Sixteen chapters.
Sixteen writers.
One thriller.

To see other chapters, click here.

Chapter 1 – Red Muumuu


The little boy gazed forward paying no attention to the dead woman at his feet. Perhaps his concentration was on the neatly folded flag in his hands. Or perhaps he was distracted by the first rays of sunshine coming through the trees and touching the back of his head. Realists would insist that the true reason for his indifference was the fact that he was merely a statue, sculpted and placed in the Healdsburg Plaza to commemorate those who died in war.

Jennifer Willis, taking her early jog on that August summer morning, was not indifferent to the body. Willis’ screams woke guests in the inn on the south side of the Plaza and in the hotel on the west side of the Plaza. But it was a baker on the east side of the Plaza who called the police.

Officer Desiree Ransom of the Healdsburg police tried to question Ms. Willis and comfort her simultaneously, but soon decided there wasn’t much to learn from her beyond, “I was jogging and I found this body.” So she went about examining the body.

Officer Ransom tried to look without touching. The dead Caucasian woman appeared to be in her 40s, though many of those years could be attributed to mileage rather than chronology. Her hair was more yellow than blond and gray at the roots. Her face was heavily made up, but the make-up had been smeared by travel, or perhaps struggle.

Where is that forensics team? Ransom thought as she saw the half-dozen onlookers that were still keeping their distance.

The dead woman was wearing a red muumuu. Who still wears muumuus? Besides overweight dead women in town squares? And again, where is some back-up here? The red muumuu was not complemented by the other fashion accessories: hoop earrings, several cubic zirconium rings and, most strange of all, white high top tennis shoes covered with Chinese script.

Finally, Officer Nico Rodriquez pulled up, parking his squad car. He brought with him some yellow caution tape to ensure the increasing number of looky-loos stayed at a distance.

“Friend of yours?” Rodriquez asked.

Ransom assumed Nico was trying to prove he was completely comfortable with the situation by making a snarky remark from a television crime procedural. But she knew the rookie had so far only faced traffic and public drunkenness in the line of duty. She knew homicide was as unfamiliar to him as it was to her.

“She was someone’s friend, so I suggest you treat her with respect.”

Rodriquez put on an appropriate face of shame. Ransom couldn’t tell if it was real or not. Not that it mattered.

“Have you found cause of death yet?” he asked.

“No.” She didn’t see any lethal looking wounds on the visible flesh. Perhaps a fatal blow was hidden under that hideous dress. Perhaps she was felled by a heart attack or a stroke, but Ransom didn’t think so. For all she knew it could have been a poisoning, a freak accident or some nasty voodoo.

As Ransom thought through possibilities, she realized she had never even checked to be sure the woman was dead (though it would be hard to believe otherwise.) She lifted the woman’s left wrist to feel for a pulse. The coolness of the wrist said as much as its stillness. But it was when Ransom lifted the wrist that she noticed the writing on the arm. Writing apparently in red ink, the same shade as the hideous dress the woman wore.

On the woman’s forearm was a single word, “Sonoma.”

Next time (April 26): “Mr. Crocodile Boots” by Press Democrat Staff Writer Meg McConahey. Another victim. Another word.

Dean A. Anderson lives and works in Healdsburg. The sixth of his Bill the Warthog detective novels for kids, KING CON, has been nominated for a Christian Retailers Choice Award. For more on his books, click here.




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