Boxes in the Basement
After suffering a personal tragedy Abby Sullivan buys a huge old seaside mansion she has never even seen, packs up her life in San Francisco, and moves to Holiday Bay Maine, where she is adopted, quite against her will, by a huge Maine Coon Cat named Rufus, a drifter with her own tragic past named Georgia, and a giant dog with an inferiority complex named Ramos. What Abby thought she needed was alone time to heal. What she ended up with was, an inn she never knew she wanted, a cat she couldn't seem to convince to leave, and a new family she'd never be able to live without.
In book 1 of this series, a local girl has been murdered and the small seaside community is up in arms. When Abby finds boxes in the basement of her new home, which seem to provide a clue as to who might have killed the girl, Abby plants herself firmly in the middle of what has turned out to be a complicated investigation. Although Abby isn't a cop, or even a private detective, she isn't unfamiliar with the investigative process. As a New York Times Bestselling mystery writer she knows how to conduct research. As the widow of a homicide detective, she knows the questions to ask.
Join Abby, Georgia, Rufus, and Ramos, as they help Officer Colt Wilder track down a killer before he kills the next victim in what looks to be a annual spree.
Release date: November 20, 2018
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 150
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Boxes in the Basement
Maybe it had been insanity that caused me to sell my condo, pack my belongings, and buy a huge old house I’d never even seen. Maybe it had been my unwillingness to face the grief I would not deal with and could not escape, that caused me to move to a town I knew nothing about and had never even visited. Or maybe, just maybe, when I’d seen the ad for the rundown old house perched on a bluff overlooking the sea, I hadn’t been running at all. Maybe, I tried desperately to convince myself, I’d simply seen the opportunity to do something fun. Creative. Different.
No, I admitted as I gingerly placed a foot on the first of three rotted steps leading to the decayed front porch. It hadn’t been insanity, an unwillingness to deal, or a longing for fun that caused me to give up my life in California to move to a tiny town in coastal Maine where no one knew who I was or what I’d been through. What it had been, I decided, was preservation.
I sighed in relief when I made it to the front door without falling through the rotted wood. I took out the brand-new key I’d been given by the Realtor after he’d had the locks changed prior to my arrival, opened the door, and then stepped into the entry. The floor was damaged and would need to be replaced, and the wallpaper was peeling and would need to be stripped, but the rooms were totally empty, and empty rooms, I knew, even those in disrepair, were preferable to rooms filled with well-meaning friends who were unable to deal with your grief and wanted to help but felt helpless to do so.
The entrance to the home was large and airy and opened up to twin staircases spiraling toward the second story. I’d been told the house had three stories of living space, ten bedrooms, eight baths, and a large living area consisting of several rooms including a parlor and a library, on the first floor. I was also promised the property included a separate guesthouse that could be used as a mother-in-law unit. Apparently, the English gentleman who built the house back in 1895 had grand plans to marry his one true love and fill those ten bedrooms with chubby-cheeked children, but his dream, like mine, had never come to fruition, and so like me, he’d moved away. I knew there had been several owners between Chamberlain Westminster and Bodine Devine, the man from whom I’d bought the house. I wasn’t certain of the entire history, but I supposed it didn’t really matter.
While my move to the small town of Holiday Bay might not have been well-thought-out, the challenge to gently nudge the old girl back to her former glory had come at the perfect time. The house, I decided, would occupy my energy and my mind. Rehabilitating it would give me focus and provide a safe harbor from which I could fight my demons and finally begin to heal.
My long brown hair blew across my face as the front door blew open behind me. I whirled around, prepared to defend my territory, but all I found was empty space. I put a hand to my chest as my heart pounded. There was no one there; it was just the wind. I had to admit this huge, empty house had me on edge. It was almost as if I was half-expecting someone or something to jump out at me from around every corner. I took a deep breath, crossed the room, and reached for the door, preparing to remedy the situation, when a huge orange cat that had to be half mountain lion given its enormous size, darted between my legs and into the entry. “Shoo,” I said as I waved my arms toward it. The cat looked at me with eyes as green as my own, took a few steps, turned, then trotted up the stairs. “Hey,” I called after the feline. “You don’t live here. You really can’t stay.” The cat reached the landing at the top of the first flight of stairs, turned to glare at me once again, and then continued down the hallway.
