QSFer Lloyd Meeker has a new paranormal mystery book out:
Family squabbles can be murder. Psychic PI Russ Morgan investigates a vandalized marijuana grow in Mesa County Colorado, landing in the middle of a ferocious family feud that’s escalating in a hurry. Five siblings fight over the family ranch as it staggers on the brink of bankruptcy, marijuana its only salvation.
Not everyone agrees, but only one of them is willing to kill to make a point. Russ also has a personal puzzle to solve as he questions his deepening relationship with Colin Stewart, a man half his age. His rational mind says being with Colin is the fast track to heartbreak, but it feels grounding, sane, and good. Now, that’s really dangerous…
In the morning, I cranked on the coffee at six, fed Colin, and kissed him good-bye at the door. I watched him bounce down the steps, his youthful energy sparking off him in every direction, happy and optimistic. He must have felt me watching, because he turned and waved, a goofy schoolboy grin on his face as he slung his backpack over a shoulder and headed downtown.
Feeling disoriented in my own home, I nursed my coffee and rattled around the upstairs of my pre-WWII duplex. I’d opened it into a sleeping area with bathroom in the back, and a pleasant sitting nook at the front looking out over 16th Avenue. I loved my little home, but Colin’s absence sat in every corner like a thick cloud.
Apparently, it had been too long since I missed someone, because it felt like a big deal. One of my voices said I was getting involved too deep, too fast. But missing him felt good, too—a sweet ache with an exquisite cure. I’d insisted he leave his hiking clothes for me to wash, so I threw them into a load of laundry. After burying my face in them for a hungry huff. Or two. Miraculous and intoxicating.
Bewitching, green-eyed Colin. I’d met him on an assignment last summer. As a paralegal and executive assistant to Andrew Kommen of the big downtown firm Stelnach, Breyer and Kommen, he’d been my liaison in a case involving an especially dysfunctional family.
We’d flirted a bit, very mildly at the time, and after the case had been resolved, I invited him to a baseball game. Whether or not that had been a good idea, I’d never know. It was far too late to change the past.
But as he’d said last night, I’d been elusive. He really had run me to ground. He asked me to go on hikes last fall, and I’d declined. He invited me to go to the aquarium, and we spent a wonderful afternoon strolling through the tanks and exhibits.
He wasn’t aggressive in his pursuit; he just wouldn’t let up, relentless as a starfish opening an oyster. He badgered me into seeing the movie “Pride” with him, even though I told him I didn’t go to movies much because the sound overwhelmed me, got too far inside me. But he persisted until I said yes, promising he would take care of me. And he did, holding my hand while I bawled like a baby as a hall full of Welsh mining families sang Bread and Roses.
Then he showed up on my doorstep last Christmas Eve wearing an elf costume, complete with green tights and curly-toed shoes, looking more edible than any sugar plum. He had a present for me—a book we’d discussed weeks earlier. I couldn’t help myself, and asked him if he minded going out to a restaurant as an elf. We ended up at Le Central and had a magical, candlelit Christmas Eve dinner. That had been the real beginning, I saw in hindsight.
Now, as I cleaned out my fridge and packed for a week on the western slope, I reflected on how defensive I’d been against Colin’s advances, again ashamed for my cowardice. It wasn’t that I was too fearful or passive, a voice pretending to be common sense, insisted. I just wanted to be sure I wasn’t taking a wrong step and setting us both up for heartache.
But surely that was a risk shared by both of us, another voice said. We were both adults. My gut still insisted more of that responsibility was mine. I was the older, experienced one, after all. Wasn’t that the way responsibility usually worked?
I set the security alarm and locked up the house, stopping next to my car for a moment to enjoy the heat of the morning sun, already sharp on my skin. I threw my backpack and duffel in the trunk and headed for 8th Avenue, my best route out of town.
