A crime has been committed in 1880s Kentucky—and it’s up to you to figure out WHOdunit! Play the game for a chance to win one of THREE autographed copies of Sharlene MacLaren’s LOVING LIZA JANE.
Here’s what you do: read through each of the scenes below. Collect the KEYWORDS from each scene (except Brook’s). Note: keywords point to the NOVEL, not the CULPRIT. Next, figure out WHOdunit! Finally, send an email with the five KEYWORDS and the NAME OF THE CULPRIT to email@example.com with the subject line WHO?
Entries will be received until 3 p.m. EST on 8 June.
Come back on Monday 11 June to read the confession of the culprit!
WHO? Volume 2
Brook – circa 1850s England
by Roseanna White
(There is no KEYWORD within Brook’s scene)
The very air was sinister, crackling with threat. Baroness Brook Moon looked out the schoolroom window at the clouds that hung low and black over the town. The rain fell in torrents, and lightning still rent the heavens in two every few seconds.
Brook would have given anything to be back home in the Cotswolds, among familiar faces. Instead, she had sought refuge from the storm in this one room schoolhouse in Kentucky, along with a handful of other strangers, all of whom were from places—and times—far flung. They were lucky the school’s new teacher, Liza Jane, had been preparing for classes and had let them all in.
Liza came over to peer out the window, too. She was a pretty little thing, her golden brown curls coming out of her bun, her well fitting dress bearing an ink stain that she didn’t seem to notice. “I hope it lets up soon. I’d hate to see Little Hickman Creek swell its banks.”
Brook offered a smile, but it was vague at best. She wasn’t about to make promises concerning this summer storm.
“Are we having fun yet, ladies?” The voice was distinctly American but had a different cadence than Liza Jane’s. Brook looked over to see the other female in the group of six, a woman named Audrey, who smiled as she joined them. “Figured I’d join you. Those men won’t stop staring at my legs.”
Brook’s lips twitched. Given that Audrey’s skirt stopped at her knees, the men’s attention was little wonder.
From outside came the sudden hiss of lightning, stumbling over the thunder on its heels. A loud crack sounded, and the group gasped.
“The tree!” Liza picked up her skirts and headed for the door at a run.
Brook followed close on her heels, intending to stop the young woman from darting into the downpour. But when Liza threw open the door, Brook saw that the rain had stopped as suddenly as it had started, so instead she followed her.
“Oh no! That poor old oak!” Liza pressed a hand to her mouth and trudged through the mud toward the fallen tree, heedless of her dress. Brook opted for the stepping stones forming a crude walkway.
Audrey followed her lead, swiping away a lock of shoulder-length auburn hair. “Poor thing’s taking it personally, isn’t she? Of course, I guess I would too, if it were a tree at my school.”
Brook lifted a brow. “You’re a teacher too, then?”
“Mm hm.” Audrey smiled, though it faded away when Liza turned slowly their way. Brook watched resolve mix with compassion on Audrey’s pretty face. “Come on, Liza, let’s walk around the school and see how everything else fared.”
Liza nodded, but it was half-hearted. She looked down at her skirt and pressed a finger to the dried ink stain. Audrey went over to her, stepping carefully in her slim-heeled shoes, and linked their arms together. They were about the same height, both lovely, but Brook couldn’t help but think they looked a little odd together, given their very different styles.
Another long rumble of thunder rolled over the Kentucky hills.
“You know what would make you feel better?” Audrey said as she led Liza Jane away. “A real cherry Coke.”
“A. . . what?”
Audrey’s laughter ran out through the schoolyard. “Never mind. Say, do you have a ladies’ room around here?”
“A. . . oh. Facilities, yes. I’ll show you. They’re around back.”
Brook shook her head as they rounded the corner of the building, her eyes then moving to the tall, dark-haired man who was ambling up from the other direction. Jose. He let out a whistle when he saw the damaged tree. “We’re lucky it didn’t fall toward the schoolhouse.”
