Exposed

Book Three of the Twisted Cedars Mysteries

The Conclusion of the Twisted Cedars Mysteries series

No More Hiding…When a young boy goes missing shortly after his father is arrested for murdering the boy’s mother, the residents of Twisted Cedars are in a panic. They would be even more fearful if they knew a serial murderer has secretly moved back to town. Local Sheriff Wade MacKay, and true crime writer Dougal Lachlan, finally realize that unless they pool their resources and work together, no one in town is going to be safe.

Twisted Cedar Mysteries (a three book trilogy):

Book 1: Buried
Book 2: Forgotten
Book 3: Exposed 
Anthology: Twisted Cedars Mysteries

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Exposed

Twisted Cedars, Oregon

CJ Carmichael's Twisted Cedars, Oregon

Justice is overdue in the coastal town of Twisted Cedars where two unsolved mysteries lay buried in the past. Read the complete trilogy:

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Charlotte Hammond had been legal guardian of her dead sister’s children, nine-year-old twins Chester and Cory Quinpool, for less than two months when she lost one.

It happened in September, the first week of the new school term. The twins had started fourth grade, time was marching on, they’d be turning ten this November.

No doubt the past year would be one they’d happily put behind them. Only that summer they’d found out their mentally disturbed mother—Charlotte’s sister Daisy—hadn’t deserted them as originally thought but instead had been killed and illegally buried near an old family cottage.

Less than a month after that shocker, their father, Kyle Quinpool, had been arrested on charges of fraud and criminally negligent homicide. Rather than put his children through the stress of a trial—or so he’d claimed—he’d chosen to plead guilty and serve his sentence.

So...it had been a tough summer.

And now Chester had gone missing somewhere between school and the babysitter’s house. The disappearance—which was going to turn into a parent and legal guardian’s worst nightmare—began with only a mildly concerning phone call from Nola Thompson, the woman who was supposed to be minding the twins for the hour-and-a-half between school and the closing of the public library where Charlotte worked.

“All the kids have been home for fifteen minutes,” Nola said without preamble.  “Still no sign of Chester.”

He’d ridden his bike today, so if anything, he should have made it to the Thompson house first. “Does Cory know where he is?”

“Nope. Anyway, if he made plans to go to one of his friend’s houses, I’m the one who needs to be told. I have enough on my hands without worrying about him.” Nola sounded more annoyed than worried.

“He didn’t say anything about his plans, either,” Charlotte admitted, getting up from her desk and moving down the Mystery aisle so Zoey, shelving books just a few feet from Charlotte’s desk, wouldn’t hear.

Zoey made a perfectly fine librarian assistant, but since Charlotte had taken custody of the twins, the married mother of three made a point of second-guessing every parenting decision Charlotte made. Given her experience, Zoey probably felt entitled. But Charlotte had seen Zoey with her children, and her hardline approach was not one Charlotte wanted to emulate.

“He’s getting to be a real handful,” Nola continued, and Charlotte knew it was true.

Earlier that summer she’d sent the kids back to summer camp so they could avoid the local gossip about their parents. But now that school was in session, she couldn’t protect them anymore. Cory reacted to the teasing and bullying by being super sweet and accommodating—as if she had to apologize and atone for every one of her parents’ sins.

Chester, on the other hand, retaliated with his fists.

Complicating the situation, Charlotte suspected Nola’s oldest child, Bruce, was among the worst of the bully-ers, so he and Chester were always at odds.

“I’ll go looking for him,” Charlotte said. “Meanwhile if he does show up please call me right away.”

“Fine. But this is the last straw. I’m not going to be able to provide after school care for Chester anymore. Cory, yes. She’s an angel. But that brother of hers...”

“Got it.” If she sounded short, Charlotte didn’t care. It was past time she made alternate arrangements for the twins. Nola Thompson had never been intended to be more than a stop gap solution.

Charlotte grabbed her purse from the bottom drawer of her desk, aware of Zoey hovering nearby.

“I have to leave early. Do you mind locking up?” Charlotte hated to ask the favor, as she knew Zoey would take this as yet another sign of her parental incompetency.

“Sure. Is it Chester, again? If you ask me, that boy is going to turn out just like his father unless you take a firm hand with him.”

Charlotte didn’t answer, just made her way outside.

