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Maggie's Image (Maggie McGill Mysteries Book 1), page 1

 

Maggie's Image (Maggie McGill Mysteries Book 1)
 


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Maggie's Image (Maggie McGill Mysteries Book 1)


  Praise for other Maggie McGill Adventures

  Maggie’s Image

  “Though this is a fast-paced light-hearted novel, the mystery at the heart of the story is serious as it deals with current themes in international news . . . creative plot and rounded-out characters. If you've ever been to California, you will recognize the author’s description of the coastline from Monterey to Big Sur! I highly recommend this delightful, first-of-a-series book.”

  Sandra Olshaski Library of Clean Reads

  Maggie’s Art

  “At the heart of the novel . . . is the warm, loving bond between mother and daughter. Both women are kind, generous, sympathetic and strong. Their mutual love and respect rang out so clearly. “I enjoyed this well-written, fast-moving novel. . . . the mystery kept me turning the pages and best of all, it is a completely clean read; no need to worry about coming across f-bombs or the like.

  I wholeheartedly recommend this novel to mystery buffs, and those who value strong, independent women.”

  Sandra Olshaski Library of Clean Reads

  Maggie’s Brujo

  “Here is another Maggie McGill mystery to be enjoyed and savored. Sharon Burch Toner’s . . . style of writing is always clean, always stylish, always interesting, and always exciting. The thread holding it firmly together is the mutual warm relationship between Maggie and Allie. This book is no exception.

  Maggie and her daughter, Allie, are off to a vacation in Arizona at a dude ranch . . . Allie and Maggie get lost in the Arizona desert; illegal immigrants and two-legged coyotes cross their path and a mysterious Mexican man who “follows the angels” appears out of nowhere to help them.

  I recommend this excellent mystery that also deals with relevant issues of our time.

  Sandra Olshaski Library of Clean Reads

  Maggie’s Island

  . . . While on a beach walk Maggie meets tall, handsome blue-eyed Brit Timothy. When he gets beaten up, stranded on nearby Manatee Island and begs for Maggie’s help, she realizes a mystery is swirling around him. Who is he really?

  . . . the reader is treated to more of the warm, loving relationship between Maggie and her photographer daughter, Allie. Both Maggie and Allie are intelligent, strong, resourceful women, but it will take all of their strength, courage and wit to survive as the danger around them intensifies.

  Sharon Burch Toner delights the reader with her elegant writing! I highly recommend this delightful, clean, light-hearted mystery.

  Sandra Olshaski Library of Clean Reads

  Don’t miss other

  Maggie McGill Mysteries by

  Sharon Burch Toner

  Maggie’s Art

  Maggie’s Brujo

  Maggie’s Island

  Maggie at Sea

  Maggie’s Ghost

  Check at sharonburchtoner.com.

  for news of the next Maggie McGill mystery

  Available in 2014

  Maggie’s

  Image

  A Maggie McGill

  Mystery

  Sharon Burch Toner

  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used ficticiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, organizations, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

  Copyright © 2008 by Sharon Burch Toner

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by any information storage and retrieval system, without permission in writing from the author.

  The Maggie books are lovingly dedicated to the memory

  of Amy Toner Jones, who taught and inspired me

  from the moment of her first breath.

  Chapter One

  The plane’s slow descent signaled the end of the long flight. As the ground came closer, Los Angeles spread out below, a giant tapestry, threads of streets and roads interwoven, accented by trees, cloverleaf flowers connected by limbs of freeways, all bathed in bright sunshine from a nearly smogless blue sky.

  The Frenchman shook his head and shrugged a most Gallic shrug. Maggie realized that he probably hadn’t understood a word of her attempts at casual conversation. His brown eyes held a gravity that caused Maggie to wonder, but they softened when he looked at his bride. She was younger than he and her hazel eyes did not hold the same seriousness. The young woman looked into the man’s eyes with a look that was peculiarly French, a combination of inquiry, love, seduction and innocence. Maggie pretended not to see the look, but felt charmed by it all the same.