Brook nodded, smiling at his Spanish accent. It had been several years since she’d had the pleasure of conversing in a Romance language, so she answered in what she assumed to be his native tongue. “Si. The Lord must have been watching out for us.”
He smiled, his warm brown eyes lighting up. They were compelling eyes, practically inviting one to relax and name oneself his friend.
Another deep voice sounded from behind Brook before Jose could answer. “I thought you were British, baroness. I am surprised you know Spanish.”
Brook spun around, pressing a hand to her racing heart. The man called Cutter stood there, smiling through the severe scarring on his lip. He had a pipe secured between his teeth, though how he had managed to fill it when one arm hung limp at his side was a mystery to her. Still, in spite of his appearance he had been a perfect gentleman since they’d met up inside, especially when he realized that she was the only one among the six who was also English. During the worst of the storm, he had regaled them with stories of his adventures as a surgeon on a ship in the Caribbean.
“I am,” she answered at length. “But I was raised in the court of Monaco until I was sixteen.”
“Ah.” Cutter puffed on his pipe and tilted his head to better see the destroyed oak as thunder rolled in the distance. “I’m afraid I won’t be much help in clearing that away.”
The final member of their group came up then, too, screwing his face up at the picture. Brother Julian gave his tan homespun robe a sweep with his chubby fingers and then lifted his bald head toward the heavens. “A judgment, perhaps? Or a warning? Has one of you committed some sin?”
The other two men both shifted, almost uneasily. Brook was the first to shrug the question away. “Don’t be silly, Brother. It was simply a wayward streak of lightning.”
The monk revealed his yellowed teeth and spoke again in his high, grating voice. “Perhaps it is due to that shameful young woman daring to bear her legs.”
Liza Jane arrived back on the scene just in time to hear that and answered it with hands on hips. “Leave Audrey alone, Brother Julian. She has been very kind to me.”
Brother Julian was quick to offer a conciliatory nod. “As have you been, mademoiselle, to offer us all sanctuary from the storm.”
“Well.” Liza straightened her spine and nodded back, smiling when Audrey rejoined them. She held out a hand when a few drops of water started falling again. “I believe the rain isn’t quite finished—we’d better all get back inside.”
Jose led the way, moving to open the door for the ladies. When they stepped in, though, they all halted. Stared.
Brook had no idea what to say. Five minutes before, the schoolroom had been in perfect order, the supplies sparse but organized. Now. . . now desks were overturned, books thrown around and broken, slates scattered about the room in pieces, and even the potbellied stove pulled from its pipe.
Brother Julian shook his head. “Who would do such a terrible thing?”
Brook said nothing for a long moment. One of them had—no one else could have reached the school without being seen.
“Why?” Liza lifted a hand toward the destruction and then dropped it to her side. A tear slid down her cheek.
Audrey looped her arm through Liza’s again. “Who knows? But we’ll get it all cleaned up.”
“First, we’ll figure out who did it.” Brook folded her arms across her chest and looked from one person to another. “I was talking to one or another of you the whole time we were outside. But everyone else seemed to have been on their own for at least a moment. Long enough to do this while the thunder was going, I should think. So everybody might as well sit down until we figure out who the vandal is. It has to be one of us”
“Yes,” Jose agreed, darting inside and scowling. “But who?”
Jose from The Chronicles of the Spanish Civil War (series) – circa 1938 Spain
by Tricia Goyer
Jose moved around the room with quickened steps. Near the Spanish coast where he lived only the children of the wealthy attended SCHOOLS such as this, and he appreciated the fact that here all were given such a chance.
Yet his first concern was for the safety of the women.
Jose turned to the door. “Senoritas, please. I am afraid our place of refuge has become one of destruction. Maybe you should stay outside, where it is safe.”
The women didn’t seem to be listening as they hovered near the door of the room, all of them talking at the same time. It was hard enough understanding English, even harder when they all spoke at once. He shook his head, realizing that women were often harder to tame than the wild stallions he trained.
