Here’s a sneak preview of Writing Can Be Murder…released October 2014

Chapter One
Iowa
Early September

CHIP COLLINGSWORTH HAD WRITTEN about murder…victims shot, brutally mutilated, suffocated, poisoned. But that was all fiction. He hadn’t seen a real murder scene until he stood and stared at the inert body.
The man was dressed in jeans, a purple University of St. Thomas sweatshirt and Nikes. He looked as if he had fallen asleep while reading the book that was open on his chest. But his face was ashy and his body stiff-looking with what Chip assumed was rigor mortis. A thin trail of blood seeped beneath the pages of the book. It pooled on his left side, a dark red, sticky puddle. There was little doubt that he was dead.
A knot of nausea formed in Chip’s midsection and started to rise up his chest, his gag reflex forming a bitter taste in his mouth. He quickly turned aside and took a deep breath, then another.
It was his friend Patrick Finnegan.
***
Early that morning Chip Collingsworth drove from Turners Bend, Iowa, to Minneapolis. For as far as he could see, orange cones blocked off one lane of Interstate 35. He thought of himself as a fairly intelligent man. Yet, the workings of the Department of Transportation were beyond his understanding. There were no signs of any work being done, no workers, no heavy equipment, no torn-up asphalt, only a long line of slow-moving traffic inching north at 35 mph. The road crew is probably off drinking coffee and eating donuts waiting for their lunch break.
Chip had recently traded in his Volvo convertible for a new state-of-the-art hybrid, a Ford 2014 C-Max with a SYNC voice-activated system. He hadn’t tired of ringing all the car’s bells and tooting all its whistles.
“Call Jane,” he commanded. “Hi, darling. How’s my blushing bride?”
“I’m in Hjalmer’s barn treating a nasty case of scours. Neonatal calf diarrhea is no fun. Being a vet is not all cute kitties and puppies, you know. Are you in Minneapolis yet?”
“Not even close. I’m caught in road construction traffic. Being on the road trying to promote my books is no fun either, especially when it takes me away from you. If it doesn’t let up, I’ll be late for my signing at ONCE UPON A CRIME bookstore. What’s that bellowing I hear?”
“It’s the calf, Chip. Have to go, love. Sell lots of books and drive safely.”
That’s the same thing Lucinda said to me…only with venom not sweetness in her voice.
Lucinda Patterson Williams was his literary agent. She always found time to promote his career, as well as make his life hell. For a brief period Chip thought romance and marriage might soften her, but he was sadly mistaken. She wanted him in the public eye making appearances and promoting his crime novels. And, as if that wasn’t enough, she was pressuring him to sign another three-book contract.
“Play Lorde.” Strains from “Royals” filled the car’s interior and Chip sang along…”I’ve never seen a diamond in the flesh…”
He was on his way for a joint signing with a fellow crime writer, Patrick Finnegan. Finnegan was moderately successful, while Chip’s books were hugely popular. There’s no under-estimating the reading public’s desire for tall, handsome doctors and strong, sexy female FBI agents!
He liked Finnegan. They had met in New York at ThrillerFest, a writer’s convention, and discovered they both lived in the Midwest, Chip in Turners Bend, Iowa, and Patrick in Minneapolis, and that they both wrote police procedural novels. Shortly after, they started sharing and critiquing each other’s work, emailing chapters back and forth. Chip trusted Patrick’s opinions and respected his writing skills. He was pleased to be seeing him again in person and sharing a signing event at ONCE UPON A CRIME.
Chip placed a call to Patrick, but got his voice mail box. “Hi Patrick, this is Chip. I’m meeting Pat and Gary at Common Roots before the store opens. Meet us there, if you can. Otherwise I’ll see you at 11:00.”
The bookstore was a popular site for mystery readers, and author signings drew large crowds. Jane’s son, Sven, was a student at the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. MCAD was within walking distance of the store, and Sven had promised to bring a bunch of his college friends to the book signing.
Chip had done some research on the college when Sven first expressed an interest in the school. He thought it would make a great location for a crime story, or better still, a ghost story. The Minnesota Paranormal Society reported that a student who was raped and murdered haunted the school, and students had claimed to be awakened in the night freezing and hearing screams.
“Call Sven.” Sven would say this voice-activated system is “sick.”
“Sven, it’s Chip. You hear any ghosts screaming in the night yet?”
“Nah, I sleep with ear plugs. This on-campus apartment is noisy until the early morning hours. It’s usually two or three in the morning before the partying stops.”
“Still plan on coming to the signing today?”
“Sure, and we’ve decided to all come as our favorite detective. I found this dirty, rumpled trench coat in a thrift store; I’m coming as Colombo.”
“How in the world do you know Colombo? That show was off the air before you were born.”
“We studied it in our Television History class. My friend Bart has a shaved head so he’s coming as Kojak.”
“I can always count on you for added entertainment, Sven. See you soon.”
Chip’s mind turned to Jane’s kids, Sven and Ingrid. He had grown fond of them, but he tread carefully in his relationship with them. They had both suffered from their parents’ divorce. Now their father was a fugitive from the law. Not easy for teens to cope with. Both kids had seen a slew of federal agents hunting for their dad and had their own brushes with crimes, Sven as a perpetrator and Ingrid as a victim. Sven had proven to be resilient and seemed to be enjoying college, but Ingrid had become fearful and withdrawn.
