To pick up your signed copy of “Murder on Belcut Mountain” at the Author’s Fair, come see me this Saturday, Nov. 19, 2022, at the Port Moody Library from 12:30-2:30 PM.

I’ll also have copies of “Fragments of a Shattered Soul Made Whole”

and “Waking Up to the Life Left in Me”.

Books are wonderful to give as gifts at Christmastime.

—Now’s a great time to enjoy—

“Murder on Belcut Mountain”

Read a suspenseful mystery on those dark and chilly autumn nights.

Solve the whodunit puzzle. Enjoy the love story.

Come to the wondrous 44th Annual Fire & Ice Winter Festival,

and walk the streets of old Artson, Oregon.

Enjoy Christmas Dinner at Rosie and Iain McClintock’s home.

About the Series

In Book I, Murder on Belcut Mountain, police detectives Iain McClintock and Susan Miller attend the murder scene of Sara Meadows-Johnson. They follow policies and procedures to apprehend the murderer—the person who strangled the victim to death. One would think that would be the end of it… they’ve got their man by the end of Chapter 11. Case closed.

But a strange thing had happened to the victim. After she was strangled by the killer and left dead on the kitchen floor, she was stabbed eight times and a hank of hair was ripped from her scalp. Then she was posed in a demeaning way. The team of detectives discovered that another, more vicious criminal was on the loose in small-town Artson, Oregon. As they hunt him, they reach out to other police precincts nation-wide, and even into Canada, to see if they have similarly weird MOs in their cold case files. They do. Over the next few weeks, they track and at last capture this sociopath in a spine-tingling bus chase down the Oregon Coast Highway 101. 

Romance is threaded throughout the book in different POV chapters. One of the detectives learns that a dreaded disease is stalking their loved one. What will be her fate? How will that change their lives? The other detective falls in love.

Will the sociopath get what they deserve? Will the Festival go on in light of what’s happening in Artson. What’s going to happen at Christmas?

Chapter One

Iain—Saturday, Day One, Artson, Oregon

The yellow tape did nothing to improve his disposition. It had been a hellish day, and it was going to be an equally gruelling night. The clouds rumbled in the background to punctuate his mood. Australian-born Iain McClintock, age forty-three, snuck a peek at his watch, which read 6:34 PM. His stomach growled. He’d not eaten for hours and felt quite irritable as the acid churned away. There was no time for him to grab a snack.

He pulled out his logbook and made a note of the time, and the address—705 Forrester Avenue. It was starting to drizzle. Soon the clouds would open and ruin any chance of gathering the evidence outside the home.

Iain saw their team fan out and begin their duties without hesitation. He knew they had it covered.

He bounded up the stairs and crossed the verandah in three strides to the front door. This was a one-story, deep blue, 1920s Craftsman bungalow so common in Artson, Oregon. It was in a so-called safe neighbourhood. He didn’t recall ever being called to the area.

A rookie, who was standing guard, and poised to eat an apple, caught Iain’s eye. He snatched it away and stowed it in his pocket. “No eating at a crime scene, Jonathon. You could contaminate the scene. Don’t make me warn you again.”

“Yes, sir. I apologize, sir.”

“Just see to it,” he said.

Iain saw two women sitting on lawn chairs on the wide and deep front porch. He heard soft sobbing and gentle cooing. He donned his white paper overalls, hair net, booties, and gloves.

McClintock, at six foot four, had a way of garnering respect. His definite ideas about sticking to the ‘letter of the law’ ensured a high number of his arrests went to trial. His probing cornflower-blue eyes didn’t miss much, and a sprout of curly red hair made him hard to miss.

Iain filled the frame, as he stood in the front doorway and surveyed the scene. He stepped over the threshold and noted a rag rug piled into a heap on the left side of the room. He could see straight through the living room, dining room, and kitchen to the backdoor. He noted a hall wall to his right, and he could see through a doorway into a den before the wall began.

He saw framed photos, and pieces of a turquoise vase scattered over the floor. The tech placed yellow rectangular numbered evidence markers by the objects and took pictures—two photos to each one. She stood back to take a photo of its position in the whole room and then zeroed in on what she wanted to highlight.

