My friend Nike Chillemi has just released her latest book in her Sanctuary Point Series. I chatted with her the other day and wanted to share that conversation with you.
Carole: You have three books in this series now. Who’s your favorite character?
Nike: When I’m writing a novel I love its main characters. If I don’t love them, how can I expect readers to love them and root for them? But I have to say, in Perilous Shadows, Kiera Devane is something else. She’s outside the box for her time … way outside. She’s beyond feisty—she’s tough. She’s also stylish, pretty, and smart. That’s some combination. I’m very invested in this character.
Carole: What kind of research did you do for this book/these books?
Nike: I’ve done an incredible amount of 1940s research. For the series, I had to research everything from the hairstyles and clothing of that era, to the automobiles, to major appliances, what the old chrome diners looked like inside and out. Also the menus in restaurants were quite different, and recipes in cookbooks as well. They smoked quite a bit and women usually used a fancy cigarette holder. For this series, I had to research the operation of a 1940s radio station.
Carole: Tell us about Kiera and Argus.
Nike: Kiera is likeable in spite of herself. She may appear to have been a spoiled little rich kid, but that’s far from the truth. Her parents died when she was young and she was taken in by a wealthy aunt who did so only for appearance’s sake. Argus came to the United States from Scotland after his granny, who cared for him, died of influenza. He enrolled in college, majoring in journalism, and the news bug got him. He made news broadcasting on radio his life … until he met Kiera, that is.
Carole: Which of your characters is most like you? Why?
Nike: I think all of my female main characters are a chip off my olde-block, so to speak. Kiera has a lot of traits that I possess. She’s headstrong and so am I. She goes where only the fearless or the stupid dare to tread. I’ve done a few stupid things in my lifetime.
Carole: How did you create Sanctuary Point?
Nike: My theory of writing is you write what you know. I have spent a great deal of time on Long Island and I’m very fond of its south shore. When we were first married, my husband and I saved up and took our first “real” vacation in Montauk. Since then we’ve been back several times. We’ve also vacationed in Westhampton, and other South Shore locales. We often drive for the day just to go to the beach in Long Beach. So it was natural for me to create Sanctuary Point off Long Beach Road, south of Oceanside and north of Long Beach.
Carole: How do you come up with your story lines?
Nike: I have a vivid imagination and stories come to me. If I find myself stuck or struggling at some point, I have a trick I use. I make a list of five to ten things the main characters would never do, or situations they’d never be in. Then I put them in one of those situations. That always gets the story flowing again and often makes it much more interesting.
Carole: Do you purposely weave faith into your books? How?
Nike: Yes, I do. The series is set in the 1940s and at that time most Americans were practicing Christians. I try to show, without being preachy, what it was like to live in a national environment that was largely Christian. It was a time that found itself hurtling into the modern era, so some people were losing their faith. But generally, it’s quite natural to have characters from that era express their faith.
Carole: Is there a message in Perilous Shadows?
Nike: The overriding message of the entire series is that love will always triumph … that evil cannot overcome and defeat love. That is especially true of the love which the Holy Spirit had placed in our hearts. In Perilous Shadows, Kiera is distrustful of people in general, but especially of men. She has good reason. But Argus overcomes her skittishness by showing her this type of unconditional love.
Nike has been very generous has shared the first chapter of Perilous Shadows with us!
About Perilous Shadows: (historical romantic thriller, 1947)
Pioneer newspaperwoman Kiera Devane is on a mission to prove a woman can do a man’s job, as she hunts a young coed’s killer. She was doted upon by loving parents, but they were killed when she was a girl and she was shipped off to live with a socialite aunt who had little time for her. In her aunt’s house, she learned life could be cold and cruel. As a result, she grew up to be an independent and demanding professional woman.
Ace radio broadcaster Argus Nye lost one love to a murderous fiend and his pulse races as he tries to protect Kiera from herself as much as from this killer. Still bereft from the loss of his first love, he can’t understand why this female reporter is mesmerizing him. As she takes chances with her life trying to catch a killer, he’s determined to protect her.