“Damn cat,” I muttered under my breath. Life, I decided, was a cruel jokester. As if I didn’t have enough to deal with, I now seemed to have a stowaway. Suffice it to say, Abby Sullivan was not now, nor had she ever been, a cat person, or any kind of animal person for that matter. I considered going after the cat but decided that perhaps it would find its way out on its own.
Returning my attention to the house, I walked into what, I assumed, was the main living area. The room was empty, but the hand-carved mantel, which framed the old stone fireplace, truly was a work of art. I ran my hand over the intricately carved surface and imagined the craftsman who had taken the time to get every detail just right. Hand carvings like this were rare these days, and I knew in my heart that the mantel, at least, would need to be preserved.
I turned back toward the room and considered the intricately carved crown molding along the ceiling. There were sections that would need to be replaced, but I supposed the damaged sections could be replicated. It would be a shame to tear down the original material if there was any way it could be saved.
I knew I’d taken on a project when I bought the place, but until I’d arrived and had a chance to look around, I’d had no idea how truly large a project it would be. There were a lot of rooms in need of attention, and so far it looked as if each room was the size of my entire condo back in San Francisco.
No need to panic, I assured myself, as I walked into the room I assumed had been previously used as a formal dining area. The house was going to be a lot of work, but I was up for the task. I’d just need to get organized, consider the entire project, and come up with a plan. From my experience, almost any project was possible as long as I broke it down into small steps I could handle so I wouldn’t be overwhelmed by the magnitude of the work in its entirety.
I walked through the dining area to the back of the house, where I imagined I’d find the kitchen. The room was charming in an old-fashioned way. It was a large room with a lot of potential, although the appliances were ancient, the wallpaper peeling, and the cabinets dated. I supposed a total gut job would be required for this particular room, which meant that a hotplate and microwave might be good items to purchase, along with cleaning supplies, mousetraps, and maybe something that would provide the mountain lion, who I was certain was still prowling around upstairs, motivation to leave. What I needed, I realized, was a list. I took out my phone and opened an app. Taking action, any action, seemed like a move in a positive direction, which provided my slightly overwhelmed psyche with the illusion of control.
“Number one,” I said aloud, “go to the store and buy food to last several days, and maybe an ice chest to store the food until the status of the refrigerator can be determined.”
I walked over to the refrigerator and opened the door. I grimaced at the mess I found and then took a step back. Determining status didn’t seem to be the issue so much as replacing the old unit with something less disgusting.
“Number two,” I continued, as I walked around the room, opening and closing cupboards, “find a place to set up a home base while renovations are underway.” I had brought an air mattress, sleeping bag, pillow, and jug of water with me, so once I’d figured out where to set up, I’d bring it all in and build a little nest. I had a stack of books, several bottles of wine, music on my phone, and even a propane light that would come in handy until I could deal with the electricity.
“Number three,” I said into my phone, “have gas, water, and electricity turned on.” I paused and looked around at the shabby interior. It really had been a while since the house had been lived in. “Number four,” I added, “find a plumber and an electrician to check everything out before using the gas, water, and electricity.”
There was a door leading off the kitchen that I assumed led to the basement that had been part of the listing. I turned the handle and opened the door to find wooden stairs descending into a dark space. Closing the door, I decided to leave a tour of the basement for another time and continued toward the rear of the house. The laundry area was large, but the windows had been boarded up, and the place was nothing more than a tangle of cobwebs. Taking a deep breath, I continued to the back door, which led out onto a huge deck that actually appeared to be in good repair. Climbing down from the deck, I headed in the direction of an adorable little cottage the Realtor had referred to as the guesthouse. From its location on the edge of the sea, I bet the view from this little place would probably be even more spectacular than the one from the house. Climbing the steps to the wraparound porch, I took out the second set of keys I’d been given and opened the door. I wasn’t expecting much, given the state of disrepair of the main house, so when I opened the door and stepped inside, I was more than pleasantly surprised. The cozy space was dusty, but it looked as if it had been recently renovated and appeared move-in ready. I smiled as I noticed the large stone fireplace on one wall of the main living area. I could imagine how cozy it would be to curl up in front of the fire during a winter storm. The fireplace had a gas insert that looked as if it had been recently installed, but I supposed I should have it checked before I used it. I picked up my phone and added fireplace guy to my list.
