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VAULT OF SECRETS
By Hawk McKinney
Vault of Secrets is a compelling tale of intrigue, murder, deception and redemption that leads retired Navy SEAL/part-time private investigator Craige Ingram in search of the connection between seemingly random murders and a banking conspiracy. Working with the local homicide investigator, who just happens to be a former Navy buddy, Craige Ingram's attempts to protect a lonely widow and solve the case before another person dies are only thwarted by a psychotic killer whose motivation is based on pure pleasure. The instincts and skills Ingram and his buddy acquired as Navy SEALS are tested to their limits.
Before the forensic team videoed the kill zone, they took painstaking wide-angle photos and close-ups, made a detailed sweep of the area, packaged possible physical evidence and tagged the zip-locks. The heavy, thick plastic body bag was zipped shut. The woman’s remains were then hoisted into the van with County Morgue stenciled on the side—slaughtered meat on a gurney. It was ready for storage and probably a pauper’s grave.
In one desolate corner of the garage, beyond the yellow marked area and oil splotched parking slots, the two bag ladies tried to be inconspicuous, waiting where they’d been told to stay. Her drab gray-blond hair twisted into a bun, Sallie Mae Drutherferde darted distrustful glances at the clusters of police. She squinted a sky blue eye, didn’t like cops one iota, and gave a dubious, all-knowing look at Agatha Ruth. Together, the two were often pushing their rickety grocery cart with its one lopsided wheel.
Sallie Mae asked, “A’gatha, you not gonna tell ‘em anything?” Her eyes were cocked big and round. Sallie Mae always called her A’gatha ‘cause that’s the way Agatha Ruth Hutchers said it. Didn’t matter what others said. A’gatha nervously adjusted her dumpster-discard, hairbare, blond wig twisted askance, which made her look like she was staring sidewise.
A’gatha shook her head, “Ain’t sayin’ nuthin’ ‘bout nuthin’—‘bout no big, show-off, black see-dan automobile that pulled in here last night. Right off the bat, they’d be askin’ why we was where we didn’t supposed to be. We end up havin’ to find us another place to skitter in out of the weather. No sirree. Ain’t sayin’ nuthin’.”
“Gonna have to find us another place anyhow,” Sallie Mae muttered as she crooked one finger to scratch her curls. “‘Sides, I didn’t hear no scuffle.”
“Whole lot of ‘em drunk as hoot owls,” A’gatha said. “Was all set to have a wing-ding party long ‘fore they showed up here. Poor thing yonder in that amb’lance wadn’t no innocent church mouse. She was more’n willin’.” She then added with a snap of her head, “Lordy mercy. Tsk-tsk. More’n willin’ and a cagey type, too. The type who makes sure to be paid ‘fore puttin’ a foot in anyone’s big, long car. Scandalous tight dress showin’ off her wares, and a skimpy blouse didn’t hide nothin’—poochin’ out her chest for any fancy man long as they brung money. Even if she was a harlot, ain’t no bizness a ours.” Her face softened. “Ain’t tellin’ nobody nuthin’. You know how cops be.”
“The likes a her endin’ up dead in some alley ain’t no surprise t’me one bit,” Sallie Mae said.
“Sallie Mae!” A’gatha eyed her. “You hush up ‘bout us seein’ them in that alley. Bankers that works in this building won’t bat nary an eyelash payin’ some low life to dump us off the Fifth Street pier. We end up gator bait stuffed amongst swamp sycamore tree roots.” Truth glimmered from her eyes like a cornered rabbit. “Them kind got money to buy their scutwork done.”
The police finally got around to them. “What were you two doing in here that hour of the night?” the beat cop asked.
“Passin’ through,” Sallie Mae said, her head up proud.
“Passing through …” the cop snorted. “Up here on the upper deck?”
A’gatha scowled, “We got lost.” Her lips were tight as she glowered, “We ain’t done nuthin’ wrong.”
“This is private property,” he said. “Nobody’s supposed to be in here unless you got business with the bank, and nobody’s supposed to be in here at night.”
“We didn’t bother nuthin’, didn’t see nothin’.” Sallie Mae wasn’t about to let no cop push A’gatha around.
He knew he was getting nowhere. He turned to the lieutenant, “We’ve dealt with these two before. The only arrests they have is when some owner found them sleeping in his garage or in the back of an unlocked delivery van.” He knew they were tough, weren’t about to crack, but finding them here meant an extra patrol for him and his partner. There was no point in pushing further, so he closed his notepad and shoved it in his pocket. “You two can’t loiter here,” he said. “The bank don’t like it.”
A’gatha bristled, “Ain’t loiterin’.” She wasn’t going to put up with being called a bum neither.
“Don’t let me catch you two in here again,” he said and walked away.
“Let’s git.” They scurried away. A’gatha knew they didn’t amount to anything to any of these cops. They were nothing more than dust in a world that passed them without ever seeing them. “Might be a good time to take us a Florida vacation,” A’gatha said. “Ain’t never comin’ back near this here place.” She could feel the spirits hovering about. “Not ever.”
“Cops don’t scare me none,” Sallie Mae said.
“Tain’t the cops,” Agatha said, eyeballin’ the shady darkness ‘round abouts them. “They be a evil smell to this place. A hoary breath of death abouts. I can tetch it. You best listen t’me. Be like about that other time when I said things wadn’t safe,” she said, directing a sidewise glance at Sallie Mae and sensing the murky gloom behind the midday brightness. “I’m rollin’ the bones this night. Death be here.” Her eyes were big with fear. “Ain’t stayin’ where demons walk the night mist.”
With postgraduate degrees and faculty appointments in several medical universities, Hawk MacKinney has taught graduate courses in both the United States and Jerusalem. In addition to professional articles and texts on chordate neuroembryology, Hawk has authored several works of fiction.
Hawk began writing mysteries for his school newspaper. His works of fiction, historical love stories, science fiction and mystery-thrillers are not genre-centered, but plot-character driven, and reflect his southwest upbringing in Arkansas, Texas and Oklahoma. Moccasin Trace, a historical novel nominated for the prestigious Michael Shaara Award for Excellence in Civil War Fiction and the Writers Notes Book Award, details the family bloodlines of his serial protagonist in the Craige Ingram Mystery Series… murder and mayhem with a touch of romance. Vault of Secrets, the first book in the Ingram series, was followed by Nymrod Resurrection, Blood and Gold, and The Lady of Corpsewood Manor. All have received national attention. Hawk’s latest release in the Ingram series is due out this fall with another mystery-thriller work out in 2014. The Bleikovat Event, the first volume in The Cairns of Sainctuarie science fiction series, was released in 2012.
"Without question, Hawk is one of the most gifted and imaginative writers I have had the pleasure to represent. His reading fans have something special to look forward to in the Craige Ingram Mystery Series. Intrigue, murder, deception and conspiracy--these are the things that take Hawk's main character, Navy ex-SEAL/part-time private investigator Craige Ingram, from his South Carolina ancestral home of Moccasin Hollow to the dirty backrooms of the nation's capital and across Europe and the Middle East."
Barbara Casey, President
Barbara Casey Literary Agency