Wakened from sleep by the sound of voices, Makkie Yeats is puzzled to hear a conversation over crossed lines on her phone, still sitting in its cradle. She's horrified to hear the two men planning a murder, one that she will later learn, hits all too close to home...

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 Book Excerpt - The Beloved


I had just crawled into my sweats when I heard it again-- the sound of men’s voices. I ran toward the bedroom, and shut the door, drowning out the music, suddenly wishing I had Drew’s recorder to tape the conversation. 

I leaned close to hear the call. “So it’s you again. Have you made up your mind?” I recognized the voice as the same one I had heard before, even with the tinny echo of the phone on its cradle.

The second man said, “I’ll do it.”

“For the price we agreed on?”

“No, it’ll have to be twenty grand. It’s too great to risk for any less.”

“I’ll have to think about the amount. It’s hard to come by so much cash on short notice.”

“Well, don’t think too long, because I’ve been thinking of going to California. My parents are out there. My dad owns a garage where I can work if I can’t get something going here.”

“Okay, call me tomorrow at the same time, and I’ll let you know if I can come up with the money. All right?”

“Hey, wait a minute. I want to know, you really are serious about knocking off your wife?”

“I am, or I wouldn’t be having this conversation now, would I?”

With a sense of shock, I recognized the voice of the first man. Bryce. He had just put out a contract on Zoe. Oh, God help me, I prayed, what am I going to do now?

I was frantic, wishing Drew would get home. I noted the time of their conversation, to be sure to be listening, and hopefully recording, at the same time tomorrow.

The price was $20,000, if Bryce could get his hands on that much. Zoe had that much in her savings account. Please, God, don’t let him pay off the killer with her money.

I was desperate to get Zoe out of that house. I threw a parka over hastily donned sweats and tugged on my hiking boots and gloves, then picked up my car keys and flew out the door.

God, please let Zoe believe this. I shook my head. It was so preposterous that I was having trouble believing it myself. I parked my car in the street and went to the door. I knocked and then tried the handle. I didn’t want to ring the bell in case Bryce might be home, and I wasn’t too keen on meeting him right now. His car was not in its usual spot in the driveway, but might’ve been parked behind the closed garage door.

The front door was unlocked, so I went in and crept quietly from room to room, looking for Zoe. I found her in her second floor office. She was sitting at her computer, deep in concentration. I knocked softly on the doorframe, and she turned and opened her eyes in surprise.

“Makkie, what are you doing here?”

“Shh....” I whispered. “Is Bryce home?”

She looked at me with oddly glazed eyes and said slowly, “He’s not home from work yet.” After beat, she asked, “What did you do to your face?”

“I had a sledding accident.”

“Oh... that’s right. Mom told me about that, but I never imagined you’d look so bad. Does it hurt?” He speech was sluggish, somehow off.

I shook my head. “I’m okay, but I need to talk to you.”

She sat quietly, watching me with a look of suspicion, before tilting her head in puzzlement. I didn’t bring up the fact that she was the one who had purposely rammed her car into a phone pole, trying to kill herself. No, that wouldn’t do at all. We have enough trouble communicating, without complicating matters further.

As I watched, I was surprised to see that she didn’t become obtuse or impatient. Maybe she really had changed, since Christmas, when she had given her heart to the Lord, but that seemed overly optimistic. She was sitting quietly, hands folded in her lap, waiting for me to begin, giving me time. Help me, Lord, I prayed.

It was now or never. “So how are you getting along?”

She shrugged. “Fine.”

“You must be making it up and down stairs all right on your crutches, huh?”

“Yes, I am,” she said quietly. She wasn’t making this any easier.

I had to get to the point, since Bryce might arrive any minute.

“Listen, I’ll get to the point. What time does Bryce usually get home?”

“About six,” looking at her watch, she added, “about a half hour from now. Why?”

“Zoe, I don’t even know where to begin.”

“Then just start at the beginning, why don’t you?” She gave me a crooked little smile.

I said, “You know this is important, or I’d never bother you.”

“I know.”

“You do?”

“I do. Now--from the beginning. What’s going on?”

I plunged in. “Zoe, not long ago, I was sleeping and woke to hear men’s voices. It was so odd. They were audible on the phone by my bed, with the phone still on the cradle. But I could hear what they said--some kind of crossed connections or something, according to Drew. One guy told the other not to get involved in any illegal activities, that he was already on parole, and if he got caught they’d lock him up and throw away the key.” I paused to gauge her reaction. She seemed unusually subdued for some reason.

“Go on,” she finally said. This was good. Really. And rare, too.

“Then the next night, Drew was with me, and he heard the voices too, during the storm, just before the phone lines went down. I felt better then. At least I knew I wasn’t crazy. He had heard it, too.

“And then today, I heard two men talking again. Zoe, the first guy asked the second guy, whose name is Lud something, if he had decided whether he wanted the job or not. The job of killing the first guy’s wife.  He said yes, he wanted the job, but he wouldn’t do it for any less than twenty grand. The other guy said that was a lot of money, and he needed time to see if he could come up with it. They’re going to talk again at the same time tomorrow.

“Zoe, Bryce was guy number one. I recognized his voice.”

After a long pause, she admitted, “I’m not surprised. Not really. He had me see a psychiatrist, who presrc
ibed tranquilizers for me. You can see I’m not myself. I know he lied about his affair with the other woman...”

“Her name is Chris Battersby,” I volunteered before I could stop myself.

