Carrie Stuart Parks
Thomas Nelson, July 2020
From the publisher—
A powerful family with lots of secrets. A forensic artist with his own tragedies. And a hurricane drawing bearing down on their private island.
Fifteen years ago Piper Boone’s only child died in a boating accident, and Piper’s almost perfect life came to an end too. After living through a divorce and losing her job, she retreats to Curlew Island and her childhood home—a secluded mansion for the politically powerful Boone family, who are practically American royalty.
But Piper’s desire to become a recluse is shattered when a mass shooter opens fire and kills three women at a café where Piper is having lunch. The crisis puts her family in the spotlight by dredging up rumors of the so-called Curlew Island Curse, which whispers say has taken the lives of several members of the Boone family, including Piper’s father and sister.
Forensic artist Tucker Landry also survives the shooting and is tasked with the job of sketching a portrait of the shooter with Piper. They forge a bond over their shared love of movies and tragic pasts. But when police discover a connection between the shooting and two more murders on Curlew Island, they face a more terrible lineup of suspects than they could have imagined: Piper’s family.
Unraveling the family’s true history will be the key to Piper’s survival—or her certain death.
There are certain families that, over time, become what we peons call American Royalty and not necessarily in an admiring way. Some, like the Kennedys and the Bushes, are based in politics, while others like the Hearst and Rockefeller families are rooted in such trades as business or media. However they achieve their lofty status, they all share two traits, huge amounts of money and access to power. This is the world that Sandpiper Boone lives in and, like so many of those other powerful people, it gives her no shelter from tragedy.
Piper has never been able to move on since her three-year-old daughter died fifteen years ago and now she’s been suddenly thrust into a more public devastation, being in the crosshairs of a mass shooter that she can identify. The man who saved her life, Tucker Landry, is a forensic artist and agrees to work with her to develop a sketch of the killer and, before long, leads start to point towards Piper’s own family.
To say that the Boone family is riddled with terrible secrets is putting it mildly and Ms. Parks has crafted a story that is high on tension and fear, one that kept me up reading till deep into the night. “Betrayal” becomes the watchword and Piper and Tucker are a great couple, not so much because of their growing attraction to each other but because of the trust that develops between them. When Piper learns something that’s enough to send lesser beings around the bend, Tucker is there to help her stand against enormous manipulation but they’re also in the path of physical destruction in the form of a hurricane heading right for Curlew Island. Let the nailbiting begin!
Reviewed by Lelia Taylor, August 2020.
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An Excerpt from Relative Silence
Marion Inlet, South Carolina
I couldn’t breathe. A man’s weight across my body crushed me to the sidewalk. The grit of the cement and shattered glass dug into my cheek. My ears rang with the craack, craack of gunfire and the screams of the wounded. A thousand bees stung my ankle. I kept my eyes tightly shut. If I opened them, I knew I’d see the sightless gaze of my friend Ami, stretched out beside me. Even with my eyes closed, I could still see Ami’s face. I should be the one lying dead.
I tried to cover my ears.
“Don’t move.” The man’s voice whispered in my ear, his breath stirring my hair.
A final craack!
The man jerked. The shooting stopped. Like the eye of a hurricane, silence. Then the screaming resumed. In the distance, a siren, then a second.
The man didn’t move.
My shoulder felt warm. Something wet slithered around my neck.
In spite of the man’s warning, I inched my hand upward and touched my shoulder. I opened my eyes and looked at my fingers. Blood.
Adrenaline shot through my body. I was boxed in, closed off. My claustrophobia took over, shoving aside my fear of the gunman. I shoved upward, shifting the man sideways.
Sliding from underneath him, I had a chance to see who’d knocked me from my chair and covered me with his body when the gunman opened fire. He was about my age—midthirties—dressed in a light-tan cotton sports jacket and bloody jeans. His gray-white skin contrasted sharply with his shaggy black hair. He opened his eyes briefly, revealing ultramarine-blue irises, before closing them again. Blood streamed from a gash on his forehead. More blood pooled around his right leg.