The five-hour drive to Grand Junction gave me plenty of time to reflect further on developments with the young Mr. Stewart. I had to stop being so skittish. If Colin really wanted to date, I had to stop insisting he didn’t know what he was doing. He was an adult, and I had to respect that.
I came to that lofty realization driving through Glenwood Canyon with the ageless Leontyne Price singing Madama Butterfly, soaring and tragic, filling the car. The drama queen in me said I might be setting myself up to be Butterfly, but that was silly. I could take care of myself. And Colin wasn’t Butterfly either. I just had to make sure I wasn’t Pinkerton.
The directions to the ranch were simple and clear. Before long, I turned off the highway at a ten-foot sandstone cairn holding a wooden sign, painted white with green lettering, announcing this was the Ellis Ranch, founded 1906. The sign had needed repainting for a few years.
The red dirt road rose in a gentle climb and curved off to the left. A billow of dust swirled out behind my car even though I drove slowly. The dormers of the house eventually rose from behind a stand of massive rough-barked cottonwoods. They’d been shielding the house from road traffic for a long time.
By the time I’d parked in front of the house, also painted white with green trim, Evan Landry was waiting for me on the deep veranda that ran the full length of the structure. The clock in my dash said two thirty.
I got out and closed the car door, glad to stand up. Warm, sweet, pine-scented air flowed over me like a welcoming gift. The house was big, and while it wasn’t exactly falling apart, it certainly hadn’t been kept up to its original standards.
Landry and I shook hands. “You should park around back later, but there’s no rush,” he said crisply, very much the employer in charge. Which he was. “I’ll show you to your room first, then give you a quick tour around the main buildings.”
I nodded and locked the car, leaving my things in it. City habit come to the country, maybe, but I was here to investigate a crime, most likely committed by someone who lived here. Better to be safe than sorry.
He led me into a room two stories high, easily twenty- five feet deep and at least as wide. After driving in the bright daylight, it took a moment for my eyes to adjust to the dim interior. Except for the daylight from the windows opening to the shaded veranda behind me, the only source of light came from the ceiling twenty feet up.
“Welcome to the ancestral seat,” Landry said. He swept his arm in a sarcastic, grandiose gesture. “Behold its glory.”
I did. It still had some. Above the dark wood paneling of the main floor, the tired yellow walls were dotted with antlered game trophies interspersed with a few large Western-themed paintings.
Three large carpets covered parts of the plank floor, creating sitting areas set with heavy, simple furniture. The carpet under my feet, a dark red Persian, had worn through in several places. I could imagine it had survived generations of boots traipsing across it before fraying. To my left, a giant fireplace with firewood laid but unlit, dominated one wall. The long mantel held the usual stuff—a plate held vertically for display, candlesticks, a brass tray dark with tarnish propped against the wainscoting, and a cluster of photos in pewter-colored frames.
Just beyond the fireplace, a wood-paneled hallway led somewhere. In line with it on the opposite side of the room, a matching hall led away in the other direction. From above each opposing lintel, a large cougar head snarled down at us with fangs bared. Beyond the hallways and off to the right, a wide staircase led upward, attended by its own rising procession of frames and plaques.
It had taken generations of successful Ellises to build this house. I guessed it had been finished post-WWII. Not really that old, but it smelled ancient and defeated. I opened my sensitivity a bit. Not a happy place. Full of… bitterness was the first word that came to me.
Landry pointed to the hall beyond the fireplace. “Stanford’s office is just in there. We’ll check in with him later.”
He marched across the room, leading me to an arch opposite the door we’d come in. “Through there on the left is the dining room and the kitchen. You’ll see those soon enough. And at the end of the hall, the back door opens to the barns and outbuildings. That’s where we’re headed as soon as we get you settled.”
He waved at the staircase. “All our bedrooms are upstairs,” he said. “Yours, too.” We headed up.
When we got to my room, I noticed my door had no lock, but it seemed impolite to point it out. As we exited, I again got a shadow of uncertainty about its security, and I couldn’t ignore my intuition twice.