He moved to the closest school desk. It had been tossed to its side and the seat torn from the frame. Whoever had done this used great force.
Jose thought it best to right the piece of furniture, lest any of the women’s long, or short, skirts get caught on the furniture and cause them to tumble.
Jose righted the piece and felt the pull of a piece of metal on his hand. A bent nail stuck out from the broken frame. He looked closer and noticed that a piece of ripped cloth was stuck to the nail. Bending down, and resting his weight on one knee, Jose noticed it was tan.
“It could be from the children. Maybe a nino or nina who sits at this desk on a daily basis,” he mumbled to himself. But when he heard a loud man’s boisterous voice behind him he turned and noted the man who called himself Cutter wore tan breeches.
Could it be?
The man was taller than Jose with hair that touched his shoulders. He seemed kind enough despite his frightening appearance. Still, one could never tell. During the months of the civil war Jose had discovered too well the pain of being deceived by those who appeared to be one’s friend. Kind words did not necessarily stem from a kind heart.
Jose rose and tugged, pulling the fabric from the nail. He took two steps, his eyes focused on Cutter, then he paused as another man moved into view.
It was the monk, Brother Julian. He was bald and plump, similar to the many servants of God who had lived on Spanish soil. Jose had been raised to always respect the men of the cloth. Yet, his stomach turned. For the cloth the monk wore was a homespun robe. A tan homespun robe.
Jose stood straighter and cocked his head, confused. The tall man with the scarred face or the priest with the high voice? Just who did the cloth belong to?
Audrey from CANTEEN DREAMS – circa 1941 Nebraska
by Cara C. Putman
Audrey slumped against the rough wall of the schoolhouse. The damage was horrible. It looked like one of the bombs bombarding England had exploded outside, with the shockwave tossing books and desks about the small room. School should be an escape, a haven, for the children who attend. It would take effort to return this one to an appropriate state.
She listened to the others argue and wrapped her arms tightly around her. A shiver shook her frame. Didn’t they know there were more important things than arguing? She’d hoped the trip to KENTUCKY to visit Lainie while she trained with the other nurses would help her relax and forget the strife of war. Instead, she found herself in a strange time warp worthy of an Orson Welles’ broadcast.
Enough. Time to stop feeling sorry for herself and do something. Working at the North Platte Canteen had taught her the value of having a job to do during a crisis. While everyone else bickered, she’d figure out what had happened. How hard could it be? There were only six of them who could have destroyed the classroom. And she knew she hadn’t and doubted Liza would do something like this to her own classroom. That left four suspects. Maybe Audrey could put on her Thin Man hat and solve this murder faster than William Powell and Myrna Loy.
Pushing off of the wall, Audrey squared her shoulders and approached Cutter. He looked like he’d lived a hard life, but there was something about him… He might be an ally if he’d look her in the eyes rather than ogle her legs. Really, why was everybody so fascinated with her skirt?
She could only imagine what they’d think if she plopped them in a cinema!
She stopped as something crunched under her feet. It sounded like dried leaves that had abandoned their trees, but looked nothing like the leaves she was used to in Nebraska. “Does anybody know what this is?”
Liza scurried over. “Why, those are tobacco leaves, and the students know better than to bring them in…though I had to send a few home at first.” She sighed. “I swept thoroughly before the storm, and these weren’t here then.”
Cutter stepped closer and crouched to examine them. As he did, Audrey noticed a pipe tucked in his pocket. Brother Julian swiped his hands together before shoving them behind his back. What was he brushing off? It looked an awful lot like the fragments on the floor.
Then there was the stiff lady, Brook wasn’t it? She carried herself like something prickly poked her under the chin. She wasn’t warm and cuddly and seemed determined to make anyone else the culprit…but Audrey had to agree with Jose. None of the women looked strong enough to hurl the desks around the room. She certainly couldn’t. And Jose…his shadowed eyes looked like they’d seen too much to cause intentional harm.
So who did?
