Zachary Gagewood has seen his share of dead bodies in the time that he’s lived in Gresham. It seemed like many of the big events he attended seemed to end abruptly due to someone’s tragic death. It never happened with anything he planned for The Literary Barn, his cozy bookstore nestled in the heart of Gresham... until now.
An old friend that Zachary grew up with, Grady Bergner, has become a successful published author, and he is eager to come to town when Zachary invites him to The Literary Barn for a reading of his latest novel, Raven’s Wrath. However, the two old friends quickly turn sour when Grady gives an all-too-frank opinion about Zachary’s first manuscript. Before the two can make up, however, Grady ends up dead, with one of Zachary’s bookshelves crushing him.
Zachary is absolved of the crime when it’s proven he was far enough away from Grady, but the bookstore owner is still rattled about cold-blooded murder being committed at his own business, so he sets out to find yet another killer. Is it the literary agent who was draining Grady dry? The woman who claims the story for Raven’s Wrath was actually hers? The mystery man who followed Grady to town hoping to meet his favorite author? Whoever it is, the killer could be planning to take out Zachary next!
Zachary and Newell moved quickly to ensure the chickens received their grain, and the horses their hay. They opened the doors to the barn to see a black sedan coming along the drive toward the house.
“Hmm. Looks like we’ve got company,” Newell mused.
Zachary folded his arms. “At five o’clock in the morning? I’m wondering if one of us should be armed.”
“I doubt it. It seems a little odd for someone intending to cause us harm to do so with the sun rising in the sky. Probably just a lost tourist.”
The driver-side door of the sedan opened, and Grady stepped out. Zachary’s jaw dropped, as Grady was the last person he expected to see, let alone at that hour.
“Hi, Zach. I was hoping you were awake. I just wanted to make sure everything was good to go for tonight.”READ MORE
Zachary hesitated before answering, “Well, I haven’t cancelled the event yet, although I’ve been a little concerned. I’ve been trying to find you since yesterday morning. Where the hell have you been?”
“Oh, that. I got a last-minute call to speak to a writers group up in Ashland yesterday afternoon, so I figured I’d squeeze that in and then return for tonight. Sorry, I guess I should have given you a heads-up so you didn’t worry.”
“I see. Did you tell your agent? He’s been bugging the crap out of me for almost a week, and then suddenly there was radio silence. He didn’t even return my phone calls, which raised all kinds of bells and whistles for me.”
Grady paused conspicuously before replying, “Ah. Well, there’s an explanation for that, too. Lowell’s daughter had to have an emergency appendectomy, so he hasn’t been answering his phone. I wouldn’t worry. He’s going to be here tonight, so I’d enjoy the peace and quiet while you can.”
“I see. Well, I hope the Templeton family is doing well. As far as tonight, we’re good to go at six-thirty. If you want to show up a half-hour before, we can do an equipment check and finish getting everything set up. I take it you’ll need one of my employees to sell some books for those who haven’t already purchased a copy, although I think, in the last week, I’ve sold a copy to every man, woman and child in the village of Gresham.” Zachary chuckled as he realized how much truth there was to the line.
Grady gave a half-hearted laugh, which raised Zachary’s suspicions even more. “Hey, has anyone called you in the last few days looking for me?”
“No one beyond the usual fans confirming you’re going to be there tonight. Why?”
Grady smiled and shook his head. “No reason. You know, I envy you.”
Zachary did a double take. “You do? Why?”
“I’m looking around at all this country beauty, and you guys get to wake up to it every morning. Do you know what I usually wake up to? Honking horns and smog.”
Newell chuckled. “Yeah, that lifestyle is not for us. I got lucky getting this property after my grandparents passed away. It was amazing, but not as amazing as the day Zach moved in with me. He’s proven to be a valuable part of my life.”
“Yeah, Zach’s definitely one of the good ones. So, are you two actually married?”
“No. We bicker like a married couple at times, but we don’t have that piece of paper declaring us ball and chain.”
“Hmm. That’s interesting. I would think that, with all the fighting for marriage equality, you two would want to have your relationship validated the same as any other marriage.”
Newell stepped behind Zachary and wrapped his arms around his sweetheart. “I can see that, but I really don’t need the state to validate my love for this man. I’m his, and he’s mine.”
Grady shrugged. “Well, to each his own. I guess I should get going and let you two continue with your morning. I just wanted to make you aware that I was back in town, and I’m really looking forward to tonight.”
“Are you sure you don’t want to stick around? We were about to make breakfast.”
“Nah. I already interrupted your guys’ privacy, and I don’t want to overstep.”
“Okay, but you’re missing yummy waffles.”
Zachary patted Newell’s right arm, which was still wrapped around him. “No worries, dear. Maybe we can bring him some waffles for tonight. He’s probably going to be famished by the time he gets through that long line of people. If we don’t bring him waffles, then perhaps we could even take him to Sigrid’s like we discussed the other night.”