I was breathing with fast, hiccupping breaths. I wanted to put my hands over my ears to block the screaming, but they were covered in blood. Maybe this is a movie. Patriot Games. Harrison Ford . . . No. Movies don’t smell.
What year was Patriot Games made? I couldn’t remember.
The distant sirens grew overwhelming, then stopped. Police officers, guns drawn, swarmed the overturned chairs and tables of the outdoor café. Swiftly they checked the motionless dead, the sobbing survivors, the wailing injured.
“Help! Here! Over here!” I waved my arm to get someone’s attention. Sliding closer, I lifted my protector’s head onto my lap, smearing his cheeks with blood. Wait. Was his head supposed to be below his heart? “Please help me!” A female officer raced over. “He’s shot.” I cradled his head in my lap. “Hurry. Please hurry and get help.”
The officer spoke into the mic on her shoulder. “Dispatch? Where are those ambulances?”
The reply was a jumble of words and static.
“Okay, ma’am,” the officer said to me. “Stay calm. The ambulances are on their way. I need you to put your hand on your husband’s leg and apply pressure to slow the bleeding—”
Her mic squawked again. “Ten-four,” she said. “I’ll be right back.”
“He’s not my—” The officer raced off before I could finish. “Husband,” I whispered. I pressed a trembling hand on the man’s injury. Please, God, don’t let him die like this.
He moaned but didn’t open his eyes.
Another officer, this time male, came over. “Are you injured? You’re covered in blood.”
“It’s his. At least I think it’s his.” Was I hurt? I didn’t like this movie. It was filmed all shiny.
Everyone moved in slow motion.
“Did you see the gunman?”
He nodded, then waved his hand to get someone’s attention. An EMT appeared and crouched beside me. “Are you okay?” His voice was distant and slow. “Laady, aarre yoouu ooookaaaaaayy?”
“Y-yes, I think so. He’s . . .” My vision narrowed. Blackness lapped around my brain. “Lunch . . . we were having lun—”
The blackness took over.
I opened my eyes. Above me was a green canvas umbrella. Did I have an umbrella in my bedroom? I didn’t think so.
What a strange dream.
My bed was hard. And gritty. And smelled of fried fish mixed with . . . the pungent stench of body fluids.
Turning my head, I blinked to make sense of what I was seeing. Overturned tables, chairs, a purse. Golden brown with the letter C forming a pattern. Coach purse. My purse. Spattered by a shattered bowl of creamy shrimp and grits.
Not my bed. Not a dream. Not a movie.
Sound finally registered. Talking, more sirens. Yelled directions.
I slowly pushed up to a sitting position. Uniformed officers were corralling witnesses, and EMTs were treating the wounded. Next to me was a pool of blood. The man—Harrison Ford? No, he was an actor. The man who’d saved me was gone.
When I looked the other way, Ami came into focus. Her eyes were open, looking beyond me. Beyond this life. A pool of her blood had reached the puddle from the man’s injury.
All my senses had returned, but I still felt . . . detached. Should I make a list? Write down what happened and make everything neat and tidy? I’d been having lunch. At a café. A gunman opened fire. That’s right. And my friend . . .
I reached over and took Ami’s hand. The warmth had already left it. She wore coral nail polish and an engagement ring. Did we talk about her engagement?
A giant lump in my throat made it difficult to swallow. She’s so still. Just a few minutes ago she was animatedly talking to me, like Téa Leoni in Spanglish. 2004. See, I remembered the year that movie was made. Why couldn’t I remember Patriot Games?
Why was I obsessing over movies now? And lists?
Movies and lists are safe.
My eyes burned, but no tears appeared. I hadn’t cried in more than fifteen years. “I’m so very sorry, m’friend. I . . .” I shook my head and placed Ami’s hand gently on the sidewalk.
The shooting. The blood. My dead friend. It was all real.
Looking away from her, I spotted the man being placed into an ambulance. He saved my life and I didn’t even know his name.
