Ghost Lake and Maggie’s New House

Ghost Lake is the third book in the Maggie Lyon trilogy.

 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?”

I paused.

“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.

“What?”

You’ve seen inside.”

“Of course!”

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.”

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

 

 

Remembering a Great Companion

“Then she fretted, ah, she fretted, 

But ’ere six months had gone past

She had got another poodle dog

   Exactly like the last…”

 

Please forgive my laziness if this stanza originates from another author, but Barbara Pym used it without a credit in the novel Some Tame Gazelle. Miss Pym assigned the passage to one of her characters as an uncharitable opinion of one who could find love, lose it, and easily replace it. The quote sticks with me because of a deep and abiding love, the loss of which I continue to feel sharply from time to time.

 I often state that the best days are those when we live in the moment without sticking to a rigid plan. Go where your heart takes you, and let the hours unfold as they will. You’ll surely be blessed in unimaginable ways. That’s what happened a little over 26 years ago when I was out running errands and came home unexpectedly with Phoebe, a nine week-old Pembroke Welsh Corgi.
I wasn’t totally unprepared. I’d loved the breed for years, and had read three books on the care and feeding of these clever dogs that will loyally support you when they’re not trying to push you to your limits. I simply wasn’t prepared that day to take on the unexpected responsibility. I hadn’t purchased any equipment, food, or toys, and I hadn’t even spoken to the landlord about a pet deposit even though he was pet friendly. I was aware of a possible litter, but there is usually a waiting list. The day unfolded as it should, and I showed up with a sweet puppy that quickly decided I wasn’t “all that” after she spent a few hours with me.

She eagerly jumped into my arms when we met, and I knew she wanted me to facilitate her escape from the other dogs. Yes! I love you so much! Now please take me with you! I knew she was communicating. I introduced her to my animal-loving neighbor Diana as I got out of the car. Love at first sight between those two. My roommate came home a few hours later to see Phoebe, already unimpressed with me, halfway passed out on the dining room floor. She preferred the hard surface to my arms. She rallied enough to feign some enthusiasm with him before she sauntered back to her spot under the table. I could imagine what she was thinking. Of all the humans that had to show up, it had to be that chatty one who never stops talking to me, and now there’s this taller one who thinks he can tell me what to do. Just wait, Stringbean, I’ve got plans for you!

During her first vet visit, the doctor asked me how familiar I was with Corgis. “I’ve read the books.” And was I aware that these little connivers will try anything and everything once to see if they can get away with it. “Be sure that you are firm and let her know who’s boss. If you’re lax just once, she’ll continue to misbehave. She’s smart and trainable, but make sure you’re the one doing the training.

I was frazzled as a new parent in those early months, but Phoebe was the best dog I’ve ever had. Quite soon and throughout her life, she understood me. Without words, and using only a couple of distinct sounds, I could signal my intentions and she complied. She got into trouble a few times, but her transgressions were usually accidental. She once gnawed the corner of the sofa, but she somehow managed to lift up the fabric panels so that no one could see the damage. She once pulled a string on a rag rug that caused her to greet me at the door with her head hung in shame, but I managed a passable repair so that the damage went unnoticed for a year. We made the best companions even if we were occasionally put out by the other’s need for independent thinking.

My sweet companion.

I could write a book about her cleverness, but everyone’s dog is clever. So are people’s cats. We love our pets, and are heartbroken when they’re no longer with us. Phoebe has been showing up in dreams lately. She has over the years, but two recent dreams were especially vivid. I realize now that she’s been gone the same length of time that she was alive, and yet it’s still not long enough for me to consider filling the void she left behind. I’m just not ready.

© 2020 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the three featuring Maggie Lyon, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

 

 

 

Getting to Know All About You

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Looking forward to the day when New York City is vibrant and active again. Be safe everyone!

How are you getting along during this massive planetary cultural shift? We are coming to realize that life, as we knew it, will be forever changed. The self-described cheerleaders tell us that we’re going to win and then we can forget that this ever happened. The pessimists insist that we’ll never get to leave our houses again. I’m in the camp that believes we have to stay informed by scientific experts, ignore the flippancy of unreliable opinion, and continually find ways to stave off boredom while we cannot recreate, travel, and consume in our usually ravenous ways. It’s unlikely that we’ll become what we were, but that’s okay. I’m doing my best to grow.

