"Beware the fury of a patient man."
~John Dryden, Absalom and Achitophel
"Don't wait to be hunted to hide..."
~Samuel Beckett, Molloy
February 16, 2005, The Daily Press News
LOVE AND MURDER IS IN THE AIR. Honeymoon Haven Inn, a romantic luxury resort hideaway nestled in the woods in upper northwest Wisconsin, played host to a murder this past Valentine's Day when a blizzard shut down local roads and left the inn cut off from the rest of the town for three days with only minimal staff including the manager, Stephen Mendez, a maid, and the concierge.
Twenty-five-year-old Todd Wentz, spa masseur, was found dead, stuffed into a second floor janitor's closet, death by bludgeoning with a marble statue. Due to an abundance of rescue operations already taking place in the town below, the local police were unable to intervene for several days.
Among the handful of guests were fashion designer Bobbi Kniseley, with her New Zealand model boyfriend, Dave Gilpin, and assistant Trisha Everson. Additionally, retired photographer, Rollie Stoddard, and his wife Barbara were celebrating their twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. Concierge Felippo Theoclymenus commented that "the roving-eyed retiree and his poor, self-conscious wife easily charmed by the smooth-talking masseur known for his gigolo exploits with female guests, young or old" had been fighting throughout their stay, culminating in the husband's jealous tirade that ended in Wentz's unceremonious murder.
The case was investigated by another guest, Detective Peter Shasta, on vacation from Falcon's Bend Police Department in Central Wisconsin, along with his wife Lisa, who actively aided her husband in working on the mystery. "It was dangerous--I was attacked by one of the guests, a suspect, at one point, and most of the people at the inn during that time could have been guilty. All were suspicious in one way or another. But, as you can imagine, having a real vacation is nearly impossible for my husband. When he gets a week or more off from work, we always leave town. The last thing we expected was to find another case while on vacation. But I knew the only way we could get back to our romantic getaway was for me to help Pete with the crime. While the situation was a tragedy...well, I admit I kind of liked playing sidekick to my husband's Columbo on holiday." Detective Shasta claims he couldn't have solved the mystery without his wife's impressive amateur sleuthing...
August 24, 2005, Falcon's Bend Chronicle
WIFE OF LOCAL POLICE DETECTIVE TURNS AMATEUR SLEUTH. "I knew something bad was up as soon as she moved into the subdivision a week ago with two kids. Cassandra Delicia--" the apt, made-up alias of Cassandra Clemens "--totally neglected the children while she sunbathed in nothing more than a velvet choker with a cameo and had sex in the backyard with the guy who called himself Jim Kenmore and showed up not long after she moved in. There was no way she gave birth to a child--not with that body. She had every man in the subdivision revved up, including Elias Moseley," Lisa Shasta, case representative at Liace Adoption Agency in Eau Claire and wife of Falcon's Bend Police Detective Pete Shasta, told reporter Dean Murphy.
Other residents in the small Wisteria Road subdivision included another detective, Daniel Vincent, and his wife Melody, employed at the Herman Art Gallery in Eau Claire, along with Elias Moseley, a freelance computer software Beta tester, whom none of the other residents saw much of in the two years he lived there.
"On Monday, I got up early and noticed something in the backyard," Lisa said. "I found Cassandra's cell phone, which she carried with her everywhere, and part of the flimsy wrap she was last wearing--torn and dirty. Cassandra was nowhere in sight. I was worried about the kids, so I knocked on the door. No one answered, but that evening after work I went back to the house with my friend Melody and rang the doorbell. We looked in the windows and saw that the kids were still inside. When they fearfully opened the door, I knew there was something wrong. The children hadn't seen her since the day before, and they were terrified and starving after being left alone for countless hours. What else could we do? We fed them, then we talked to our husbands."
In the meantime, Lisa secured a fingerprint from Clemens, which her husband used to run a check on Kenmore. When Lisa realized Kenmore (the alias of Jim Clemens) intended to flee the subdivision with the children later that night, she tried to intervene. "He knocked me unconscious. When I woke up, I was in the trunk of a car with the two children. The only weapon I had on me was a pocketknife."
The children were later identified as Chastity, ten years old, and, Owen, five, Morgan, who were kidnapped from their Milwaukee apartment home earlier that week. The parents, Dr. Irvine Morgan and Christine Webber (divorced), didn't receive the ransom demand until August 20th.
After Detectives Shasta and Vincent arrested Jim Clemens following a high-speed chase on Interstate 94, Cassandra Clemens remained missing. "I found Cassandra's velvet cameo choker on Elias's lawn just before I was knocked unconscious," Lisa confided modestly. "I guess that was the clue my husband needed to locate her." Cassandra was discovered, tied up, drugged and sexually assaulted, inside Moseley's home.
Christine Webber dubbed the act retribution for the woman's crime while Dr. Morgan called Lisa Shasta "the warrior angel of mercy who saved my children with her active kindness, sympathy and unwillingness to mind her own business"...
Lisa Shasta. Yes, she's perfect. Absolutely perfect. Just the right blend of curiosity, nosiness, fierce fighter and sympathetic angel. Just the busybody to get intimately, obsessively involved in a situation that's none of her business.
