This week we welcome Gail Lukasik back to our Spotlight with her brand new release, Peak Season For Murder.
Twenty-three years ago local actress Danielle Moyer vanished after starring in a play at the Bayside Theater—Door County’s professional residential theater. Her body was never found. And no one knows what happened to her.
Now the specter of her ghost seems to be haunting the Bayside Theater’s summer season. Two of the actors who appeared with Danielle that fateful summer have returned--Julian Finch, a renowned stage actor; and Nate Ryan, Hollywood’s reformed bad boy. Has their return unleashed the bizarre events now plaguing the theater? From a proliferation of bats invading the stage one night to the planting of a real knife in the prop box. And strangest of all, the unnerving clues someone is leaving inside the abandoned Moyer cabin.
Door County Gazette reporter Leigh Girard, who’s writing an article on the theater for their 65th Anniversary, chalks the pranks up to theatrical hijinks. She’s engrossed investigating the murder of Brownie Lawrence, a formerly homeless man she befriended. Desperate to prove Brownie’s long-time friend, Ken Albright didn’t kill him, Leigh digs into Brownie’s past and discovers Brownie had assumed another man’s identify. But unraveling the secrets to Brownie real identity doesn’t bring her any closer to proving Albright’s innocence.
Then things turn deadly. Leigh suspects that the fate of Danielle Moyer has triggered a deadly revenge. What she never expects to find is a killer so vengeful—anyone is fair game including her.
Prologue: Twenty-Four Years Earlier
The woman stood over her sleeping lover, watching the gentle rise and fall of his naked chest, listening to his breathing. In her right hand, she held the pistol, the one he’d given her for protection.
“Mostly from me,” he’d joked.
Small, compact with an ivory handle, she could cradle it in the palm of her hand, carry it in her jacket pocket, hide it in her purse, and no one would see it.
She raised her right hand and aimed the gun at his temple.
How easy it would be to kill him, she thought. And no one could blame me.
As if he sensed her, he took a deep breath and let out a soft snore, then settled back to sleep.
On his left hand she could see the glint of his gold wedding band.
“You knew what we were about. I never lied to you,” had been his explanation.
Was I that weak, she wondered? No, he was that strong.
Suddenly, lightning flashed against the window, lighting up the room for a second as if illuminating her weakness—his perfect face.
She pulled back on the trigger thinking how easily she could destroy it.
A clap of thunder crashed overhead.
Had his eyes flickered open for a brief second? she thought, holding her breath. But it was just an illusion; he went on softly snoring, oblivious as always, wrapped up in his own dreams.
No, she told herself as she eased up on the trigger.
She took one more look at him before she crept out of the bedroom.
As she stood in the living room, she was tempted to take something, some reminder of this time. But she knew she had to make it look right.
She put the pistol back in the desk drawer.
Quietly, she opened the front door, locking it behind her, as if she had never been there, as if she had never let him into her life.
Her car was parked in front of the apartment building. But she walked past it into the dark, wet night, the rain soaking through her t-shirt and jeans. She congratulated herself on two things: her cleverness in staging her own disappearance and her restraint in not killing him—the man who had ruined her.
After all, she thought to herself, as she headed toward the highway, murder was never part of the plan. I simply want to disappear forever.
Chapter One: Present Day, Sunday, July 9
“Didn’t mean to scare you, Leigh,” Ken Albright said, his eyes scanning the woods. “But I can’t be too careful, now.”
The now hung in the air like the blistering heat and humidity. Ken lowered the aluminum bat, and with it his powerful shoulders sagged. He seemed to shrink into himself as if something were eating him from the inside.
“Next time say something, before you jump out at me with that bat.” I bent over and gathered up the spilled contents of my shoulder bag, my hands shaking.
He’d left me a cryptic voice message around six this morning that had propelled me to Marshalls Point, where he and Brownie Lawrence lived in a dilapidated shack off North Bay.