  Maggie had learned only that their names were Andre and Brigitte and that they were on their honeymoon. Maggie thought, not for the first time, that she must find time to learn French.

  The plane taxied ever so slowly to the gate. At the first opportunity she stood, smoothed her clothes, and stretched her full five feet to open the overhead bin. From behind her came a friendly, “Here, let me get that for you.” A grin brightened the face of the weary looking man as he handed her the tote bag. The fatigue in his face and his rumpled suit spoke of a long journey.

  She slung the bag over her shoulder and slipped her hand into the bag’s small compartment to be sure her miniature camera was handy. It had been over a year since she’d seen Allie. Since Allie’s birth Maggie had been snapping pictures of her at every opportunity and she planned to grab a few shots right away. Her daughter had been the most beautiful baby Maggie ever had seen. Even at ten when Allie had been all knees, elbows, braces and glasses—in Maggie’s eyes she never had been anything but beautiful. Through the ups and downs of growing up Allie somehow always rang true.

  Up the jet way and there she was! Allie! Medium height and slender, at thirty-one, Allie was something to look at even through non-mother’s eyes. Straight, shoulder length blond hair worn brushed to one side, eyes the blue of a tropical ocean under dark straight brows. She was fashionably dressed in trim white jeans, and a blue silk shirt. A pretty young woman, but with a grace and elegance and a special something that went beyond pretty and caused heads, both masculine and feminine, to turn. How Tom and I ever managed to spawn such an exotic creature is a mystery to me, Maggie often thought.

  Allie’s welcoming smile was wide and she opened her arms for a hug.

  “Mom! It’s good to see you. I love your hair.” The new do was a success! “You look fantastic! I’m so happy to see you,” Maggie gave her beloved daughter another tight hug.

  Allie hung Maggie’s tote bag on her shoulder, “How was the trip? What do you want to do first? Are you hungry? Did you bring many bags?”

  “The trip was fine. I slept a lot. Only one bag. I don’t care what we . . .. Let’s eat soon. I’m famished.”

  Allie took Maggie’s hand and squeezed it. “I’m so glad you’re here.” She stepped back and examined her mother. Mom looked great. Five feet even. Moderately round, but not plump, tousled reddish blond hair, eyes still a startling green, a funny soft voice. Maggie’s softly draped black slacks and shirt were topped by a bright green jacket that emphasized her rosy complexion. She was a compact bundle of energy who had come through the traumas of a mid-life divorce by returning to graduate school and establishing a counseling practice in the Florida beach community where Allie had grown up.

  Across the baggage turntable, Maggie saw a tall, turbaned Arab man she had first noticed in the Miami airport. His well-tailored tropical suit fit his heavily muscled body a shade too snugly and seemed incongruous with the white turban wound round his head. He removed his sunglasses and for a moment Maggie looked into hi
s nearly black eyes, eyes that seemed to look at nothing but to see everything. “Oh.” A shiver ran up Maggie’s spine.

  “Did you say something, Mom?”

  “No, nothing.” Maggie shifted her gaze around the still empty turntable. She waved to Andre and Brigitte and noticed the tired looking man standing apart and to the back of the crowd, but she couldn’t catch his eye.

  Pulling Maggie’s wheeled bag, Maggie and Allie stepped outside. A long, black limousine waited at the curb. Standing by the driver’s door was a swarthy man wearing a turban. Maggie had a faint impression of other figures behind the dark glass.

  “Goodness, there are a lot of Middle-Eastern people around here. Makes one wonder! These days, after all that has happened. You know . . ..” Maggie commented.

  Allie turned, “Oh, well, I guess so. But then, it’s a big city. Pretty multi-cultural.” She turned back to watching for a break in the traffic. As they stood on the curb, Maggie, struck by how lovely Allie looked at that moment, took out her camera and snapped a quick picture of her daughter.

