The Madness of Mercury
by Connie di Marco GENRE: Mystery
Astrologer Julia Bonatti never thought her chosen profession would bring danger into her life, but her outspoken advice in her newspaper column, AskZodia, makes her the target of San Francisco’s recently-arrived cult leader, Reverend Roy of the Prophet’s Tabernacle. The followers of the power hungry preacher will stop at nothing to quell the voices of those who would stand in his way and Julia’s at the top of his list. She’s willing to bet the charismatic Reverend is a Mercury-ruled individual, and she knows all too well that Mercury wasn’t just the messenger of the gods, he was a trickster and a liar as well.
The second floor hallway was dim, lined with dark wood wainscoting and lit only by a few wall sconces leading to the top of a curving staircase. A stained glass window filtered outside light onto the landing. It was only mid-afternoon, but the sky had grown dark, muting the brilliant reds and blues of the window. Heavy Pacific storms were closing in from the north and San Francisco would be buffeted by wind and rain through the holidays.
At the foot of the stairs, I called to Dorothy. She didn’t answer but a sweet and toasty aroma filled the foyer. I followed the short hallway toward the rear of the house and pushed through the swinging door to the kitchen. At the other end of the room, a wall of windows overlooked the back garden and beyond that, a view of the city and the bay to the north. Black clouds, roiling and heavy with rain, were visible beyond the Golden Gate and the Marin headlands. The storm would hit within a few hours.
Dorothy worked at the center island, kneading dough, a full length white apron tied over her loose slacks and long-sleeved red sweater. She looked up and smiled then spread her dough carefully over the board. An apple and cinnamon mixture was warming on the stove top and my stomach was reminding me I hadn’t eaten since breakfast. “What are you making?”
“Apple pastries, little turnovers. I make them every Christmas. My aunts love them. I thought it might cheer Evandra up especially . . .” The sound of a gasoline-powered mower drowned out the rest of Dorothy’s response.
Dorothy glanced toward the windows. “Damn. What’s he doing?”
“Yes. Luis.” Dorothy walked to the windows and peered out into the garden. “He probably wants to finish the lawn before the rain starts.”
A low stone wall formed the perimeter of the back garden, delineating an edge where the ground dropped off to a steep cliff marked with rocky outcroppings. I joined Dorothy at the window and followed her line of sight. The power mower was running, unattended, butting against the stone wall. A red bandanna hung from the vibrating handlebar of the machine.
Dorothy looked puzzled. “He shouldn’t leave that thing like that. Where did he get off to?” She tossed her dishtowel on the table, heaved a sigh and opened the back door to the garden.
“Luis . . . Luis,” she called.
I followed her out the door and joined her on the lawn. The wind was whipping fiercely across the hillside and the sky had grown even darker. In the distance, the sea churned black in the bay. Dorothy’s apron billowed like a sail in the wind. She strode purposefully across the grass to the mower, and hit the control, silencing the monster. She turned her head to speak to me and hesitated, then turned back and peered over the low wall. Something had caught her eye. She was still for a moment and then took two steps backward.
“What is it, Dorothy?”
Her face had drained of color. “It’s Luis. He’s down there.” Her voice quivered. “I think he’s dead.”
Connie di Marco is the author of the upcoming Zodiac Mystery series from Midnight Ink featuring San Francisco astrologer, Julia Bonatti. The Madness of Mercury, first in the series, will be released on June 8, 2016. Writing as Connie Archer, she’s also the national bestselling author of the Soup Lover’s Mystery series from Berkley Prime Crime. You can find her excerpts and recipes in both The Cozy Cookbook and The Mystery Writers of America Cookbook. She is a member of Mystery Writers of America, International Thriller Writers and Sisters in Crime. You can visit her at her website: www.conniedimarco.com, or Facebook.com/ConniediMarco (Author) and Twitter: @askzodia.
Buy links for The Madness of Mercury:
Barnes & Noble: bit.ly/1UapU0B
Indie Bound: bit.ly/1SBPKeq
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