Here Lies a Wicked Man by bestselling author Chris Rogers
When Booker Krane retired early from his career as a white collar corporate investigator, he was sure of only two things: he was done digging up buried secrets, and he loved being near water. After recovering from the bullet wound from his final case, he settles into a leisurely lifestyle at his new home on Turtle Lake—including his new part-time job as a freelance photographer. But the morning his dog drags a dead body onto the shore, Booker and his camera are commandeered by Sheriff Ringhoffer, and in less time than it takes the elusive perfect lighting to disappear, he’s deeply embroiled within the investigation.
While the deceased, a prominent yet awfully wicked man, had many people who’d likely have motive and opportunity to kill him, Booker wants to believe it was simply an accident. An arrow would be an unusual murder weapon, and he can’t picture any of the suspects—the victim’s wife, sons, business partner, sexy mistress, or attractive lessee—as cold-hearted killers. But it turns out more than one of them knows how to draw a bowstring, and Booker’s curious mind can’t ignore the evidence against the victim falling on his own arrow—even when the sheriff rules the death an accident.
Putting his own life at risk, can Booker solve the case for the residents of Lakeside Estates? Or will magazine deadlines, his budding attraction for Roxanna Larkspur, or tension with his only son interfere with his search for the truth?
The muddy bank sucked at Booker’s Nikes. He swiped at a mosquito buzzing near his ear. An instant later it tried to invade his new beard—barely half an inch of growth but filling in nicely without a hint of the gray that salted Booker’s coarse brown hair.
Beard-growing hadn’t been his intention. He merely wanted to stop shaving. He hated shaving, and after twenty-odd years of being scraped shiny and stinging, his face demanded a respite.
Through the overhead canopy of oak branches, a shrieking blue jay darted, eliciting an answering shriek in the distance. Morning music. On the eastern horizon, where the tree line vanished at the lake’s edge, the sun emitted a pink glow.
Booker liked the early hours. Quiet. Peaceful. Easy to imagine being the only person on earth up and about. He’d set up the photo shoot an hour ago to wait for perfect light. Now he stroked his remote trigger as a sticky breeze lifted the longish hairs along the back of his neck. Going weeks between haircuts was another perk of taking early retirement, right up there with living in a serene environment far from the city. Being a city-dweller for his entire life until now, Booker had rarely encountered cows, pigs or horses but had met more than his share of horse’s asses.
A wink of light drew his attention to the horizon again, where a bright yellow sun peeked through the pink clouds. Folding his six-foot-four frame—easier now that he was getting more exercise—he peered through the camera’s viewfinder. The three-story house that lay directly across the lake and flanked by woods on both sides was his own. In another few minutes, the sun would melt the remaining shadows, and for a brief time the light would be perfect.
Pine sap prickled his nostrils. He savored the odor. A year ago he’d been breathing exhaust fumes in horn-blowing rush-hour traffic, along with a million other suits scrambling for a higher rung on the success ladder. At the time, Booker’s job seemed important—Hotshot Corporate Investigator Tracking Down Fraud and Embezzlement. He always thought of it like that, a headline in True Detective or some other old-time crime magazine. Never going to happen. The banks he audited kept such happenings under wraps, but in a single year, his last on the job, he’d caught three notable executives with their fingers in corporate or public tills.
Too bad the fourth one had a gun.
Wincing at the remembered pain, Booker rotated his stiff shoulder. He didn’t like thinking it was fear that cinched his decision to retire before his fiftieth birthday. The shooting had been a freaky one-time thing. A vengeful vice president, facing prison because of Booker’s investigation, pulled a .22 revolver from his desk and blam! The bullet’s rapacious path carved up more than Booker’s chest. It took a bloody chunk out of his self-respect and opened a hole in his confidence, a hole Booker had crawled into.
Across the narrow lake, Turtle Lake, the second-largest of five at Lakeside Estates, a ray of sunlight warmed the copper flange at the ridgepole of Booker’s roof. He checked the scene again through the viewfinder and found the picture cocked out of square. One tripod leg had buried itself in the damp ground. He straightened it, shimmied the leg up with a rock, and leveled the lens just as light descended the balcony, warming the brass-studded rails. Not much longer.
Then something red and blue flashed through the frame. He squinted, adjusting the focus.
