Friday Sampler: The Murders at Astaire Castle by Lauren Carr
April 1, 2016
In our mission to connect readers, writers, and books, Caleb and Linda Pirtle is showcasing some of the best authors in the marketplace today. Friday’s Sampler features an excerpt from The Murders at Astaire Castle by Lauren Carr. It’s a suspense thriller dealing with ghosts and the supernatural.
As one reviewer said: The Murders at Astaire Castle is an excellent mystery and love story with a touch of the paranormal. Mac Faraday, the owner of Spencer Inn and Astaire Castle doesn’t believe in ghosts or anything paranormal. I loved this book with all the murders and disappearances surrounding the Castle and the fact that horror writter Damian Wagner lived in the Castle to write his last book involving the Wolf Man. The past and the present day collide in this book to solve several mysteries.
Never tell Mac Faraday not to do something.
Spencer’s police chief, David O’Callaghan, learns this lesson the hard way when he orders Mac Faraday to stay away from the south end of Spencer’s mountaintop—even though he owns the property. It doesn’t take long for Mac to find out what lies on the other side of the stone wall and locked gate, on which hangs a sign warning visitors to Keep Out!
Topping the list of the ten most haunted places in America, Astaire Castle is associated with two suicides, three mysterious disappearances, and four murders since it was built almost a century ago—and Mac Faraday owns it!
In spite of David’s warning, Mac can’t resist unlocking the gate to see the castle that supposedly hasn’t seen a living soul since his late mother had ordered it closed up after the double homicide and disappearance of Damian Wagner, a world-famous master of horror novels.
What starts out as a quick tour of a dusty old castle turns into another Mac Faraday adventure when Astaire Castle becomes the scene of even more murders. Mac is going to need to put all of his investigative talents to work to sort out this case that involves the strangest characters he has run into yet—including a wolf man. No, we’re not talking about Gnarly.
November 2002 – Astaire Castle, top of Spencer Mountain, Deep Creek Lake, Maryland
Shivering, Rafaela turned up the fan for the heater in her old Plymouth. The weather channel was calling for snow. With an eye on the storm clouds heading straight for Spencer Mountain, she picked up the speed a notch. Her car bumped along the worn road cut through the trees and rock to take her to Astaire Castle.
The notion of being trapped at the castle by a winter storm made her curse the day she had accepted the job as housekeeper at the Astaire estate. The young illegal immigrant thought her prayers had been answered by landing the job at the luxurious estate. Not only was it prestigious to work in a castle, but lucrative since Damian Wagner was paying almost twice her normal hourly wage.
What a gem to put on my housekeeping resume! To be hire by only one of the world’s most famous authors of horror books—even more famous than Robin Spencer—to clean an honest-to-goodness castle. So what if the Astaire Castle has a reputation of being haunted? I’ll be making a bundle for cleaning five days a week in the daylight. Besides, I don’t believe in no ghosts.
Rafaela regretted her decision the first time she walked into Astaire Castle.
At first, she dismissed her cleaning supplies moving from where she had left them as forgetfulness. Then there was the time she kept hearing someone whispering her name. She had looked around, but never saw anyone. Same with doors closing or opening or footsteps coming up behind her, and the old-time music and party noises in empty rooms when no one was there—she tried to tell herself that it was all her imagination.
None of that was anything compared to the Wolf Man who she had seen in the dining room mirror while she was cleaning it.
She had heard all about the Wolf Man who lived in the woods surrounding Astaire Castle. The woman with two teenagers who lived in the apartment next to hers was quick to tell her about him. Rafaela had dismissed it all as ghost stories made up by her neighbor’s kids to scare her—until she had seen him with her own two eyes.
That day she ran out of the castle. She returned only after Genevieve, Damian Wagner’s daughter, had promised that her father finish his book and be moving out of the castle by the end of the year—at which time he would pay her a handsome bonus that would give her enough money to visit her family in Brazil for Christmas.
Rafaela caught her breath when her Plymouth entered through the gate at the end of the road to pull into the front courtyard and fountain.
The fountain was off. Damian Wagner had never bothered to turn it on. He wouldn’t notice if it was. He spent his time banging away on his computer in the study on the top floor. He wouldn’t eat if it weren’t for his daughter bringing food to him.
Then there was the editor—Mr. Jansen.
He reminded Rafaela of a bird with his bony frame, high cheekbones over a pointy chin, and thick eyeglasses with his blinking eyes magnified behind them. He sounded like a squawking bird with his high-pitched voice no matter what his mood or what he was saying. Ready to pounce in anticipation of any need from Damian Wagner, he was always lurking nearby.
Damian’s daughter, Genevieve, was as charming as beautiful. She often asked Rafaela about her family in Brazil and about her life in Deep Creek Lake. For the new immigrant to America, Rafaela felt as if she was making a friend who would give her good references for more housekeeping jobs in the resort town of Spencer—more millionaire estates to clean—estates that weren’t haunted.
Rafaela pulled her car around the circular drive and parked at the bottom of the steep steps that led to the front door. When she got out of her car, the wind howled and whipped her long dark hair around her head. The wind actually seemed to want to rip her thin coat off her body. Grabbing her box of cleaning supplies, she squared her shoulders, and sucked up her nerve to go inside.
Need to make this quick. They don’t have enough money to make me stay here during that storm.
The wind yanked the heavy wooden door from her grasp to slam it against the side of the house.
“Stupid door!” Rafaela set the box inside the foyer and went outside to grab the door and pull it shut. “Mr. Wagner! Mr. Jansen! Genevieve! It’s me, Rafaela! Hope I’m not disturbing you.” She picked up the box and made her way through the foyer.
She stopped. With wide eyes, she peered up the staircase to the second floor balcony. “Is that you, Mr. Wagner?” She paused to listen. “Genevieve?”
“Get out. Now.”
Has to be my imagination. She reassured herself. “There’s no such thing as ghosts. There’s no such thing as ghosts,” she muttered over and over to herself while hurrying to the back of the castle.
“I don’t suppose you had any trick-or-treaters last night, did you?” she called out to ease her nerves with the sound of her own voice. “Not up here I suppose.”
She waited for an answer. She heard footsteps on the floor up above.
The smell of burnt meat came to her nose. It smelled like steak that had been left on the grill for too long.
They must have grilled steaks last night.
“Lots of little children stopped by my apartment.” Feeling braver as she rattled on, Rafaela set the box of cleaning supplies on the kitchen table and gathered together her duster and furniture polish.
Best to start in the living room. The antiques, wood, and silver takes the longest.
Admiring the decades-old priceless china encased in the china closet, she went through the dining room. With her cleaning lady’s eye, she gauged what needed to be addressed on this visit that she may have missed before. She stopped when the blotch of red on the doorframe through the kitchen caught her eye.
What’s that? Catsup?
It wasn’t until she spotted a spot on the floor that she first considered that it wasn’t a condiment, but something much more sinister. She spotted another. Bigger this time … and another.
There was a red pool in front of the kitchen door that opened out onto the back patio and deck that projected out over the rocks to provide a massive view of the valley down below. All of the drops and splatters and pools led to the common source—the fire pit outside.
She saw the flames and smoke wafting in the wind whipping around her where she stood in the open doorway. She stared at the blackened objects in the pit. What at first appeared to be a burnt log projecting out of the flames took shape.
The hand and fingers reached out to her.
The index finger was pointing at her.
Through the rapid beating of her heart, Rafaela could hear the footsteps behind her coming closer.
His image was reflected in the glass pane of the door. The wild hair. The crazed eyes.
It’s the Wolf Man!