Sunday, November 20, 2016

"Cries in the Wind" by Judy Bruce

Cries in the Wind
(Wind Series Book 3)
by Judy Bruce

This is the fourth in our special series on author Judy Bruce. Today we feature Cries in the Wind, the third book in the Wind Series. You can read an excerpt from the book, as well as my review. Also available: Voices in the Wind (read my blog post) and Alone in the Wind (read my blog post).

For another book by this author, please check out my blog post on Death Steppe: A World War II Novel.

The third story in the Wind Series finds Megan stirred by the mystery of two strangers and the unsolved murders of two local women from decades past. Pregnant yet haunted, Megan summons the help of close family and friends then plunges into an investigation which uncovers deceit, revenge, and betrayal. As Megan nears the truth, she and her crew become endangered by the killer. When Megan persists, she faces disastrous consequences.

Chapter 1
I killed the chief of police, but I didn’t plan to tell anyone. I also shot that scumbag DEA agent. They committed crimes that rocked our small, rural community—they even killed a young autistic man. No, I didn’t see it all happen, I just knew. I’m strange in some ways—I feel, I hear, I know things. And going to prison for killing two murderers wasn’t going to help anybody, especially me.
Five months later, I was still trying to put it behind me. I humbly believed God gave me permission to move on with life, so that’s what I tried to do. Nightmares, both bizarre and realistic, still shook me, but now only once or twice a month. I’d stopped trying to ease the horror with bourbon; after all, I was four months pregnant.
Scanning the rugged terrain to the west of the highway, I drove southward to my law office on an early summer day. This was the harsh, semi-arid high plains with scraggily buffalo grass, crusty ridges, massive bluffs, rocky buttes, and dry gullies interspersed amid the fertile pastures of the cattle ranches. Despite the brutal winters and the devastating droughts, I belonged here. I considered my land beautiful, yet haunting—the furious wind howled, taunting me with mysteries I was forced to solve.
Today, I was simply going in to my office for an unusually early appointment. People didn’t usually want to meet this early, but I didn’t mind. If it wasn’t for the strange uneasiness that nagged at me, I would have thought this would be a Tuesday like any other. After I parked in the lot behind my law firm on Benson Street, I called my husband Brian, urging him to come as soon as he could.
My client, Frank Morgan, arrived promptly at seven. I knew nothing about him, for he booked the appointment with Glenda, my receptionist and former second grade teacher. I unlocked the front door to a stocky man of sixty or so with a gray-brown mix of thinning, curly hair. I pegged him as an office worker, for he lacked the robust, weather-hardened look of the ranchers in the area; also, he wore a fine-quality suit most men in the area either couldn’t afford or didn’t bother owning. As I led him across the lobby to my office, my brain told me this was merely a businessman from the suburbs, but my guts roiled, arguing to the contrary. I left the office door open during an appointment, a rarity.
After some small talk, he came to the point. His request stunned me.
“Why would anyone want to buy the old Hexam wasteland?” I asked.
“I think it can be improved,” he said as he folded his arms across his chest, revealing thick wrist hair and a slim, black-faced silver watch.
“Excuse me, but I don’t understand your interest. You just told me you’re an insurance executive in Kansas City.”
It was ridiculous—that was obvious—I didn’t need my rising blood pressure to tell me what my mind understood. The back door opened and closed. As I studied the man’s face, Brian walked into the lobby and looked into the office. I waved at him. He nodded and left to go to his office across the lobby. He was an accountant and taxation specialist who had intended to go to his Sidney office this morning—but he knew me well enough to heed my sense of alarm. I would feel foolish when I told him it simply pertained to an absurd request by a stranger.
“I have no intention of selling a single square foot of my family’s land,” I said.
“I’m just looking for a place to retire in a few years,” he said.
He lied, said my bones.
“I think our conversation is at an end,” I said, rising from my chair.
“That’s it?”
Something I couldn’t identify flashed across his face.
“Yes, that’s it, Mr. Morgan. I wish you a safe trip home.”
Dejection, that’s what his face revealed, and it was probably the only bit of truth he divulged. He slowly rose. I walked around my desk and held out my hand to shake his. Yet he just turned and slowly walked toward the door. I followed him to the lobby and watched him go through the front door to his car, a black Chrysler 300. Bear Lake Beulah, my elderly friend, backed her maroon Chrysler out of her driveway across the street, paused in the road, stared at the man for a few moments, looked at me in the doorway, and then drove away.
“What was that about?” Brian asked.
“Damned if I know,” I said. “But I don’t think I’ve heard the last of it.”
Halfway through our lunch at Custer’s, Beulah shuffled toward our table. She was trying to shove a clump of coarse gray hair back into her holder, but failed. She stared intently at me as she stopped next to the booth in which I sat.
“Scooch over, hon,” she said.
I’d known Beulah since I was a toddler; yet, this was a request I’d never heard. After I moved, she yanked that ornery tuft of hair over her ear then slid in next to me. Brian and I stopped eating and leaned toward her.
“I forgot my pills this mornin’…that’s why I was home. That’s why I saw him. Been years, but he still looks like his dad and younger brother.”
“You saw my appointment…Frank Morgan?”
“That’s the name he gave? Heh. Gettin’ tricky like a wizard. Gettin’ fishy.”
Brian broke in. “Beulah, please explain what you’re getting at.”
“That was Clay Bolger…though it coulda been Andy. They always looked alike.”
“As in the Bolger family west of here?” I asked.
“Yep, the same. So I called Ellie Bolger and said how nice it was that her son was visitin’. She huffed and said I was seeing things. But then we chatted for a bit about nothin’. Heh…fishy…like I said.”
“How bizarre,” I said. “Why would he lie to me?”
“Depends on what he wanted, I ‘spect.”
Just above a whisper, I said, “It was strange. He wanted to buy the old Hexam land.”
Her face slackened for a moment then tightened. “Don’t say no more and to nobody. Read about the van. I’ll see you at James’ party.”
With that, she slid out of the booth and hastened back to the kitchen. Brian and I sat in silence, struck by the odd conversation and the rare glimpse of Beulah hurrying to do anything or to go anywhere. We finished our meal without exchanging another word. Brian bought a copy of the Omaha World-Herald from Carol as we paid for our meal. However, we didn’t have a chance to discuss the matter again, as I was tangled in a messy child custody case for most of the afternoon. I didn’t even have a chance to tell him another stranger from Kansas City named Jack Haley had booked an appointment for six o’clock in the evening the next day.
That evening, I discussed the strange events of the day with Patty White Horse, our Lakota Sioux housekeeper, and my mom, Beth, who was temporarily living with us. Brian dug through our recycling bin for old newspapers. Together, we tried to make some connection between the discovery of a van in Lake McConaughy near Ogallala last Friday and my deceitful morning visitor.
My mom abruptly laughed. I didn’t see the humor in any of it until she explained.
“Don’t you get it—Frank Morgan and Jack Haley? And this isn’t even Kansas.”
“No,” Patty said, “But it’s lookin’ more like Oz.”
Brian and I grinned at each other as we finally caught on.
