Sample text for Curse of the Spellmans / by Lisa Lutz.

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Sunday, January 8
1100 hrs

I have trouble with beginnings. For one thing, I don't find stories all that interesting when you start at the beginning. If you ask me, you only know there is a story when you get to the middle. And besides, beginnings are hard to determine. One could argue that the true beginning to all stories is the beginning of time. But Morty is already eighty-two years old, so given our time constraints, I'll begin this story on the date I met, or, more specifically, first laid eyes on "John Brown" (hereafter referred to as "Subject" or by some variation of his alias, "John Brown").

I remember the day that Subject moved in next door to my parents like it was yesterday. He was taking over the second-story apartment of a triplex, previously occupied by Mr. Rafter, whose tenancy lasted close to thirty years. David knew Mr. Rafter better than I since his bedroom was six feet from Rafter's den and their windows were level enough to provide each a fishbowl view of the other. Since Rafter spent most of his time watching television in his den and David spent most of his time studying in his bedroom, the two men got to know each other in their respective comfortable silences (minus the sounds of the television, that is).

But I digress. As I said, I remember the day Subject moved in next door like it was yesterday. And I suppose the reason I remember it so vividly is because of the events that transpired earlier that day, the events that caused me to be at my family's home at the precise moment Subject's moving truck double-parked out front. So, I'm thinking I should probably start earlier that day and mention the aforementioned events.

0900 hrs

I woke in my bed, or, more precisely, the bed in the home of Bernie Peterson, a retired SFPD lieutenant whom I sublet from. My illegal residence in the Richmond district is exactly 2.8 miles and one giant hill away from my parents' home, but I'm always just a phone call away.

The phone rang, like it always does, before I'd had enough coffee to face the day.


"Isabel, it's Mom."


"I'm not in the mood for this today."

"Not ringing a bell. When did we meet?"

"Listen to me very carefully; I don't want to repeat myself. I need you to pick up Rae from the hospital."

"Is she all right?" I asked, concern altering the tone of my voice.

"She's fine. But Henry isn't."

"What happened?"

"She ran him over."


"With a car, Isabel."

"I got that part, Mom."

"Izzy, I'm in the middle of a job. I have to go. Please get all the details of what went down. As usual, record everything. Call me when you get home."

San Francisco General Hospital
1000 hrs

The woman at the reception desk told me that only immediate family would be allowed in Henry's room. I flashed my quarter-carat engagement ring and asked if fiance;es qualified.

A nurse directed me toward room 873 and explained that he was in serious, but stable, condition.

"Can you tell me what happened?" I asked the nurse.

"Your daughter is with him now. I'll let her explain."

"My daughter?"

I found my sister, Rae, sitting by Inspector Henry Stone's bedside, staring at the electronic device monitoring his vitals.

Henry's nurse tried to smile over her annoyance at Rae's hypervigilant announcements.

"Seventy-two. His heart rate went up by five beats," Rae said as I entered.

My sister's eyes were bloodshot and her flushed cheeks showed signs of recent crying. The nurse looked relieved when she saw me and said to Rae, "Oh, good. Your mother's here."

"Eew," I said, offended. "I'm not her mother. Do I look old enough to be the mother of a fifteen-year-old girl?"

"I hadn't thought about it," she replied.

"I'm his fiance;e," I clarified to the nurse, and then turned to the inspector.

Henry Stone was lying in the hospital bed with an assortment of tubes and monitors attached to his body, wearing the standard-issue hospital gown. Minus the unfortunate outfit and the single gauze bandage stuck to his left temple, he looked pretty much the same as he always does: well groomed, slightly underweight, and handsome in a way that's very easy to ignore. His usually short-cropped salt-and-pepper hair had grown out more in the past few weeks, which had the added benefit of making him appear younger than his forty-four years. Although at that moment the dark circles under his eyes and his patently agitated expression had offset that benefit.

"How is he?" I asked the nurse, trying to emote the appropriate shade of concern.

"There's some bruising on the legs just below the knee, but nothing's broken. The main concern is the concussion. He lost consciousness for five minutes and is experiencing nausea. We did a CT and everything looks fine, but we need to keep him under observation for forty-eight hours."

"Will he have permanent brain damage?" Rae asked.

Henry grabbed my wrist. Hard. "I need to speak to you in private," he said.

I turned to Rae. "Leave the room."

"No," she replied. I never thought a single syllable could possess such heartbreaking desperation.

"Get out," Henry demanded, unmoved by her wells of emotion.

"Are you ever going to forgive me?" she said to him.

"It's only been two hours since you ran me over," he replied.

"Accidentally!" she shouted.

Then Henry shot her a look that seemed to have more power than any lecture, punishment, or curfew my parents ever unleashed on Rae.

"Two and a half hours," Rae mumbled as she soberly exited the room.

Henry gripped my arm even tighter after Rae was out of earshot.

"That kind of hurts, Henry."

"Don't talk to me about pain."

"Right. Sorry."

"I need you to do me a favor."


"Keep her away from me."

"For how long?"

"A couple weeks."

"Dream on."

"Isabel, please. I need a break."

"I'll do what I can, but -- "

"Your sister almost killed me today -- "

"Accidentally!" shouted Rae from the other side of the door.

"I need a Rae vacation. Please. Help me."

Copyright © 2008 by Spellman Enterprises, Inc.

Library of Congress subject headings for this publication:
Private investigators -- Fiction.