Another new adventure for me...writing a romance/mystery. At the moment, it's a little light on romance and heavier on the mystery. I guess I'll have to deal with my inhibitions! (Visions of my embarrassed children saying, "Mother!" dance in my head.)  Here is a sneak peak.

March 10, 2016-- A newer version of Chapter One is now on this page. For an explanation, and a lesson learned, please read today's post on the page titled, New Beginnings.

 The working title is Swimming in the Rain  an alternate is Black Lace and Madness.

 January 4, 2017-  HAPPY NEW YEAR.  Here is the latest version of Chapters One, Two, and Three!!!. As the saying goes, "Writing is rewriting.' , so this  new novel is constantly being tweaked. And in a later chapter, I've added a new, more chilling murder. (Tease: Wonder who the victim is?)

The swimming in the rain scene comes later in the story, but it happens in a pristine Muskoka lake like this!

 

Chapter One

 

On what was meant to be the most important day of her life,  Dana Williams woke to find a dead body in her bed. A dainty black bow looped around its throat.  Dana's first reaction was to scream bloody murder, which she did, as she leapt from the bed.  Her second was that she must still be asleep, and this was one of her super-real nightmares. It was not; the cold, stiff corpse was actually there, teeth bared in a sick half smile.  At that moment, the fact that it was the body of a rat, and not a human being, gave her little comfort. If its purpose was to terrorize her, it was certainly succeeding.

Dana could not take her eyes off the obscene thing as she scurried to the furthest corner of her tiny bedroom and slumped to the floor.  She managed to tuck her long limbs in tight to her chest and curl herself into the tightest position possible in the awkward space between dresser and wall. Part of her was still slightly disoriented in that halfway place between sleeping and waking. Little mewing sounds squeezed out of her mouth, but she felt separate from them, as if they were coming from some badly frightened stranger.

 God, how'd that...thing... get in here?  Someone had to have been in the apartment!  Then a more terrifying thought, They could still be here!  She tried listening for signs of another presence, but her heart thudded so loudly, she wouldn't have heard a brass band.

 What kind of a sicko would do something like that?  And why?  God, why? 

She shrunk even further into the corner, as if willing herself to be invisible and tried to calm her body and mind with deep yogic breaths. At least from her vantage point, she could no longer see the hideous thing stretched out on her beautiful, new floral sheets.

A sudden, urgent knocking on her apartment door broke through her thoughts.  Reacting automatically, Dana unfolded from her fetal position and stumbled into the living room. In bare feet, she hurried across it to open the door, and then halted. She had no idea who might be out there.   Her shaky voice was almost unrecognizable as it called, "Who's there?"

"Dana?  Dana, it's Mrs. MacGyver. Are you all right, dear?"

 Mrs MacGyver!   Dana was so grateful to hear her landlady's voice that when she opened the door; she almost threw hrself into the sweet woman's arms. Except, Mrs. MacGyver wasn't alone. A tall, brooding,, almost angry-looking man stood behind her, h. is dark scowl and stiff stance exuding tension, even anger.

"Dana!  What's wrong? I heard screaming.  You're shaking, my dear.  What is it?"  Mrs. MacGyver's normally calm eyes were worried and her smart, blonde, bobbed hair was mussed. Contrary to her ordinarily neat appearance, she looked as if she'd just thrown her clothes on.

The man stared at Dana, and d  her discomfort increased. Not only was she in her briefest pajamas, but something about him unnerved her, and she couldn't speak.  Part of her wondered if her widowed landlady had acquired a boyfriend, then she dismissed the idea as both unlikely and none of her business. Still, to see a strange man in the house at this hour of the morning, and in the company of Mrs. MacGyver, was most unusual.

 For a moment, she considered not explaining what had happened; she was suddenly, absurdly afraid of looking foolish.  She could make up a plausible explanation: a particularly vivid nightmare, perhaps.    At the same time, she simply could not go back into the bedroom and face that "thing" alone.  After all, she admonished herself, there was nothing for her to feel foolish about; it was a horribleterrible  joke someone had tried to pull on her, that's all, and a horrible one.

An hysterical sense of black humour overtook her, and she heard herself say, "I just found a present, Mrs. MacGyver.  A big, fat rat! I didn't think there were any in this house, but I certainly found one!"

