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MURDER UNDER THE MAGNOLIAS
Grace’s Augusta Mysteries Book 1
BY CHARMAIN Z. BRACKETT
Grace Ward’s business is blooming the first full week of April as a major golf tournament brings many visitors into town; however, after the death of a young woman with a mysterious butterfly tattoo, Grace wonders if there’s something more sinister at these parties she’s beautifying.
The Riverwalk amphitheatre was directly on the Savannah River. I loved the river. It was peaceful at least, and I could relive part of my date with my husband. Dancing under the stars was magical, and for those moments, I think I blocked out the young woman’s face and that butterfly tattoo. It was only supposed to be in the low 70s today, and the morning breeze was perfect as we placed flowers on the archway and two candelabra we’d brought for the wedding. I wasn’t really paying attention to the decorating as much as I was gazing over the water. I watched as a few kayakers and canoeists glided over the river. I turned to follow them down the river until they were out of my sight. I decided to walk toward the river for a minute, leaving Emmie with the task of placing the flowers around the arch. As I did, more of the tree-lined river bank came into view. I noticed a group of people gathering near the water’s edge and leaning over the green railings. I couldn’t tell why. They seemed to be pointing at something. There was a shrill scream and then another.
Emmie ran up behind me.
“What’s going on?” she asked.
Immediately, there was a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach as my dream flashed before me. My first thought was that woman. I couldn’t really call her a woman. Even though she had a lot of makeup on, there was something about her that made her so young. She couldn’t have been more than a teenager.
“I’m not sure, but I’m going to find out.”
I rushed down the brick-covered pathway. I saw a woman with a black Labrador retriever on a leash, and a jogger, who kept jogging in place, as he lingered at the site. Several people stood back and pointed. A few people were taking photos on their phones. There were no police officers on the scene as I pushed past a few people toward the river’s edge and saw the reason for the screams. As I peered over the railing, I could see a woman’s body floating on the surface. She seemed to be tangled in something. And it wasn’t just any woman. It was her – the woman who haunted my previous nights’ dreams. I recognized her immediately. I couldn’t scream; I felt numb and sick all at the same time. All I could do was stare. This couldn’t be happening. I needed to call Drew. I fumbled for my cell phone which was in my pants’ pocket. I was thankful he was in my contact list because I could barely remember his name much less his phone number. When he answered, I couldn’t respond.
“Grace. Grace. Are you there?” Drew asked, but I couldn’t form any words to answer him as I stared at the body. “Grace, talk to me. Are you okay?”
I managed to force out the words through the air.
“Drew, it’s her.”
My voice sounded like it was in a cave. I guess it was me speaking. I wasn’t sure. I knew I was thinking it. Did the words escape my mouth? I felt like I was choking on the words.
“What are you talking about? Who? Where are you?”
“Riverwalk. The girl from last night. She’s dead. I’m looking at her body. She’s face up in the Savannah River.”
“Don’t move. I’m on the way.”
It was funny to me that he said not to move. I couldn’t move if I tried. My feet felt like they had cement around them. Emmie linked her arm through mine. I couldn’t break my gaze from the body as horrific as the scene was. I kept seeing the woman alive from the night before, alive, beautiful, and scared. I was grateful her eyes were closed. How was this possible? I’d only seen her hours before, and Drew and I had danced under the moonlight only yards away.
“Grace, you shouldn’t be here.”
Emmie’s voice sounded so far away.
“Drew told me not to move. Emmie, it’s her.”
My cheeks felt wet as the breeze hit them. Was I crying? I touched my face. I couldn’t believe what was going on. Within a few minutes, an officer on a motorcycle pulled up to the scene to secure it. He walked over to us.
“Grace, it’s Butch. I need you and Emmie to step back.”
I glanced at him, but it was almost as though he was speaking a foreign language. I knew Butch, didn’t I? I guess I knew that Emmie was standing close to me, but everything felt strange. I felt like I was watching a movie or something. None of this could be real, could it? Emmie tugged on my arm to pull me away from the scene.
“There’s a bench over there. Let’s go sit down and wait for Drew. He’s homicide, right?”
Homicide. That ominous word. Homicide. She was dead, and they didn’t think it was an accident. I shouldn’t be shocked, should I? I knew this was going to happen. I saw it happen. The dream was so real, but this didn’t seem real.
Charmain Zimmerman Brackett grew up in a picturesque Southern neighborhood filled with front porches and retirees. Her closest companions in her childhood and teenage years were the characters she found in the pages of books. In college, her love of literature, language and writing led her to pursue a degree in English. She has spent the past 28 years writing for several newspapers and magazines in the Augusta, Ga. area. In 2008, a story in a series she wrote on returning wounded warriors received second place at the Department of the Army level in the Keith L. Ware journalism competition. She has written three young adult novels, The Key of Elyon, Elyon’s Cipher and Elyon’s Light. Her debut novel, The Key of Elyon, received the 2014 Yerby Award for Fiction. Her fourth novel, Fixed In The Tempest, is inspirational contemporary fiction. Under the name of C.Z. Brackett, she writes the Victoria James mystery series. Her first children’s book, Little Pearl’s Circus World, won the Georgia Writers Association’s 2015 Georgia Author of the Year Award in the children’s category. It’s based on the true story of her great-grandmother, Pearl Clark LaComa, who began performing with her father’s circus, the M.L. Clark and Son Combined Shows when she was only 4. Brackett lives in Augusta, Ga. with her husband, Bret. They have three children, Jessica, Jeremy and Allie and a 7 year-old rescued papillon named Danni.
Links to Charmain’s website, blog, books, etc.
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