Death is Potential

Book Award Sub-Category
2024 Young Or Golden Writer
Equality Award
Book Cover Image
Logline or Premise
When U.S. Marshall Kate Swift enters a trauma-recovery workshop, she never expects to be caught up in a fiery romance and a violent crime wave.
First 10 Pages

Death is Potential

(A Kate Swift Mystery)


Chapter One (9am): Laura

“You’re driving too fast.” Detective Sergeant Daniel O’Malley muttered, as he looked up from reading his phone messages.

Dan sounds like my father, Detective Laura Sanchez thought. He’s old enough to be my father. “I’m going sixty in a fifty-five zone. We’re driving in a new Dodge Charger Pursuit. I’m a graduate of the Bondurant driving school at Laguna Seca. Just close your eyes and relax, Sarge. Leave the driving to the professional.”

“You know, Sanchez, you have potential. But your attitude could give you problems.”

“No one has ever told me that before.” She laughed. They were headed south on Highway One, headed for Satori Institute below Big Sur. Their black sedan cleared Carmel Highlands and entered Garrapata State Park, more than two-thousand acres serving as the mountainous entrance to the southern Monterey County coastal wild.

“Have you ever been to Big Sur?”

“My dad and I have been fishing at Molera State Park,” Sanchez said. “But I’ve never been any further south than the gas station in the campground. What about you?”

“Patty and I have been camping in Big Sur,” Dan said. “And I was on the grounds of Satori a long time ago.”

“What was it like?”

“Rich hippies running around in the nude, taking drugs.”

“Sounds like my kind of place,” Sanchez laughed. “Except for the ‘rich’ and ‘hippie’ part. Why were you there?”

“Something similar to this call: a body washed up on the beach.”

“What was the story?”

“What you’d expect: a rich hippie got stoned and fell off the cliff.”

“Ouch. And it was ruled an accident?”

“Yes. But the guy’s family sued Satori for negligence.”

“What happened?”

“I heard through the grapevine that there was an out-of-court settlement. Satori didn’t acknowledge any responsibility, but agreed to taking additional security precautions, such as putting up fences.”

“Sounds like the Sheriff’s Department doesn’t get called to Satori very often.”

“Our records show nothing in the last couple of years. That’s probably because Satori is so isolated; it’s only 30 miles from Monterey but it takes more than an hour to drive down Highway One. When the Institute has problems, they take care of them themselves.”

“Except for when there’s a dead body.” The two deputies drove over Bixby Creek Bridge, a graceful, 700-foot-long, single-span concrete arch. “I love this bridge. We should get out and take a selfie.”

Dan studied his twenty-seven-year-old partner and then smiled. “You almost had me.”

“I would have texted it back to Homicide: ‘having wonderful time, wish you were here.’” They both laughed. “Since the last dead body was obviously an accident, why is homicide involved now?”

“Because this dead guy is a big shot. One of the Satori founders.”

“Okay. I get it.” They drove through the historic Brazil Ranch and passed the Hurricane Point turnout with its view of miles of Big Sur coastline, the Santa Lucia mountains rising dramatically from the Pacific Ocean. “Another great place for a selfie.”

Dan continued to study his phone messages.

“Explain to me what happens at Satori, besides nudity and drugs.”

“I’m not sure I can explain it very well. It’s a conference center at a hot-springs resort. They advertise ‘increasing your human potential.’ People come from all over and take classes.”

“What kinds of classes?”

“They offer different kinds of therapy. Like couples’ therapy.”

“That’s what Gary and I need.”


“Because he wants us to be a couple and then spends all of his time in San Francisco.” Sanchez sipped her cold coffee. “Maybe I can get therapy while I’m there, to work on my issues.”

“What issues?”

“Where do I start? I have a boyfriend who is afraid of commitment. I have a mother who won’t stop badgering me about producing a grandchild. I have co-workers who won’t take me seriously because I’m a woman. I have citizens who don’t believe I’m a cop, who call me ‘Chica’ behind my back.” Sanchez waved her right hand in the air and then regripped the steering wheel.

“At least you weren’t the first Hispanic woman in the department. You should be grateful that Dr. Hidalgo became coroner.”

Sanchez rolled her eyes. “It’s like following in the footsteps of Marie Curie.”

“Who is Marie Curie?”

Sanchez bit her cheek. “A famous restaurant owner.” She waited 30 seconds. “What other kinds of classes do they have as Satori?”

“Massage. Painting.” Dan scratched his head. “Music Therapy; Patty’s friend Julie took some classes at Satori.”

“Who was the dead guy?”

“Malcolm Eastwick.” Dan read his notes. “He and Richard Staybrook founded Satori thirty years ago. They’re both therapists. They wanted a place, on the coast, to give workshops and bought the Satori property because of the location and the fact that it has natural hot springs,” Dan mumbled. “Staybrook is also deceased. Happened at Satori but doesn’t say how, just ‘accidental.’”