“Brownie’s dead. I gotta show you where I found him. It isn’t right. You come today.” Ken’s words were clipped with rage, and I was afraid for him. Only one person could keep Ken’s anger in check, and that person was dead.
“Yeah, well, c’mon,” Ken demanded. That was the closest to an apology I was going to get.
He walked past me, and I caught a peculiar odor of sweat and sweetness like musky rotting fruit. I knew hygiene was a problem for the men and that on warm days they bathed in the bay. Winters they hitchhiked to the YMCA in Fish Creek.
I dusted the sandy soil off my bag, slung it over my shoulder and hurried behind him. I’d been blundering down the path looking for the three stones that marked the hidden entrance to the men’s shack when he’d jumped out at me holding the bat like a weapon.
As I walked, I studied his clothes: cut-off jeans and a white muscle shirt. White strings hung from the jeans, and his t-shirt was yellow around the armpits. The gnats and black flies, which kept circling me, didn’t seem to bother him. A black fly was perched atop his shaved head.
When we came to the scarred pine, Ken moved left, pushed back a tangle of dense shrubs and then disappeared into the forest. He must have removed the three stones. No wonder I couldn’t find the entrance.
I scurried after him, stumbling through the heavy green undergrowth and tall, ancient trees, wondering if it was fear or anger that had made him remove the stone markers.
We walked in silence until the woods opened into a clearing. There stood the ramshackle house the two formerly homeless men had built a few feet from the bay. Like their lives, the house had been pieced together from what was at hand—plywood, tarp and tin. How they lived there in the winter was beyond me. But I knew it was better than living on the streets.
“We got windows now.” Ken pointed toward two windows on the front of the house, which caught the sun in a shimmering blaze. “Salvaged them from an abandoned barn down the road.”
“How did you get them here?” I knew he was slowly leading up to what he wanted to show me, Brownie’s last resting place, and I wasn’t going to push him. Always touchy, Ken now gave off the vibe of a wounded animal.
“Carried them.” Ken walked away abruptly, still toting the bat. When he came to a gnarled cherry tree beside the house, he stopped. “That’s it. That’s where I found him when I got back from my sister’s yesterday.”
I stared at the indentation in the grassy weeds—a yellowed outline where Brownie’s body had lain exposed to the elements.
Dark pellets of dry and rotting fruit were scattered under the tree and crushed where Brownie’s body had been. I took a step closer and was assaulted with the rank odor of decay. I put my hand over my nose. There was a clumped stain that looked like dried blood. Though it could be crushed fruit. It was hard to tell. And I wasn’t about to poke around in it.
“I should have never gone to see my sister in Green Bay.” Ken scratched the back of his neck. “I coulda gotten him to a doctor. Maybe saved him. He didn’t deserve to lie out here like a dog for days, rotting. The damn insects had already gotten to him.”
“Do you know how he died?” I asked, still staring at the clumped stain. “That looks like blood.”
“How would I know? I wasn’t here. Maybe Brownie hit his head or something. Maybe you could find out.” It wasn’t a question. “The police kept asking me stuff like were we getting along, where was I, that kind of thing. I wanted to bust them one. But I kept looking at Brownie lying there on his back with his eyes open, and I could hear him saying to me, ‘Take it easy, Kenny. Just let it go. You know what happens when you get mad.’ So I held my temper.”
The last time I’d seen Brownie, he was strumming his beat-up guitar and singing, “Take It Easy,” at the beach party celebrating the bequeath of land to him and Ken by the Door Conservancy. That was two weeks ago.
“I’ll give Deputy Jorgensen a call and see what I can find out for you.” I wondered if the police suspected foul play or were just being thorough.
Ken looked off toward the water. I could see the glisten of tears in his eyes. “But I fixed them cops all right.”
I waited for him to tell me why he’d really called me from the marina in Sister Bay this morning.
Peak Season for Murder is available now at Amazon & Barnes & Noble. Find out more about Gail by visiting her website.
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