I was beginning to wonder if I would ever finish this book. Life happens, and it sometimes gets in the way. (That’s my story and I’m stickin’ with it.)
Finally, though, Sharpe Point got moved to the front burner and is almost boiling over. I am really happy with the cover by Susan at coverkicks. It perfectly reflects the season, tone, and the means of destruction. Here it is:
Here’s a sneak peek at Chapter 1. If you like what you see, you can order your copy HERE.
Dead bodies and zombies were the furthest things from Deena Sharpe’s mind as she drove up to the church on that cold October evening. Her thoughts were focused more on children and temptation.
What was it about tulle and rhinestones that little girls found so irresistible? Maybe it had something to do with weddings. Regardless, Disney sure knew how to take advantage of that association when it came to making princess costumes. Deena counted at least ten miniature Cinderellas or Sophias or whoever, as she got out of her SUV at the annual First Methodist Church Halloween Carnival.
Technically, the carnival wasn’t supposed to start for another half hour or so, which meant the goblins, ghouls, and ghosts running around must have been children of volunteers who were there to set up the tables and decorations.
Deena carefully lifted the cake box off the passenger seat and made her way across the parking lot looking for Wendy Fairmont. As a member of their church, they were lucky Wendy had agreed to use her party planning magic on this one last fund-raising project before getting married and moving to Dallas the next month.
The clouds overhead threatened to drench the outdoor festivities and made the early evening sky even darker than usual. Deena, always having been a little clumsy, walked extra carefully, holding the box at arm’s length as though she were a member of the royal court entrusted with the crown jewels. A speed bump took her by surprise, but she managed to keep her balance before falling face-first on top of the beautiful cake she had worked so hard to perfect.
Gary’s mother, Sylvia, had been staying with them for six long weeks, and Deena felt like she’d been through a crash course in Homemaking 101. Her mother-in-law was unstoppable, which was amazing since she was in her early eighties. This particular cake was orange peel and German chocolate. It screamed Halloween and was going into the bake sale. She had decorated the top with a bright orange and green pumpkin. Deena had wanted to put a ghost on top, but Sylvia had said that ghosts weren’t Christian-like.
A pint-sized Ninja Turtle ran up and stopped Deena in her tracks, yelling, “Let me see! Let me see!” as he bounced up and down like a yo-yo.
His frazzled mother caught him by the hand. “Sorry, Mrs. Sharpe. Apparently, my husband was a little generous with the sugar candy today.”
Deena smiled. “No problem, Jackie. Let me show him.” She knelt down and felt a pinch in her lower back. After standing in the kitchen baking all afternoon, she was feeling all of her nearly sixty years of age. She opened the top of the box to reveal her masterpiece.
“Me want! Me want!” the small fry cried as though his life depended on it.
His mother stopped him before he could take a two-finger sample. “That looks delicious, but it would be devastating to my figure,” Jackie said. “I’m still trying to lose baby weight from this one.” Her son ran over to his father, who was holding the boy’s sister by the hand.
Deena looked wistfully at the happy family. She thought about her best friend, Sandra, who was due to have her first baby anytime now. She looked back at Jackie, a former student in her journalism class. “That’s the thing about cake…and life. Sometimes you take the good with the bad and just pray they cancel each other out.”
“I guess you’re right,” she said. “You know, you always were one of my favorite teachers.”
“I better get this cake to the bake sale before I end up dropping it,” Deena said, embarrassed and flattered by the compliment. “Have you seen Wendy Fairmont?”
“She was over there a few minutes ago.” Jackie motioned toward a portable building as her little Ninja Turtle dragged her off onto his next adventure.
Deena maneuvered through the human obstacle course toward the old building the church often used for storage. Maybe they had moved the bake sale inside since it looked like rain. Deena hurried over and opened the door. The room was dark except for a few orange and white twinkle lights. She blinked, trying to adjust her eyes.
Voices drifted from the far side of the room.
“Wendy?” As she took a few steps toward the voices, her foot caught on something, and she reeled sideways. A smooth fabric covered her face as her body went one way and the cake box another. “Help!” she cried as she hit the floor. Her shoulder landed on something lumpy, and she heard crashing sounds all around.
The mumbled voices grew clearer until they were right above her.
“Who’s there? Are you okay? Turn on the lights,” one of the voices said.