The living room, which featured hardwood floors and pale gray walls, opened up to a small but newly updated kitchen, which, thankfully, appeared to have working appliances. The space was charming and modern, with granite countertops and updated cabinets. I knew the cottage had two bedrooms, one in the front that looked out over the now-overgrown garden, and one at the back, overlooking the sea.
I poked my head into one of the two bathrooms. The dark gray granite countertops, like those in the kitchen, looked new, which thrilled me, but the cabinets, while updated, had been painted a dark green. Not really my color, but I could always repaint, and the room looked as if it would be adequate once I had the water turned on. Things were definitely looking up, I decided as I headed to the larger of the two bedrooms. The room had a door at the rear that I assumed opened out to a private deck.
“Wow,” I said as I took in the view. It was simply amazing.
The dark gray of the winter bay in the distance was bordered by a lush green forest covered with a layer of snow producing an absolutely stunning contrast. The entire shoreline looked to be uninhabited, with the exception of a single dwelling in the distance, perched on the edge of the sea. A feeling of peace rose as the serenity of the landscape wrapped itself around me like a warm hug. I’d always found the sea to have a calming effect on my nerves, even during the worst of times.
Here, I decided, as I took in a deep breath of fresh sea air, was where I’d build my nest. Here in this little guesthouse, where I could both wake up and fall asleep to this spectacular view. I’d need a bed, and possibly a dresser, but for now I’d blow up my air mattress and set it next to the huge glass doors, which I planned to wash as soon as I got my supplies. It would be from this perfect spot, in this little house, that I’d read, dream, refurbish, and heal. I knew the journey to making the main house habitable would be a long one. I knew the road to healing would be even longer. But for the first time since I’d packed my SUV and merged onto Hwy 80 east, I actually believed both might be possible.
Heading back to my SUV, I grabbed my laptop and travel bag. I went back to the cottage, making the first of many trips. Once I had the vehicle unloaded, I sat down at the kitchen counter on one of the stools left behind. I took out my laptop and opened my mail app. I used my phone to take a photo of the fantastic view, then attached it to an email.
I stared at the blank page for several minutes as I worked up the courage to continue. I had done a lot of difficult things in the past year, but for some reason, writing this email seemed harder than most.
Greetings from Maine. I’ve attached a photo of the view from the little cottage where I plan to begin rebuilding my life. Isn’t it fabulous? I know you’re concerned that I’ve descended into madness and am no longer in control of my mental faculties, and I understand your trepidation at the choices I’ve made since the accident, but I needed to do this despite your fears. It would mean so much if you could find it in your heart to understand and support my choice.
I read the email through, then let my finger linger over the Send button. Part of me wondered why I bothered, but another part realized that making things right with the only family I had left was a necessary step if I really wanted to rebuild my life.
Holiday Bay was a charming little town that enjoyed a strong economy centered on the visitors who flocked to the area each year to enjoy the magic of an idyllic seaside community. The downtown section of the tiny hamlet consisted of a single street that featured a variety of shops designed to pull in the visitor with their warmth and charm. Currently, the entire main thoroughfare was in the process of being decorated for the upcoming Christmas Festival, which, according to the signs posted along the narrow country road, would take place weekends and evenings between Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve. I had to admit that, despite my lack of interest in holidays in general since Ben and the baby had died, I found the idea of Victorian carolers, sleigh rides through the snow, and chestnuts roasting on an open fire intriguing.
