When Michelle receives a call from a Richmond historian, she sees the chance for a much-needed adventure. All she has to do is find a century-old key.
Three others – a guitarist, an engineer, and a retiree – receive similar calls. Each family possesses a key to a four-lock safe found buried in a Virginia courthouse, though their connection is as mysterious as the safe itself. Their ancestors should not have interacted, had no apparent reason to bury the safe, and should not have disappeared thereafter.
Bearing their keys, Michelle and the other descendants converge in the courthouse basement and open the safe, revealing the truth about their ancestors – a truth stranger, more deadly, and potentially more world-changing than any of them could have imagined. Now it’s up to them to keep their discovery out of the wrong hands.
Mark your calendars! The Fourth Descendant, my debut mystery/suspense novel, will be released on February 4th, 2015!
The Fourth Descendant on the fourth.
I thought it was clever.
Allow me to present what this means for you.
On release day, the ebook will be available for free on Amazon.
Update 2/1/2015 – Sadly, I am unable to do this. But I’m doing something else that should be way fun, and you could win a gift card. Click here for details.
And to give you something to chew on until then, here’s the first scene of the first chapter. Enjoy! And I’ll see you on the fourth!
The last of the four locks snapped into place.
He ran his fingers along the brass key and placed it in the envelope, bidding a silent farewell to his family.
His secret was in their hands now.
Part One: The Keys
The call came from an unfamiliar number. Michelle almost ignored it, but the prospect of talking to another adult was too promising to pass up. Her children kept their eyes glued to her as they walked home from the playground. Apparently, the event was rare enough to warrant their full attention.
“Is this Michelle Jenson?” the caller asked.
“Yes. Who’s this?” Great. A sales call.
“My name is Alex Pratt, and I’m calling as a representative for the Richmond Historical Society.”
The caller now had Michelle’s full attention as well. “Richmond? In Virginia?”
“Yes ma’am. We believe your family is connected to something we found in our courthouse. Can you tell me if your great-great-grandfather was named Gao Zhang?”
“I don’t know the first name, but Zhang is my mother’s maiden name.”
The sound of rustling papers came through the phone. “I’m sure we have the right family. This might sound strange, but try to bear with me. Last month, the city began restoration projects on some of our historic buildings, including our courthouse. The workers found a wooden box hidden under the floorboards, and we thought it was a time capsule, but it contained only a letter signed by four men. One of those men was your great-great-grandfather.” He cleared his throat. “The letter gave directions to a safe we found built into a basement wall. The safe is unusual, because it’s locked with four large deadbolts. The letter indicated the descendants of each man who signed it would possess a key, and that we need all four keys to open the safe.”
“And you think I have one of these keys?” Her son pulled on her arm; she tried to ignore him, wishing she could complete the call without interruption.
“That’s why I’m calling. The men who signed the letter have many descendants, and we can’t know who might have the keys or if they were thrown away long ago. You’re the first person in your family I’ve been able to reach, and–”
“Can’t you just pick the locks?” Her keys jangled as she unlocked the front door, and the kids ran inside to watch cartoons. After hanging her jacket on the hall tree, she walked into the kitchen and retrieved three plates from the cabinet.
“Perhaps, but we want to know what these men had in common. The Historical Society is funding this exploration project, with the possibility of preserving the safe and whatever’s inside, depending on what we find. We want to know what it was about these men that brought them together to form such a strange pact.”
“Strange? Why was it strange?” She stopped gathering lunch supplies and leaned on the counter.
“Historically speaking, these men shouldn’t have been in the same social circles or worked together in the courthouse at all. Your great-great-grandfather was the son of Chinese immigrants; the other three were an Irish immigrant, the grandson of a freed African slave, and a descendant of an original English colonist.”
“Well, it sounds interesting, but I don’t know anything about a key.” Maybe he would try to call someone else in her family. Her husband wasn’t likely to let her participate in a treasure hunt anyway.
“I understand. I do want you to know what we’re planning, however. We’re in contact with film producers to make a documentary about this story. This is why we want to include the families of the men: if whatever is in the safe warrants the attention, you, your family, and the other descendants will be featured. The Historical Society is covering all travel expenses.” He cleared his throat again. “Obviously, this will only work if all four families find their keys.”
“But what if there’s nothing valuable in the safe?”
“I would be surprised if that’s the case. We’re waiting for the family members to open the safe so we can document the reveal. It will be so much more meaningful if the descendants use the original keys a century later.”
Her mind registered one of his earlier comments. “So if I find this key, you’ll pay for me to go to Richmond to open a door?” I’ll get to travel? For free?
“Assuming the other three descendants also find theirs, yes.”
Grant yelled at Sophie; Michelle needed to wrap this up before the argument became physical. “Okay, look, my kids are getting impatient. Your number’s in my phone. I’ll call you if I learn anything about a key.”
“I appreciate that.”
She disconnected, and after checking on the kids, she started assembling the sandwiches.
Finding a key after a hundred years would be next to impossible. This was important enough to make a documentary about it, though, and a little time in the spotlight would be a refreshing change of pace.
And she would get to travel across the country.
She couldn’t help but get excited at the prospect of getting away. If she didn’t have to pay for the trip, Mark might even let her go.
In the middle of spreading peanut butter on a slice of bread, she froze as her hopes faded.
She hadn’t been away from her kids for more than half a day since they were born. Mark was determined to have the household run as he saw fit, meaning her job was to raise the kids and keep the house while he worked to support them. Working extra hours so she wouldn’t need an income was his sacrifice, he would say, though she doubted his avoidance of any child-rearing-related dirty work was a real sacrifice. He liked to make her feel guilty if she wanted some time to herself; neglecting her needs and devoting all her time and energy to the kids was her expected sacrifice.
This time would be different. The historian had called her because her family was part of something important. She wouldn’t let Mark make her feel guilty for wanting to find out what it was, no matter how big of a fit he threw.
As she set the children’s lunch plates on the table, she brainstormed who in her family might keep an old key and imagined what it would be like to take a flight by herself.
She tried to suppress a smile.