The dead are not abundantly sympathetic to their own. My best friend, Colleen, passed through the veil and into the great mystery eighteen years ago next month. She shed no tears over Shelby Scott Poinsett Gerhardt.
The photos of Shelby sprawled lifeless as a rag doll in the brick courtyard of her Tradd Street home would haunt me. I passed them to Nate, who was seated on my right in Fraser Rutledge’s office. Fraser was the senior partner at Rutledge and Radcliffe, a prestigious Charleston law firm.
“She’ll be much happier now.” Colleen’s tone rang casual to my ear. She should be ashamed of herself.
Colleen read my mind, literally.
“What?” Her jade green eyes telegraphed impatience. “Shelby was taken before her time. She’ll be back with a mission soon enough. I hear tell helping others is what this woman lived for. Leaving this life is not the tragedy you mortals think it is. It’s true what they say. She’s in a better place.”
I closed my eyes in an effort to shut her out. She was a distraction in her blue polka dot sundress, a wide-brimmed hat atop her long red curls, perched as she was on the corner of Fraser Alston Rutledge III’s heirloom desk. Of course only Nate and I could see or hear her.
Nate cleared his throat, muttered something.
I made out the words “control” and “ghost.”
I gave my head a little shake. As if. Nate was still coming to terms with Colleen. Right up until we’d said our “I Dos” in December, he’d been blissfully unaware of her presence in our lives. It was early May, and he still had a ways to go.
“Am I somehow failing to hold your interest?” Fraser elongated each syllable, his honeyed drawl spiked with irritation.
My eyes popped open. I felt at a disadvantage. We sat on the other side of his desk in his elegantly appointed Broad Street law office. Everything about the man and his surroundings, from the oil painting of him with two Brittany spaniels hanging on the cypress-paneled wall, to the black and white striped bowtie he wore with his grey seersucker suit, testified that his bona fides were in order, his Charleston heritage long and storied.
Fraser studied me.
“Quite to the contrary.” Nate’s easy tone sought to diffuse Fraser’s pique. “We’ll hold our questions for when you’ve finished outlining the case against your client. We’re eager to help, if we can.”
“Please continue,” I said.
“You appear somewhat distracted.” Fraser looked from me to Nate. “We cannot afford to piss away any more time. Our former investigator twiddled his Johnson for four months, billed us a sultan’s ransom, and found not one solitary shred of information we can use. Jury selection begins in two weeks.”
I looked past Colleen directly into Fraser’s eyes. They were tiger eyes, gold and speckled with brown. “You were telling us about your client.”
“Clint Gerhardt.” Eli Radcliffe didn’t quite spit the name out of his mouth, but he managed to convey his disapproval of Clint Gerhardt and all his ancestors. Eli, Fraser’s partner, sat to my left in one of four deep leather visitor chairs. “Naturally, we want to be as prepared as possible.”
“He doesn’t believe Clint Gerhardt is innocent.” Sometimes Colleen could read other minds besides mine. “He’s mad as blazes at his partner.”
You think? I threw the sarcasm-laced thought in her direction. Apparently, the message was also inscribed on my face.
Fraser caught my expression. He drew back, his visage washed in incredulity.
Let him interpret that look however he pleased. I was exhausted from listening to him talk. Why was Eli so mad at Fraser?
“Eli.” I rolled my voice in sugar sprinkles. “I’d love to hear your take on the case. Is there an avenue you think we should pursue first?”
From the corner of my eye, I caught Fraser’s raised eyebrow. “By all means, Eli. Enlighten them.”
Eli inhaled deeply, averted his soft brown eyes.
I scrutinized his profile. Flawless skin, the color of milk chocolate truffles, high cheekbones, and a strong chin made for a noble countenance. They were a study in similarities and contrasts, these three Southern men. All were well-educated, well-groomed, and fit. All spoke the native language of our people, understood the context words carried here. All had lovely drawls. Nate was the blue-eyed, blond-haired, laid-back prototype; Fraser the wealthy, eccentric, Old Charleston model; and Eli the self-made, cautious, black man.
Eli said, “It doesn’t matter what I think. Our client is innocent until proven guilty. We need to mount a vigorous defense, with a credible theory of the crime that does not include Clint Gerhardt throwing his wife out the second floor french doors of their home. Confidentially, Mrs. Gerhardt was prone to taking in strays. Most people, certainly the police, think Mr. Gerhardt is one she should’ve left at the pound.”
The Shelby Poinsett case took me to every corner of Charleston before it was over with. Let’s grab a chair, and I’ll tell you what happened. . .
Copyright © 2016 by Susan M. Boyer — This excerpt is reprinted by permission from Henery Press. All rights reserved.
Lowcountry Book Club is the fifth book in the Liz Talbot mystery series, published by Henery Press, July 2016.
Somebody pushed Shelby Poinsett Gerhardt out her second-floor library window and it wasn’t her husband. At least that what Charleston’s most prestigious law firm wants Liz Talbot to prove. Liz must run the spectrum of Southern society, from the local homeless shelter where Shelby volunteered to the one-hundred-year-old book club where Charleston’s genteel ladies are dying to join, to bring a killer to justice.
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About the author
Susan M. Boyer is the author of the USA TODAY bestselling Liz Talbot mystery series. Her debut novel, Lowcountry Boil, won the 2012 Agatha Award for Best First Novel, the Daphne du Maurier Award for Excellence in Mystery/Suspense, and garnered several other award nominations, including the Macavity.
Lowcountry Boneyard, the third Liz Talbot mystery, was a Spring 2015 Southern Independent Booksellers Alliance Okra Pick. It was also a finalist for The 2016 Pat Conroy Southern Book Prize Award in the Beach Music Mystery category and a finalist for the 2016 Daphne du Maurier Award in the Mainstream Mystery/Suspense category. Visit Susan at susanmboyerbooks.com.
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