Sullivan, one of the lake's few year-round residents, finds a bloated body floating face-down near his cottage. He phones Radhauser, terrified it could be Parker Collins—the boy Sully befriended and has come to love. Will this missing person’s case become a murder investigation?

• • •

In his cramped office at the Ashland Police Station, Detective Winston Radhauser leaned back in his swivel chair and propped his feet, in their hand-tooled cowboy boots, on top of his desk. He stared out the window at the Plaza, where the maple trees turned gold and red.
There was no shortage of visitors in September as the Shakespeare Festival was still in full swing and students had returned for fall semester, frequenting local cafes and pubs. They spread their multi-colored blankets out on the lawn in nearby Lithia Park—there to study, or make out, or just sleep in the autumn sunshine with the lulling sound of water tumbling over the rocks in Ashland Creek.

He tossed a wadded-up ball of yellow-lined paper into the small basketball hoop attached to his trash can. It was a gift from his wife, Gracie, for quiet days like this one. He hadn’t had a big case since the murders of two high school kids back in January. The case cost Radhauser his best friend, Dillon Van Horn, who’d moved back east to avoid the shame of the murders his wife committed. And if that wasn’t bad enough, his partner for more than a decade, Detective Robert Vernon, had retired over the summer. Radhauser missed his sense of humor and the chess games they’d played when things got too quiet.

In truth, Radhauser was bored, and whenever that happened, he wondered if he’d made the right decision to leave Tucson and move to this quiet little Elizabethan town in the foothills of the Siskiyou mountains. He’d mostly done it for Gracie. She wanted to raise their children on a small horse ranch in the beautiful place where she’d grown up. And, if the truth be known, she’d also wanted to get Radhauser away from Tucson, where the memories of his first wife and son had loomed in the very air around them.

Gracie didn’t know when death happened with such swift and violent brutality, you carried it with you no matter how far away you moved. And idleness had a way of beckoning those two ghosts, who all too often refused to stay buried.

Hazel Hornby, the police station’s administrative assistant, interrupted his musings with a couple taps on his doorframe. Her gaze darted to the yellow balls of paper in his trash can. She chuckled. “I see Michael Jordan has been practicing his jump shot. There’s someone here to see you. Rishima Reynolds. She says you know her.”

He sat up straight, removed his feet from his desktop. Rishima was the young woman he’d met at the beginning of the year when the American Heritage Club, a white supremacist and anti-gay organization, still existed in Ashland. She was one of the three kids branded on their abdomens with homophobic slurs. He hoped something like that hadn’t happened to her again. “Tell her to come on in.”

Rishima was tall and reed slender with coffee-colored hair falling over her shoulders in loose waves. She seemed older and more confident as she stepped into his office and stuck out her right hand.

Radhauser stood and took her outstretched hand. It was a firm handshake, but there was still something fragile and vulnerable about her.

“I don’t know if you remember me or not. But I’m Rishima Reynolds.”

He nodded toward a chair in front of his desk. “You’re hard to forget.”

When she sat, he did the same. “Your name is Hindu and means moonbeam. How could I fail to remember something that beautiful?”

Rishima’s eyes sparkled and she gave him a huge smile, obviously pleased. Her teeth were even and very white. She was strikingly pretty with dark, soulful eyes and perfectly-applied makeup. Today, she wore a long black skirt that fell just above her ankles and a white satin blouse with pearl buttons. Her red leather boots had high, narrow heels and laced up the front like something from the Victorian era.

It was mid morning and a bright spot of sunlight through the east-facing window held her in its beam and gave a golden glow to her skin. She wore dangling rhinestone earrings. They caught the light and shimmered against her dark hair. A young girl like this could break some hearts if anyone was brave enough to let her inside.

“How’s your baby?” she asked. “You’d just had a son the last time I saw you.”

He smiled. “Jonathan is doing great. He’s nine months old now and pulling himself up. When he takes a few steps holding onto the coffee table, he looks up at me and grins like he just swam across the English Channel. And, of course, he’s into everything. But you aren’t here, with a worried look on your face, to ask about my son.”

She bit her bottom lip. “You’re right. I want to report a missing person.”

He pulled a pad of paper from his center drawer. “Okay, let’s start with a name.”

“Parker Collins.”

• • •

Susan Clayton-Goldner was born in New Castle, Delaware and grew up with four brothers along the banks of the Delaware River. She is a graduate of the University of Arizona's Creative Writing Program and has been writing most of her life. Her novels have been finalists for The Hemingway Award, the Heeken Foundation Fellowship, the Writers Foundation and the Publishing On-line Contest. Susan won the National Writers' Association Novel Award twice for unpublished novels and her poetry was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

Her work has appeared in numerous literary journals and anthologies, including Animals as Teachers and Healers, published by Ballantine Books, Our Mothers/Ourselves, by the Greenwood Publishing Group, The Hawaii Pacific Review-Best of a Decade, and New Millennium Writings. A collection of her poems, A Question of Mortality was released in 2014 by Wellstone Press. Prior to writing full time, Susan worked as the Director of Corporate Relations for University Medical Center in Tucson, Arizona.

Susan shares a life in Grants Pass, Oregon with her husband, Andreas, her fictional characters, and more books than one person could count.

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