Missing, Chapter One (A James Lalonde Mystery Novella)
Hello, Book Lovers!
I’ve been considering sharing the opening scenes of my thriller novels and novella for quite some time. And, I’ve finally overcome those nerves and pressed publish. So, here is an earlier draft of the first chapter of my mystery novella, Missing.
About the Mystery Novella, Missing
What does muder, theft, and a missing person have in common?
James Lalonde, the chief editor of The Northampton Tribune, returns home late one evening to discover that his long-time girlfriend and journalist, Valentine has unexpectedly left.
Somewhere across town, an intruder breaks into the house of the curator of the Northampton Museum of Anthropology and steals a valuable artefact.
The next morning, James fails to reallocate Valentine’s assigned story and is forced to edit a newspaper, please the board, and write a cultural piece on the latest acquisition of the Northampton Museum of Anthropology. He turns up at Valentine’s meeting with Elizabeth James, to discover a missing artefact and a dead body.
But, little does James know all these events are related.
Can James find the thief, artefact, and Valentine before it’s too late?
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This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, businesses, companies, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
May 3, 11:38 P.M.
Elizabeth staggered through the front door and let it swing shut behind her. A sharp pain shot through her head as the loud bang broke the silence in the apartment. Her long, thin fingers brushed against the smooth wall to her left, but nothing was there.
Wrong way, stupid.
She patted the wall, then she realised light would only make things worse. Not only would it add a new level of intensity to her headache, but the light would also highlight the thin layer of dust along the skirting boards, the empty dishes in the kitchen sink, and the clothes lying over the turquoise ottoman at the end of her bed. These were all things she had promised to take care of last weekend, and the clutter was visible the second she opened the front door.
Admitting defeat, she turned around and toggled the deadbolt latch. Her heels clacked against the wooden floorboards as she walked down the dark hall of her apartment, just as she had every evening for the last two years. The block-out curtains she had purchased a few days earlier were having the desired effect. If only they would help her sleep. As she inched up the hallway toward her bedroom, Elizabeth ran her fingers along the wall.
She paused, and the walls spun around her. She was drunker than she’d thought. Now she was lightheaded, disorientated, and in the dark. Her financial troubles and any plans of late-night research were on hold. She needed to sleep this off.
Earlier that evening, she’d had dinner with the curators of the British Museum. The evening was a complete disaster. These dinners were about networking and securing funds for the next phase of the archaeological dig at Tintagel, but all she had achieved was no funds, more research, and a headache.
Nine months had passed since she’d returned from Cornwall. Sifting through soil and finding fragments of a bygone world was her favourite part of the job. Not that she didn’t love research, but it was often challenging. Money always ran out during the research-and-analysis phase of a dig, meaning that she had to raise more funds. This fundraising took time away from research, creating a vicious cycle.
She was fortunate that the Northampton Museum of Anthropology had funded the initial stage of the dig, but the museum was niche and small, not a bottomless pit of cash. The museum had a small number of investors and received government funding on the side. With this allocation of funds came the requirement to justify how the recipient’s time and money were spent. That was the thing about investors. They all had the same goals: a high return, low risk, and quick results. It was up to her to find another way to raise funds and to continue the research. But she couldn’t do anything tonight.
Leaning against the wall for support, she inched closer to her open bedroom door, stumbled through the doorway, and threw herself onto her bed. As she gazed up at the white space above, her hair pins protruded into her scalp. The tall, thin curator shook off her red patent heels and pulled at her hair. A slight smile formed on her ruby lips as the sharp digging sensation subsided.
She thought about changing into something more comfortable, but any attempt to unzip her dress would only cause her to become dizzier. The room had stopped spinning, and she wasn’t prepared to upset that delicate equilibrium. Her straightened but normally curly black hair fell across her golden-brown skin as she continued to pull the pins out. As she fixed her dark-brown eyes straight ahead, her heavy eyelids closed.
Pressed up against the wall of the dining room, Pippa Baker hung back in the shadows, clutching a black bag and waiting for Elizabeth to go about her nighttime routine. As she heard movement coming from somewhere within the apartment, she turned her ear towards the wall between the dining room and the hallway in an attempt to decipher the location of the sound.
Elizabeth must be home.
Pippa was petite and had long brown hair. She had moved from Cambridge, Massachusetts, to Northampton to start a master’s degree programme and gain experience in archaeology, and she met Elizabeth on the first day of her internship.
