The Natalie McMasters Mysteries Book 4
A spooky mansion in the Georgia mountains with an outrageous cast of characters. Spiders, snakes, meth-heads and serial killers, oh my! Venom! ain’t your average gothic mystery, folks.
But who would expect it to be when Natalie McMasters is involved? She’s fallen madly in love with two people—her wife, Lupe, and Danny, her partner at the 3M Detective Agency. Rather than choose one of them as her life partner, she’s decided to have them both, and roped them into a relationship retreat in rural Georgia to learn how to live as a polyamorous family.
But Nattie finds more than she bargained for in the sleepy town of Greypeak. A methamphetamine operation. A snake-handling preacher. A retired FBI agent hunting a serial killer. And a charismatic psychologist who just might have his own agenda for his clients.
Nattie ultimately finds herself in the most dangerous situation she’s ever faced, which may well solve her relationship problems by costing her life. Is this really the last book in the Natalie McMasters series?
We’re in Danny’s truck, the headlights transforming the road ahead into a never-ending tunnel with round black walls.
Humidity hangs heavy in the air, causing the windshield to fog. Danny cuts on the defroster, drawing the swampy air into the cab, making the ride even more uncomfortable. Suddenly, the buildings of Greypeak rise out of the darkness—an ethereal presence, like macabre paintings on subway walls, adding to the surrealism of the moment.
Danny brings me back into the mundane, asking, “Who the hell is this Jean guy? And if he’s in trouble, why would he call you?”
I try not to be offended. “He said that I’m the only one he can trust, because I’m not a local.” I fill him in on what Jean told me about the Marquis, and M.B.
“That’s nuts!” Danny says when I’ve finished. “You mean to tell me that this Jean really thinks that Barrett is a serial killer? What’s he smoking?”
“Luckies. He said that Barrett was just a person of interest.” I hesitate, then tell him, “I didn’t say that I believe it. I think that Jean might be just a cray old man, obsessed with the one that got away, and he managed to suck M.B. into his delusion. He can be way persuasive.”
“Did this Jean show you any credentials to prove he’s FBI?”
“Then how do you know he’s not just some dirty old man trying to pick you up?”
“I just don’t think so, Danny. I didn’t see any credentials from M.B., either, but don’t you think it’s a totally huge coincidence that she had to be choppered out of here today?”
“You really think Barrett poisoned her?”
“I don’t know, Danny! I just think it’s way sus how she got sick like that.”
“If she was FBI, how would Barrett even know?”
“He’s got a history of going through our rooms. How would you account for her illness?”
“Coincidence. Something she ate.”
“C’mon, Danny, even if Barrett is the Marquis, and I’m totally sure he isn’t, he’s going to poison somebody in his own home? This Marquis didn’t dodge the cops for twenty years by being stupid.”
Now he looks like he might be taking this seriously. “Roger that. So, what do you think we should do about all of this?”
“I don’t know that either. That’s why I’m telling you about it. What do you think?”
“There’s not much we can do about the murders in town,” he says. “Maybe we should just do what we came here for, and keep our eyes open.”
“Fair enough.” I reply.
Now we’re out of town, nearing the turnoff for the trailer park. “It’s on the left—you can barely see it in the daytime.” I tell him. “Slow down! There!”
Danny slams on the brakes, nearly fishtailing us into the ditch. He pops the truck into four-wheel drive and carefully negotiates the narrow two-track. The log kiosk in the center emerges from the mist. “Look right.” I tell him. “It’s the third driveway, I think.”
Danny turns into the sin black woods. Where the hell is that streetlight I saw this afternoon? Without warning, the silver trailer materializes out of the mist.
I jerk the car door open, jump out and run towards the trailer. My foot catches on a piece of trash and I do a face plant.
“Nattie! You okay?”
“Yass!” Only my pride is hurt.
A brilliant white beam, brighter than the headlights, cuts a swath through the night. Then Danny is beside me, giving me a hand up. His other hand holds a three-battery, police-style flashlight.
The trailer door is closed, and the windows are black. Danny says, “That’s strange. Maybe he isn’t here.”
OMG. If he isn’t, I have no idea where he would be. “Let’s check the door,” I say.
Danny obliges. “It’s not locked.” A beat. “Hey! Looks like somebody jimmied it.” He pulls it open, shining the light inside. “Nattie! He is here. He’s hurt!”
