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NOTE BY AUTHOR:
Under Suspicion was inspiried by a murder in my hometown.
It was early November, 2007. A picture of a face I knew well appeared on the television news. It was the face of my friend of several years, a grand lady of 79, full of life, spirit, humor and lots of goodwill toward others. The news astounded and shocked me.
My friend had disappeared sometime after arriving home after her last day at her job, and foul play was suspected.
A newscast announced the victim’s son had been picked up on unrelated charges–possession of a gun while on parole for a drug related felony.
After the Sheriff’s Department grilled him for hours on end, he declared he would not admit to anything, but he would tell them where his mother’s bones could be found.
As bits and pieces of the story of my friend’s murder became known, the horror of what had happened disturbed me so much that I couldn’t cast it from my mind. She suffered a violent and grisly death at the hands of her son and the visions disturbed me continually.
I really needed someone to talk to about what happened to my friend, but instead, I started writing, thus, freeing my emotions through the written word as I pounded out my thoughts and feelings on the keyboard about my friend’s murder.
It took me a year to finish my story, which came together in a book called: Under Suspicion
See my web site for more infomation: http://www.jeanettecooper.net
Brianna Taylor has a loving marriage until her friend Maggie disappears, causing critical ripple effects in her marital relationship. Unofficially joining the investigation with Investigator David Sherman, a man her husband jealously despises, she refuses to agree to her husband’s terms to stop seeing David, who shares a personal secret with Brianna which joins them for life . Instead, she sets out to prove Maggie’s son killed her. Putting herself in harm’s way, she stumbles onto grisly evidence that points to a killer.
Will Brianna be equally as effective in resolving the marital issues between her and her husband, Preston?
Oakwood, a small, peaceful North Florida town, barely had any crime outside domestic issues, petty theft, and small drug busts, but that had changed overnight in one of the most grisly crimes ever to occur in Oakwood. The little town boasted its original stores and shops that were often painted and repaired instead of remodeled, leaving the town with the quaint appearance of yesteryear. Entrepreneurs rented old closed up shops, painted walls, stocked and shelved wares from their particular trade, finally opening the door to a dribble of customers. Most new shop owners lasted a year or for the term of their lease, and then some new eager person with an equally inflamed dream followed, also failing within the first year.
Unfortunately the town never grew commercially and suffered a scarcity of available jobs. The positions that were available only paid minimum wage, which left many working folks barely making a living. However, despite the unavailability of jobs, the town was still small enough, the county rural and under-populated enough, so that it was a booming area for home and land sales for retirees just wanting to escape crowded, polluted cities. Since most of the land was owned by the descendants of the original Oakwood settlers, who were beginning to sell off unused acreage due to taxes that took a big bite out of their savings, there was plenty of land available and a continuous stream of folks coming in from other locations to buy. Marlowe Realty spent thousands of dollars yearly advertising, which brought many to its doors. Yet, Maggie Lowell, who had worked for Marlowe Realty longer than anyone else, even longer than the present owner, would never walk through its doors again.
The last day Maggie came to work began on a cool November morning. She was usually the first one to arrive at the real estate office, but the lengthy telephone call she was engaged in caused her to pull alongside the road a couple of times when she became too emotional to watch where she was driving. When she arrived at work, Brianna Marlowe, the owner’s wife, was there ahead of her.
Brianna hugged her arms about herself to stay warm while the heat whirred from the vents, gradually heating the building. She tried to concentrate on paperwork on her desk, but couldn’t. She was much too disconcerted to do anything but keep thinking about the argument with her husband, Preston, last night.
Furious because her friend, Investigator David Sherman, called her while she and Preston prepared for bed, Preston went a little crazy. He paced and stomped the floor for a good twenty minutes after she hung up the phone, yelling all the while that he was tired of sharing his wife with another man. When he fell on the bed, exhausted from his rant, he wasn’t finished yet until he declared hotly, “It’s me or Sherman, Brianna. I won’t put up with this any longer.”
When they woke up the following morning, Preston wouldn’t talk to her. She mentioned going to breakfast, as they frequently did before going to the office, but he ignored her. He stalked from the house, tossing over his shoulder that he had an appointment at the Riverbend office, a second real estate agency run by his brother Donald.
Depressed, and wondering how she was ever going to resolve the ongoing issue between them without breaking off her friendship with David, she had come to work early only to find the coffee canister empty and the office feeling like a refrigerator.
She needed someone to talk to, which was the reason she came to the office early, hoping to catch Maggie alone before the other realtors and office personnel arrived. When the front door of the real estate agency opened and closed, Brianna knew without looking that it would be Maggie. She came across the reception area, walking slowly, her attention drawn to the conversation via her cell phone.
“I’m not going to…” Maggie reported indignantly and stopped in mid-sentence.
Bent from osteoporosis, Maggie’s shoulders were more stooped than usual this morning. She wore charcoal slacks, a maroon blouse, and a heavy black knitted sweater that hung loosely on her tall frame. Her thick soled shoes with elevated heels padded softly on the carpeted floor. With white hair standing out starkly against the dark clothing, her facial features reflected agitation and frustration at once as she pressed the phone to her ear.
Maggie went into her office, one of several identical cubicles that lined a long hallway. A glass partition from waist high to ceiling provided Brianna a good view as Maggie closed the door, something she rarely did. Her voice, louder than normal, carried through the thin wall and Brianna could make out broken phrases that accompanied anxious pacing. She heard, “I told you how I feel…” and “I can’t keep doing this.” The conversation went on for several minutes. Even after Maggie ended the call, she continued pacing, and Brianna knew something was wrong. Her own problems were temporarily forgotten.
