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On the Cutting Room Floor by Etta Faire


On the Cutting Room Floor - In Landover, life can be a horror movie, literally.
In 1987, a film crew came to Landover Lake to make a horror movie, and many locals got bit parts. It was a lot of fun until something went wrong, and one of the starlets ended up dead.
It’s a case that still haunts Sheriff Caleb Bowman to this day, and he’s finally willing to see if Carly can conjure up the spirit and help him solve it.
Carly is not too enthusiastic about helping her ex’s cousin out. The man still thinks he should have inherited Gate House and he’s never been nice about it.
But he does hold one of the key pieces to the curse, a scrapbook from Gate House that Carly is dying to see… but not literally.
While channeling with the ghost to 1987, and digging deeper into her case, Carly realizes the closer she comes to solving this murder, the closer she’s coming to the cutting room floor herself.
This case is far from cold. Can she figure out who the killer is before she gets a starring role herself in this horror movie?


On the Cutting Room Floor by Etta Faire Book Chapter One


If anyone would have told me a year ago that I’d be heading into Sheriff Caleb Bowman’s office to ask for a favor, I would have told them they needed to stop inhaling so deeply when they pumped their gas.

But here I was, standing right in front of the red brick building with the words “Landover County Sheriff’s Office” in curved writing on its window.

The air was hot and sticky, and in the glass's reflection, I saw my blondish brown curls were already sticking to my head like a frizz helmet trying to protect me. I fluffed them out, then tucked my sleeveless blouse into my nice slacks.

Mock turtlenecks weren’t usually my thing. I only pulled this outfit out of the closet this morning because I told myself if I dressed professionally, I would feel powerful. In reality, I felt itchy and overdressed.

But frizz helmets and itchy outfits were the least of my problems.

I was going to see Caleb Bowman, after all.

Caleb was my ex-husband’s cousin. And my ex was on the likable side of the family, which said a lot because no one liked him.

But Caleb was particularly awful to me because he thought he should have inherited Gate House when my ex died. And technically, he should have. Jackson didn’t have any siblings, and we were divorced when he died.

I took a deep breath before grabbing the glass door. The air conditioning felt good on my bare arms. The police department smelled like cleaner mixed with tacos, the lingering smells of a late lunch.

Christine smiled from the front desk, bright red lipstick coated her front teeth. She was the dispatcher here, a woman around 50 with short auburn hair and a penchant for trying out every lipstick color my friend Shelby brought with her when she came around with her basket of samples.

As soon as she saw me come in, she hustled over to the counter to say hello and give me a quick hug.

“I tell you, Carly,” she said. “I have been to the diner three times this summer, and I still have not seen Shelby Winehouse once. I think she’s avoiding me. If you see her, tell her I am dying to try on this season’s makeup collection. I’ll even throw a makeup party.”

“I’ll tell her, but Shelby’s been real busy with schoolwork,” I replied, like I’d talked to Shelby recently myself. Christine wasn’t the only one Shelby seemed to be avoiding. “You know she’s gone back to get her nursing degree.”

“I know. Bless her heart,” Christine said. “Working at the diner, raising five kids, going back to school… that’s gotta be hard. But I literally had to scrape the last bits of lipstick out of the tube this morning with a bobby pin. This junkie needs her fix.” She winked, so I’d know she was joking. But, I knew the junkie was dead serious.

She looked me over. “Here to see the sheriff, huh?”

I tried not to feel self-conscious in my professional outfit. But I always felt the most abnormal when I tried to look normal in life.

“Have a seat, hon,” she told me, motioning to one of the metal chairs sitting in the lobby section. “I’ll see if he’s ready for you.” She went in the back room, and I looked around, pretending to study the “Most Wanted” posters on the bulletin board like I cared to track down criminals.

I wondered if I’d see my boyfriend while I was at the sheriff’s office. He was the deputy, but he was usually out on a call.

Instead, as if on cue, my dead ex-husband appeared on the chair next to me. I should have known he was traveling on me. My professional outfit didn’t have pockets to carry the ghost repellant my boss at the hippie store made for me.

He looked good today. He was a man more than 20 years my senior, but he never looked it. They don’t tell you this in the beauty-cream commercials, but the real secret to looking young is having a cushy life.  

His coloring was strong. I could see the gray streaks in his brown beard and the dimple when he smirked at my professional outfit. “Carly doll, I see you’re teaching Sunday school later.”

I didn’t react to his comment. No one else could see or hear the ghosts around me, so I tried not to hold conversations with them in public.

Christine came back in, a wide smile on her face. “All righty, you can go on back,” she said.

My fancy new sandals clicked along the tile because they were too loose and didn’t strap right, making me feel even more self-conscious about how dressed up I was. And my mock turtleneck was slowly closing in on my neck.

I reminded myself that this wasn’t a favor I was asking for. The scrapbook was part of a set at Gate House.

