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Murder on the Okanagan Express: Black Swann Investigations, #3

Murder on the Okanagan Express: Black Swann Investigations, #3

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Murder on the Okanagan Express: Black Swann Investigations, #3

266 página
3 horas
Lançado em:
Mar 1, 2019


Trapped on a train with a ruthless killer…

The Kettle Valley Railway was established over a hundred years ago. The line connected the communities around Lake Okanagan with each other and to the West Coast. In 1964 passenger service ended and 1989 saw the final freight train travel its rails. The majestic steam engines are running once again, providing scenic tours for locals and tourists.

Reggie Swann and her friends board a special late night running of the Okanagan Express. They are treated to gorgeous valley lights, good food and wonderful company, until things go horribly wrong. A whiteout storm strands the small train on one of the highest trestle bridges in North America. Then, to make matters worse, one of the passengers is murdered.

When all the evidence points at Alan Swift, Reggie's boyfriend, the PI has a few hours to prove his innocence before the police take over the case. A cunning and callous foe seems to be one step ahead of the detective at every turn.  When Alan is hauled off the train in handcuffs Reggie appears to be beaten, unless the Black Swann has another trick up her sleeve…

A Black Swann Investigation

Lançado em:
Mar 1, 2019

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Murder on the Okanagan Express - Wayne Kerr


Chapter 1

"What about that one?" Alan pointed at a bright red, late model Mustang.

It’s a little too red. The low-slung sportscar was appealing, I had to admit, but not what I was looking for.  We’d been touring the local used car lots in the evenings to avoid salesmen.  However, the Mustang had caught my boyfriend’s eye and we’d pulled into the lot.  I glanced at my watch hoping it was after five pm.  5:05, I couldn’t tell whether the lights were on in the shack/office.  Without a salesman in sight I decided to chance it.  I climbed out of the warm vehicle and followed Alan toward the bright red machine.  The vehicle practically screamed ‘look at me’.  This car was, without a doubt, much too flashy for stakeouts or surveillance.

I’d had one little tumble and Mom, Alan and everyone else I knew was on my case to get a car.  I’d hit an ice-patch while delivering a Temporary Restraining Order.  Hank Paulson had been harassing and stalking his ex-wife.  Apparently, he didn’t believe she should ever date again.  Since he hadn’t shown up for the hearing, someone had to put the TRO into his hands.  As a favor to Erica White, one of my best friends and Paulette Paulson’s lawyer, the job had fallen to me.

A gentle snowfall overnight had quickly melted away as the morning sun shone down on Penticton.  But high in the hills above the pretty city the frozen ground didn’t yield its fresh cover so easily.  Hank lived in a cabin on the upper west benches.  The roads had been good until I’d gotten within a mile of his place where there had been very little traffic.  A dusting of snow on the asphalt hadn’t been a problem for Betsy, my cherry-red  Vespa, until we were two thirds the way around a gentle curve and discovered ice below the white powder.  Two wheels and ice do not pair well and Betsy’s rear tire started to drift.  Hitting the brakes was not an option.  I’d leaned forward and tried my best to keep her front wheel pointed ahead. A second later we were sliding on our sides toward the shallow ditch.

I’d quickly stood Betsy upright and looked her over before I checked myself.  She’d never had a mark on her until that day.  I’d been quite proud of that.  She had a dented cowl and a scraped rear fender, while I’d escaped unharmed except for my wounded pride and a rash across the sleeve of my leather jacket.  I pushed Betsy back onto the road.  My faithful companion started right up as if nothing had happened.  We completed our mission and rode carefully back to town.

It could have been worse, as I’d been reminded by everyone who knew me.  That’s what had brought me here.  There was more snow in the forecast and I’d conceded the need for something with four wheels.  I knew exactly what I wanted, well sort of.  The vehicle I needed had to be comfortable, with some get up and go, yet remain relatively inconspicuous.  I’d recognize her when I saw her.

She’s a beauty though, Alan said, running his hand along the sleek fender. 