“On Thursday, you’ll get a visit from a lady on a broom with green skin,” added Brian.
“Wait…was it the Tin Man or the Lion who was played by someone named Bolger?” I wondered. 
“Ray Bolger was the Scarecrow,” said my mom, Beth.
“Geez, this is getting’ weirder by the minute,” Patty said. “And we’re not going to figure this out on our own. Too bad Beulah didn’t say more.”
We definitely needed outside help, so for supper, we invited James Wilson, our next door neighbor, and Uncle Bill, who lived down the block.
When the two men arrived, we questioned them about the van and old Hexam land. Likewise baffled, James shrugged. Yet, it was as if a dark shadow fell upon Uncle Bill. He said he needed to eat before discussing the matter. In a flash, the mystery changed from bizarre to ominous. So the story waited for Uncle Bill to finish eating and for me to return from some hormonal nausea.
Once we had all gathered in the family room, Bill cleared his throat then said, “Been lots of buzz around town since Friday when they pulled that van out of Big Mac.” He dropped his chin into his chest. The mantel clock ticked on and on till I wondered if he’d continue.
“But the newspapers don’t mention the significance of it,” I ventured.
“No, they wouldn’t…not till they’ve run all the tests on it.”
“Dammit, Uncle!” I said. “Spit it out or I won’t tell you who shot at me this morning.”
“What! When?”
“Nobody shot at me, but you better get on with it or I won’t tell you what did happen.”
“Don’t you be scaring me like—”
I hit him square in the shoulder with a sofa pillow.
“All right.” He reached down from the recliner and picked up the pillow and held it against his chest.
“It’s the van that went missing on the day of the Quinn murders. Mary, the mother, and her daughter, Julie, were killed in their house...then it was set on fire.” His face reddened. “I was young, just twelve, but I knew them both.”
“I remember hearing stories about those murders as a kid,” I said.
“I heard about it when I was living in Denver,” James said. “Nobody could believe something like that could happen in western Nebraska. Just a shocker. Walt Bolger is sitting in prison for doing it. Let’s see, nearly forty-five years it’d be.”
I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who thought of Charles Starkweather and his murdering rampage through Nebraska in 1958. It gave me the creeps thinking about it.
“Yep…July of 1968,” said Uncle Bill. “The van was found because the lake dropped so low from the drought. I wish I didn’t recall it all so well. Like to forget it…but I never can.”
“Wait…Bolger you said?” Brian asked. He looked at me.
My uncle nodded. “They caught Walt Bolger fleeing from the scene with kerosene and blood on his clothes. He’d burned down the house.”
“I heard about it when I first moved out here. It was still a hot topic in the nineties. What’s the big mystery about it?” Patty asked.
“They never found any bodies, just blood on one of the un-burnt walls,” Bill said. “Oh, and the charred shoes…saw those myself.”
“Well, if they didn’t find the bodies, how do they know they’re dead?”
“The disappearance of Mary and Julie Quinn and the blood on Walt’s pants turned out to be enough to convince the jury of second degree murder and arson.”
“But the sons think he’s innocent,” I said.
“How do you know that?” Bill inquired.
“Because one of the sons booked an appointment with me for this morning. The other son has an appointment tomorrow. They’re using aliases, but Beulah spotted one son this morning.”
“What’d they want with you?”
“Us. He wanted to buy the old Hexam land. I suppose the younger brother will ask the same thing.”
“That was Quinn land first. In fact, that’s where the house was.”
That sent a shiver up my spine and made my head buzz with alarm. 
“Was there a father?” Brian asked.
“Sean. But he wasn’t home. Had an alibi, though I don’t recall what it was.”
Bill dropped his head back into his chest. I had a string of questions to ask, but I sensed he was done talking about it. I could do my own investigation now that I knew the connection to the murders. Bill roused himself from his thoughts, said goodnight to us, and then lumbered out the back door. James shuffled out the door behind him, both men in a haze of sadness.
“I think a can of worms has been opened,” Patty remarked.
“Sounds more like Pandora’s box,” said my mom, who like Patty and Brian, sat upright and alert.
“Sounds like we need a plan,” I said. “Mom, you’ve been antsy…so tell me, how are your research skills?”
“I’m on it, Sherlock,” she said.
“If you’ll focus on the murders and arson, maybe Brian could play Sam Spade and find out about that van.”
“And me?” Patty asked.
“It’s amazing what you can find out in a bit of small talk. Bill said the town was buzzing with the news. See what you can find out about the people involved, Miss Marple.”
“And what about you?” Brian asked.
“I plan to do nothing—nothing obvious, that is—till after I meet with Jack Haley.”
In fact, my mind was galloping with ideas. Getting spies on the move was a necessary tactic. By noon the next day, I received a call from my first spy, Bud, one of Bill’s cowhands. Not only was a black Chrysler 300 sitting in the gravel in front of the Bolger house, a silver version was parked next to it. Also, an old white Buick was parked under the carport next to the house, which I assumed was Mrs. Bolger’s car. I thanked him for the information then emailed Joy, my assistant, to send fifty bucks to him for his services. She would comply without questioning. Everybody in the office knew the golden rule—privacy was next to sacred in the law firm. Nothing seen, heard, or read was ever to be repeated or questioned.
Similar cars, similar plan—perhaps this was a brother who frequently followed his older brother’s lead. My second spy, Beulah, peeked her bright-eyed, aged face into my street side office window ten minutes after Jack Haley arrived. Within a couple minutes, Brian’s text message confirmed my Tin Man was actually Andy Bolger.
“Mr. Haley,” I said, after some chitchat, “what can I do for you?”
“I would like to buy some land from you…a section just south of the interstate.”
“Strange, but another man wanted to buy that land, the old Hexam acres. That’s just wasteland. What could you possibly want with it?”
“That’s my business.”
“I disagree. It’s acres of ugly, scraggily wild grass, dirt clods, and bluffs. It’s also my backyard. I care very much about what happens to the land bordering my childhood. You see, I’m wondering if you’re a front for somebody who wants to build a warehouse or a superstore in that area.”
“It would be a prime spot for a mail-order warehouse with both the railroad and the interstate so close. No, I’m not interested in selling.”
“But you haven’t even heard my offer.”
“I don’t need to. I may lease that land to a company that operates wind turbines.”
“Wait, no, you can’t put those monster windmills on the land…it’s too unsteady, there’s lots—”
He stopped, fully aware that he had divulged more than he meant to. I waited, hoping he’d feel awkward in the silence and say more. He cleared his throat and shifted in his chair. His resemblance to Clay was distinct—both stood about five feet eight inches tall with a stocky build, and possessed office-worker skin and gray-brown hair in the same balding pattern. The younger man wore a fine, gray suit and his wrists revealed the Bolger hairy arms. The brothers were up to something, though I refused to show my hand. He cleared his throat again, abruptly rose, thanked me for my time, and then hastened out the door. With him went the uneasiness I’d also sensed with Clay. This man didn’t seem dangerous; if he was a threat, he was less so than Clay. And what was it about that land that made it “unsteady”?
Why did I feel alarmed by it? I just wanted to be peacefully pregnant. Now this.
[Want more? Click below to read a longer excerpt.]