South Shore of Long Island, NY
Late August, 1947, early afternoon
It shouldn’t be this hard to come up with something. Argus Nye sat in his chair and stared blankly through the doorway of his miniscule office into WSAN’s empty hallway. He scratched his head and a sandy brown lock tinged with gray fell into his face. His hunt for a good local news story had come up empty, making him antsy. This wouldn’t do. After all, he had to live up to his rep as the Scottish Scoop Sniffer.
With one swift movement of his legs, he shoved his chair away from the desk and it hit the back wall. The old wooden chair’s wheels squeaked. One day he’d have to bring in a can of oil. The radio station sure wasn’t going to get him a new chair. He stretched, rubbed his eyes, and stood.
He didn’t want to center the broadcast around last night’s auto fatality on the Southern State Parkway. An hour of that would get dry fast, if he could even stretch it to an hour. He could. He’d done it before.
His stomach growled. Might’ve been a good idea to have had more than coffee for breakfast. With a movement practiced over time, he jutted a hip out and his thigh skimmed the corner of his desk. Then he propelled himself through the narrow doorway. The leather bottoms of his wingtips clapped against the linoleum flooring all the way to the tiny kitchenette.
The aroma of fresh coffee enticing him, he marched toward the two-burner stove, where Jim Heaney stood. “Any coffee left?” Last thing he needed.
His boss had one hand on the chipped Formica countertop. The other held a black and white speckled enamel coffee pot. “Argus, you gave me a start. I was lost in thought.” The large man put the pot down on the stove. “Grab a cup and help yourself.” He opened the small refrigerator’s door, and took out a bottle of milk. “Not much left here.”
“Go ahead. I take mine black with a wee drop o’ sugar.” Argus deadpanned and poured, tossed two heaping spoons of sugar into the dark liquid, and stirred.
Jim rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I think I knew that.” The big man paced back and forth and took a swig.
“Something got you down?” Argus sipped, grimaced, and stirred in another spoon of sugar.
“Thanks for asking. I’m not sure I did the right thing bringing that coed from Adelphi Women’s College in for the summer intern position.”
“Clarissa? She’s a perky little lassie.” All pink frilly blouses and swirly skirts. “Now what’s got you thinking it was wrong taking her on?”
“She has these big plans… aspirations of someday writing a gossip column, even having a radio show featuring celebrities with a few society pieces thrown in the mix.”
Lars Kronen, a thin man with a large Adam’s apple and bony hands, walked in, picked up the coffee pot, and shook it. “Empty. This always happens ’cause my farm report’s after most folks’ lunch, so the coffee’s gone. I’ll ask Anna to make another pot.”
Argus took another swallow. “Clarissa’s sure at the right college to make society contacts so she can move into a gossip show.”
Lars banged the pot on the stove. “Women don’t belong in radio.”
Argus took another sip. “When Kiera Devane subbed for me last fall, the lass did a fine professional job. Come to think of it, didn’t she also attend Adelphi College?”
“I hear that Devane woman would stab her grandmother for a story.” Lars grunted, turned on his heel, and left.
“At least Kiera had some credible news experience behind her when she subbed for you. This girl has no such thing, but she’s full of big ideas for herself.” Jim ran his hand over a head of thick graying hair.
Argus laughed. “That’s why Clarrisa’s here in the summer intern position, to get experience. She’ll sharpen pencils, go out for sandwiches, help Anna with little things. What kind of trouble can she get into?”
“I just don’t want her parents blaming me for turning her into a Kiera Devane.”
Argus chuckled. “Little chance of that, laddie. This one’s all fluffy and cute, while by all accounts Kiera’s ferocious and…”
Screams coming from the reception area pierced the air.
“It’s Anna.” Argus ran down the hallway with Jim on his heels.
As they raced past Lars’ office, the farm reporter poked his long face out, Adam’s apple bobbing. “Is that Anna? What’s going on?”
Argus pumped his arms to pick up his pace.
Anna’s body shook as she sobbed. She stood in front of the double-door closet in the front office — palms pressing both sides of her head, fingers tightly clutching her wavy, caramel hued hair. “On the floor. In the closet. My God, no… no.”
A smell Argus couldn’t put his finger on permeated the room. Sweat? Not quite decay. A window fan above the secretary’s desk drove hot air around the room, increasing the stench.
Argus rushed to the distraught secretary, put his arm around her shoulder, and followed her stricken gaze down. “Oh, my word. It’s Clarissa.”
