Grave Doubts (A Paranormal Mystery Novel)

 
 
 
 
 
GRAVE DOUBTS

 

By

Lynn Bohart

 

 

 

 

 

Dedicated to my daughter.

I love you to the moon and back.

 

 

 

Cover photo(s): John Bohart

Photo manipulation: Chris Glidden

Cover Design: Jaynee Bohart

Copyright © 2012 by Lynn Bohart

 

All rights reserved. This book or any portion thereof may
not be reproduced in any manner whatsoever without the express written
permission of the publisher, with the exception of brief quotations for the use
of reviews or promotional articles approved by the author.

 

Published by Bohart Ink

 

 

 

Grave Doubts is a work of fiction and all names, characters,
or events are fictitious or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to real
persons, living or dead is purely coincidental and not intended by the author.

 

 

 

ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS:

 

At the time I started writing
Grave
Doubts
, I worked in a small hospital in Central Oregon. I began the concept
for the story by plotting to kill someone in a sawmill. Fortunately, I knew
people who owned sawmills back then. Thanks to both Rosboro Lumber and Seneca
Sawmill for allowing me to tour the facilities and learn something about the
complicated timber industry. Although I had not yet published even one short
story at the time, I was treated with great respect. Special thanks to
accomplished author Elizabeth Engstrom who inspired me to write and became a
good friend. Thanks, too, to my friends at McKenzie-Willamette Hospital back in
the day when I first started writing
Grave Doubts.
So much of the story
is based on the hospital and my experiences there. My deepest appreciation to
my current writer’s group - Tim McDaniel, Michael Manzer, and Lori
Church-Pursley - who read every word and gave me detailed feedback and told me
when things weren’t working. Thanks, too, to my beta readers, Liz Stewart and
Valerie O’Halloran, who give me such great support. I also extend my sincere
thanks to Sharon Hu, Lab Services Director at Valley Medical Center, Erin
Browder, RD, CD, CDE, Diabetes Education Program Coordinator at Valley Medical
Center, Rod Cornutt at Rosboro Lumber, and Rich Sweeney at Renton Printery, who
verified all of the technical information. I also extend my thanks to my
friends and fellow writers on Facebook, and to my daughter for putting up with
my obsession with crafting the perfect murder.

CHAPTER
ONE

 

The hawk rested quietly on the
branch of an old oak, gazing imperiously down on the gravesite below. Fresh
graves produced tender morsels of food. And the hawk, with its keen eyesight
and superior reflexes, would wait patiently until dinner poked its head above
ground.

But the hawk’s vigil was
interrupted as a lone, dark car pulled up to the cemetery entrance. The
predator’s eyes rotated in their sockets like small, opaque marbles as they
fixed a steady gaze in the direction of the intruder. The car wound its way up
the hill, past the mausoleum, past the bank of rose bushes, and past the small
sign that led to the new burial site. It crested the hill and turned smoothly
onto the service road that ran along the top of the property, its tires rolling
and popping across the gravel. Finally, the car stopped behind a bank of large
bushes. A cluster of pine trees stood nearby. The driver’s side door opened,
and a dark figure emerged to quickly cross the road and slip into the bushes
that overlooked the grave. There, the figure peered through thick foliage at
the gravesite below.

In the same way a sentinel waits
for the enemy, the hawk renewed its vigil and focused its gaze on the newly
turned earth surrounding the gravesite. Perhaps a worm would wiggle its way
through the rich soil, or a beetle would scuttle across the mound of dirt
looking for cover. But the bird’s meal was postponed a second time when another
car pulled onto the cemetery grounds. The hawk shifted its weight impatiently
and twisted its head in short, sharp movements as it watched the second car
climb the hill and turn at the makeshift sign pointing to the grave.

The second car parked along the
road just below the gravesite. It was several seconds before the door opened
and a woman emerged dressed in a long wool coat. She crossed the road and then
stopped when she reached the stairs that would lead her to the gravesite. She
waited, staring at the steps as if they created a barrier she couldn’t
overcome. Finally, she lifted her chin and with a deep sigh, began to climb.

When she reached the top of the
stairs, she paused again to survey the area set up for the funeral. Then, she
weaved her way through the empty chairs to the open grave located behind a tent
where the casket would sit. She stood at the edge of the grave and gazed down
into the deep hole, her face a stone mask.

