Yesterday I finished the first edit of "Kingdom Come" and sent it off to beta. "Kingdom Come" is a murder mystery novel set in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania and it involves the Amish. And there is a m-m romance plotline to it as well. Like the hero, Detective Meyer Harris, I was born in Pennsylvania and moved away for college. My husband and I returned 3 years ago and bought a farm here. Although Meyer's reasons for returning are different than mine, a lot of his feelings about Lancaster County--good and bad--are autobiographical.
"Kingdom Come" also represents a sort of cross-over for me. Before I wrote m/m romance as Eli Easton, I published mysteries and thrillers under another name. "Kingdom Come" contains both that old writer and the new.
Here're a few images I used for inspiration of the tone and mood of "Kingdom Come". It's something like a m/m version of "Witness" meets "The Killing" (the AMC TV show). NOTE: These are not the official cover, just inspiration images.
And here's an early excerpt -- the first part of chapter 1.
The Dead Girl
“We’ve got a dead girl. I need you.”
I blearily looked at the clock. It was five-forty-five a.m. on a Wednesday morning. I hated being woken up early. It ranked right up there with cold coffee and flat tires.
“Where?” I tried to get my mind clear of the bitter murk of a lingering nightmare. I couldn’t remember the details, but I remembered holding Terry’s cold, wet hand as he laid in the street.
Grady gave me the address. “It’s… sensitive,” he added, his voice tight.
“All right.” I didn’t get his meaning. It wasn’t like I was going to stop on the way and alert the media. Still, those two words haunted me as I followed the GPS to the address he gave me. When I drew close I understood.
The address on Grimlace Lane was an Amish farm in the middle of a whole lot of other Amish farms in the borough of Paradise, Pennsylvania. Sensitive like a broken tooth. Murders didn’t happen here, not here.
Even before I parked, my mind started generating theories and scenarios. Dead girl, Grady had said. If it had been natural causes or an accident, like falling down the stairs, Grady wouldn’t have called me in. It had to be murder or at least a suspicious death. A father disciplining his daughter a little too hard? Dottering Grandma dipping into the rat poison rather than the flour?
There were a couple of black-and-whites and an unmarked car—Grady’s—by the barn. The CSI team and coroner had not yet arrived. I didn’t live far from the murder site. I was glad for the head start and the quiet.
I paused outside my car to get a sense of place. The interior of the barn glowed in the cold dark of a winter morning. I took in the classic white shape of a two-story bank barn, the snowy corn fields behind, the glow of lanterns coming from the huge, barely open barn door…. It looked like one of those quaint paintings you see hanging in the local tourist shops with a title like Winter Dawn. I’d only moved back to Pennsylvania eight month ago after spending ten years in Manhattan. I still felt a pang at the quiet beauty of it.
Until I opened the door and slipped inside.
It wasn’t what I expected. It was like some bizarre and horrific game of mixed-up pictures. The warmth of the rough barn wood was lit by a half dozen oil lanterns. Add in the scattered straw, two Jersey cows, and twice as many horses, all watching the proceedings with bland interest from various stalls, and it felt like a cozy step back in time. That vibe did not compute with the dead girl on the floor of the barn. She was most definitely not Amish, which was the first surprise. She was young and beautiful, like something out of a 50’s pulp magazine. She had long, honey blond hair and a face that still had the blush of life thanks to the heavy make-up she wore. She had on a candy pink sweater that molded over taunt breasts and a short gray wool skirt that was pushed up to her hips. She still wore pink underwear, though it looked roughly twisted. Her nails were the same shade as her sweater. Her bare feet, thighs, and hands were blue-white with death, and her neck too, at the line below her jaw where the make-up stopped.
The whole scene felt unreal, like some pretentious performance art, the kind in those Soho galleries Terry had always dragged me too. But then, death always looked unreal.
“Coat? Shoes?” I asked, already taking inventory. Maybe knee-high boots, I thought, reconstructing it in my mind. And thick tights to go with that wool skirt. Even a girl worried more about looks than weather wouldn’t go bare-legged in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania in January.
“They’re not here. We looked.” Grady’s voice was tense. I finally spared him a glance. His face was drawn in a way I’d never seen before, like he was digesting a meal of ground glass.
In that instant, I saw the media attention this could get, the politics, the outrage. I remembered that Amish school shooting a few years back. I hadn’t lived here then, but I’d seen the press. Who hadn’t?