He turned Anna away from the closet and sank down on one knee, feeling beneath the girl’s lush blond hair for the carotid artery. “No pulse. She’s dead.” He stood and shoved his trembling hand into his pants pocket.
Anna batted at errant strands of hair that kept falling into her face, as she choked down wracking sobs. “I went into the closet for paper clips and found Clarissa, lying in a heap on the floor.”
Argus took the secretary by the hands, and led her a few steps away from the closet. He rubbed her back. “There, there.” Those were the best words he could come up with. He dare not try to tell her everything would be all right. Not this time.
Jim closed the closet doors almost all the way. He glanced behind him. “Lars, would you take Anna into my office and stay with her?” It wasn’t a request.
The farm reporter took the secretary by the arm and led her down the hallway. She wept all the way.
Argus crossed the room and tapped Jim on the shoulder. “Try not to touch the doors. They’ll want to take fingerprints. Though my prints are probably there as well.”
Jim shoved both hands into his pockets. “Too late now. Most of us will have prints here. Mine are all over this closet, I’m sure.”
The front door swung open, letting in a ray of bright afternoon light. Paul Gregorski, the sportscaster, removed his white, summer fedora, sauntered in, and came to a stop. “What’s going on?”
Jim turned his large frame toward the new arrival. “Paul, we have a bad situation. Clarissa’s dead. Use the phone in your office and call the police.”
“What? Clarissa, no.” The glazed look in the sportscaster’s eyes reflected shock. He slowly nodded. “I’ll call.” He craned his neck to catch a glimpse of the crumpled body, and then rushed down the hall.
“Argus, I’d like you to wait here with me for the police.” The big man hefted himself on top of the secretary’s desk. His voice shook.
“Aye, that I will. What a tragic turn of events.” Argus sank into an upholstered chair wanting this all to be a bad dream. “Someone has to phone Clarissa’s family.”
Jim nodded. “I’ll do that.”
“Aye, of course.”
Argus jumped to his feet when footfalls echoed on the station’s front steps.
Detective Ian Daltry strode through the front door flanked by Sanctuary Point’s rookie police officer, Robert Classen, who carried a bulky camera with a flash attachment.
Jim rose, offering his hand to the detective, which Daltry accepted. The rookie shifted from foot to foot and shoved his uniform cap to the back of his head so its brim pointed upward. He quickly pulled it back down and straightened his stance.
Daltry removed his fedora, releasing a riot of salt and pepper hair. “Mr. Heaney, you phoned the station. You found a body.” He placed the hat on the desk.
“I asked my sportscaster to phone.” Jim pointed to the closet. “She… she’s in there.”
Daltry pulled a handkerchief from his inside jacket pocket and opened the partially closed doors. “Oh, my, she’s very young.” He knelt, pressed two fingers to her neck, but touched nothing else. “Yes, she’s dead.” He twisted and looked over his shoulder at the rookie. “Get a few shots of her body, then back up and take a couple of the entire closet.”
“Sure thing.” Classen nodded.
Daltry stood and walked to the phone at the reception desk. He picked up the receiver with his handkerchief, dialed with the tip of his pen, and asked the village operator to connect him to the county medical examiner’s office.
The young police officer took three photos and the camera flashed each time. “She’s fully clothed, but disheveled. By the strange tilt of her heard, I’ll bet her neck’s broken. Could a fall have done that?”
Daltry shrugged one shoulder. “Perhaps.” The timber of his voice wasn’t very convincing.
Classen nodded. “It’s more likely someone did this to her, huh? Someone pretty strong.”
Daltry pulled out a small notebook and made some notes. “Anger and rage will give near anyone strength. Unless he’d learned in the military to give a karate chop to the neck.” He turned to Jim. “The medical examiner’s on his way.”
Jim’s shoulders slumped and he nodded.
The rookie went to one knee to get the next photograph. The camera flashed again. “Just a girl really. Poor thing.”
Anger surged through Argus, threatening to unhinge him. “Her body fell in on itself, like someone dropped a toy doll.” Long blond hair. Like his Ada’s had been. “Clarissa was such a pretty lassie. So full of pep.” As if propelled back in time, his mind played tricks. His vision blurred. He could have been looking at the body of the woman he had so desperately loved.