I had no idea how it ended up at the country club, but, once found, they had assumed it was Caleb’s and had given it to him.

And now, I needed it back because I was pretty sure the scrapbooks were the key to ending the curse on Landover.

My plan was to show Caleb the other scrapbooks from the house that looked exactly like the one he had so he would see this was part of the trust.

Plus, he was a Bowman. He had to know about the family curse.

Caleb was on the phone when I got in, or he was pretending to be. I wouldn’t put it past the man to pretend to look busy just to be annoying. He pointed to the chair on the other side of his small desk and gave me the one-minute sign.

“No, Ms. Gunther, no one has forgotten. I was just looking at the case again today.” Caleb rolled his eyes at me and made a chatty gesture with one of his hands, like we were sharing a private joke about the person on the other end of the line. His other hand held a thin manilla folder. “No. Of course we have not given up. We will never give up until we find the perpetrator. Thank you for checking in…”

He was younger than my ex, but he had not aged nearly as well, and my ex was a dead guy. Caleb’s dark brown goatee looked like someone had painted it on his pale, weathered face.

Jackson hovered next to his cousin, mimicking Caleb’s movements while Caleb mimicked the woman on the line, like a couple of middle-aged third graders competing for attention.

After a minute of talking, Caleb set the phone in its cradle and leaned back in his chair. “I am a very busy man,” he said, like pretending to be on the phone proved it. “What is this fa-vor you need from me.” Caleb had a way of over enunciating his words, drawing out the syllables in a strange way.

I decided to just rip the Band-Aid off. This was going to sound weird, no matter how I said it. “It’s not really a favor.” I laughed, surprised by how my voice quivered. I adjusted my blouse to make sure my bra straps weren’t showing. “Judy at the country club gave you a scrapbook, but it belongs to Gate House, and… uh… I’d like it back.”

Caleb seemed to be thinking about what I said for a full minute, his beady eyes growing beadier the more he thought. “Are you talking about my family’s scrapbook?”

“Yes. The one Judy from the country club just gave you. The one labeled A Little Crooked House. It belongs to a whole set at Gate House. I have three so far…”

I pulled my phone from my purse and fumbled to bring up the photos I’d taken of the other scrapbooks.

“A whole set, huh?” he said. “Sounds like you have a lot of nerve here. You call up, talking ‘bout how you needed a fa-vor. And now I find out you got a lot of Bow-man family history sitting at Gate House, that I should be in possession of because my last name is Bow-man. Is your last name Bowman?”

He didn’t really want an answer. He continued. “The pictures in that scrapbook are of my great grandparents, not yours. How in the world are you gonna sit over there and tell me you’ve got a whole set of my great grandparents’ scrapbooks in your possession and you want this scrapbook too? You’re gonna have to take me to court. You will never see this scrapbook, not even a peek at it. You understand?”

I knew this had more to do with the house than the scrapbook.

“Maybe, just let me borrow it to make copies,” I suggested. “Maybe that could be the favor.”

He didn’t hear me. The veins on his neck were bulging now. “It is bad enough that my awful dead cousin left someone outside of the family the house when he died, but taking Bowman history goes too far and we will not stand for it. It’s about time we took back the family’s personal stuff in the house.”

Jackson rolled his eyes. “Cheat someone out of an inheritance once, and you never hear the end of it.”

I smiled politely. “Sorry, Caleb, but I inherited everything in the house. The whole she-bang.” I over-enunciated on purpose. “Now, when this is all over, I will gladly talk to you and the rest of your family about giving some personal things back…”

“When this is all over? When what is all over?” Caleb interrupted, leaning forward so I could know for sure he was the one who’d had tacos for lunch. It felt like he was daring me to say something crazy.

“When the curse is over.”

“The curse?” he replied like that was just as crazy as he thought. He leaned back again and let out a kind of sigh-laugh. “You gonna talk to me about the family curse? You sound crazier than my cousin. There is no curse. Now, go. You already got your inheritance. Go and enjoy it.”

He picked up the folder and opened it, mumbling to himself as I went for the door. “Crazy medium, thinking she talks to dead people. Now she’s talking about a curse and a scrapbook…”

I opened the door to his office, wondering how I was going to get the scrapbook now.

“Wait a second,” he said.

I turned around.

“Close the door.” He motioned with the folder he was holding. “I might be willing to make a deal. We’ll call it more of a wager.”

I closed the door again and sat down.

He held up the closed folder. “This case has been sitting on my desk since I got to be sheriff. Old crazy lady calls up every year on her dead sister’s birthday, asking us for updates about the murder, telling us something else she thinks is important. And frankly, I’m getting sick of it.” He looked at the ceiling for a second as he thought that one through. “I mean, I’m getting sick of breaking the poor woman’s heart. If you take the case, and solve the case, I might be willing to let you see the scrapbook for ten minutes.”

