Book One of the Twisted Cedars Mysteries
Justice is overdue in the coastal town of Twisted Cedars where two unsolved mysteries lay buried in the past.
In the coastal town of Twisted Cedars, Oregon an ugly secret from the past has been festering for over thirty years when five librarians were targeted by a serial killer. Now an anonymous emailer wants true crime writer Dougal Lachlan to tell the story. To uncover the truth Dougal enlists the help of local Twisted Cedar librarian Charlotte Hammond.
Since the disappearance of her older sister, Daisy, eight years ago, Charlotte has led a quiet, sheltered life. But as Dougal’s investigation proceeds she realizes there is no safe zone. Not even in libraries. And especially not in Twisted Cedars.
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Twisted Cedars, Oregon
Justice is overdue in the coastal town of Twisted Cedars where two unsolved mysteries lay buried in the past. Read the complete trilogy:
Enjoy an Excerpt
Back in the seventies four women were killed. Librarians.... The odd message arrived in Dougal Lachlan’s Inbox on the last Friday in May, channeled through his website into a special folder he used for fan mail. He was slouched into the sofa in his East Village apartment, going through line-edits on his latest true crime manuscript. His cat Borden, having been denied her favorite perch—the one on his lap—was curled up on the cushion beside him.
Normally Dougal pursued his writing with single-minded devotion. But since his mother’s death last year, he was often, and easily, diverted.
You don’t know me. But you should. I’ve got a story that will be the best of your career. Back in the seventies four women were killed. Librarians. No one ever solved the cases. But I know what happened. Ever hear of Elva Mae Ayer? She was the first. Check it out then let me know if you want the names of the others. I am here and willing to help.
The message was from a Hotmail account with the name “Librarianmomma.”
At thirty-four Dougal had been researching murders and serial killers—and writing about them—for about eighteen years. During that time, his website had attracted a fair amount of crack-pot email. Some messages threatening, others claiming insider information about grizzly crimes that were beyond the power of his own vivid imagination. In the beginning of his career, he passed these emails to his local NYPD precinct. Over the years, though, he stopped bothering. At conferences, when he spoke with other authors of mystery, thriller, and true crime—they had similar stories to tell.
Getting letters from wing nuts came with the territory. You just ignored them and carried on doing your job.
Which is what Dougal intended to do this time. He switched screens back to his line-edits, working his way through a cup of instant coffee and twenty more pages. Normally he loved this stage of a project—the penultimate fussing with details and tweaking of words before his manuscript went in for printing.
But this last book hadn’t flowed like the others. He hadn’t felt his usual passion. The research was tedious, the writing laborious. Maybe Belinda had been right after all. He should have set the project aside for a while. Taken some time to grieve.
He’d broken off with Belinda instead. And kept writing. He didn’t think the story had suffered as a result...at least his editor seemed pleased with the final result. He wasn’t so sure himself.
The typed lines on the page began to blur and Dougal let his hands drop from the keyboard. Borden blinked, stretched, and then pounced to the hardwood floor, in search of her premium cat food, a special brand formulated for senior cats, which she sometimes deigned to eat.
Dougal needed a break, too. He switched back to email, but there were no new messages.
So he read the one from Librarianmomma again.
It was different from his usual crack pot email. Most of them expounded on the grisly details of the crime, to a nauseating degree. This one was almost clinically detached when referring to the crimes. Also notable was the element of enticement, as evidenced by the invitation to write back, the promise of more details, and the story of his career.
Also, most of his prank mail involved unsolved crimes that had received a lot of press coverage, usually infamous or very recent killings. Whereas Librarianmomma was referring to an obscure murder—or series of murders—that occurred decades ago.
Check it out, the email had said. Maybe he would. Dougal typed “Elva Mae Ayer” into a search engine. There were no exact name matches.
He should let it drop, but his instinct for story kicked in. He grabbed his phone from the table where it sat next to a pile of his unopened mail. Danny Delucy, a former cop who’d been derailed by disability into opening his own private investigation agency, sounded surprised to hear from him. “I didn’t know you were working on a new story.”