Daltry pointed his fountain pen. “Take a few shots of the frame by the door handles. Want to show nothing was tampered with.”
“There’d be nothing to fool with. It’s never locked.” Jim sighed and his large frame shook.
The rookie took two additional shots. “Got it.”
“After the ME removes the body, take a few more pictures of the inside of the closet. I’m going to take a quick look around the station to see if there’s anything you need to document. If I don’t find anything else to shoot, take the camera back to the station, so the film can be developed. Then come pick me up. I’ll have interviews here.”
Jim stepped forward. “Excuse me, detective, but I’m afraid I touched both doors. I closed them part way to block the view of the body from my secretary. She found Clarissa and was hysterical.”
“Touching anything at the scene of a crime is not advised. In this case, these doors are in a heavily trafficked area. Don’t think it’s going to make much difference.”
A vehicle’s tires crunched on gravel in the driveway. A door slammed, then another.
Argus swung around as the medical examiner came in, followed by his assistant who carried a stretcher under his arm and a folded white sheet.
Daltry nodded to the ME. “Hank. The body’s over here in the closet. We took pictures but didn’t touch her. Let me know if you find anything I need to know about, on, or under the body.”
Argus braced himself. He’d heard the ME’s wise cracking personality could be jarring at a murder scene.
Hank Jansen removed his navy fedora, revealing wavy brown hair with some gray at the temples. His dark blue suit, impeccable, as expected. All the scuttlebutt pegged the guy a smart dresser. He walked to the closet and squatted, but said nothing. He pulled the girl’s long blond hair from where it lay around her shoulders and moved it over the top of her head, letting it tumble to the floor. Garish purple bruises marred one side of her neck as if her assailant struck her there.
Argus’s stomach lurched. He wanted to push the ME away and put the girl’s hair back in place the way it had been.
“Her neck’s broken. Probably the cause of death. I’ll know more at autopsy. There’s bruising around her wrists. At this point, it’s just a guess, but I’d say someone taller had hold of her there. She might also have a broken ankle.” Hank stood and turned to his assistant. “Okay, Oscar, let’s get her out of here. You take the legs. I want her head. Need to be careful with her neck. I need another look at that.”
The older man in workman’s overalls grasped Clarissa’s legs. “What a shame, poor girl. Such a young thing.”
“Easy now. Don’t want the neck disturbed.” Hank let out a long, low breath as he carefully slid one hand under her neck and his other arm under her upper back. “Way too young.” He lifted and Clarissa’s stiff arms slipped to the side.
“Aye, that she is.” Argus had been at enough death scenes to know rigor mortis had begun to set in. “By the rigidity of her arms, she had to have died before anyone got here this morning.”
Hank glanced up. “That’s right, I’d place time of death after midnight. I can pinpoint it more closely at autopsy, but time of death can only be approximated.”
The assistant lifted Clarissa’s legs and they placed her on the stretcher. Hank crossed her arms over her chest and the assistant covered her with the sheet. Hank retrieved his hat and returned it to his head. Then they lifted the stretcher and carried her out.
“Careful with her.” Jim paced back and forth like a caged animal.
Daltry made a quick note and followed them, stopping in the doorway. “Hank, you’ll let me know the time of the autopsy?”
“Absolutely, wouldn’t want you to miss it.”
“Thanks.” Daltry nodded, his tone dry.
Argus clasped and unclasped his hands. “Why don’t lassies today just marry as their mothers did? Don’t they know there’s a fellow out there wants to take care of them and keep them safe?” He was surprised by his outburst and pulled himself back from intense painful feelings of the past. He had wanted nothing more fervently in his life than to take care of Ada. “It’s a crazy world in this day and age.”
Daltry pivoted, took a step toward him, and slapped his back. “Take it easy.”
Argus nodded. To take attention off his still raw feelings of loss, he bent closer to the door and squinted. “You think you’ll find the killer’s prints here?”
“A trooper print guy will come in and dust later today or tomorrow. A lot are probably smudged, but I think they’ll find most of the station’s employees’ prints. If they find one that doesn’t belong, that’s hard to explain, that’ll be something to go forward with. But I doubt that’ll be the case.”
Jim’s voice turned surly. “Just what’re you implying?”
