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The strangled body of a gallery owner offers Carol an opportunity to cement her reputation as a private eye. Instead, the investigation turns into a nightmare during which Carol unravels much more than a murder case.

 


Excerpt: Chapter One

OCTOBER 2000

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The peace of October exploded like a Jackson Pollock painting.

October once reigned as my favorite month in Santa Cruz. The tourists finally deserted the beaches, the ocean sparkled like tinsel, and golden light slanted on sails. Olallieberries plumped sweet on vines and persimmons hung bright among waxy leaves.

But the spring David and I decided to cohabitate, he entered a county art event called Open Studios. That October madness and murder splattered down on us.

I had known for the several years of our tumultuous relationship, that David liked to shoot photos, especially of indigenous people from exotic places. I admired his photography, even some of the nude shots for girlie magazines.

However, until we lived together, I’d had no idea how important the hobby was to him, how much he craved an alternate identity to “state bureaucrat.” That is the way he referred to his job, even though he was an investigator with a license to carry, which I considered several notches sexier than “state bureaucrat.” “Investigator” matched his compact body and dark eyes. I would not have logged the hours to become a private investigator myself if I hadn’t considered his job cool.

Way back in April, before we had entirely unpacked into our new jointly owned fixer-upper, David submitted his application for Open Studios, sponsored by the county’s Cultural Council. Artists paid a fee and were juried into the event, which took place over the course of three October weekends.

By May, David was biting his fingernails and despairing. “There could be someone on the panel who doesn’t consider photography art.”

Lifting his spirits was a challenge when I had my own worries. Sloan’s Investigative Services could fold any day now and take my fledging career with it. I attempted: “You got into Open Studios two years ago, and you said your slide sheet was better this year.”

“Every time has been better. That isn’t the determining factor.”

“What is?” I unbraided my hair and shook loose my heavy auburn mane.
He heaved an exasperated sigh. “Competition. Politics. Sex.”

“Sex?”

He nodded. “Artists sleep with the judges.”

At the time, I had regarded this as wild speculation, not worthy of comment. But by the end of the year, I had a much greater appreciation for the angst and desperation that might motivate an artist to do such a thing.

After a spring of nail biting, in June David bounced up our termite-ridden steps waving a letter. “Carol, I’ve been accepted into Open Studios.”

I shared David’s joy for his acceptance. Little did I know I was about to be initiated into a select group of my own—those responsible for another’s death.