She didn’t believe Zoey had the answer for how to deal with Chester. But neither did she. Single and twenty-eight-years-old, Charlotte was learning how to parent on the fly.

If the twins had been younger, she might have been more equipped. She had no trouble connecting with the three and four-year-olds who attended her preschool reading circle every week.

But she had less experience with older children. Her boyfriend, true-crime writer Dougal Lachlan, was even more hopeless.

Not that she’d seen much of him lately. Since the twins had moved in, he’d become increasingly reclusive. Given the issues he had with his own father, she guessed he wasn’t keen on stepping into any sort of parental role himself.

Or maybe he was just getting tired of her.

Outside Charlotte slipped on her sunglasses. September was often one of the nicest weather months for coastal Oregon and today was a perfect example. Sunny, hot, almost no wind. Since she lived only a few blocks from the library she never drove to work, which meant she had to walk home to get her car. She hurried along Ocean Way pathway, barely smiling as she crossed paths with the mother of one of her favorite teenaged patrons.

When she reached the gracious Victorian home where she’d grown up, her first instinct was to check the garage for Chester’s bike. It wasn’t there. She went through the mudroom into the house.

“Chester? Are you home?” She ran through the entire house, checking every room, including the bedroom that had once been Daisy’s and was now the twins. She suspected Chester had agreed to share the room with his sister, because he knew she was afraid to be alone.

What would Cory do if they didn’t find her brother? If he--?

No. She couldn’t let herself think that way.

After she’d searched the house, Charlotte checked the yard, then the beach that stretched out on either side of her property. It was deserted.

She’d try the school next.

Her car, which she kept in the garage on the side of her generous ocean front lot, was a ’97 BMW convertible that had belonged to her father. The BMW hardly fit her librarian image. A lot of people were surprised she’d kept the vehicle after her parents’ death several years ago. But every time she settled into the low-slung seat and started the engine, Charlotte felt a secret thrill.

She was not one for adventures. She hated travel, was deathly afraid of public speaking and generally chose the safest and most practical course in any situation. Driving this car was her one indulgence.

Not counting her affair with Dougal, who’d moved back to Twisted Cedars from New York City just that spring. A bestselling author now, he’d grown up on the poor side of town, drawn to trouble and rebellion from an early age. He’d grown into a brooding, somewhat enigmatic man, with dark Irish good looks—though he was from Scottish stock on his father’s side—and a talent for investigating old crimes and getting to the heart of the matter.

She still couldn’t quite believe that he was not only attracted to her, but that he actually seemed to like her. A lot.

Or at least he had. Before she’d become an instant guardian to two nine-year-olds.

Charlotte backed out of the driveway, shifted gears, then hit the gas a little too hard, throwing up bits of gravel and causing her body to lurch forward, then abruptly back. She gripped the steering wheel like it was a throw line and she was a drowning swimmer, and pushed her speed beyond the town limit.

In less than thirty seconds she was at the park. The manicured green space led to a public beach on the other side of the sand dunes. Closer to the main road, screened off from the danger of traffic and ocean by shrubbery and a chain-link fence, was a playground. The children clambering on the monkey bars and swings were all much younger than Chester, but Charlotte approached one of the mothers sitting on a nearby bench, scrolling on her mobile phone.

“Hi! I’m looking for my nephew. He’s nine-years-old, sandy-colored hair and wearing a dark green T-shirt and jeans. Have you seen anyone like that?”

The woman, who was cute and looked twenty, if that, gave her a blank stare. Then she shook her head. “Sorry. I haven’t.”

“Right. Thanks anyway.” Charlotte dashed to the dunes, to check the beach next. Though going near the ocean without adult supervision was strictly forbidden, at this point she would have been relieved to spot him on the expansive sandy shoreline.

Quickly she scanned the scattering of people out enjoying the beautiful day. No children close to Chester’s age here either.

The school was next.

Charlotte’s pulse was a loud, steady beat in her ear drums as she got out of the car, cell phone in one hand, keys in the other. She found the main doors locked. Now what?

According to her watch, school had been out of session for forty minutes now. She left the paved sidewalk and jogged across the freshly mown lawn that ran down the side of the one-story brick structure, hoping for an open window and someone nearby to hear her call out.

Within seconds she heard the faint sound of a woman speaking, her tone lecturing, though no words were distinguishable. Charlotte traced the sound to an open window, which she guessed—having spent a lot of time in the school the past two weeks—was the staff room.

