CJ Carmichael CJ Carmichael
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Tangle of Lies

Part of the Tangle Falls Mysteries Series

A murder rips through the quiet town of Tangle Falls, exposing a web of lies and buried sins.

Former science teacher Bobbie Galloway is shaken when a former student’s body is found along the tranquil river of sleepy Tangle Falls. She’s even more troubled that George Lindeman, another student of hers, is the prime suspect.

George was never able to escape the rumors surrounding his family’s death a decade ago and now he’s once again thrust into the spotlight of a murder investigation. Bobbie believes George is innocent. She never believed the rumors about him.

Hadley Hooper left Tangle Falls at seventeen but she’s back to right old wrongs. She believes George is innocent too. But can she be trusted, or does she have her own agenda?

As tensions mount in the aftermath of the murder, Bobbie is suspicious of Fern Sinclair, who just bought the deserted farmhouse next to Bobbie’s brother’s ranch. The home care worker claims she wants to restore the property’s garden to its former glory, but Bobbie can’t shake the feeling Fern is hiding something.

As whispers of suspicion echo through Tangle Falls, Bobbie embarks on a gripping journey into the heart of the town, unearthing secrets that threaten to unravel the very fabric of the community.

Tangle of Lies

Part of the Tangle Falls Mysteries Series

Tangle of Lies



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August 3, 2022

When it was all over, retired science teacher Bobbie Galloway tried to understand how everyone in her hometown of Tangle Falls had gotten it all so terribly wrong. She went to the Monashee Chronicle office and asked Iris Ward to help her find the relevant articles. First the ones on the fire twenty years ago and then the much older obit for Odette Singleton.

“Last time I had these old issues out was for Fern Sinclair,” Iris commented, as she handed over the papers, yellowed now, as fragile as truth.

Bobbie made copies, then went home. After checking on her elderly mother who was in the middle of her afternoon nap, Bobbie secluded herself in her turret library on the third floor of her turn-of-the-century home.

She started with Odette’s obituary. It was such a simple notice, written for a woman who had died too young, only twenty-three, leaving behind a husband and two-year-old daughter, as well as parents and a brother in the cross-border town of Silverton.

Bobbie read the obit three times, looking for the smallest clue, a nuance in the straightforward words. But there was nothing of Odette’s real story here.
With a sigh of discouragement, she set that notice aside and, jumping forward two decades, started on the articles about the fire.

There was much more material here, the fire had been major news back then. Even now, twenty years later, the headlines were painful to read. HOUSE FIRE ON LOCAL TURKEY FARM KILLS HUSBAND, WIFE, THIRTEEN-YEAR-OLD DAUGHTER. Under this, in smaller font, ONLY SEVENTEEN-YEAR-OLD SON SURVIVES.

Following the initial reporting were several follow-up stories, including one on the conclusions reached by the official investigation. LINDERMAN FIRE FOUND TO BE TRAGIC ACCIDENT. MIDWAY FIRE CHIEF REMINDS RURAL CITIZENS TO INSTALL FIRE ALARMS AND CHECK BATTERIES ANNUALLY. Bobbie read these and every other article very closely, only to reach the same conclusion. No hint of the truth was to be found in any of these stories.

She settled into a cushioned window seat to reflect. She had no doubt that the secrets of the past would have remained hidden if Fern Sinclair and Hadley Hooper hadn’t moved to Tangle Falls this spring. Each, in their own way, had come here seeking refuge. Neither could have guessed the chain of events they would start.

In general Bobbie was a fan of truth. In this case it had brought comfort and justice to many. But a price had been paid. A family had been destroyed and a young man had lost his life. Did the equation balance out? Had the benefits to society as a whole been worth the cost?

Bobbie sat for hours with the question. But even as she watched the sun set on the day, she could not find an answer.

Chapter One

April 20, 2020

“My name is Fern. Fern Sinclair.” Her voice sounded tinny and false as it echoed in the cab of the U-Haul truck, but she had to keep practicing. Get used to the name. The sound of it. The way the words felt on her tongue. It was a pretty name, at least.