There had been a lot of changes to the car industry while I was in prison.  It seemed like there were as many Asian and European cars on the road now as North American vehicles.  Pontiac and Saturn had both gone the way of the dinosaur during my ten years away from the world.  Ford had started making awesome looking Mustangs again.  I’d been a homicide detective before my incarceration and was partial to Fords and Dodges since that was what had made up most of the Toronto Police Department’s motor pool.  I headed toward a black four-door Charger sitting in the back row.  Chrome wheels and a spoiler gave it a very sporty look.  I leaned against the silver car next to it and tried to picture myself behind the wheel.

That’s what I’m talking about, Alan said, joining me at the Charger.  After circling it twice, he got down on all fours and began looking underneath it.  My attention, however, had been diverted to the smooth downward slope of the silver hood my butt rested against.  I stepped back to get a better look. 

Not too big, not too small.  This car had an understated, sportier than a regular sedan, quality that I liked.  I had to admit I was smitten and when I looked through the driver’s window at the attractive cloth interior I knew I’d found the one.  Leather was nice, but when you’re stuck in your car during a long stakeout, cloth was more comfortable.

Looks good, Alan said, referring to the underneath of the Charger. 

It sure does, I agreed.  I stepped back to take in the whole profile of the silver car.

I thought you were looking at this one, Alan chuckled, slapping dust from his knees.

I was, I replied. What kind of car is this?

That is a Lexus.

Hello Alexis, I said, then turned and kissed Alan. My search was over. Sexy Lexy.

It’s the IS250 model, he told me. Should get decent gas mileage.

Then, I heard footsteps on gravel.  I cringed.

That is a great car, the best on the whole lot. A middle-aged man sauntered confidently toward us.  I suspected he’d have used that same line no matter which vehicle we’d been looking at.

Act like you’re not really interested, Alan whispered.

Very low mileage, he said, smiling broadly. Like a shark sensing blood in the water, the man circled once around the car before stopping directly in front of me. Only has 28,000 kilometers on her.

What year is it? Alan asked, snuggling up behind me for support. 

2013, he replied, then added. Just slightly more than 6000 k’s per year.  Mostly highway miles, too.  The woman that owned it used it mostly to go visit her grandchildren up in Vernon.

Driven by a little old lady...  Where had I heard that before?  Is it still under warranty?

Yes. He nodded, then anticipating my next question he shrugged. Ends in February.  But I can assure you this car will still be running strong when it has 280,000 kilometers on it.  The V6 motor is built like a tank.  Handles better than a BMW, in my opinion.  Better looking, too.  This particular model is all-wheel-drive—handy if you want to go up to Apex and do a little skiing.

I don’t know, I told him, shaking my head and then looking over at Alan. That Audi we looked at yesterday had a year and a half left on the warranty, didn’t it?

Almost two full years, Alan said, playing along. And it had heated leather seats.

You have to drive this car to appreciate how good of shape it is in, the salesman countered. Shall I get the keys?

I shrugged, non-committedly.  He took that as a yes.

I’ll be right back.

Alan and I took turns driving the car down to Okanagan Falls.  I drove it back taking the long way, around the east side of Lake Skaha. The car felt solid, hugged the curves nicely, and had no squeaks or rattles.  Before we returned to the lot, I’d already bonded with Alexis.  After an hour of bargaining and almost walking off the lot twice we got the price down $4500.  It was still fifteen hundred dollars more than I’d wanted to spend. 

You’re a P I, right? Murray, the salesman/car lot owner, and my new friend, asked.

Yes, I responded.

Maybe we can help each other out, he told me.

Murray explained that he had a truck that he needed recovered.  In other words, he’d financed the vehicle himself and the buyer had defaulted on the payments.  I told him, that vehicle recovery wasn’t really my thing, but he promised to take another thousand dollars off Alexis if I returned his truck to him.  I ran my fingers along the fender and reluctantly agreed.  He provided a name, address, papers and a key.  I promised Alexis I’d be back soon to bring her home.

chapter 2

"Come on, Alan begged me, At least try it on."

I’m not into this kind of stuff, I argued. 