“Me either. I’m supposed to be finishing up the latest one. But something just distracted me.” He relayed the essence of the email and the name of the librarian who’d supposedly been murdered.
Two hours later Danny called back. “Wow—that took some digging.” The sound of papers shuffling carried over the line, and then Danny spoke again. “I did find a homicide case from 1972. Victim was Elva Mae Ayer—a forty-year-old librarian. Strangled in the basement of the library where she worked.”
So the woman was real. And she had been murdered.
Dougal’s eyes burned from too little sleep and too much staring at pages on a computer screen. He shut them. What would a librarian in the early 1970’s have been like? He knew the era best from old TV re-runs like The Brady Bunch and, his Mom’s favorite, the Mary Tyler Moore, where the women were portrayed as perky, pretty and morally upstanding.
Whatever the decade, however, a librarian seemed an unlikely target for murder. Dougal pictured a Mary Tyler Moore lookalike in the basement of a library, surrounded by stacks of books, file cabinets, archives. This would be before the computer and internet revolutionized libraries. There would still be cards at the back of every book. Card catalogues and basements filled with aging newsprint.
The librarian would likely be in a knee-length skirt and sweater. She’d be wearing glasses, of course, and as she worked at filing books from a cart he visualized a man with murderous intent sneaking up behind her...
He shook his head. Overactive imagination. Curse of the trade. “Did they find the guy who did it?”
“Nope. This is one cold case. How did you hear about it?”
“After all these years? Bizarre.”
“Agreed.” And it was the extreme weirdness of the message—and the fact that it was grounded in truth—that piqued his curiosity. That and the fact that he was bored of his edits and had no new project waiting in the wings. Not even a germ of an idea. Ten years ago he’d had a notebook crammed with possible book concepts. Last year, after the funeral he hadn’t attended, he’d tossed the notebook.
“Anything else you can tell me?”
“Guess what she was strangled with? A woman’s red silk scarf. That’s weird, huh?”
A memory assailed Dougal, long-forgotten, but vivid. His mother giving him a kiss before she went out for an evening of dancing, the edges of her soft scarf tickling his cheek. This one multi-colored, not red. Dougal had been four at the time. Thirty years ago...
Dougal coughed to get rid of the sudden lump growing in his throat. He’d been having a lot of flashbacks to his childhood in the past year. Stuff he hadn’t thought of in decades. He wished the memories would cease and desist. Hadn’t he moved here eighteen years ago to get rid of that baggage?
“So where did this happen?”
Danny paused, presumably to check his notes. “Roseburg, Oregon.”
Adrenaline pumped through Dougal’s body. His skin literally tingled. “You sure?”
“You heard of the place?”
“I grew up near there.” In a small town by the ocean called Twisted Cedars. He and his sister had lived with their mother in a trailer park on the east side of town. He’d hated that town, that trailer, their life. Right after he graduated high school, he’d left, and he hadn’t been back since.
Had the email come from someone who knew him? Roseburg was only a few hours from Twisted Cedars.
He thanked Danny, then disconnected. For a while he just sat, letting the information soak in and settle. When his stomach gurgled, he noticed he was sitting in the near-dark. No wonder he was hungry. He’d been sitting here working since he’d dragged himself out of bed this morning.
God how his muscles ached—neck, shoulders, back. He rubbed a hand over his face and realized it had been more than just a day or two since he’d shaved.
He ought to shower and clean himself up. Go out and get a meal. Rub elbows with other members of the human race. But he didn’t have the energy for any of it.
Was this depression? Was Belinda right, again? Was that what was the matter with him?
Dougal’s empty stomach growled again. His sated cat, perched on the window ledge, looked at him haughtily, as if to say, Why don’t you just eat, already?
But there were no cans of people food to open in his kitchen. Not unless he lowered his standards to Borden’s mushy chicken and liver food. His fridge was bare, too. Remembering a brochure for Thai food, he went to the pile on the table and sorted through the mess of unopened envelopes and fliers.
