Legacy of Fear is unique in the fact that in the midst of plotting the story I stumbled on a fact that so intrigued me, it couldn't be left out. I was researching Hong Kong and China where the story is set when I discovered a fact that fascinated me - a language that had been used by past generations. Nushu is the only known language created by and for women and originated in a southern province of China. How could this not become part of the story? Of course, in the fictional world, Nushu becomes the vehicle to hide an unbelievable secret that people are dying to discover.
The late afternoon sun flirted with the pallid flesh. An arm stretched out from inside the rust-clotted corrugated steel, the fingers curled thick and chunky. Not ten feet away, the shooter’s revolver winked in the sunlight as the second blast echoed through the piles of discarded steel that stretched over a large field.
The body jerked and then lay still.
The man slipped the gun into the holster inside his tailored jacket, turned his back, and walked away. His pace was slow and thoughtful, as he headed toward the sleek black Audi that would take him back to the heart of the city. There was no fear of discovery. The pipe factory had been closed for longer than it had been open, and the dead man would be forgotten long before his body was found.
Thirty miles away, sirens bit through the steady hum of Hong Kong traffic. Their shrill presence was muted by the noise of the traffic. Max True looked over his shoulder, where a block away the blue flashing lights of an approaching ambulance battled for space on an already crowded road. He could see red and blue flashing lights as the police quickly closed in behind it. An emergency in Hong Kong was not unusual. It was the third police car he’d seen since hailing the cab at his hotel over twenty minutes ago, and the second ambulance. From what he remembered of past visits, this was a quiet day. He shifted the satchel. The doll inside it was awkward; it was either jabbing his side or forcing him to place his arm at an awkward angle.
Find my heart. Find my girl.
He thought of the note as he glanced over his shoulder again. Throughout the entire journey he’d had the disturbing feeling that he’d been followed.
“It’s your imagination,” he told himself as he instructed the cabbie to stop a few blocks away from his destination. He needed time to gather his thoughts. A woman glanced at him, her smooth face denying any sign of age, her dark-eyed gaze shifting quickly to the sidewalk. Ahead of him, not half a block away, a highrise pushed forty stories into the mid-afternoon sky. Beside it was a lower-rise apartment with a brick façade. Its first two floors were covered in a curtain of bamboo scaffolding and green mesh. It leaned with an almost defeated list like a small, injured bird struggling to keep up as its more modern contemporaries crowded around it.
He swept too-long hair from his eyes. It was pointless. The hair flopped back into his line of vision.
He passed the bamboo scaffold and green-meshcovered apartment building and the modern-edged high-rise. He rounded the corner and walked another half block before he could see the smog-muted brick of her apartment building. The sirens wailed as the emergency vehicle overtook and passed him, stopping two minutes later at exactly his destination.
It felt like both his heart and his breath had ceased in that moment. He clutched the satchel with one hand while the other hand fisted.
The unmistakable blue shirt and black pants of the local police faced him as they hurled orders. The glassplated apartment doors were flung open. From what he could see, it was organized mayhem.
“Excuse me,” he began, intending to address the police officer directly nearest to him.
What the hell could be going on?
“Get back!” the police officer ordered with an abrupt windmill-like motion of his hand.
Behind him doors slammed, and lights flashed. The red-and-blue bobbles of the emergency vehicles glazed the concrete with a mixture of hollow light. A stretcher was unloaded and dropped onto the sidewalk. The metal wheels clattered as the ambulance attendants sprang into motion.
His heart raced. He could only hope she was unhurt as he clutched the satchel. He stood on the fringes of a small crowd, waiting for a chance to slip past the police guarding the perimeter of what was obviously a crime scene.
Andra stood back as the police arrived and were followed closely by the ambulance attendants.
She pointed with a shaking finger.
“I found her,” she said in a rush to get the words out. “It was too quiet, and the door was open.” She chafed her forearm. “She screamed, I think.” She knotted her fingers. “I’m not sure any more what I heard. I…I shouldn’t have waited.”
“You said she screamed?” The police officer paused as his partner stood, one hand on his belt. Both officers looked at her, one with impatience, the other with some interest. His dark eyes scrutinized her as his gray hair seemed to glint even in the shadowed light of the apartment’s narrow entrance.
“I think so. I don’t know anymore.”
The police officer nodded; his partner was silent. The medics moved in, pushing past her.
“If I’d checked earlier…” She drew a strand of hair off her forehead. “Maybe she’d still be alive.”
“We’ll take a full report later, ma’am. Now, if you could just stand back.”
She nodded and bit the edge of her thumbnail. She dropped her hand. “There was noise, thumping, more noise than usual. I thought…Oh, God.” She wrapped her arms under her chest.
“Just stay here, ma’am, I’ll take a full statement later,” the officer repeated.
