Murder of the Prodigal Father
He came home to bury his estranged father. Now he might end up just like him. Friendless. And Dead.
Connor Pierce just wanted to come home, bury his father and leave. Now all the women in his life are angry with him. The wife he left alone halfway around the world with their two children. The mother who has never seen her grandchildren. The sister he abandoned to manage their playboy father's car dealership. The woman left at the altar twelve years before.
As it becomes evident that his father's death was due to other than natural causes, Connor must play detective to find the killer. All of those women, and most of the men who might otherwise help him just want the man buried and don't care how he got dead.
Connor starts digging for a motive to his father's murder and uncovers a badly timed love affair, a dark family secret, a series of inappropriate sexual encounters, and a possible grudge stretching back to WWII. It seems a lot of people had reasons to kill Dixon Pierce.
Can he find the culprit before they decide to stop him with a bullet? Or will his own entanglements with temptation and betrayal derail and destroy him?
Domestic suspense and domestic malice in the vein of Ross Macdonald or stories by Agatha Christie. A novel of mystery, murder, betrayal and redemption that hammers home the dangers of drugs, sex and family trauma.
Excerpt: Chapter One
There are probably a million things that could send a commuter plane hurtling to the earth from 18,500 vertical feet. Three came to mind in the buzz and hum of the nineteen-passenger, twin-turboprop Fairchild Swearingen Metroliner. Bad parts. Bad piloting. Bad acting.
I’d spent the better part of three hours avoiding the first two by ruminating on the third.
She was a steamy redhead accompanied by a new husband too old for her and his clumsy cowpoke of a son. Dad reminded the twenty-something kid three or four times to remove his cowboy hat.
No doubt in my mind that fantasizing about a woman not my wife was a bad idea. You could find a woman at the center of every single mistake I’d ever made. But my wife wasn't here to take that role, so contemplating the girl in seat 3A won out over staring into a vomit bag for one more minute of my seventeen-hour journey.
A thin ribbon of auburn hair lit to a campfire ember across the aisle and one seat up from me. She’d bumped me while boarding. Hers was the kind of smile made for bad dreams. A little steamier than kind. Slightly more seductive than friendly.
The Metro bounced against an unexpected cross stream of air.
My sweating hands gripped the armrests, imprinting every nick and design flaw into permanent memory.
I blamed Dixon Pierce for this. His blood ran in my veins. He’d genetically passed down his problems with women. Now his poor decisions had me swaddled in a tin can held aloft by two tiny engines and some unpredictable physics. I needed an hour of bone picking time with him, which might be a possibility sooner than later the way this propjob was rattling.
Eyes shut tight, I focused on that tawny-haired, exotic temptress. The meditative drone of the Metro’s engines transported us from the obnoxious hum of certain death into a mountain meadow fantasy where I chased her gleeful, naked form across thick, dew-laden grass.
Until gravity left us, shattering the trance. My belly button leaped to my chin. Honey-coated peanuts and overpriced beer gathered in the back of my throat.
Breathe in. One, two, three, four. Breathe out. One, two—
The airframe shuddered.
My heart pounded out a rhythm that darkened the edges of the world. This is not the way Daddy Dixon would handle it. He’d be sleeping like a baby. Or chatting the redhead up with false reassurances. Live or die for the day. His motto, not mine. A dose of that genetic mixture would certainly help in a moment like this. Although, to be fair, it might have been liquid courage with him.
“It’s really lucky that you're the guy sat next to me,” my ten-year-old seatmate interrupted.
I willed him into focus. Grayson. My charge. His mother couldn’t make the trip. Gate agent asked me to chaperon.
“I used to be afraid of flying.”
“Me too,” I hedged.
When we settled into our seats, and the Metro was safely terra firma, the kid shared how hard it was for his mom and dad to get along but even though they fought all the time he thought it was a little bit harder since dad wasn't with them. This was his first trip back to the family ranch since the family split. He was real glad that he got to sit beside me because I made him feel safe.
Thoughts of commiserating occurred, where I would talk about my mom and dad, how they broke up over a car accident that crippled my mother and it still didn't make it any easier that dad was never around after. How the end was never as good at the beginning. I shelved them. Better he got the details moment by moment.
“Anyway," he said, undersized arms tucking the complimentary pillow into the hollow of his neck. "Glad you’re the one sat next to me.” He leaned against the portal.
Vast and eternal blue expanse taunted me from beyond the kid's youthful dependence. The wing trembled in the wind.
“Sitting next to an airplane fixer makes me feel much better,” he soot himself with eyes closed.
“Four-bladed props driven by TPE331-10 engines,” my inner voice droned aloud. “Solid. Secure. No worries. Capable of handling violent turbulence.” My head rolled against the headrest, mimicking the youth’s tranquility. A mental View-Master flashed images.
Schwick. Connor charges cockpit. Schwick. Connor forces emergency exit door. Schwick. Debris soars through the tiny passenger cabin knocking the unsuspecting off their feet. Schwick. Unbelted travelers launch over seat backs and slide forward on the downward-canted aisle.
I ended the show and stared at the Air Force blue headrest in front of me.
How apropos that they decorate this flying casket with team colors.
A secret grin apprehended my face. Anyone watching would think I was resting peacefully, comforted by thoughts of a joyful family reunion. Actually, the grin was shaped of of irony. Enlistment as an Air Force Aerospace Maintenance Crew Chief had only intensified aversion to air travel. Ridiculous duty title. Staying awake had me visualizing dropped panel screws. Dozing invoked specters popping rivets into nearby cloud banks. Every turbulent bump and drift nudged me closer to the spray of disassembled components over an Eastern Montana wheat field. Before, I was a man afraid to fly. Now, I was a man who knew ten thousand legitimate reasons a plane might crash.