McClintock took in a deep sniff. He had a particularly keen sense of smell and used it often on investigations. The scent of a familiar cologne wafted on the air. He wondered if the victim had had a male visitor the night before.

He scanned the scene then dropped into the zone. He went through the checklist in his mind using his five physical senses, as well as his sixth sense. When Iain stepped into the kitchen area, he noted evidence of brutal and gory violence. A vicious storm of activity had cleared all the surfaces—the counters and dining room table were whisked clean. She’d fought hard for her life right here.

A slight metallic odour hung in the air. Small rosy smudges dotted the counters, floor, stove, and door jamb to the bathroom. He noted faint red drag marks on the floor, between the kitchen and bathroom.

McClintock continued. He went behind the hall wall and into the bedroom after it was processed. Instant relief filled him to see it intact. The energy in the room was free and alive and made him feel like he’d entered a sanctuary. The curtain and window were open. She felt safe in here. As he walked around, he got a clearer sense of who she was.

Several characteristics stood out because he was the direct opposite. He noticed the room was neat and organized. The bottom of the closet housed camping gear. There were seven ‘work’ outfits of blouses and skirts on hangers. The rest of the clothes were folded, and on the shelves to the left and right of the hanging items.

Two pairs of shoes hung in a bag on the closet door. The only thing odd was a pile of clothes tossed on the bottom of the bed. With his gloved hands, he sorted through them and noticed it was a complete outfit: panties, bra, a soft aqua shift, and ballet slippers. They weren’t ripped or bloodied. He made a note in his book.

Informed that the techs had cleared the bathroom, Iain entered. It told a completely different story. The victim, beaten and bloodied, was in a clawfoot tub on the far side of the room. A powder blue bath towel covered her and was pulled up to her chin then folded over at the top seam.

McClintock wrote in his incident report log, noting that the perp hadn’t brought the towel with him or her, as it matched the others hanging on the racks. Did the victim know her attacker? Her eyes were open, and the fear of her last moments was etched on her face.

McClintock knelt by the tub and moved back the towel. No clothing. He made a note of her wounds. As he stood up, he noticed an object clutched in her left hand. Cadaveric spasm happens during a violent death, and this one certainly qualified. He was able to open her hand and obtain the item. It was a Fleur-de-Lis pendant on a chain with a unique pattern.

He called over the tech and asked for a rush on this piece of evidence. The tech took photos, placed the chain in a bag, and made notes for the Medical Examiner.

Moving into the kitchen, he sniffed the aroma of the cologne he’d smelled in the living room. It was present in the bathroom but was strongest in the kitchen. He stopped and sniffed the air then checked the area for broken glass from an aftershave bottle. None. He got down on his hands and knees to sniff the floor. Nothing.

What looked to be a contact lens was poking out from under the fridge by the bathroom door. He called over a tech, who put down an evidence marker, took two photos, and tweezed the contact into a labelled evidence bag.

He came out of the zone he’d fallen into. The rest of his team hummed around him in white paper suits. He scanned the crowd for his partner. “Susan, over here,” he hailed her. “What do we know, so far?”

Susan Miller greeted him. She was a tall forty-two-year-old woman with deep-set chocolate brown eyes, and long curls of black hair pulled into a white net. Her smooth darkly toned skin had no wrinkles yet, as compared to Iain, who had grown up in the Australian outback and had many.

Susan had nine years on the job, the last four as a detective. She and Iain had come up together and advanced at the same pace through the ranks. They’d shared their whole careers. She filled him in on the details.

“The victim is twenty-eight-year-old Sara Meadows-Johnson, 5’6”, roughly 110 lbs, well-defined muscles. She lived alone. Her grandmother, Isabel Meadows, lives on the next block. They were close. Her grandmother found her in the tub,” she told Iain, as they headed toward the front door.

“Oh, jeez. That her on the porch with the dog?” asked Iain. His partner nodded, and bowed her head, then continued in respectful tones.

“Because there’s no blood spatter or arterial spray, we are thinking the stab wounds happened after death. Seems the cause of death might be strangulation. The ME will know for sure. She’ll be here any minute.” 

Iain lowered his voice to a whisper. “Was there any sign of sexual assault?”

