Blood will tell, p.1

Blood Will Tell, page 1

 part  #10 of  Tropical Breeze Cozy Mystery Series

 

Blood Will Tell
 

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Blood Will Tell


  Table of Contents

  Introduction

  (From the typescript of Taylor Verone)

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  (Excerpt from The Santorini Horror, by Edson Darby-Deaver, PhD)

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  (From the typescript of Taylor Verone)

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  (Excerpt from The Santorini Horror, by Edson Darby-Deaver, PhD)

  Chapter 9

  (From the typescript of Taylor Verone)

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Chapter 12

  Chapter 13

  Chapter 14

  Chapter 15

  Chapter 16

  (Excerpt from The Santorini Horror, by Edson Darby-Deaver, PhD)

  Chapter 17

  (All remaining chapters taken from the typescript of Taylor Verone)

  Chapter 18

  Chapter 19

  Chapter 20

  Chapter 21

  Chapter 22

  Chapter 23

  Chapter 24

  Chapter 25

  Chapter 26

  Chapter 27

  Chapter 28

  Chapter 29

  Chapter 30

  Chapter 31

  Epilogue

  * * * * *

  Dedication: For my “Ladies Who Lunch” gang – Karen, Lynda and Rose. Thanks for all the food, fun and laughter.

  As always, a big thank-you to Cousin Kiki.

  This is a work of fiction. All characters, names, places and events are products of the author’s imagination. Any similarity to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental and not intended by the author.

  Blood Will Tell

  Copyright © 2017 by Moebooks

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced or used in any way without the express written permission of the author.

  Cover art by Custom Covers, www.coverkicks.com

  Introduction

  By Edson Darby-Deaver, PhD

  Those of you who have attended my lectures at paranormal conventions have only seen me as a hard-driving investigator, tenacious, and above all, skeptical.

  Yes, I am a serious man, but let me assure you, I have my lighter side. I have a personal life, such as it is, and I like to think I can be downright friendly at times. Those few hardy souls among you who have accompanied me on all-night cemetery vigils can even attest to my humorous side, though I do limit the practical jokes in such situations. One aims for a pleasant frisson of surprise, not sudden death from terror. Serious paranormal researchers being so hard to find.

  Granted, I can be intensely focused intellectually – yes, perhaps even to a fault. I only ask that if you have never met me in person, you reserve judgment. I am really quite normal, once you get to know me, and I am hardly the only scientist around with his or her little quirks. Ask my friends. I have several.

  Like you, I rarely concern myself with what you may call “everyday life,” or “normal people.” The following monograph, however, may at first blush appear to deal with just such things. Before abandoning this work, believing it ranges outside your field of interest, I ask that you bear with me long enough to see the mundane overleapt by the creeping fog of doubt. In other words, it may be just your cup of tea after all.

  For my own part, I found my initial revulsion at the situation that arose here in Santorini, (the small, gated, Florida community in which I live), changing rapidly to intrigue as events unfolded. At the urging of others involved, (especially Taylor Verone, one of the [several] aforementioned friends), I am documenting the events in my own words, exactly as they happened. Since this is an informal treatise and not one of my research papers, you may have noticed that I am using a more relaxed, idiosyncratic style of expression than that which you have come to expect in my various works. I hope you enjoy the informality.

  Taylor has promised to write down her own impressions for inclusion. We shall see. She’s a busy lady, and is easily distracted by barking, and, to a lesser extent, meowing, (n.b. – she runs an animal shelter).

  I shall begin by stating that I am not psychic (alas!), so I was only mildly disconcerted when Harriet Harvey Strawbridge moved into the beachside mansion at the nether end of Santorini Drive. Even that reaction was simply due to her physical appearance. That tingle of horror that should run through us when those who will wreak havoc upon us first appear was completely absent. If there is such a thing as Fate – anthropomorphized as a pagan god or, more likely, a goddess – he or she was laughing at all of us in Santorini that day.

