Book excerpt

A Dark and Deadly Deception

Marti MacAlister Mysteries

Eleanor Taylor Bland

St. Martin's Press

A Dark and Deadly Deception
A loud snap awakened him. Wood scraped against brick. Another branch from the elms planted close to the house must have broken. Thomas Newsome pushed the heavy blanket aside and, mindful of the stiffness in his hips and knees, pushed himself up from the armchair. Leaning on his cane, he shuffled to the window and pulled back the heavy velvet curtain. The wind had picked up. Snow, large flakes falling thick and fast, whipped past the leaded glass, moving horizontally Winter, the stripping away of things past, a time for the seed to lie fallow within the frozen earth: his favorite time of year. Like the animals that slept through blizzards, and cold, and rivers dammed with ice, he, too, chose to hibernate, staying inside with a fire in the hearth but wakeful--watching and waiting, for what he didn't know.Loath to turn away from the storm that raged outside, he stood there until the cold from bare glass and the chill from a draft began to permeate his bones, stiffening his joints, making his back ache. He sighed. Today was his birthday. He was seventy-nine years old. Perhaps there wouldn't be many more winters. Perhaps soon, he would lie beneath the snow awaiting resurrection. He turned from the window and went to a tall, narrow cupboard. He touched the dark wood, older than he was, and scarred. The veins on the backs of his hands stood out like cords. He rubbed the knots in the wood with fingers that had never known a callus.There were no tremors in his hand now. Was it the medication? Or ... the Theotokos--Mother, Madonna, Birth-Giver ofGod. He opened the cabinet, looked at the icon placed at eye level.The icon was small, five inches by eight. A border of blue-andred paint that might once have been bright was now dull and scarred. Bare wood was exposed where the paint had chipped or peeled. He thought the light surrounding the Madonna's face and head must have been gold. Now it was a mottled brown-green. Her face was the color of old parchment. Her dress made him think of a brown wool coat he had worn as a boy."Mama," he whispered. "Mother."She was a tormented mother, looking toward some distant place far beyond his line of vision. There was no Christ child in her arms to love, no crucified Christ to mourn. She leaned forward, lap empty, arms empty. Her hands palms up, a silent plea or a mother's prayer? The anguish in her eyes was too deep for him to fathom or to even begin to understand. "What do you see, Mama?" Again he asked that question, again the answer came, "I see forever."A DARK AND DEADLY DECEPTION. Copyright © 2005 by Eleanor Taylor Bland. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any matter whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews. For information, address St. Martin's Press, 175 Fifth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10010. Eleanor Taylor Bland is the author of twelve previous Marti MacAlister mysteries. She lives in Waukegan, Illinois.