I rarely have enough time to explore new pursuits, but staying home as much as possible has allowed me several opportunities. I’ve always cooked, but now I’m trying some new things like deep-dish pizza and french-fries. I like these things, but had never made them at home. As my clothes get tighter, I realize that I probably shouldn’t have learned how.

In the yard, I’ve finally taken the time to make some changes I’ve been pondering, and I can’t begin to tell you how excited I am to have every closet in the house organized. I’m almost finished with the drawers, and then I’ll start on the garage. It’s a pity that no one will ever see any of it, but I can breathe deeply knowing that Martha Stewart would be eaten up with jealousy if she could see my colorized linen closet.

As far as television goes, I’m weary of the production values. Daily broadcasts are the quality of YouTube videos manufactured in lonely basements. I recommend hiatus, but I suppose the bosses don’t want to lose the audience and the advertising revenue. And you can’t really show reruns of the news, though I liked the editions that ran prior to 2015. One advantage is that we get to see inside the houses of celebrities and reporters. Judging by the light fixtures, one national reporter has a gorgeous Manhattan apartment. I can’t see much of the furniture because she keeps her laptop camera positioned at a most unflattering angle. Assuming that it’s actually her place, I had a sad thought that she’s been traveling the world for years and has probably never enjoyed the space until now. And when I think that it’s likely less than 800 sq. ft., she’s probably going crazy at this very moment to leave it behind forever!

I’ve always been very comfortable staying home, amusing myself, filling the hours, and not panicking about the empty streets. That said, thank goodness for social media to give that sense of connection. Leslie Jordan cheers me up with his clips on Instagram, and I have a steady stream of new viewing suggestions via Facebook. I’ve learned how to Zoom, and I think my social life might actually have improved since the isolation began. It’s become quite clear to me how someone under house arrest could actually run a corporation, go shopping, get food and see their loved ones whenever they want. There’s no hugging or hand-holding, of course, but we’re in constant contact and getting to know each other in entirely new ways.

Some very creative friends on social media have been asking all of us to reveal various aspects of our lives that the world might not know. Thanks to the responses, we all know a little more. And when I say “we,” of course I’m including the foreign powers and worker bees of Facebook who devise and study all those algorithms to use our innermost secrets to manipulate us and perhaps turn a profit for the people who don’t need any more money.

While I value my privacy, I love finding out that one of my very good friends once held a television star’s handbag while picking up a holiday ham. Almost 40 years of friendship, and somehow that tale slipped through the cracks. On other days, we’ve been asked to guess which of the list of statements untrue. The statements have something to do with one’s past activities, and I cannot stop smiling when I read that one very good friend once spent some time listening to Joan Baez playing through some of her early music before she was famous. If that had happened to me, I would’ve been telling that story every day for the past 50 years.

I think the list that appeals to me most is the one where friends are supposed to guess which job the posting person did NOT have among the list. I love finding out that someone trained animals and served as a church minister though I don’t think these two lines of work were simultaneous. The individual didn’t make this clear.

Paranoia is the greatest preventative against my listing various and sundry tidbits for public consumption, but the job listing post caused me to think about the various work I’ve undertaken. Most people know about my having been a church musician along with my nonprofit stints, but it’s not widely known that I worked a construction job building pipe organs, spent four years as a visual merchandiser (fancy name for a department store window dresser), worked as a Realtor, spent a few months of misery as a collections agent where I became a whiz at tracing skipped accounts, worked in a bakery, worked as a caterer, typed work orders for the motor pool at a National Guard armory, and headed up the maintenance department of a local awning company in a California suburb.

I probably shouldn’t count that last thing since it was the most short-lived job I’ve ever had. I was reluctant to take the position, but the promised compensation sounded great. The owner was one of the oddest people I’ve ever met. He was short on staff and wanted me to hire some people. Until then, when we got calls, would I humor him and alter my voice as I put customers on hold and made them wait a few minutes before assisting them in my normal voice? He wanted to give the impression that the outfit was a much larger company so he could justify his pricing. As much as making up voices sounds like my dream job, ten hours of his other eccentricities had me weighing my options. I phoned the next morning.

“We were just sitting here taking bets as to whether we’d ever hear from you again!” He was laughing like it was a real knee-slapper. “How’d YOU bet?” I asked. “Everybody else said you’d be in, but I said you wouldn’t be back!” More laughter. The heat crept up the back of my neck as my temper surfaced. “Congratulations! You win!” The next thing he heard was my slamming down the phone in his ear.

I wish for everyone to stay safe and hope you have the courage to hang up on the fools who try to interfere in your life.