The hawk watched and waited.

A minute went by. Then two.
Finally, the woman wiped something from the corner of her eye and retreated to
the protection of the large oak tree, unaware she was being watched from the
hillside above.

CHAPTER
TWO

 

Twenty-nine
cold and lonely steps led to the uppermost level of the old cemetery. Lee had
counted them twice before trudging to the top, her purse and spirits dragging
behind. Even on a good day, she hated cemeteries. They reminded her of the
overgrown one in which her father had been buried almost twenty years earlier.
On that hot July day, she’d watched the one person she loved with all her heart
lowered into the ground with her mother standing by, tearless and stoic, one
hand looped through the arm of her second husband.

Now, here she
was again – on her birthday. She’d come to bury a friend in a cemetery where
the persistent rain created sticky veins of mold in the stonework, and layered furry
clumps of the stuff on the roofs of all the buildings. After a rain, like
today, the afternoon sun could lift the putrid aroma of mildew off the ground
like steam. It was all so depressing. Even the surrounding wrought-iron fence
made the rows of blackened headstones look like they’d been herded onto this
tree-covered butte and held hostage. No wonder cemeteries found their way into
so many bad Hollywood horror movies.

Lee waited
patiently under the protection of an old oak tree, savoring the solitude. The
last few days had been tortuous. She and her daughter had found Diane, dead
from an apparent overdose of insulin. The grotesque images of her friend’s
lifeless body sprawled across her living room floor, with her index finger
curled limply around an empty syringe, and her blue lips parted in a final
exhale, had taken up permanent residence in Lee’s mind. They paraded their way
through her consciousness during the day and subjected her to a terrifying
ordeal at night. More than once Diane had spoken to Lee in her dreams, pointing
a crooked finger in her direction.

“You’re no
friend of mine!”

Each time,
those five final words slammed Lee into a foggy wakefulness, usually tangled in
her own bed sheets. Her lack of sleep since Diane’s death had created an
intermittent buzzing in her ears, and she thought longingly of her bed at home.

Lee served as
the Vice President of Marketing and Development for a community hospital in
Central Oregon, and Diane had been her Executive Assistant for the past four years.
Although the two women had been polar opposites in personality, their love of
antiques and old movies had initially drawn them together as cautious friends. But
it had been Diane’s wicked sense of humor that had finally brought Lee out of
her self-imposed emotional exile. In Diane’s company, Lee laughed, and laughed
often. That had been a much-needed release, and it had felt good.

But the
friendship had ended with a bitter argument about Diane’s new boyfriend only
hours before Diane died. The police had quickly ruled Diane’s death a suicide, leaving
Lee to wonder how much she may have been the cause. The guilt was mind-bending.
Coming to the graveyard early today was her attempt to deal with the demons
eating their way through her sanity, but it didn’t seem to be working. The
tightness in her chest was testament to the fact she was nearing a breaking
point. When a twig landed at her feet, she flinched, nerves and senses on
alert.

She lifted her
eyes to search the branches above her and found a hawk perched in the tree, its
graceful head and watchful eye pointed in her direction. Lee felt vulnerable
under the bird's gaze and was about to grab a rock, when the glint off
something metal at the top of the hill caught her attention. It came from a
strip of large bushes where the road wrapped around the crest of the hill.
There, a bank of shade trees created a canopy that cast everything below them
in deep shadow, nearly obliterating the faint outline of a parked car. As Lee watched,
something moved within the bushes, raising the hairs on the back of her neck.

Whoa! Was she
being watched?  She'd thought so the night she and Amy had found Diane, but
that was just nerves. Or was it?  Perhaps the car on the hill belonged to a
cemetery worker, or a family member. More likely it was a reporter, come to
cover the burial of a suicide victim. The callousness of that thought lit a
small fire in the pit of her stomach, extinguishing the sudden chill.

She decided to
ignore the intruder while she waited and turned toward the highway below. The cemetery
was built in stair-steps, starting with the chapel and mausoleum at the lowest
level. Diane would be buried near the top of the hill, surrounded by tall pines
and several oak trees. It was late afternoon, so the highway was busy. The cars
reminded Lee of industrious little ants going about their business, oblivious
to the fact that someone was being buried on the hillside above. How she wanted
to be among them, going anywhere but here. For a moment she thought about
leaving, but just then the hearse appeared, eliminating her chance of escape.