  That warmish-coldish, early summer day. I remember I was just returning from the beach. I had been pondering just what had gone wrong in the recent Palatka Poltergeist Infestation when I saw her coming straight at me. We have our own private walkover (q.v. a wooden bridge intended to carry you over the dune without environmental damage to the shorescape or yourself) at Santorini, and I was just climbing the stairs at the east, or beachside, end of the walkover, when I looked up and saw a short, round, dangerous-looking woman bearing down upon me from the west, or Santorini Drive, end of the walkover.

  “Who the hell are you?” she demanded, and the sudden appearance of a fierce, muscular, rainbow-colored female shook me profoundly. Naturally, my response should have been, “I live here. Who the hell are you?” but as I say, she looked dangerous. I decided not to risk it.

  While I remained speechless, she seemed to be winding up for a swift upper-cut when I was rescued by my neighbor, Willa Garden, who emerged from the rear and introduced the creature.

  “This is my cousin from New York, Harriet Strawbridge. Harriet, this is Edson Darby-Deaver, one of my neighbors.”

  “Oh, him,” the lady said. “You mean the one everybody says is such a crank?”

  Naturally, at the suggestion that she had recognized my name, I had straightened my glasses and prepared to acknowledge kudos. The word “crank” was deflating, but hardly novel. I’ve heard it often enough that I wasn’t completely unmanned, and for Willa’s sake, I decided to overlook it. I like Willa.

  “Call me Ed,” I told the newcomer.

  Instead of asking me to call her Harriet, the cousin seemed offended.

  “Lovely, ah, thing,” I added, attempting to break the ice with a little pleasantry. I lowered my eyes and made a small gesture toward the gauzy, rainbow-colored beach cover-up she had obviously purchased since arriving on Anastasia Island. The tee-shirt shops are full of them.

  At my small gesture, she stepped back as if I’d been about to grope her.

  Giving me a quiet glare, she edged around me and proceeded to the beach.

  Willa, throwing an apologetic look from beneath her attractive pink sunhat, trailed after the woman with a kind of abject obedience.

  I turned and followed their progress for a moment but the cousin suddenly rounded on me and I decided it would be best to proceed home.

  Editor’s note: Beyond this brief Introduction, the decision has been made to use Taylor Verone’s typescript for the main body of the work. Dr. Darby-Deaver, upon reviewing his narrative effort, has agreed. Where necessity dictates, portions of Dr. Darby-Deaver’s work will be inserted.

  (From the typescript of Taylor Verone)

  Chapter 1

  I guess I have to do this myself. Ed has done too many research papers; it’s deformed the language center of his brain. I’ve gone over the “monograph” (his word) that he produced on “The Santorini Horror” (his title), and it’s like reading a book on quantum physics in a hypothetical parallel universe. Okay, I’ll give him credit for the time and effort he put into it, and it did provide fac
ts and dates for me to work with. I live on a 1,500-acre estate outside of Tropical Breeze, Florida, and the “action” as they call it, of this story, took place in Ed’s little neighborhood. I wasn’t around for all of the “action.” Thank God.

  Every now and then I may be able to plug in a portion of his text, but for the most part, it’s hopeless. I really don’t feel like doing this, but I must. I owe it to Willa. It seems like whenever I say, “Do I have to do EVERYTHING myself?” the answer turns out to be, “Yes.” Every time.

  So I’ll start where Ed should have started: with Willa’s aunt, Frieda Strawbridge.

  Fact 1: she’s dead.

  Fact 2: she was filthy rich. I mean really rich. We go beyond Trust Funds to Foundations with the Strawbridges. Charities claw one another’s eyes out grabbing for grants.

  Fact 3: during the last 55 years of her long life, Frieda’s favorite plaything was her tiny housing development, Santorini, and the people living there. She rarely left the place, and she never left her neighbors alone.

