Title: A Scandal at Crystalline
Author: Roslyn Reid
Discover the sinister side of raku pottery!
Chandler Hammond’s wife says he and his hot Iraqi girlfriend skipped their Maine town of Finderne with his company’s millions. His sister thinks his wife murdered him and hires detective James Early and his teenage son Tikkitin to find the truth. A Scandal at Crystalline follows Early and Tikki through an intriguing maze of unexpected encounters: financial shenanigans, two beautiful women who were sleeping with each other (and with Chandler Hammond), a police psychic, and a runaway kid in a remote mountain cabin. But things turn dark when their investigation forces them to confront the shocking secret of the Blood Red Glaze.
The house loomed before him like a haunted old mansion in the near dark. Early crouched in the bushes to look for signs of life. Siri’s word was unreliable; he needed to make sure nobody was around.
After a while he stood up to stretch, long arms reaching toward the skinny last quarter of the moon. The horns of the moon our ancestors called it. Not the best cover for burglary but his order for a dark moon had been placed too late.
“Treachery.” That was Amber’s word. She probably never thought of him as the treacherous one, burglarizing the Hammond mansion like this. As for the Sneak Thief card, here was Early doing just what her reading had indicated. Coincidence? Maybe. But sometimes there was just no explanation for her uncanny accuracy.
He watched the house for another hour before he figured that anybody who was going to show up would be here by now. His private investigator training and a summer job at a locksmith’s shop had given him the tools to neutralize simple home alarms; he slipped across the dark patio and disconnected the alarm’s power supply. This time a summer job had been more useful than his education was—life could be ironic. Sucking in a deep breath he walked over to the French doors to Hammond’s office and turned the knob.
The doors weren’t locked.
A shudder shook him. Unlocked doors were common in Maine but finance guys weren’t usually this freewheeling—maybe with other peoples’ money but certainly not with their own. Had Siri forgotten to lock up? Or did the Hammonds rely on that monster safe to keep their belongings, well, safe? Both of them seemed lackadaisical about security but that made Early’s black-bag job easier. He wasn’t complaining.
He opened the door, slowly placed one large foot into the darkened room to test the floor, and heard Creak.
“Damn,” he whispered. One would think a guy with Hammond’s money could keep his house in better shape. Maybe the burglar alarm didn’t even work.
Fortunately, nobody was around to hear the noise. Early exhaled and stalked over to the huge, heavy safe. The words First National Bank gleamed gold on the door under the beam of his tiny flashlight.
The safe was too old for security measures like time locks. Early knew most people don’t lock their safes or they write down the combination somewhere like on the edge of a desk drawer. But he had no need to search for the combination—his video had caught Siri’s fingers as she dialed. Later, he had picked out the numbers by replaying the video in slow motion.
He spun the dial with the combination he had observed and the safe gave it up. He pulled the heavy door open and swept the light around the cavernous interior. It was darker than the inside of a pocket until a gleam at the back of the lone shelf caught his eye.
Siri had moved the flash drive. That wasn’t a good sign—it could mean she had erased the files. He grabbed the drive and held it under his flashlight to reveal the letters CAD written on its side in magic marker.
Crystalline Art Distributorship. Pay dirt.
He slipped the drive into his pocket and swept the beam across the shelf again but came up empty. He walked over to the oak desk, pulled out a small screwdriver, jimmied the lock, and rifled through the drawers. At least Siri’s word here was good: he found energy bars, pencils, paper, and other miscellaneous items. But no laptop.
In a bottom drawer, he discovered a fat brown envelope containing what appeared to be ticket stubs. He pulled one out and identified it as a stub from a postal money order. Hadn’t Honoria said she received dividends by money order? Early remembered thinking at the time that Hammond was a financial professional—why wouldn’t he use the customary checks? Maybe because he had no corporate bank account. But why didn’t he? The logic ran in circles.
The envelope held many stubs. Early wondered how far back they went. He stuffed the envelope into his pocket and gave the safe a last going-over but the single shelf was as empty as a roadside beer bottle. He rapped his knuckles against the safe’s back wall and heard the ring of solid steel. No concealed compartment there. He swept the light beam over the safe’s floor which was also barren, then dropped and crawled inside. At the very back, he found a sizeable object covered by a blanket. He pulled the blanket off to reveal a large cooler.
What the hell? In a case full of oddities here was another one. Why stash a cooler in a safe? Beer wasn’t that expensive. Maybe Hammond was trying to keep the hired help from dipping into his pricey liquor but anybody living in a place like this could afford a liquor locker. Maybe Hammond liked really cold cash.
After much grunting, tugging, and cussing, Early had to admit the cooler was too heavy for him to move. Then he noticed a bit of clearance between the cooler and the shelf above it. He placed his flashlight into his mouth, raised the lid as far as he could, and slid his hand inside. Something under his fingers felt smooth and cold. An ice slab? Imagine that, ice in a cooler.
He tried grasping the cold object. It was too slippery, but drying his gloved hand on his shirt gave him enough traction to raise it. He slid his hand underneath and heard the crackling sound of a plastic bag. He squeezed. What he felt was long and lumpy like a . . . finger? Something hard seemed to encircle it. Something in the shape of a ring—
A loud click startled him. Somebody was unlocking the front door.
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Amazon best-selling author Roslyn Reid lives with her corgi, Great Pyrenees, and husband in Downeast Maine, where she gardens, lifts weights, hikes, and renovates houses. A former model, she has contributed to Llewellyn's annual almanacs for several decades and written for a few of the local newspapers. She is a Platinum Most Valuable Member & Top Contributor at the Author's Guild.
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