“I’m a little concerned about how safe my computer and records might be in here,” I said. “What do you think?”
Landry looked offended at first, but as I watched him think about it, I could tell the risk was real. “No one would dare.” He didn’t look as confident as he sounded.
“Someone dared trash Sarah’s business. You suspect someone who lives in this house, maybe even on this floor,” I said. “It’s not much of a stretch for me to imagine that whoever did it would be quite willing to come in here and take my notes or anything else that might cause a problem for them.”
“Let me think about it,” he said. “In the meantime, make sure you hold on to everything you want to keep safe.”
At the top of the stairs, he paused. “To be honest, I hadn’t thought about that,” he said, as close to an apology as I’d seen him get, “but you’re right. We need to find you a solution. I’ll introduce you to Stanford now,” he said brusquely. “I assume you’ll want to interview him first.”
“I think I’d prefer to interview your sister first and inspect the damage to the property while it’s light. Then I think an interview with Ellis Sr. would be good. Does that timing work all right with him?”
“You still need to check in with Stanford first. It’s the way things are done.”
We crossed the great room and headed down the hall past the fireplace.
“This is his office,” he said, knocking softly on the door. It was a surprisingly tentative knock from the in-charge Evan Landry I’d seen so far. From inside, a gruff, slightly raspy voice ordered us to enter.
Stanford Ellis Sr. sat at a giant roll-top desk, but he pushed away and swiveled to face us as we came in. He didn’t get up. Behind him, next to the desk stood a trestle table with stacks of files and loose papers. It didn’t look well organized.
Ellis was dressed in a worn work shirt, jeans, and boots. He looked the quintessential lean, tough, tall rancher, complete with square jaw and large, work-roughened hands. His eyes, however, were flat with despair. Frayed regret held him in a cloud. His aura hung dull and dense, odd for a man who had spent most of his life outdoors.
He looked first at Evan with what seemed to be irritation, and to my amazement, Evan cringed. His shoulders sagged, and his aura pulled in small. Was that a childhood response? Was he still afraid of Ellis in spite of his scorn and bravado? Something to think about.
When he was done silently putting Landry in his place, Ellis turned his attention to me, his leathery face impassive.
Evan cleared his throat. “This is Russ Morgan, Stanford. Russ, Stanford Ellis.”
I stepped forward and shook Ellis’s hand, not surprised at the firm dry grip of authority.
“So you think you can find out who tore up Sarah’s greenhouse?”
He was daring me to say yes, so I did. “Yes, sir, I believe I can.”
“Good. I’ve told everyone that I expect them to cooperate with you completely.” It felt like he was dismissing me. “They may not want to do that, but if they know what’s good for them, they will.” He turned his attention back to the papers on his desk.
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Long ago, in a life very far from here and now, I was a minister. Now I live with my husband in Ft. Lauderdale, FL.
After so many years of struggling to live as others said I should, I regularly find myself astonished at the power and beauty of living as I must. The more uncompromising I have become in navigating by the stars that are mine to follow, the more wonderful my journey has become. The Universe has been kinder and more generous to me than I had ever dared hope, let alone ask.
Although it took what has seemed a long time to find the hearth of creativity and happiness that is authentic to me, I have no regrets about the turbulent journey I traveled to find it. Now I apply myself to the disciplines, wonder, adventures, challenges and pleasures of walking my path. My heart is full of its rewards.
Most of what I write is called fantasy, but it’s the best way I know to tell my truth, the stories that are mine to tell. Everything I write turns in some way on the mystical inter-dependence of the visible and invisible worlds – spirit and form. The forces of these dimensions seek each other more passionately than lovers, and where they join in a human heart they unchain the mystery of beauty.
That heart knows, then, what seemed to be spirit or form is never exclusively only itself, what it might be without the other. In that heart the dictates of neither realm dominate alone, but together create in tidal ebb and flow between them. This, I believe, is where real magic rises, where life catches fire, and where good stories find their enduring power.