“No blood, semen, or bruising on the thighs, so nothing obvious. We should know more once Ivy has a look,” she said.

 “Okay. How’d he get in?”

“I checked the doors, and there’s no sign they’ve been tampered with. The rest of the team hasn’t gotten back to me yet. I’m sure we’ll know more soon.

Iain had seen ritual killings before and suspected this might be the case here. He knew the investigation process would take time, something they didn’t have if they wanted to get this guy before he killed someone else.

Susan said to Iain, “Ballard’s here.”

Ivy Ballard started with the department only a month before, so she was an unknown as far as McClintock and Miller were concerned. In her mid-thirties, she was petite, fair-skinned, with cropped chestnut brown hair, and green eyes, which glinted with intelligence. She’d been in the US for ten years and still had her British accent.

            “Oh, good,” said Iain. “Hope she can narrow down the time of death for us.” He could see the medical examiner out on the porch, dressed for the crime scene. Her techs were close behind. McClintock walked over to her as she entered the house.

“Hello, Dr. Ballard, I’m Iain McClintock, and this is Susan Miller. We’re the detectives assigned to this case. Let me show you where the body is.” He led the way to the bathroom toward the back right of the house. The two techs entered first then stood back and awaited instruction from the ME.

 Iain was amazed at her efficiency, as Dr. Ballard began her preliminary examination. She spoke into her digital recording device.

“The body is covered with a blue bath towel,” she said, as she handed the towel to the tech who folded it and placed it in an evidence bag.

She stuck a probe in the side of the body. “Liver temp is 33.3 C, showing the victim has been dead for approximately four hours. Rigor has set in. There is a bunch of hair and a portion of the scalp missing. There is bruising around the throat, and all over the arms and hands. The ligature marks on her neck, and petechial hemorrhaging around her eyes, suggests strangulation. Several fingernails are broken.”

She paused the recording, and spoke directly to McClintock and Miller, “See how these nailbeds are blue? That’s a clear sign of asphyxia.”

Susan bristled slightly. This was not their first murder scene. Dr. Ballard, a natural teacher, didn’t notice.

She pressed the button on her device, “There are eight stab wounds to the torso, probably inflicted after death, due to lack of exsanguination. The large toe on her right foot appears dislocated.” She made several other observations then stood up from a crouched position. She used the back of her hand to re-position her glasses.

“I’m done here. Place bags on her hands and feet to preserve the evidence. Collect everything in the tub. Take pictures of it all.”

McClintock and Miller waited for Dr. Ballard to speak with them.

“Lividity shows she’s been dead for at least two to four hours, so that fits with the liver temp and the rigor mortis. Let me narrow it down for you if I can,” she said, “I should know more in a couple of days and will send my preliminary report to you then.”

In book II, Murder in River’s Bend, Andrew Qiáo (pronounced Chow) is pushed off a mountain highway to his death. However, he’d been poisoned first. He’d enjoyed his wife and three children, a thriving TCM practice, and a lively social life with many friends. Who did this horrible thing to one of the most venerated men in town?

As police detectives Iain McClintock and Susan Miller proceed to interview friends and family, track down evidence, and confirm alibis for a few dozen people, five suspects come to light. The investigation escalates until there are only two people under the microscope. As they get down to one suspect, the hunt begins only to discover that the person has disappeared. Where are they hiding out? Can they be captured before anyone else gets hurt?

Meanwhile, Ellen McClintock meets her true love on her college campus in California. They move to the creative community of Artson to start a life together and be nearer to her family. Is she living too close to her parents? Will her dad ever accept her change of heart? Can she and Gary earn a living from their respective careers in the arts?

What will Rosie do now with her PPMS that her TCM doctor has been murdered? Is it time for her to switch from traditional natural medicine to modern allopathic medicine?

Artson area is suffering from soaring temperatures and small fires are breaking out everywhere. Eventually, they join forces to create huge blazes at Timberwolf Pass in River’s Bend, Mrs. Meadows neighbourhood on Belcut Mountain, and Mill Pond in Hidden Lake. Susan Miller’s fiancé, George, volunteers to help. One wonders—is he safe out there? Their nuptials are fast approaching.