Chip left Iowa’s wind farms behind and passed the Welcome to Minnesota sign. The orange cones disappeared and traffic began to flow at or above the posted 70 mph. He would arrive just in time to meet the bookstore owners, Gary and Pat, for coffee at Common Roots. He was badly in need of a cup of coffee to quell his traffic-jangled nerves.
Chip admired the bookstore owners. Gary was tall and slender with a wry smile and quiet demeanor. He usually hung out behind the sales counter. Pat was petit and intense. She scurried around amongst the book cases and racks, always busy. They were a perfectly matched couple of opposites, and they ran a thriving business in an economy that was not kind to independent booksellers.
***
Chip walked with Pat and Gary to the store thirty minutes before opening time. He took along a large cup of dark roast, enough to get him through the two-hour session of meeting and greeting his readers. A line of customers was already forming along the sidewalk. Chip scanned the group. He waved to Colombo and Kojak and a pair of girls who looked like they could be Cagney and Lacey.
“Wow, that’s a pretty impressive turn-out,” said Chip.
“Oh, we expect you and Finnegan will draw a constant stream of buyers. Minneapolis is one of the best mystery markets in the country,” explained Gary. “Maybe it’s the long winters. All I can say is our little store has survived for twenty-six years, and we sell only one genre.”
The garden-level store was in an old apartment building. It was about as far from a big box bookstore as you could get. Chip felt like he was back East, maybe in Brooklyn or Cambridge or his hometown of Baltimore.
They descended five steps and Pat unlocked the door and flipped on the lights. The main room had floor-to-ceiling books along the walls. Tables and low shelves crowded the cramped space so that there was barely room to walk. It was a little dated, but charming and inviting, a book-lover’s haven.
Pat moved toward the back of the store to set up a table for signing. Chip heard her gasp, and he and Gary walked toward her. She was on her knees next to a man lying on the floor.
“Gary, quick. Call 911.” She reached out to feel the man’s neck and quickly withdrew her hand. “Oh my God, oh my God, he’s cold, I think he’s dead.”
***
Not long after the first MPD officers arrived and called for assistance, Dr. Samuel Cooper, the Hennepin County Medical Examiner, and Homicide Detective Mario Franco, who eerily reminded Chip of his fictional detective, Mike Frisco, were on the scene.
“The cause of death is clearly a single gunshot wound to the chest,” the ME said to the detective. “The TOD is probably at least twelve hours ago. Weapon was a small-caliber handgun of some kind. I’ll have more definitive info for you after the autopsy. When the crime photos are done, send him over to the lab. We have a full house today, two shootings on the Northside last night.”
“Thanks Doc. There’s no sign of a struggle in the store. The back door was broken into. He wasn’t murdered here. The way he’s positioned with the book on his chest indicates the body was staged,” said the detective. “The perp wanted to send a message. We just have to find out what and why. The choice of that book is a good place to start.”
He turned to Chip. “The officers told me this guy was an author and you’re an author, too, Collingsworth. You read his books?”
“Yes, I’ve read them all. He was a damn good writer.”
“What about the book on his chest? It’s one of his, right?”
“Yes. The book was Finnegan’s latest thriller, Shanghaied, a story about Asian gangs in St. Paul. It contains a lot of factual information about gang culture and criminal activities, and exposé of sorts.”
“I’d like to talk with you later, find out what was in his books. Don’t have time to read when I’ve got a murder investigation on my hands. For starters I’ll need to know what the victim wrote about as a possible connection to his murder. Of course, that’s only one angle we’ll have to pursue.”
***
At Franco’s request, Chip checked into the Hyatt on Nicollet Mall, just a short distance from ONCE UPON A CRIME. He would spend the night, make a statement at the First Precinct police station the next morning and then return to his home and Jane. This was the first night away from her since their wedding in Las Vegas last year, and he would rather have been going home.
He was shaken and spooked as he walked down the deserted hallway to his hotel room. He needed a drink to calm his nerves and wrap his head around the death of his friend. Hopefully this place has a well-stocked mini-bar.
The bar had his brew of choice, Sam Adams. With a bottle in one hand, he placed a call to Jane with the other. When he got her voice mail, all he could think to say was, “Where are you, honey? I’m missing you something fierce. Call me.”
Then strangely, if he couldn’t be with Jane, he wanted to be with his characters. They had become so real to him that he felt a need to communicate with them. He had brought along his new toy, a state-of-the-art tablet. He set up the stand and keyboard and started the first chapter of his next book, flushing out an idea sparked by the experiences of his most unusual day and welcoming the return of FBI agent, Jo Schwann, and Dr. John Goodman, neurosurgeon. He was pretty sure the two of them could look at a brutal murder scene without
getting queasy.

