Twisted Cedars Mysteries, Book 2
Release Date:

May 8, 2024



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CJ Carmichael

Five unsolved murders. A shocking new discovery. He’s back for the truth but Jane Doe holds a deeper secret.

Sheriff Wade Mackay needed a break. Little did he know, a day of fishing would land him right into the aftermath of a deadly accident.

The only survivor is a woman who doesn’t remember her name and has no identification. Wade’s instincts ignite when he notices the telltale marks of old bruises on Jane Doe. What hidden truths lie beneath the layers of her forgotten past?

For true crime writer Dougal Lachlan, Twisted Cedars holds secrets that refuse to stay buried. The librarian murders, unsolved for decades, drew him back to town, but intuition tells him there’s more to Jane Doe than anyone suspects.

Teaming up with local librarian Charlotte Hammond, they uncover a chilling link between the past murders and the mysterious Jane Doe. Will their discovery of past and present colliding be enough to convince the sheriff that a serial killer has resurfaced in Twisted Cedars?

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chapter one

july 2010

day of the accident

It was almost noon, and Sheriff Wade MacKay was on his way home from fishing on the Rogue River in Oregon when he found the crashed truck, the body, the unconscious woman.

It wasn’t often Wade spent his Friday mornings off duty, but a mental-health day was in order after a solid week spent investigating the suspicious death and illegal burial of Daisy Quinpool, neé Hammond. Daisy was a friend from his high school days. Seven years ago, when she left her twin children and ex-husband behind, everyone assumed her well-documented mental illness—which began after the birth of her children—was at fault. Regular withdrawals from her bank account had fed the assumption she’d moved to Sacramento, where she was living under the radar.

Not until Daisy’s remains were discovered by local true-crime author—and yet another former high school buddy—Dougal Lachlan had anyone suspected foul play. Making the situation even more terrible, a third high school buddy of Wade’s, Daisy’s ex-husband Kyle Quinpool, was the prime suspect for the crime.

Law enforcement in Curry County had to deal with their share of domestic violence. But homicides—especially murder—were fortunately very rare. Wade hoped not to see another one for a long time.

In the back of his SUV, Wade had an ice chest packed with the three summer steelhead trout he’d caught. They would make excellent eating, but he wasn’t looking forward to getting home—or to the weekend ahead in which he’d focus on the investigation of Daisy’s death, probably leading eventually to Kyle’s arrest.

The evidence, so far, was pretty compelling.

And Wade himself had exchanged heated words with his old friend, during which Kyle had all but admitted his guilt.

Wade felt sickest about Kyle and Daisy’s two kids. Nine-year-old Chester and Cory were away at summer camp right now. Thanks to Wolf Creek Camp they’d missed most of the drama so far, thank God. They’d been dealing with their mother’s absence for seven years already. Now they would likely lose their father to the Oregon State Penn.

Not exactly your classic happy childhood.

Which Wade considered himself lucky to have had.

Back in the days when Wade had been young and summers seemed so blissfully long, he’d fished this same spot with his father. Even then, he’d known he wanted a simple life, like his parents. He loved this corner of the Pacific Northwest, where there were more trees than people, roads that might not see a driver for days on end. He’d dreamed of being the sheriff of Curry County, with a home, a wife and kids, and one day a week to spend in the wilderness that was the essence of this place.

At age thirty-three he’d landed the job. Now, a year older, he still didn’t have the wife and family. Frankly, his love life was a mess. On a day like today, though, being unencumbered didn’t seem so bad.

His fishing spot was off Bear Camp Road, a narrow and crooked traverse over the Klamath Mountains that linked the small Oregon towns of Agness and Galice, carrying on to Twisted Cedars, Wade’s home. He patrolled here regularly, knew every curve, viewpoint, and pothole. Normally he would have made it home in under an hour.

If it hadn’t been for the accident.

He was listening to Chopin’s “Nocturne in E-Flat Major” when he spotted the overturned four-axle. He slowed and pulled over. Gripping the steering wheel, he took a deep breath, transforming from man enjoying a morning off work to first responder at the site of a traffic accident.

The music continued, impervious to the tragedy in front of him.

But Wade couldn’t hear it now. He was studying the scene, looking for signs of survivors. But all was eerily still.