"A rat?" the landlady looked insulted at the very idea. "No, dear. We've never had rats in this house. Never! Maybe it's just a big mouse, do you think?"

In a take-charge manner, the woman added, "Let's have a look, shall we? Where did you see it? Maybe it found a way in from outside. It only takes the tiniest opening for them to squeeze through, you know."  She started to enter the apartment. The stranger remained standing in the hallway.

"Oh, no. It's a rat, all right.  And it even came gift-wrapped, tied with a bow." Shivering, Dana wrapped her arms around herself; she was beginning to feel giddy and fought an urge to giggle.  This must be shock, she thought.  At the same time, she couldn't take her eyes off the tall man.  Why is he just standing there like that? Now, he's starting to freak me out, too!

Mrs. MacGyver gave her an odd, assessing look. "Gift-wrapped?"   Noticing Dana's discomfort, she put an arm around her and said,  "You need a sweater or a throw to wrap around yourself." Then, as if suddenly remembering  she hadn't arrived alone, she turned and said, "Philip, do you think you could give us a hand with this mouse?"

To Dana, she explained, "This is my nephew, Philip. We were just getting ready to go out for breakfast, when we heard you scream.  I'm sure he'll be able to take care of this for us, dear. Now, where did you see the mouse? We might need to set a trap."

Dana grabbed a knitted afghan off her sofa and wrapped herself tightly in it,   and not just because she was shivering. She gave the nephew a wary look and then, without another word of explanation, led the two to her bedroom.  Standing aside at the doorway,   she ushered them in ahead of her. Not wanting to advance further into the room herself, she mutely pointed at the bed and closed her eyes.

                                                                                Chapter Two

 

Dana heard a sharp intake of breath and then, "Mother of God!" from Mrs. MacGyver,  followed by, "Shit!' in a deeper voice.  Opening her eyes, she saw the two standing stock still.  Her landlady looked a little ill.

"What kind of crazy person wraps a bow around a dead rat?" her nephew demanded, turning to give Dana an odd look.

It took a moment for the implication to sink in. Oh, my God. He thinks I did this! 

Now she was angry, too. How dare he?  "I beg your pardon? Are you implying that I did this? How dare you! I've just been scared half to death by this...this...disgusting thing, and you think I'm crazy enough to put something so gross in my own bed?  Why on earth would I do that?   It seems to me you're the one whose thinking is a little twisted here, mister!"

"Now, dear, calm down. I know Philip didn't mean to imply any such thing. It's just that it's so...so awful...It's just taken us all by surprise, that's all."

Philip didn't apologize, but when he spoke his manner was a fraction milder. " How did it get here?"

"I don't know!"  Dana wanted to scream at him, but she tried to control herself.

"Well, it didn't just walk in.  Did you have a friend in, or let someone in for any reason?  Is there any sign of a break-in?"

"No. At least, I don't think so. I don't know. I haven't had time to look around."   Her eyes began to search the room as if expecting to find clues.  Philip walked over to the window and peered out. The house backed onto a sloping ravine at the bottom of which was another street of homes. At this time of year, even though the trees were in full bud, the view remained clear.

Mrs. MacGyver shivered involuntarily and said, "Let's just get the thing out of here first. Then we'll have a look 'round."

Her nephew turned to Dana, "Have you got a shoebox or anything I can put it in? And work gloves? I'll go out to my rental; somewhere in my luggage, there’s a tool kit and work gloves. I I don’t want to handle it without them; the damn thing could be rabid."

She hadn’t thought of that. “No work gloves, but I’ve got a shoebox.”

“There’s a pair of gardening gloves in a basket by the back door,” his aunt said. “They’ll be small for you, but they’ll do in a pinch.”

Dana opened her closet, tossed a new pair of shoes out of their box, and without looking at Philip, handed it over. He tossed it on the bed and without another word left the room.  She and her landlady stood immobilized, listening to his pounding footsteps on the stairs as we went in search of the gloves.

                                                                  

                                                                     Chapter Three

 

 Mrs. MacGyver, frazzled and hugging herself as if for warmth, looked in need of comforting and a little lie-down herself, but she rallied as she bustled Dana into the living room, saying, "Come, dear. Would you like a glass of water or some tea? "

"Please don't fuss. I'll be fine, thank you. I just need a few minutes to gather myself together." Dana ran a hand through her short, brown hair and then rubbed a bit of sleep from her eyes.  She felt like hell. Well, who wouldn't, waking up to that?  The throw had slipped from her shoulders, and she pulled it snugly back around her.

