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

 

 

Ghost Lake: A Preview!

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Ghost Lake: The mists rise at dusk.

A few years ago I posted a story about a ghostly lake near my house. One or two comments suggested I develop the theme into a novel. I agreed that I could see the potential, but I was still focused on Murdered Justice, which was still a few months from being released. I was so thrilled to have signed with W & B Publishers, and I’d already begun researching and making notes for Pennington’s Hoax. I’d jotted down some possible ideas for books three and four of Maggie Lyon’s adventures, but none of those plots had her anywhere near what could easily turn out as a gothic mystery. Maggie deals with crime, conspiracy, and international intrigue. She’s not likely to find herself in a haunted house with a flashlight.

However, in real life I continued driving through the spectral mists while imagining the many possible creatures that could spring from the bushes onto the road. All sorts of criminals could be lurking within the brush, but I couldn’t see Maggie willingly leaving New York for haunted wetlands in the Pacific Northwest. As I was preparing to send Pennington’s Hoax to the publisher, I had an idea. Maggie wouldn’t “willingly” find herself living in the woods, but she might be convinced to give it a try. Pennington’s Hoax got a new ending, and readers will soon have a new installment of the Maggie Lyon Mysteries. I hope you enjoy this excerpt from Ghost Lake.

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Ghost Lake: A Maggie Lyon Mystery Coming Soon!

I changed into my hiking boots and decided to venture into the woods now that the rains had stopped for a couple of weeks and our bothersome handyman wasn’t around to stop me from exploring. If I ran across any wildlife, I hoped that it would be more scared of me than I was of it.

I expected that the brambles and vines would trip me up, but to my surprise there was a recently mowed trail that descended along the property line at a steady incline. There were giant firs to my right, and alders under-planted with hazelnuts and elderberry to my left. I couldn’t begin to count the various types of ferns, and I had an immediate sense of satisfaction that many people would pay good money and wait years to enjoy a native landscape like this. Even though the summer dry season had finally arrived, it was cool beneath the canopy. Vine maples at eye level, yellow maples towering above me.

I paused intermittently to examine the wild blackberries prior to ripening. In the densest part of the woods there were the last of the bleeding hearts and some other pink and purple flowers whose names I didn’t know. I spotted a wild rose before coming upon an apple tree in a clearing that still produced fruit in spite of limited sunlight.

There was movement in the bushes to my left, and I immediately turned. At the edge of the clearing, there was a doe with her fawn. The infant’s vibrant white spots stood out on its coat. The pair studied me, and I stood still to see how long they’d linger. We heard a hawk, and that caused them to dash further into the thicket.

I was delighted to discover a seasonal creek running through our property. I was positive that when the rains returned it would be challenging to cross this tributary. I wasn’t sure where it led, but most likely to the Lewis River. Perhaps it had once fed into Hathaway Lake – the ghost lake. I planned to hike the stream one day to find out where it ended. In the meantime, I trekked further and finally reached another clearing under the canopy. My husband Mark-Mario had been telling me that Greg the handyman had been working very hard at reclaiming the property’s neglected areas, but I couldn’t see that the man had done anything more than maintain this one long trail.

I looked around for a place to sit and enjoy nature, but wasn’t keen to sit on the ground. I proceeded further down the slope, trying not to think about the challenging up-hill climb that faced me on my return. The trail narrowed as I came to what I thought was the bottom. Greg had obviously used the tractor’s brush hog for the widest swaths, but the narrowness of the path before me was no wider in my estimation than a riding lawnmower.

Why had Greg meticulously maintained this trail at the property’s edge while warning me like a little girl in a fairy tale to beware of the dangers lurking within the forest? It stood to reason that there was an invisible food chain living in the woods. The deer would draw wolves or wildcats; possibly both. Smaller predators would seek out smaller prey, and while this ecosystem was clearly functioning, I sensed no danger. Perhaps I was too ignorant and foolish.

In movie theaters, audiences scream at the person on the screen to turn back. “Don’t go in there!” I could almost hear an audience in another dimension telling me to go back home as I plodded forward. The trail tapered into a path of hacked out bramble, and in spite of the dry season, there was moist ground beneath my feet. The organic redolence of decayed fallen trees hung in the air, and I breathed pure oxygen. I would’ve turned back, but I wanted more time in nature before I had to return to the problems that required my attention.

My feet sunk into the earth, and I pushed on a branch to steady my balance. I lifted myself to a spot just ahead, and I realized there was an old gate not too far beyond. It was made of metal; wood would have rotted over the years. Of course, the metal wasn’t faring too well, so I guessed that the gate was at least 40 years old. It wasn’t closed so I passed through it.

I stood underneath a trestle. Behind me was the forest’s dense canopy, but opening before me was tall and wide as if I were stepping into a cathedral. I could hear an occasional car overhead, and there was a trickle of water coming from somewhere. I looked back to see where I’d come from. I might have stepped into another dimension, and I didn’t want my way back to fade into the rest of the foliage leaving me trapped.