  In her new treasure, a white Miata convertible, Allie pulled a selection of hats from the storage area behind the seats. “Choose one, Mom. You’ll want a hat for your hair and the sun.” Maggie tried them all, turning to Allie and making a face with each one. Finally she chose a small, floppy white hat with a yellow flower to one side. She pulled it on her head and grinned. Allie put on a wide brimmed blue one with white polka dots. Giggles. Quickly, Maggie pulled out her camera. They put their heads close together and holding the camera at arm’s length, snapped a photo.

  Top down, the little car zoomed out of the airport garage with a sweet throaty growl. Maggie leaned back into the soft black leather seat, enjoying the combination of warm sunshine on her head and cool breezes ruffling the bits of hair that stuck out around the hat. “I love the car. It is you. Has the new worn off yet?”

  Allie shook her head. “Isn’t it great? I guess I shouldn’t be so excited about a mere material possession, but I just love it. After all, God did tell me to get it.”

  Maggie’s eyebrows rose, “Really?”

  Allie chuckled, “I had this really grandiose dream. God spoke to me. It was a momentous occasion. I thought I’d be told the meaning of life and what I should do. Maybe I’d go to Calcutta to work with the starving or maybe I’d do a photo essay that would end world hunger, or . . ..”

  “And . . .?”

  Allie grinned, “Well, the clouds parted, thunder clapped and a voice boomed, ‘Allie McGill! Buy a white Miata and get a Jack Russell Terrier!’” Allie looked at Maggie and they burst into peals of laughter.

  Allie turned to Maggie, “There’s an old hotel in Hollywood with a terrace where we can eat.”

  “Sounds good.” Maggie gazed at her beautiful daughter. There was an air of fragility about Allie that was deceptive. She had a resiliency that had served her well. While still in college, Allie started her own photography business. After a few lean years, her business began to thrive and now she specialized in photographing children and animals. It was no wonder Allie had taken up photography. Maggie had put a camera in her face from the moment of her birth.

  ***

  Over a late lunch on a terrace dappled with sun through trellised vines, brick underfoot, a soft breeze, Maggie said, “This is perfection!”

  Allie smiled. “I know, Mom, for me too. I’ve really been looking forward to this visit. Is there anything special you want to do while you’re here?”

  Maggie said, “I’ve never been to the Getty, actually never to either one of them.”

  Allie stretched a little, “No problem. We have two whole weeks. We’ve been invited to run up to San Francisco, but we don’t have to go if you don’t want.”

  Maggie stopped eating, fork in midair. “SAN FRANCISCO! You know I love San Francisco. When?”

  “Well, there’s a study abroad conference up there and we’re invited to a party tomorrow night. I don’t have to go. But there’s a room for us at the Majestic if we want it.”

  Maggie’s voice rose. “The Majestic! Of course, I want to go. What a treat! I’ve always wanted to stay there.” Then more quietly, “But is this business? Would I be in the way?”

  Allie shook her head. “Not at all. It’s okay, Mom. I’m not really connected with them anymore. They’re just being friendly. What do you say?”

  Maggie remembered that Foreign Learning Opportunities, known informally as FLO, had hired Allie as a campus recruiter during the uncertain years when her photography business was just getting started. “Well, of course I want to go. Let’s do it!”

  As they walked from the restaurant, Maggie looked around at the pleasant scene as if to record it in her mind as a souvenir snapshot. Quickly and unobtrusively, she hoped, she pulled her little camera from her purse and snapped a photo. Waiting in the parking lot was a long dark limousine. A turbaned driver sat ramrod straight and motionless in the driver’s seat. “Allie, look, “ Maggie whispered, “more Arabs!”

  She forgot turbans and mysterious men almost immediately because the drive to Allie’s house in Malibu took them out Sunset Boulevard which culminated in Pacific Palisades. As they spiraled down the bluff to the Pacific before them, the ocean, sparkling blue, stretched wide to the horizon. Maggie drew in a quick breath, “Oh, how beautiful!”