Brianna hesitated about approaching Maggie when she seemed so upset. Yet, they had been close friends since Brianna got her real estate license and started working for her husband’s agency. To do nothing would seem cold and indifferent, so Brianna stepped from her office into the hallway and knocked on Maggie’s door.
Turning her head sharply, Maggie was surprised to see Brianna, so engrossed in her phone conversation earlier she hadn’t noticed anyone else at the office. She opened the door then turned her back on Brianna, her behavior completely out of character. She paced a couple more trips back and forth across the front part of her small office, then went behind her desk and sat down in her old swivel office chair. Good manners and courtesy were trademarks of Maggie’s personality and any diversion toward the opposite indicated something was wrong.
“Maggie, are you okay?”
Maggie was trying hard to get control and she manufactured a contrived smile for Brianna. She waved her hand with a shrug and said, “I’m fine. It’s just one of those days. You’re here early today.”
“Yes, Preston had an early appointment with Donald in Riverbend and woke me up, so I decided to come on in and turn on the heat. It turned cold last night. We had to use a blanket.”
“I had to pull out one of my blankets, too. It’s probably just a cold snap and will pass. I bet we’ll have a nice warm Thanksgiving,” she said, her voice shaky and her words broken. “Is the coffee made?” she added.
“No, I didn’t make any because the coffee can was empty. Why don’t we go to the Eat and Run Cafe and have a cup. I can stop on the way back and buy a can, and the office should be warmed up by then.”
“Brianna, I’m not good company right now, although I admit I’d love one of their steaming cups of coffee this morning.” Her voice was broken and nervous like someone fighting back tears.
“Then come on, let’s go. I’m buying.”
Eat and Run Cafe was a wonderful little family restaurant that served man-sized country breakfasts and the best coffee in town. Their lunch menu consisted of country-style “fried” favorites such as: fried chicken, fried steak, fried shrimp, fried fish, and all with two vegetable choices and hot rolls or hush puppies. A wonderful selection of freshly made salads was available for anyone counting calories or watching their cholesterol. The dinner menu was a bit more formal, but catered mainly to steak lovers. The little café never was short on business. Some called it the watering hole of Oakwood.
Maggie and Brianna drove in separate cars, arriving about the same time. They went inside together and had to wait a couple of minutes before a table was vacated. They stood near the door, observing people they knew, smiling, and throwing up a hand to acknowledge friendly greetings. Maggie was antsy and nervous; noted by the sound of her shaky voice when she spoke. It was hard for her to stand still and she shifted from one foot to the other. She looked impatient but Brianna knew it had nothing to do with waiting, but rather, with that phone call back at the office.
A couple they knew motioned to them, offering their table when they were ready to leave. The restaurant was noisy with talk and chatter, but not uncomfortably. The sound of voices gave off a friendly atmosphere. Brianna and Maggie took the table and waited for the waitress to clean off the dirty dishes before taking their order.
When they finally had steaming cups of wonderful aromatic coffee in front of them, Brianna said, “Maggie, I don’t want to pry, but if something is bothering you, you know I’m a good listener.”
“It’s nothing, Brianna. I’ll be fine as soon as I simmer down. Everything will be fine.”
“Well, just so you know I’m here for you…”
Maggie interrupted her. “Isn’t that your friend, Investigator Sherman from the Sherriff’s Department, at the door?” She had met David when he had lunched with her and Brianna a couple of times.
Brianna saw David about the same time Maggie did and smothered an inward groan, reminded of last night’s argument with Preston. It wouldn’t do for Preston to catch them together, even in a public place. She was glad he had gone to Riverbend because it was customary for him to start his day at Eat and Run Café, sometimes with Brianna.
David spotted them, and with a big smile walked over to their table. He was dressed in a freshly pressed suit with a pale blue shirt and a complementary tie, looking younger than his years with a handsome face that drew frequent attention from females. “Good morning, ladies. How do you like this cold snap we’re having?”
“It feels like coffee weather,” Maggie chuckled, trying to sound light-hearted.
“Well, the coffee is on me,” David said, pulling out a chair and sitting down, not even considering that he might not be invited or welcome. He motioned to the waitress to bring him a cup of coffee.
The three of them were in idle conversation when Brianna glanced up and saw her husband standing at the door gazing toward her table. She winced at the look on his face; still, she smiled warmly and waved at him, suspecting he canceled his Riverbend appointment since he hadn’t had time to go there and come back. She could tell when he was angry. His face turned red, his lips pursed, and a deep vertical line formed between his brows. He didn’t acknowledge her smile or wave. He was furiously jealous of Brianna’s association with Investigator Sherman, whom Brianna had known before she and Preston married. It had caused disharmony in their marriage from the beginning, and last night had been one of their worst arguments yet.
Preston spun about and stalked out the door. Brianna jumped up to go after him.
David grabbed her wrist. “Hey, what’s the rush?”
Through the plate glass window she could see Preston all ready getting into his car. She sat back down, dismally shaking her head. “Preston was just at the door.”
“Uh oh,” David intoned. He didn’t need to ask what the problem was. He all ready knew. He had arrested Preston Marlowe a couple of years back and charged him with murder when scrapings from beneath the murder victim’s finger nails eventually led to him. As it turned out the woman had accidently scratched him while he dined at the restaurant where she worked and had been murdered that same night after she went home. Marlowe was exonerated and released; however, coupled with his jealously of Brianna he never forgave David and bad blood ran thick between them.