Praise for the Book
"Book Three in the Wind Series, Cries in the Wind by Judy Bruce, is a story that is really difficult to put down, even for a moment; a compelling, investigative story fraught with many surprises. [...] Judy Bruce is the kind of writer with a voice readers will adore - clear and utterly engaging. The author has the gift of the first person narrative and the reader feels irresistibly drawn into the story. The POV comes across well, and there is a rare clarity in the story that is uncommon with many writers using a similar style of narrative. The prose is simple yet strong, flowing with potent images that will stay with readers for a long, long time." ~ Divine Zape for Readers' Favorite
"Judy Bruce's Cries in the Wind is a well-written and fast moving story with many characters. Back stories and past events are explained so we see how each impacts the plot and how all the different threads of the story weave together. Megan is a likable, brave and gutsy character and I felt drawn into her situation from the start. Danger, mystery and red herrings abound as some alarming and tragic events unfold. I liked the way Megan gradually and unwittingly closes in on the truth and the way the author builds the tension to a most intense and unexpected point. Judy Bruce uses the plot well to convey the motivations behind actions, and we see how, despite some desperate and atrocious covering up tactics, truth has a way of outing in the end. An insightful story about the consequences of secrets and betrayal, and the impact tragedy can have on individuals." ~ Hilary Hawkes for Readers' Favorite
"While this is the third book in Bruce's Wind Series, the author includes enough background information to allow this book to be enjoyed on its own. I soon found myself involved in the story and feeling right at home with the cast of characters and the locale. [...] I was very impressed by Cries in the Wind and am looking forward to reading more of Judy Bruce's Wind Series. This mystery with elements of a legal thriller and a police procedural all rolled up into one neat plot is most highly recommended." ~ Jack Magnus for Readers' Favorite

