We're excited to offer a sneak peek of “Rich Talk” by C. Hope Clark, a short story that will appear in full in Killer Nashville Noir: Cold-Blooded. Defense attorney Harlowe Franklin and his wife Lavella O’Hara Franklin have the perfect life until boredom rocks their worlds. Now both deal with the situation in their own way, putting their butler Stevens square in the middle.
Bestselling authors Jeffery Deaver and Anne Perry join rising stars like Dana Chamblee Carpenter and Paula Gail Benson in a collection that proves Music City is a deadly place to be when your song gets called.
Harlowe Franklin blew out a tired, scotch-laced breath. It was May, yet he’d had Stevens light a fire before the personal concierge turned in around 10 PM. He craved a sense of cozy, but would settle for any feeling other than the frustration that had taken up residence in his bones.
The defense attorney sighed and sank deeper into the tufted leather chair, still missing the wallowed out one his wife donated to Goodwill months ago. The surrounding comforts usually settled him after his difficult days. His library of first editions, his great- grandfather’s framed flintlock displayed against the dark, polished walnut paneling. A drink in one of his grandmother’s crystal glasses, and his worn pair of $500 leather slippers with which he’d rewarded himself one long-ago weekend in London. Out of habit he glanced down for Winston at his feet, but around midnight the Boykin Spaniel had ditched him and joined Mrs. Franklin upstairs in bed.
Harlowe hadn’t slept with her in over a year. His wife, not the dog.
He preferred the dog.
The mantle clock gonged a muted, gentle tone. Four times. Sleep wouldn’t happen now. Not this close to morning. He sucked the remnants of his scotch and picked up the phone, keying the internal line to Stevens’ room.
“Sir?” the assistant answered, enunciating his word as if he weren’t entitled to rest. He lived to serve.
Harlowe stood, stretching out the kinks in his neck. “Sorry towake you, Stevens, but I need you to cancel the day’s appointments. I’m going out on the boat. Please call the marina and let them know. They’ll be open for the early fishermen, I’d think.”
“Very good, sir.”
Harlowe headed to his separate bedroom to change. Better to endure this bout of insomnia in an environment he preferred, atop the gentle swells off the balmy coast of Charleston.
Harlowe climbed the stairs and reached his bedroom. Stevens soon knocked softly and entered, having thrown on crisply ironed slacks under his satin robe, his straight graying hair groomed to include his signature immaculate part. He handed Harlowe a glass of orange juice and asked, “Anything else I can prepare for you?”
The employer smiled and accepted the juice. “No thanks, Stevens. I’ll check in later in the day.”
By 5:30, with the sun pinking the navy sky, Harlowe walked the ramp to Legal Dock, his 34-foot Chris Craft. While he’d handled the boat many times alone, his mood was as damp as the humid Lowcountry air, and he wished to sit back and think. Drift off for a nap, if need be. Come home with some personal decisions made.
Miranda jumped on the boat ahead of him, her deck shoes silent, a windbreaker atop a plain white T-shirt. She wore jeans with a hole in one thigh, another on a knee. The twenty-year-old was known around the club for her boat prowess and sweet looks, though she never seemed to capitalize on the latter. She was ever willing to accompany someone who needed a second hand, and even in early May, her devotion had already tanned her young skin. Harlowe had awakened her, too, requesting she help on the boat. The vessel wasn’t completely unwieldy for one person, but Miranda would free him to sort his thoughts.
The young woman busied herself prepping and checking.
“Need help, Miranda?” He felt it mannerly to offer despite her nautical touch being so second nature to her.
“No, sir,” she said, the engine turning over. “Just enjoy your coffee.”
He’d had the marina fill his thermos when he’d arrived. “Girl,you sure love a boat,” he said, dropping onto the backseat, one arm draping over the upholstery. “I love your passion, but you need to think bigger than this for your future.”
“Maybe I’ll run a marina,” she said looking up, her even white teeth accenting her smile.
“I bet you could,” he said, taking a sip from his cup. This was a good decision coming out here.
“Thanks for waking me,” Miranda added, easing them out of the slip. “You look tired, though. Everything okay?”
“Life’s throwing me a few curves, making me unable to sleep. Was hoping the salt air would clear my head and make some choices simpler.”
She drifted on past the sleeping, moored boats, the sky changing to pale orange, and a lighter blue peering through cumulus clouds on the horizon. Another fifty yards to go. She turned toward him. “Then let me handle the boat. I can manage without you.”
He winked. “I know you can, honey. I get more enjoyment watching you do it, frankly.”
She picked up speed, the breeze strong enough to tousle their hair and steal words. “Anyone else saying that would sound lascivious,” she shouted, then laughed and gunned the engine, and they put the awakening Holy City behind them.