The car
carrying Diane’s coffin pulled through the arched columns and moved slowly up
the hill, followed by a black limousine and a procession of vehicles. The
hearse parked off to the side, and four men in dark suits unloaded a long cedar
box. While the rest of the cars parked along the road where Lee had left her
Pathfinder, the pallbearers carried the casket in solemn ritual to a pedestal
waiting under a small green tent. Engines died. Doors opened and closed. People
emerged and climbed the stairs in muffled silence. Some took the chairs placed
there earlier, while others huddled to the side in small groups. Everyone spoke
in hushed tones, cushioning the air with their strained whispers.

Lee spied
Andrew Platt, Vice President of Operations from the hospital. Since he was about
the last person she wanted to see just now, she was about to step behind the
tree to avoid him, when he waved and headed in her direction. Lee braced
herself for a numbing string of vague condolences. Andrew wasn’t a bad guy, just
boring. He also lived under the thumb of the hospital CEO, a not-so-comfortable
place for someone who had applied for the CEO’s job when it was vacant. Lee
thought that right now Andrew’s signature monotone delivery might just drive
her over the edge.

“Hey, Lee,” he
greeted her somberly, his brow furrowed. “How ‘ya doing?”

There it was.
Five words spoken without a note of inflection. How did he do it?

“I’m okay,” she
mumbled with little inflection of her own.

“It’s gotta be
tough,” he shrugged. “Suicide. Shit,” he shook his head. “I don’t suppose
anyone saw this coming. I mean, did you notice anything different about her?
Anything that would have telegraphed something like this?”

His face twisted
with concern, but Lee cringed. She didn’t want to speculate on why Diane might
have made the ultimate decision to end her own life. She had trouble believing
it, even though all the evidence seemed to point in that direction.

“No, I didn’t. Actually,
her life was pretty good.”

“Hmmm,” he
looked at the ground in thought. “I wonder why, then. Why would she do it?
Suicide is so…I don’t know, desperate. She must have been really
hurting…emotionally, I mean. Too bad. She was a good person. Too bad,” he
repeated, shaking his head again.

“Yes, it is,”
Lee replied.

God, she
thought, would this day never end? She finally tried to finish the conversation
by making a half turn away. Andrew took the hint, placed a reassuring hand on
her shoulder and moved away.

Lee remained by
the tree, allowing the other mourners to fill in the space between her and the
grave. Soon, a voice cut through the muffled whispers. The minister had moved
into position just in front of the casket, and the mourners closed ranks. Lee was
quickly sandwiched between a tall man dressed in a gray suit and a large woman
wearing a horrid feathered hat. The minister began the eulogy, his voice rising
and falling with a practiced cadence.

Lee glanced up to
the disappearing blue sky above, holding back tears. Dark clouds had assembled off
to the east and were beginning to make their move to blot out the sun. The
breeze had also picked up, whistling a discordant tune through the trees. Soon
it would begin to rain, making Lee wonder if you could hear raindrops through a
wooden casket. She reached up to wipe away a tear, condemning herself for
complaining about Bud Maddox, Diane’s boyfriend, the night she died. Why hadn’t
she just let it go? Why had she let that Neanderthal come between them?
Suddenly, her thoughts were interrupted.

“What a waste,”
the woman next to her hissed in a conspiratorial tone. “You have to be
weak-minded to turn to suicide,” she said, leaning into Lee. She flicked her
head with a smug look, flapping the feathers of her hat in the breeze.

Lee stared at
her open-mouthed, briefly entertaining the thought of using her fist to wipe
away the woman’s sanctimonious expression. But just then, the mourners mumbled “Amen,”
and the graveside service ended. People began to move in a multitude of directions.
Lee found herself in the middle of the crowd, unable to go forward, unable to
go back. She remained there, as motionless as a boulder in the middle of a
stream as people separated around her, some heading for the stairs, some
heading to say good-bye to the family.

