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Characters in Crime

Unhanged Arthur: The Raffle Baby by Ilonka Halsband

This week, we are publishing excerpts from the manuscripts up for this year’s Unhanged Arthur for Best Unpublished First Novel 

In this excerpt of The Raffle Baby, Ilonka Halsband introduces us to Emma Shaw and gives us a tantalizing glimpse into her troubled life. 

(photo credit: iStock photo)

Every year the festival launched its program with a sampling of readings by some of the presenters. The event would be held in one of the Prairie Lily Resort’s banquet rooms. As General Manager, Heather hardly had time to breathe during festival week so it wasn’t surprising that duty called her away now. 

I scooped up the brochures and the lottery ticket and we left the coffee shop together. Heather, who never took an elevator if she could take the stairs, circled around a cluster of arriving guests and made for the wide sweep of staircase that led to her second floor office. I gave the arrivals a once-over, wondering if any of this year’s author presenters might be among them but the predominance of gray hair, fanny packs, and running shoes told me the wearers were probably here for the resort’s casino. I stepped aside and waited for them to pass.

I didn’t realize I’d stopped in front of the elevator until someone slammed into me from behind. 
I am not a small woman, despite the fifty pounds I’d worried away in the last two years, but the force of the collision almost knocked me to my knees. I staggered a step and managed to hang onto my shoulder bag, but the brochures flew from my hand and fanned out across the lobby floor.

“I’m so sorry!” I said, turning. Even as the words fell out of my mouth I wondered what peculiar instinct had me apologising to the man who had crashed into me.

“Not the smartest place to stand.”

His words ignited a three-alarm hot flash and for one fleeting moment I was tempted to plunge into the open elevator and let it whisk me away. Instead, I bent to retrieve my brochures while the newly arrived guests lingered to watch.

The man said nothing more but neither did he leave. Only after I’d crammed the brochures into my bag did he move and then it was to pick up the lottery ticket that had floated to a landing near a planter beside the elevator. He chuckled when he saw what it was and held it out to me. “Yours?”

Why did possession of a lottery ticket suddenly feel so foolish? Reluctantly I reached for it.
He did not let go. “Do I know you?”

I’d been avoiding eye contact, hoping to get to the moment when we went our separate ways. His question caused me to look at him. Sixtyish, silver hair, blue eyes. While there was something familiar about him, I knew we’d never met.

He continued to study me. “I’m sure I know you.”

“I don’t think so.” I tugged the ticket free of his fingers. I had a good idea where he’d seen me and I wanted to be gone before he figured it out.

He snapped the fingers that seconds before had been pinching my lottery ticket. “You’ve been on the news. You’re that woman whose husband disappeared. Shaw. You’re Annie, aren’t you? No…not Annie…Amy. That’s it. Amy Shaw.”

“Emma,” I said.

“Of course. Emma. Did he ever come back, Emma? Or did he just keep going?” His gaze travelled from my blazing face, down past the shapeless length of my paisley jumper to my worn Birkenstocks, then back again. “Kept going, didn’t he?” He flicked the lottery ticket in my hand with a manicured finger. “Good luck with that.”

Ilonka Halsband began writing in the first grade when she decided to add a bit of mystery to the dull lives of Dick and Jane. Ilonka worked in fast food, pharmacy, hospitality, insurance, property development, and accounting before retiring to Moose Jaw, home of the Saskatchewan Festival of Words. Both Moose Jaw and the festival figure prominently in The Raffle Baby but Ilonka assures anyone planning to attend the popular literary event that any murders are purely fictional.

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