I follow Danny in. The trailer is uncomfortably warm and has a musky odor, like an old barn. Danny’s light illuminates a large sofa filling the front, and wrapping around the far corner. He swings the light left to reveal a galley kitchen with a dinette table, a file folder lying on top. Jean has collapsed on the floor between the dining area and the sink, his arms and legs crooked in an unnatural position. “Keep the light on him,” I say.
I put my hand on the side of Jean’s neck, holding my breath. Finally, “I think he’s still alive, but his pulse is really faint.”
Danny plays the flashlight beam around, finds a wall switch, and flips it. It stays dark. “I thought these trailers ran on batteries,” Danny says.
A groan. Is Jean awake? “Put that light back over here,” I say. Jean’s eyes flutter open, and his lips move. I put my ear next to his mouth.
“What’s he saying?” asks Danny.
“I can’t…wait! It sounds like ‘generator’.”
“Of course!” Danny says. “He’ll have one somewhere in the trailer.”
“Shouldn’t we call 911?”
“Remember what happened with M.B. Maybe we’re better off stabilizing and transporting him than waiting for somebody to get here,” Danny says. “Let me see if I can throw some light on the subject. Jean!” he says loudly. “Where’s the generator?”
I put my ear to his mouth again. “Ah…, ah…, know,” he croaks.
“He says he doesn’t know?”
“Doesn’t know where his own generator is?” Danny replies. “Weird.” He casts the light toward the front of the trailer. “There’s storage cabinets under the sofa. That’s where I’d put it, near the door.” He starts flipping open cabinets.
Jean is gasping again. “No…, no…, no…”
An angry buzzing fills the air, and my blood freezes. “Holy fuck!” Danny screams. “Owww!” The flashlight beam gyrates wildly, like a spotlight in a strip club, as it tumbles through the air, nearly hitting me in the head, then clattering to the floor. “Snake! He bit me! Nattie, watch it! He’s loose!”
The rattler is still whirring angrily, but I can’t see it! “Danny! Are you OK? Where the fuck is it?”
Danny howls in pain again. I grab the lip of the sink and haul myself up, getting my ass on the counter and my feet off the floor. Danny, backing away towards me, trips over Jean’s prostrate body, and sprawls on the linoleum.
“Ouch! Goddamn it!” Fuck! That’s at least three times he’s been bitten!
Finally, the snake slithers into the beam of the flashlight on the floor, coiling itself up for another strike. Jesus, it’s enormous! I push off the counter, landing behind Danny, as the rattler lurches forward and Danny hollers again. I scoop up the flashlight as it crawls across Jean and Danny, heading for me! It retracts into an S-shape, and I step forward, swinging the heavy flashlight like a tennis racket, hitting its head. Take that, motherfucker!
The thing flails around like a raging bullwhip, and I flail at it again and again with the flashlight, mostly missing and denting the cabinets and the floor. Another lucky swing connects, and the light goes out. Fuck! I scramble to safety on the bench seat behind the dinette table.
“Nattie! I think you got it! It’s not moving anymore.”
Danny picks himself up, avoiding Jean’s prostrate form.
“OMG, Danny! How many times did it get you?”
“Four, I think. I think it got Jean again, too.”
An obscene rasping sound comes from Jean’s direction. Another snake?
“No!” Danny shouts. “Nattie, he’s dying!”
He feels for a pulse on Jean’s neck again. “Nothing! Nattie, he’s gone!” My stomach goes cold. How long before the same thing happens to Danny? I yank out my phone. “I’m calling 911.”
After a moment, I hear it ringing. Once, twice, three times. It stops for a second, then begins ringing again.
A voice! “911. What’s your location?”
I think fast. “Greypeak Trailer park.”
“What’s your emergency.”
“My boyfriend is snakebit.”
“What kind of snake?”
“Eastern diamondback? Timber rattler?”
“God damn it, I don’t know! A big motherfucker!” I scream, close to hysteria.
“Hold please.” The line goes dead. Hold? You’ve got to be fucking kidding me! Five seconds, ten, fifteen… I’m about to hang up when she comes back on. “Miss? We can send the sheriff from Greypeak, but they won’t have any medical expertise. There’s an emergency room in Carron, Georgia. It’s about a half hour from your location. It might be quicker to take him there yourself than have somebody come to you. Have you got transportation?”
I fucking hate the fucking boonies! “I’ve got a truck. I know where Carron is.” I remember passing through it on the way to Greypeak. “How do I find this emergency room?”
She gives me directions. “I can get them on the line if you want,” she says.
“Do it!” I tell Danny what’s happening, and he goes outside. I remember the file folder on the table. Goddamn it, I’m not going through all of this for nothing! “I’ll be right there!” I holler to Danny. I grab the folder.
