Read Fatal Deduction Online

Authors: Gayle Roper

Fatal Deduction

Praise for
Fatal Deduction

“Six-letter word for author Gayle Roper: adroit.
Nine-letter word for the plot: intricate.
Six-letter word for the heroine: plucky.
Ten-letter word for the villain: determined.
Eight-letter word for
Fatal Deduction:
riveting.
Advice to the reader: go get it!”

—D
ONITA
K. P
AUL
, author of the best-selling DragonKeeper series

“In
Fatal Deduction
, Gayle Roper has expanded on her trademark style of honest characterization and intriguing plot twists. She creates characters with real human flaws and shows those characters learning to forgive, giving me hope that this might even happen outside the pages of a novel. An excellent read that I could not put down.”

—H
ANNAH
A
LEXANDER
, author of
Double Blind
and
Hideaway Home

“A two-word phrase to describe Gayle Roper’s latest book? Page-turning!
Fatal Deduction
had me from the opening line, to the clue-dropping crossword puzzles, straight through to the inspiring and breathtaking end.”

—T
AMARA
L
EIGH
, author of
Splitting Harriet
and
Faking Grace

“I’ve been a Gayle Roper fan for many years, and this is her finest book. I was handcuffed to the characters, chained to the suspense and intrigue, and imprisoned in the plot.”

—D
I
A
NN
M
ILLS
, author of
When the Nile Runs Red
and
Awaken My Heart

“Gayle Roper unravels a mystery, filled with twists and surprises, in a Philly neighborhood populated by quirky, delightful characters. Libby’s spiritual journey is evidence that God can redeem the past, keep regret from consuming us, and teach us to love difficult people. A charming Ben Franklin historian, crossword puzzles, and a peek into the world of antique dealing add elements of fun to this unique mystery.”

—S
HARON
D
UNN
, author of the Bargain Hunters Mysteries

“Fatal Deduction
is a poignant and madcap ride, Gayle Roper style. This romantic mystery is a captivating combination of an intricate plot and well-rounded characters facing extreme family issues. Roper crafts the multiple relationship layers with compassionate insight, even for characters you’d like to slap. And she never loses sight of the burning question: who left the body and the crossword puzzle on the doorstep and why?”

—J
ILL
E
LIZABETH
N
ELSON
, author of the To Catch a Thief series

O
THER
N
OVELS BY
G
AYLE
R
OPER
Allah’s Fire

S
EASIDE
S
EASONS
S
ERIES
Spring Rain
Summer Shadows
Autumn Dreams
Winter Winds

A
MHEARST
M
YSTERY
S
ERIES
Caught in the Middle
Caught in the Act
Caught in a Bind
Caught Redhanded

For Pamela Pike Gordinier,
artist, friend, sister-in-law,
with much love
and great respect

Acknowledgments

Thanks to Lois Matter, eBay queen, for your expert help.

Thanks to the Evening Writers Area, especially Rosene and Georgia, for your advice and encouragement.

Much gratitude to Mark Mynheir and Mark Young for their counsel on police matters. Any errors are mine.

Thanks to friends who shared their personal bipolar stories or those of loved ones. You have my respect and admiration.

And thanks and love to Chuck, who discovered that dinner at nine was better than none at all.

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the L
ORD
, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart
.

J
EREMIAH
29:11–13

Prologue

I
OPENED THE FRONT DOOR
at 5 a.m. on a July Thursday and stepped into murder.

Not that I recognized it as such right off.

And actually I tripped into murder, catching my foot on the body lying on the front stoop of my late great-aunt Stella’s Colonial-era row house in Philadelphia. I went flying, all grace and beauty, landing on my hands and knees in the narrow lane. What was Aunt Stella thinking, making me live where drunks slept off their hangovers on innocent people’s doorsteps?

I pushed myself to my feet and checked the extent of the damage to my knees and palms in the light of the lamp beside the front door. There were slight brush burns on the pads of my palms, the kind that sting like crazy but don’t actually bleed much, and a tiny trickle of blood rolled slowly down my left leg.