Alan and I had talked at length about moving in together.  I loved him and I liked his cute little house, which was so very handy to the beach and downtown, but something held me back.  For one thing, it had barely been six months since I’d moved into the darling suite I had built in my mom’s basement.  She and I were getting along famously.  I owed her both my life and my freedom.  Without her tireless, unconditional belief in me I’d still be in prison or more likely dead.  Cops have few friends in the joint and during my ten years behind bars I’d become quite familiar with the infirmary staff.

Pretty please? Alan implored.

I took the vest from him.  It was heavy.  I had no one to blame but myself.  Secrets and mysteries are catnip for a P I.  Now I wished I’d left the mystery of where my boyfriend disappeared to every second Thursday night.  I slid the garment on.

Oh Baby, that looks good on you, Alan purred over my shoulder as I stood in front of the mirror.

The metal sprockets, mini-pistons and gears that Alan had painstakingly mounted on the dark leather contrasted sharply with my aqua sports bra and panties. After ten years of wearing white Playtex bras and baggy balloon panties that came up to my belly button I could not leave a department store without at least one new pair of cute underwear.  You don’t think it’s too much?

Alan shook his head and handed me an aviator’s hat and a strange pair of goggles.  My boyfriend didn’t just belong to the Penticton Secret Steampunk Society, he was the president and a founding member.  Join or be hunted like a dog for the rest of your miserable life, had been his ultimatum when I revealed that I’d followed him to a meeting and had witnessed the bizaar outfits and strange behavior.  It had been a tough decision, but in the end I decided I could give up two evenings a month for the man who had been so supportive and patient with me.

Steampunk, I’d learned, referred to people who celebrated the ideals of the late 1800s and imagined a world where steam powered machinery continued to evolve rather than combustion engines.  Alan spent a great deal of time creating weird and often creepy machines and creatures out of pipes, pistons and sprockets.  Everyone needs a hobby.

On the outside, you look so cool, but inside you’re all nerd. I rolled my eyes, before setting the leather hat on my head. Ooh, I do like this though.

I told you. Alan positioned the goggles over my forehead. Perfect.

This does look pretty cool.

Damn right, you do, Alan responded. You look like the love child of Emelia Earhart and Seven of Nine.

Seven of Nine? Of course, I knew who the famous aviator was, but he had to show me pictures of the Star Trek character on his tablet, so I’d understand his reference.  I agreed, except that the tall, buxom Scandinavian beauty would not likely have been able to fasten the top buttons of this particular vest, whereas I had no problem. 

The goggles are functional, Alan told me. 

I heard the excitement in his voice so I tugged them down over my eyes.  My head spun until I closed one eye.  Instantly I could see every pore on his nose.  Too much information there.  I turned and looked across the room.

Just twist them to adjust for zoom and focus, he added.

I zeroed in on the light switch plate.  After a minor adjustment, I could see that the slots on the screws holding it in place were both horizontal. This is amazing. I traded eyes.  Suddenly I could see the whole room.  The proportions were all wrong, but my peripheral vision was every bit as detailed as straight ahead.  Alan’s face and body were misshaped but clear.  These could be quite handy for surveillance. You made these?

He nodded.  Do you like them?

I love them. I kissed Alan after replacing the goggles on the cap.  You’re amazing, did you know that?

I’ve suspected it for some time, he answered, squeezing me tighter.

When are you going to show me your costume?

I’m not. It’s top secret, Alan said. You’ll see it at the party.

That’s not fair, I pouted. At least tell me about it?

I’ll tell you what, Alan said. I’ll show you one part of it, but that is all. I need to test it anyway.

I knew if I was patient enough, eventually there would be a benefit to being your girlfriend.

Ha ha, Alan laughed sarcastically. Do you want to see it or not.

Dazzle me.

I’ll be right back, Alan said, then raced out the bedroom door.  I heard the back-door swing shut seconds later.  The tiny garage by the alley had been converted into a workshop when Alan added a two-car garage to the front of the house shortly after buying the property.  I’d never been in his workshop.

I heard the back door close again.  Alan appeared holding an L-shaped rectangular metallic tube covered with gears and pistons.  The gears turned as he slipped his arm into it and flexed a few times.

I can’t tell if your arm is causing the gears to turn or the gears are controlling your arm, I said, impressed with the craftsmanship.