A few people
from the hospital acknowledged her, but she merely nodded in return. Her eyes
were focused now on the casket, which would appear and disappear in momentary
glimpses. All of a sudden, a young man passing too close slammed into her
shoulder. It threw her off balance, and her leather pump skidded in the damp
grass. She would have landed on her butt had someone not grabbed her elbow and
whip-lashed her quickly back onto her feet. Lee erupted in a giddy sigh of
relief, only to freeze in place as she stared into the face of the man she detested.

“You want to be
careful, Lee,” Bud Maddox’s voice hummed.

Maddox drew an
artificial smile across the dark, heavy features that crowded his face. Lee
twisted her wrist trying to break away, but Maddox held her firmly.

“We’ve already
lost one member of your staff,” he murmured. “Don’t want to lose you, too.”

Lee finally
yanked her hand free, wiping the clammy feeling off onto her coat.

“I’ll be fine.”

His funhouse
smile lingered a moment longer before he finally turned away. Lee rubbed her
wrist where the skin felt numb. When someone touched her elbow, she visibly
flinched.

“Sorry, Lee.” It
was her friend, Robin, from the hospital. “I got here late. You okay?”

Lee couldn’t
help a glance at the retreating figure of Bud Maddox before replying. “Yeah,
I’m okay.” She turned her attention to Robin. “I thought you were in Atlanta.”

“I got back
this morning and heard the news.”

Robin Chang
Grady was the Director of Human Resources at the hospital and served on the
executive team there with Lee.

Lee rubbed her eyes, thinking she
needed some aspirin. “I was planning on calling you later, anyway.”

“You look exhausted.”

Lee sighed. “I’m just getting a
headache.”

“This can’t be easy,” Robin
remarked, placing a reassuring hand on her arm. “I'm sorry I couldn’t be with
you at the service earlier. How are you really? They said you found her.”

Lee paused before responding. There
was no way to describe how she felt about being the one to have found her friend
dead from an apparent suicide. There were no clever phrases. No comforting
words. So, what could she say?

“It was pretty awful,” she finally
whispered.

“Lee, why don't you come over for
dinner tonight? Alan's making some weird casserole he tried at a Boy Scout rally,
but I promise a great dessert. It’s your birthday. You shouldn’t be alone.”

The warmth that was a natural part
of Robin’s personality came through in her voice. But Lee wondered how Alan really
felt about the invitation. As a Eugene police detective, he often worked long
hours. The couple rarely entertained in the middle of the week.

“C’mon, Lee. Alan’s the one who
wanted me to invite you,” Robin said, as if reading Lee’s thoughts. “He
insists.”

“Okay,” Lee replied. “Amy is
heading back to Corvallis, and I could probably use the company. Is six-thirty
okay?”

“Perfect. Just promise to humor
Alan and ask him for the recipe.”

The flicker of a smile crossed
Lee’s face. “You realize I don’t cook much anyway, so it won’t make a
difference. Can I bring anything?”

Robin squeezed her arm. “Just a
smile.”

“I haven’t had too many of those
lying around lately.”

“I know. See you at six-thirty.”

Robin turned and headed for the
stairs. Lee watched her leave. Perhaps a night with her friends was a good
idea. When she heard her name a second time, she turned to find Diane’s sister
approaching.

“Lee,” Carey
repeated, stepping forward. “Thanks for coming.”

Carey had
disengaged from well-wishing mourners, but her mother still clung to her arm. Carey
was a younger and softer version of Diane. While Diane’s face could have been
chiseled from granite, Carey's was that of an angel, with rounded cheekbones
and a full, bow-shaped mouth. Yet, today, deep shadows rimmed the rich, hazel
eyes that reminded Lee so much of Diane. And the corners of Carey’s mouth
drooped, as if her grateful smile had just finally given up and gone home. She
had attempted to fix her hair by pulling it back with a couple of clips, but in
the end, the normally loose brown curls looked like someone had trampled them with
heavy boots. Her husband stood in the background, arms folded across his chest,
the tall pines reflected in his metallic sunglasses.

“I wanted to
thank you for taking care of things the other night,” she began. “This has been
a difficult few days, and I haven’t had a chance to call you.”

She stopped as
if the strain would overcome her. Lee was about to say something, when Carey reached
into her purse and pulled out a small, carved onyx bird, not much larger than a
golf ball.

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