I started to get to my feet. An EMT raced over and gently placed her hand on my shoulder, easing me back down. “Easy there. It won’t be much longer. We’re just getting the badly wounded off first—”
“I’m fine,” I lied. “Harrison Ford—”
You’re not in a movie. I pointed. “Um, that man, the one being put into the ambulance—who is he?”
The woman looked in the direction I was pointing. “I don’t know.” She called to the EMTs loading the man. “Hey, guys, what hospital are you going to?”
The EMT glanced at me. “Got that?”
“Thanks. Look, I’m not shot. I need to thank that man and make sure he’s going to be okay, then tell my family I’m not hurt.” I tried to stand again. “I promised I’d—”
“Sorry, honey.” This time the EMT pushed me down. “But you’re not going anywhere right now. You passed out. We don’t know if you sustained a head injury. You have a lot of blood on you, and your ankle is cut. And that officer”—she jerked her head—“said you’re a potential eyewitness. He said you can’t leave.”
“Please. I’m not injured—”
“We’ll decide that.” The EMT signaled the officer. “She’s awake. We’ll be moving her soon.”
The officer came over and squatted beside me. He looked to be in his early forties, lean and athletic. His name tag identified him as S. Gragg. “Miss Piper Boone? I’m Lieutenant Stan Gragg. I understand you may have seen the shooter.” His voice was soft and soothing.
“You know my name.”
“Yes, ma’am. Marion Inlet is a small town. Hard not to. And”—he looked away—“I was on the department here . . . before.”
“Oh. I’m sorry. I didn’t recognize you.”
“Long time ago.”
“Yes. Mr. . . . Lieutenant Gragg, I have to cover her face. It’s not right, her just lying there.” I started to take off my jacket.
The officer stopped me. “Now, Miss Boone, I know it doesn’t seem respectful to your friend, but this is a crime scene and we have to secure and preserve it until the crime-scene folks can process it.” He glanced over my shoulder. “Looks like your ride is here.”
“Really, you’re making a big fuss. All those other people—”
“Just being cautious.” He stood and stepped away.
An EMT took his place. I grabbed my heavy, oversized purse and clutched it while they arranged for my transport to the hospital.
The nearest medical center was normally a twenty-minute drive, but the ambulance cut the time in half. I was raced into a small room, placed on the examination table, questioned about my injuries, and prodded. They cleaned and bandaged my ankle. The last of the feeling of detachment left with the scrubbing of my ankle cut. That hurt.
During one of the lulls when the doctor or nurse wasn’t tending to me, I pulled a notebook and pen from my purse and started a list.
Look up the year Patriot Games was made.
I stared at that a moment. That didn’t matter. It was a movie, and it had a bombing, not a café shooting. I drew a line through it.
Call family and tell them I’m okay.
Contact Ami’s parents and offer condolences.
Take food to the house.
Offer to help with funeral arrangements.
Lieutenant Gragg entered. “How are you doing?”
“A few bumps—nothing really.” I looked down at my list.
“Are you writing down what happened for me? Your statement?”
“Oh. No. Making notes on what I need to do. You know. With Ami and all.” Heat rushed to my face. “Writing things down keeps me . . . sane.”
“And Ami is . . . ?”
“Oh, sorry, Ami Churchill. The woman I was having lunch with.”
“I see. Maybe before you forget anything you could tell me what happened.”
I nodded. “Okay.” The blood had dried on my jeans, blouse, and jacket. I breathed through my mouth to not take in the metallic odor. I just want to get out of these clothes. I bit my lip at the uncharitable thought. The blood was from the man who saved my life.
Lieutenant Gragg took out a small notepad and pen, checked the time, jotted something down, then looked at me.
“So let’s start at the beginning. Your full name is Piper Boone?”
He raised his eyebrows.
“Mother is an ornithologist, a bird-watcher. She named her children after birds.”
“So that’s why your brother, the senator, is Tern?”