“Interesting coincidence.”

“Yes. When I get cell reception, I’ll ask for more details.

“What do we know about Eastwick’s death?”

“Not much. Someone saw the body on the beach at the bottom of a cliff. It took a while to get down to it. When they got there, they realized the victim was Eastwick; they couldn’t leave him where they found him, because of the incoming tide, so they carried him up to the office. And then they called us.”

“Why were we assigned?”

“Because of your attitude, Sanchez. Sheriff John wanted to reward you for your attitude.” Dan smiled. “Actually, Malcolm Eastwick was a major contributor to the Sheriff’s reelection campaign; so, he has taken a personal interest in this case.”

“And he wanted his best investigators on it. Good judgment by Sheriff John.”

Chapter Two (3PM): Tom

I arrived at Satori in the afternoon, intending to hit the baths but the bed in my private room looked so inviting, I ended up napping until dinner was served.

As I walked to the dining hall, I passed a black Monterrey County Sheriff’s Department sedan parked next to the office and wondered if they were investigating drug sales, a perennial Satori problem. I stepped into the small, redwood-paneled bar for a glass of wine and immediately ran into a couple of staff members that Fiona had worked with the last time we’d been at Satori.

“Nice to see you, Tom,” Marcia Ball, the Satori outreach coordinator, said. “Are you here for a workshop? Where’s Fiona?” Marcia was a well maintained, middle-aged white woman with an extravagant French braid.

“Fiona passed away eleven months ago,” I rasped as my throat constricted. “Her breast cancer returned.”

Marcia choked up. “I’m so sorry to hear that.” Marcia was joined by her assistant, Grace, a slight twenty-something Hawaiian woman. “We always enjoyed working with her, working with your company.”

“Fiona loved it here. When I saw that David Sanders was giving his ‘Transitions workshop.’ I thought I would take the course and contemplate my life after Fiona.”

“You must miss her a lot,” Grace said. “How long were the two of you together?”

“Almost twenty years. We met right after I finished business school at Stanford.”

“Do you remember Carl?” Marcia asked as a tall young Black man joined us. “Carl works in public relations. Carl, this is Tom Scott.”

I didn’t remember Carl, but we shook hands warmly. He stood out in his white-shirt and navy-blue blazer, a stark contrast to the other men who were dressed like surfers.

“Did you hear the big news?” Carl asked.

“I haven’t heard anything,” I said. “I just got here.”

“They found a body on the beach this morning.”

“Someone said that it’s Malcolm,” Marcia added in a shaky voice.

“Wow,” I said. “I noticed a Sheriff’s Department vehicle parked by the office. Wow. They found Malcolm’s body? What happened?”

“I don’t think they know what happened,” Carl said.

“Did you know him?” Marcia asked.

“I met him during one of the events we helped you stage. Fiona had several conversations with Malcolm.”

“What did Fiona think of him?” Grace asked, arching one eyebrow.

She thought Malcolm was a predator, I thought but didn’t say. He tried to hit on her even though he knew she was married. “Smart. Lots of ideas. Tried to interfere with our plans at the last minute.”

“Sounds like Malcolm.” Marcia chuckled. “When he was around, he had a tendency to micro-manage.”

I started to say something but was interrupted by David Sanders. “Tom, so good to see you. I’m sorry to hear about Fiona’s passing. How are you doing?”

David and I had known each other for twenty years. He was about ten years older than me. We were the same height, but David was twenty pounds heavier and had a lot more hair. His was turning grey. In another five years, David will look like Santa Claus.

“I’m in and out,” I said. “On the one hand, I’m glad she doesn’t have to suffer anymore – the last year of her life was very painful. On the other hand, I miss her companionship; I miss her buoyant personality.”

“You’re an upbeat guy,” David said. “And resilient.”

“I hope so. I expect to live forty more years and I don’t want to mope around with a black cloud hovering over my head.”

“Like the cartoon character, Joe Btfsplk?” David chuckled. “You’re not remotely like him.” He clutched my hand. “I’m glad you’re going to be in the workshop. Most of the participants are newbies.”

“I heard they found Malcolm’s body on the beach,” I said.

“That’s what I just learned,” David answered. “I’m not sure if Cheryl knows yet; I’ve been trying to find her.” Cheryl Taylor was a senior therapist on the Satori board; she had been married to Richard Staybrook, the other Satori founder, who died. “Excuse me but I need to find her.”

David strode off.

“Are you coming to our fundraiser, on Wednesday night?” Marcia asked.

“I was planning on it. Do you think they’ll still hold it, given Malcolm’s death?”

Marcia furrowed her brow. “I think so. We’ve got the whole board coming in.” She glanced at Grace who sighed but said nothing. “I’ll let you know if it’s cancelled.”


“Would you like to join us for dinner?”

“Thanks.” I followed Marcia, Grace, and Carl to the food line.