Yes, Lisa Shasta will play her assigned part perfectly...
Wednesday, March 14, 2007
Winter had held on with tenacious fingers well into March in the small town of Falcon's Bend in west central Wisconsin, and Lisa could hardly believe the mix of rain, snow and cloudy skies were finally abating.
"Swing!" Teddy shouted eagerly when Lisa wondered whether they could go out into the peeking sunlight an hour before lunch.
Seven years into Lisa and Pete's fairytale marriage, they'd adopted a little boy since Lisa had discovered long ago she couldn't have children of her own naturally. Teddy was nineteen-months-old now. Though Pete had been adorably uncertain about the prospect of being a father, he'd been gung-ho about giving his son everything. Though Teddy had been too young to use it then, Pete had set up an elaborate, wooden swing in their backyard last spring in preparation for the active monkey their son had quickly become once he started walking eight months ago.
Lisa chuckled. "Okay, little bear, let's go use that swing set. But first we bundle up."
As she'd expected, the air remained chilly with the lingering memory of rain. The snow was mostly gone--washed away by all the slushy showers they'd been getting--but they wore boots since the grass was sopping and muddy. Lisa had tucked a kitchen towel in the pocket of her jacket and used it to wipe down the swing before putting Teddy inside it.
"Ready?" She gave him a push and instantly he erupted into bubbling laughter. Lisa joined him, pushing a little harder.
Lately, she'd been looking through a lot of old photographs with Pete's parents, Abby and Ted, and she recalled a photograph of a nearly-nineteen-month-old Pete swinging, his baby-fine, ginger-red hair sticking up in every direction, bright blue eyes twinkling merrily, and his mouth, filled with random baby teeth just like Teddy's, curved into an overjoyed smile. He was such a happy little boy. Maybe that didn't last for Pete, with his turbulent home life, but Lisa was determined it would for Teddy.
I gave up a career at Liace Adoption Agency and loved it as much for the satisfying work of placing precious children with loving couples as for the money that allowed me to be independent--not beholden to anyone, including a man. This was worth any sacrifice. Lisa couldn't be more grateful for her life being a full-time mother to Teddy, wife to the man she loved more than life itself, taking care of her family and home. Though she hadn't realized it for the first part of her life, she knew now she had everything she'd ever wanted.
Against her will, Lisa's gaze slid to the house next door to her own. Danny and Melody, she and Pete's best friends, lived there with their nearly two-year-old daughter, Deidre.
Guilt filled Lisa, despite her belief that she was in the right and Mel was in the wrong. What had made Mel think Lisa would agree with her about how hard it was to be a full-time mother? When Danny and Melody had fallen in love and married, they'd immediately started trying to have a baby. When they hadn't gotten pregnant right away, Mel had started college, got her BA in fine art and art history, then secured her dream job as manager of the Herman Art Gallery in Eau Claire. Instead of working five to six hours a day with a few classes in-between, she quickly began putting in ten or more hours Monday through Saturday. Danny's jealousy had been aroused because the owner of the gallery and Mel's boss, Michael Herman, had made a play for her. Even after her and Danny's initial dreams came true and she got pregnant, Michael had pursued her actively, without regard for her beloved husband.
Maybe Danny's right to be worried about his marriage. Lisa's best friend had recently admitted in confidence how hard it was for her to "give up her life" to be a stay-at-home mother, the way she and Danny had originally planned. She'd considered it an impossible situation to take Dee-Dee to work with her, certainly since Michael had been trying too hard to be a father to her daughter. Oh, Lisa couldn't deny that Melody's need to have something for herself was justifiable. She'd lived a suffocating life, always under a man's rule, before she met Danny and he'd rescued her both physically and emotionally. Danny couldn't become a stay-at-home father, as an investigator on the Falcon's Bend Police Department with Pete, and that was something Lisa equally understood. Melody wanted Danny to give up his job, since he had "the nerve" to ask the same of her.
I can't understand that. I can't understand how anything but these--Dee's formative years--matter to her. Dee-Dee needs her. I want to be on Melody's side, too, because I've always believed a woman should have the option of having it all. But now that I have a child of my own, I can't imagine not wanting only what's best for Teddy and Pete, my family. I've become what I spent my college years and most of my twenties vowing to never be.
Lisa swallowed, her attention diverting back to Teddy, who was now crying, "Higher. Push higher!" Lisa did...a little. Teddy giggled effusively.
I should have been gentler in giving her advice. Instead, she'd offended someone who'd become a sister to her in the last few years. Mel had refused to speak to her or Danny, and, as a result, Lisa had been worrying constantly. She'd also been babying Danny and Dee-Dee in hopes Melody would see reason about this situation. Lisa suspected she'd done the opposite and made her friend feel alone against the world. During the past few weeks, Danny's mother and sisters had been babysitting Dee while he and Melody were at work. That won't last. Sooner or later, something has to give. I just pray it's not the marriage. Though Mel and Danny's relationship has been as volatile as a hurricane, they're so much in love, no one can imagine them ever breaking apart for long.
