Excerpt // His Hand in the Storm by Ritu Sethi
April 1, 7 am
ONCE AGAIN, GABRIELLE EVERETT couldn’t find her husband. He hadn’t come home the previous night, and she didn’t know where he was. Truth be told, this was the second one she’d lost. As Oscar Wilde would have said: to lose the first could be attributed to bad luck, but to lose a second was surely akin to carelessness. No longer in the throes of romantic love (she remained open to it; it was love that did not return the favor), she nevertheless believed in keeping a hold on one’s spouse. And here she was, having lost another one.
The first had gone missing ten years earlier in the Jean-Talon Market and never been heard from again. Gabi presumed he’d run away from his life as a lawyer, more than he’d run away from her, and could only hope it didn’t reflect too harshly on her public image.
Despite her Francophone beginnings below the railway tracks, she now lived in the affluent Anglo neighborhood of Westmount, where one was expected to keep the front garden professionally tended, and one’s reputation for austerity and predictability intact. Here, a four-way stop sign meant the grander car had the right of way, and scandal and discontent were best left blanketed under the carpet of one’s Mercedes.
Gabi closed her eyes and took a deep breath. Entering the kitchen, she decided to make a cappuccino. The freshly ground beans scented the air. Today, she poured frothed milk in a simple leaf design, though, in her barista days, she could have favored a swan, a butterfly, or even the face of a bulldog.
The empty day stretched before her. As did the empty house. The living room looked staged, as though tarted up for a quick sale; so different from the apartment she had lived in when she was ten, where the air stank of dirty dishes and laundry drying on the radiator. Where the smell of mold and dead mice was the norm. Where on that fateful day, with a father who had recently died and a mother lying on the sofa in a drunken stupor, Gabi had frantically searched for the life-saving object – the medicine – that fateful moment when Gabi had learned what it meant to have nothing left to lose. And she’d never forgotten. Money helped. Becoming a monster helped.
Today, in her Westmount house, holding the steaming cup between cold hands, she stepped out onto the porch.
The crisp breeze gained momentum, carrying with it the sweet promise of spring as it swept across Georgian and Tudor-style manors lining the affluent hilltop. She breathed in deeply, washing away old memories and old remembered smells of mold and mice.
A figure caught her eye, emerging from behind a cherry tree. It bore an uncensored look of violence and contempt. The face seemed familiar, just at the edge of Gabi’s recollection – familiar, yet changed.
She scurried back into the house, slammed the door, and snapped the bolt in place. Recognition just within reach, she peered out the window for another glimpse and saw that the figure stood still, seemingly chiseled in granite.
And then it came to her: her husband, Norman, had revealed something while drinking – something regarding the health-tech startup her son, Simon, had launched two years earlier, and in which Norman functioned as Medical Advisor. The company was poised to sell for hundreds of millions, and for Gabi, nothing mattered more than Simon. Nothing.
The links fit together in a chain of events. More were coming – it wasn’t over. All the faces concerned flashed in Gabi’s mind – of all the people involved, including the remembered face of her beloved frail little sister.
A shrill sound pierced the air and made her drop the cup. Coffee spilled onto the Persian rug. The phone kept ringing as the brown liquid spread and sank into the weave, the stain staring up at her, spoiling the perfection of her professionally decorated foyer.
She lifted the receiver. A baritone voice on the other end, smooth as cognac, eased her strain. Until he identified himself.
“This is Chief Inspector Gray James of the SPVM. Your son reported your husband, Norman Everett, missing. Could I come and see you right away?”
Simon had done what? Already? Stupid boy. She swallowed the dry lump in her throat and pushed out the words. “Yes. I’m home now.” Of course she was home. He’d telephoned the house, hadn’t he? The policeman thanked her and said he’d be over shortly.
Ending the call, Gabi peeked out the window. The figure had gone.
Thick clouds scurried overhead, blocking the sun and darkening the sky. An arc of light streamed in through the foyer window onto the rug, gradually narrowing to a sliver until it finally disappeared and she could no longer discern the coffee stain.
Her thoughts flew to her son. How could she protect him? From violence, from failure, from the arid clutches of poverty Gabi had once known so well herself?
But Gabi understood that the most dangerous person in the world was someone with nothing left to lose.
And she knew, in that instant, that her second husband would never come home.
A MYSTERY; A BEACH; A BEER: Ritu’s favorite vacation day.
Ritu’s first book, His Hand In the Storm has had nearly 50,000 downloads. It became an AMAZON BESTSELLER in the Kindle free store and was #1 in all its mystery categories. She needs coffee (her patch for Coca Cola), beaches, and murder mysteries to survive – not necessarily in that order. She won the Colorado Gold Award for the first in the Chief Inspector Gray James Murder Mystery Series, His Hand In the Storm. The book was also a Daphne du Maurier Suspense finalist.
She’s fulfilling her lifelong desire of becoming a mystery writer. Many thanks to all the readers who are making that possible.