An excerpt from Fruit of the Poisoned Tree, the second book in the Peggy Lee Garden Mystery Series.

Fruit of the Poisoned Tree

Berkley Prime Crime

ISBN - 0-425-20967-9

Release Date: May 2, 2006

“I’m not anywhere near pre-med yet, Peggy,” Sam declared with a rebellious snarl. “I might change my mind about being a doctor at all.”

As if a messenger from heaven came down to deny Sam’s words, a shaft of sunlight glinted off of a shiny chrome bumper on a burgundy Lincoln going up on the Interstate 485 ramp. It caught Peggy’s eye, like a shooting star set against the clear blue sky.

The car should’ve slowed down on the sharp turn. It should’ve curved past the concrete rail. It didn’t. She grasped Sam’s arm as they watched the car careen off the hundred-foot-high overpass. “Oh my God!”

Sam and Peggy watched the car as it seemed to hover in the air for a moment, suspended by the forward thrust of the speed it was traveling. It happened so quickly, yet time seemed to slow down around it. Too quickly, the spell was broken. Like something from a nightmare, the car sailed down from the sky, hit the pavement and rolled across the highway.

When they realized what happened, drivers jammed on their brakes to avoid the accident scene. Car horns sounded as several vehicles slammed into the cars in front of them. Angry drivers yelled and cursed from open windows. Nothing moved on the left side of the road going toward Charlotte but traffic flowed freely in the right lanes going out of town.

“Pull over!” Peggy was already opening her door. Shakespeare started barking as Sam pulled off on the brown grassy shoulder. She jumped out of the truck, pushing the Great Dane back as he tried to go with her. “Stay, Shakespeare!”

“Wait, Peggy! Where are you going?” Sam tried to call her back. “You’re going to get killed out there.” He tried to follow her but cars whizzed by, honking their horns when they saw his door open. He watched her run through traffic, zigzagging to the tune of angry curses and blasting car horns. The first clear instant, he jumped out to follow her.

Once they saw the wreck, drivers in the three right lanes slowed down or stopped to point and gasp, bringing traffic to a crawl on that side as well. It made it easier for Peggy to cross the road. If traffic had been flowing as it usually did at seventy miles an hour or better, she might be injured or dead.

Not stopping to consider the matter, Peggy got to the left side of the Interstate and dodged the cars that were erratically trying to move around the steaming wreck before the police got there and shut everything down. Only a few close drivers actually saw the car come down from the ramp. Most were still trying to figure out what stopped their commute.

“Call 911,” a man called out from one of the cars she passed. The back end of his car was smashed from the violent stop he made behind the car that fell from the ramp. There was a nasty red gash on his forehead.

“I will,” she yelled back without stopping. “Stay where you are. Help will be here soon!” She pushed 911 on her cell phone and yelled at the dispatcher when she answered.

Peggy reached the wreck, heart pounding, breath frosting in the cold air. She couldn’t see the car clearly on the overpass before it went down. It was just a blur of color and form. But something told her it wasn’t a stranger who went over the ramp in front of her.

Intuition swamped her emotions. She knew someone she cared about was involved. There was no scientific proof to back her theory; until she looked at the new burgundy colored Lincoln.

Even then her mind denied it, tried to negotiate with the truth. There had to be hundreds of burgundy Lincolns in Charlotte. What were the chances that this could happen? Yet even as she clawed at the knowledge, she knew the truth: It was Park Lamonte’s car.

Hundreds of pictures of her college friend flew through her mind like squalls passing over the ocean. He was funny. Sarcastic. Playing pranks like Sam. How many times had she told John back in those days that she would’ve married Park if she hadn’t met him first?

Then they graduated and he went on to law school in Chapel Hill. They were still close for a time, arguing about right and wrong late into the night. Even later, their friendship endured. He was there when they came to tell her about John’s death. He was there when they buried him.

It couldn’t be Park. But she knew it was.

The car had come down nose first then flipped over to rest on the roof after rolling a few yards. It was a miracle that another car hadn’t run right into it. Not that it mattered. The damage from the fall was extensive. Metal and plastic were crushed and wrenched into terrible shapes. Smoke came from the engine but Peggy couldn’t see any sign of fire yet. That was amazing too. It seemed like the impact should’ve caused the car to explode. The pavement was creased beneath it.

She lay down on the cold, wet pavement and looked in through the smashed driver’s side window. The opening was barely a few inches high. She prayed that another miracle had occurred and he was still alive.  “Park? Can you hear me?”

“Yes.” He reached out a hand to touch the one she dared to slide through the shattered glass. “Peggy? Is that you?”

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