Monday, February 08, 2021
THE LIGHT CATCHER MURDERS
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The Light Catcher Murders
Kate Atherton Mysteries Book 1
Jo Cassie McRae
Genre: Cozy Mystery
Kate Atherton’s idyllic retirement is going well…if you don’t count the two murders, the mysterious drone, and her photographer friend who manages to poke a hornet’s nest of criminal activity, that is.
Nestled in the scenic Texas Hill Country, the cozy town of Wheaton Creek seemed to Kate Atherton an idyllic place to escape the world’s harsh realities. And then there was the first murder.
Kate once enjoyed a long, successful career with a specialized, highly secret federal intelligence agency. Crises in both her personal and professional life drove her to early retirement and, ultimately, to Wheaton Creek, the perfect place for her and her former-military husband to escape what had come to feel like a world made up of wars, hatred, fear, and untimely death. And, at first, the escape was all Kate had hoped for. Then murder came to Wheaton Creek—a crime that a corrupt county sheriff seems determined to pin on Kate’s photographer friend, Lucy Celek.
Lucy’s work has been chosen to appear at a prestigious photography festival, a festival that could take her from amateur to professional standing. All goes well until the gallery displaying her work is broken into, and one of Lucy’s photographs is vandalized. A week later, the man Lucy suspected of destroying her photograph—a fellow photographer who was angry that his own work was not chosen by the festival committee—is murdered. Faced with a sheriff who shows little interest in expanding his list of suspects beyond Lucy, Kate feels she must dust off her puzzle-solving skills to find the real killer.
Murder is just the beginning, though, as Kate’s amateur sleuthing begins to reveal a tangled web of crimes that go beyond anything she could have imagined.
They were on the ground. Lucy wanted to raise her head. Kate was holding her down, though, pressing her face into the rocky soil, and all Lucy could do was turn her head sideways. That was how she knew that Jack had tackled Parker in much the same manner as Kate had tackled her.
They heard another shot, and Lucy felt a rain of debris kicked up by the bullet’s impact with the ground. “What’s happening?”
“We’re being shot at.” Kate stated the obvious without a touch of irony in her voice. “Keep your head down.”
“I said, keep your head down! For all we know, it’s you they’re shooting at!”
“Let’s worry about us for the moment, shall we?” She looked at Jack, who lay about ten feet away with Parker pinned protectively beneath him. “Suggestions?” she asked.
“See if you can get a signal. Call the sheriff and report an active shooter.”
“Seriously? It will take them an hour to get here!”
“Do it anyway.”
She fumbled her phone out of her pocket and looked at the screen. “Damn. No signal.” She rolled over onto her back and felt Lucy shift her position.
“You raise your head, Lucy, and I swear I’ll knock you senseless.” Kate held the phone up as high as she dared and waved it back in forth, desperately peering at the screen in the hope that those tell-tale little gray bars would appear. “No joy,” she called out to Jack.
“I can’t get a signal.”
“It’s a dead zone out here,” Lucy said into the dirt. “You have to go about five miles back up the highway to get a signal.”
“Great.” Kate tapped her phone lightly against the back of Lucy’s head. “New rule, Lucy. You don’t go where you can’t get a cell signal!”
Lucy momentarily considered pointing out the impracticality of such a rule, especially in the Hill Country, and then decided it was not the best time to provoke Kate. Though the firing had stopped, they still didn’t dare raise their heads.
Looking for a way out that didn’t involve going back up the slope, Jack surveyed the situation. The ravine wall to their left was even steeper and rockier than where they were now, while to their right, a stone outcropping jutted from the ravine wall. Neither alternative would be viable without climbing gear. Behind them—or, below them, as it was—the ravine wall dropped off several hundred feet and was so steep and littered with obstacles that he doubted their ability to reach the bottom in one piece. Besides, what would they do when they got there?
“Uh, Mr. Atherton?” Parker’s muffled voice rose from beneath him. “I think you’re cracking my ribs or something. Could you maybe get off me?”
“Just so you keep your head down, son.”
“Yes, sir. I promise. I’m really having a hard time breathing down here.”
Jack rolled to one side, freeing Parker, who turned onto his back. He drew several gasps of air and then turned his head to face Jack.
“I think you saved me, sir.”
“Possibly,” Jack agreed. “Probably.”
“Well, thanks.” He felt around his body, taking stock. “I don’t think my ribs are broken, after all.”
“Well, that’s good then,” Jack said. He was too distracted by their predicament to care much about the boy’s ribs.
“So, what do we do now?”
The question made Jack focus on Parker. “That’s the $64,000 question, isn’t it?” He could tell by the kid’s blank look that he had no idea what Jack was talking about, and sighed. To his surprise, Parker was still clutching the iPad, cradling it to his chest like a protective shield.
“Can you launch that thing from here?” He indicated the iPad. “Your drone, I mean.”
Parker frowned, thinking. “Possibly. It’s not a clear line of sight. It might still receive the signal, though.”
“Can you try? I want you to fly it up to the parking area to see if our shooter’s still there.”
“No way! If he is still up there, he might shoot it down!”
“If he shoots it down, I’ll buy you another damned drone,” Jack snapped. “At the moment, I think our lives are a little more important, don’t you?”
The look on Parker’s face made Jack regret his harshness. “Look,” he said in a milder voice, “the moment the drone gets off the ground, fly it fast as you can in that direction.” He pointed west. “If the shooter’s still up there, he’s watching for us. He probably won’t even notice your drone taking off. Once you’ve got it in the air, go as far as you can, and then loop up toward the road and back to the parking area. Hopefully, you’ll come up behind the shooter.”
When Parker looked skeptical, he added, “Son, it’s your turn to save us.”
Jo Cassie McRae is a native Texan who has lived near Austin on the edge of the Texas Hill country for over 30 years. In addition to writing, McRae loves to read, garden, and cook. Like Kate Atherton (The Light Catcher Murders), McRae's bookshelves overflow with history books, biographies, historical fiction, and mystery novels. Unlike Kate, McRae does not have a mysterious, secret former career, having worked instead as a rather ordinary legal assistant at an Austin law firm.
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