Do Susan and George find a new home in River’s Bend? They’ve talked about marriage. Can they pull it off under the circumstances?

Is the July Summer Festival threatened by the fires burning all over the area? Will they have to put it off and do it later when it’s safer?

There are so many interesting people to be proud of in this quaint town of Artson, Oregon.

A pair of scissors

Description automatically generated with medium confidence

Chapter One

Susan—Tuesday, Day One, River’s Bend, Oregon

Fire season had already started and was over a month early, too. Dang climate change. Battalion Fire Chief, Waldo Schulz, was a muscular, well-respected, 56-year-old who’d been with the department for twenty-six years. He’d worked his way through the ranks and was a ‘safety-first’ person. Married with grown children, he’d settled into his life and loved it. He looked forward to his days.

Schulz drove the highway that connected River’s Bend to Artson on his way to work. Timberwolf Pass was the only way back and forth between these two areas. Sure, there were some ancient trails, though they were only accessible by foot and ATV.

Schulz always watched for signs of fire. He noticed a curl of smoke coming up by the side of the road and pulled over. He mopped his face. He dealt with the small fire. So thankful for modern-day technology, he sent up a drone to check for other fires.  It hovered thirty feet in the air and sent back pictures. The wreckage of a silver sedan, covered in dirt and tree limbs, pointed down towards the dry gulch. The adrenaline surged in his system and his heart pumped harder in his chest. He radioed it in and got to work.

Chief Schulz determined that scrambling down the embankment on his own might create a dangerous situation. For one thing, he didn’t all have the equipment to secure the vehicle, and two he didn’t have the strength on his own to haul the person or persons out and up a sheer cliff to safety. Waiting for help was pure torture and it was the right thing to do. He hollered down that help was on the way. He didn’t hear anything back. That doesn’t bode well.

He lined the highway with orange plastic cones to create a traffic diversion away from the crash site so the looky-loos wouldn’t have much to gape at.

At dawn and dusk, this stretch of highway greys out and becomes difficult to see. Maybe that’s what happened.

He checked the area around him and began making notes in his logbook including the date, time 7:31 AM, and mile marker—seven. He filled in the rest and tucked his book back into his shirt pocket.

A wide area of tire rubber had been laid down on the pavement. Someone applied the brakes hard in this area. He did not go gentle into the night, as it were. The trees on the edge were broken down—sheared not snapped. The vehicle didn’t lose control and fly over the edge quickly. It was deliberately pushed, slowly dragging over the vegetation at the edge of the road. That’s why the heap fell closer to the cliff rather than further down and away from it.

Arbutus, silent witnesses, clung to the cliffside and held onto their secrets. The smell of burnt wood, hot rubber, and fragrant trees scented the air.

Another curl of smoke became visible increasing in intensity in seconds. The chief went on high alert. In a heat dome, these small fires could join forces into a huge blaze causing a forest fire to go right up the mountain and down into Artson. He put it out then decided to go down there and do what he could—speed this thing up, or at least talk to the people in the vehicle, calm them down, and let them know help was on the way.

Schulz updated Dispatch. He looked over the edge—vertical cliff going straight down—treacherous terrain. He heard sirens and hoped that folks would cooperate and move over. He went back to his rig and checked out the tools and paraphernalia on hand: first aid kit, other emergency supplies, camera equipment, ropes and pulleys, electronics, and human care and comfort items filled the spaces. He grabbed the first aid kit and ropes.

The traffic slowed to a crawl and backed up quickly. Normally this road wasn’t too busy even in the so-called rush hour. Folks were curious, and that always slowed things down.

Who was down there? Were they hurt? His stomach churned. The Chief decided to start down and tied himself off to the truck frame. He unfurled the rope and attached it to his harness assembly. He’d get as close as he could. Maybe soothe the people. He’d been told he excelled at that. He’d rappelled over the edge when he heard the tow truck come on the scene.

It backed up into position and set up its spool of cable and the electric winch. Bart worked quickly and efficiently when lives hung in the balance.

The chief saw the silver sedan hung up on an arbutus tree. The window was smashed and there was damage to the rear end, which confirmed his deepest suspicion. He noticed the fires cropping up along the edge of the road.