For the first half hour, they said nothing, Miranda thriving at the helm, Harlowe pondering. His life was about to change, for the good or bad he wasn’t sure, but he wasn’t the type to be reactive. He hadn’t profited from waiting for the prosecution to make the first move. He hadn’t filled his coffers by waiting for the market to settle. He was proactive…deliberate, methodical, and aggressive in his business, and had sense enough to know to use those skills in his personal life as well.
His eyes drooped, spray teasing his face. He set his coffee in a holder and draped both arms over the seat backs, crossed his ankles, and forced himself to sift through the thoughts he’d kept harbored way too long.
Lavella O’Hara Franklin was sleeping with Tucker McKinley.
His wife and his partner. A cliché if ever there was one. Divorcing Harlowe would cost her access to his quasi-fortune; he’d see to that. How the hell did she expect to see Tucker and not ruin things? He didn’t see money as an issue; Tucker had enough of his own. But even if she left Harlowe, the shift would blow back on the firm. Regardless of who left whom, or who sided with whom, a mess awaited.
He’d been busy. Too busy creating a retirement that Lovie didn’t appreciate. Purposely he’d overlooked hers and Tucker’s crisscrossing happenstance schedule for almost a year now, refusing to act on the signs, hoping against hope that the spark would die between the two. Then he and Lovie could pretend it never happened. Whether they loved each other didn’t matter. At this stage of their lives it was about convenience, economics, and plain damn common sense. Otherwise, what would Charleston’s social circles think?
He and Lovie were too old to split and live alone. The house sprawled far and wide enough to where living separately represented a solid option, with minimal inconvenience. He would even look the other way if she dallied with the occasional joker, then tossed him aside.
But Tucker. One day this affair would erupt in their faces and they’d all go down with the ship. She’d picked a union able to do the most damage to the whole lot of them. Therefore, Harlowe needed to act.
Miranda slowed the boat and let it idle. “Need a moment below,” she said and disappeared into the cabin.
Water softly slapped the sides of the vessel, rocking front, back, side-to-side, the bobbing soothing Harlowe better than his best Macallan 25 Sherry Scotch. He lifted his phone and called Stevens.
“Any problems, my man?”
“None at all, sir. Your appointments are rescheduled. Your secretary was slightly miffed, but otherwise all is well. Are you having a good morning?” the assistant asked.
The sun had just cleared the horizon, its warmth soothing coupled with the breezes. “Remarkable,” Harlowe replied, closing his eyes again. “My wife still in bed?” “Yes sir.”
“Well,” he started, slowly sitting upright. “In case I’m not back in time, don’t forget her five o’clock cocktail.”
“Her five o’clock cocktail, Stevens. God help us if she misses it.”
“Very good, sir.”?
Harlowe hung up and slid the phone back into his pocket. Saltair had proved quite medicinal. Amazing how his thoughts had gelled so early in this jaunt. He ought to take advantage of Legal Dock more often.
“What the hell?” Miranda’s voice carried loudly from below. “What’s wrong, honey?” Harlowe called.?“Get off the boat,” she yelled, clamoring up the stairs, trippingonce and going down on a knee. “Pull out the vests. I’ll grab the life raft. Now!”
He paused long enough to know not to question. Fumbling under a seat, he found two vests, tossed one to Miranda, then jerked his arms through his, no time to buckle up. She waved at him to leap at the same instant she threw the inflating raft overboard. The water sucked him in, crashing over his head, and Harlowe’s heart fought to escape his chest. He resurfaced, and saw Miranda climb into the raft ahead of him. Her arm extended towards him, and he took it, then cast a leg up over the side. He grasped the rope in the life raft and hauled his bulky torso over. Gasping, he didn’t argue over Miranda commanding the oars first and rowing hard.
He looked back at Legal Dock, sleek as it flashed the bright morning sun in its chrome. Seeing nothing wrong, he turned back to Miranda. “Talk to me, honey,” he said when they reached thirty yards away.
“Under the sink in the cabin,” she huffed, still pulling against the water. “I went to get…”
The boat exploded. The shock wave and shrapnel ripped through the small two-man raft, thrusting both of them mangled into the water.
Copyright © 2015 C. Hope Williams.
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C. Hope Clark pens Southern crime fiction with two series under her belt, “The Carolina Slade Mysteries” and “The Edisto Island Mysteries,” published with Bell Bridge Books. She is also editor of FundsforWriters.com, a resource for writers honored by Writer’s Digest for its “101 Best Websites for Writers” for over a decade. Hope speaks across the country about writing and mysteries, and is known for her motivational voice. She lives on Lake Murray in central South Carolina when she isn’t at Edisto Beach.