Chapter Two

Untitled
By: Charles Edgar Collingsworth III

St. Paul, MN
Late October

IT WAS WHAT RICK WILSON didn’t hear that mattered in the end.
If only he’d been able to hear the lock being picked, the stealthy footsteps of the killer as he entered the apartment, he might have been able to do something. He might have called the cops, or hidden away, or even found the courage to go after the bad guy with the Louisville Slugger he kept under his bed, if he was feeling bad-ass enough.
But he’d worn the neon-green earplugs to bed, so he wouldn’t wake up later to hear his roommate Kyle fucking Anna, the girl he’d been in love with since freshman year. He knew they’d stumble in after another night of partying at the frat house and he couldn’t bear to hear their sexual escapades one more time.
The earplugs silenced everything except the pounding inside his head. That is, until the bullet furrowed its way through his skull. Then all sound ceased.
He didn’t hear Anna’s cry of ecstasy crescendo into a scream of terror, nor the abrupt halt of her breath with the spit of a silenced gun. He didn’t hear the whimpered pleas of Kyle, begging for his life before it, too, was gone.
He didn’t hear the sounds of the apartment being torn apart, of his laptop being smashed, all his meticulous notes ripped from the notebook, crumpled up and set on fire. He didn’t hear the killer leave.
He didn’t hear the shouts of Grant, the hipster who lived two doors down, when he snuffed out the fledgling flames with a blanket.
He didn’t hear the EMTs shove everyone aside to work frantically on his body that was desperately trying to mend itself.
He didn’t hear the siren of the ambulance or the beeping of the instruments as he was whisked away to the hospital.
As it was, he was blissfully unaware of it all. He didn’t hear a thing.