  Frieda built Santorini on a whim, using a sliver of the inheritance from her robber-baron father. She bought some land on a barrier island in 1960, when you could buy beachfront property around St. Augustine for the price-per-acre of dinner and a show in New York. She built her own mansion facing the ocean, and when real estate values shot up she built seven more, putting four on each side of Santorini Drive, counting her own. Hers was the grandest, of course. Then she settled a couple of relatives around her and sold the other houses for a ridiculous profit, (not that she needed the money), and proceeded to bully and terrify everyone there, especially her relatives, for the rest of her life.

  Fast forward to Fact 10 or 11: Willa Garden was her last living relative and primary heir.

  Willa had inherited so late in her life she didn’t really know how to spend the money. During Frieda’s lifetime, the old dragon had enjoyed dribbling money Willa’s way and demanding obeisance. But once Frieda was dead, the money from her Trust, which had no connection with the Foundation, came to Willa free and clear, and we all expected her to break out somehow and really live. She never did.

  She stayed in her own house when she could have moved into Frieda’s marble palace, next-door, which was blocking her ocean view. She stayed in her house – which was nice, but no mansion – when she could have lived in style anywhere in the world. Then she sat on the money and continued to live her life as she always had: modestly. At the point this story begins, she still had a landline through a Ma Bell phone attached to her kitchen wall. You know, the ones with the curly cords connecting the handset to the base? She had a cell phone, but the battery was always dead. One time I tried to tell her that a well-charged smart phone was essential for security, (a lady living alone, a sudden emergency, etc.) but she only gave me a sad smile and said nobody ever called her anyway. I never brought it up again.

  Still, she seemed content, in her own way, and she lived a simple life, secure now with her millions.

  Then Harriet Harvey Strawbridge showed up.

  I’d been shown the family tree, and it didn’t look like there was a very close relationship between Harriet and Willa, but when there’s money around, any old twig on the tree will do. Four generations ago they had had a common great-great grandfather, Matthew Strawbridge, and from then on the tree branches had grown in different directions. The really big money guy, Clarence Harlowe Strawbridge, was on Willa’s side.

  Still, Harriet’s family was comfortably well off. Old Clarence and his brother Harrison had created the Strawbridge Foundation together, but Harrison had about half the millions that Clarence did, and Harriet was descended from Harrison. I don’t know all the legal details, but since the family trusts were all separate from the Foundation, it doesn’t matter. Harriet’s great-grandfather had been a big noise too, just not the neutron bomb Willa’s ancestor had been. There was no reason that I could see why Harriet felt entitled to, or should have been in need of, any of Willa’s money. But she wanted it anyway.

  There. I managed to get into two pages what it took Ed fifteen chapters to explain.

  If you’re still interested in his “monograph,” you can contact him directly through his website and he’ll provide a print-on-demand copy at an exorbitant price. Heck, ask me nice and I’ll give you mine.

  Chapter 2

  I didn’t know Harriet Harvey Strawbridge existed until she showed up at a fundraiser for my animal shelter, Orphans of the Storm. We were having it picnic-style at the riverside estate that I rent. My landlord, Graeme Huntington, had been kind enough to allow me to open the house for special events, but this one was to be an outdoors affair.

  We had a beautiful day for it. It was a perfect day in May, and since we’d been having a drought, I wasn’t worried about rain and we didn’t have any. Since the event was held outside, the inside of Cadbury House didn’t need any special attention, which made me happy. I live in the house, and having a lot of people you don’t know very well milling around your home is always a bother.

  Most people will respect boundaries, especially the charitable types who show up at our events. The volunteers and I were going in and out of the kitchen all the time, so we had left the mudroom door unlocked. Nobody had ever barged in on us before. But when Harriet Harvey Strawbridge tried the door and found it unlocked, she just walked right in.

  I was in the kitchen when one of my helpers nudged me and said, “Who’s that?” nodding toward the far end of the Great Room, which opened out from the kitchen beyond a breakfast bar.

  I followed her gaze, and there was this short, round lady trussed up in a lime green suit, examining the woodwork. Even from a distance, something in her posture said that this place simply wouldn’t do. All that was missing was the lorgnette.