The fancy envelope which had been delivered two weeks ago caught his eye. The paper was thick, expensive, the kind used for invitations to life-changing events. The return address was familiar—it had been his for the first eighteen years of his life. He’d wondered if his sister Jamie had sold the old double wide after their mother died. Apparently not.
He stood in the hallway holding the wedding invitation for a long time. His sister had loved fairy tales when she was little. Happily ever after had been her favorite ending. Despite the hard facts of their existence—deserted by their father, dirt poor, living in a trailer—she’d believed in it. Jamie, like their mother, saw the best in everyone. Until recently, that had included him. He expected his sister’s adoration had dimmed somewhat in the past year. After all, what kind of ungrateful son doesn’t come home when his mother is diagnosed with cancer and then doesn’t even show for her funeral?
Belinda had actually booked them plane tickets. Her last action as his girlfriend. He’d asked her to move out after that, and frankly, her departure had been a relief. With her gone he could finally wallow in his misery, without the additional burden of feeling guilty about it.
The envelope felt heavy in his hand. He should either throw it out, or open the damn thing. He opened it and pulled out a “Save the Date” card with a collage of photographs, several of a romantic couple, another with the same couple but including two kids, a boy and a girl.
Dougal’s face burned with anger and shock as he stared at the man posing beside his beautiful, sweet sister. No. Not Kyle.
He checked the printed name inside the card, and there it was, confirmed in black and white, Kyle Quinpool and Jamie Lachlan would be so happy if...
Back in high school, Dougal played football with Kyle. In Dougal’s mind Kyle was the Great Gatsby of Twisted Cedars. He had it all—wealthy family, golden-haired good-looks, and a great talent as a quarterback as well. After graduation Kyle married the prettiest girl in town, went to work with his dad, fathered twins. But his storybook life took a twist at that point.
Dougal had heard most of the details from his mother. Apparently Kyle’s wife, Daisy—also a friend of theirs from high school—changed after the twins were born, suffered some sort of breakdown. A few years later, she and Kyle divorced, and shortly after that Daisy left town. Just like that, she’d abandoning her children as well as her parents and a younger sister.
“Poor thing was so disturbed,” Dougal’s mother had said.
But Dougal had wondered if she was just that anxious to get away from Kyle.
Once Kyle had been someone Dougal envied and admired. But now, with the distance of miles and years, Kyle was someone he despised. He was not someone Dougal wanted anywhere near his sister. Let alone married to her.
* * *
After a night filled with dreams and numerous trips to the john—had it been the Thai food he’d ordered in? Or the beers?—Dougal awakened knowing what he had to do.
As a writer, Dougal believed in the power of three. First, had been his mother’s death. Second had been that curious email. And now, third and finally, was Jamie’s impending wedding.
He’d once sworn he would never do it. But he had to return to Twisted Cedars. He had to try and talk his sister out of making this mistake or he’d never forgive himself. And while he was there, he might as well hit Roseburg and check into that homicide. Flying would be the quickest option, but getting around in Oregon wasn’t like here in the city. There was no metro. No taxi waiting around every corner, either. He could rent a car, or he could buy one here and make a road trip out of it. That would take longer, but the idea of driving across the country was appealing for some reason.
The biggest problem was Borden. He doubted his eighteen-year-old cat would enjoy a cross-country road trip. In the past, his editor had taken care of Borden when he was traveling. But those were mostly book tours. This was personal.
There was that crippled, old guy next door. Monty something-or-other. He’d moved in about a year ago and been reasonably friendly when they passed in the hall or by the mailbox. Once Borden had snuck out Dougal’s door when the old guy was in the hall, and he’d mentioned that he’d like to get a pet himself, if he was younger and healthier.
It was worth a shot, Dougal figured. So he headed down the hall to 5C. He knocked, then listened to the sound of the man’s cane hitting the wooden floors as his neighbor made his way to the door. With his long gray hair and scruffy beard he looked like a guy you’d cross a street to avoid.
Dougal held out his hand. “Don’t believe we’ve formally met. I’m Dougal Lachlan.”
