Today's Reading

The front room of Rebecca's small house was a smashed, glass- splattered, vandalized, frenzied mess. Furniture upturned. Curtains ripped. Mirrors broken.

Rebecca gasped, stepped into the chaos. A small, pretty desk lay overturned, one leg broken, its contents—papers, mail, bills, advertisements—strewn across the floor. Annalee pointed the lamp's bare bulb at the trouble. A mantel over the fireplace was swiped clean, its glass whatnots thrown to the floor. Shattered vases, cracked statuettes, chipped glass candleholders, broken picture frames of family photos.

'"Papa."' Rebecca grabbed up a photo of a harsh-looking man, his picture now encased in shards of glass. Even a small painted picture was ripped from the wall, its pastoral scene slashed with a sharp object, the frame jagged. This was sheer violation, and Annalee hated the cold meanness of it. Rebecca's place looked modest. Now it was in shambles.

"My house!" Rebecca whispered at the mess, stumbling from room to room, moaning at the sight of her two upturned bedrooms, the smashed bathroom, the upended dining room—finding the same sickening mess at every turn.

"Who did this?" Annalee stepped over debris, suspecting Rebecca must know—or at least have a decent guess—who'd broken in and trashed her earnest-looking home. An angry neighbor? Some riled "other woman"?

Annalee tried to think like a detective. "Is anything missing?"

"I don't know!" Rebecca looked lost. "Please no, Jeffrey! Why aren't you here!"

Annalee pushed through the dining area into the kitchen, Rebecca following. They both froze. Stopped cold. Because unlike the others, this room was neat as pie. No dishes smashed and broken. No pictures or calendars or whatnots ripped from the walls.

Two breakfast bowls still sat in the sink, the faucet not dripping. A clock still hung on the wall, still ticking proper time. A table and chairs also didn't appear moved. Clean plates and glasses sat unbothered on a wooden shelf.

The small icebox stood closed and upright. The stove, too, still stood in its corner, awaiting its next meal.

But in a narrow hallway off the kitchen, leading to the back door— standing ajar—lay the night's worst trouble. Annalee saw him first. Shaking her head, sad and with a knowing she hated to feel.

Rebecca screamed.

It was Jeffrey. Sprawled faceup, still wearing his shiny raincoat, the buttons half-done, name badge pinned on his lapel, he lay silent and unmoving—no sound or breathing—void of evidence of the precious essence of treasured life.

"Oh, Rebecca, I'm so sorry." Annalee's pained words might've sounded empty, but she knew this hurt. That's why she'd pushed past the broken glass—to discover what was wrong and maybe try to stop it.

The young wife screamed again. '"Jeffrey! God, no! Jeffrey!"' She sank to the floor, falling across her husband's still body, death leaving him crumpled and silent, a final and harsh insult. Rebecca's sobs were moans, then shrieks, then repeated screams piercing the jumble of her wronged house, breaching far beyond the walls, out into the night.

Annalee felt every shriek and sound, her heart pounding, her mind racing. What was she seeing? A murder? But what else? Indeed, she could've avoided this, headed straight home, curled herself in a chair to read another Sherlock story. Or she could've tracked down Jack, letting him tease her about being his upstart detective "lady friend" who solved little crimes.

Instead, a real murder had happened. Here she stood, in fact, right smack in the middle of it.

Annalee fought to stay calm, to think of the dead man's wife instead.

Kneeling beside Rebecca, she cradled the woman's shoulders, letting her cry, watching Rebecca reach blindly in her frayed sweater pocket for Annalee's thoroughly crinkled lace handkerchief, the embroidered letter 'A' soggy with Rebecca's tears.

Consoling her as best she could, Annalee watched the young wife cry, forgetting about herself. She then understood her new case—to figure what had befallen this Jeffrey. Who did this awful thing? In their crazy town, what kind of messy, stupid anger had left a young, barnstorming husband dead on his kitchen floor?

In death, Jeffrey gave nary an answer. His handsome face looked oddly peaceful, its tension wiped fully away, his deep-green eyes staring up in a soft emptiness, unable to see his distraught wife nor hear her anguished sobbing. Then Annalee saw the trouble: blood oozing from behind Jeffrey's head onto the linoleum floor. A mortal wound for certain, although no weapon was apparent. But it had been wielded to its effect. Annalee felt her stomach squeeze, but her spirit ignited. This killing needed answers. This wife did, too.

"I'm so sorry, Jeffrey. It's all my fault." Rebecca was sobbing. "You've done nothing wrong, Rebecca." Annalee tried to console this stranger.

"But 'I have'."

This excerpt is from the hardcover edition.

Monday we begin the book DELLA AND DARBY by Susannah B. Lewis.

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