From Chapter One
Since becoming a cop six years prior, I’d grown to dread the thirty-first day of October. I could no longer believe the holiday was simply a night of innocent fun. I’d been witness to desecrated graves and smashed pumpkins; violent bar brawls and deadly DUIs. The night gave liberty to all sorts of spooks and ghouls, not only encouraging them to come out and play but practically daring them not to.
I was also a parent, though, and slowly learning that Halloween was a night I needed to tolerate, if not someday even embrace. My daughter, Grace, was nearly a year old and already she was captivated by the glowing pumpkins and toddler-size spider webs that adorned front porches and yards all over town.
Luckily, because Grace was so young, my fiancé, Brody Sutherland, and I still had full control over what she wore. He wanted to dress her as a witch, while I was leaning toward a cute bunny. After a heated discussion in the back aisle of a costume shop on Colfax in Denver, where the three of us had gone for a quick weekend getaway in late September, we split the difference and paid forty bucks for a zombie llama costume.
It was as ridiculous as it sounded. By the time we got her ears on, Grace looked like a rabid camel. But I’m nothing if not stubborn and by God, we were going to get our money’s worth. Brody threw on an old monkey suit and I slipped a pair of cat ears over my dark hair and called it good.
We’d been out an hour; it was well past dusk and we were nearly done trick-or-treating. The sky had turned a violent deep purple, a shade of eggplant that seemed both ominous and watchful. The full moon was still low, gradually beginning its climb up past the clouds. We were lucky; though the forecast had predicted an early-morning snowfall, none had come and the night was merely cold instead of both cold and snowy.
Cedar Valley, like most mountain towns in Colorado, was both blessed and cursed with a population that was widely spread out; even our own nearest neighbors in the canyon were a good quarter mile away. And so, every Halloween, the town’s city council sponsored a Spooks’ Night Out. Up and down Main Street, merchants and shop clerks decorated their storefronts and competed to see who could give out the most coveted treats. This year, word on the street was that Old Man Brewer at the bookshop had a seemingly endless supply of full-size candy bars.
We reached the end of Main Street, where the businesses faded into stately residential homes and low-slung bungalows. Grace was sleepy, her eyes nearly shut.
It was quieter here, with the bulk of the trick-or-treaters still to the north. Brody adjusted his monkey suit and moved Grace higher on his shoulder. “What do you say? It’s been a long evening.”
It had, but we had one more stop to make. “I promised Caleb we would come by. He’s dying to see Grace in costume. Anyway, it’s just up here.”
The small, tidy, single-story redbrick bungalow was set back from the street on a quarter-acre lot. A gleaming white Mercedes sedan, parked along the sidewalk, got an appreciative whistle from Brody. Together, we read the placard mounted on the black wrought-iron fence: Montgomery and Sons, Estate Planning and Legal Services, though I, and everyone in town, knew there were no sons to be found inside. There was only retired Judge Caleb Montgomery and a part-time paralegal who favored heavy gray cardigans, even in the heat of summer, and smelled, incongruously, of coconuts and tropical sunscreen.
We pushed open the gate, wincing as the rusty bolts screeched, and stepped onto a narrow path that led from the gate to the front door. Caleb, or most likely his wife, Edith, had lined the path with carved pumpkins. They glowed, lit from within by tea lights.
The door opened slowly as we reached the front porch. Caleb Montgomery greeted us with a smile and a bowl of hard butterscotch candies.
“Come in, come in!” he called softly, noting the nearly-sleeping Grace in Brody’s arms. “A rabid camel! How original! Wherever did you find a costume like that?”
I shrugged. “Colfax, of course.”
“Beautiful car, Caleb,” Brody said and shook the older man’s hand. “Early Christmas present?” Caleb grinned. “You could call it that. A man’s got to live a little, right?”
The house was small; the front living area had been converted into a reception area, and the two bedrooms turned into Caleb’s office and an office for his paralegal. In the rear of the house, closed French doors likely led to a kitchen, bathroom, and perhaps a closet or two.
A small white dog dressed in a bee costume darted toward us. The dog’s bark was all Grace needed to perk up; she squealed with delight and then fussed in Brody’s arms until he relented and set her down. The dog fell over with happiness, squashed its tiny wings, and offered up its pale speckled belly for rubs.
“When did you get a dog?” I asked.
“I didn’t. It’s the neighbor’s, but Cricket--the dog--prefers to hang out with me. He’s highly intelligent that way. I’ll take him home before I leave for the night.”
We watched dog and baby play for a few moments, then Caleb cleared his throat. “May I speak to you a moment, Gemma? In private?”
He gestured to his office. I followed him, smiling at the white lab coat he wore. The retired judge had always reminded me of Albert Einstein, with his shock of white hair and matching mustache. The costume he wore now only served to reinforce the image. Once we were inside his office, Caleb gently closed the door and slipped into the enormous chair behind his desk. A slight man, he was nearly swallowed by the leather and brass-studded throne.
He rubbed at his face. “This life. It’s exhausting, isn’t it? When I was a kid, I was terrified of dying. Now, the thought of living forever is enough to make me want to scream. Mankind was created with an expiration date, and for good reason. Our hearts are too soft, our emotions too brittle to go on forever.”
I took a seat across from him in one of the two guest chairs. A single nine-by-twelve manila envelope lay on the mahogany desk and Caleb stared at it, falling silent. For the first time, I felt a sense of trepidation at what he might wish to discuss. It was unlike him to be especially morose or sentimental; seeing him this way was unsettling.
It was almost as though he were afraid.
(C) 2019, Emily Littlejohn, Minotaur Books
Detective Gemma Monroe #4
An enthralling, atmospheric new novel from Emily Littlejohn, author of acclaimed debut Inherit the Bones, featuring Colorado police officer Gemma Monroe.
It’s Halloween night in Cedar Valley. During the town’s annual festival, Detective Gemma Monroe takes a break from trick or treating with her family to visit an old family friend, retired Judge Caleb Montgomery, at his law office. To Gemma’s surprise, Caleb seems worried--haunted, even--and confides in her that he’s been receiving anonymous threats. Shortly after, as Gemma strolls back to her car, an explosion at Caleb’s office shatters the night.
Reeling from the shock, Gemma and her team begin eliminating suspects and motives, but more keep appearing in their place, and soon another man is killed. Her investigation takes her from a chilling encounter with a convicted murderer at the Belle Vista Penitentiary, to the gilded rooms of the renovated Shotgun Playhouse, where Shakespeare’s cursed play Macbeth is set to open in a few weeks.
Yet most disturbing of all is when Gemma realizes that similar murders have happened before. There is a copycat killer at play, and if Gemma can’t stop him, he’ll carry out his final, deadly act.
Mystery Police Procedural [Minotaur Books, On Sale: December 10, 2019, Hardcover / e-Book, ISBN: 9781250178329 / eISBN: 9781250178329]
EMILY LITTLEJOHN was born and raised in southern California and has called Colorado home since 2003. She worked for several years at the Denver Public Library and is now a library supervisor at the Westminster Public Library. If she’s not writing, reading, or working, she’s enjoying the mountains with her husband and sweet old dog
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