The Investigator: Meet the Characters of Magnolia Bluff
May 20, 2023
Caleb Pirtle III
Maddy Dawson is a Deputy Detective in the Sheriff’s Department. She deals with crime, tackling the flotsam and jetsam who live on the bad side of the bad streets.
Today is publication day for Who Killed Lilly Paine?
Maddy Dawson is back.
She never expected to return to Magnolia Bluff.
But she has.
She hopes the demons have left her alone.
She dreads facing the torments of her past.
But face them she must.
Maddy Dawson is young.
She’s a Deputy Detective in the Sheriff’s Department.
She deals with crime.
She tackles the flotsam and jetsam who live on the bad side of the bad streets.
But it should be easy for her to ease into her job.
Magnolia Bluff is a small town.
A quiet town.
A college town.
Everyone seems to know everyone else.
They all get along.
In Magnolia Bluff, neighbors are still neighbors.
Crime doesn’t waste time in such a nice little town.
Or does it?
In Who Killed Lilly Paine, book 13 in the Magnolia Bluff Crime Chronicles, Maddy is out for her morning jog.
Down by a stream not far from the college, she sees something that doesn’t look quite right.
She scrambles down a slippery slope to check it out.
What she finds makes her blood run cold.
A young girl lies dead.
A former high school cheerleader.
Headed to college with a undergraduate grant from NASA’s National Space Grant College and Fellowship program.
She won’t get there.
The horror has begun.
Lilly Paine has been murdered.
Only a short time passed before Maddy caught sight of a flash of white up the creek but could not determine what it was. An unsettled sensation stirred inside her as she strained to inspect the object. Gut instinct prodded her to step to the outer perimeter of the bridge. The familiarity of the outline beneath the surface or the object’s bulky shape piqued her curiosity. The hair on the back of her neck stood taut as she climbed down the slippery slope to the stream, which ran southwesterly from Burnet Reservoir. Slowly, to avoid slipping into the icy water, she made her way down the bank, her ears fine-tuned to the frothy surge gurgling over the crowns of stones that protruded in the shallows. Rounded pebbles along the sandy bottom sparkled like pearls beneath the translucent surface.
A momentary break in the drizzle allowed a frail finger of sunlight to break through the tangle of gnarled oak tree branches that reached out like comforting arms to embrace the lush scenery. The hazy spears of light cast bright splotches over the soggy ground, and with each footfall, her feet sank two inches into the mossy carpet, water seeping into her tennis shoes.
She closed the distance but still couldn’t distinguish the shape of what lay beneath the surface. Tree branches cast shadows on the water, distorting everything. She squinted, trying to see past the ripples created by the breeze. No. It couldn’t be. Maddy leaned forward, narrowing her eyes even more. Suddenly, bile pooled in her throat as she realized what she’d seen. A body. The disturbing figure of arms, legs, and golden strands of hair flagged like sea kelp in an ocean current. For an instant, she lost her breath.
Unable to look away from the image, the impulse to scream overwhelmed her. She stood hypnotically on the muddy bank, staring at the ravaged girl whose torn clothing had gotten snagged on a protruding limb, preventing her body from being dragged further downstream. What hit Maddy harder, the girl was her neighbor, Lilly Paine. The recognition sent shock waves along her spine.
Low-hanging nimbostratus unleashed a brief shower. Droplets of rain dripped off the canopy of rust-colored leaves and spattered on her scalp. Maddy shivered as she reached back to draw up the hood on her sweat jacket to cut the early morning chill—the least of her worries, considering what lay below the water.
Maddy was acutely aware of her surroundings and viewed the area to ensure she was alone. Her musings ran in chaotic circles as she entertained who could have done such a wicked thing. Hands trembling, she grabbed her cell phone from out of her pants pocket and hit the speed dial to connect with the Burnet County Sheriff’s Department. Blaring sirens split the air in minutes as they made their way to Miller Creek.
Several vehicles pulled up alongside the road, lights flashing. Officers began cordoning the area to keep onlookers away and secure the site. The forensic team arrived promptly, pulled the body from the water, and erected a canvas canopy over the crime scene to hold back the sprinkles while some of their group combed the perimeter for evidence. Camera flashes lit up the crime scene as they took multiple photos of the lifeless figure sprawled on the ground.
Maddy bent on one knee to observe, her gaze immediately landing on Lilly’s neck, marked with thumbprint-shaped bruises and fingernail impressions in her flesh. She snapped several photos with her cell phone before getting to her feet. This was not an accident. Someone had murdered Lilly.