Wade jerked his SUV to the far edge of the road, leaving room for the paramedics when they arrived. It was obvious they’d need paramedics. The truck, which had crashed through a guardrail, lay like a beached whale, fifty feet down the embankment, backstopped by a grove of old-growth cedar. Wade could hear his heart thumping in his chest as he put on his flashers and called in the accident. Then he stepped out into the hot, heavy July air and tried to find a route down the embankment.

“Hello! Anyone in there?” He picked his way around dogwood and vine maples, sometime grabbing onto the shrubs to keep from sliding down the steep decline.

No voices responded to his call. All he could hear was the buzzing of insects.

Stamped over the scent of pine and dirt and living things was the acrid odor of burnt rubber. Dragonflies looped around him as he continued to scramble and claw his way toward the wreck.

“Can anyone hear me?” he called out again.

No answer.

He touched a hand to the truck, which had flipped over and lay on its passenger side. The engine was no longer running, but the hood was still warm.

“Sheriff Wade MacKay here. You okay?” Climbing up onto the trunk of a dead white pine that had backstopped the truck’s decent, he was able to peer inside the driver’s-side window. A big balding man, in his late fifties, was slumped over his seat belt.

Blood trickled out of his mouth, and Wade’s gut tightened. Using both hands, he pulled at the door, working against gravity to wrest it open until finally he could get his shoulder under it and gain access to the victim.

He checked for breathing and a pulse but found neither.

Wade had seen a lot of accidental death in his fifteen-year career. He knew how to deal. You didn’t look too long. Or think too much.

Averting his gaze from the death scene, he let the door fall shut, the sound crashing through the forest stillness.

Then he circled the wreckage to see inside the other side of the cab. Most truckers traveled alone. Even hitchhikers were rare these days.

But this guy had company—a woman with long hair, reddish blonde and stained with fresh blood. She was strapped into the passenger seat, her body limp.

Thanks to the width of the load, there was space between the passenger door and the ground, about two and a half feet. Wade lowered his body to the carpet of wild grasses and wiggled into a position where he could get a better look. Her weight was partly resting on the door, so he couldn’t open it. But the glass in the window had pebbled and he was able to reach in, check her neck for a pulse.

She was alive but still losing blood from her head wound.

He ran back to his truck for a blanket and first aid kit. He didn’t dare move her, but he could make sure she was warm and stanch the bleeding until help arrived.

When he brushed aside her hair to locate the wound he saw she was pretty and a lot younger than the driver, maybe in her late twenties or early thirties. A diamond glinted on her ear lobe. It seemed to be the only jewelry she was wearing. Her hair smelled pretty, as if she’d recently washed it.

Her jeans and T-shirt looked wrinkled, as if she’d been wearing them a while. But even he could tell they were expensive brands.

What would a woman like this be doing with a burly, middle-aged truck driver? Could she be his daughter?

He called dispatch again, warned them what to expect, all the while keeping a gentle pressure on the wound. Eventually the bleeding stopped. He applied a rudimentary bandage, then turned his attention to the miscellaneous items that had fallen to the passenger side of the cab. Anything that hadn’t been secured had ended up here, including a black leather wallet.

Inside was ID for the driver: Chet Walker, age fifty-two, height five feet, ten inches, weight 210, hometown Klamath Falls. Emergency contact was listed as his wife.

Poor woman would soon be getting a phone call that would change her life.

Methodically Wade examined the rest of the contents. The driver’s cell phone was here, but no purse or cell phone belonging to the female passenger.

The other items in the truck seemed of no significance. Mentally, Wade inventoried them, pausing occasionally to check the woman and say a few words of reassurance.

An empty disposable coffee cup, a wrapper from a McDonald’s burger, a square of pale yellow flannel, a Mariner’s baseball cap, foil-wrapped caramels, and a package of peppermint gum.

A breeze came up from the west, and a piece of paper wafted up from the cab, floating toward the smashed window. Wade snatched it from the air. It looked like a page ripped out of a book.

Upon closer examination Wade realized it was the author bio page from a novel. And the photo staring up at him was of someone he recognized—his old school buddy, now successful true-crime writer Dougal Lachlan. In a phrase that stated originally from Twisted Cedars, Oregon, two words had been underlined: Twisted Cedars.

What the hell?

