Daughter Am I: When twenty-five-year-old Mary Stuart learns she inherited a farm from her recently murdered grandparents — grandparents her father claimed had died before she was born — she becomes obsessed with finding out who they were and why someone wanted them dead. Along the way she accumulates a crew of feisty octogenarians — former gangsters and friends of her grandfather. She meets and falls in love Tim Olson, whose grandfather shared a deadly secret with her great-grandfather. Now Mary and Tim need to stay one step ahead of the killer who is desperate to dig up that secret.
Mary blinked in the sudden brightness, then blinked again when she saw Iron Sam. He seemed to be the personification of the inorganic being, as Happy called it. His skin looked ashen. Charcoal bags hung below slate eyes. His hair, still thick, still with the deep widow’s peak, had faded to pewter. The only hint of color in his face was the gold tooth visible between slightly parted gunmetal-gray lips.
He glanced up as they entered, but no other part of his body moved. Nor did he speak.
“Hi, Sam,” Lila Lorraine said.
The slate eyes shifted toward her.
“It’s me. Lila Lorraine.”
Iron Sam nodded, the merest inclination of his head.
Happy stepped forward. “Remember me? Happy?”
Again the tiny nod.
Mary wondered if he were paralyzed, but if so, wouldn’t he be in a wheelchair instead of an ordinary wooden chair?
Any compassion she might have felt withered when his eyes met hers. Feeling like a bug impaled on a pin, she gazed at him, unable to look away, unable to move a single muscle. After what seemed like a long time, but must have been only seconds, he turned his attention to Kid Rags, leaving her feeling limp and very thirsty, as if her vital fluids had been sucked right out of her.
With nonchalance Mary could only marvel at, Kid Rags pulled out his flask and offered it to Iron Sam. When Iron Sam nodded toward the plastic cup sitting on the bedside table, Kid Rags poured two fingers of bourbon and handed the cup to him. He sniffed it, inhaling deeply with closed eyes, then took a mouthful and held it a moment before swallowing it. His lips twitched — a smile perhaps? — then he took another sip.
The alcohol fumes mingling with the hospital odors and the stench of decay emanating from Iron Sam’s pores turned Mary’s stomach. She swallowed hard, then swallowed again, knowing she shouldn’t show weakness in front of Iron Sam, and somehow she managed to get her queasiness under control.
He flicked a look in her direction, as if sensing her struggle, then concentrated on his drink once more.
“My name is Mary Stuart,” she said when she could no longer stand the heavy silence. She introduced Kid Rags, Crunchy, and Teach, then explained about her grandparents’ deaths.
“What can you tell me about my grandparents? You might have known them as Jimmy Boots and Gina Dale.”
Pat Bertram is the author of the suspense novels Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Follow Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.