Ghost Lake is the third book in the Maggie Lyon Mysteries, which follows Murdered Justice (2017) and Pennington’s Hoax. (2018). In the excerpt below, Maggie has just found out that while she was in New Orleans getting to the bottom of Ely Pennington’s murder in Book II, her celebrity-chef husband Mark-Mario purchased a new restaurant without telling her. Furthermore, he’s bought an enormous house in the woods near Ghost Lake in Perth, Washington just north of Portland, Oregon.
Instead of heading back right away to the hotel in Portland, Mark-Mario took the county road adjacent to the restaurant, which ran north through the blueberry fields. Just past the berries was an area that had to have been lakefront property when Ghost Lake was still an actual lake. The surrounding land was thick with trees, and if Mark-Mario had not made a sharp right onto a private one-lane gravel road, I would never have noticed the camouflaged opening that led to a forest.
“Where are we going now?” I asked.
“Just wait,” he said.
We bounced along the rocks for the distance of a city block, and then we paused at an iron gate. Along the path were warning signs not to trespass, not to hunt, not to expect a place to turn around, not to trespass, not to risk prosecution, not to miss the fact that there were alarms and video surveillance ahead, and not to trespass. The oft-repeated message not to trespass was either due to willful disobedience on the part of countless trespassers, or the owners wanted to make sure that any interlopers got the message before proceeding. I was ready to turn back.
Mark-Mario moved slightly in his seat, and then the gate parted in the middle and swung out of the way so we could drive through. The gravel road turned into a new asphalt drive that curved to the right, back to the left and then straight up for a quarter-mile before leveling out and curving once again.
For the entire driveway, I wondered whom we were visiting, but those thoughts were secondary to the park-like setting of the various maples, clusters of alder, mounds of bramble, and a number of old-growth evergreens whose lowest branches began at a point much higher than my view from the car allowed. All I could see were their massive trunks. Acres of moss blanketed the various surfaces, and when I rolled the window down, the smell of the moist air hit me. There is no smell like that in Manhattan.
We dipped slightly after the final curve, and there it was: a rather massive two-story house with a wraparound porch. The structure was a modern version of a craftsman bungalow blown up to a size that no doubt matched the area’s inflated real estate prices. There was a large outbuilding to the right, and the cleared land in front of the house sloped downward in the direction from which we’d come. Because of the massive lawn, one had the sense that the house was not hidden in thick growth, but the yard’s lower border, as well as the areas behind the house and to its right and left of the clearing, were old-growth forest. The house had purposely been placed out of sight, beyond casual viewing by the random passerby. You had to be invited to a house like this.
“Who lives here?” I asked.
“Go ahead and get out of the car,” said Mark-Mario.
I did as I was told, but held back. With all those no trespassing signs posted below, it mattered not that someone had seen us and opened the gate. I wanted to know who lived there before taking another step.
“C’mon! I want to show you!”
“Show me what?” I demanded. “Who lives here?”
“No one at the moment—”
“Then who let us in?”
“I did. With the remote.” He pulled out a small remote control and showed me, beaming at his cleverness.
“We shouldn’t be here.”
“Don’t be silly,” he insisted. “The place is ours!”
“What?” I was shrill again.
“Or it will be in two days. We close on the property and take possession then. The current owners moved out last week, and the Realtor said I could bring you to see it.”
“You bought a house without me seeing it?” I demanded. “We’ve talked about how a lack of communication nearly ruined our marriage! How are we supposed to be making decisions together, living our lives together—a team like we used to be—when you buy a house without getting my opinion?”
“You’re welcome,” he said sarcastically.
“You’re not going to make me feel bad for this.”
“Hold on, Maggie. Tell me something. Was that not the most beautiful drive to a house that you’ve ever seen?”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. The point is—”
“And this house! What’s not to love? Look at that porch! And wait until you see inside!”
“That’s my point!” I was so upset with him.
“You’ve seen inside.”
“You’ve seen inside; you’ve walked the property. You know what’s inside that barn. You know how to get to the village—what’s it called?”
“Perth,” I spat. “I can’t even recall the name of the town, and yet it seems that I’m about to become one of its residents—”
“We’re actually several miles from Perth,” he deadpanned.
“How would I know? You’ve chosen a house in the middle of—”
“Near our new restaurant.”
“Don’t get me started on your new restaurant! You selected a site, built a tavern, hired a staff, and created an entire business while I was still in New Orleans. You hadn’t even asked me to come here until a few days ago, and now that I have, I find that I’m just supposed to give up my life on the East Coast and move into this enormous house in the woods! What am I supposed to do now? Pick apples and bake pies all day?”
“The apples don’t ripen until September, and you’ve sampled the tavern’s desserts. I doubt you’ll be baking pies.”
“Don’t get smart with me Mark-Mario Van Heflin-Schröder! If you think for one minute that I’m going to entertain the thought of—”
“Oh, come down off your high horse, Maggie Lyon!”
“What did you say?” I yelled.
“Ever since we got up this morning you’ve done your level best to ruin a perfectly good day!” he shouted. “I was excited to show you the restaurant, and you bitched—yes bitched!—all the way up here about location, location, location! You insisted that my efforts were wasted on the locals as if they’re some sort of Neanderthals that can’t appreciate anything except cold oatmeal and bologna sandwiches! Then you finally calm down during dinner only to flip out when I tell you that I’ve bought a house for you. Yes! I knew you hadn’t seen it, but I know the things you like. I’ve heard the things you’ve mentioned over the years in regard to your dream house! Give me some credit, woman! This is supposed to be a happy moment!”
“A happy moment?”
“How many women do you know whose husbands have paid cash for a place like this, knowing that almost every detail inside is going to please her? Just how appreciative do you think they would be?”
“I don’t know anyone like that—”
“Of course you don’t. So why don’t you just take a breath. No! Take two breaths, and march yourself inside!”
I was fuming! Not even in our worst arguments of the past twenty-something years had Mark-Mario ever yelled at me like that, but he was right. I’d spoken my mind all day long. Part of our reconciliation had been about open lines of communication and respecting each other’s goals. His goal was to run his new restaurant. My goal was to write my next book and move onto my next assignment. When we’d spoken on the phone while I was still in New Orleans, he’d asked me to come to “Portland…forever.” I was open to Portland, but I never agreed to Perth, Washington. We were miles from Portland. I’d been shanghaied!
© 2020 by Patrick Brown
To learn more about my books, including the three mysteries featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: Patrick Brown on Amazon