Wade had an evidence bag in his pocket. He put the page inside, then turned his thoughts to the woman’s missing ID. Maybe she had something in the pocket of her jeans, but he wouldn’t be able to get at it until the paramedics arrived.

Wade placed a gentle hand on the injured woman’s arm. “Help is coming. You hang tight.” Still she gave no response.

Wade mulled over the accident scene. There were no dead animals, the usual cause of single-vehicle accidents in the summer when the roads were good.

Maybe Chet had suffered a heart attack or stroke.

Noticing a trail of blood from the woman’s forehead to her left eye, Wade used the clean flannel cloth to wipe it away. He wished he could do more. She was awfully pale, terribly still.

“They’ll be here soon.”

She remained unresponsive. He took note of her left hand and the pale line of skin where a wedding band might have been. Her nails were painted turquoise.

Wade glanced up at the sky and guessed it was an hour past noon. So much for his peaceful break from mayhem. Then again, he shouldn’t complain. At least he hadn’t been in the oncoming lane when this truck went off the road.

“Who are you, lady?” He spoke again, hoping his voice would reassure her, even though she wasn’t conscious. “Seems like you were in the wrong place at the wrong time today.”

In the distance, he finally heard the sound he’d been waiting for. But even the sirens didn’t wake her up.

chapter two

In the summer, the favorite after-hours hangout for the locals of Twisted Cedars was the Linger Longer, mostly because the tourists preferred Wally’s Wharf. Wally’s had a quaint nautical decor, trendy tapas menu, and a pretty rooftop patio overlooking the ocean.

In contrast, the Linger Longer was a no-frills establishment selling beer, pizza, burgers, and chicken wings. A small dance floor near the front didn’t see much action until after ten, while the pool tables in the back were almost always busy.

This Saturday night, Charlotte Hammond, the town’s librarian, leaned on the well-worn pine bar while she ordered two draft ales.

“Sorry about your sister, love,” Sean Fitzgerald said while he filled two tall glasses for her.

Dark-haired charming Sean had been the guy all the girls had a crush on back when Charlotte was in high school. She’d collaborated on a science project with Sean once. She’d done all the legwork, of course. He’d handled the presentation. Even at sixteen he had the confident air of one who’d figured out life and knew how to get what he wanted.

At twenty-eight, Charlotte still couldn’t say the same for herself.

“Thanks, Sean. Is Mia here tonight?” Sean’s wife worked almost as many hours as he did.

“No, she isn’t working weekends anymore. Not until we find a new babysitter. We caught the last one making out with her boyfriend on our living room sofa.” Sean shook his head, disapprovingly. “Now Mia only works during the hours when her mom is free to babysit.”

It didn’t seem that long ago that Sean would have been the boy sneaking in to make-out with a babysitter. How had the years gone by so quickly?

Charlotte smiled vaguely, then headed back to her table.

She was expecting Wade any minute. He’d dropped by her house last night to make sure she was okay and to set up the meeting. His consideration was typical of him—and not at all surprising given that not long ago, she and Wade had been a couple. They’d dated for about six months before he’d foolish proposed to her on the night of Kyle Quinpool and Jamie Lachlan’s wedding.

The wedding had been in May, little more than six weeks ago. And since then, the shit had certainly hit the fan. Poor Jamie must’ve been wishing she’d taken her brother Dougal’s advice and called the whole thing off. Charlotte couldn’t blame her for her lack of perception, though. Even she, Daisy’s younger sister, had been fooled by Kyle. Maybe it was his golden-boy good looks or his charming smile, but she’d never once suspected him of harming her sister.

Let alone killing her—and burying her body behind the family cottage.

But it sure looked like that was what had happened.

Charlotte took a long drink of her beer, thinking she should have ordered something stronger. She suspected Wade had arranged this meeting so he could bring her up to date with the investigation into Daisy’s death. But she wasn’t sure she was ready to hear the details.

So far, all she knew were the bare facts. Dougal Lachlan, true-crime writer—and very recently, and surprisingly, Charlotte’s lover—had been digging up the old garden behind the Librarian Cottage five miles out of town on the old forestry road—which he was currently renting—when he’d come across Daisy’s remains, wrapped in a large green tarp.

That had been a week ago.

Since then, Charlotte had been living in a state of shock. She’d barely registered Dougal’s decision to make his move to Twisted Cedars a permanent one. Last Friday he’d flown back to New York City to pack up his belongings and his cat. She hadn’t heard from him since, though it was possible he’d left her a message on her phone.