“All right.” She shook her head. She couldn’t seem to stop talking. “Why didn’t I know her better? She was my neighbor, and I never had her over, never…” Her voice trailed off and she dashed what she hoped were the last of the tears from her eyes.
She pushed up against the wall of the bachelor apartment. Only the swirl of officials in the room; the three police officers, two medics and a cluster of official-looking people, seemed to bring any reality to her. And in the midst of all that, hidden behind badges and uniforms, was her neighbor—Margaret. Dead on her tiny kitchen floor, pieces of an uneaten ham sandwich strewn around her.
It was fifteen minutes before the same police officer she had spoken to earlier came over.
“You don’t mind if I record this?” She shook her head.
“What can you tell me about her?”
She wiped another tear. “Not much. I know that sounds odd, we were neighbors and all, but we mostly said hello in the hallways. I never socialized with her or anything.”
She crossed her arms and chafed her elbows with the opposite hands.
“She’s an expat like me, but she wasn’t a close friend. She’d only been here four months. But I suppose you might already know that.” She shook her head. “Other than how I found her, like I told you earlier, I can’t say much more except that she’d mentioned she came from Baltimore. I believe she has a brother there, but she never mentioned his name.”
Again, she shook her head. She wiped the tears with the back of her hand. “I don’t know. I can’t imagine she would have. But I really don’t know.”
“Anything else? About the deceased specifically, her habits, anything.”
“There’s nothing more I can tell you,” she assured the officer. “I arrived to find her already gone.”
Two police officers hovered by the doorway, the others seeming to have left in the last few minutes. She looked away as Margaret’s body was loaded onto the stretcher.
“Was it gang-related?” she whispered.
“What makes you ask that?”
“Her throat was slit in a way that the triads might.”
“I lived here as a child,” Andra clarified. “Moved back to the States and then returned as an adult. I’ve been here ten years. One becomes familiar with the triads, if only through the media.” She glanced up at him. “Was it?”
“I’m not at liberty to say.” He glanced down at his notes. “Had you spoken to her in the week prior to her death?”
“No.” Andra shook her head. “We passed in the hallway and said hello a few days ago. That was it.
Today I heard noises…”
“Yes. I heard a crash. I assume that’s when she…fell.” She choked out the last word and for the first time since she’d found the body, her knees shook, and she had to concentrate to remain on her feet. “The scream…I don’t know.”
“No, not about the scream. About everything else, yes.”
“The door was ajar. She didn’t answer my knock.”
She remembered how the door had eased open as if someone from the other side was opening it, as if…She shook her head trying to clear her mind of the macabre thoughts.
“Had you seen anyone strange around the building?”
Faces reeled through Andra’s mind. “No…yes. Wait, I saw one man a few days ago. And then again yesterday—a young man, thin and maybe a few inches taller than me, twenty or so with a slightly scarred face—acne, I think, and a beige nylon jacket. He could have been visiting someone, I don’t know.” She shrugged and her stomach heaved, and for a second threatened to give up the small meal she’d had an hour earlier. “I remember him over anyone else who was a stranger to me only because I saw him twice.”
“Did you exchange words with him or notice any unusual behavior?”
“No.” She shook her head.
“Any reason you know of that someone would want to kill Miss Langford?”
Andra stopped for a moment. “I knew her name was Langford but…It’s just so odd to hear it. I…” Again, she shook her head. “I wish I’d spoken to her more. But I’ve been caught up with a project translating recently discovered messages. They were messages that were slipped across enemy lines during World War Two and…” She looked up. “I’m sorry, that was uncalled for. Margaret mentioned nothing to me. Like I said, we weren’t that close.
She shook her head. “No. I wish there was. Oh, she taught English as a Second Language at the Chay-Lan Institute. We had a shared interest in language; language is a kind of code.” She stopped, her hand flitting to her mouth and then dropping. “I know so little about her.”
“Is there anyone else we can contact? Friends maybe?”
“Other than the brother, I don’t know.”
She shuddered when she finally closed her apartment door and faced a room that was, décor aside, a mirror image of Margaret’s. Her arms were folded tight as if that would offer some protection. A knot seemed stuck in her gut. Maybe the tears she couldn’t shed. Maybe guilt at her inability to stop a tragedy. She couldn’t identify it, and yet the feeling bore an odd resemblance to how she felt at other times when she had faced loss and tragedy or pain in her life; her parents, her siblings. She’d mentally built a wall and stored her emotions tightly in the furthest corner behind it.
She drew in a straggled breath. This was not the same. Why would someone kill Margaret? What did she have that was valuable? It made no sense.
She raised a shaky hand to her forehead. It was cool despite the heat in the poorly ventilated building. She supposed she might, all things considered, be in shock. The intercom buzzed and she jumped. She let out a small shriek as the tinny alarm sounded again.
It only gets worse before it gets better!
Someone wants that doll and they'll kill anything or anyone in their path to keep their secrets.
Legacy of Fear - April Sale - 99 Cents!
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