My Review

By Lynda Dickson
Five months after the incidents of the previous book, Megan is now four months pregnant. When two strangers stop by her office and offer to buy some of her land, Megan gets a bad feeling. Sure enough, this is the first in a series of events that leads Megan and her friends to investigate a forty-five-year-old double homicide - with disastrous consequences. As is true with a lot of small communities, it seems like everyone is keeping a secret. As Megan says, "Secrets - they make such a mess out of life."
Even though this is the third book in the series, it can be read as a standalone. The author provides enough information from the previous books to fill in any holes. We see the return of plenty of familiar faces, as well as a few new ones. We also get to see a bit more of Megan's softer side this time around. The mystery in this book is more complex than those in the previous books, and you'll have to pay attention to keep up.
I can't wait to see what Megan gets up to next.
Warnings: violence, alcohol abuse, domestic violence.

About the Author
Judy Bruce is a novelist and screenwriter. In addition to her acclaimed novel, Death Steppe: A World War II Novel, three stories have been published from her Wind Series: Voices in the Wind, Alone in the Wind, and Cries in the Wind. Her novel, Fire in the Wind, will be published in the early 2017 by Merriam Press. Judy maintains a website and a blog. She is a wife, mother, and sister residing in Omaha, Nebraska, and a Creighton University law school graduate. Her autistic son keeps her in touch with her quirky side.