Cutter from THE RESTITUTION – circa 1669 Caribbean
by M.L. Tyndall
“Egad, woman. Surely you don’t suspect me?” Cutter rose to his full height and gave Audrey a look of indignation. “In case it has escaped your attention, I have but one useful arm.” He waved his scarred, withered limb through the air. “I can barely pick up a quill pen with this hand, let alone topple a desk and shove a stove from its moorings.”
Cutter grimaced and took a puff of his pipe as all eyes sped in his direction. What was the lady thinking? Lady indeed. He stared at her, trying to avoid gazing at her shapely, bare legs. More like a trollop than a school teacher. And he’d met plenty of them when he’d sailed upon the pirate ship, The Restitution.
“All I was saying, Mr. Cutter, is that you are the only one who smokes.”
Cutter grunted and turned aside, deciding not to honor such an incredulous accusation with a retort.
“We should discount the women.” Jose picked a book off the floor. “They are not strong enough to do this.”
“Then you don’t know mujeres very well, mi amigo.” Cutter shot a gaze to the horse trainer and noticed the look of surprise on his face. “Yes. I picked up a bit of Spanish while sailing the Main. But nevertheless,” Cutter tapped his pipe on one of the only shelves still hooked to the wall. “I once knew a woman who dressed like a man and passed herself off as a pirate. Did a fine job of it too, I might add.”
“Really? How exciting.” Brook raised her brows. “I believe that’s the one thing I have yet to accomplish. Whatever happened to her?”
“I married her.”
His comment brought chuckles from the group and drew their attention off him—which was precisely what he wanted. Why did everyone always point fingers at the scarred man, the monster, as if being unattractive caused wickedness.
“Nevertheless, Mr. Cutter, we are not pirates and as you can see, we are all slight women,” Liza placed her hands on her hips and glared at him.
“I agree with Mr. Cutter,” Brother Julian interjected. “The women could have easily done this damage, especially if they worked together. Everyone here is suspect.”
Liza gave an unladylike snort and turned away as Cutter made his way to the tobacco leaves Audrey had discovered.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw her approach. “How did this happen to you? She pointed at his arm, but naught but concern warmed her eyes.
“I ran into a burning building to rescue someone.”
She gave him a sad smile, but said nothing.
Liza appeared at her side. Cutter had to avert his eyes from her tight-fitting gown. He was a married man, after all. Did these women in Kentucky have no sense of modesty?
“Come Audrey.” She threw her chin in the air and gave Cutter a look as if he had leprosy, before she escorted her friend away.
Cutter leaned over, picked up a tobacco leaf from the floor, and lifted it to his nose. Indeed, it was his brand. Brother Julian had helped him fill his pipe.
Yes, now he remembered. But they hadn’t been standing here by the shelves. He gazed across the room at Brother Julian as he spoke with Brook. No, they had been standing on the stoop at the time. How did his tobacco get all the way over here?
He eyed the monk. A man of God. Cutter had experience with such devout men. He’d actually known pirates who had turned from their wicked ways to follow God. Why would a man of faith do such a thing? Impossible. He scanned the scattered, broken desks where CHILDREN sat, learning and reading and playing. No, certainly a man of God would do no such thing.
Brother Julian from SANTUARY – circa 1740s France
by Molly Noble Bull
Brother Julian glanced at the others in the room. “Never have I seen so many books in one place other than inside the walls of a church.” The portly monk’s high- pitched, squeaky voice revealed a strong French accent. “All of you must be blessed. To be sure, I am amazed.” A slow smiled formed on his thick lips as his gaze moved to the bookcase next to the line of small desks that Jose had just righted. “I speak English but little. ow HWould it be possible for me to study some of the titles here? Perhaps read some of the books on the shelves?”
Liza Jane shrugged. “I don’t care if nobody else does.”
“Thank you, mademoiselle. You are most kind.”
The monk pulled a book from one of the shelves. He glanced at the cover and put it back where he found it. Then he reached for a large Bible.
