Welcome to 302 Grace Street in Parkland, North Carolina, my new home and soon to be the office of the Randall Detective Agency. I’ve just moved in, but let me give you a tour. This, of course, is the porch. A southern home isn’t complete without one. This one’s nice and wide with a porch swing and rocking chairs shaded by the large oak trees in the front yard, a great place to sit and watch the quiet neighborhood. Or sit and ponder your life and all the decisions, good and bad, that led you to this particular day. I’ve got plenty of those to think about.
Here, I’ll hold the screen door for you. In the foyer, to the right you’ll see the parlor that’s going to be my office. In front of you is the large staircase leading up to the second and third floors. To the left, you’ll see the living room area we call the island, a group of comfortable chairs and cushions parked on a worn oriental rug. That’s Kary’s old upright piano in the corner. You can see the dining room table and chairs and the back bay window from here. There’s lots of light from the tall windows, and the warm wooden floor feels good on bare feet. This is a place where you can leave your book open and no one turns a page, or your snacks and drink on the coffee table and no one takes a bite—except the housecat, Cindy, might investigate.
What am I doing here, you may ask? Well, the truth is, I had nowhere else to go. Early this morning, my second wife threw me out, and I was sleeping in my ‘67 Plymouth Fury when sirens woke me and I found myself just down the street from a break in and the murder of elderly Albert Bennett. I wanted in on this investigation, but the police warned me away.
This has never stopped me before. But I needed a place to stay, and fortunately, my friend, Camden, has this boarding house. You’ve heard of half-way houses? This is an all-the-way-house for Camden’s collection of strays, including a good old boy named Rufus Jackson, a mean old geezer named Fred, and Kary Ingram, the most beautiful girl I’ve ever seen. Camden tells me her fundamentalist family disowned her when she became pregnant with a child she lost. I wasn’t going to stay here, but now—I don’t quite understand, but I think she’s going to be the one. You see, I lost a child, too.
My first wife and I had a lovely little daughter named Lindsey, and when she died in a car crash, our marriage died, too. Foolishly, I jumped into another relationship, but that wasn’t the answer. I feel responsible for the crash and for not being able to find Lindsey. Sometimes I think I see her, but I’m afraid to hear what she might say. In fact, I’ve seen her in this house. I don’t know what I’m going to do about it.
Oh, did I mention Camden’s psychic? Sometimes it’s useful. Most of the time, it’s damned annoying, because he knows what I’m thinking and how I’m feeling. I’m certain he can see Lindsey, too. Of course, he’s got his own problems. He was given up for adoption when he was three days old and resents the mysterious father who abandoned him. I’ve offered to find his parents, but he always says no. He also hates being psychic, but his girlfriend, Ellin Belton, head of the Psychic Service Network—you know, one of those goofy late night infotainment shows—is always after him to be on her program. It’s going to be fun to see how that plays out.
But for now, I’m going back on the porch for more pondering. There was a clue on the lawn of Albert Bennett’s house, a piece of paper torn from a notebook. The markings looked like some kind of music. Kary could help me with that. Camden could, too, because he’s a singer. What I really need is some clients so I could—oh, hello, Cindy. You need some cat food? What’s up?
What are you looking at so intently?
Oh, my God.
Meet the author
Jane Tesh, a retired media specialist, lives in Mt. Airy, North Carolina, Andy Griffith’s home town, the real Mayberry. She is the author of the Madeline Maclin Series, A Case of Imagination, A Hard Bargain, and A Little Learning, featuring former beauty queen, Madeline “Mac” Maclin and her con man husband, Jerry Fairweather. STOLEN HEARTS is the first in the Grace Street Mystery Series, featuring struggling PI David Randall, his psychic friend, Camden, Randall’s love interest, Kary Ingram, and Cam’s career-driven girlfriend, Ellin Belton, as well as an ever-changing assortment of Cam’s tenants. MIXED SIGNALS, the second in the series, will be published in November.