Today we are excited to introduce you to 13 Steps to the Cellar by Teresa Mathews.
13 Steps to the Cellar
Thirteen Steps to the Cellar. They were steep; they were narrow—but was a fall down them enough to have caused the twenty-seven deep lacerations to her aunt’s head?
Callie Harris travels from her home in Alabama to her aunt’s former mansion in Maine to unravel the haunting forty-year-old mystery of Dr. Laverne Harris Doss’ brutal death.
Why wasn’t a murder weapon found? Was her uncle justly convicted of the killing? Was his mistress involved? Or was the murderer the bearded stranger rumored to have arrived by train that night?
In the charming town of Richmond, located on the banks of Maine’s historic Kennebec River, Callie uncovers the community’s darkest secrets—a botched police investigation, a betrayed widow’s lie, a dead woman’s blackmail, and a wealthy philanthropist’s shame. The web of intrigue extends far beyond her suspicions and its connection to her personal story pierces Callie to her core.
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13 Steps to the Cellar Excerpt:
Arriving in the front office, she encountered a frumpy, middle-aged woman sitting behind a glass window. Unsuccessfully waiting to be acknowledged, Callie finally asked, “Excuse me, is there someone who can help me?”
The clerk looked up from her computer. “What do you need?” she asked.
“I’m here to see an archived box of evidence.”
The woman sighed. “Do you have the name of the case and case number?”
“Yes, yes I do,” Callie replied, pulling a piece of paper from her purse and slipping it through the glass opening.
Studying the note, the clerk stood and, without explanation, shuffled out the door.
While waiting, Callie observed the furnishings in the drab office. Pieces of outdated furniture cluttered the small fifteen-by-fifteen room. A potted ivy sitting on the clerk’s desk had long green runners dropping to the floor, with one trailing climber taped across the top of the computer. The green plant and a ticking clock above the door appeared to be the only signs of life in the building.
After what seemed like an eternity, the woman returned carrying a tattered cardboard box. “Follow me,” she muttered, using her head to motion to a nearby door.
Callie followed her down the hall to a room containing a long table lined with wooden chairs.
“Here it is. Took forever to find this one,” the clerk complained, dropping the box on the tabletop. Without any further conversation, she walked to the end of the table, took a seat, and shuffled through some nearby papers.
Feeling certain the clerk was watching, Callie carefully opened the box. Taking out the first item, she held a clear bag filled with multiple strands of hair. Locks matching my own auburn color. Unexpectedly moved and with tears brimming in her eyes, she took a deep breath, placed the evidence aside, and continued removing the bags one at a time.
Several weren’t labeled and contained what appeared to be broken pieces of concrete.
They’re from the cellar floor. She picked up another bag that had a tiny hole in the corner. Sand trickled out. Setting it on the table, she remembered reading sand had been thrown on the cellar floor in the cover-up.
Labeled Wool fiber sample, Callie picked up the largest bag. Splotched with dark stains, the cut piece of heavy fabric filled the clear bag. Callie turned it over, studied the back, then flipped it to the front. She held it a while longer, even lifting it to her nose to smell. Keeping it at arm’s length, she studied it again, then shuddered. Laverne’s blood is on this blanket. She hastily laid it aside.
With only a few pieces remaining, she pulled out another see-through bag and gasped. It contained a classic, simply-designed watch with gold-toned numerals. The hour hand pointed to the eight, and the minute hand rested on three. The time was frozen. Callie knew from her research she was staring at the record of her aunt’s time of death. Holding the bagged watch in one hand, she ran her fingers across the broken glass.
The newspapers reported the watch had been discovered near her aunt’s body. The theory was Laverne was kicked or pushed down the stairs, and her watch hit the railing as she tumbled downward, causing it to fling from her wrist.
Wanting to share this moment with her brothers, she asked the clerk if it was okay to take pictures.
“Whatever,” the woman answered with a careless shrug.
Using her iPhone, Callie snapped pictures of the watch at different angles, then continued looking through the evidence.
Inside the next bag, she felt an object wrapped in tissue. She used her fingers to massage the article into view. She took a gulping breath when she saw the simple gold band.
Laverne’s wedding ring had been the focus of several newspaper headlines. One read, Murdered Doctor Threw Her Ring in Jealous Rage. Another read, Esteemed Detective Finds Ring Under Refrigerator in Murder Mansion on the Hill. Studying the band, Callie had a fleeting desire she’d like to slip the ring on her finger. But glancing at the inauspicious looking clerk, she didn’t dare ask. Instead, she placed it on the table.
A book was the last item wedged in the bottom of the box. Callie lifted it and used her finger to trace the gold lettering on the leather-bound hardcover, which read Appointment Book. Opening to the first page, she studied the neat, elegant penmanship.
Beginning with January, she slid her finger down the page as she read each entry, envisioning her aunt entering every appointment.
January 1 – 12p.m. – Lunch at the Club in Gardiner
January 2 – 8a.m. – Jeryl Welch
8:30a.m. – Regenia Upshaw
9:00a.m. – Dona Young
9:30a.m. – Marsha Tomlin
The list continued with every time slot filled. Laverne’s day began at 8 a.m. and ended at 6 p.m. On several days, the morning was blocked off with school board meetings. Then, without delay, patients would resume after lunch.
Callie studied entries for January, February, and was beginning March when her eyes widened. On March the sixth, in the seven o’clock time slot was written in her aunt’s neat cursive, Meet Vernon at Portland Airport. Callie leaned closer to be certain she was reading it correctly. No question, the name is Vernon.
She stood, closed the book, and placed it in the box. She put everything back as she’d found it, thanked the clerk, and hurried out of the building. As she reached the car, she leaned against the door and took a deep, cleansing breath. The name Vernon drummed in her head. Surely, this is a mistake. Vernon was her father, and he always said he’d never been to Maine.
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About the Author: Teresa Mathews is a graduate of The University of South Alabama. She’s a member of the Mobile Writers Guild and serves on the Board of Directors for the Alabama Nursery and Landscape Association.
An avid gardener and artist, she has multiple book covers to her credit. Several years ago after visiting the site of her real-life aunt’s murder, Teresa discovered a third passion–storytelling. Although inspired by an actual tragedy, Thirteen Steps to the Cellar is fiction.
Raised on the Gulf Coast, Teresa, her husband, and son now live on a farm with a second home on the sparkling white sands of Fort Morgan, Alabama. This is her first novel.
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