“Hello!” She was tall, and had no trouble looking in the window. About eight women, and a couple men, were seated throughout a room furnished with two round tables, a sofa and several arm chairs. “I’m sorry to interrupt but my nephew Chester Quinpool didn’t come home from school today.”

As she spoke, she focused one by one on the teachers’ faces. Most were familiar to her. The school lacked funding for a proper library and so often made use of the public one which was, after all, only a ten minute walk away.

“Charlotte?” Olivia Young, the twins’ teacher, came to the window. “Weren’t Cory and Chester supposed to go to the Thompsons’ after school today?”

Olivia was in her early thirties, newly married, and if Charlotte wasn’t mistaken, newly pregnant, as well. They’d had several meetings already to discuss the twins and how to best help them transition into the new school year.

Charlotte liked certain things about Olivia. She had a calm, gentle manner, and seemed genuinely concerned about the twins and sensitive to the problems they might have as they adjusted to their new reality. But a few times she’d displayed flashes of salacious curiosity, obviously hoping Charlotte would fill in some of the gaps, provide the “inside story” on what had really happened to Daisy all those years ago.

Her curiosity was understandable, in a way. Daisy’s death, her secret burial, and Kyle’s cover-up was undeniably the most dramatic event that had taken place in Twisted Cedars for the past decade.

Actually, no. There had been another tragedy in Twisted Cedars this summer, one involving a young wife from Ashland and her baby daughter. But no one in town had known that family, whereas Daisy and Kyle were the sort of people everyone knew about.

“Yes,” Charlotte responded, in answer to Olivia’s question. “And Cory did go, but Chester didn’t. I was—" She let out a deep breath of disappointment. “Hoping maybe you’d kept him after class.”

Olivia’s green eyes widened. “Oh, in that case I would have called you. Immediately.

Yes. She’d been afraid of that.

“Why don’t you come inside, Charlotte? I’ll go unlock the door.”

It was the principal speaking now, Gabrielle Hodges, an athletic, somewhat masculine looking woman in her late fifties. She’d been the fourth grade teacher back when Charlotte was a student.

“I have to keep looking for Chester.”

“We’ll do a full search here,” Gabrielle assured her, “Just to make sure he isn’t hiding anywhere.”

“Thank you.” Charlotte’s glanced back at Ashley. “Can you think of any incident that came up today, something involving Chester, that might help explain where he’s gone?”

Ashley’s brow furrowed as she rubbed the side of her face. “He seemed...troubled. But that’s not unusual.”

No, sadly, it was not.

“I don’t want to alarm you,” Gabrielle said. “He’s probably gone to a friend’s house or something. But I’m going to call 911.”

Adrenaline jolted through Charlotte’s system, tightening every muscle, while turning her stomach—and her world—upside down. Alerting the authorities elevated the situation from worrisome to catastrophic. Possibilities that had seemed remote at first, possibilities like abduction or worse, could no longer be pushed to the back of her mind.

She glanced at her watch. Chester had now been missing for forty minutes.

“Yes. Call 911.”

“And I’ll get out my class list and phone all the parents,” Olivia offered.

“Thank you.” There was hardly anyone left in the staff room now, as teachers fanned out to search for the missing boy, and Gabrielle and Olivia went to make their calls.

Charlotte jogged back to the sidewalk, trying to push through her panic and make a logical decision.

Though it was a possibility that had to be crossed off the list, she didn’t think they’d find Chester hiding on school property. She supposed she could drive up and down the main streets of town in the hopes of spotting him or his bike.

Then inspiration struck. Maybe Chester had gone to see his grandfather, Jim Quinpool. For a few years Jim and Muriel had lived with Kyle and the twins. If Chester was upset, his grandfather was an obvious person to run to.

As she hurried back to her car, she called Jim. The phone rang and rang on the other end, but there was no answer. That didn’t mean Jim wasn’t home. He’d wanted custody of the twins after his son went to prison, and he’d been ticked off when the court appointed her, instead. Possibly he’d seen her name on call display and had refused to answer out of spite.

So she’d just have to go flush him out. On the drive to Jim’s place—he now lived in an apartment above the realtor business he’d once run with Kyle—she tried Wade McKay, the Curry County Sheriff and a personal friend.

