An excerpt from Perfect POISON, the fourth book in the Peggy Lee Garden Mystery Series.

Perfect Poison

Berkley Prime Crime

ISBN13  978-0-425-22127-3

Release Date: May, 2008

The group gathered closer to the shoreline, ignoring fast paced lightning strikes close by and intense wind pushing at their bodies. Ruth dragged herself up out of the water. Stephanie rushed out into the lake to help her. “He’s dead,” Ruth pronounced as soon as she took off her mouthpiece. “I found him wedged into the intake bulkhead gate at the base of the dam. It looks like he was sucked in. He didn’t have a chance.”

Her voice was strained and her gaze wandered uneasily across the crowd. Stephanie started crying and hugged her. The police chief nodded and pulled out his radio to call for help. The United representative took out his cell phone to relay the information to his superiors.

“I guess that’s it then.” Mayor Harrison stared at the dam. “How many times are we going to lose divers like this?”

“What do you mean?” Peggy asked.

“This is two that I know of. That dam is a menace. Something should be done about it before they send anyone else down there.”

“Careful with your words, Tom,” the Police Chief warned. “You aren’t only a citizen anymore.”

“Yes I am. And it’s about time someone spoke out about it.”

“Now’s not the time for politics.” Ruth’s steady but darker voice rode over the sound of the storm and the conversation around her. “We have to get the body up. The scene has to be processed and his family has to be notified.”

“Processed?” The Chief of Police seemed surprised at her words. “No crime took place here, ma’am. I think we need to send someone down for the body and get on with notifying his kin.”

“It doesn’t matter if the circumstances seem suspicious or not,” Ruth argued. “I’m a forensic underwater expert. This is what I do. This is the scene of a questionable death. It has to be processed.”

There was intense debate as to what the right thing was to do. It stopped abruptly when the United rep put away his cell phone and joined the group. “We have nothing to hide here. The diver’s death was an unfortunate accident, but we welcome processing the scene for future safety issues that could be addressed.”

Mayor Harrison mustered a wry smile. “Well, that says it all, doesn’t it? I guess we know what we’re doing now.”


The storm hung over Badin while they waited for another group of rescue workers and the Stanly County Sheriff. Peggy helped Ruth go over everything in her kit that she might need when she got down there to process the scene around the body.

“I wish they’d get here,” Ruth said for the tenth time. “I’d like to get this over with.”

“You’ve done your part,” Peggy assured her. “I don’t think anyone would think less of you if you decide to leave this for someone else.”

Ruth’s head shot up. “You heard them. This will be just another drowning accident if I don’t stay and take care of it. This is a new day for underwater investigations. But most people don’t realize it.”

“I’m sure this man’s family will appreciate whatever you can do for him.” Peggy wasn’t surprised by Ruth’s anxiety. She knew the other woman had given up doing the real life job to teach because she’d seen too much.

“Thanks. I’m glad you’re here. I guess I need the moral support.” Ruth glanced at Stephanie who was standing outside the truck talking to Paul. “She’s a smart girl. Good student. She’s just too eager. And she’s not ready for actually seeing a drowning victim.”

Peggy wasn’t sure if she was ready for that either but she didn’t mention it to Ruth. Her friend was upset enough as it was. “Is there anything I can do that could make this easier for you?”

“Not really. I appreciate you being here. And I’d like your thoughts after I get the body out. I think it might be difficult to make them let us have some time to look it over, but we’ll do the best we can.”

With six weeks forensic training behind her, Peggy didn’t want to point out that this was her first case as an examiner. She understood her role, grisly as it might be. She’d be looking for anything botanical on or in the diver’s body that could help explain why and how he died.

There was no way of knowing what she’d be looking for, if anything. She remembered distinctly attending Ruth’s seminar where the underwater expert spoke of how to tell what kind of fish had bitten flesh that had been underwater and different ways of deciding how long a drowning victim had been down. It wasn’t the most pleasant of conversations, but she had to admit to a certain morbid fascination with the subject.


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