My first stop after completing a quick survey of the town would be the tiny bakery, which smelled of pumpkin and gingerbread as I passed by. I hadn’t eaten since breakfast and I was starving. It was a bit early for dinner, but a sweet treat to tide me over would be just right.
“Can I help you?” asked a plump woman with white hair that matched her white baker’s hat and apron. Talk about typecasting. She looked exactly the way you would imagine a fairy-tale bakeshop owner would, right down to the rosy red cheeks and welcoming smile.
“I’ll have some of whatever smells so good.”
“I’ve just taken a tray of my famous cinnamon rolls out of the oven. I also have pumpkin pecan muffins and apple strudel that should still be warm.”
“A cinnamon roll sounds great. And a cup of coffee. Black.”
I sat down at a small round table and waited for my snack to be served. The place was charming, in a Santa’s Village sort of way.
“Are you visiting town?” the woman asked as she set a large, gooey cinnamon roll and a mug of steaming hot coffee in front of me.
“I actually live here, as of a few hours ago.” I held out my hand. “Abby Sullivan. I bought the house on the bluff.”
Her eyes grew large. “You don’t say. My name is Mary Cramer, but most folks around here call me Mary Christmas.”
I narrowed my gaze. “Mary Christmas?”
She chuckled. “It’s a theme name to go along with the spirit of the town.”
“Oh, sure.” Living in a town where holidays were the main event every single day of the year was going to take some getting used to.
“So you’re the brave soul who bought that money pit from Bodine,” Mary commented with a chuckle.
I smiled a little half smile. “That’s me. Money Pit Abby.”
Mary paused. “I’m sorry. It was rude of me to refer to the house as a money pit. It didn’t work out for Bodine, but I’m sure you’ll make the place grand once again.”
“That’s the plan, although I’m just going to start with painting two rooms in the cottage. I don’t suppose you can point me toward a store where I can buy paint?”
“Buck’s place over on Easter Avenue. He can mix you up whatever color you have in mind.”
“Thanks. I appreciate the information. The amount of work that needs to be done on the main house is overwhelming, but the cottage is in pretty good shape, so I thought I’d start there.”
“Just don’t spend all your money on the cottage before you get to the main house, like Bodine did. He was seriously lacking a plan, and that big old place fought him every step of the way.”
I plastered on a confident smile. “I’m sure the house and I will get along just fine.”
I ate my cinnamon roll and purchased several muffins to take with me, then followed Mary’s directions to Easter Avenue. The comment about the house being a money pit had begun to grate on me. Had I just made the biggest mistake of my life? I liked to think I was a logical person who didn’t make big mistakes, but I had to admit my tendency to grasp at anything that seemed as if it might help to make my life a bit more tolerable had been my modus operandi during the past year.
The hardware store, like every other store in town, was decorated for the upcoming holiday season. The first thing the customer encountered on walking in from the street was a giant turkey with a sign announcing the daily sales and holiday specials.
“Can I help you, ma’am?” a grizzly man with a thick beard and bright blue eyes asked as I stood in the middle of the doorway, undecided.
“I’m here for paint and painting supplies.”
“Aisle seven. I can mix any color you want if you’re looking for custom, and I have swatches of some of the more traditional colors if you need inspiration.”
“Thanks. I think I’ll take a look at your swatches for now. I bought a huge house with a lot of rooms all in need of painting, but I’ve decided to start with the guesthouse. The rooms I want to paint are green right now, but I’m thinking I’d like to bring the colors of the sea inside. Maybe a rich gray.”
“You must be the lady from California who bought the house on the bluff.”
“I see word travels fast. I’m Abby Sullivan.”
“Buck Owens. The guest cottage was renovated recently and should be move-in ready, but the bluff house hasn’t been lived in for more than a generation. It needs a lot of work.”
“So I’ve been told. I understand it’s something of a money pit.”
Buck chuckled. “I see you’ve been talking to Mary. She’s a wonderful baker, but she lacks vision. Bodine Devine didn’t have what it took to recover the majestic lady the house once was, but with the right person to gently nudge the old girl back to life, I know she can be grand once again.”
