Mystery Book Excerpt: Blood On The Chesapeake By Randy Overbeck
A standout novel of suspense that takes place on the Chesapeake Bay, Blood on the Chesapeake by Randy Overbeck, is a spellbinding tale about what happens when past and present collide. The book narrates the story of protagonist Darrell Henshaw, a high school history teacher and football coach, who is looking to make a fresh start in life. And what better place than charming, picturesque Wilshire, Maryland? Unfortunately, it seems like the past won’t let him go.
What follows is an excerpt from this book, provided to Mystery Tribune by The Wild Rose Press.
The Eastern Shore of the Chesapeake Bay
“You see that widow’s walk up there, with the white railing and the cupola in the center? That’s where they say he died.”
The high school secretary, one Mrs. Harriet Sinclair, stood beside Darrell Henshaw on the cracked asphalt parking lot, her small, blue-veined hand pointing up to the third floor.
Darrell’s gaze crawled up the two floors of traditional red brick and landed on the white fencing of the widow’s walk. He’d noticed the unusual feature of the building when he arrived for the job interview two hours earlier.
Harriett’s high voice continued, “Years ago, a student, some poor young black kid took his life up there. Some history, huh?”
Surprised, Darrell looked at the secretary, who kept her gaze focused on the top floor. She was serious.
Then Darrell returned his glance to the widow’s walk. The brass-topped cupola shone green in the morning sun and below it, a bare-chested, young black man leaned against the fence, his hands dark smudges on the white railing. The youth stared down and met Darrell’s gaze. Even though Darrell couldn’t read the features on the face three floors up, he was mesmerized. Somehow, an overwhelming sense of sorrow and regret seemed to emanate from the young man and, for an instant, Darrell felt it pierce him. The hairs on the back of his neck stood on edge. He shivered and stared, unable to look away. As he peered up, the figure at the fence shimmered and then disappeared.
Oh, God, no, he thought, shaking his head, and turned to ask Harriet, but she changed the subject, rattling on about some of the less morbid history of the school. “That walk is famous, all right. There was the great piglet race up there and the famous protest streamers on the walk…”
But Darrell stopped listening. He shook his head. He hadn’t felt that…that sensation for years. Ten years. A decade earlier, he’d had a confrontation with another ghost and it had not gone well. It still haunted him and he was not anxious for another visit from the spirit world.
Then, something Harriet was saying registered. “That window up there to the right, that’ll be your office.”
He struggled to find his voice. “My office?”
“At least, if Mr. Douglass likes what he hears when he calls your references.” She winked at him, one gray eyebrow curling like an albino caterpillar. “Our athletic office isn’t much, just a tiny space and away from the gym and locker rooms, but it’s got the best view in the building. I thought you might appreciate the vantage point better from down here.”
He got the job? He couldn’t believe it. After thirty-seven resumes, eighteen phone calls, four failed interviews, he’d done it. And just in time, too.
He stared open-mouthed at the building, trying to keep his exhilaration under wraps, and then remembered the young black man and realized the job may come with some extras. He definitely didn’t want to deal with any extras, but he really needed the job. Before he had time to think about it, Harriet was off.
For the next forty minutes, she took Darrell on a non-stop, guided tour of the empty high school, leading him past dueling trophy cases—one for sports, one for band—through run down classrooms and into a dilapidated gym with collapsing bleachers. Twice he paused, seeing an award or painting hanging crooked, and reached out to straighten it. He stopped himself and then had to hurry to catch up.
Oblivious, Harriet charged ahead, short legs pumping like pistons, all the while regaling him with more stories about the old high school. Darrell was hardly able to catch his breath. At her pace, he felt like he’d done a 5K, zigzagging through hallways and up and down creaking stairs. They finished by climbing two flights of stairs to arrive at the Athletic Office.
Just as they reached the top step, a door in the hall slammed shut. Darrell jerked. He glanced over to his escort, who hadn’t even flinched. Instead, the school secretary asked, as if reminded of something, “Mr. Henshaw, uh, do you believe in…uh, ghosts?”
