A Portrait To Die For
Carrie McCrite, a volunteer librarian at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas, discovers two versions of a portrait on loan to the museum. When a reporter writing about that portrait disappears, Carrie must choose between honoring Henry's request that she stop jumping into danger on behalf of people in trouble--or work to find the woman who was a college friend of her son's.
"A Portrait to Die For isn't for the shoot-'em-up, car-crash, shove-someone-off-a-cliff crowd. It is a sedate, carefully paced mystery more concerned with puzzles than thrills. Carrie's quest leads her into some of the murkier paths of the art world, one filled with the kind of chicanery that could lead to some serious prison time for those involved." - Betty Webb, Mystery Scene Magazine
"It looks like no matter what Henry and Carrie decide, murder will find them. It’s a lucky thing for readers because they are a captivating couple, older than most characters, fun to be around, and lead interesting lives. They’ll even share a few recipes with readers." - Sandra Murphy, Kings River Life Magazine - Full Review
Library at Crystal Bridges.
The desk for volunteers is just off screen to the left, display case for folios behind blue arm chair, right.
"Radine Trees Nehring has once again earned her Arkansas Writers' Hall of Fame acclaim by setting A Portrait to Die For in the world-honored Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art. Popular amateur sleuth Carrie McCrite is involved in yet another mystery endangering herself and her family. This time they deal with art fraud, arson, and an Iraq veteran suffering with PTSD as they try to locate and save a missing news reporter."
- Marilyn Collins, noted non-fiction author, teacher, public speaker, and publisher at CHS Publishing.
ENDING THE DANGER
“You’ve got to stop getting us involved in criminal activities.”
Henry’s words barely made a dent in her study of jewelry ads in Sunday’s New York Times. She tried to picture a woman who could spend thousands to wear this stuff.
“Carrie, please listen.”
“I am hearing what you say, dear. Stay away from crimes.” She turned a page and scanned a colorful ad for bracelets—emeralds, rubies, sapphires.
When he spoke again, his voice sounded peculiar, the words too sharp, so she looked up as he said, “I guess I wasn’t clear. We must stay away from all people involved in criminal activity, or even in what seems like, as you put it, deep trouble. Think back. Since I met you you’ve been shot at more than once, nearly boiled alive at Hot Springs National Park, wounded in a bomb blast . . . ”
“Oh, Henry, that’s all past. Forget it. I have.”
“The worst of all was just four months ago, you surely have not forgotten that.”
She put the paper aside, took a slow sip of cold coffee, and waited.
“You are not a cop, but you face hazards as if you were. You were meant to be killed by that drug dealer. But for the grace of God, you would be dead.” He paused, drew in air. “You’ve been to the edge of death too many times. It has to stop because, if it doesn’t bother you, it sure as the devil bothers me. But for the grace of God . . . ”
“That’s exactly it, by the grace of God.”
“I can’t believe God puts you in danger, even means for you to die, shot by some drug dealer—or whoever the heck else might come along tomorrow.”
“It won’t happen. It hasn’t happened. I’m here. I’m fine. If these problems come up and we can help, we should. Besides, it’s usually family or friends who get us involved. As for the drug dealer, obviously he did not kill me. In fact, he risked his life to save mine. He was a changed person, and you’re right, it was by the grace of God.”
“All right, all right. I guess we could argue that point all day. But it’s time you stopped trying to help every human in trouble who crosses your path. I’ve known you for, let’s see, only a little over two years, and we’ve been married fifteen months. During that time there have been encounters with men and women who didn’t value your life in the slightest. Well, I do—value your life I mean. It’s great to help other people, but I’m afraid you do it without being aware of possible consequences. You’ve got to stop acting like a detective.”
“It’s been us, Henry, both of us, and I am aware that you’re the cop in this family, retired or not.”
Seeing the pain in his eyes hit her with remorse and a similar pain. She looked at her lap for a moment, then spoke softly, “I have never once intended to get us into anything dangerous or criminal. It just happens. I notice someone in trouble, and . . .”
“Well, it is not going to happen any more.”
She stood and said, “Remember, I said I’d substitute for Nola Sue in the library today. I think I’ll leave a little early so I can walk around Compton Gardens before I go to the museum. It’s such a pretty day. Almost like spring.”
* * *
It did feel like spring, even if a February spring. She walked slowly down the path toward the bridge at Compton, reading plant labels in the still bare earth, a promise of beauty to come.
Wild Hydrangea. Sensitive Fern.
Henry doesn’t understand. Not my fault if I try to help people and sometimes there’s more trouble than I expected .
Dotted Monarda. Nine Bark.
I’ve got to make him understand. It’s part of why we’re here, to help people in trouble.
Cross-vine. Indian Pink.
He seemed so upset.
At least he admits it’s by the grace of God that I wasn’t killed or even badly hurt. He must understand. He must.
Solomon’s Seal. Wild Sweet William.
He’s too concerned about me.
She stopped walking and took a deep breath of clean air, imagining fragrance to come with the true spring.
Concerned, because he loves me.
As a police officer working homicide for all those years in Kansas City he saw so many people who were hurt, who were bleeding.
I wonder if he knew any of them.
Maybe I’m bringing it all back, the bad memories, all of it. And the hurt is coming from someone he loves.
Great blue lobelia. Cardinal flower.
By the grace of God . . . Henry, my love, I am trying to understand.
I know he’s killed at least two people—in the line of duty as they say—but it was to stop more killing. It was so others would not be killed. That was his duty, the killing was justified. It saved people. It probably saved him. He knows that.
But still, he grieves.
She looked at her watch and started walking again. 10:30. She’d come to the place where Crystal Bridges Trail branched off the Art Trail. Time to turn toward the museum. Her shift as a volunteer library guide began at 11:00.
There were several people about now, all of them taking advantage of the beautiful day by walking or running along the trails. Two bikers had passed a few minutes ago. Biking looked like fun, and the hills here weren’t all that steep. Maybe she and Henry should think about getting bikes.
A pretty woman wearing tight silver jogging pants and matching jacket was running toward her. What a stunning outfit. Carrie looked down at her own dark blue slacks and cover-all-problems jacket. Oh, well.
Suddenly the woman diverted from the Crystal Bridges Trail and jerked to a stop in front of Carrie. Dark pony tail, streaked with grey. Dark eyes, frightened. Frightened?
“A man. Behind me.” She was panting. “When he gets here, tell him I ran toward the Compton parking lot. Please. He wants to hurt me. Please.”
She was gone in a flash of silver, running, not to the parking lot, but back along the Art Trail toward the museum.
Nothing I need to get involved in. I’m headed toward the Art Trail myself. I won’t see him.
But he was faster than she had anticipated. Black jeans and tan sweat shirt. Wavy hair the color of tarnished bronze in the sunlight.
“Did a woman in a silver jogging suit pass by here? My sister. I lost track of her on the trails. Must have taken a wrong turn.” His laugh did something to Carrie’s insides. Bad news.
Picturing the woman’s frightened face, she pointed toward the Compton Gardens parking lot and watched as he ran that way.
I won’t see either of them again. I didn’t get involved, except in a tiny lie. That will be the end of it.
She turned onto the Art Trail and walked quickly toward the museum.
Copyright 2015-2016 by Radine Trees Nehring
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