that, their different views on life seemed like petty reasons to continue their discord. They had established a real friendship. Caroline was a six-year cancer survivor, going on seven, and she had changed significantly. Now she pursued her dreams instead of talking about them. One of those had been writing a comprehensive doll book and seeing it published.

Alive and vibrant. Unlike the poor, dead person here tonight. Was the victim male or female? She hadn’t asked.

Gretchen raised her head and peered out searching for Matt. She saw a small circle of people looking at something on the ground. A woman squatted over what must be a body. The medical examiner?

Matt wasn’t in the circle. He was about thirty feet from the spot where the team worked on the body, and he was aiming a flashlight at a grave marking.

What was he looking at? Should she take one little peek to find out? She had twenty minutes before her mother would arrive. After all, she wasn’t a child. Why should she wait in the car?

Gretchen slid out, closed the door as quietly as possible, and stopped behind a gravestone for a few moments. Shadows played through the cemetery, and wind stirred the evergreen leaves at the top of a palm tree. She moved to the tall tree, treading quietly over the red clay earth.

The old part of the cemetery was tucked way at the back and didn’t have the uniformity of the newer section. Graves weren’t lined up in neatly spaced rows. Even the headstones were more varied.

She heard the murmur of voices. They reminded her of the hush of a funeral visitation, low and respectful tones. Several people bent over the deceased. No one noticed Gretchen. She crept closer to Matt, sliding along the side of the crime scene at an angle. He hadn’t moved from the headstone. From her position slightly behind the detective, she could see what held his attention.

Thick writing on rough granite, the words Die, Dolly, Die.

All as red as the color of blood. Please no, don’t be blood, Gretchen thought, even as she realized that it looked thicker, brighter. Lipstick? It had to be. Gretchen knew lipstick.

Matt spoke without turning around. “You were supposed to wait in the car.”

Gretchen’s first impulse was to duck down and crawl away. She quickly weighed the odds of retreating without making a fool of herself. They weren’t good.

“How did you know it was me?” she asked.

“Mathematical deduction. Simply a matter of determining how long it would take you to disobey a direct order from a law enforcement official. By my calculations, you’re right on schedule. A little behind really.”

“I thought maybe I could help.”

“You can help by not touching anything. Help by not getting involved.”


“Gretchen.” He stared at the grave marker. “You have a bad habit of tripping over trouble.”

That was an understatement. She’d had more than her share of difficult situations recently, but she couldn’t see how any of them might have been handled differently. It wasn’t her fault that trouble followed her around.

“Let’s not have a repeat of past disasters,” he said.

“Is it lipstick?” Gretchen asked.


“A woman’s body then?”


When he looked at her his face was hard and his eyes were angry. He wasn’t a man she’d want to cross paths with if she had committed a murder. “The woman crawled from here over to there,” he explained. The flashlight beamed along the ground between the headstone in front of them and the site where the group of professionals hovered over the body. “See those dark spots? Drops of blood.”

Gretchen shuddered, staring at the ground. “What about the words?”


He turned and called out to the team hovering over the body. “Did you find a tube of lipstick?”

“No purse,” replied the woman who Gretchen had pegged as the ME.

“How about checking the area?”

“We’ll take a look,” a cop said.

Gretchen stayed close to Matt.

“Can’t you cooperate?” he said to her. “Can’t you wait in the car like I asked?”

“I’ll go in a minute.” His car was parked in darkness. She needed light.

Matt’s flashlight beam cast eerie shadows along the sides of the headstone. Others with flashlights were scanning the ground in the vicinity of the body. “No ID.” Then the same woman’s voice. “You need to see this.”

“I’ll be right over,” Matt said.

He strode toward the murder victim’s dead body. At the moment, as far as he was concerned, Gretchen had stopped existing. The intense beam from a floodlight came on, revealing more of the scene.

What are you doing? Stay back.

Gretchen ignored her inner voice and moved closer. This was her chance to understand Matt’s passion. She wanted to stop feeling like she was in competition with his career. Two emergency workers partially blocked her view. They shifted positions.

The dead woman had been wearing flip-flops, but they were no longer on her feet. She wore black capris, and her white halter top was stained with blood, her long blonde hair matted with it.

So much blood, puddling on the unyielding desert floor.

Matt looked up at her. Their eyes met.

Someone else moved. Gretchen’s eyes shifted back to the horror of the moment and locked onto the woman’s face.

The dead woman’s eyes were wide open, unblinking and unseeing.

This could have been your mother, your aunt, your friend. It could have been you!

Gretchen felt her heart pounding against her rib cage. It was purely a female thing. Fear was implanted in every woman’s breast from the moment of cognitive awareness, like a pacemaker always pulsing. Be very afraid. Stay out of the dark. Don’t travel alone. Be alert to danger. Carry protection and know how to use it. Learn self- defense techniques. Run fast. Scream.

The woman had made all the wrong moves and had paid the ultimate penalty.

“Gretchen,” she heard behind her as she turned and fled.

She made it to the tree next to Matt’s car. She leaned against the palm tree for support, fighting back waves of nausea, feeling helpless and weak against the monster that had done this to one of her kind.

When Matt reached her, she welcomed his arms, wrapped herself against his chest, and never wanted to let go.


Fantasy dolls are the latest rage. Unicorns, dragons, mermaids, fairies, and wizards. They are the three Ms- mystical, magical, and mysterious. For those who enjoy working with clay, creating fantasy dolls can become an addictive hobby. Kits are available for the novice enthusiast. Or dig into the clay and cast your own forms. Fantasy dolls are replicas of immortal earthly spirits with supernatural abilities. Add feathers, fibers, and fairy glitter to your newly sculpted piece and watch her come to life.

– From World of Dolls by Caroline Birch

Detective Terry Vascar arrives at the crime scene and parks behind a line of vehicles. Two women are greeting each other next to the car parked ahead of him. He recognizes one of them, even in the dark. It’s the woman his pal Matt Albright has been dating, Gretchen Birch.

Terry swings his head and spots Matt talking to a forensics team. When he looks back, the women are moving in the opposite direction.

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