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Wednesday, January 26, 2011

Interview with Ann Charles - Part 4

As promised, here's the blurb and excerpt for Nearly Departed in Deadwood!

Little girls are vanishing from Deadwood, South Dakota. Afraid her daughter might be next, single mom, Violet Parker, is desperate to find the monster behind the abductions.

With her savings dwindling and just three weeks left to sell her first house or lose her Realtor job, Violet is ecstatic when a handsome jeweler hires her to sell his century-old, Victorian masterpiece … until she sees the dilapidated dwelling. Now, if she could just convince her only buyer to stop rejecting vintage homes as if they’re haunted.

Short on time and long on worry, she refuses to give up her dream of a fresh start in Deadwood. But with a malicious coworker trying to get her fired, a secret admirer sending her creepy messages, and a sexy stranger hiding skeletons in his closet, Violet could end up as one of Deadwood’s dearly departed.

Two hours and two houses later, we bounced along a steep hillside street in Deadwood’s northern Forest Hill neighborhood. My knuckles were white as I clenched the steering wheel, but not due to the steep dropoff on my left.

There was definitely something odd about Doc. Something that made my sweat cold in spite of the hot gusts swirling through the gulch this afternoon. I’d been analyzing it since we toured the first house and I’d caught him sniffing in an upstairs closet. Not sniffing coke or Elmer’s glue, just sniffing.

I’d kept my mouth shut. After all, I had been standing alone in an empty house with a man whose forearms alone looked muscled enough to snap my neck like it was dried spaghetti.

He sniffed every room, every corner, every nook and cranny, everywhere. He was like some human version of a bloodhound. I’d half-expected him to turn around and sniff me at some point.

After inhaling his way through the house, he’d declared that he would pass on the place. When I pressed, he shrugged and just said, “Too big.”

A thorough sniffing of the second house inspired a “too small” from him.

Now, as I parked the Bronco in front of the last house I’d opted to show him today, I could tell by the vertical wrinkles lining his forehead that he was already thinking up another enlightening two-word reason why he didn’t like this home.

“How old is this one?” he asked while tailing me up the sidewalk to the front door.

I checked the listing paperwork. “Early 1900s.” I punched in the code to unlock the lockbox and pulled out the key, expecting him to tell me to forget it, but he didn’t. I held the door for him to enter.

“You first,” he said and waited for me to lead.

This was the third time he’d insisted I enter a house before him. I couldn’t figure out if he was being a gentleman or if this was another of his strange tics.

I stepped inside a well-lit foyer, lined with hardwood flooring. Stained-glass windows in the interior walls shed pink and blue-tinged light into a wide hall from rooms to the left and right. Arched thresholds to adjoining rooms added to the open feel, and a staircase anchored the opposite end.

I beat him to the first sniff. Pine-sol and Lemon Pledge filled the air.

Doc inhaled and grunted.

I couldn’t tell if it was a good grunt or bad grunt, being that I was rusty on my Caveman vernacular.

He tapped one of the stained-glass windows. “I like this.”

I coughed in surprise.

We sniffed our way through a carpeted living room with sage-colored walls to the kitchen. Stainless steel appliances, glass-paned cabinets, and can lighting gave a modern but cozy feel to the room. Whoever had had this place before put some money into it.

While the dining room was small, French doors leading to a well-manicured backyard encased by a split-rail fence gave a false impression of more space.

The downstairs bathroom had a polished granite sink top, a black toilet, a heated stone floor, and a mosaic of the sun tiled into the shower wall.

I paused at the base of the stairs. “You want to continue?”

“Sure.” He smiled for the first time since we’d left his office. The transformation made me do a double-take.

There were three rooms upstairs—an office, a small bathroom with a shower instead of a tub, and a master bedroom. I stood inside the doorway of the latter, waiting for Doc to finish his inhalation of the bathroom.

I heard him come up behind me. “This is just perfect, don’t you think?” I asked. A coined phrase I learned in a one-day seminar about using positive voice inflections to acquire a sale.

In actuality, the house was an ideal bachelor pad. Doc could even set up a computer at home and skip the three-mile commute to the office if he wanted.

“The toilet has a new shut-off valve,” he said.

To which I couldn’t think of a single response, so I just nodded.

He sniffed. “Do you smell that?”

I smelled something flowery, probably carpet freshener—a nice touch by the real estate agent. I’d have to remember that. “Smells like gardenias.”

Doc gasped, coughed, and then wheezed.

I turned toward him. His face had a pale, blanched tone that made his dark brown eyes seem larger. “Are you okay?”

He leaned over, nearly retching now, his neck tendons showing.

I grabbed his shoulder, not sure if I should smack him on the back or poke a hole in his windpipe with a pen. “What is it? Are you allergic to gardenias?”

His whole body began to shudder. He broke free of my grasp and raced out of the room. I heard him clomp down the stairs, then the front door banged shut. Through the window, I watched him lean against my Bronco and wipe at his mouth.

What the hell?

It took a couple of minutes for my adrenaline to stop shooting through my limbs with fire-hose intensity. I swabbed the sweat from my forehead and headed downstairs, locking up behind me.

I climbed into my Bronco and started the engine, waiting for the air conditioning to kick in before looking at Doc. His skin had returned to its normal olive color, his eyes no longer watering, his breathing quiet and rhythmic.

“I take it you’re going to pass on that one, too?”

“I think I want to come back again.”

My mouth fell open. I couldn’t help it. “You do?”

“Another day, though.”

My mouth still gaped. “What happened up there?”

“I don’t like gardenias.”

“You need to seek medical help for that.”

For more info on Ann Charles and her books visit:
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