Coming Up Murder
Published by: Epicenter Press
Release Date: November 12, 2019
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Everything’s coming up roses for Professor Emmeline Prather. Her first scholarly book is finished, spring term is coming to a close, and her love life is blossoming. Then the festival surrounding the exhibit of Shakespeare’s First Folio opens, bringing with it a tempest more dramatic than the bard’s.
In his panel presentation, actor and grad student Tanner Sparks contends Shakespeare isn’t Shakespeare, boasting that he can prove the long-debated theory that an aristocrat actually penned the sonnets and plays. His bombshell sets off an acrid debate among scholars. But were they upset enough to kill him? That’s what Em wonders when Tanner is found dead in Shakespeare’s Garden, his macabre pose inspired by a scene from Hamlet.
At her department head’s urging, Em sets out to find the killer. Suspects abound, and Em finds herself targeted by Shakespeare-themed threats. Undaunted, she persists, determined to solve the case before the end of the semester.
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Lenny glanced up from his paper. I’d been spotted. I smiled, and he smiled back, his cute dimple appearing as he folded his paper in half. A good-sized man, six feet with broad shoulders, Lenny looked uncomfortable in the small desk. He grabbed his navy barn jacket—the color matched his eyes—from the back of his chair and gave Claudia a salute as he left the room. Then he dropped his sonnet in the submission box.
“Are you checking up on me?” he said, brushing my cheek with his lips.
Though we’d been dating since Christmas, the kiss sent a shiver up my spine. “Yes.”
“I like it,” said Lenny.
I chuckled. “How did the sonnet go?”
“Fantastic.” He led the way to the stairs.
“What?” he said. “You don’t trust my rhyming ability?”
I remained silent.
“You’ll see,” said Lenny. “You’re helping Claudia judge the entries, right?”
“Right,” I said. “The contest closes at ten tonight. We’re judging them tomorrow.” Though I was no poet either, I helped edit Copper Bluff Review, the small journal published on campus, and Claudia wanted me to go through the entries with her. It was a job that should have been given to Allen Dunsbar, but I was certain Claudia hadn’t asked him. She’d performed one miracle by getting him to show up at the event. There was no way she could make it two.
Lenny paused on the landing. “If the contest goes all day, I don’t know why she had a write-in in the first place.”
“She’s trying to build a sense of community,” I said. “Great things happen when people with pencils line up in desks. You should know that. You’re a teacher.”
He kept walking. “Writing’s more of a solitary activity, if you ask me.”
“I don’t think anyone is asking you,” I said with my sweetest smile.
“That’s going to cost you,” said Lenny. He put his arm around me. “You’re paying for coffee.”
Coffee with Lenny sounded lovely, but I had class. I reminded him.
“Ah yes, your murder club,” said Lenny. “How could I forget?”
“It’s not a club, it’s a class,” I said. “And we study romances, too.” This was my second time teaching Crimes and Passion: Women Writers of the 21st Century, and Jim Giles, our department chair, said it could become a permanent offering if enrollment kept pace. So far it looked good.
“A rain check for tonight then,” said Lenny. “Should we get takeout?” His dark eyebrows rose slightly. I loved how they contrasted with his blond, spiky hair.
Dinner together on a plain old Wednesday. How great was that? “Perfect. I’ll call you later.”
“If you don’t, I know where you live,” joked Lenny.
I waved goodbye and started for class. He was referring to my bad habits, including forgetting my phone, not charging my phone, and ignoring my phone. Witnessing the next generation’s obsession with technology renewed my faith in the good old landline. I was probably the only person under thirty who had one.
Halfway to Harriman Hall, the building that housed my class and the English Department, I felt my pocket vibrate and reached for my cell. Lenny must be teasing me. But I stopped dead on the path when I saw the caller ID. Los Angeles, California! Surrounded by two stately maple trees, several old buildings, and acres of farmland, I couldn’t think of any place more exotic. I accepted the call.
“Is this Emmeline Prather?” asked a woman on the other end of the line.
“Emmeline, like Caroline, but yes,” I said. “This is she.”
“My name is Maria Sanchez. I’m the associate publisher at Dewberry Press.”
It was one of the small presses that had requested my complete manuscript a month ago. “Hi.” I rolled my eyes. I sounded like an idiot.
“Uh, hello,” she said. “We’re interested in your manuscript, Words of Their Own. Is it still available?”
Was it still available? Incredibly. “Yes, it is.”
“As you know, we primarily publish fiction and poetry, but occasionally a book of nonfiction captures our interest,” said Maria. “We’d like to add more titles like yours to our list. Could I email you a contract to look over?”
Someone’s backpack bumped me, hitting my arm, hard. I gripped my phone like the precious thing it was now— my connection to Los Angeles, California, and sparkling opportunities two thousand miles away. “Yes, of course. I’d be happy to consider it.”
Consider it? Who was I kidding? Maria Sanchez at Dewberry Press was a smart, kind, and patient woman. I could tell that from the thirty seconds we’d spent on the phone. Unless she required one of my organs along with the signature, I’d be signing the contract.
“Wonderful,” said Maria. “I look forward to your response.”
I remembered to thank her before ending the call. For a moment, I stood gazing at Harriman Hall like a lover. Dear Harriman Hall. Even the asbestos didn’t dim its shine. Nothing could. Boyfriend, career, spring? Check, check, and check. Life was good.