“I can’t find the switch,” another responded.
All the while, Deena lay on the ground like a mummy wrapped up for burial. One of her captors, or saviors—she wasn’t sure which yet—tugged at the fabric draping her body. She felt like a turtle caught in a net as she wriggled to free herself.
At last the lights came on, and Deena looked up to see two ketchup-covered zombies staring down at her. Out of her dark cocoon, she quickly realized where she was. Apparently, she had stumbled into the haunted house.
The two teenagers froze, their eyes wide and mouths gaping.
“I’m so sorry,” Deena said. “I’ll help you fix everything back up.” As she unwound the black satin draped around her feet, she could smell the stench of alcohol, something akin to Jack Daniel’s. Maybe she had caught the teens drinking. That must be why they looked like deer caught in the headlights. But when they both took a step back, she realized they weren’t staring at her, but instead their eyes were fixed on something behind her.
She turned her head to look back over her shoulder. There, crumpled on the floor behind her, was Ray Brewster, the church custodian, with his eyes half closed and reeking of whiskey. Had he come in here to drink and then passed out? She was sitting on one of his legs, so she pushed off the ground to stand up. Her whole left side ached.
Ray, whose back was resting against a makeshift wall made of haystacks, teetered and toppled over. His head landed on the now-opened cake box.
Deena shook his shoulder. “Ray. Ray! Wake up!”
The girl zombie let out a blood-curdling scream that would have impressed the most discerning of apocalyptic TV show producers and ran out the door.
Deena put her hand on the man’s wrist. That’s when she realized there would be no waking up Ray Brewster. He was dead.
* * *
Two police officers arrived at the scene followed by the paramedics. Deena recognized one of them from a previous encounter. Officer Hitchcock always looked like he’d just finished eating Thanksgiving dinner. His potbelly challenged the buttons holding his uniform together and a toothpick seemed permanently attached to his mouth.
Hitchcock parted the small crowd and warned them to stay back as he and his fellow first responders entered the portable building.
As Deena expected, the carnival had been moved inside the fellowship hall due to the impending rain. She waited outside the building for the officers to perform their official duties.
Nervous parents hurried their little ones inside the church past the flashing lights of the squad car and ambulance. Teenagers, on the other hand, gathered around the ghoulish scene hoping to catch a glimpse of the corpse.
Stephanie Gander, the zombie girl, stood off to one side, still shaking from the scene she had witnessed inside the building. She seemed to relish the attention she was getting from her classmates who couldn’t believe she’d seen a “real, live dead person.”
Deena bit her tongue, resisting the urge to point out the oxymoron in that phrase. Once a teacher, always a teacher, she thought.
Stephanie’s fellow zombie, Charlie Abbott, who had also been inside, gave a blow-by-blow account to his friends of Deena’s foibles, complete with sound effects. They were duly impressed and gave him fist bumps to express their approval.
Deena shivered, wishing she had grabbed a heavier jacket. Her wrist ached from trying to catch herself when she fell. A hand touched her shoulder and made her jump. She spun around to see Charlie’s father, Reverend Abbott.
His face was taut with worry, making him look older than his forty-five years. “What’s going on out here? Did someone get hurt?”
“Dad!” Charlie yelled, and ran up to his father. “It’s Ray Brewster. He’s dead.”
Even in the dusky light, Deena could see the reverend’s face turn pale as the color drained and practically dripped onto his black dress shoes.
“Dead? Are you sure?” He took a step forward and bumped Deena’s sore shoulder.
“Ouch!” she said, grabbing her arm. “Yes, we’re pretty sure. The police and paramedics are in there now.”
“Sorry,” he said absent-mindedly. “What happened?”
Before Deena could answer, Charlie repeated his chorus of “Mrs. Sharpe’s Latest Blunder,” only embellishing the story slightly.
“Are you okay?” Reverend Abbott asked her.
“Yes. Just a little bruised. Better than Old Man Brewster.” She bit her tongue again. Although the description was accurate—that’s what everyone in town called him—the moniker was insensitive.
Ray had been working at the church for the past year or so and was Reverend Abbott’s latest pet project. In the past five years since he had been the church’s minister, he had made it a personal mission to take in the “wretched refuse of their teeming shores” and try to set them on the straight and narrow.
