Mental illness runs in the Purcell family.
Iâd diligently typed this conclusion at the
top of the report written on my word-processing program.
Iâd been so full of myself, so pleased with my thorough
research and keen detecting skills that Iâd smiled a
Cheshire Cat smile for weeks on end. That smug grin hung
around just like the catâs. It was on my face when I woke
in the morning and it was there on my lips as I closed my
eyes at night.
I spent hours in self-congratulation:
Oh, Jane Kelly, private investigator
extraordinaire. How easy it is for you to be a
detective. How good you are at your job. How exceptional
you are in your field!
I wasnât smiling now.
Directly in front of me was a knife-wielding,
delusional, growling, schizophrenic â the situation a
direct result of my investigation into the Purcells. In
disbelief I danced left and right, frantic to avoid
serious injury. I looked into the rolling eyes of my
attacker and felt doomed. Doomed and downright FURIOUS at
Dwayne Durbin. It was his fault I was here! It was his
ridiculous belief in my abilities that had put me in
harmâs way! Hadnât I told him Iâm no good at
confrontation? Hadnât I made it clear that Iâm damn near
a chicken-heart? Doesnât he ever listen to me?
His fervent belief in me was going to get me
Gritting my teeth, I thought: I hope I live
long enough to kill Dwayne first.....
ONE MONTH EARLIER
I was deep into the grunt work necessary to
earn my license as a private investigator. Dwayne Durbin,
my mentor, had finally convinced me I would be good at the
job. His cheerleading on my behalf was not entirely
altruistic: he wanted me to come and work for him.
Iâd resisted for a while but circumstances had
arisen over the summer that had persuaded me Dwayne just
might be right. So, in September I became Dwayne Durbinâs
apprentice â and then I became his slave, spending my time
putting in the hours, digging through records, doing all
his dog work â which really irritates me, more at myself
than him, because Iâd known this was going to happen.
And though I resented all the crap-work thrown
my way, Dwayne wasnât really around enough for me to work
up a head of steam and vent my feelings. He was embroiled
in a messy divorce case for Camellia âCammieâ Purcell
Denton. His association with the Purcell family was why
Iâd delved into the Purcell family history in the first
place. I admit this was more for my own edification than
any true need on Dwayneâs part, but I figured it couldnât
That particular September afternoon â the
afternoon I wrote my conclusion on the report â was sunny
and warm and lazy. It was a pleasure to sit on Dwayneâs
couch, a piece of furniture Iâd angled toward his sliding
glass door for a shining view of the waters of Lake
Chinook. I could look over the top of my laptop as I
wirelessly searched databases and historical archives and
catch a glimpse of sunlight bouncing like diamonds against
Resentment faded. Contentment returned.
After all, itâs difficult to hold a grudge when, apart
from some tedium, life was pretty darn good. My rent was
paid, my motherâs impending visit had yet to materialize,
my brother was too involved with his fiancee to pay me
much attention, and I had a dog who thought I
was....well....the catâs meow.
I finished the report and typed my name on the
first page, mentally patting myself on the back for a job
well done. Reluctantly, I climbed to my feet and checked
out Dwayneâs refrigerator. If Dwayne possessed anything
besides beer and a suspect jar of half-eaten, orange-
colored chili con queso dip, life would pass from pretty
darn good to sublime. My gaze settled on a lone can of
diet A&W root beer. Not bad. Popping the top, I returned
to the couch and my laptop.
Intending to concentrate, my eyes kept
wandering to the scene outside the sliding glass door.
Dwayne, whoâd been lounging in a deck chair, was now
making desultory calls on his cell phone. He stepped in
and out of my line of vision as I hit the print button,
wirelessly sending information to Dwayneâs printer.
Nirvana. Iâm technologically challenged, but Dwayne has a
knack for keeping things running smoothly and efficiently
despite my best efforts. Since Iâd acquired my laptop â a
gift from an ex-boyfriend â Iâd slowly weaned myself from
my old grinder of a desktop. This new, eager slimmed-down
version had leap-frogged me into a new era of computers.