Daltry swung around to face Jim. “What do you think I’m implying?”
“Sorry, I dunno.” Jim stared into the closet glumly. “It’s just that she worked here. Not long, but we all got to know her, and I know my employees.”
“I’m going to need to fingerprint all of your staff.”
Jim’s face turned red. “What? Is that necessary?”
Daltry retrieved his hat. “That’s the only way the troopers’ fingerprint team can make comparisons. Only way they’ll know if there are prints here that don’t belong.”
Jim sighed. “All right, I guess. It has to be.”
“I’ll be back with the trooper to take everyone’s prints. Or we could have them all come down to the station.”
“Let’s do it here.” Jim ran a hand over his head. “You can use my office.”
“Very good. I’ll phone you before we come.” He tucked his fedora under his arm. “Is there another entrance to this building?”
Jim nodded. “There’s a back entrance.”
“Good. I want the front door locked. Since WSAN broadcasts till midnight, I’ll have an officer stationed in the reception room until you close. Nobody’s to come in or go out of this room.” His gaze shifted to the rookie. “Phone Vogel and get him over here to stand guard. Finish taking photos in here. After Vogel arrives come down the hall and find me.”
Daltry pivoted. “Gentlemen, if you will precede me down the hall.” His jaw set, he jerked his chin toward the doorway. “I’m going to look around the station. Then, Mr. Heaney, I’ll come down to your office to interview your employees. I’d like you to arrange to have them come one at a time.”
Jim nodded. “Sure, not a problem. You might find my wife’s finger prints and my father-in-law’s as well. Not to mention delivery men.”
“We’ll take that into consideration.” Daltry nodded, turned, and strode down the hall, glancing right and left into open offices as he went.
Jim snagged Argus’s arm as they followed the detective. When they reached the kitchenette, he pushed Argus into the small room and clasped him by the shoulder. “I don’t like Daltry interviewing my staff, but there’s really nothing I can do about it.”
Argus’ flesh stung where the manager’s fingers clamped down. “Daltry’s a fair man. He won’t pull any punches.”
Jim’s fingers released and his hand fell to his side. “I’m not afraid of the man’s integrity. I’m concerned about the station’s reputation and protecting my people.”
“Listen, Argus, I want you to interview everyone at the station today. Just like Daltry’s doing. I want to know everything the police know, even more.”
“Aye, I can do that.” Argus wasn’t entirely sure he liked Jim’s tone.
“I’m going to switch your afternoon time slot with Paul’s evening slot today. I want you to do a special report following the evening news.”
“That’ll bump the commentary on tonight’s playoff game.”
“So be it. I want you to make your commentary a memorial to Clarissa, but also make sure you paint the station in a good light. We want our listeners to know we’re also looking for her killer and we’ll leave no stone unturned.”
“Aye, I’ll make that clear.”
“The station’s going to come under a lot of scrutiny with this murder.” Jim slapped Argus on the back. “I’m relying on our scoop sniffer. We want to be out in front on this one. We’re a different breed, newshounds. She was one of us. This is our story to tell. We want to express shock and horror over this girl’s tragic death, but we also want to frame public opinion about the murder investigation and put the station in a good light.”
“I understand your point, but…”
“Argus, I want you to head up the station’s investigation of this crime. Get the story before any other news outlet has it. Even before the police have it. And keep me informed.” The big man gave a faux salute and his stride ate up the linoleum as he charged down the hall toward his office.
“That’s a tall order, Jim.”
Nike Chillemi has been called a crime fictionista due to her passion for crime fiction. She was an Inspy Awards 2010 judge in the Suspense/Thriller/Mystery category and a judge in the 2011 and 2012 Carol Awards in the suspense, mystery, and romantic suspense categories. She is the founding board member of the Grace Awards and its Chairman, a reader’s choice awards for excellence in Christian fiction. She writes book reviews for The Christian Pulse online magazine. BURNING HEARTS is the first book in the crime wave that is sweeping the south shore of Long Island in The Sanctuary Point series, published by Desert Breeze. GOODBYE NOEL, the second book in the series released in December, 2011 won the Grace Award 2011 in the Mystery/Romantic Suspense/Thriller category. She is a member of American Christian Fiction Writers (ACFW) and the Edgy Christian Fiction Lovers (Ning).