That’s the effect I was going for, Alan told me. Watch this.  He held his arm straight out, pointing it at the chair in the corner of the room while he pushed a small button with his other hand. 

I heard a twang sound, then a loud clatter as the chair toppled backwards.  Something landed on my foot.  I looked down and saw a foot-long plastic rod with a rubber tip.

Hey, you could kill someone with this thing, I admonished my boyfriend, as I picked up the projectile.

Wow, it worked. Alan had a huge grin on his face.  Better than I expected.  I might have to use a smaller spring.

Yah think?

Alan picked up the chair and examined it.  It’s not broken. No harm, no foul.

I handed him the rod.  Maybe you should put that away for now.

Pretty neat though, right? he asked, hanging a shirt over the back of the chair, hoping I hadn’t noticed the fresh dent.

Okay, yes that was kind of cool, I admitted, then I told him, Promise me you’ll change that spring before you maim anything else.

There was a non-committal grunt as he pulled his arm out of the contraption.

I was joining the secret society just in time to help Alan plan the year-end gala event.  Lucky me. December 20th was the tenth anniversary for his group and he wanted it to be special.  Time was starting to run out and we’d lost our venue due to a busted water main.  This was a bad time of year to find a party room at the last minute.  Everywhere we’d tried, so far, had been booked.  The normally unflappable Alan was beginning to panic.

These are perfect.  Leather pants and the right blouse and I’m all set, I assured him, turning back toward the mirror for another look. I wasn’t quite ready to wear an elaborate costume like Alan and most of the members did.  I hadn’t yet discovered my true steampunk identity.  I’d insisted that Hannah and Danny, our best friends, be invited to join.  The gala would be our first time meeting the group.  Much to my surprise, Hannah had jumped at the opportunity to join. A voracious reader, she had a soft spot for steampunk mysteries. I hadn’t known there was such a thing.  The ‘Keystone Cop’ outfit she’d begun was already pretty impressive.  Danny, like me, didn’t really understand much about steampunk but was being a good sport.

Hey, what about your gym? I suggested. We could move some of the equipment and make space.

We had the party there the last two years, Alan answered. Besides it is already booked every evening until well after the New Year.  Alan owned and operated Swift’s Fitness Center. I should have kept the gym as a backup, he continued.  Next year I won’t make that mistake.

You couldn’t have known, I said, trying to sound positive and though I doubted at this time of year there was much chance, I added, ‘We’ll find the perfect place."

I’d settle for a crappy one at this point, Alan conceded. Maybe we’ll just have to cancel it.

I knew how important this was to him and how much time he’d already spent building elaborate props and decorations for the big event.  I have to get to work, but I’ll keep my eyes open. Don’t give up.

You’re right. Alan forced a smile. There has to be a basement, empty barn or something out there we can use.  I’ll call Val over at Royal LePage.

That’s a great idea, I assured him, as I removed the vest and began throwing on my clothes. I’d seen her billboards around town.  Val Marsden was a commercial real estate specialist.  If anyone in town knew of an empty building, it would be her.  Do you know her?

She’s a member at Swift’s, he said.

I wasn’t sure, between Alan and my mom, who knew more people in town.  Both were quite impressive.  By association my circle of friends and acquaintances was growing fast. 

I took one more look in the mirror, then removed my costume and finished dressing.

I’ll call later.  I love you, I said, as I left Alan’s bedroom.

Love you, too.

My thoughts turned to work as I donned my helmet and Betsy’s 300 cc engine roared to life, well buzzed anyway.  She sounded more like an oversized weed whacker.  I could see patches of white in the upper benches above Penticton, but the streets here in town were virtually free of snow and so far I’d been able to manage my way about town on Betsy.  The crease in her cowl reminded me that things could go wrong in a hurry. Last winter I’d borrowed Mom’s Buick a few times after it snowed.  But the snow hadn’t lasted long.  Sure December winds could have a bite to them, even in the Okanagan.  I’d gotten a full-faced helmet to help combat the cold.  I pulled my long gloves over my jacket cuffs and headed out.

Yesterday I’d

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