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Follow the Palm (FF) (Charlotte Diamond Mysteries 9)

Charlotte Diamond Mysteries

Cyberworld Publishing

Heat Rating: SWEET
Word Count: 35,482
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The ninth Charlotte Diamond mystery finds retired FBI senior agent Charlotte Diamond contemplating too many coincidences in what should be two separate mysteries.

The mysteries start with two murders and the uncovering of a illegal drug distribution ring in what should be a bucolic, out-of-the-way place, the Curtain Call movie folks retirement community in Hopewell on the Choptank in Maryland that Charlotte owns and operates with her spouse, movie top box-office star, Brenda Brandon. The drugs are distributed in plastic packets with a green palm tree embossed on them. When the two head south for Brenda’s singing appearance at the annual Spoleto arts festival in Charleston, South Carolina, the same packets turn up there. The “too many coincidences” continue as the two women find themselves landing in danger by agreeing to stay during Brenda’s Spoleto gig at a coastal tea plantation owned by an actress with whom Brenda had appeared in Hollywood movies.

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Walt Miller and Clippers raised their heads at the same time. Both were perking up their ears at what normally would be the sound of silence other than the usual frog and cricket sounds at the edge of the swamp at the back of the old Thompson property on Hopewell’s River Street. Against the natural noises of the night, neither really had brought the increasingly louder sound of the powerful engines of a water craft fully forward in their consciousness until the sound had suddenly stopped. This, despite how unusual it was to hear a motor craft on this section of Maryland’s Choptank River at this time of night in the fall and also despite Walt having expected something of this nature. The summer-only river residents had been gone for a month or more, so this should be a quiet time of the year.

Once detected, neither the sound of the motor nor that it had ceased surprised Walt all that much.

It had been near midnight when Clippers, the basset hound, had insisted on being walked—or, at least, that was the story Walt would be giving if accosted. Walking to the edge of the swamp area from the backyard of Walt’s house on Spring Street, which ran into River, was a shorter distance than taking the street route. Besides, Walt was in his pajamas, robe, and slippers, not a sight he wanted to subject any late street strollers in the small town of Hopewell to, although he did it often and knew it backed up his story for being out here on the edge of the swamp at night.

Clippers had done his business, and Walt had pulled off the path into the dense underbrush to wait and observe. But the sound of silence now was pierced with the scrape of metal bumping up against tree trunks, accompanied by an expletive rendered in a low, muffled voice.

And then a sound came from another direction, from the edge of the grounds of the rest home Brenda Boynton and Charlotte Diamond had opened up for retired movie folks on a peninsula thrusting into the Choptank. Walt turned toward this new sound, and was about to utter words of recognition and query when the plank of wood hit him full in the face and he dropped to the ground like a rock.

Clippers gave a pained yelp as a well-aimed kick connected with his stomach. Walt had dropped the dog’s leash when he went down, and the kick propelled Clippers off the pathway rimming the edge of the swamp. The plank of wood lashed out again into the undergrowth there, but it didn’t connect with anything. Whatever direction Clippers had careened off in, he just kept on moving. Finally, he settled a bit off from the path, unwilling to leave his master, and bayed at the sky briefly—but only briefly, as the sound of feet churning through the undergrowth in his direction made him go silent and sent him lumbering off into the trees behind the Thompson lot.

Low voices, conversing and cursing, over where Walt lay, wrapped up quickly, with the only sound above the frogs and crickets now being that of something being dragged through the undergrowth, followed once again by that of waves lapping against the hull of a moving boat. Then the dominant sound became that of powerful engines revving up and slowly diminishing into the distance. This was followed by just the sounds of the frogs and crickets—and of Clippers’ snuffling as he returned to follow the drag marks up toward the rest home property.

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