Tenth and Final R. A. Huber Novel
Antoinette LeJeune, better known as Andi, is now in charge of the private investigating business. When she is hired to look into the so-called drowning accident of Kitty Ralph, a resident of the upscale senior community Shore Haven, Andi sweet-talks R. A. Huber into coming out of retirement to pose as an elderly widow. The undercover job requires Huber to check herself in as ‘resident’ at Shore Haven’s beachfront facility near the Ventura pier. She soon discovers that Mrs. Ralph’s death was not the only suspicious fatality occurring at the place. But it is not until Andi takes a trip to Reno, Nevada, and Salt Lake City, Utah, on her Harley-Davidson to interview relatives of recent casualty victims, that the motive for the crime starts to make sense.
Both Andi and R. A. Huber ultimately come face to face with the villain and barely escape being silenced.
Evil at Shore Haven is available in paperback, hardcover, and e-book format at
www.amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com
Publisher: Aventine Press (September 2016)
Hardcover ISBN number: 978-1-59330-912-1
Paperback ISBN number: 978-1-59330-911-4
eBook Edition ISBN number: 978-1-45662-745-4
List Price – Hardcover US$27.50
List Price – Paperback US$14.95
eBook Price – US$4.99
Two figures trekked through the sand toward the water.
“Ready for your first swimming lesson?” the taller one asked.
“I am,” old Kitty Ralph replied. And with a sudden sparkle in her eyes she added, “My bathing suit sure is pretty!”
“I’m glad you like it. You’re keeping this our little secret, right?”
She nodded and said, “Everyone will be surprised that I can swim!”
“Let’s hurry up, then, before it gets too dark to see the waves coming. I promise, we won’t go in farther than where you can comfortably stand.”
At sunset, there was no one else near the ocean by Shore Haven’s stretch of beach on this mild, early March evening. They left their towels and flip flops on the sand, carefully watched their steps when treading over the rocks, and then waded in the shallow water, holding hands. Kitty shivered when the frigid Pacific reached her thighs.
“Just a few steps farther and the instructions can begin,” the other person coaxed.
When the first breaker reached them, Kitty felt a push. She screamed and swallowed some water. She was still coughing when the second wave rolled along, and it was easy to hold her under and keep her there; she barely weighed 105 pounds. The old woman scarcely put up a struggle, and it was over with in no time.
As the last glimmers of the vanishing sun against the horizon reflected on the surface of the ocean, a lone figure scrambled out of the water and over the strip of rocks, tossed Kitty’s flip flops and towel into the nearest trash bin, and then walked casually away along the sandy shore.
Excerpt from CHAPTER 1
Andi parked her Harley-Davidson in the lot and then took the few yards with long, cowboy-booted strides to the two-story building on North Lake Avenue in Pasadena. Her office was at ground level. Her office! she mused. Two years into the venture, the young woman was still amazed by the fact. The sign “R. A. Huber, Private Detective” had long been replaced by another that read “Antoinette LeJeune & R. A. Huber, Private Investigators.” Andi stood looking at the shingle for a second and thought, Holy Krewe, that’s me! Then she quickly turned the key in the lock and let herself in.
She took off her helmet, shook the wavy, auburn hair loose, and hung her black leather jacket on the office chair’s backrest. She then settled at the desk for some secretarial chores, mainly typing up a bill for a recently solved case. The task would have to wait. She had scarcely entered her password into the desktop computer when new clients, a husband and wife, appeared at her door.
The man took one look at Andi and said, “We need to deal with the older lady. Is she in?”
“R. A. Huber?”
“Mrs. Huber is retired and only occasionally acts as my consultant. I’m Antoinette LeJeune, qualifyin’ with a private investigator license; gun permit and all. How may I help you folks?”
They gave the young woman with the Southern drawl a skeptical look, and the man said, “I doubt that you can.”
There was a long pause and then he said, “My name is Kirk Ralph, and this is my wife, Carla. The Huber lady came highly recommended, but since she is not available, we might as well tell you our plight. My mother was a resident at Shore Haven and drowned in the ocean. The authorities concluded that it was an accidental drowning, but we think that she was murdered.”
“Where and what is Shore Haven?” Andi asked.
“It’s a retirement community about a mile north of the Ventura pier. The place is located right by the ocean.”