Ray Brewster had been his biggest challenge yet.
“Junior, you and your friends need to go inside and help out in there.”
“Da-a-a-d!” the boy said, sticking out his chin.
“Sorry. I mean, Charlie. And tell your mother what’s going on.”
Charlie called for his friends to follow him, and the small herd walked off toward the fellowship hall.
The door of the portable building swung open and Officer Hitchcock stood in the doorway. “Who found the body?” he asked the small crowd that had stayed out in front. “Step forward so’s I can see ya.”
Deena felt her legs wobble for the first time since the incident occurred but still managed to walk up to Hitchcock. “I did,” she said. “There were two teenagers also, but—”
“Nah,” the officer interrupted. “I don’t want to talk to no teenagers. They’re about as useful as an umbrella in a hurricane.”
Reverend Abbott came up beside Deena. “One of those teenagers is my son,” he said rather indignantly.
“Hey, Preach. I didn’t see you there. Why don’t you two come on in, and let’s see what we can figure out here.” He stepped back inside to make way for Deena and Reverend Abbott, shutting the door behind them.
Ray Brewster lay flat on his back while the paramedics repacked their equipment into their emergency kits. Apparently, they were unable to revive their patient.
Hitchcock got out his notebook and pencil. “So let’s start at the beginning. Name?”
“How do you spell that?” he asked.
Deena sighed as she spelled out her name.
“Say, ain’t you the one that solved the Dekker murder?” he asked. “I remember thinking that that woman must be one sharp cookie.” He belted out a laugh. “Sharp—like your name—get it?”
Deena forced a grin.
“Hurry up, Hitch. I got supper waiting at home,” the other officer said. He tipped his hat. “Officer Linndorf here.”
Deena and the reverend took turns shaking his hand.
“The justice of the peace should be here any minute, then we can all get back to doing what we were doing before this mess happened,” Linndorf said.
“Hold your horses, now. I ain’t taken the witnesses’ statements yet.” Hitchcock tapped the pencil against his tongue, causing the toothpick to fall to the ground. He picked it up and stuck it back in his mouth.
Deena could see that Mutt and Jeff were getting nowhere fast. “Here’s what happened,” she said, pointing to the ground. “I came in with that cake box looking for Wendy Fairmont. The lights were off. I tripped on that curtain and fell on the floor. Well, actually, I fell on Ray, then I fell on the floor. Stephanie Gander and Charlie Abbott must have been on the other side of the room and came running when they heard me fall. I checked Ray and realized he wasn’t breathing. Stephanie screamed and ran out to call the police. That’s it.”
Reverend Abbott moved toward Deena. “You’re not implying my boy had anything to do with this, are you?”
“With what?” Deena asked. “With Ray Brewster drinking himself to death?”
The door opened, and Ralph Jackson walked in with a handkerchief over his nose. “Did you say Ray Brewster drank himself to death? Can I put that on the death certificate? Are we done here?”
“Hey, Judge. Come join the party,” Hitchcock said.
Officer Linndorf checked his watch for the time. “Not much of a party when the guest of honor is dead.”
Reverend Abbott let out a disapproving gasp. “That’s no way to speak of the dead—I mean departed. Show a little respect. Ray here was a human being and will be sorely missed by this community.”
Deena raised her eyebrow at Abbott.
“Well, I’ll miss him anyway. He was my…friend.”
Jackson turned to the paramedics. “It smells like a distillery in here. Any cause of death? Anything specific, that is?”
“Not that we can tell. May have been a heart attack. Hard to say.”
“Well, great. There goes more of the county’s money for an autopsy. I guess you boys will need to transfer him to the medical examiner in Dallas.”
“Good call, Judge,” Hitchcock said, slapping his notepad against his hand in a gesture of finality.
“I just have one more question,” Jackson said. “Why does this man have frosting on his forehead?”
Deena gulped. “That’s mine. I baked a cake—for the bake sale. When I fell—”
He held up his hand. “That’s enough. I think I get the picture.” He pulled the handkerchief from his face and shoved it in his coat pocket. “Maybe it’s just me,” he said, heading for the door, “but I really hate Halloween.”
Just wait, Deena thought. Today is just the carnival. Actual Halloween day isn’t until Monday. Who knows what could happen between now and then.