is a collaborative and innovative crime serial set in the desert community of Rubicon Ranch and is being written online by the authors of Second Wind Publishing
. Seven authors, including me, are involved in the current story — Rubicon Ranch: Necropieces.
Rubicon Ranch are finding body parts scattered all over the desert. Who was the
victim and why did someone want him so very dead? Everyone in this upscale
housing development is hiding something. Everyone has an agenda. Everyone’s
life will be different after they have encountered the Rubicon. Rubicon Ranch,
some of the characters were introduced in Rubicon
Ranch: Riley’s Story
, a previous collaboration, Rubicon Ranch:
is a stand-alone novel. A new chapter is posted every Monday.
We hope you
will enjoy seeing the story develop as we write it. Whodunit? No one knows, not
even the writers, and we won’t know until the very end!
25: Melanie Gray
by Pat Bertram
paced her rented house, wandering through the great room to the bedroom, then
up the stairs to her loft office to stare out the window. The clouds that had
skirted Rubicon Ranch all day yesterday had settled over the town in the early
morning hours. The rainstorm had now weakened to a soft drizzle, but
floodwaters were swirling out of the desert and down the middle of the street
like dirty bath water in search of a drain.
expected to see body parts floating by, but it had been forty-eight hours since
she had found the ravens breakfasting on the disembodied foot, so perhaps by
now all the necropieces had been discovered. Shivering, she turned from the
window, trudged down the steps to the great room and then into the bedroom.
She’d spent most of the fifteen weeks since Alexander’s death roaming the
desert, and she found it almost impossible to relax during this enforced
incarceration. If she were any kind of photographer instead of an amateur
shutterbug, she’d be out in the desert despite the rain, chronicling the way
the runoff was recreating the desert floor, but her tiny camera wouldn’t stand
up to the moisture, and then where would she be?
back through the great room and up the stairs again. Her cell phone rang, and
for just a second, her spirits rose. Alexander! He was finally calling
to tell her he was coming back. Just as abruptly, the realization that he was
dead hit her like a physical blow, and tears spilled down her cheeks. Why
couldn’t she remember that he would never come home? His body had been cremated
and the ashes stored in a square brass urn sitting atop the dresser until she
could take them high up into the Rocky Mountains in Colorado and scatter them.
By the time
she reached her bedroom where she’d left her cell phone on the nightstand, the
phone had stopped ringing. The tiny screen showed the number for her agent, and
when the phone rang again, she considered not answering. What could the woman
say that hadn’t been said a dozen times before? Melanie already knew her
deadline had passed. She already knew she owed the publisher either the book or
the return of the advance. She already knew . . . Oh, crap. It would be better
to talk to Dottie and get it over with.
said, hating the hesitancy she heard in her voice.
Dottie chirped. “I’ve been calling and calling. Have I got good news for you!
I’ve been talking to Jack, and he says you can have all the time you need to
finish the desert book. He’ll even hire a photographer for you. And
he’ll send you five hundred thousand dollars, though I’m sure I can get him up
to a million.”
he want from me? A kidney?” Jack Nolan, her publisher, had a reputation for
wringing every last bit of creative effort from his authors while paying the
least possible advance. He got away with it because, despite his miserly ways,
he was scrupulously honest, remitting every penny of the royalties his authors
chuckled. “So cynical, dahling. It’s perfect, really. You’re there. You know
the people and the place. And from what I understand, you live next door to the
Melanie said, without a hint of uncertainty in her tone.
live next door to them? My sources—”
“I mean, no.
I will not write whatever book Jack wants me to write. I’m going to finish the
desert book and then . . .”
what? Knowing Alexander, he probably left you not only broke but also in debt.
Someone is going to write the book about Morris Sinclair. It might as well be
minute,” Melanie said. “How do you know what’s going on here?”
laughed. “The whole world knows. It’s everywhere. On television, Facebook,
Twitter. It’s such a delicious story. The author of the infamous ‘Necropieces’
series has himself become a series of necropieces. His fans don’t believe he’s
permanently dead. They are holding vigils, waiting for him to come back to
life. And his head was found in the house where that little girl died. Riley?
Is that her name? The girl that was kidnapped as an infant and then killed by
her biological father? How can you not want to write the story of Rubicon
Ranch? It’s going to be huge. Humongous.”
There’s more!” Dottie said. “You gotta love this stuff. One of the suspects in
Morris’s murder is Tara Windsor.”
“You had to
be living out in the boonies somewhere not to have heard of Tara. Oh,
right—you’ve been out of the country for the past umpteen years. Tara is an
actress. She was in that movie with that actor, you know, the one with the
gorgeous abs? No, I guess you don’t know. Anyway, it turns out the suspect
isn’t Tara at all. Tara is in Cabo with her pool boy. Don’t you just love it?”
down onto the bed, suddenly weary. “No.”
there’s you,” Dottie said slyly.
up straight. “Me? What about me?”
say you’re a suspect. You knew that, right? Jack says if you killed Morris and
tell all the gory details, he’ll up your advance to two million.”
suspect. Melanie had presumed the Sheriff’s insinuation that he considered
her a suspect was his way of manipulating her and keeping her off balance, but
if he or someone in the Sheriff’s department had given out her name, then she
really had a problem. She heard the echo of herself screaming at Morris, “You
leave me alone, Sinclair, or I’ll be shooting your dead body parts.” Could
she have been more foolish?