The pressurized, twin-turboprop shivered a tumultuous vibration. Dishes rattled. Magazines slipped into the walkway. An IBM Thinkpad slid from a businessman’s makeshift tray to the floor amidst curses.
My father’s life flashed before my eyes. The chase after dames and pursuit of alcohol bounced him out of our home before I could drive. A hankering to share my disappointment with him grew stronger with each rattle.
The Swearingen gave another rumbling shudder with a sideways slide.
“Sorry for the turbulence,” the Pilot’s voice declared from a metal can in the ceiling. “Flight attendant, please strap in.”
A baby wailed from the rear seats.
“Hang in there, folks,” the Captain reassured us with tin-panny glee. “We’ll be on the ground in a jiffy.”
I grumbled. “Nice choice of words, Captain Happiness.”
The twin-jet plummeted. A hundred feet. Two hundred.
I braced for impact, View-Master flashing scenes of my two small children at my funeral.
Schwick. Crestfallen Quentin Roger and Penelope Jane sat between two fresh graves chiseled out of the frozen Montana dirt. Schwick. Matching headstones with identical epithets for Daddy and Granddaddy, “Man on a Mission. It was just the wrong one." Schwick. Mother, seated in the background, secretive smile mocking my refusal to share my children’s time with her. Schwick. Wife Nanci, eyes dry with disappointment, one of Mother’s knitted shawls wrapping her shoulders. “Sorry kids. Closed casket. Daddy couldn’t be separated from crash site debris.” Or the other passengers. “Okay, Mommy. Can we get hot cocoa after?”
The airplane bucked, twisting with the wind before slamming against an updraft.
My stomach rolled with the angle of the plane, eyes locked on to Eastern Montana’s pinto-colored welcome mat. Winter in shades of gray, charcoal gray and variations on dormant buff.
The plane leveled, whipping past the tundra at a hundred miles per hour. Tires bounced and chirped. Deceleration roared in protest.
My heart roared with it.
Captain Happiness piped in over the rumble. “There you go, folks,” his voice peppered the cabin with canned encouragement. “It’s a balmy fourteen degrees above the zero mark in Miles City, Montana this morning. Don’t forget your sunscreen.”
The unsuspecting tittered.
My young seat companion stretched from his catnap. “Dang, that guy’s noisy,” he said around a yawn. “Can’t hardly catch a wink.”
“Guess he doesn’t know you’re a light sleeper, kid.” I smiled with the composure of a salesman, thoughts on my father’s dead body resting in a casket at Grave’s Funeral Home a few hundred yards from the jail on Main Street. An imaginary headline, Dixon Pierce’s Potential Snuffed Out by Bad Choices taunted me. Logic folded its hand. If Kasparov hadn’t beaten the Deep Blue Supercomputer last week, I’d have no hope left. A fitting return.
The redhead cat-stretched with a twist and a wink. The type of wink that sets fires.
Our flight attendant opened the cabin door to let an icy breeze stimulate deboarding.
I helped my seatmate into his backpack, and gave it a motivational slap. Gear collected, I led the way to the exit. Redhead’s perfume wafted over me like lighter fluid on barbeque briquets. It was good to be done with fantasies that could ruin a marriage.
I stepped from the hatch and Montana’s Winter of ’96 gift-wrapped me with eternal pessimism. Coat collar tight and shoulders bunched, I did my best to block the kid from our frigid welcome.
We teetered down the aircraft’s aluminum stairway. An envelope of frozen air thrust us toward the airport door.
It was 11:00 a.m. Montana time and even this close to lunch the small breeze forced my eyelids into slits. Perspiration from close quarters on the airbus mutated into a frozen glaze against my skin.
Our group tramped inside the miniscule air terminal like cattle piling out of a loading chute.
“Fourteen degrees, for the love of Pete!” my fantasy's geriatric bridegroom spouted. He stamped the cold out of his feet, squeezing his quavering bride across her petite shoulders.
For a brief second I wondered how long he could detain the bright Irish dream girl in this frigid state. Never mind. It was good to be rid of her flowing mane with its copper promise and skin silkier than cream skimmed from the top of those thick glass, half-gallon jugs Gram used to pull from the front porch on a cool Montana morning.
The crew made quick work of our baggage, rolling it off the tarmac and around our huddle toward the center of the small building.
The kid shot a hand in the air to acknowledge my help while his impatient aunty drug him back into the frozen Montana winter.
I raised a hand in acknowledgement. "Grayson. Good luck." His reunion might be less fortunate than mine.
Suitcase and duffel hefted to my shoulder, I turned to scan the waiting area for my sister, Renée.
Through the thinning crowd, an apparition frantically waved for attention. My heart somersaulted. And then landed on its face.
“Jasia?” My jaw went slack. I wasn’t ready for one more test of marital fidelity.
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WHAT PEOPLE SAY ABOUT MURDER OF THE PRODIGAL FATHER
Connor Pierce leaves his family to deal with his father's death. When he looks into his father's death, he believes it was murder. Now he has to ask his friends that he left behind for their help. But in doing so, he puts himself in harms way to be possibly murdered. This is a very good story of a man that has to decide many things about his family. Things that are taboo.
After twelve years away from a small town, returning because of the death of his estranged father, leaving his troubled marriage on the other side of the world, thinking nothing has changed, finally realizes nothing is the same. A great, thought provoking read.
Dr. Patricia Eroh
Slow start but not for long. I was then pulled into this mystery with an edge of my seat action story. I enjoyed the entire story and the story kept me guessing until the end.