Excerpt: “Loch Ness Murder”

Note: Below is an excerpt from Loch Ness Murder, a standalone cozy mystery in the Charlie Kingsley Mystery series.

Chapter 1

“Wait, which monster did you say you wanted to document again?”

Nancy’s voice floated across the lobby as I pulled open the door to the Redemption Inn, a charming bed and breakfast. It was built like a log cabin, with hardwood floors, polished oak furniture, and cozy quilts. Nancy, the owner, was one of my tea clients. She stood eying the two men standing in front of the check-in desk, her silver glasses perched on her nose.

“The ones at Angel’s Lake,” said the first man eagerly, dropping his bag so he could paw through a notebook he carried under his arm. He wore an ill-fitting brown suit that matched his badly cut hair and smudged glasses.

“Oh, you mean Locky,” Nancy said, reaching up to adjust her hair, which was as brittle as old straw thanks to many bad perm and color jobs.

The second man blinked confusedly at her. He too was in a rumpled suit, but his was blue, and his tie was askew, as though he had been pulling on it. “’Locky’?”

“Yeah. You know how the Loch Ness Monster is called ‘Nessie’? We call ours ‘Locky.’”

Both men just stared at her. “That doesn’t make any sense,” Brown Suit said, his voice agitated. “The Loch Ness Monster is called that because it lives in a loch in Scotland that’s fed by the River Ness.”

Now it was Nancy’s turn to return the confused blinking. “Loch? You mean a lake.”

“No, I mean a loch, although it is an old Gaelic word for ‘lake,’” Brown Suit said. “It’s a common misconception.”

“I didn’t know that,” Nancy said. “You really do learn something new every day.”

“But that’s why the name doesn’t make sense,” Brown Suit continued, his agitation rising. “You might as well call him ‘Lakey.’”

“Um,” Nancy uttered.

“And furthermore,” Brown Suit continued, “this lake is called ‘Angel’s Lake,’ not ‘Loch Ness.’ It doesn’t make sense to name a monster after a lake it doesn’t even live in.” At that, he flapped his arms wildly, scattering his papers everywhere.

Nancy stared at him, clearly torn as to whether she should help him pick up his papers or just change the subject. “Um, well, you make a good point. Unfortunately, I didn’t have anything to do with the naming convention of our local Loch Ness … errr … lake monster.”

“It’s important to accurately identify creatures, so you can refer to them by their proper name,” Blue Suit said. “If you aren’t calling them by their correct name, how will you know how to handle them?”

“People don’t realize how many sea creatures there are,” Brown Suit interjected as he awkwardly gathered his papers. “I realize this is a freshwater lake and not an ocean, but it’s certainly possible something from the sea learned to adapt to fresh water.”

“Precisely,” Blue Suit agreed. “It may not even be a lake monster. What if it’s a water nymph or sprite … or a selkie? Calling it ‘Locky’ would make even less sense.”

“Actually, the correct term is ‘naiads,’ not ‘water nymphs,’” Brown Suit corrected, giving Blue Suit the side-eye.

Blue Suit flushed. “I was using the term ‘water nymphs’ because it is more common than ‘naiads,’ and I wanted to make sure everyone understood.” He gestured with his head toward Nancy.

“I am familiar with naiads,” Nancy said drily.

“Yes, but if we’re going to insist on correct naming conventions …” Brown Suit said, ignoring Nancy.

Nancy glanced away, an eye roll imminent, but that’s when she saw me.

“Charlie,” she said, her voice loud as she interrupted, clearly relieved by the distraction. “I’m so glad you stopped by. I’ll be with you in a minute, after I check in these two gentlemen.”

The aforementioned gentlemen turned to gawk at me. Both wore thick glasses, and their eyes were wide and round as they stared.

“Oh, you’re a girl,” Brown Suit said matter-of-factly.

“Yes, I am,” I confirmed.

“With a name like ‘Charlie,’ I was expecting a man,” he sniffed. He turned back to Nancy. “This is why naming things properly is important. Otherwise, people can make the wrong assumptions.”