Charlotte had stopped answering calls on both her home and cell phone. She’d also taken the week off work. So many people—with the kindest of intentions, no doubt—wanted to talk to her about Daisy.

The problem was Charlotte didn’t know much more than anyone else. She had nothing to say.

But she had plenty of questions.

“Charlotte. Sorry I kept you waiting.” Wade leaned over to kiss her cheek before taking the empty seat at their table.

“You aren’t late. I was early.” It wasn’t surprising she’d hadn’t noticed him come in. While it was only eight o’clock, already the pub was hot and noisy. Plus she’d chosen a table tucked into the corner, hoping it would be easier for them to talk.

They could have met somewhere else, of course. But she was grateful he’d chosen the Linger Longer. It might’ve been chaotic and a little uncomfortable, but it was familiar. She felt safe.

Charlotte pushed the extra beer in front of him and was surprised when Wade downed half of it in a few seconds. “Tough day?”

Up close his face was worn down, almost haggard with fatigue. There was a streak of something on his arm that looked like blood.

“What happened?”

Wade’s normally bright and observant light brown eyes were dull. He sighed and shook his head. “There was an accident.”

Charlotte’s stomach muscles clenched as his words triggered a memory. Going to answer a knock at the front door in the darkest hour of the night. Seeing the sheriff, who’d been Wade’s father at the time.

She’d known what was coming, even as he placed a hand on her arm and gently suggested they go inside and sit down.

There was an accident.

Her parents had been killed in a car crash on their way home from the country club.

Charlotte tightened her grip on her glass and took a deep breath. Across the table, Wade was contemplating his half-empty glass.

“Anyone we know?”

“No,” Wade was quick to reassure her. “Sorry—I should have made that clear from the start.”

He was a good man. She was glad there was no residual awkwardness between them. Or at least very little. The reason for that was the same reason she’d refused his proposal.

She wasn’t the woman Wade really wanted. His proposal on Jamie Lachlan’s wedding day made that quite clear. But while she’d refused him because she knew she was his second choice, her new affair with Dougal made her realize it had been the right decision for her as well.

“It was a commercial truck, a single-vehicle accident,” Wade said. “I was driving back from a fishing trip around noon on Bear Camp Road and came upon the scene not long after it happened. The driver crashed down the embankment and overturned his truck.”

“It’s a bad road.” Several infamous tragedies had occurred on Bear Camp Road, one horrifically involving a family on vacation that had been trying to get to the interstate via what seemed, according to their GPS, to be a shorter route. An early winter snowstorm had stranded them on a side road, and the father perished when he struck out on foot looking for help.

“The driver was dead,” Wade continued, “and he had a passenger—a woman. She was unconscious when I found her and still hadn’t come to when the ambulance drove off with her.”

“The driver’s wife?”

“No. Looked about your age, which makes her young enough to be the driver’s daughter. But she wasn’t that, either. We’ve spoken to the driver’s wife—she lives in Klamath Falls—and they have no children.”

“So, who was she?”

“No idea. She wasn’t carrying ID.”

“Not even a purse? Or a phone?” Charlotte couldn’t fathom walking to the corner market without hers.

“Nope.” Wade was clearly troubled by this.

“Did the driver’s wife have any ideas?”

“We asked, of course. Had her husband made plans to give someone a lift? Was he in the habit of picking up hitchhikers? She said no to both questions. As far as she knew her husband was traveling his route alone, like usual.”

Charlotte could tell from Wade’s expression that he hoped for the wife’s sake there hadn’t been anything sordid about the woman’s presence in the truck.

“Besides,” he continued, “the woman didn’t look like someone who would be hitching a ride. She had diamond studs in her ears. Nails done up nice. Clean clothes—maybe a little wrinkled is all.”

Charlotte fingered the studs in her own ears, a present she’d been given by her parents when she graduated college. “Is she going to be okay?”

“Too soon to tell. She’s at the medical clinic in Brookings. Last I checked, she was still unconscious.” Wade took another swallow of his beer.

His hand was shaking.

This wasn’t like Wade. But then, like her, he’d been through a lot the past week.