It fired up and slammed me onto the Internet faster than
you can say, âOlly olly Oxenfree.â (I have no idea what
this means but it was a favorite taunt from my brother
Booth who was always crowing this when we were kids,
gloating and laughing and skipping away, delighted that
heâd somehow âgotâ me. Which, when I think about it,
still has the power to piss me off.)
The laptop untethered me from my old
computerâs roosting spot on the desk in my bedroom. Now,
Iâm mobile. I bring my work over to Dwayneâs, which he
highly encourages. Iâm fairly certain Dwayne hopes Iâll
suddenly whirl into a female frenzy of cleaning and make
his place spotlessly clean. Like, oh, sure, thatâs going
Still, I enjoy my newfound freedom and so
Dwayneâs cabana has become a sort-of office for me. I
claimed my spot on his well-used but extremely comfortable
one-time blue, now dusty gray, sofa early. Being more of
a phone guy, Dwayne spends his time on his back deck/dock
and conducts business outdoors as long as it isnât raining
or hailing and sometimes even if it is.
Feeling absurdly content (always a bad sign
for me, one I choose to ignore ) I checked my e-mail.
Nothing besides a note from someone named Trixie which I
instantly deleted. One day I made the mistake of opening
one of those spam emails about super hot sex and ever
since Iâve been blessed with a barrage of Viagra, Cialis
and penis enlargement ads and/or promises. If I didnât
have penis envy before, I sure as hell do now. Eighteen
inches? Where would you park that thing on a daily
basis? There are a lot of hours when itâs not in
use.....unless you count the fact that it functions as
some guysâ brains. I have met these sorts, but I try not
to date them. Makes for uncomfortable dinners out where I
talk and they just stare at my breasts. If I had serious
cleavage I could almost understand, but my fear is that it
simply means my conversation is really boring.
My cell phone interrupted this inner monolog
with a whiny, persistent ring. I am going to have to
figure out how to change it. A James Bond theme would be
nice. I snatched it up without looking at Caller ID. An
error. Marta Cornell, one of Portlandâs most voracious
divorce lawyers, was on the line.
âJane!â Marta voice shouted into my ear.
Her voice lies at sonic-boom level. I feared this time
she may have shot one of my inner ear bones â the hammer,
the anvil or the stirrup â into the center of my brain.
Who names those things, anyway?
âYou know Dwayneâs working for Cammie
Purcell,â Marta charged ahead without waiting for my
response. âJane? Are you there?â
âYes.â I was cautious. Marta was Cammieâs
divorce lawyer and Dwayne had been following her husband
Chris around for several weeks, intent on obtaining proof
that Chris possessed a second family. Said family was
apparently sucking up some Purcell money. Chris Denton
wasnât exactly a bigamist. Heâd never actually married
his other âwifeâ. But he had a children with her and he
divided his time between them and Cammie. Stunted as he
was maturity-wise, I was impressed he could juggle two
relationships. Sometimes I find it difficult just taking
care of my dog.
âIs he still working for her?â
âI think itâs finished,â I answered, though I
wasnât completely sure. Cases like Cammieâs seemed to
undulate: sometimes the work lasted days on end; other
times it nearly died. When Dwayne had first discovered
the dirt on Chris, heâd disclosed it to Cammie and Marta.
With divorce in the offing, Marta must have seen
greenbacks floating around her head, but weirdly, Cammieâs
only remark had been a question: âWhat are the childrensâ
Later Iâd learned this query had some merit
after all: Chrisâs two girls â with his almost wife â were
Jasmine and Blossom. When Dwayne told Cammie their names
her face crumpled as if she were going to cry. But then
she fought off the tears and went into a quiet rage
âHer eyes looked like they were going to bug
out of her head,â Dwayne told me later. âI took a step
backward. Her hands were clenching and unclenching. She
wanted to kill me for telling her. A part of my brain was
searching the room for a weapon. But then she kinda
pulled herself together.â Dwayne gave me a long look. âI
donât ever want to be in a room alone with her again. No
wonder the bastard left her.â
Camelliaâs strange behavior was explained when
it surfaced that many of the female members of the Purcell
family were named after flowers. Apparently Chrisâs non-
Purcell âwifeâ has fallen for this weird obsession as
well, and since it was a decidedly Purcell quirk, Cammie
was seemingly ready to kill over it.