The view out the windshield was not so pretty. Vast fields, flat, and soggy and dull. Mid-April was not an inspiring time to cross the prairie. The lakes, rocks, and forests of the Canadian shield had been more interesting, but she had been too tense to enjoy anything in the early days of her trip. Now, with over two thousand miles between her truck and Notre-Dame-des-Pins she could feel not just her muscles, but her mind, relaxing.

At forty-three it wouldn’t be easy to start a new life. But it had to be done. In her dreams she still heard the patients moaning for water, for food, many of them steeped in their own excrement. It was how you would imagine a concentration camp. Filled with the elderly and demented.

She’d been twelve hours into an interminable shift when a local TV station reported that the Quebec government was going to step in and take over the administration of several care homes in the province, including the one where she worked, the Maison des Quatre Saisons. In addition, the situation was so dire, the federal government was sending in the Canadian Armed Forces.

She cried when she heard the news. Thank God someone was finally going to help. By then over fifty of their residents had died of covid, and many more were gravely ill. She herself had been felled by the virus in mid-February, though she’d never been tested to confirm, she knew it was covid. She’d gone to work anyway, because there were no backup caregivers to go in her place.

As glad as she was that help was coming, she also knew the time had come for her to leave. At some point there was going to be an investigation or inquiry into what had happened, and she did not want to be there for that.

Her last act in the Maison de Quatre Saisons—or as she had started to think of it, La Maison de Morte—had been to walk silently in her rubber-soled shoes to the room of a fifty-two-year-old female suffering from early-onset Alzheimer’s. The woman had been admitted two years ago and was in the final stages of her disease.

Recently she’d started coughing and was now exhibiting a fever. Though she hadn’t been tested, it was almost certainly covid. Over the two years she’d been living in the Maison des Quatre Saisons, this woman had only a handful of visitors. Not that it mattered now. Even patients with lots of attentive family members were dying alone. No visitors permitted.

She found the patient coughing and tossing restlessly in her bed. Her untouched breakfast, lunch, and dinner trays were stacked on the table by her bed. No one had the time to feed her, and she was too far gone to do it herself.

“Wh—hack, hack—who are you?” the woman demanded, her voice a dry rasp.

“I’m your caregiver. I’ve come to look after you, dear.” Though she was not authorized to administer medication, she took the ibuprofen sitting in a small paper cup alongside the uneaten food and offered it to the woman along with sips from a carton of apple juice. The woman drank greedily, sloppily, juice trickling down her chin and falling to her soiled nightgown.

When the woman was finished, she went to the closet in the corner of the room and selected a pair of clean sweatpants, a warm fleece top and some socks. Then she filled a basin with warm soapy water and gave the woman a sponge bath. The patient needed a good soak in the whirlpool tub—but these days no one had time for that. As she stripped off the soiled sheets, she wished for a better mask and protective shield to protect her from the disgusting fumes.

Once the patient was settled in her clean bed, in fresh clothes, she put a glass of water within easy reach and then turned the television to a cooking show, one that the patient had seemed to enjoy in an earlier stage of her disease. “How’s that, dear? Look interesting?”

A series of coughs was her answer.

She tossed the dirty linens into an overflowing laundry hamper, then turned her attention to the real purpose of her visit—the patient’s closet. Stuffed into one of the patients’ leather loafers—which she never wore anymore—was a slim wallet. Quickly she transferred several of the small, plastic cards into the back pocket of her uniform.

On her way out she paused for a final look at the patient. “Thank you, Fern.”

* * *

She hadn’t submitted a formal resignation at work, nor had she given notice to her landlord, or informed any of her colleagues or neighbors that she was leaving.

She simply rented a U-Haul and packed all her stuff into it—including the cash her father had kept in his various safe spots—under the mattress, at the bottom of the freezer, inside the flour canister. She had that plus the shockingly high balance in their joint savings account. The money had come from the sale of property he’d inherited from his father, a lifetime ago, before her mother deserted them. Her father had always insisted the money wasn’t to be touched. A genuine miser, he wouldn’t even let her invest it. So, it sat there while they lived on his government checks and her minimum-wage salary.