“Yes. My sisters are Sparrow and Raven. I’m just happy Mother didn’t name me Albatross or Plover.” I smiled, then immediately looked down and tightened my lips. How could I make a joke when all those people were shot and Ami was still dead on the street? The police officer was taking the time to interview me when he had so much else to do, and all I could do was try to be funny. Unsuccessfully.
He quietly handed me a tissue. “Take your time.”
I took the tissue and crumpled it in my hand. “I’d agreed to meet Ami for lunch. I hadn’t seen her in years—since high school. Out of the blue, she called me up and asked to have lunch . . . I’m sorry, I’m not very organized in my thoughts right now.” The detached feeling was returning.
“And you were eating lunch?”
“Lunch. Yes. I mean no. We were finished. We were just talking and having a last glass of iced tea.”
“You were sitting facing the street?” he asked.
“No. I had my back to the street. Ami was facing me.”
Lieutenant Gragg paused and looked up from his writing. “You indicated you saw the shooter. If your back was to the street, how did you see him?”
“I . . . um . . . looked around when I smelled something . . . a homeless man. I caught a glimpse of the shooter then, but he wasn’t doing anything at that time. Later I could see his reflection in the window of the café. He’d moved behind me across the street and was watching the café. Something about him was . . . disturbing. I was about to mention him to Ami when he raised a rifle.” I started to tremble but dug my fingernails into my palms until it hurt. “Before I could say or do anything, the man at the next table grabbed me, threw me to the ground, and covered me with his body. Ami”—I took a deep breath—“Ami must have been one of the first people shot. She fell next to us as soon as the shooting started.”
“What happened next? What did the man do?”
“He saved my life.”
“Yes, but physically, what was going on around you?”
“I don’t know. I closed my eyes. I heard pop, pop, pop, screaming, the scraping of metal chairs and tables on the pavement, crashing dishes.” I took a shaky breath.
“Would you know the shooter again if you saw him?”
“I believe so, yes, if that would help you.”
A nurse entered. “Almost done? We need the room.”
“Almost.” The lieutenant gave her a quick smile.
She gave a curt nod and left.
“You said Ami was facing the street. Did she notice the man as well?”
“No. She was trying on my straw hat and was asking me if it looked good on her.”
“Piper! Thank the Lord you’re not hurt!” My brother, Tern, pushed into the room, followed by my mother, Caroline.
Mother stopped as soon as she spotted me. “Oh, Piper! You’re covered in blood! How badly are you hurt?”
“Okay, folks.” Lieutenant Gragg put his arm out to stop Tern. “We’re almost done here. She’s going to be fine. I need you to wait outside—”
“Do you know who you’re talking to?” Tern’s face was white. “That’s my little sister.”
“Yes, Senator Boone.” Lieutenant Gragg gently took Tern’s arm and turned him toward the door. “We’re taking good care of her.”
“Not as good as her family. We’re here to take her home and get the best possible care for her.”
“You will be able to, but we need to arrange for a forensic artist to meet with her as soon as possible—”
“Please, everyone, I’m fine. I have a slight graze on my ankle. That’s all.” I gripped the table. It’s Ami who needs family right now. And those other poor people. I looked down and allowed my hair to partially cover my face until I could get some modicum of control over my expression.
“Could I call you about the artist?”
“Absolutely, Miss Boone.”
A strong arm wrapped around me and pulled me to my feet. I recognized the cherry-vanilla aroma of Tern’s pipe tobacco. “Come on, little sis,” he whispered. “Everything else can wait. You need to get home.”
“Tern!” my mother said. “She can’t go out in public looking like that.”
“She’ll have to.” Tern propelled me from the room, down the hall, through a set of doors, and into a chaotic nightmare.
The adventure continues in Relative Silence by Carrie Stuart Parks.
About the Author
Carrie Stuart Parks is a Christy, Carol, and Inspy award-winning author, an award-winning fine artist, and internationally known forensic artist. Along with her husband, Rick, she travels across the US and Canada teaching courses in forensic art to law enforcement as well as civilian participants. She has won numerous awards for career excellence. Carrie is a popular platform speaker, presenting a variety of topics from crime to creativity.
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