She frowned. “You know her name? How do you know her name?”

“I met her when she was having lunch with Bryce at Peking Express a few days ago. I was with Emily Keating, and I asked her to please watch them, to see if it could possibly be just a business luncheon engagement. It obviously was not. So I went to the buffet and pretended to happen across them, and he tried to turn away, but I began asking about you, and he ended up having to introduce us.”

With no emotion, she asked, “What’s she like?”

I frowned. “Are you sure you want to know?”

“I’m sure.”

“She’s tall and thin, a lot like you in build, with loads of brilliant red curly hair. She’s cold, though, Zoe. She hasn’t an ounce of warmth in her entire soul-- I could tell from her dead eyes.”

“Then,” she said softly, “they deserve each other.”

“Zoe, what are we going to do?”

“Bryce called this afternoon to ask if he could borrow twenty thousand from my account, and I said yes. Now I’ll conveniently say I can’t do it.  How’s that?”

I smiled. “Brilliant.”

“It won’t be convenient for me to loan him the money to pay for my murder.”

Then she added, “What time did you say the two men would be talking again?”

“Three o’clock.” 

“That doesn’t give us much time. We need to come up with a plan.”

Just then, I heard the front door slam and Bryce’s bounding tread on the stairs.

“Hon, you home?” he called. 

Zoe hurriedly pushed her chair away from her desk and motioned me beneath it, then pulled her chair forward, her bare toes poking my side as I curled into a tight ball. My heart was in my throat. Help, Lord, I need chocolate.

Bryce appeared at the door, and I could see his shoes from where I crouched. He sounded falsely cheerful when he said, “So how’s my sweetheart today?”

“Oh, a little tired.” 

“Have you been taking your pills like a good girl?”

“Yup,” she said, before adding, “that’s probably why I’m so sleepy.”

“Well, you know what Doctor Sanders said.”

“I know, I know,” she said sadly.

“Well, now, what’s this?”

It hit me just then. I had left my handbag on the desktop. I could hear him fumbling with it, as she said casually, “Oh, it’s Makkie’s. She forgot it. Girl would forget her head if it wasn’t tightly attached.”

She was adlibbing easily now, with no tension in her voice, “I’ll get it back to her later.”

“She was here?”

“Sure. She said she wanted to find out how I was managing on my crutches.” Well, it wasn’t a complete lie.

He said, a little too casually, “So what else did she say?”

She said slowly, matter-of-factly, “Not much. Mom and Snooky are fine.” After a beat, she added, “I guess they had some kind of carbon monoxide scare at the nursing home, kind of threw everyone into a frenzy.  And you should’ve seen Makkie. She was in a sledding accident, and her face is a mess. Otherwise, not much is going on.”

I couldn’t believe she could be so calm. It had to be the tranquilizers.

I could feel Bryce sizing up the situation. I was glad I had parked my car across the street. Maybe it had gone unnoticed. 

He asked, “So can I get your pills for you?”

“Not right now. I’ll have to get up to use the bathroom in a minute anyway.”

“Okay. Well, just call if you need anything. I’ve got lesson plans to work on, so I’ll be in my office.”

Zoe flipped on the television really loud, while Bryce was still standing there, and he went out and closed the door. That was a stroke of genius. How else could she have gotten him to close the door?

I’d noticed his office one door down, toward the staircase. I’d have to pass it to get out of the house.

Zoe pushed back her chair, and motioned me out of my hiding place. I whispered, “Zoe, what are we going to do?”

She seemed suddenly more alert. “I don’t know yet, but we’ll figure out something.”

I watched as she sat, thinking. Then she asked, “Did they say how it would be done?”

“What, the killing?” I asked, shocked that she could be so analytical about her own death.

“Of course, silly. What else?”

“No, they haven’t gotten that specific yet.”

“Okay, well, I’ll send Bryce down to the kitchen to get me something-- a clean glass. He does this kind of thing for me now that I’m handicapped,” she said with a cynical giggle. “And while he’s in the kitchen, you scurry out the front door, but be quiet about closing it, okay?”

“Are you sure? I hate to leave you alone with him.”

“Don’t worry about a thing. Now hide behind the closet door, while I turn down the television and call Bryce.”

She muted the television sound and called out, “Bryce? Could you come here, please?”

I heard footsteps before he opened the door. “Yes, my love. Is there something I can get you?”

“I was going to take my pills, but I seem to have misplaced my glass.  Would you mind getting me a clean one from the kitchen?” I could see the glass from where I stood, and had to hope he wouldn’t notice it.

“Of course. I’ll be right back.” He was being awfully cooperative, almost gushy. Made me want to gag. She shooed me out the door as soon as we could hear his footsteps receding down the wide marble staircase. I grabbed my purse and ran as quietly as I could, softly closing the front door behind me. I had just made it off the porch, when I heard his footsteps approach the door from the inside. 

I had only enough time to slide into the shrubbery to the side of the porch when he opened the door and looked around. He stood there a while, and I held my breath, unmoving while a twig src
atched my cheek. Shortly, I swiped away a drop of blood as my cheek began to itch. I thought, oh, no, I took my purse. He’ll see that it’s gone. Well, there was nothing I could do about it now. 

Finally, he went inside and closed the door, while I waited several more minutes before crawling out of my hiding place and heading toward my car at a leisurely pace. Glancing up, as I started my car, I saw him smiling mirthlessly from an upstairs window. My heart was hammering in my chest so hard I thought it would fly out, as I quickly drove away.

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