“Do you know
a good lawyer?” She gave a small laugh, wanting Dottie to think the question a
joke, but fear clutched at her belly with clammy fingers. Maybe she’d have to
write Morris’s story in order to pay for a defense attorney.
not be a celebrity on a par with Morris or Tara,” Dottie said, “but you and
Alexander have quite a following. Since there’s been mention of your
involvement in Alexander’s death—”
you I was involved in Alexander’s death?” Melanie demanded.
guess.” Dottie voice sounded smug, as if she’d caught Melanie out in a secret.
But there was no secret when it came to Alexander’s death. Just shoddy police
work. “So many important deaths in such a small place make for a good story,”
deaths are unrelated,” Melanie pointed out.
but it’s more likely they are connected somehow. After all, Morris had autopsy
photos of that little girl, and Alexander took some photos of necropieces for
accidentally included a couple of the pictures when he sent Jack a batch of
sighed. “Maybe you’re right. Maybe Alexander’s death had something to do with
Morris and the evil that this place seems to bring out in people.”
“So can I
tell Jack you’ll write the book if he gives you an advance of a million
“No. But you
can tell him I’ll consider it.”
I’ll see what I can do about finding you a lawyer.”
the phone on the nightstand, and put her head in her hands. Oh, Alexander.
Look what you’ve done to me. She took a few deep breaths, determined not to
cry, but when the tears spilled over anyway, she jumped to her feet, ran up the
stairs, and plopped in front of the computer. Immersing herself in research
always helped take her mind off herself, and she needed to know more about
Morris before she could give Dottie her decision.
“Morris Sinclair” into her search engine resulted in over two hundred million
hits. Morris’s website. Book and movie sites. Thousands of fan sites and cult
groups. Blogs. Articles. She narrowed her search to “Morris Sinclair biography”
and managed to piece together the story of a highly narcissistic and
anti-social man in his late sixties who had started out as a normal kid, turned
into a troubled and rebellious teenager, and grew into a sadistic beast during
his tour of duty in Vietnam.
Vietnam, Morris married a woman he’d only known for a few weeks. He worked as a
roughneck on an oilrig and wrote tales of terror on the side. When the stories
were published, they found an immediate readership. He quit work to write
his wife had three children, two boys and a girl. His wife committed suicide
while the children were very young. Or perhaps Morris had killed her? That made
more sense to Melanie—what mother would kill herself and leave her children to
be raised by the devil incarnate?
thought of a million dollars and the freedom it could buy tempted her, Melanie
did not want to spend the next few months of her life immersed in the evil that
was Morris. She was all set to call her agent and turn down the deal, when the
the door to find Lieutenant Frio and Deputy Midget standing on her doorstep,
their faces set as if in stone.
Lieutenant Frio said, “we’d like for you to come with us. Sheriff Bryan wants
to talk to you.”
out her hands, wrists together, but Deputy Midget shook his head. “Sheriff
Bryan says not to cuff you unless you give us trouble.”
“Can I get
Frio threw Melanie a stern look. “You’re not going to try anything?”
Melanie darted into the bedroom, grabbed a trench coat from the closet and
tucked her phone in the pocket.
between the two law officers, Melanie marched out to the tan Navigator parked
at the curb in front of her house. Deputy Midget opened the back door of the
vehicle, put a hand on her head to guide her through the opening as if she were
a common criminal, then lowered himself into the front passenger seat. The
right side of the Navigator sank, and the tires seemed to scream out for
Frio peeled away from the curb. The tires sent up huge plumes of floodwaters
that broke over the vehicle, and made it seem as if they were driving through a
stared out the window, though she couldn’t see anything but the backwash of
water. If she strained her ears, she felt sure she could hear Alexander’s
ghostly laughter. During all their years of living in countries with no civil
liberties, they had never had a single problem with the authorities, and yet
now, not even four months after his death, she found herself at odds with the
arrest was just another of the sheriff’s games? She had never known what he
wanted from her, though when they met after she’d found Riley’s body, he had
focused his attention on her, and made her feel . . . seen. No one but
Alexander had ever looked at her that closely, and even Alexander had stopped
paying attention to her years before. Or maybe what had seemed like
manipulation—the sheriff concentrating his attention on her and then ignoring
her—had all been in her head, a widow’s cry to be noticed.
hit the dry road of the highway, the thirty miles to Rojo Duro seemed to slip
past in an instant. Deputy Midget ushered Melanie to a small room with two
chairs and a metal table bolted to the floor, and left her alone.
A mirror on
one wall had to be a one-way window, but Melanie put a finger against the glass
to be sure. Finger touching finger without any space told her the truth—anyone
could be watching her from the other side, and she would never know. She
resisted the urge to stick out her tongue in a childish show of temper.
Instead, she sat tall in a chair, hands folded on the table, and tried not to
think of where she was. Tried not to think of her pathetic life. Tried not to
think of her uncertain future.
later, Sheriff Bryan entered the room and locked the door behind him. He
perched one hip on the table, and stared at her, no friendliness in his eyes.
After a long
moment, he heaved a sigh and said, “Why did you do it, Melanie?”