Leith Hampton placed the will in front of him, smoothing an invisible crease with a well-manicured hand, the nails showing evidence of a vigorous buffing. I wondered what kind of man went in for a mani-pedi—I was surmising on the pedi—and decided it was the kind of man who billed his services out for five hundred dollars an hour.
He cleared his throat and stared at me with those intense blue eyes. “Are you sure you’re ready, Calamity? I know how close you were to your father.”
I flinched at the Calamity. Folks called me Callie or they didn’t call me at all. Only my dad had been allowed to call me Calamity, and even then only when he was seriously annoyed with me, and never in public. It was a deal we’d made back in elementary school. Kids can be cruel enough without the added incentive of a name like Calamity.
As for being ready, I’d been ready for the past ninety-plus minutes. I’d been ready since I first got the call telling me my father had been involved in an unfortunate occupational accident. That’s how the detached voice on the other end of the phone had put it. An unfortunate occupational accident.
I knew at some point I’d have to face the fact that my dad wasn’t coming back, that we’d never again argue over politics or share a laugh while watching an episode of The Big Bang Theory. Knew that one day I’d sit down and have a good long cry, but right now wasn’t the time, and this certainly wasn’t the place. I’d long ago learned to store my feelings into carefully constructed compartments. I leveled Leith with a dry-eyed stare and nodded.
What would eventually become Skeletons in the Attic started life at the food court in the Upper Canada Mall in Newmarket, Ontario, Canada. I was sitting with my friends, Larry and Charlotte, having lunch and catching up on life in general. Inevitably, the conversation turned to writing.
Charlotte and I had met at a creative writing workshop a decade ago, and Larry is a retired criminal prosecutor working on his first novel, a legal thriller set in the 1950s. The conversation went something like this:
“I’ve been thinking about starting a new series.”
“Why not write the sequel to The Hanged Man’s Noose?” Larry asked. Larry’s always the practical one.
Because I hadn’t found a publisher yet. Because I couldn’t bear to write a second book when the first one in the series hadn’t sold. Because if I didn’t start writing another book, maybe I never would, and that scared me more than I was willing to admit.
“I thought I’d try something different. Write this book in first person, from the protagonist’s point of view.” [For those of you who haven’t read it, The Hanged Man’s Noose is written in third person with multiple (though primarily two) POVs.]
“Do you have a title yet?” Charlotte, this time.
“No, but I’m thinking of calling my protagonist Calamity Barnstable. Callie for short.”
Charlotte frowned. “I like Calamity and Callie. I don’t think I like Barnstable. Makes me think of a barn and a stable. Maybe Barnes would be better.”
“Maybe,” I said, although I knew it was already too late.
Calamity (Callie) Barnstable had just started living inside my head. She’d be thirty-six, the only child of two only children. Her father had raised her, because her mom had walked out on them thirty years before. She had black-rimmed hazel eyes and a virtually uncontrollable mass of curly brown hair. And she was single, having inherited the Barnstable loser radar when it came to relationships.
I had dated a guy one summer, a triathlete with a fantastic body but not much else to offer. We’d spent more than a few days at that beach while he practiced open water swimming and I admired his form. Unfortunately, I discovered the only thing he was faithful to was training.
“What’s the premise?” Larry asked, interrupting the work-in-progress going on inside my head.
“Her father dies in an at-work accident and leaves Callie everything.” I explain the backstory about her mom leaving.
“Is the father’s death suspicious?” Larry again.
“Hmmm. That’s a good question. I’m not sure yet. The premise is that Callie inherits a house she didn’t know existed, under a very interesting condition.”
“Which is?” Both of them, now. I lean back and smile. I’ve piqued their interest.
“She has to move into the house and find out who murdered her mother.”
“I thought you said her mother left Callie and her father,” Larry said. Did I mention he was a retired prosecuting attorney? Nothing slips by Larry.
“That’s just what Callie’s been told. I still have to flesh out the details.”
“It sounds interesting,” Charlotte said, always the peacemaker. “Where does the story take place?”
“In Marketville. It’s a fictional commuter town about an hour north of Toronto.”
“Marketville, eh?” Larry grinned. “Sounds a lot like Newmarket.”
“Doesn’t it just?”
Judy Penz Sheluk’s debut mystery, The Hanged Man’s Noose was published in July 2015 by Barking Rain Press.
Skeletons in the Attic, the first book in her Marketville Mystery Series, was published by Imajin Books in August 2016.
Judy’s short crime fiction appears in World Enough and Crime, The Whole She-Bang 2, Flash and Bang and Live Free or Tri.
Judy is a member of Sisters in Crime, Crime Writers of Canada, International Thriller Writers and the Short Mystery Fiction Society. She lives in Alliston, Ontario, with her husband, Mike, and their Golden Retriever, Gibbs. Find her at www.judypenzsheluk.com, where she interviews other authors and blogs about the writing life.
Skeletons in the Attic will be released on August 21st in trade paperback and Kindle formats. It is now available for pre-order on Kindle for the special introductory price of .99 (regular $4.99) Find it here: http://getbook.at/SkeletonsintheAttic
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