“Are you asking for a fa-vor?” I said.

“Don’t flatter yourself. But you seem to think you can solve cold cases, so we’ll see how you do on this one. If you lead me to the killer, and there’s enough evidence to arrest someone, then we’ll talk.”

I smiled and went to say something, but he cut me off. “I swear, though, if you tell anyone we’ve had this little conversation, the deal’s off. I can’t have people knowing you’re helping me.”

“So you do want my help,” I said. I leaned back in my chair and crossed my legs, suddenly feeling my power suit. “I’m going to need more than ten minutes with the scrapbook. I’ll need at least a week. I have to take it home, make copies of everything. Good copies.”

He took a deep breath. His nose whistled on the inhale. “I don’t know. That sounds like a long time, and I don’t even believe in that family curse.”

I lifted my hands in a take-it-or-leave-it gesture. “Well, I do, and my last name’s not even Bow-man. I believe in this curse enough to offer my services as a medium for free just to see a scrapbook, that’s not even a scrapbook of my family. Do you know how much I make to conjure up the dead? It’s expensive to hire any medium, but I am a high-end one.”

That was a lie. I actually had no idea. I never checked around with other mediums to know what the going rate was.

Caleb shook his head. “And that’s another thing. Stop saying stuff like that.” He lowered his voice. “Stop talking about crazy stuff. Conjuring up the dead makes this sound crazy, which makes me sound crazy. And if anyone asks, I did not employ you. I never talked to you. No more talking about conjuring up the dead, and no more curses.”

“Got it. I will keep your crazy a secret.”

“I am not crazy. But yes, keep this a secret or the deal is off. Not even a peep to Justin. You tell anyone, no scrapbook.”

I stared at the ceiling, unsure how I was going to keep this a secret from everyone, especially my boyfriend. I would need to talk to people, look things up at the library.

He handed me the folder. “Okay, in a nutshell. Like thirty years ago, a film crew stayed on the lake to make a movie. Very low budget horror. I was never interested, but some locals got a few bit parts as extras and stuff. They asked me… Glad I said no.”

I nodded, like I believed him.

He scratched at his dyed beard and continued. “Nothing but chaos for about two or three weeks in September back in 1987. All sorts of fake blood and fake dead bodies. Some sort of a movie about a guy with a hook at a camp. Anyway, just as they were about to wrap up the last big scene, they couldn’t find one of the actresses… Mandy Smalls… so they decided to film around her. They’d just film the back of her head, get someone to wear a blonde wig. Make do. She was nobody special in the movie, just some middle-aged, has-been actress playing the mom of the main character.”

He laughed like I would agree middle-aged actresses were no longer important.

After a couple silent seconds, his nose whistled again. “Anyhoo, they go to get something in the storage shed they were using to look through the film, and they found her. Movie film wrapped all around her throat.” He did a motion around his neck that I tried not to be horrified about seeing.

I thought about every horror movie I’d ever watched, and how my life kind of resembled a horror movie at times. But now, if I could make contact with this ghost, my life would literally be a horror movie while I channeled with her.

“The craziest part?” Caleb said. “The producer, who also happened to be the woman’s husband, seemed angrier about losing the film wrapped around his wife’s neck. Can you believe it? And worse, they actually released the movie. They pretty much just cut her out of most of it.”

I opened the folder. The name of the movie was Camp Dead Lake. My eyes went straight to the victim’s professional headshot clipped to the first page. She was a gorgeous 40-something-year-old with big 80s light blonde hair and glossed lips.

“Do you think the husband did it,” I asked.

“Police could never prove it. Airtight alibi that could not be cracked. Do you think you can solve the case or not? Cause I don’t really care. But it’d be nice to have a conviction on this.”

“I’ll have to see if I can make contact with the ghost,” I said, looking over at my ex, who was still hovering by his cousin. I knew Jackson had to vet all of my clients, and he was always one step ahead of me when it came to finding them.

Jackson nodded and smiled at me.

“I’m pretty sure I can find her,” I said to Caleb. “You have a deal.”

A slow smile crawled across his face. “Then I will give you my personal number.” A stack of business cards sat in a holder at the end of his desk. He took one out and scribbled on the back of it. “Only call if it’s an emergency.” He winked. “I’m gonna go make copies of the relevant parts of Mandy’s file for you.”

I politely took the card and flicked it in my hand as he left. It would have to be a real emergency for me to ever call that number.

“Is she our next client?” I mumbled under my breath to my ex as soon as the door closed.

“What is that supposed to mean?” Jackson asked.

“Is she here?” I said, my voice growing louder. “This sounds like the perfect case to move the curse along… so she must be here, right? You take care of setting up my clients.”

“You just told Caleb you knew where to find her,” Jackson replied. “So, I thought you knew. I don’t have a clue.”

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