“You sure you want me on this?” I asked him quietly.
“You’re the most experienced homicide detective I’ve got,” Grady said. “I need you, Harris. And I need this wrapped up quickly.”
“Yeah.” I wasn’t agreeing that it could be. My gut said this wasn’t going to be a shut-and-dried case, but I agreed it would be nice. “Who found her? Do we know who she is?”
“Jacob Miller, eleven years old. He’s the son of the Amish farmer who lives here. Poor kid. Came out to milk the cows this morning and found her just like that. The family says they have no idea who she is or how she got here.”
“How many people live on the property?”
“Amos Miller, his wife, and their six children. The oldest, a boy, is fifteen. The youngest is three.”
More vehicles pulled up outside. The forensics team no doubt. I was gratified that Grady had called me in first. It was good to see the scene before it turned into a lab.
“Can you hold them outside for five minutes?” I asked Grady.
He nodded and went out.
I pulled on some latex gloves, then looked at the body, bending down to get as close to it as I could without touching it. The left side of her head, towards the back, was matted with blood and had the look of a compromised skull. The death blow? I tried to imagine what had happened. The killer—he or she——had probably come up behind the victim, struck her with something heavy. The autopsy would tell us more. I didn’t think it had happened here. There were no signs of a disturbance or the blood you’d expect from a head wound, and it just felt wrong. I carefully pulled up her hip a bit and looked at the underside of her back and thigh. Very minor lividity. She hadn’t been in this position long—no more than six hours. And I noticed something else—her clothes were wet. I rubbed a bit of her wool skirt and sweater between my fingers to be sure—and came away with dampness on the latex. She wasn’t soaked now, and her skin was dry, so she’d been here long enough to dry out, but she’s been very wet at some point. I could see now that her hair wasn’t just styled in a casual damp-dry curl, it had been recently wet, probably post-mortem along with her clothes.
I straightened frowning. It was odd. We’d had two inches of snow the previous afternoon, but it was too cold for rain. If the body had been left outside in the snow would it have gotten this wet? Maybe the M.E. could tell me.
Since I was sure she hadn’t been killed in the barn, I checked the floor for drag marks. The floor was wooden planks kept so clean there was no straw or dirt in which drag marks would show, but there were traces of wet prints. Then again, the boy who’d found the body had been in the barn and so had Grady and the uniforms, and me too. I carefully examined the girl’s bare feet. There was no broken skin, no sign her feet had been dragged through the snow or across rough boards.
The killer was strong. He’d carried her in here and laid her down. Which meant he’d arranged her like this—pulled up her skirt, splayed her thighs. He’d wanted it to look sexual. Why?
The doors opened. Grady and the forensics team stood in the doorway.
“Blacklight this whole area,” I requested. “And this floor—see if you can get any prints or traffic patterns off it. Don’t let anyone in until that’s done. I’m going to look outside.” I looked at Grady. “The M.E.?”
“Should be here any minute.”
“Good. Make sure she’s tested for any signs of penetration, consensual or otherwise.”
Grady barked orders. The crime scene technicians—a pair I knew by name only, Jill and Anthony—pulled on blue coveralls and booties just outside the door. This was only the sixth homicide needing real investigation I’d been on since moving back to Lancaster—the others had been cut-and-dried domestic or gang violence. I was still impressed that the department had decent tools and protocol, even though I knew that was just big city arrogance talking.
I left them to it and went out to find my killer’s tracks in the snow.
* * *
This winter had been harsh this year. In fact, it was shaping up to be the worst in decades. We’d had a white Christmas and then it never really left. The fresh two inches we’d gotten the day before had covered up an older foot or two of dirty snow and ice. Thanks to a low of the 20’s overnight, the fresh snow had a dry, powdery surface that showed no signs of melting. It still wasn’t fun to walk on, though, due to the underlying grunge. It said a lot about the killer if he’d carried her body over any distance.
There was a neatly shoveled path from the house to the barn and in front of the barn doors. Most of the snow in the central open area between the house and the barn had been stomped down, from feet both human and animal. It didn’t take me long to spot a deep set of prints heading off across an open field that was otherwise pristine. The line of prints came and went, the ‘leaving’ prints sometimes laying over the approaching prints. They showed a sole like a work boot and they were as large as my own feet. They came from, and returned to, a distant copse of trees. I bent over to examine one of the prints close to the barn. It had definitely been made since the last snowfall.