Her car, a ten-year-old Honda Civic, she sold to a neighbor’s son who had just gotten his driver’s license. And that was it, the last of her ties to her old life severed.

She would move west, to the mountains, use Fern Sinclair’s Quebec driver’s license to apply for a new British Columbia one. After that she would be able to open a bank account and apply for a credit card, all in her new name.

She tried to argue away the guilt. What constituted a bad person anyway? One wrong act? Two? Stealing the dying Alzheimer’s patient’s ID cards had been illegal, but had it been bad in a moral sense? Fern’s identity had been lost long ago to her disease.

And now a new Fern Sinclair was born.

Chapter Two

June 7, 2022

It was dark when Hadley Hooper unlocked and opened the front door, an awkward business with a sleeping three-year-old in her arms.

She hiked Madison’s limp body higher and turned on the hall light. She had never seen her mother’s house so tidy. So spotless. With her arms curled around Madison, she used her shoulder to close the front door, then sagged against it.

The overpowering silence, alone, made her mother’s death feel real. Denise Hooper’s first action of every day was turning on the TV and it didn’t go off until she was ready for bed. Even when she was out working, socializing, or running errands, she left the television running. Now that she was older, Hadley understood this had been her mother’s way of filling some of the void left by her husband who had died when Hadley was a baby.

As Hadley slid out of her shoes, she took a closer look around. From here she could see the living room, the dining area, and half of the kitchen. All of it perfect. And sterile. No jigsaw puzzle, half-completed, on the dining table. No sewing project resting on the arm of the chair her mother sat on to watch television. Strangest of all, no abandoned coffee mugs scattered about, all of them with a quarter inch of sludge on the bottom.

That was something else that was missing. The scent of coffee. Her mother always had a pot on. Instead, the place reeked of cleanser, the pine-aroma type. Hadley took a deeper breath, and there it was, that indefinable, base-note aroma that meant home.

Her body responded with a guttural sob that came out harsh and loud. Hadley clenched her jaw, surprised, a little frightened by the primal response. She’d known coming back to Tangle Falls, to this house, was going to be hard. If she had any other choice she wouldn’t be here.

She’d burned so many bridges when she’d run away at seventeen, not just with her mother, but with her boyfriend at the time and their circle of friends. Of her four closest friends only Dean Kavanaugh had replied to her messages and stayed in touch for all these years. Dean might be slightly goofy and awkward—at least he’d been so in high school—but he was also softhearted. Yet even Dean hadn’t encouraged her when she’d messaged him about her plans to move back. In fact, he’d actively discouraged her. To a ridiculous extent. Tomorrow she was going to track him down and find out what was up.

Hadley carried Madison down the hallway to her old bedroom which was as pristine as the rest of the house. The patchwork quilt she’d hated as a teenager was spread smoothly over the double bed. Now the sight of those squares—each fabric a reminder of a shirt, a dress, an old pair of jeans—brought out another ugly sob.

Hadley shook her head, denying the emotion. Holding Madison’s body close to her own, she folded back the quilt to reveal clean white sheets and the soothing scent of lavender. Gradually she transferred Madison’s weight from her arms to the bed. She removed Madison’s sneakers, brushed her golden hair from her face, then pulled up the quilt.

Out tumbled a sachet of dried lavender, which must have been placed between the sheets and the quilt. Not something her mother would have done. Someone had definitely been in here after her mother died.

Probably Bobbie Galloway, her old middle school science teacher, who lived across the street. Bobbie had been a good friend to her mother, and she’d been kind to Hadley as well. But Bobbie was also smart. Observant.

Of all the people she needed to fool, Bobbie would be the hardest.

end of excerpt

Tangle of Lies

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Tangle of Lies by CJ Carmichael


May 16, 2024

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