Then Fire Engine 109 came on site. The firefighters, wearing full turn-out gear, poured out and got to work on the small fire. They tied off ropes and went down the side of the mountain to meet up with the chief. They hooked it up and got the vehicle stabilized and ready to be lifted out.

Ambulance 119 arrived. One of the attendants went down and placed a collar on the man after finally detecting a pulse. The victim was awake for only a few minutes and then couldn’t be roused. The other attendant got the backboard ready and ensured they had all they needed right at hand—an intubation kit, IV supplies, and bandages. There was no way to extricate the driver until the vehicle was on the road.

After doing his best to console the victim, the chief climbed out of the brush followed by the two others. His face was a mask of worry and concern. Sounds of grinding metal were heard up and down the road. Everyone gasped in shock. The winch worked hard to drag the dangling hulk straight up and over the rock cropping. The whole scene was full of firefighters, police, and ambulance personnel. Coloured lights flashed and strobed.

The silver car was completely crunched front and back, barely recognizable, and partially covered with broken tree boughs, rocks, and dirt. Leaves and debris filled the engine compartment. Behind the wheel slumped Master Herbalist, Andrew Qiáo.

When they pried Andrew out of the wreckage and prepared him for transport, he gave the fire chief a single clue—herbFire Chief Schulz wondered—is herb.

Is that the name of the person who murdered him? Or a kind of poison? If it was a herb, is that what caused the accident? Did he have a bad reaction? Or had he lost control? What about the tire tracks? Had he been pushed off the road? Where was the other driver? His heart wrenched. He made some notes as he examined the scene. Another small fire started, and he extinguished it. Worry continued to scratch at his mind.

A police cruiser came on site. Two officers began to direct traffic to the other side of the orange cones.

Damage to the rear of the car suggested that perhaps he was pushed off the highway. Maybe another vehicle had plowed into this vehicle at dawn on a quiet mountain road, and no one saw or heard anything. The other driver would have known. Deliberate. Bile rose to the back of his throat.

River’s Bend was situated a mile south of the Yaquina River and seven and a half miles east of Artson, Oregon. Nestled among the giant myrtle tree stands and the aromatic Douglas fir, locals described it as sleepy, rural, and quaint, with windswept serenity.

Timberwolf Pass is the highway connecting the two areas. The landscape is highly treed and mountainous and in the winter months, treacherous with black ice. Now, approaching summer, a fire could get out of control quickly. With so many ravines the only way to fight the fire in this area is from the air.

Trees always find a way to take root in the towering granite. Seeds are scattered with the wind, deposited by the birds, and carried in through humans. They take root in little puddles of earth, which gather in the cracks of the rock. The tendrils cut deep grooves into the stone as sure as a mason. Little trees hang on, growing more robust in the winds that blow, the rains that cool, and the sun that warms. Dead leaves cling to the branches before they finally let go and plummet to the ground below and create fresh earth to nourish more seeds.

Detective Susan Miller, who’d been trained and partnered with Iain McClintock for eleven years, decided to see what the hold-up was.

Her route to work took her over this pass. Stopped twelve cars back, she phoned Iain and alerted him about the situation while she jogged up to the crash site to investigate. People poured out of their vehicles even as Susan asked them to return to them. They gathered around the emergency vehicles. Some were praying, and some were crying. Someone in their community was hurt, possibly dead.

The body on the gurney was familiar. The onlookers hissed in a breath of alarm. Susan Miller did, too. An esteemed member of the medical community was badly hurt. He’d regularly treated her friend and Iain’s wife, Rosie. Oh, dear.

The ambulance attendants started an IV as they loaded him into the ambo. He was intubated to help him with his breathing. Sirens blared as they fled away with their precious cargo.

She ordered everyone back to their vehicles and continued the call with her partner. “Oh my gawd, Iain, it’s Andrew Qiáo. Poor Eleanor.”

“Bloody hell,” Iain said. “What happened? Do we know if he’s still alive? Never mind. I’ll be there as quick as I can.”

Susan asked the officers to clear the scene of onlookers sending them back to their vehicles. She started talking to witnesses and taking their statements. She began walking the scene, making notes, and awaiting her partner.

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