This was about the time I decided to indulge
in some Purcell family history. Hence, my report.
âJasper Purcell would like to meet with you,â
Marta said, bringing me back to the present with a
bang. âHe needs a p.i.â
âYou mean, meet with Dwayne?â I asked,
puzzled. I was the research person, not the A-list
âNope.â Her voice sounded as if she were
trying to tamp down her excitement. Must be more money
involved. âHe called this morning and asked me for the
name of a private investigator. Itâs something of a
personal nature, to do with his family.â
âThis is Dwayneâs case,â I reminded her. I
didnât add that Dwayne wanted to wash his hands of the
âJasper wants someone else to tackle this
one. Says itâs sensitive.â
I glanced through the sliding glass door to
where Dwayne, whoâd removed his shirt in the unseasonably
hot, late September sunshine, was standing on the dock.
His back was hard, tan, and smooth. Someone who knew him
drove by in a speedboat and shouted good-natured
obscenities. Dwayne turned his head, grinned and gave the
guy the finger.
âHow sensitive?â I asked.
âHe said he wants a woman.â
I wasnât sure what I thought of that. Just
how many private investigators did the Purcell family
need? âIâll have to make sure this is okay with Dwayne.â
âI talked to Dwayne this morning,â Marta
revealed. âHe said heâs had his fill of the Purcells but
if you wanted to step in, he was all for it.â
I knew Dwayneâs feelings about Cammie, but
this sounded suspicious. Dwayne likes to cherry-pick
assignments. Thatâs why Iâd been relegated to grinding
research and drudge work. I narrowed my eyes at his back
until he glanced around. His brows lifted at my dark look
and he stuck his head inside the gap in the sliding glass
âIâm talking to Marta Cornell about the
âThey pay well, darlinâ, and thatâs the only
goddamn good thing about âem.â He went back to the
sunshine, turning his face skyward like a sybarite.
Marta persisted, âOur client wants you to meet
him at Fosterâs around four. Get a table. Heâll buy
Free food. Iâm a sucker for it and Marta
knows my weakness.
And Fosterâs-On-The-Lake is just about my
favorite restaurant in the whole world. How bad could the
Two hours later I parked my Volvo wagon and
walked into Fosterâs-On-The-Lake, snagging a patio table
beneath one of the clear-plastic, faux-grass umbrellas
which sported a commanding view of Lake Chinook. Most of
the umbrellas are green canvas, but sometimes Jeff Foster,
owner and manager of Fosterâs-On-The-Lake adds a bit of
fun to the mix, hence the fun plastic-party-ones. He
didnât notice my arrival or he would have steered me
toward a less well-placed table. He knows how cheap I am
and tries to give the paying customers the best seats. I
was all ready to explain that I was being treated by one
of the Purcells but a member of the wait staff I didnât
know let me choose my table. Maybe it was because Iâd
taken a little extra care with my appearance. Iâd
unsnapped my pony-tail, brushed and briefly hot-curled my
hair, tossed on a tan, loosely flowing skirt and black
tank top. Iâd even done the mascara/eyeliner bit, topping
the whole look off with some frosted lip gloss.
The Binkster, my pug, had cocked her head at
me and slowly wagged her tail. I took this to mean I
Iâd forgotten to ask Marta what Jasper looked
like. He was a Purcell and the Purcells were wealthy and
notorious, so apparently that was supposed to be enough.
I ordered a Sparkling Cyanide, my new favorite drink, an
electric blue martini that draws envious eyes from the
people whoâve ordered your basic rum and Cokes.
I was sipping away when a man in his mid-
thirties strode onto the patio. He stopped short to look
around. I nearly dropped my cocktail. I say nearly,
because Iâd paid a whopping eight bucks for it and I
wasnât going to lose one drop unless Mt. St. Helenâs
erupted again and spewed ash and lava to rain down on
Fosterâs patio, sending us all diving for cover. Even
then I might be able to balance it.