The flash disappeared behind the house. Seconds later, it appeared on the other side, red tank top and blue shorts above a pair of shapely legs jogging along Turtle Lake Road. Equally shapely arms carried a fat brown paper bag. Auburn hair hung in a long braid. He couldn’t make out the woman’s face.
Panning as she moved, he caught the swing of her stern and remembered seeing the auburn hair worn loose, bouncing saucily above a gentle flare of hips. He recognized those hips. He’d spent a pleasant hour admiring them in the dining room of the Masonville Bed and Brunch while Roxanna Larkspur bent and stooped among the tables, serving her guests.
Wondering what had brought the innkeeper to Lakeside so early on a Friday morning, Booker couldn’t resist snapping a few frames of her retreating figure. Despite buzzing gnats and fickle sunlight, this photography business did have its exciting moments.
When the red and blue vision vanished into the brushy distance, he locked the camera back in place and refocused. Today was his last chance to finish a photo spread for Southern Affairs magazine. “Texas Lakeside Homes,” his most promising commission since starting his new vocation, had fallen into Booker’s lap when the editor’s favorite photographer quit. In the backwash, the editor phoned Booker, oohed and aahed over his online portfolio, and offered him a job, provided he could handle the tight deadline.
“No problem,” he assured the woman.
Then seven straight days of rain squeezed the timeline even tighter and one homeowner reneged. Now the due date was imminent. Booker’s new career in danger of crashing quicker than it started. With a half hour of good sunlight, though, and by including his own architectural oddity in the mix, he might still send the job off tonight—if fate didn’t whack him again.
He checked the viewfinder. Soon but not yet.
As he thumbed the remote trigger anyway, snapping a few digital frames, Pup scrambled from under a yaupon thicket and angled his one good eye up at Booker. A quiet woof escaped his scruffy muzzle.
“Told you to stay home and finish your breakfast.” Booker fished a granola bar from his jeans pocket, peeled off the foil wrapper, snapped the bar in half and tossed the larger piece for Pup to catch.
The dog gulped down his treat then sat back on his haunches. Ears drooping, he whined comically.
“Give it a rest, you hairy-faced beggar. This piece is mine.” Booker bit the morsel in half and, with his free hand, ruffled the mutt’s fur.
Across the lake, sunlight glinted off a first-story window and reflected off the water. Almost time but not quite. He snapped a few more frames anyway.
Munching the crunchy breakfast bar, Booker wiped sticky fingers down his pants leg. Then he plucked a small stone from the sodden lake bank and watched the light inch downward toward the pier. When it brightened a brass pelican at the foot of the steps, he lobbed the rock. It splashed through the water’s calm surface, spreading sun-washed ripples to lap the shore, adding movement to an otherwise static picture.
The perfect shot. The one Booker had set his alarm clock to catch. He triggered the remote—
Then three disasters struck like firecrackers on a string.
Pup barked and streaked toward the lake. In his eagerness to fetch, he sideswiped the tripod.
Booker grabbed for the camera. Mud-mired shoes threw him off balance. He landed on his butt, one knee wrenched painfully toward the rising sun.
The Nikon struck a rock, motor drive whirring like an angry wasp. The crunch of metal and glass made him wince.
“Hellfire, Pup!” He snatched at a clump of weeds to pull himself erect. “When I catch you, I’m going to roast you alive!”
Pup was busy paddling toward the pier, toward the wonderful THING Master had tossed for him to fetch. The weeds tore loose in Booker’s hand.
Scrub brush rustled behind him, then a voice like a foghorn bellowed, “Booker Krane! Is that you?”
“Yes, Emaline, it’s me. I’d appreciate a hand up.”
Emaline Peters, stringy, fifty-odd years old and tough as pigskin, crashed through the yaupon. She drew up short, her quick brown eyes taking in Booker’s predicament. As she offered a hand to heave him out of the mud, her ample mouth stretched in a smirk, but at least she had the grace not to laugh.
“Wish I had my own camera,” she yelled. Emaline always spoke as if listeners were stone deaf. “This’d be one hoot of a picture for The Lakesider front page. How the devil can one man create such misery for himself before breakfast?”
“Chasing the sun, Emaline. If I don’t grab this shot in the next three minutes, it’s gone.” He lifted the tripod and shook his head at the damage to his favorite lens.
