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The Ginseng Conspiracy

Author(s): Susan Bernhardt

Cozy Mystery

On her way to attend a Halloween Ball, Kay Driscoll, a newcomer to town, witnesses the murder of a local professor. When the official coroner's report rules the cause of death to be accidental and the community accepts the judgement, Kay decides to uncover the truth for herself. Through her personal investigations, Kay exposes a complex conspiracy, woven deep within the thriving local ginseng industry, that involves some of the more prominent figures and families of Sudbury Falls.

With her new friends, the free-spirited herbalist Deirdre and the untamed modern woman Elizabeth, Kay discusses new clues over tea and pastries at Sweet Marissa's Patisserie, their crime-fighting headquarters. As Kay gets closer to the heart of the conspiracy, additional murders happen in quick succession. Before long, Kay learns that the villains are gunning for her, too. Phil, her musically talented but preoccupied husband, determined to keep her safe, withholds from her the one thing she needs most: the truth.

Excerpt


I supposed I should have kept going and minded my own business, but when had I ever done that? My curiosity kept calling me. I had told Elizabeth and Deirdre that Phil and I would meet them at seven-thirty. It was seven-fifteen, and I was just two blocks away. I had plenty of time to find out what was going on. It was a bit creepy, but I could just take a peek. Not knowing was killing me, so I made the decision to check it out.            

  I ducked into the dark alley and went around to the double back door of the store. The entire area looked shabby and desolate. I'd never been in the alley behind the stores before. This presented new territory for me. A smell of wilting trash prevailed. Trashcans on their sides spilled their ancient contents into the rutted pavement. Piles of old wood and broken pallets leaned against the side of the building. Maybe it wasn’t a good idea to be here after all, but I continued on to satisfy my curiosity.

 I pulled open one of the unlocked doors, entered, and heard faint voices coming from behind an inner door down a hallway. Slowly, careful to not make a sound, I opened the inside door and just as silently closed it behind me. A curtain blocked my view into the room, so I moved forward to peer around its edge.

Six people stood in a storage room in a circle, all of them wearing the same silk gossamer hooded robes. It was a bizarre scene. No party atmosphere here. Fresh footprints from the mystery people scattered around the thick dust on the floor. Cobwebs covered the walls. This was becoming much more like The Da Vinci Code than I would have liked. All that was missing was a body. I was beginning to think I had been right in the first place. I shouldn't be here. Way past having a bad feeling about this, the hair on my body stood on end. But I didn't move for the door. I was determined to stay and find out what was happening. The robed people all gazed down at the floor. Stepping onto a low box in front of me, I strained my neck to see what they were looking at. Lying on the floor was a person. Had someone passed out? I could see a man. He was someone I knew, the professor we saw on our morning walks, who passed our home on his way to the college, whom Elizabeth hadn't introduced me to yet. I couldn’t believe it. The professor was lying there, looked lifeless. My skin tingled. I held my breath as my heart raced.

I stumbled as I stepped down from the box that I stood on. Backing away from the curtain, I swung the door open wide and ran toward the alley door. Footsteps sounded in the hallway as I slammed the back door shut. I grabbed a thick piece of wood lying beside the door, shoved it though the door handles, and raced through the dark alley behind the stores. I got about a block away before I heard the sound of splintering wood. It was only a short distance to get to the Vermilion Pathway where Elizabeth, Deirdre, and I walked each morning. I hoped to lose myself in the wooded area.

I reached the pathway, removed my slippers to make it easier to run, and sprinted down a short distance before I made a sharp left turn up an embankment. I heard hurried voices coming in my direction on the path. Halfway up the embankment, I hid behind an old gargantuan oak tree I had often admired on our walks I pulled the skirt of my cloak tight around my legs and held my breath. My heart pounded so loudly in my chest, I thought for sure they would be able to hear it. The pursuing group passed without slowing, within twenty feet from where I hid. The moonless night concealed me. Why the chase? What had I interrupted? Everything spun out of control. I couldn't believe this was happening to me...in Sudbury Falls!  

I waited until I no longer heard their voices and then continued up the embankment and ran through backyards that were parallel to Main Street. I put my slippers back on. I needed to head for the safety of home where I could process the adrenaline-fueled events of the last several minutes. In the middle of the block, with no direct streetlights overhead, I dashed across Main Street and through two backyards. I kept in the shadows, running between the houses.

This was a night of shadows. I could see a woman through her back picture window standing over at the stove as I ran through her yard. Her dog, tied up in the backyard, started barking as he saw me. But I was already gone before I heard her backdoor slam shut. I crossed Elm Street, hoping not to be seen in the streetlights. Eerie Jack-O’Lanterns leered out at me from the corner house. Phil and I had just laughed about them last night when walking home from Jo's, but now they were unwanted eyes watching me as I tried to move undetected through town. Their sneers looked fixedly at me as I passed. Stretches between the yards seemed longer. Running under brooding trees on Maple Street, I reached the entrance to the alley behind our house.

  I stopped in the shadows, searching the night for any signs of movement, making sure I wasn't followed. It was creepier back here than I expected. A cat screamed. I jumped and bolted down the alley, through our squeaky gate, and let myself in the back door, locking it behind me.

I pulled my knees up to my chest and laid my head on them. What was going on? What had I just witnessed in the vacant store?


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ISBN (Print):
ISBN (Electronic): 978-1-77127-472-2
Genre: Mystery
Date Published: 01/03/2014
Publisher: MuseItUp Publishing

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