I smiled. “I’m happy to hear that. It will be a big project, but I can see the potential as well.”
“Wonderful. I can recommend a good contractor if you’re looking for a referral.”
“I do plan to hire someone to oversee the project. A referral would be welcome.”
“Lonnie Parker,” Buck said without hesitation. “He’s the best in the area, and he’ll treat you fairly. Go on back and start looking at the paint swatches and I’ll get you one of his business cards.”
“Thanks, Buck. I appreciate it.”
By the time I’d visited three additional businesses in search of the basic supplies I thought I’d need to at least get by for a few days, I’d received three more assurances that Lonnie was the best man for the job. If the local chatter was to be taken at face value, he was a hard worker, a hell of a nice guy, and a master craftsman who had a knack for seeing the potential beneath the decay. He sounded too good to be true, but this whole town seemed to be too good to be true, so I decided to take the bull by the horns and call him right away. He informed me that he was just wrapping up a job and would welcome the opportunity to work up a bid for what he assured me would be the grandest home in the county by the time he was finished with it. He estimated he could be out to the house in about an hour, so I took him up on his offer to stop by to take a look around.
The days had grown short as winter approached, so by the time the large black truck pulled into the drive, the sun had begun its descent toward the craggy shoreline that formed the western edge of the large bay. Given the fact that the electricity hadn’t been turned on in the house yet, I figured a complete tour would most likely need to wait, but I was looking forward to meeting the man I’d heard so much about.
From the main living area, I watched as a large man who looked to be in his midthirties, with sandy blond hair and a pleasant grin, climbed out of the driver’s side of the vehicle, then stepped aside as a medium-size dog that looked to my untrained eye to possibly be a Border collie jumped out onto the ground behind him. I walked toward the front door, opened it, and waved to the man who carried a clipboard and a giant flashlight.
“Is it okay if Sadie comes in?” he called out to me.
I assumed he meant the dog and assured him Sadie would be welcome. Maybe he’d even chase away the huge cat I was certain was still lurking somewhere upstairs.
“Lonnie Parker.” The man stuck out his hand in greeting.
“Abby Sullivan.” I returned the handshake.
“I have to say, you have yourself quite a house here, Ms. Sullivan.”
“Abby.” He nodded. “I’ve been lusting after this place for years. Would have bought it myself when it came up for sale six years ago if my wife and I hadn’t been surprised when our first little bundle of joy turned out to be our first three little bundles of joy.”
“You have three children?”
“Six. Three boys, Michael, Matthew, and Mark, who are now six, twin daughters Meghan and Mary, who are three, and a newborn baby girl, Madison.”
“Wow. That’s really…” I wanted to say crazy but settled on “wonderful.”
“As you can probably guess, a big job like the one you have here will go a long way toward putting food on the table for all those mouths. If you decide to hire me, I’ll do a good job for you.”
“Good to know,” I answered, somewhat noncommittally. “Should we take a look around? I’m sure if you’re familiar with the house, you probably have some idea what needs to be done.”
“I do at that. I have to be honest: Turning this rundown gal back into the grand lady I know she can be is going to take not only time but money. I’m not sure what your budget is, but I want you to know we can work together to make the project manageable. I’ll write up a bid that will provide a total for the entire project, but I’ll also give you subtotals for each portion, so you can pick and choose.”
“That would be helpful,” I replied.
“Are you planning to turn this into a bed-and-breakfast or an inn?” Lonnie asked.
Was I? I had considered it but hadn’t decided yet. I made a living writing fiction, which was a fairly solitary profession, but it had occurred to me that I might make use of the income the house could provide by renting at least a few of the rooms out.
“The thought did run through my mind, but I haven’t come to a firm decision. It’s a very large house and I’m not sure what I’d do with it if I didn’t rent out at least some of the rooms. I’ve set up a temporary base in the guesthouse, which seems just about perfect for me. An inn might be a good use for the main house, although if I did rent out some rooms, I’d need to hire someone to run the place. I won’t have the time to do it myself.”
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