Darrell’s mouth went dry. She didn’t just ask that.
“What?” he managed.
Harriet shrugged, the collar of her gray dress almost touching the lowest locks of silver hair. “I just asked if you were superstitious. You know, if you believe in ghosts?” She strolled over, turned the handle and pulled open the door.
Darrell fought not to go pale. Could she possibly know about the ghost back home or maybe she picked up on his reaction to the widow’s walk? He fumbled for an answer. “Uh, no more than most, I think. Why?”
Standing at the door, she lowered her glance, as if studying her black flats. “Well, uh, some folks say the school is haunted. Ghost of that student who committed suicide I was telling you about. They say his spirit likes to prowl the hallways at night, ‘specially up here on the third floor.”
Darrell remembered the figure staring down at him from the railing and the prickling hairs on his neck. He studied Harriet. She was serious.
But, when her gaze lifted, the secretary smile was back in place. “What do you expect? It’s an old school. Bound to hold a few skeletons, right?”
Harriet stepped inside the office, burying the subject as abruptly as she raised it. She led him in and Darrell watched as dust mites rose and danced on a wave. The cramped space was small, eight by twelve maybe, with a worn, blue couch under the broad window and a standard gray metal desk and file cabinet on the wall opposite. A lone, wooden bookcase stood facing the door, barren and sad-looking, its shelves sagging.
She moved to the window, pointing, “Great view of the widow’s walk from here, too.”
Several questions pummeled his brain—about what happened on the walk, about the kid who died—but he needed this job, so he didn’t ask.
She plowed on. “I got to leave you here and get back. Give Mr. Douglass a few more minutes and see what he has to say.” Two brisk steps took her to the door.
Darrell thought of one question he figured it’d be safe to ask. “Harriet, you mentioned I was the last name on Principal Douglass’ list of candidates. How come?”
She turned and grinned. “Maybe I shouldn’t have told you that. The answer’s simple, though. None of the rest of the candidates were Yankees.” She waved a hand. “Anyway, you must’ve made quite an impression, ‘specially for a Yankee. Not many get the fifty-cent tour. Enjoyed showing ya around. I’m a good judge of character and I think you’ll do fine.”
“Thanks, Harriet, for the tour and all the background. And the vote of confidence.”
“I’ll see you downstairs in a bit.” Her leg pistons chugged and she disappeared through the open doorway.
Darrell listened to her footsteps echo in the stairwell and, when the sound died away, he said aloud to the empty room, “O-kay, then.” Exactly what he needed. Move half way across the country and run into another damn ghost. His gaze swept the small office and took in the widow’s walk, remembering the figure at the railing and the tingle on his neck. He inspected the entire office for paranormal evidence. He saw nothing, of course.
Ambling over to the picture window, he took in the expansive scene, white posts and railing of the widow’s walk up close—with no young black man standing there—and the water of the Chesapeake shining emerald beyond. He could get used to this view.
He’d take the job and…deal with the rest, if it came.
He strolled over to the door. Something drew his attention and twisting around, he glanced back into the office. A draft of cold air struck him. He shivered again.
He turned to go, but couldn’t. Standing in the doorway, it felt like his shoes had been glued to the floor. No, it felt like two huge hands were holding his ankles and wouldn’t let him leave. He pulled on both legs. Staring down at his legs, he saw only the smooth cuffs of his dress pants and his black Oxfords.
Ugly memories resurfaced, as if it were yesterday. His uncle’s ghost using him as a conduit. The death of two friends. The crippling of his brother. Oh, hell, not again.
Sweat dripped down the side of Darrell’s face and he blurted out the only thing he could think of. “I haven’t even been hired yet,” he said in a harsh whisper. “And won’t be, unless I get back down there to see the principal.”
The grip on his ankles released. He opened the door, stepped through and slammed it. In seconds, he hit the stairs, taking them two at a time.
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