  “May I help you?” I asked, walking toward her. “If you don’t mind, we’d like to keep the house off-limits today. The party’s outside.”

  “What on earth was Waffles thinking?” she said, addressing the walls. She turned to goggle at me with protuberant eyes. “He had a mansion spread over half a block facing Central Park, you know. Whatever did he want with this shack?”

  I lifted my eyebrows and made myself smile. I didn’t know yet that she hadn’t brought her checkbook, and the informal reference to Waffles showed knowledge of the tycoon who had owned Cadbury House, back in the day. His name had been Kingsley Danvers Cadbury, and why his nickname had been Waffles I didn’t know. Maybe he threw them at the underclassmen back at the Ivy League school he went to in around 1910.

  “Perhaps he just wanted solitude?” I hazarded. I approached, hostess-like. “I’m Taylor Verone. Thank you for coming today. If you’ll just come this way –”

  She looked at my hand as if I’d told her to put a C-note into it, then gradually lifted hers and gave mine a flabby grip.

  “Graeme’s renting to you? And now you’re letting animals run all over it?”

  “Oh, you know Graeme?”

  She got haughty. “Of course.” She dropped my hand, forgot I existed, and continued on her self-conducted tour. I caught her before she could try to open the door to my office.

  “I’m afraid that’s off limits,” I said as graciously as I could. “Since you’re a friend of the family, I could give you a quick tour of some of the other downstairs rooms, but it’ll have to be some other time. As you can see, we’re a little busy today.”

  She sneered, holding her ground by my office door. “This was Vesta’s bedroom, was it not? Graeme’s mother? Don’t be ridiculous. I was in here countless times as a child.” She reached for the door handle. “It’s locked.” She turned back to me with a steely gaze, and before she could tell me to go fetch the key, I decided I needed to get physical with this one.

  Gently, of course. Still didn’t know she didn’t have her checkbook.

  I took her by the arm, steered her into the Great Hall and said, “How delightful to meet someone who came here socially, all those years ago.” I made a poi
nt of inspecting the wrinkles around her bulbous brown eyes. She was seventy if she was a day. “So many long years ago,” I added. “Was your family close to the Cadburys in those days?”

  She drew herself up, all five-foot-two of her, and intoned, “I am a Strawbridge.”

  “You’re kidding! I knew Frieda. A real character, wasn’t she? Come with me,” I said, implying special treatment and getting her as far away from my office as I could. “We have simply got to have a nice long talk about the old days. Outside.”

  * * * * *

  She was used to crushing peasants when they got tangled up in her feet, but I happen to be a pushy broad myself, when I have to be. I out-maneuvered her. Before she knew she was being herded like a cow, she was out the mudroom door and halfway across the lawn being offered a hot dog. She stared at it as if it were crawling, lifted her nose in the air and kept on going.

  “There you are, Harriet,” Willa Garden cried, heading for us. “Oh, Taylor, what a lovely party. But then you always do these things so beautifully. I’ve given Michael a check,” she added quietly. Michael is my live-in lover, and he was in charge of the cashbox that day, as usual. “I see you’ve met my cousin.”

  “She’s your cousin?” I couldn’t help but be startled. “She is absolutely nothing like you.”

  “Oh, thank you,” she said absently, watching Harriet’s progress through the locals, managing to offend people without saying a word.

  The difference between the two cousins lay mainly in height and body language. In coloring, they were similar, and there was something about the shapes of their facial bones. They both had strong cheek bones and square jaws, and the same tone of mid-brown hair. Harriet’s was short and severe, and she’d had it dyed a flat brown. Willa had just let the gray come in naturally. It made attractive streaks in her relaxed curls, which framed her face nicely, softening the jut of her jaw. Harriet was ball-shaped and about four inches shorter than Willa, who was about 5’6”. About four inches shorter than me, in fact. Only their noses were really different. Harriet’s was round, to match the rest of her, and looked a little pushed-up at the tip, and Willa’s was straight and a little thin.

 
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