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Cold Midnight

Cold Midnight by author Beth Kanell

Cold Midnight

by Beth Kanell

For high school freshman Claire Benedict, the pressures of home and school are huge — her father is home from the Great War now that it’s 1921, but he’s too depressed to work, her mother is furious at still supporting the family, Claire’s friends have stepped aside, and teachers pick on her for her family background. So climbing the downtown roofs at night gives her a world of her own, free and wide-ranging. To her surprise, there’s another night climber: Ben Riley, looking for a miracle. When the two of them witness both an arsonist and a late-night poker game that ends in murder, their sleuthing turns risky. Skills alone won’t get them through the dangers that lie ahead.

Price:  $15.95

Selected excerpts from “Cold Midnight”:

The town lay out before her as if Claire were its only audience. Golden lamplight and silver starlight splashed through and against windows. Halfway down the hill the French Catholic church interrupted with its dark stone steeple. Closer to her, someone pulled a curtain closed at an upper level. A late truck growled as it pulled up Eastern Avenue toward Main Street. A dog began to bark angrily, a second one yelped in conversation, and she caught a hint of a distant shouting voice.

They can’t hear me, she thought. They can’t see me. But they are mine, all mine.

Claire took a deep breath, held it, and bent toward the windowframe. It took a long, slow moment before she could see anything at all. Partly that was because the room inside was dimly lit just by a pair of candles, no electrical or gas lamps. The candles sat on an oval wooden table. Around the table sat six, no, eight men, most of them looking at playing cards – the ones in their hands and the ones on the table. Two sitting next to each other had no cards and sat bent forward to focus on the game, eyes half hooded in concentration. Something about their fierce attentive faces frightened Claire, and she pulled back from the window a bit. Men like that, she didn’t want them seeing her. Each man in the room had a short glass with some kind of liquid, probably liquor. Most of their conversation was muted through the windowpane, but she heard clearly enough the round of harsh laughter that suddenly circled the table. Glasses thudded back down, along with a thump of someone’s fist on the cloth-covered playing surface.

Claire watched her father cross Main Street, and saw him pause at the far side to cough. He started up more slowly. She wondered whether she ought to go with him, and tell her story again to the other firefighters. His belief in her made her feel like her father was not so confused after all. Would others believe him, though, as he told what she’d seen? And what if her father tried to catch James Walker himself, without knowing that the fire-setter was most likely a killer as well?