I would have to go back inside and wash up, apply Bactine—did
Aunt Stella have any? I didn’t think I’d brought any with me in spite of dragging along everything but the kitchen sink—and put a Band-Aid on my leg. Then I needed a pitcher of cold water to throw on the man to waken him and get him to move. The last thing I wanted was for Chloe to come out and find him. She’d have a thirteen-year-old hissy fit. Then again, she might find him fascinating, local color and all. I could never predict my daughter anymore, and I found it very disconcerting.

I raised a foot to step over the drunk when I noticed three things. No smell of booze and body odor wafted off the man like you’d expect with a street person in summer. A neat white rectangle lay on the dark of his shirt with T
ORI
, my twin’s name, written on it.

And the man did not appear to be breathing.

1

One day prior

I
TURNED INTO THE ALLEY
and slammed on the brakes. My van quivered to a stop with the front bumper nose to nose with a row of concrete stanchions. Princess tumbled off the backseat and hit the floor with an indignant doggy
humph!

I stared in amazement at the narrow lane ahead of me. The alley had proved to be about two car lengths before it narrowed dramatically into the passage ahead, which was too constricted for a small car, let alone my van.

“Wow, Mom,” Chloe said with a definite lack of approval. “Those houses are little!”

I stared at the eight attached row homes lining each side of the cobbled lane. They were little, as in narrow. Olde as in authentic Colonial era. And they were probably dark and depressing inside, a
far cry from our suburban New Jersey bungalow on its, by comparison, huge third-of-an-acre lot. And we had to live in the fifth house on the left for the next six months.

With Tori.

Aunt Stella, what were you thinking?

Chloe opened the passenger door and stepped into the alley. She stared at the four cement posts just beyond the nose of the van. They had obviously been placed to prevent anyone from trying to drive where no car would fit. “How do we get our stuff to the house, Mom?”

“We carry it, sweetheart.” For a smart kid, the girl could ask the dumbest questions.

“I told you we should have gotten movers.” She slid open the side door and pulled out her duffel and backpack.

Yeah, yeah. And who would have paid the bill?
Besides, we weren’t moving furniture, just ourselves. But I wasn’t having that discussion again. “Shut your door, Chlo, before Princess escapes.”

With a put-upon sigh, she slammed the slider hard enough to make the van shudder.

I turned off the ignition, pulled the keys free, and clutched them in my hand as I climbed out into the heavy, humid air of July first. I slid the keys into my shorts pocket, feeling like I should glance around to see if anyone had seen where I’d stashed them. Foolish. No one was going to rush me, grab the keys, and make off with the van. It wasn’t a matter of crime not happening in broad daylight. It was more that no self-respecting car thief would be caught dead taking our dinged and scabrous van. The only positive thing that could be said for the vehicle was that it ran, most of the time. And it was big enough to lug all my flea market, estate sale, and auction acquisitions.

“I am so not a city person,” I muttered as I walked to the rear of the van and lifted the hatch. “The size alone scares me.”

“I’m not scared. I think coming to Philadelphia is cool.”

“Yeah, cool.” I stared at my daughter, the joy of my life. Thirteen was so scary. And so were the bad guys lurking around every city corner, ready to prey on the girl’s innocence.

Maybe if I hadn’t dealt with so many bad guys myself, I wouldn’t worry as much. But I had, way more than my share, and I didn’t want Chloe to face the same horrors.

“Trust in the L
ORD
with all your heart. Trust in the L
ORD
with all your heart. Trust in the L
ORD
with all your heart.”
The Scripture eased my tension somewhat as I reached for Princess, who sat on the cooler and stared at me while doing her miniature poodle version of Snoopy’s vulture. Poor Princess. It’s hard to look threatening or reproachful when your topknot has a pink bow in it, courtesy of Chloe.

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