Kirk continued, “The idea is that Mom did not remember that she couldn’t swim, took a dip in the ocean one evening last month, and drowned.”
“That’s absurd,” Andi said. “How could she forget such a thing? Oh, I get it. Was she mentally disabled?”
“She had been recently diagnosed with Alzheimer’s, but the illness was in its early stage. There is no way on earth that she thought she could swim. Mom was afraid of water and never went near the pool, let alone put as much as her little toe into the ocean. She didn’t even own a bathing suit; someone must have given her the one she was wearing when they found her.”
“Hold on,” Andi interjected. “Tell me everything you know about the drowning in chronological order, please.”
“There isn’t much to tell. Mom was missed at dinner and when she was nowhere to be found on the premises, Mr. Beaulieu - - that’s the man who runs Shore Haven - - organized a search party around the neighborhood and along the beach. Mom did not sign herself out at the front desk, and her car was still parked in the parking structure. The idea was that she wandered off on foot. We were not there but learned about it after the fact. Anyway, the search was useless and the authorities got involved, treating it as a missing person case. Three days later, someone found her washed up near the pier.”
Carla shuddered and said, “It was horrible. We had to identify her body at the morgue. She was grotesque, all bloated.”
Her husband patted her shoulder and said, “Try not to dwell on that.” And turning back to Andi, he stated, “I want justice for Mom, but we can’t go to the police since we have no evidence of foul play.”
“Who do you think murdered her?”
“We have no idea.”
“Did your mama make enemies?”
“Certainly not!” he shot back. “She was a gentle soul; everyone liked her.”
Andi scratched her head and said, “You can’t have it both ways, sir. Either someone had a reason to kill your mama, or else she drowned by accident.”
“Maybe she found out what’s going on at Shore Haven and needed to be silenced,” Carla suggested.
Andi’s radar was on alert now and she prompted, “Say what?”
“About two weeks before she passed, Mom told us that residents were dying at a rapid rate. In her own words, ‘People are dropping dead right and left around here.’”
“Isn’t that normal at an old folks home?”
“That’s what we thought at the time she made the comment. Now we feel differently.”
“Y’all think there’s a mercy killer on the loose?”
“Not really. Some of these people were not all that old and in relatively good health.”
“If you worried about her safety, how come you didn’t take her out of there?” Andi wanted to know.
Kirk replied, “First off, I’d like to point out that Shore Haven is a top notch facility and Mom was happy there. Until her drowning, we didn’t put much importance to her remark. To be fair, she did tend to get things mixed up. After she passed, we talked to a resident she had befriended and learned of the recent deaths at the facility. Granted, some of these people most likely died from natural causes, but others did not, in our opinion. The fatalities seem natural or accidental at first glance, but something fishy is going on below the surface.”
Andi grabbed her notepad and pen, inquiring “What is the friend’s name?”
“We only know her first name, Cheryl.”
“Do you suspect that management or staff members are involved in any wrong doing, or is it other old folks you’re concerned about?”
“We haven’t got a clue.”
Whenever Andi got excited, frustrated, angry, or didn’t know what to say, her southern drawl became acute. She was clearly at a loss for words when she probed, “What’d y’all have me doin’?”
“Investigate the place, of course,” Kirk said.
Andi mulled things over. She was by no means convinced that there was something to investigate. After all, the old woman was going off her rocker and most likely had forgotten that she could not swim and ambled into the ocean of her own free will.
She finally said, “If I show up at the community’s doorstep asking questions, I’ll be thrown out like a common beggar, for sure. You reckon I apply for a job at the place? I doubt that I’d come up with proper qualifications.”
“That is exactly why we wanted to hire the older lady. She could check in as a resident.”
Andi raised an eyebrow and asked, “You would pay for her stay?”
Andi looked him straight in the eye and said, “You’re sure your mama’s drowning was not an accident?”
His wife remarked, “Who in their right mind would even want to venture into the freezing ocean at the beginning of March?”
Andi thought, that’s just it, the woman was not in her right mind. And as far as venturing into the ocean in March, surfers, divers, and gung-ho swimmers did it all the time, even in the midst of winter. She kept those thoughts to herself, however.
“I’ll see what I can do,” she said and took down data, such as their phone number, address, and other personal information. “And now,” she stated, “I need to know lots more about Shore Haven before we can go on.”