“We’re checking missing person reports in both Oregon and California, too. No matches so far. Hopefully she’ll regain consciousness soon and give us the answers we need.” He hesitated. “If she makes it, that is.”

“Well. I hope she’s okay.”

“Yeah.” Wade’s voice trailed off, then he sighed. “But this isn’t what I wanted to talk to you about.”

Charlotte’s shoulder muscles tightened. She leveled her gaze down at the table. “How did my sister die? Did she suffer?”

“I don’t think so. Her head injury was sufficient to knock her out. Whether it was the cause of death we don’t know conclusively. I’m expecting more from the medical examiner next week. The final autopsy will be about four weeks after that.” Wade put a hand on her shoulder. “I’m so sorry, Charlotte. I can imagine what a shock this has been for you.”

“It’s surreal. A part of me feels like I always knew Daisy was dead, and it’s good to finally have closure. But another part of me isn’t ready to let go of the hope that I might see her again.” Charlotte rubbed her finger in a circle on the table, tracing the condensation from her glass. “I always figured she’d come back to Twisted Cedars to see her children, if not me.”

“At least you know she never made the choice to leave. Is that any comfort?”

“In a way. But it’s pretty cold comfort when you consider I’ll never see her again. We weren’t close as kids. Now we’ll never have a chance to be close as adults.”

Wade said nothing to that. What could he say? Wade wasn’t the sort of man to talk when there wasn’t any point. Charlotte had always appreciated that about him.

She appreciated many other things about Wade, too. He was loyal, honorable, and kind. The sort of man she knew her parents would have been happy for her to settle down with. She wondered if one day she’d regret turning down his proposal.

“It had to be Kyle who did this, right?”

“He’s a strong suspect. First, he was the last person to see Daisy before she supposedly left town. He’s also the only one we know who had a grievance against her. We know from her lawyer that she’d been fighting him for partial custody of their kids.”

“Could it have been a stranger, Wade? Someone just passing through town, maybe?”

“Hard to understand how a stranger would have been able to bury her body at a cottage only a local from Twisted Cedars would know how to find. Plus, why would Kyle have used her bank card to make it seem she was living in Sacramento if he didn’t have something to hide?”

“That’s the most damning thing of all, isn’t it?” Years ago her father had set up a joint account for his daughters, a fund they could dip into if they ever got into a jam.

Ever since Daisy disappeared, monthly withdrawals had been made from random ATMs in Sacramento. While he was alive, their father had kept transferring funds to the account. After his death, Charlotte had continued to do so as well.

Perhaps they’d been foolish to see the withdrawals as proof Daisy was alive.

Maybe if they’d been more assertive with the bank, tried more investigators than the two they’d hired—one when Daisy disappeared, another after their parents’ deaths—Kyle’s ruse would have been discovered earlier.

“I just wish it could be someone other than Kyle. Not that I’m a fan of the guy. But I hate the idea of my niece and nephew losing both parents. And from all accounts—including Jamie—Kyle is a good father.”

“I hear you. We’ll have more to go on in a week or two. We’ve sent some evidence to the lab for testing—hair and fibers found on the tarp that was wrapped around her body. Also blood traces we found on a corner wall in Kyle’s kitchen, under a couple layers of paint.”

Charlotte frowned. “Blood traces in the kitchen?”

“Evidence suggests she was moved after she died.”

“Supposing Kyle wanted to kill her, why would he do it in his kitchen?”

“We can’t assume he intended to commit murder. Perhaps they’d been arguing—they did that a lot, by all accounts. Maybe the fight got physical. A hard shove against the sharp corner of the wall could have been all it took.”

Charlotte could feel tears coming, and she swallowed hard. “It’s some comfort to think Daisy’s death might have been an accident. But if it was why wouldn’t Kyle call 911? Why did he bury her out in the forest—leaving his children, and all the rest of us, to worry and wonder what had happened to her?”

“It’s unconscionable,” Wade agreed. He finished his beer, then nodded at her almost empty glass. “Want another?”

“I better go home.” Her head had started to ache. Plus she had a feeling Dougal might be returning from his trip today. He’d said he was only going away for a week, and it had already been eight days.

She hated to admit how much she longed to see him.

Because counting on Dougal was never a smart move.

End of Excerpt

Forgotten is available in the following formats:

ISBN: 978-0-9878613-4-4

May 8, 2024


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