© 2020 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, including the three featuring Maggie Lyon and two that are filled with riotously funny moments, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1

 

 

 

Can We Laugh During an Apocalypse?

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If you want some good laughs during social distancing, “Moral Ambiguity” will take your mind off all of our problems.

I know a woman who can’t suppress the uncontrollable urge to snicker during funerals, and several times has had to get up and leave while trying to disguise her convulsive giggles as extreme grief. She explained that people understand heavy emotions for a dearly departed loved one, but no one buys it when the deceased is the reclusive distant relative of an elderly neighbor she agreed to drive to the memorial service. What they must’ve thought about that poor woman fleeing the church during the funeral only to be spotted afterward standing under an oak tree grinning like the Cheshire Cat.

“They must’ve thought I was clinically insane!” she declared.

I’ve had my suspicions, but not just because of her uncontrolled laughter, which I once witnessed firsthand. Something in the eulogy landed strangely with her, and before I realized what had happened, she was rocking back and forth with her eyes squeezed shut and her body jerking as though something was coming back up.

Who hasn’t had to fight laughter at the most inappropriate moment?

These days I cherish any opportunity to laugh. Even before the pandemic, a good deal of our waking hours during the past few years has been distracted by the shenanigans of those who dominate the lamentable 24-hour news cycle. Very little has seemed funny except for satire.

Historically, some of the best comedians have drawn from the darkness, transforming it into something acceptable in a way to cope with tragedy. Even if they haven’t succeeded into making the darkest moments acceptable, they’ve helped us laugh at the ridiculous aspects of planetary evil.

Charlie Chaplin’s The Great Dictator (1940) allowed audiences the opportunity to see the foolishness of Fascism at the very moment the infamous failed art student goose-stepped across Europe. Thank goodness we have late night shows across many networks as well as countless funny people appearing in various formats to point out the ridiculous as we struggle to find answers to why any number of crises have gotten out of hand.

I have never been nostalgic for any sort of good old days because I have never heard of any. My parents lived through the Great Depression, WWII, the Korean Conflict, McCarthyism, the JFK assassination, and the Viet Nam War as I came along and experienced the 1968 assassinations, the energy crisis, an inflated economy, the Iran Hostage Crisis, recessions, the HIV-AIDS crisis, The Challenger tragedy, riots, terrorism, and now the latest pandemic. It’s hard to believe than anyone could find anything to laugh about during those times, but there have been wonderful distractions to keep us from losing hope between the truly breathtaking moments such as Woodstock, the moon landing, the March on Washington, the Civil Rights Act, Marriage Equality, and other moments of resolution that happened after thinking for so long that life would never be good again.

There are so many uncertainties. We have so few answers, and we don’t know if the stores are ever going to have paper products again. We’ve been called upon to adjust in ways we have never had to do. The ennui was unmistakable in the days before self-isolation and shelter in place. I witnessed the feelings of panic and depression as colliding shopping carts overflowed with supplies, a lot of which plays no part in slowing the spread of the virus.

Humor seems to have left the building—literally, as television production takes a hiatus. We’re isolated, so no joyous get-togethers to celebrate milestones or gatherings to take our minds off of the heaviness. But we need laughter to prevent our complete descent into desperation. It’s up to us to find the jokes whether or not we share them with friends. Something that was insignificant until recently was toilet tissue. Now we can’t stop talking about it since its current value is equal to diamonds (well, probably sapphires not diamonds). There are a lot of jokes there, and we should make them.

My parents grew up in the 1930s and 40s, and I heard so many sad stories about starvation and the fear of foreign attack. The available news footage from the era shows a black-and-white world of poverty and loss. There are no smiling faces until after the Normandy Invasion. War and economic depression were sad times, and I assumed no one laughed for decades, but I’ve seen enough comedic films from the era to know that people were laughing. More importantly, my parents and their siblings were very often funny, and that didn’t simply start with the post-war era.

No, we can’t laugh on days like Pearl Harbor and 9/11, as doing so would be like laughing during a funeral, but when the smoke clears and we find ways to adjust to the unprecedented, let’s find something that makes us laugh until we’re once again aching and breathless. The very worst of people and events are weakened by laughter.

© 2020 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, including the three featuring Maggie Lyon and two that are filled with riotously funny moments, visit my author page at: http://www.amazon.com/Patrick-Brown/e/B005F0CYH2/ref=sr_ntt_srch_lnk_1?qid=1419885131&sr=8-1