I felt my lips part. Marta must have guessed
what my reaction would be when I clapped eyes on him. She
probably was fighting back a huge hardy-har-har all the
while we were on the phone. This guy was flat-out
gorgeous. Women seated around me took notice: smoothing
their hair, sitting up straighter, looking interested and
attentive. His gaze settled on me. I gulped against a
dry throat. He had it all. Movie star good looks.
Brilliant blue eyes and thick lashes. Chiseled jaw.
Smooth, naturally dark skin and blinding white teeth.
Strong physique, taut and muscular with that kind of
sinewy grace that belongs to jungle cats. I should have
known this was going to turn out badly. I should have
heard the âtoo handsomeâ alarm clang in my brain. But,
honestly, I just stared.
He flashed me a smile, then scraped back the
chair opposite me. The sunâs rays sent a shaft of gold
light over his left arm. His gray shirt was one of those
suede-ish fabrics that moved like a second skin.
âJane Kelly?â he asked.
Great voice. Warm and mellow. He smelled
good, too. Musky and citrus-y at the same time. And his
dark hair had the faintest, and I mean faintest, of an
auburn tint, the shade of color women pay big, big, HUGE,
I nodded, wondering if I should check for
drool on my chin. You can never be too careful.
âIâm Jasper Purcell.â
âThanks for meeting me. I know I didnât give
you a lot of time.â
I cleared my throat. âNo problem. Marta
Cornell said you wanted to see me about your family. She
âI wasnât specific with her.â He hesitated,
his eyes squinting a bit as if he were wrestling with
confiding in me. After a moment, he said, âItâs about my
grandmother, Orchid Purcell.â
I looked interested, waiting for him to
âShe named all her girls after flowers. But
itâs the only crazy thing sheâs done until now.â
Mental illness runs in the Purcell
family..... âWhatâs happened?â I asked cautiously, but
Jasper Purcell didnât answer me. He appeared to be lost
to some inner world.
Eventually he surfaced, glancing around,
seeming to notice his surroundings for the first
time. âNice place. Iâve never been here.â
Since Fosterâs was a Lake Chinook institution
I was kind of surprised. The Dunthorpe area â where the
Purcell mansion had been for the last century â was just
north of the lake. If Jasper Purcell grew up there, the
restaurant seemed like a natural.
âHow can I help you, Mr. Purcell?â
That seemed to jolt him back. âSorry.â He
leaned across the table and clasped my hand. The heat of
his fingers ran right up my arm. I was dazzled by that
incredible face so close to mine. âCall me Jazz.â
âShort for Jasper. My cousin Cammie could
never pronounce it.â
Nowhere in my research had anything been said
about this manâs extraordinary good looks. Was Cammie as
beautiful as Jasper â Jazz â was handsome? I made a
mental note to ask Dwayne.
Instinctively, I knew I should stay out of
whatever he had in store for me. But I really wanted to
help him. Really, really wanted to help him. Call it
temporary insanity. But every cell in my body seemed to
be magnetically attracted to him.
Jazz said, âIâd like you to meet my
grandmother and tell me what you think. See if you
believe sheâs still got it together upstairs. Just get an
overall impression. Thatâs all Iâm looking for.â He
turned toward the lake. A sleek, black-and-white Master
Craft pulled up to the dock outside Fosterâs patio.
I didnât talk about my rates. I didnât
mention that I was barely an apprentice. I didnât explain
that I wasnât the person for the job. I didnât say
anything to jeopardize the moment. Under Jasper Purcellâs
spell I could only give one answer: âYes.â
That brought a brilliant smile to his lips.
He gave me his full attention again and clasped my hands
between his own. My knuckles tingled. âThank you,â he
said, his gaze so warm my internal temperature shot
skyward. Whew. I was going to have to order another
drink....and pour it over my head to cool off.
Marry in haste, repent in leisure. One of my
motherâs favorite axioms slipped across my mind. So,
okay, I wasnât marrying the guy. It wasnât like he was
even interested. But I sure ended up with a lot of time
wishing I hadnât been so hasty.
Every time I say âyesâ it gets me in a
shitload of trouble.