• Lynda McDaniel

Forged in Fear: Della gets ready to solve a bigger crime

Updated: Jan 2





I had to close the store for a couple of days. My former assistant Mary Lou had come back to work at Coburn's, but now two of her kids were sick. I was too—sick at heart that I didn't know where Nigel was. Without Mary Lou or Nigel, I just couldn’t deal with the store.

I sat in my apartment and sipped coffee while I thought about what happened after Nadine and I left the fire scene. As we drove back to the newsroom, I confessed about pulling her research from the trashcan. I waited for her to ream me out, but she actually smiled and told me she was glad someone believed in her story, especially since her editor, J.D., had chosen to look the other way. When I filled her in on the machinations of Johnny Ray and his gang, we bonded like Woodward and Bernstein. No question in our minds that shack was one of the derelict properties they'd sold for a fortune to launder big sums of money.

Not surprisingly, the fire inspector reported the shack fire as arson; he'd found accelerant along the ground surrounding the foundation of the now-collapsed building. Working in tandem, Sheriff Horne had made impressions of two sets of footprints at the scene. I called Abit and got him to bring over a spare pair of shoes from Nigel’s abandoned belongings, and Nadine and I delivered them to Horne. They matched casts. I told Horne about how Johnny Ray Lewis had hounded Nigel, and he nodded with interest as we explained about the money-laundering scheme Nadine had first uncovered. Over time, Horne had come to trust my judgment (or so I thought) after we'd worked together to solve a crime or two.

I struggled with the reality that Nigel, maybe the oldest friend I had, a dear old man who'd always been kind and gentlemanly to me, was gone—either dead or in deadly peril. I recalled my talk with Myrtle Ledford about everything going swimmingly and felt even sadder.

Alex was down visiting, which helped. He was taking a long break after several big stories about Congress trying to steal the people’s Social Security. He needed to get away from all that as much as I needed a break. Not to mention that he loved Nigel too.

We packed a few odds and ends from the store and took a long walk along the falls trail. Time in the woods helped make big troubles—even deep sorrows—seem a little bit smaller. We hiked silently through the forest, late summer asters and gold star brightening our path. Even the birds were quiet. The natural calm settled our jangled nerves. Later, over our makeshift picnic, Alex tried to make me feel better by concocting pleasant scenarios like Nigel was in the Caymans enjoying himself and his bounty. Or back in D.C. at Churchill Arms, hoisting a few with his mates. But Alex hadn’t seen the charred remains of that unmistakable waistcoat.

Late that afternoon, while Alex worked in the kitchen on his famed Tagliatelle Bolognese (though I didn’t have much of an appetite, even for something I usually begged him to make), I went downstairs to pick up the day’s mail. When I saw the unmistakable British scrawl on an envelope with no return address, my heart and mind raced. I opened it—then turned the envelope over to make sure the postmark was after the fire—and sat down on one of the rockers to read.

Dear Della,

I’m deeply sorry to have worried you so—and spoiled our lovely time together. You and Abit are like family to me. Of course I love those with my bloodline, but the other kind—the family of choice—has an ineffable quality.

I’m heading home—my real home in Old Blighty. Not the clever plan I’d hoped for, but it’s a good time to go back and see old friends. My grandson, Jason, who’s studying at Georgetown, will be living in my D.C. apartment, so all is well there.

Please extend my deepest apologies to Abit and his family. Jason has agreed to head down your way by week's end to clean out the room at Abit’s. I left enough of a mess, I don’t want to leave one at the guestroom they so generously shared with me.

I’m sure you’re wondering what transpired at that shack and how I got there—and more importantly, how I got out. I was kidnapped by that wanker, Johnny Ray, and tied to a chair. When the flames began to lick at the walls, I figured I was a gonner. I started to cry as I thought of the wonderful people I’d never see again. With an instinctual gesture, I reached up to wipe my eyes and realized I wasn’t tied tightly. I prefer to think Lewis was just sending a message, trying to scare me. (He did!) I got the ropes off in the nick of time, took off my suit coat and waistcoat and batted at the flames sufficiently to make my escape. Needless to say, I have already called my tailor in London for replacements.

Good news on the RICO front. I learned they caught the thug who'd hired me for that ill-fated forgery. (Aren’t they all, I now ask myself.) That means after things cool off a bit, I can make my return to D.C. (He won’t squeal on me because that would just add another charge to what is already a sizable list.) Perhaps you will forgive an old fool and have a cuppa with me (or something stronger) when you come to visit Alex. I should be back in D.C. after Jason’s term ends in May.

I miss all of you, but I’m sure you’ve had quite enough of me.

All the best,

Nigel xo

I felt the same way: I missed him and I’d had enough of him. For now. I’ve heard from more than one therapist that being able to hold two contradictory thoughts at the same time is key to living a good life. I was working on that. And Nigel was still a member of our ragtag family.

Johnny Ray Lewis wasn’t seen again; no doubt, he’d skipped town too. That’s what criminals do. Unfortunately, Sheriff Horne, like J.D., thought the whole affair was just a small-time local case and chose to look no further. But to me, it still felt menacing and unfinished; I didn’t believe for a second that Lewis was only sending Nigel a message. Nadine and I planned to look into those names I rescued from her “Mountain Weekly” trashcan. I was like a dog with bone when it came to a good story.

As if that weren’t enough to keep me busy, Abit came into the store the other day to tell me some wild idea he had about a serial killer in our midst. Of course, no one else would pay him any attention, so he’d come to me for help.

I've never been good at telling that boy no.

Lynda says: I hope you enjoyed Forged in Fear. If things go the way I plan, it will be a part of the next book in my Appalachian Mountain Mysteries series. I'm working on that now and plan to publish in 2020. Thanks for reading. And if you haven’t read the series yet—and you like what you read here—take a look at A Life for a Life, The Roads to Damascus, and Welcome the Little Children.



"The most satisfying mystery I've read in ages." 
— Joan Nienhuis, book blogger

© 2016 by Lynda McDaniel, author & book coach


  • Facebook Social Icon
  • LinkedIn Social Icon
  • Twitter Social Icon