The 911 call would be routed through his office. But she wanted to speak to him personally.

Wade answered after the first ring.

“Charlotte. We just got the call from Gabrielle Hodges. Where are you?”

“In my car, on my way to J-Jim’s house.” She swallowed. At the first sound of Wade’s voice, she’d had a sudden urge to cry.

But she couldn’t break down now. She had to be strong and hope for the best. That she would find Chester soon and he’d be fine.

“I’ve already checked the Twisted Cedars Park and the beach. Chester’s teacher is calling everyone in his class and the rest of the staff are searching the school.”

“That’s good.  Drive carefully Charlotte. Try to stay calm. I’m sending out every available vehicle to comb this town. Chances are good we’ll find him in the next half an hour or so.”

Even as he said that, Charlotte passed a black and white SUV with “Sheriff Curry County” stenciled on the side panel. The driver, Deputy Dunne, gave her a wave and a nod, as if to say, “Don’t worry ma’am. We’re on this.”

Before Dougal moved back to Twisted Cedars, she and Wade had dated. He’d even asked her to marry him once—though she was pretty sure he hadn’t loved her at the time. For sure he didn’t love her now. But she was grateful he wasn’t the sort of man to hold a grudge.

“Thanks Wade. I just—Thank you.”

“Of course. Keep in touch. Let me know what happens at Jim’s.”

Charlotte ended the call, but kept a tight hold on her phone. Please ring. Please be Nola, saying Chester had finally shown up. Or Olivia, saying Chester was fine, he’d gone home with a school friend...

But her phone remained silent.

She wished desperately that she had a way to reach Chester directly. The twins owned iPads which they weren’t allowed to bring to school. But they didn’t have phones. Their father had said they had to wait until they turned thirteen—a rule that had seemed reasonable to Charlotte, once.

Now she swore that as soon as they found Chester, she would go out and get them, not just phones, but possibly GPS tracking devises she’d strap to their ankles.

Charlotte turned onto Driftwood Lane, the town’s main drag, grateful that August was over and there was plenty of available parking. She was able to pull into a space right outside Quinpool Realty. The business was closed. It had been since Kyle’s arrest.

She rushed out of her car, glancing around, hoping to see, if not Chester, then at least his bike. But neither one was in sight. Maybe he’d locked his bike up in the back. She opened the door to the left of the glass door to Quinpool Realty, and then climbed up a narrow, steep flight of stairs to the upper apartment.

With each step her heart seemed to thump harder. Sweat rose on her hands, filming against the phone and keys she was carrying. She put both into her pockets, then rubbed her palms on the light wool blend of her skirt.

At the top of the stairs was a small landing and a wooden door with a peep hole and a slot for mail. She listened, straining for the sound of Chester’s voice within, but all she could hear was the faint drone of a television.

She rapped on the door, waiting less than ten seconds before repeating.

“Jim?” she called out. “It’s Charlotte. I’m looking for Chester.”

Finally he opened. Behind him was a dimly lit room with a sofa and television. The room had a foul, stale, alcoholic odor. And so did Jim.

He looked rough. Unshaven, clothes rumpled as if he’d slept in them—for more than one night, hair that had gone too long without a wash, or a cut. Considering he’d once been one of the better dressed men in town, it was a long fall.

The man obviously needed help, but she couldn’t worry about that right now.

“Is Chester here?” She scanned the room as she asked this. When she tried to step forward, Jim blocked her.

“No, he isn’t. What the hell is going on?”

Charlotte stared at him, not knowing what to say. She would have given anything to see her nephew sitting on that disgusting couch, eating junk food and watching sit-com reruns with his grandfather.

But he wasn’t here.

He wasn’t at Nola’s, or at home, or the school or the park or any of the normal places he liked to hang out.

So where was he?

Charlotte’s mind went blank as a terrible fear took grip of her body and soul.

Dougal had warned her that the horror that had gripped their town the past few months wasn’t over. Kyle Quinpool may have been arrested. Her sister’s death was being avenged. But there was a bigger evil lurking in Twisted Cedars.

She didn’t want to believe it. But it seemed there was a very good chance Chester’s disappearance was linked to that.

 

End of Excerpt

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Exposed is available in the following formats:

Exposed
February 25, 2016
ISBN: 978-0-9878613-5-1
CJ Book Store
Mystery