“I was on my way to rattle my no-account greens keeper out of bed. Heard you over here cursing Pup.” A PGA instructor, Emaline managed the Lakeside Pro Shop and, every morning except Monday, gave golf lessons to property owners.
“Damn fool dog! May’ve cost me a choice commission.” Booker gave the 35-80 zoom lens a cursory examination before laying it in the camera bag. Maybe only the filter had shattered, but he couldn’t risk it. He snapped on an 80-200 zoom and checked the sun, which had cleared the lower balcony. The pink haze would burn off fast. He slid the zoom to find the best composition.
“Pup! Get out of the dang picture!”
The dog was churning up silt from the lake bottom as he tugged on something he’d found beneath the pier.
“Looks like he’s bringing you a present, Booker.”
“Another piece of refuse from one of our overnight campers, no doubt. You’d think my yard was the Lakeside dump the way that dog drags every scrap of trash in the Estates to my doorstep.” But the quicker Pup hauled ashore whatever he’d found, the quicker he’d clear the frame and Booker could finish shooting. “Come on, boy! That’s it, bring it on.”
Pup lost his purchase and turned to grapple the booty into his mouth again.
“Looks like a rotted tree limb hung with old clothes,” Emaline yelled. “Scorpio moon last night. Betcha a nickel some skinny dippers went home without a stitch.”
The shape of the thing looks wrong for a tree limb. Booker slid the zoom to maximum magnification. What at first appeared to be a branch now looked more like an arm. Surely not a human arm. Not flesh-colored at all. Gray. Mottled.
Straightening, he limped to the water’s edge, wrenched knee protesting fiercely.
“Good dog, Pup. Haul it on in.” The sun climbed higher, casting shadows from overhanging trees.
“That’s Chuck Fowler’s ugly yellow shirt,” Emaline said behind him. “Baby-poop yellow, with that big black stripe. I asked Chuck if he was practicing to be a road sign. I’d’ve thought he was too old for skinny dipping.”
Booker stared uneasily at what might’ve been yellow before spending time in the lake. His stomach did a slow roll, stirring the granola bar into the coffee and biscuits he’d eaten earlier.
“Emaline, when was the last time you saw Chuck Fowler?”
“Last Sunday. Day of the Capricorn new moon. Brought his son to the golf course for an early round.” Emaline hooted. “That boy’ll never make much of a golfer, his daddy yelling at him all eighteen holes.”
“Was Fowler wearing his yellow shirt?”
Pup paddled fiercely about ten yards away now, dragging his heavy load. Extending from a pair of dun-colored trousers trailing in the water was what looked to be a shoe.
“Yep, yellow shirt, khakis…” Loud enough to reach the next county, Emaline moved closer, choosing her steps on the mushy ground. “You don’t suppose…?”
“Excuse me,” Booker edged past her. “The sun’s about to go. It’s now or never.”
Scooping up a rock, he limped back to the tripod. Through the viewfinder, he saw that Pup’s paddling had stirred up plenty of ripples. He tossed the rock aside, swiped at sweat trickling down his neck and pushed the trigger. The motor drive whirred, snapping off frames.
When Booker glanced back at the water’s edge, Pup had dragged his prize up the bank and Emaline had turned as pale as skim milk.
About the Author:
A lover of art and storytelling since grade school, I opened one of my favorite books one day and wondered if I could ever write half as well as Dean Koontz or Minette Walters or Steven King. How did they create such intricate plots? I started with children’s books – after all – I was a mother … I should understand kids, right?
Well, not so much. So I wrote a romance novel – I’d been married, so I should know a little about romance.
A little was about it. A very nice rejection letter told me there was more mystery in my story than romance. So I owned up to my true calling and, when my suspense thriller Bitch Factor was published, Romantic Times magazine gave it four-and-a-half stars. Rage Factor and Chill Factor also earned high marks for the romantic thread.
The truth is, mystery and suspense novels have always intrigued me, but I also enjoy romance, science-fiction, horror and fantasy, as well as the occasional mainstream novel by such wonderful authors as E. Annie Proulx.
My literary niche, it turns out, is dark and gritty with an occasional humorous twist. If you like that sort of story, you’ll find my books and short stories thoroughly engaging.