"Here's  Philip again." Her landlady turned to her nephew, standing in the doorway. "What do you plan to do with..."it"? Put it in the garbage?"

 Philip looked at the two women  first his aunt and then  Dana; he seemed to hesitate for a moment. In his right hand, a pair of bright yellow gardening work gloves, held at chest level, reminded Dana of a spring bouquet, their sunny colour and floppy fingers mimicking flowers. I really am going mad, Dana thought. A spring bouquet!

"I don't know,” he replied, “I think normally you'd send it to the Board of Health, in case it did have rabies."

Looking at Dana again, he asked, "That's how you found it? In your bed,  already dead?"

"Of course," she snapped,  "What did you think?  I tied a bow around it and was trying to turn it into a pet?"  Get a grip! she told herself.  This isn't like you, losing it like this.

"No need to get mad.  I'm just trying to figure this out.  Any idea how long it's been there?"

Dana paused before she could give him another angry retort. "Sorry.  I'm not sure. I haven't had time to think. It couldn't have been there long. I'd have noticed."

 "Are you sure?  What time did you go to bed?  I assume you were alone? Would you have noticed if it was there at that time? Maybe it was hidden under the sheets."

"Are you crazy?  Do you think I could sleep all night without noticing a dead rat in my bed!!!" What is it with this guy?

"That depends."

"On what?" she snapped.

 "Well, I guess it would depend on the state you were in when you went to bed...if you'd had a big night on the town...?"

"Philip, please, dear," his aunt interjected. " You don't know Dana. She's not that kind of girl.  Now, let's just try to calm down and sort this thing out. "

"Okay.  Sorry, Aunt Iva," he smiled at his aunt.

Smiling at least made him look less formidable but no less annoying, Dana thought.

While Philip went into the bedroom to box up the rat, Mrs. MacGyver decided to put the kettle on, ignoring the fact that Dana had earlier said she didn't want anything. For some people, tea is always the answer to life's stressful moments.

Maybe they’re right, Dana thought. It’s either the tea itself or the simple act of preparing it that brings a sense of normalcy and routine that reduces stress.

Philip emerged with the closed shoe box and headed for the door. He paused and turned to Dana. Although his look had softened slightly, his eyes still assessed her, as if he couldn’t decide whether or not she was sane and trustworthy.

"Do you want to send it to the Board of Health?" he asked.

"I don't know. I suppose maybe it should go. What do you think?"  She couldn't believe she was actually asking his opinion.

"I think for my aunt's peace of mind, and my own, it should go."

"All right, then.   Will you do it or shall I?

He seemed to examine her face even more deeply before replying,.  "I'll take care of it. No problem."

"Thank you."  

”You're welcome.   By the way, I took a quick look around the room for any sign of something out of the ordinary. There's no broken window or anything that obvious. Is there another  entrance or just the door in this living room?"

"Just this one."  Thoughts of an intruder stirred her fears again.

His aunt returned to the room, consternation on her face, "Oh, Dana! I just remembered. This is your big day. What an awful start to it!"

"Big day?' inquired Philip. "Like in a wedding? Getting married?"

"No, no," Mrs. MacGyver rushed to Dana's rescue.  "Dana is an author. Her first play is going into rehearsals today, or rather tonight. It's very exciting." She looked proudly at Dana.

"I'd almost forgotten," Dana mused. "With all this.... excitement.... I think I will have a cup of tea, after all, Mrs. MacGyver.  You, too," she pleaded. "Please stay and have a cup with me."

Mrs. MacGyver looked questioningly at her nephew.

" You stay, Aunt Iva. I'll wrap this up and put it in your freezer 'til we can contact the authorities."

"My freezer?"

"Don't worry," he assured her, as he opened the door with a smile. "It won't be there long. Won't do any harm.  I think I'll go outside, too,  and scout around the house and yard a bit."

 Pausing, he turned to Dana. "Goodbye, Miss...It's been...interesting...meeting you!"  He left with a rather annoying smirk on his face.

Dana felt like throwing something at his smug back but lacked the energy; instead, she collapsed back into the sofa cushions and closed her eyes.  What a way to start the day! she thought.   Oh, God, the play. Tonight! Thinking of her play suddenly seemed alien, like something from another life, another world. How odd, when for years it had been the most important thing in her daily life, infusing almost every waking moment.