Dougal looked beyond him into the living room of the apartment. Monty’s place was pretty tidy for an older man living on his own. “I have a big favor to ask.” He explained about needing someone to feed his cat and change the litter.
“I’d be glad to. Maybe she could stay here with me while you’re gone?”
Dougal smiled. “That would be great. Thanks. Tomorrow morning okay?”
“Sure. Where are you going?”
Monty looked like he wanted to ask more questions, but Dougal cut him off, promising to drop by early the next morning with Borden and her supplies.
The rest of the day was spent making arrangements and by six o’clock Dougal had purchased a Ford Escape, packed his bags, and let his editor know about his plans.
Early the next morning he took Borden over to 5C.
Monty opened the door quicker this time, as if he’d been waiting by the door.
Dougal handed him the supplies, then wrote down his number, and the vet’s. When he unzipped the cat carrier, Borden refused to come out.
“Strange place,” Monty said. “Doesn’t smell like home. But curiosity will win out eventually.”
“If not that, then the need to pee. Where would you like me to set up her litter box?”
“Maybe here?” Monty pointed out a corner in the hallway. He stood nearby as Dougal filled the plastic box with fresh litter. “You goin’ on another of those book tours?”
“Not this time. Driving cross-country to Oregon. Maybe do some research for my next book.”
“That’s a long drive. Got family out there?”
“I grew up on the coast.” Dougal pulled out his wallet and peeled off a couple hundred. “This should see her in food and kitty litter until I get back. With some extra to thank you for your trouble.”
“Good-bye, Borden,” he called as he retreated to the hall. But Borden wouldn’t even look at him. Formal farewells weren’t her thing.
“Safe travels,” Monty said. “And don’t worry. I have everything covered.”
* * *
Within the hour, Dougal was on the Interstate, listening to John Hiatt tell him to drive south.
But Dougal was heading west.
The days were long in late May and Dougal took advantage of the extra sunlight hours, pushing through to the edge of Chicago before stopping for the night at a motel just off the highway.
First he had a shower, then feeling bone tired, he turned on the news, which was focused on a recent oil spillage. He watched for fifteen minutes until, thoroughly depressed, he turned off the TV and fell asleep.
The next day he was back on the I-80, listening to a Bob Marley CD Belinda had given him. She said he needed to “chill” and “get happy.” She had a point. Hadn’t his mother said virtually the same thing? He’d overheard her telling her friend and housecleaning partner, Stella Ward, that he was too serious. Too much like his—
She’d seen him listening. Hadn’t said the last word. But he’d filled in the blank. He was like his father.
Why couldn’t he have taken after his mother and his sister, both of whom had sunny dispositions and kind hearts? Even when his mother was diagnosed with cancer, five years ago, their innate optimism hadn’t been quenched.
“You can beat this,” Jamie had said, and Mom promised she would. Not that Dougal had been around to witness his mother’s slow and painful decline. He’d been too busy churning out his latest bestseller in the Big Apple.
Enough of the reggae beat, thank you. He switched the CD for one of Herbie Hancock’s. Another gift from Belinda. “Did you ever consider that the reason you like interviewing other people and writing their stories is so you don’t have to deal with your own issues?”
Oh, she was full of insights, Belinda.
On another occasion she’d asked him why he never talked about his family. Poor woman. She’d really believed she could find a kind, sensitive soul beneath his gruff exterior, if she could just get him to open up.
“Not much to tell,” he’d answered. But the truth was…there was too much to tell.
His mom, Katie, had been a good woman. Kind. He didn’t blame anything about his childhood on her. In fact, she’d deserved a better son than him. As an adolescent he’d been embarrassed by her, by the fact that she cleaned houses for a living, and worse, that she had a weakness for spending her Saturday nights at the local bar, dancing and chatting with men who always said they would call but never did.
And then there was dear old Pop. He’d left before Dougal started grade school, when his sister had been only a tiny bump on their mother’s small frame. They’d been lucky. Ed Lachlan had beaten his second wife to death and had only recently been released from Oregon State Penitentiary where he’d served his time.
Just like your father...
End of Excerpt
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