Lisa forced herself to engage with her son again and soon lost herself in their blissful happiness. In the back of her mind, she made the decision to go over and talk to her friend tonight. She missed Mel. She knows I can't shut up and just be supportive. I don't know how to be a person like that. Not with a situation like this, so near and dear my own heart. She looked with fierce love at Teddy, giggling still. The novelty hadn't worn off for either of them yet.
Movement drew her gaze, and Lisa gasped mildly when she realized her neighbor on the opposite side of the Vincents' house was out on her side porch paralleling Lisa's backyard. The Bocas had moved in a year and a handful of months ago. The man couldn't have been thirty-five years old and Pete had mentioned after talking to the husband that the woman was even younger. Lisa remembered being in a fog the day she'd realized they had new neighbors. She'd been caring for Teddy to the exclusion of all else. In the time since, she'd neglected to do more than greet her new neighbors... Actually she'd never seen more than glimpses of the woman. She'd had the unfortunate displeasure of talking to the husband a few times, and she'd come away from the experiences wondering if he was coming on to her with his wife so close by. Maybe he was just naturally charming to all women, but Lisa had been put off by him instantly. Her ill-will toward the man had increased when, recently, she'd seen him coming out of a tavern with some woman--obviously not his wife. He and the scantily-clad female had been pawing each other and kissing all the way to his car, and, presumably from there, to her apartment or a motel.
Lisa recalled that Pete had told her about brief interactions with the husband since they'd moved in, but he'd said each time that he hadn't formed an opinion. That was a cop answer, and Lisa knew it. Unless there was a definite reason for suspicion, Pete would reserve his judgment indefinitely.
Bocais away a lot. Leaves early in the morning and rarely gets home before dark. Every day, too. The wife almost never leaves the house. I see her through the oversized, curtain-less windows sometimes. No way to avoid that. But she sometimes has a visitor during the day. A man wearing what looks like hospital scrubs. That guy sometimes brings groceries or other things for her. I've seen him use the key hidden under the huge plant on the front porch of the house to let himself in. So he must be some relative.
Unable to help herself, Lisa studied the woman, shocked by how withdrawn, pale, and gauntly thin she was. Mel thinks she's anorexic and/or bulimic. She's mentioned that the few times we talked about our new neighbors.
Mrs. Boca--not twenty-five years old, Lisa would bet--wore a non-descript handkerchief around her head. She's always got something like this on around her head. Because she's bald? She has to be. There's nothing under that handkerchief. It fits right against her skull. And she doesn't have eyebrows either.
Lisa swallowed with difficulty, wondering if the woman was sick. Cancer? What else could it be? Anorexia or bulimia doesn't make your hair fall out...or does it? Maybe it does. How would I know? But what about eyebrows?
Full-out staring the way she was, Lisa was shocked when the woman noticed her. Before Lisa could apologize or say a word of greeting, her neighbor all but leapt back from the deck and ran into the house through the patio door. Her expression didn't escape Lisa's notice. She looked furtive. Almost terrified. What in the world? Surely she can't be afraid of me or Teddy?
Lisa turned back to her son. "Getting hungry, teddy bear?"
Teddy nodded, easily allowing the transition--something Lisa told herself he got from his daddy. As she slowed the swing, then scooped her son out, she glanced at the neighboring house again, sighing. That house had gone through its share of temporary owners--most of them unfriendly and not at all sharing the roles of raising young families as everyone else currently living in the Wisteria Road subdivision were. The Bocas had done nothing to make their house a real home. They hadn't put up curtains, and Lisa couldn't help looking in undeterred, often. They barely had any furniture or possessions, she'd noted. While Lisa hated to be nosy, she considered it impossible not to see things. Like the husband always being on the phone or laptop when he was home. Like almost never seeing this husband and wife in the same room together, let alone interacting the way a couple would. Once or twice she'd seen the woman cooking, serving her husband, cleaning when she barely looked able to stand up straight.
Still bothered by the furtive, scared look her neighbor had worn on her skeletal face a moment ago, Lisa carried her son back to the house, looking up in time to see the predicted rain starting to fall. Inside, after she helped Teddy take off his jacket, hat and mittens and muddy boots, she let him choose several picture books to look at on the dining room table while she got lunch started.
Why is this woman hiding? That's what she's doing, too. I can count on one hand how many times I've seen her outside since they moved in. So why is she inside all the time? Didn't her husband once say something after they first arrived? Something about his wife not being able to tolerate the sun? Lisa grimaced. It seemed more than that--seemed like she couldn't tolerate people. Why did she look so skittish? What is she afraid of?
Teddy giggled and held up a book, saying, "Funny 'gator", and Lisa responded to his sweetness. Her neighbors were none of her business. Her main concern was her family. Her own active, wonderful life. She'd gotten in trouble in the past, being a busybody neighbor, sticking her nose in where it didn't belong, causing awkward situations that had made a few unkind people dub her an "invading army when something was amiss and thought only she could come to the rescue".
The Bocas are none of my concern. End of story.
She didn't even believe herself.