Mrs. MacGyver busied herself pouring tea into mugs, which the two women sipped thoughtfully in the living room. Neither was very talkative.  Finally, Mrs. MacGyver said, "Will you be all right now, Dana?  I can stay with you, if you like, but perhaps you'd prefer to be alone."

  Dana hastened to assure the woman that she would be fine alone, although she really wasn't so certain.   "In fact, I almost forgot: I actually have a class to teach at ten this morning, so I need to get my act together." 

"This has been a real shock to you, I know.  It's a shock to me!  It's not pleasant thinking about someone doing such a nasty thing in my own house, even if it was meant to be some kind of joke.  I don't like the idea of someone sneaking in here at all!  Have you any idea who might want to do such a thing?  Have you given any of your friends a key?"

"No. No one," Dana assured her. "I don't think I know anybody who'd actually do something like this. I hope it was just a practical joke... a really sick one."

"Well, maybe whoever it was will confess," Mrs. MacGyver was obviously making an attempt at lightheartedness.  "You'll probably hear from one of your friends, asking how your morning went or something like that.  A practical joker won't be able to keep it to themselves. They'll be dying to know how you reacted."

"Well, if it was just someone looking for a good reaction, I guess they succeeded. They scared me almost witless!"  She was getting over the initial shock and beginning to feel  angry. "I hope I do find out who did it. I'd like to get my hands on them!"

 Mrs. MacGyver abandoned her brief effort to categorize all of this as someone’s bad idea of a joke. It had fallen flat, partly because she was incapable of concealing her deep concern, "I do have to admit that I'm quite worried about how it got in here."    

 "Me, too," Dana admitted with a deep sigh.

There was a thoughtful moment, while both women contemplated the awful possibilities. The clear morning air carried the screech of streetcars braking on Queen St. through closed windows.  Dana thought of all the city’s commuters en route to work or school, each absorbed in the minutiae of his or her own life, largely unaware of the drama in others’.

The sudden touch of her landlady’s hand on hers, brought Dana her back to the present moment. The older woman leaned forward with a concerned expression.  " I think I should go and look after Philip, but I really don’t want to leave you alone, dear, after this nasty shock. Come downstairs and let me make you some breakfast, too.. I insist.”"

“Oh, thank you, but no. I do have to teach that class this morning. And 'I'm sorry. I didn't mean to disturb you and your plans."                   

"Goodness, there’s nothing for you to be sorry about. You're not disturbing anything, dear. It doesn't matter when we have breakfast.”  

 Philip... Dana couldn't remember Mrs. MacGyver ever mentioning him before.   "Does Philip live nearby?"  she inquired.

“"You're not disturbing anything, dear. It doesn't matter when we have breakfast.  Philip lives in Guelph, but he's just returned from three years in Africa, so this is the first time I've seen him in all that time."  She looked very pleased.      

 "He'll be here a few days, and he's offered to do some small repairs for me, so I think I'll give him a little list and take advantage of his kindness. "

"That's nice," Dana answered a bit absent-mindedly.

"Yes, it is. It’s not easy finding a good handyman these days.” She seemed to have a sudden thought.“  I think I might ask him to fix that sticky window you've been having a problem getting to open. It probably just needs oil or a light sanding. Shouldn't take him long.  Would you mind if I let him in to do that while you're at work?"

"No, that's fine. I'd appreciate it, actually. I'd like to let some fresh air in, now that it's warming up."

Standing up and straightening her skirt, Mrs. MacGyver.took her leave, repeating her invitation to come downstairs should she change her mind.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                             Dana got up and locked the door behind her, then collapsed on the couch again.  A moment later, she heard her landlady's voice carry up the stairs from the foyer. 

She must be talking to Philip.  Why did I say he could come in here while I'm gone?  I don't know anything about him.

Then she reminded herself that at least she'd met him, and he was Mrs. MacGyver's nephew. That was better than letting a strange repairman in... wasn't it?

Suddenly she had a thought:   I wonder when he arrived?  Did he just get here this morning, or was he here last night?  Would he have access to the master key? 

That was a very disturbing thought, one she'd rather not contemplate, but then something very disturbing had happened this morning.

 

 

 [W.B.T.1]