The Carron emergency room comes on the line. “What’s your emergency?”
I tell them. “I’m bringing him in. 911 says will take about half an hour. What can I do for him in the meantime?”
“Not much.” The ER guy says. “Don’t cut the bite, don’t use a tourniquet. Get him to lie down and be quiet, elevate the bite above his heart if you can, and get here as fast as possible.”
I hurry outside. Danny’s starting to open the driver’s door. “No!” I shout. “I’ll drive. The emergency people say you need to lie down. Get in the back.” Danny’s truck is a two-seater, so he can’t stretch out in the cab.
He does what I tell him. I jam the file folder behind the driver’s seat and hop in.
The ride to Carron is my worst nightmare. The night seems darker than ever. The windshield wipers are no help—the thick mist in the air seems to cling to the glass like a film. The defroster is bathing me in
warm air, forcing me to continually wipe the sweat out of my eyes. The road is a black ribbon, vanishing into eternity. The painted lines in the center and on the sides are worn away, so I have all to do to keep the truck out of the ditch. I want to ask Danny how he is, but of course, I can’t do that unless I pull over, and I’m not about to. What am I gonna do if I find him dead when I get to Carron? Stop it, Nattie! I resist the urge to drive like a madwoman, because I don’t want him beat to death, rolling around in the load bed.
In what seems like hours, a roadside sign materializes out of the blackness—Carron, 2, it says. I begin seeing peripheral lights, fuzzy starpoints blurred by the mist. I slow to a crawl so I can pick out the street signs to lead me to the emergency room, per the hospital’s directions. Suddenly another sign emerges—Carron Medical Center. A sign directs me to the emergency entrance, around the back. I pull under a carport, jump out and run to the rear of the truck.
“I’m fine, Nattie,” he says and my heart leaps. God, it’s so good to hear his voice! I look in the bed and see only his face. Apparently, he found a tarp to cover himself.
“I’m going in to get them to bring a stretcher,” I tell him.
“Hey, I can walk…”
“Don’t you dare get out of this truck!”
I dash inside, totally ignoring the waiting room and pushing open the double doors that lead into the treatment area. “I need help! I’ve got a snakebite victim outside!”
In a moment a couple of orderlies appear, pushing a gurney. I lead the way to the truck. They drop the tailgate and attempt to lift Danny out, but he insists on climbing on the gurney himself. Marines!
“You can pull your car over there and check him in afterwards. We’ll take care of him.”
By the time I park the truck and get back inside, Danny has vanished. At this hour, only one receptionist is on duty, and there’s a woman ahead of me, so I fidget for about five minutes, shifting my weight from one foot to the other, before I can begin the check-in procedure. Danny’s name, address, and reason for being there I can give her, but I tell her that she has to get his insurance info from him.
“Are you his wife?” she asks.
I’m tempted to say yes, but I shake my head. “We’re engaged,” I tell her.
After the paperwork is as complete as I can make it, I ask her if I can go in the back with him.
“Doctor will come and get you when she’s ready. You can wait in the lounge until then.”
Great. That could be hours. I remember another long wait in an ER, after which they came and told me and mom that Daddy was gone. Lupe’s voice suddenly pops into my head. “Al mal tiempo, buena cara.” She used to say that a lot before New York. It means, put a good face to the bad times.
I suddenly remember the file folder I took from Jean’s trailer. That could be some interesting reading matter to pass the time.
Thank you, Thomas A. Burns, Jr and RABT Book Tours
About the author
Thomas A. Burns, Jr. is the author of the Natalie McMasters Mysteries. He was born and grew up in New Jersey, attended Xavier High School in Manhattan, earned B.S degrees in Zoology and Microbiology at Michigan State University and a M.S. in Microbiology at North Carolina State University. He currently resides in Wendell, North Carolina. As a kid, Tom started reading mysteries with the Hardy Boys, Ken Holt and Rick Brant, and graduated to the classic stories by authors such as A. Conan Doyle, Dorothy Sayers, John Dickson Carr, Erle Stanley Gardner and Rex Stout, to name a few. Tom has written fiction as a hobby all of his life, starting with Man from U.N.C.L.E. stories in marble-backed copybooks in grade school. He built a career as technical, science and medical writer and editor for nearly thirty years in industry and government. Now that he’s truly on his own as a novelist, he’s excited to publish his own mystery series, as well as to contribute stories about his second most favorite detective to the MX anthology of New Sherlock Holmes Stories.