“Charlie can be a girl’s name, too,” I said.

“There are more men named ‘Charlie’ than women,” Brown Suit said. He kept his head down, not meeting my eyes as he fussed with his papers. “It’s very confusing.”

The mention of my name had clearly thrown him for a loop, and rather than being upset about it, I found myself feeling sorry for him. Actually, I was feeling sorry for everyone in the situation, including Nancy, who seemed flummoxed by this particular check-in process.

“So, you’re going to investigate our lake,” I said.

Brown Suit glanced up, his brow furrowed, his expression a mix of confusion and distrust, but despite all of that, his eagerness to talk about his work won out.

“It’s well-documented that very few bodies are recovered from Angel’s Lake,” he said. “Bodies don’t surface in cold, deep lakes the way they do when the water is warmer and shallower. But, my research has shown that sometimes, other factors are at play.”

“Other factors,” I said, nodding. “Like the naiads and water nymphs and Loch Ness Monsters?”

“Naiads and water nymphs are the same thing,” Brown Suit said, his tone reproachful.

“I stand corrected,” I said.

“And the Loch Ness Monster isn’t an actual breed,” Blue Suit continued. “It’s most likely a plesiosaur.”

“So, you think we might have a naiad or plesiosaur in our lake?”

“We don’t know what you have. That’s why we’re researching it,” Brown Suit said.

“It’s possible there’s nothing going on other than the lake being cold and deep,” Blue Suit added. “But we’ve heard the stories and think it’s worth checking out.”

“What stories?” I asked. Behind the men, Nancy could no longer control it—she rolled her eyes.

Redemption, Wisconsin, is a charming little town that also has a haunted past. Back in 1888, all the adults disappeared. Only the children were left, and they all swore they had no idea what happened to the adults.

Since then, Redemption had been a hotbed of strange and mysterious events. People frequently disappeared without a trace, along with other unexplained happenings. Then there’s the many haunted buildings, including my own house. There were so many stories, in fact, that even though I’d been living in the town for a few years already, I’d only heard a fraction of them, and I still couldn’t keep track of them all. I really needed to start keeping a record.

“Well, the stories of Angel’s Lake being haunted,” Brown Suit said, flipping through his notes. “There have been sightings of a variety of creatures. Lake monsters similar to the Loch Ness, beings that look like humans in the water, which could be the naiads or selkies or sprites, or maybe even some sort of freshwater mermaid.” Brown Suit’s eyes gleamed from behind his glasses. “I know everyone thinks all those creatures are myths or legends, but I’ve discovered proof to the contrary.”

“Proof?” I asked. “What sort of proof?”

Brown Suit’s eyes went wide with horror. “Oh! I can’t tell you that.” He hugged his notes to his chest and took a step backward, as if I was about to leap forward and pry them from his arms. “It’s very confidential.”

“That’s why we’re here,” Blue Suit said. “We’re going to be publishing our findings soon, and we’re hoping Angel’s Lake will give us the final data points we need before we release it all to the world.”

“What we’ve discovered is going to be earth-shattering,” Brown Suit said. “It’s going to set the scientific establishment on its head. So, we need to make sure we dot all our I’s and cross our T’s.”

Blue Suit nodded solemnly. “We need to be prepared. It’s going to be like opening Pandora’s box. Once it happens, it’s going to blow a lot of people’s minds. So, we need irrefutable proof.”

“Which we have,” Brown Suit was quick to add. “But it can’t hurt to have more.”

“Wow, ‘irrefutable proof,’” I repeated. I couldn’t imagine what that could be. Photographs? Those could be doctored. Same as recordings. But whatever it was, they seemed extremely confident it would hold up to the scrutiny of the scientific community. “I’ll be interested in seeing it.”

“You won’t be disappointed,” Brown Suit assured me.

“Well, if that’s the case, I hope you find what you’re looking for in our little lake,” I said.

From behind them, I saw Nancy roll her eyes again.

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