Newell nodded as his hug loosened and he put his hands on Zachary’s shoulders. “See, this is why I love you. You’re absolutely right.”
“Grady, before you go, I wanted to ask you if you had a chance to go through my manuscript.”
Grady had another conspicuous pause. “Yes. Yes, I did. Let me go grab it for you, and we can talk about it in more detail later tonight, after the reading.” Grady walked over to the back-passenger door, opened it, and pulled out the manuscript. “You’ve got an interesting concept, but I’m afraid there’s a lot of basics that need to be improved before you can even hope to grab a publisher’s attention. We’ll talk more tonight, but I’ve got to jet. We’ll be in touch, my friend.” With that, he hurriedly handed the manuscript to Zachary and jumped back in his sedan.
Newell sighed as the sedan turned around and headed toward the road. “I’m so sorry, honey. I know that was not the response you were expecting about your manuscript. Let’s go inside, and I’ll make you some waffles to drown your sorrows.”
Zachary’s head was spinning. “Yeah, I guess.”
He opened the front door, and his dog, Toby, came racing out, hurried to the edge of the park, looking toward the disappearing sedan and growled. It wasn’t his usual cautionary low growl. It was the loud growl he expressed whenever he flat out didn’t like someone.
Newell whistled to get Toby’s attention. “Hey, Toby! What’s going on with you? Get inside!” He glanced at Zachary. “What’s gotten into your dog?”
“He’s sensing the same thing that I am—there’s something fishy going on with Grady.”
“I admit your dog is many things, but I don’t think he understands when a review of a manuscript is suspect.”
“Growling over a bad review? Get real, Newell. I was ready to growl myself, because that son of a bitch flat out lied to our faces.”
Newell did a double take as Toby trotted back inside and the humans followed. “Really? How could you tell?”
“His story had holes big enough to drive your truck through.” Zachary tossed the manuscript onto the kitchen counter. “He had a last-minute detour to the Ashland library? Number one, I find it highly unlikely that he got a call from the librarian of a small city library on the weekend asking him to come and speak to a writing group. Second, Grady and other professional authors charge a fee for their engagements, and for public libraries, such events are paid for by a Friends of the Library group, and those groups usually have to meet and vote on how they spend the money they raise, and I find it even more unlikely that the group wanted to meet on the weekend and decide it needed to have Grady at the library that Monday.”
Newell sat at the counter. “And this all came about after he pulled out of dinner with us at the last minute because he got that call from his ex. I see what you mean.”
“Not to mention being out here at five in the morning?” Zachary pointed to the wall clock with one hand as he pulled out the waffle iron with the other. “Something bigger is going on, and I really hope it doesn’t come to a head at tonight’s reading.”
“What do you think is going on?”
Zachary grabbed the waffle mix and a bowl. “I don’t know, but to disappear for two days when you’re getting ready to do a reading at a friend’s bookstore, I wouldn’t be surprised if we were raided by mobsters or FBI agents—possibly even both.”
Newell started looking at Zachary’s manuscript, and his eyes widened. “Zach, didn’t you tell me the title of your book was A Reduction in the Population of Six Hundred?”
“Sure. I thought that was a pretty catchy title myself. I guess the professional author didn’t like it, but considering the web of lies that has come out of his mouth so far, I’m not going to be deterred by his feedback. In fact, I’m not even going to bother looking over the manuscript until after Grady leaves. Otherwise, I might drop kick the jackass to his next engagement.”
“Um, you might want to reconsider that, honey.”
Newell held up the cover page for Zachary to look at. Instead of the page saying, “A Reduction in the Population of Six Hundred by Zachary Gagewood,” it said, “Dropping the Village’s Population by Grady Bergner.” Zachary gasped as he took the manuscript out of Newell’s hand. He thumbed through a dozen pages. It was his manuscript, but with a different cover page. On the cover page, handwritten, was a note that read: “Send to Januscript Publishing: 307 Fifth Avenue, Madison, WI.”
“Un-freakin’-believable,” Zachary snarled. “That whole song and dance about needing to improve on the basics was a smokescreen. That rat bastard was going to sell my manuscript and claim it as his own!”
A worried expression filled Newell’s face. “I sense from your reaction that your day’s plans have just changed drastically. Care to share?”
“Well, at nine o’clock, I’m going to put in a little call to Januscript Publishing and head this little attempt at fraud off at the pass. Then I’m going to prepare for my good friend’s reading, and once he’s done charming his fans this evening, he and I will have a ‘Come to Jesus’ meeting.”
Newell glanced at Toby, who’d been sitting close to the stool. “Yep, I knew it, dog. Your master is going to turn a discussion into a showdown.”COLLAPSE