“All our Bibles are written in English,” Liza Jane said.
“Pity.” Brother Julian shook his head. “Still, it is rare indeed to see a Holy Book outside a church. Is it not? My FAITH demands that I examine it. Might I?”
Liza Jane nodded. “Of course.”
The short, round little monk was too fat to fit into any of the desks. Nevertheless, he settled his large body on the top of one as if he thought it was a bench or a backless chair.
The baroness let out a heaving breath. “This is getting us no closer to figuring out who did this. Tell me; who was the last one out of the schoolhouse after the lightning struck?”
Cutter cleared his throat. “The monk and I. We stood on the steps and filled my pipe. Then I went out and joined you and Jose, baroness.”
Everybody turned to Brother Julian. He pressed the palm of his hand to his ample chest. “Surely you would not accuse a holy man like me of such a crime.” When he realized everybody still stared at him, he opened the pouch attached to his rope belt. He pulled out a piece of broken leather and held it up for all to see. “Does this not look like a strap taken from a horse’s lead? I found this when we all came back in. Now think, if you will. Who but Jose arrived on a horse? Therefore, who but Jose would have need of a leather strap like this one? I followed Cutter out; Jose could have snuck in after I left.”
Liza gasped at the sight of her once well-organized classroom and tried to stop the tears, knowing her blubbery state would accomplish nothing. She looked toward the window where, outside, the rain still fell in torrents. She batted at the wet trail with the back of her hand and willed herself to calm down. This was a serious matter and one that demanded a clear head, not a head stuffed full of woeful emotion. Someone among them had transformed her perfect little classroom into a cyclone, and she needed to determine the culprit’s identity.
Pulling back her shoulders, she looked at the cluster of mismatched people who had chosen her schoolhouse for a place of refuge from the summer storm and found equal looks of astoundment on each face, not that she’d ever considered herself terribly good at discerning folks’ inner thoughts. Trusting by nature, perhaps to a fault, she’d always sought the good in everyone, believing most to be innately honorable. Oh, she wasn’t so naïve as to believe that crimes didn’t occur, but that’s why she’d left her native Boston to travel to the quiet, respectable—and wholesome—town of Little Hickman, Kentucky.
Now she saw the futility in such thinking. It would seem that even in this tiny burg, the presence of evil hovered nearby.
“What a horrid mess!” remarked Brook, smoothing down the front of her dress, as if the clutter had somehow affected her natural-born beauty. “Why, I never…!”
“Appears to me there’s a rotten apple among us,” said Jose. He peered through dark eyes from one to the other. In his depthless gaze, a look of suspicion leaked out. “Seems we weren’t all in the same place at the same time.”
“Don’t go looking at me with those accusing eyes,” said Cutter, removing his pipe from his mouth with his good hand. His other one sagged at the end of a useless, shriveled arm. “I’d be hard put to do such damage with only one good limb.”
“Your good arm looks plenty strong enough to me,” said Brother Julian.
Even though he stood a good six feet away from Liza, the round man’s rancid breath carried across the room. She had all she could do not to pinch her nose shut.
Cutter narrowed his eyes at the chubby, bald-headed fellow and opened his mouth to retort, but Liza stopped him with an outstretched hand.
“Now, please, let’s not start throwing out accusations without some measure of proof. What we need here is PATIENCE, my friends, that and a bit of common sense. Let us think this thing through in as orderly a way as possible. Now then…”
Liza closed her eyes in thought and when she reopened them, spotted something lying on the floor she hadn’t seen before. It was a book, and not a student textbook, either. In fact, this one was altogether unfamiliar.
Her curiosity piqued, so she left her circle of “guests” to retrieve the book.
Bending, she felt her face pull into a tight frown when she saw that, though a Bible, it was in French. Certainly not something she or her students would own. And so far as she could recall, none of the guests had been in this corner of the room before the tree fell, so if someone dropped it, it would have had to be while making this mess.
She held the book’s cover up for all to see. “Which one of you claims to own this?”