Join Josh's Newsletter and receive an exclusive audio book! Exclusive audio offer!

Another winning novel by Josh Lanyon, who has the knack for writing a good mystery. Missing jewels, secret passageways, and people with secrets all come together in an irresistibly suspenseful package.

*A RECOMMENDED READ*

Fallen Angels Reviews
His romantic weekend in ruins, shy twenty-something artist Perry Foster learns that things can always get worse when he returns home from San Francisco to find a dead body in his bathtub. A dead body in a very ugly sportscoat — and matching socks.
The dead man is a stranger to Perry, but that’s not much of a comfort; how did a strange dead man get in a locked flat at the isolated Alton Estate in the wilds of the “Northeast Kingdom” of Vermont? Perry turns to help from “tall, dark and hostile” former navy SEAL Nick Reno — but is Reno all that he seems?

CHAPTER ONE

There was a strange man in Perry’s bathtub. He was wearing a sports coat — a rather ugly sports coat. And he was dead.

Perry, who had just spent the most painful and humiliating twenty-four hours of his life, and had driven over an hour from the airport in blinding rain to reach the relative peace and privacy of the chilly rooms he rented at the old Alston Estate, stood there gaping.

His headache vanished. He forgot about being exhausted and starving and soaked to the skin. He forgot about wishing he was dead, because here was someone dead, and it wasn’t pretty.

His fingers still rested on the light switch. Perry turned the overhead lights off. In the darkness he heard rain rattling against the window; he heard his breathing which sounded fast and scared; and from the living room he heard the soft chime of the clock he had bought at the thrift store on Bethlehem Road. Nine slow, silvery chimes. Nine o’clock.

Perry switched the light back on.

The dead man was still in his bathtub.

“It’s not possible,” Perry whispered.

Apparently this didn’t convince the corpse who continued to stare at him under half-closed eyelids.

The dead man was a stranger; Perry was pretty sure of that. It — he — was middle-aged and he needed a shave. His face was sort of greenish-red, the cheeks sunken in as though his features were slipping. His legs stuck out over the side of the tub like a mannequin’s. One shoe had a hole in the sole. His socks were yellow. Goldenrod, actually. They matched the ugly checked jacket.

The stranger was definitely dead. His chest wasn’t moving at all, his mouth was ajar but no sounds came out. Perry didn’t have to touch him to make sure he was dead, and nothing on earth would have made him touch the corpse anyway.

He could discern no signs of violence. There didn’t seem to be any blood. Nor water. The tub was dry and empty — except for the dead man. It didn’t look like he had been strangled. Maybe he had died of natural causes?

Maybe he’d had a heart attack?

But what was he doing having heart attacks in Perry’s locked apartment?

Perry’s glance lit on the mirror over the sink, and he started, for an instant not recognizing the pale-faced hollow-eyed reflection as his own. His hazel eyes looked huge and black in his frightened face, and his blonde hair seemed to be standing on end.

Backing out of the bathroom, Perry closed the door. He stood there trying to work it out through the fog of weariness and bewilderment. Then, eyes still pinned on the closed door, he took another step backwards and fell over his suitcase which was sitting in the center of the front room floor.

The fall jarred Perry’s thoughts into some kind of order. Scrambling up, he bolted for the apartment door. His fingers scrabbled to undo the deadbolt.

He yanked open the door, but it banged shut as though wrenched away by a ghostly hand. He realized the chain was still on. With shaking fingers he unfastened the chain and slammed out of the flat.

It seemed impossible that the hall should look just as it had when he walked upstairs five minutes earlier. Wall sconces cast creepy shadows down the mile of faded crimson carpet, which led to the winding staircase. Though the hall was empty, Perry felt that he was being watched.

He listened. Rain whispered against the windows, as though the house complained of the damp, the wood rot, the mustiness that permeated its aged bones. But it was the ominous silence on the other side of his own door that seemed to flood out everything else.

What was he waiting for? What did he expect to hear? Panic gripped him. He was desperate to get downstairs to lights and people, but he was afraid to make a noise, a sudden move, afraid that something unseen waited for him in the dim recesses of the long hall.

He had to force himself to take the first step. Then he barreled down the hallway, narrowly missing the half-dead aspidistras in their tall marble planters. Every moment he expected to feel a knife between his shoulder blades.

When he reached the head of the stairs, he had to hang tight to the banister; his knees were jelly. He took a second to catch his breath and then headed down the stairs. Fifteen steps; he took them two at a time.

Reaching the second floor, he hesitated. Ex-cop Rudy Stein lived on this floor. An ex-cop ought to know what to do.

Mr. Watson had also lived on this floor, but he had died a week ago in Burlington. His rooms were locked, all his belongings waiting for someone who would never return.

Maybe it was this memory, or maybe it was the notion of facing another dark, drafty hallway, that sent Perry half-falling, half-running down the rest of the grand staircase until, at last, he reached the ground floor, which served as the lobby of Mrs. MacQueen’s boarding house.

Someone was just coming in the front door, pushing it closed against the sheets of rain. Overhead the chandelier tinkled musically in the gust of the storm’s breath, throwing eerie blue and red shadows across the man’s figure.

He wore a hooded olive parka, and for a moment Perry didn’t recognize him. In fact, he couldn’t see any face at all in the cowl of the parka, and (his nerves shot to hell) he gasped, the soft sound carrying in the quiet hall.

Shoving the hood back the man stared at Perry. Now Perry recognized him. He was new to Mrs. MacQueen’s rooming house; an ex-marine or something. Tall, dark and hostile.

Perry opened his mouth to inform the newcomer about the dead man upstairs, but weirdly enough the words wouldn’t come. Maybe he was in shock. He felt kind of funny; detached, rather light-headed. He hoped he wasn’t going to pass out. That would be too humiliating.

“What’s with you?” the man said. He was frowning, but then he was always frowning, so there wasn’t anything in that. He actually wasn’t that tall, but he was muscular, solid. A human Rock of Gibraltar.

Finally Perry’s vocal chords worked, but the man couldn’t seem to make out Perry’s choked words. He took a step closer. His eyes were blue, marine-blue, which seemed appropriate, Perry thought, still on that distant plane.

“What’s the problem, kid?” he asked brusquely.

Obviously there was a problem. Breathlessly Perry tried to explain it. He pointed upwards, his hand shaking like a Jesus freak who lacked conviction, and he tried to get some words out between the gasps.

And now the corpse upstairs was the second problem, because the first problem was, he couldn’t breathe.

“Jesus Christ!” said the ex-marine, watching his struggle.

Perry lowered himself to the carpeted bottom step of the grand staircase, and fished around for his inhaler.