  They turned north along the Pacific Coast Highway, chatting happily, catching up on the details of their lives since their last visit. Their turn off the PCH came up suddenly. The Miata’s growl became deeper as they climbed, curving up the narrow streets that created switchbacks on the nearly perpendicular hills. In this neighborhood the houses perched close to the street, close to one another and nearly one on top of the other. Even so, the lush landscaping and strategic situation of each house contributed to its feeling of privacy and seclusion. All had magnificent panoramic views of the ocean. High on the hill, at the very end of one of these streets sat Allie’s place.

  As they pulled into the carport, Maggie glanced uneasily behind her where the street disappeared off a precipice. At one time the street had continued around the back of the hill to form a loop and wind back down to the PCH. However, during heavy El Nino storms a while back, that portion of the street had washed away taking a few houses with it. Now there was nothing beyond Allie’s house but the precipice dropping off into a deep canyon covered with chaparral and scrub vegetation. Each time she thought about it Maggie said a prayer for the stability of the remainder of the street, the hill and her daughter’s safety.

  Allie’s home was a small guest cottage built into the ocean side of the hill, nearly encompassed by huge, old eucalyptus trees. On the carport level was a large bedroom, tiny office and bath. Downstairs was the living room, kitchen and deck. They had their choice of entry. The “front” door was found by going down redwood steps, along a shaded flagstone walk lined with pots of geraniums. They dragged the bags in through the “back” entry from the carport, directly into the office. Maggie walked through Allie’s home marveling at the spectacular views. From each room she could see through the trees, over the rooftops to the ocean below.

  “Allie, I love what you’ve done with your place. The pale turquoise and mauve accents are simply perfect against your white furniture and the bleached wood. It’s like being in a tree house with ocean, sky and heather colors inside. Great job.” Down the narrow stairs into the living room, Maggie exclaimed, “Oh, this is even more beautiful! Those lilies are gorgeous! That vase is perfect for them. But the rug is the best!” She kicked off her shoes and ran bare toes through an extravagantly shaggy white rug in front of the sofa. “I want snapshots of every room.”

  Allie said, “Thanks, Mom. I like my little house. Someday I’d like to buy a place of my own, but for now, this is perfect. I noticed some new condos farther out in Malibu. Maybe we can check them out while you’re here.”

  Maggie agreed, “I’d love to.”

  After unpacking and a short settling in, Allie and
Maggie walked up the spine of the hilltop from which they had 360-degree views of the canyon behind the neighborhood, of all the rooftops and of the ocean. The air was cool and sweet, smelling of eucalyptus and sage.

  That night as she lay in bed, Maggie watched the scimitar shaped moon through the trees and listened to the waves far below on the beach. Lying on this precipice was like being on the edge of the world. She hoped the house would stay put for a long time and thought that life often gives one jumping off places.

  ***

  Under the marble portico of the Majestic a smiling doorman greeted them. “Hello, Allie. Welcome back.” He turned to Maggie, “You must be Allie’s mother? Welcome to the Majestic.” The welcome was repeated at the front desk. Maggie, impressed by such personalized service, thought it was not at all like a Holiday Inn!

  Maggie explored their rooms, a two-room suite. “How elegant! This living room is great. Or should I call it a sitting room? A marble fireplace. Do you think these are real antiques?” Maggie stood in the bay window, “Look, we have a view of the park.” In the bedroom she plopped down on an enormous four-poster, but got up immediately to examine the bathroom. “There’s a marble tub in here! Too much!”

  Allie smiled at her mother’s enthusiasm, pleased that she was enjoying the treat.

  “Allie, this is too wonderful! Are you sure FLO isn’t trying to recruit you to return to them?”

  “I don’t know, Mom, but it doesn’t matter. I love photography and don’t intend to change. I’ve made that clear to them. I think they’re just being friendly.”

  Maggie, in a soft green silk pants suit, and Allie, radiant in deep blue velvet, walked the few blocks to the party in high spirits. It was a beautiful evening. Cool air. Golden sunlight slanting between the tall buildings. As they walked, Allie briefed Maggie on the people she’d be likely to meet at the party including Allie’s good friend, Ed Martin, “I think you’ll like him, Mom. He’s smart and sweet and he’s been very nice to me.”

 
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