Only a few weeks more until my new book, “Riddle” will be released on Amazon and Createspace. This is nothing like my first book, “View From the Sixth Floor: An Oswald Tale”. While it also deals with a social issue, the primary characters are much younger and have different life experiences.
Kort Eriksen is a young man born in the Yukon and illegally adopted by a white family. Growing up as the only native in his town he has difficulty making friends and is practically an outcast. In addition his adopted father is abusive and his adopted mother does nothing to protect him. As a teen in high school he is accused of murdering his girlfriend, popular cheerleader Desiree Steele, and despite only circumstantial evidence is sent to prison. Because he is a juvenile he is released after seven years and he returns to the town of Riddle. The town is split in its beliefs of his guilt or innocence.
Grace Donahue left home after finding her fiancé in bed with her maid of honor just before the wedding. Driving cross country in an effort to leave her painful past behind her, her car breaks down in Riddle. As she waits for her car to be repaired she takes a job at a local diner to earn money to pay for the repairs. Soon she and Kort become friends and she is slowly drawn into the drama that is Riddle.
Along with a cast of characters ranging from Butch, Desiree’s ex-boyfriend who is now the town deputy, Norma, Kort’s high school friend who has been in love with him for years, and a variety of others, tensions grow in Riddle. Accidents, murders, and mysteries ensue. The body count grows and questions are raised.
This is a story of injustice, love, and murder. It’s guaranteed to keep you guessing until the very end. I hope you’ll join me in “Riddle”, get to know the characters, and decide who you think the killer might be.
Kort gazed out the bus window as the countryside sped by. Seven years, seven months, and seven days and things looked the same. Turning away from the window he tried to stretch his long legs in the cramped space allocated to passengers of all shapes and sizes. Out of the corner of his eye he caught sight of a young boy, maybe nine or ten, staring at him. A child’s cowboy hat sat crookedly on the boy’s head. Suddenly the boy lifted his hand and squinted his eyes like a sheriff in a wild west adventure; he pretended to shoot at Kort. Kort did not react. He didn’t blink, he didn’t smile, he didn’t frown. A woman peered over the top of the seat and catching sight of Kort’s impassive stare she pulled the child back, out of Kort’s line of vision.
“But Mom he’s an Indian.” the child protested rather loudly.
Over the tops of the seats Kort could see some heads turn as the mother shushed the child, admonishing him to lower his voice and stay in his seat.
The bus grew still again but after a few minutes the small head peeked back at Kort and the boy stuck out his tongue. He was swiftly pulled back and the sound of a soft slap followed by whimpering once again broke the silence.
Kort leaned his head back and closed his eyes. Seven years, seven months, and seven days and nothing had really changed. He was older, taller, and leaner. He had earned his high school diploma and put a Bachelor of Science degree on his almost bare resume. His hair had grown long; he’d grown a beard and shaved it off. But his skin still carried the bronze of his heritage.
He felt the bus turning and opening his eyes he saw they were coming into town. There was a new gas station at the highway exit, bigger and shinier. Several more businesses had popped up on the road. As the bus wove its way more deeply into town he saw the high school. The football team was practicing, the cheerleaders jumped up and down their short red skirts flapping in the cool autumn air. He saw one girl, her blonde ponytail bouncing with each hop and felt a pang remembering Desiree.
He closed his eyes again and for a moment he was seventeen with the future stretched out before him and all the promise of life yet to live. No point going there. He was no longer seventeen. He was a grown man of twenty-six with a criminal record. He was a convicted killer and no one would see him as anything else.
As the bus slowed he opened his eyes. No one would be waiting for him. His adoptive father had died while he was in prison. His adoptive mother blamed him saying the stress of his crime was too much for her husband to bear. She conveniently ignored the fact that the man was almost seventy years old, had smoked since he was a teenager, drank beer like water, and straight single malt that smelled like tar. He was at least seventy pounds overweight. That had no impact on his demise. It was Kort’s fault.
The bus stopped and the mother slipped out of the seat past her son and began gathering the few belongings they carried with them. As she led the boy off the bus he turned back to look at Kort and gave him a conspiratorial wink. Perhaps some things had changed.
Surprised, Kort watched as they waited at the side of the bus for their luggage to be unloaded. Then standing up slowly, careful not to bump his head, he slipped into his denim jacket and made his way off the bus. The rain had stopped and the sun was beginning to break through the clouds. As he removed his small suitcase from the bus drivers hand he heard a woman’s voice call out his name. His stomach tightened as he turned to see Norma standing on the walkway. He recognized her immediately although her dark hair was cut short now and she had filled out to a more womanly shape during his stay away. But her nose still turned up slightly and her dark eyes still glittered like deep pools under a glowing moon. Norma moved toward him, her step slightly hesitant. He noticed she wore a white uniform.
“Norma.” He tried to keep the surprise out of his voice but it crept through.
She looked up at him and he thought she was a lot shorter than he remembered.
“You’ve gotten so tall,” she whispered before standing on her tiptoes to place a light kiss on his chin.
Of course she wasn’t shorter, he was taller.
“How did you know…” he began, but she cut him off.
“Everyone knows. You’re the talk of the town.” Norma took hold of his hand and led him toward the parking lot beside the depot. “Let’s get out of here before someone comes along and tries to start trouble.”
“How did you know what bus I’d be on?” Kort asked as she used her key fob to unlock a small black car.
“I called and asked your mother if I could come down to meet you with her,” she responded, popping open her truck so he could stow his bag. “When she told me she wasn’t coming I knew I had to be here. Welcome home Kort. I missed you.” Norma smiled up at him and for a moment it was as though no time had passed and they were just standing outside Doc’s Apothecary and Fountain.
But that moment passed quickly when a voice called out, “Be careful there Norma or you might end up down by the river with your hair cut off and your brains bashed in.”
They turned to see a young man in greasy coveralls walking away. He cast one glance back at them before turning the corner and disappearing inside the station.
Norma laid her hand lightly on Kort’s arm. “Don’t pay any attention. Some people just don’t know how to let go of the past.”
Still staring in the direction the man had gone Kort asked, “Who the hell was that?”
Norma opened the passenger side door, “Doug Sutton.”
Kort folded his body into the front seat. Doug Sutton; running back on the high school football team. One of the jocks. One of the angry boys who had testified against him at trial. An angry boy who apparently had grown into an angry man. Norma slipped into the driver’s seat and put on her seat belt. “Put your seat belt on Kort.”
“Some things never change,” he thought as he pulled the strap across his chest.
Neither of them noticed the uniformed officer leaning against the counter in the diner across the street.
“So, you want a quick tour of the new and improved Riddle?” Norma turned onto Main Street headed toward downtown.
Kort smiled wryly, “I don’t know. Is it safe?’
Laughing, Norma said, “Don’t worry. I’ll protect you.”