At that point I should have turned around. I was no longer on my property, but I was curious. I moved into a thick section of tall grass. I stepped in mud, and everywhere I turned I seemed to bog down to my ankles. My boots were ruined, but I continued until I emerged into an open field. I was in the marshes. I was standing in Ghost Lake, and before me was the yellow police tape marking off the area where they’d found that poor girl.

© 2019 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

 

 

 

I Prefer a Thief With Good Taste

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Pennington’s Hoax is available at Amazon or directly from W&B Publishers

Even if you had my address you might not be able to find the house. After winding around a state highway for several miles out of town, one must eventually leave the main road for a series of country roads that eventually lead to a curving path. Provided that one’s GPS is still getting a signal, there is still a ways to go. If one doesn’t miss the turn, which is almost as obscure as the one leading to the Bat Cave, the gravel path that seemingly leads to nowhere gives normal people pause.

There are only four visible houses at that point, and none of them are mine. The gravel path descends and rises beneath a double row of looming trees until one reaches the fork. GPS has surely gone out at this point, so does one take the direction posted with signs warning about the consequences of heading any further in that direction, or does one choose the other path with the gate and more signs about prosecuting trespassers? Those who continue on the correct path will wind through more foreboding forest while trying not to imagine the various creatures that lurk in camouflage.

My office window is on the front of the house, and a year ago I was typing away on Pennington’s Hoax and promoting Murdered Justice when two suspicious cars emerged from the last part of the wooded driveway and stopped at the garage as if they owned the place. They were foolish, if you ask me. This area is very pro-Second Amendment, and I hear gunshots on a regular basis. The wise person assumes that every household is heavily armed.

After a few minutes, the trespassers got a clear indication that people were home, so they drove away casually; too casually for someone who had made an honest mistake.

Until that point, I had let my guard down. I had abandoned my city ways of staying alert, being aware of anyone who might be watching my movements, and checking doors when leaving the house for even the briefest errand. My assumptions about spooky driveways and menacing signs as deterrents to unwanted visitors had been wrong! I dragged out all the security tools, put more items in the safe, inquired about security monitoring, made a list of potential house sitters, and devised escape routes should the house actually become invaded.

After that, I no longer left electronics on the kitchen table when going to the store or even going outside for more than a few minutes. I secured any documents that shouldn’t be in the wrong hands, and filed a sheriff’s report after alerting the neighbors. No one has come back in a year, but I was reminded of the incident when going through some papers and saw a reference number for the sheriff’s case that I filed.

If someone broke in, I have lately realized that they wouldn’t want what they would find. There are bigger and newer televisions in other houses, newer electronics elsewhere, and not much that would fetch more than a few pennies wherever they might take their plunder. I recently read a short article entitled “A Burglar’s Goal is Your Bedroom.” Supposedly thieves are looking for our cash, jewelry, and firearms.

I considered the article’s advice and began to wonder about the motivation of thieves. Jean Valjean took bread. When I was a little kid, someone broke into our house and stole our washer filled with laundry while we were at church. That particular theft was so odd that one wonders if the thieves might not have been innocent people told to drop by and pick up an old washer. Finding no one at home at the wrong address, they broke a window, climbed in and wheeled the old Norge out the door. Breaking the window was not the act of an honest person, but a washer? Who steals a washer—and an old one at that? The robber was surely someone who had grown so tired of using a Laundromat that they would beg, borrow, or steal to avoid one.

Loaves of bread, old appliances, electronics, and firearms all lack the elegance of an art thief. Jewel thieves, for that matter, are much more chic in books and films like To Catch a Thief because they are after some gaudy necklace or a specific stone. Whether art or expensive jewels, the thieves must love what they have stolen so much because they can never sell it, share it, or show it to anyone. Demanding a ransom is their only course of action, but laying aside their motivation, art thievery requires a level of appreciation and a clever mind to pull off a heist.

It’s difficult to imagine a modern thief scaling a tiled roof like Carey Grant in the pursuit of something exquisite. I once knew a private art dealer who never watched television, but decided to break down and buy one. He’d had it three weeks, and it was still in the box when the thieves slipped into the garage one night before he could close the door after pulling his car inside. They forced their way into the house at gunpoint, eyed the art hanging on every surface of the house, took the TV and ran. I saw him after insurance paid his claim. He used the money to buy another nice piece and never replaced the TV.

Apparently we can leave the front door unlocked and a Rembrandt leaning against the wall next to it. It can sit there for two weeks, but if you try hiding your laptop in the underwear drawer while working in the garden, you may never see it again. As I continue to lament the decline of civilization, I have to ask where all the tasteful thieves have gone?

We must solve the opioid crisis, address wage inequality, and improve education at every level so that those who are going to steal can develop an aesthetic sense and go back to nicking nicer things.

© 2018 by Patrick Brown

To learn more about my books, especially the two 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