After a few moments, Pippa walked across the hallway to Elizabeth’s home office. Elizabeth had a habit of taking her work home with her. This habit made Pippa’s next task all too easy. Pippa navigated around Elizabeth’s desk at the centre of the room and paused to admire the three framed paintings of the French chateaux at Pierrefonds, Comtal, and Chantilly.
Journals, textbooks, and several PhD theses—all marked with sticky notes—stood in tall piles across the archaeologist’s white-stained oak desk. A white bookcase spanned the right-hand side of the room, creating an L shape towards the door. Rows of books, all on just two topics—anthropology and archaeology—lined the shelves.
Enclosed in a long glass box on the bookshelf was a Celtic sword. Pippa walked to the bookshelf and placed her black bag on the floor. She lifted the lid of the glass box and pulled out the sword, careful not to cut herself on its broken blade. The long, thin handle glistened in the moonlight that shone from between the thick curtains as Pippa stared at the old Cornish inscription. She knelt down, picked up her black bag, and pulled out a long piece of white linen. After neatly wrapping the Celtic sword, she placed it inside the bag.
Pippa knew it was a bad career move to steal an artefact and sell it to a private buyer. And in the archaeological world, it earned the culprit a certain reputation. If caught, she would need to find a new profession. As a teenager, she had dreamed of becoming an archaeologist and excavating in the beautiful deserts of Egypt. But that was all just a fantasy. A childish fantasy. The reality of modern archaeology was so different from the image she’d created in her mind.
As she returned the glass case to the bookshelf, she heard furniture scraping against the wall. Pippa froze.
Shit, she must be awake.
Her eyes widened, and her heart raced as she listened to the movements, hoping Elizabeth wouldn’t come into her office. But it was useless to panic. There was only one logical thing to do.
Pippa tiptoed up the hall towards the main bedroom. She paused and looked over her shoulder. Tiny hairs at the back of her neck stood on end. No one was there. She wasn’t a superstitious person or easily spooked, but she could have sworn someone was watching her. She knew it. Perhaps the adrenaline rush of the break-in had heightened Pippa’s senses and caused her to become paranoid. Besides, it wasn’t a break-in if someone had the key, she’d reassured herself as she planned every detail of this operation.
Pippa refocused her attention towards the open bedroom door at the end of the hall.
What is she doing?
As she reached the bedroom, she saw the source of the loud snoring. It was coming from the next room, the living room. The light from the moon pierced through the tiny crack between the thick, heavy curtains highlighting Elizabeth, who was lying on the sofa with her mouth wide open. A pair of red heels lay scattered across the room. She was still in the same black dress she’d left the museum in over ten hours ago.
Pippa rolled her eyes and clutched the bag close to her chest. On the couch, Elizabeth was stirring. Pippa held her breath as she watched Elizabeth wheeze and gurgle then roll on her side. She needed to get out of there before Elizabeth woke up. She looked down at the sleeping archaeologist then stepped into the shadows, away from the light.
As she plotted her exit, Pippa once again felt that she wasn’t alone. It was as if she had an audience watching her every move. She froze. She turned around, half expecting to see someone standing in the doorway between the hall and the living room. No one was there.
That was the last thing she needed to do, to panic. With heightened senses and anxiety came mistakes. Right now, she had to focus. Pippa needed to get out of there before Elizabeth woke up.
Pippa gasped as she felt the coolness of a sharp blade thrust into her back. She looked to her left. In the reflection of the darkened television screen was the outline of a dark figure standing behind her. So, she wasn’t paranoid.
Pippa dropped the black bag and pressed her hand against her chest, struggling to breathe. As she fought for air, she felt a sharp pain as the knife was pulled out and her lungs filled with blood. The room spun, and the carpet of Elizabeth’s living room drew nearer by the second. What hurt most was the betrayal, and worst of all, she hadn’t seen it coming until it was too late.
I hope you loved these two opening scenes of my mystery novella, Missing. The first scene called ‘wine and dine’ and the second is titled, ‘a theft and a murder.’ Yes, the titles are a tad on the spoiler-y side, but they will not be featured in the official release copy of the book.
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Happy reading, everybody!
I’m Amelia. I write mystery and thriller novels under the pen name A. D. Hay and I’m the author of Missing the first book in the James Lalonde series. I’m the host of the Book Nerd Podcast and The Authorpreneur Podcast. Right now, I’m editing my soon to be published mystery novels, The Candidate, Duplicity, 24 Hours, and Immunity. When I’m not writing, hosting my podcasts or coaching aspiring authors, I love to travel around Europe with my Husband Roland, drink tea, and eat pizza.