A few minutes later, I got my first look at Amos Miller, the Amish farmer who owned the property. Grady called him out and showed him the tracks. Miller looked to be in his mid-forties with dark brown hair and a long, unkempt beard. His face was round and solemn. I said nothing, just observed. There’d be time later to question Miller and everyone else on the property. Right now those tracks were glowing in my brain like they were covered in radioactive dust.
They say the first forty-eight hours are critical in a homicide case, and that’s true, but, frankly, a lot of murders can be solved in the first eight hours. Sometimes it’s obvious—the boyfriend standing there with a guilty look and blood under his nails rambling about a ‘masked robber’. Sometimes the neighbors can tell you they heard a knock-down, drag-out fight. And sometimes… there are tracks in the snow.
“Nah. I didn’t make them prints and ain’t no reason for my boys to be out there.” He said ‘there’ as dah, his German accent as broad as his face. “But lemme ask ’em just to be sure.”
He started to stomp away. I called after him. “Bring them out here, please.”
Grady shot me an assessing look, but he didn’t argue. I wanted to see their faces as they denied it—assuming they did.
First impression of Amos Miller? He looked worried. Then again, he was an Amish farmer with two boys in their teens. A beautiful young English girl—the Amish called everyone who was not Amish ‘English’—was dead and spread-eagle in his barn. I’d be worried too.
He came back with three boys. The youngest was small and still a child. That was probably Jacob, the eleven-year-old who’d found the body. His face was blank, like he was in shock. The next one up looked to be around thirteen, just starting puberty. He was thin with a rather awkward nose and oversized hands he still hadn’t grown into. His father introduced him as Ham. The oldest, Wayne, had to be the fifteen-year-old that Grady mentioned, the oldest child. All three were decent-looking boys in that wholesome, bowl-cut way of Amish youth. The older two looked excited but not guilty. I suppose it was quite an event, having a dead body found on your farm. I wondered if the older boys had been in the barn to see the girl since their little brother’s discovery. Knowing how large families worked, I couldn’t imagine they hadn’t.
Each of the boys looked at the tracks and shook his head. “Nah,” the oldest added for good measure. “Ain’t from me.”
“Any of you recognize that print?” I asked. “Does it look like boots you’ve seen before?”
They all craned forward to look. Amos stroked his beard. “Just look like boots. Maybe. You can check all ours if you like. We’ve nothin’ to hide.”
I nodded at Grady. We’d definitely want the crime team to inventory every pair of shoes and boots in the house.
“Would you all mind stepping over here for me?” I lead them over to the other side of the ice-and-gravel drive where there was some untouched snow. “Youngest to oldest, one at a time.”
The youngest stepped forward into the snow with both feet, then back. The others mimicked his actions obediently, including Amos Miller.
“Thank you. That’s all for now. I’ll want to speak to you a bit later, so please stay home.”
They went back inside and Grady and I compared the tracks. All three of the boys had visibly smaller feet than the tracks in the snow. Amos’s prints were possibly large enough but didn’t have the same sole pattern. Besides, I was sure Grady wasn’t missing the fact that the prints came and went from the trees since the prints heading that direction overlaid the ones approaching the barn.
“Ronks Road is over there beyond those woods.” Grady sounded hopeful as he pointed across the field. “Can it be that easy?”
Grady cocked an eyebrow at me.
“You’ll jinx it. Never say the word ‘easy’. That’s inviting Murphy and his six cousins.”
Grady smirked a bit. “Well if the killer dumped her here, he had to come from somewhere.”
I grunted. I knew what Grady was thinking. I was thinking it too. A car of rowdy youth, or maybe just a guy and his hot date. A girl ends up dead and he/they get the bright idea to dump her on an Amish farm. They drive out here, park, cross a snowy cornfield and leave her in a random barn.
It sounded like a stupid teenage prank, only it was murder and possibly an attempt to frame someone else. That was a lot of prison years of serious. A story like that—it would make the press happy and Grady fucking ecstatic, especially if we could nab the guy who wore those boots by tonight.
“Get a photographer and a recorder and let’s go,” I said, feeling only a moment’s silent regret over my suede oxfords. I should have worn my snow boots.