Thursday, February 14, 2013

Sounds of Murder by Patricia Rockwell: Excerpt: Heroines with Heart Tour Stop


SOUNDS OF MURDER tells a tale of academic intrigue and death. At Grace University, a small southern college, no one in the Psychology Department likes Charlotte Clark, so no one is particularly upset when she is found murdered in the department’s million-dollar computer lab. But because she discovered the body, Associate Professor Pamela Barnes feels obligated to find Charlotte’s killer. When she discovers a recording of the murder that was accidentally produced during Charlotte’s struggle with the killer, she begins her own investigation.
Along the way, Pamela agonizes with her own conscience as she fights her growing fear. She attempts to understand her mysterious Department Chair, keep her curious colleagues informed, placate her protective husband, and avoid antagonizing a local rube detective who belittles her efforts–all while she struggles to make sense of the sounds on the recording.

As she gets deeper and deeper into her analysis–trying to connect what she hears in the recording with sounds from people (and potential killers) around her–she gets closer and closer to the killer. However, the killer is observing Pamela’s efforts and resolving to stop her.

Chapter 1
It was getting dark and the wind was picking up when Pamela Barnes roared into the small parking lot on the side of Blake Hall on the campus at Grace University.  Barely missing nicking the tail light on Dr. Swinton’s old Buick, she found one remaining spot at the far end just minutes before her graduate seminar was scheduled to start at 6 p.m.  She was just locking her Civic, when her graduate assistant, Kent Drummond, appeared.
"Hi, Dr. B," he greeted her, his ear stud gleaming in the last rays of sunlight.  "Got the last space, I see." 
"Yes," she smiled.  "Lucky me."  She tightened her jacket around her body.  The wind snapped her fine blonde hair briskly in front of her face.  Kent stepped beside her and the two of them strode purposefully towards the side entrance of the building. 
"Those were some hard articles you assigned for tonight, Dr. B," he noted, holding the door open for her as Pamela zipped inside before another gust of wind whipped up her skirt.
"It’s graduate school," explained Pamela, laughing.  "You don't expect it to be easy, do you?"  Kent chuckled weakly in response.
"Come on, Dr. B," he moaned, "Those articles were overkill."  Pamela registered his word choice with amusement.  Kent’s all black outfit with a blood-spattered machete design on the front of his t-shirt would never scream “conscientious graduate student” to the rest of the world, but she knew his “look” was all bravado.  He was one of her best students.
"That’s material you’re going to have to know," responded Pamela.
“If you say so. Oh, Dr. B, I ran that second group of subjects through the protocol.  You want me to enter the data tonight?” he asked, his sneakers squishing as he walked.
“You mean they all showed?”
Their footsteps echoed in the high-ceilinged main hallway of the ancient old building.
“Sure thing, Dr. B.  That’s what extra credit in a hard course like Dr. Clark’s will do for your turn-out,” he chirped.  How true, she thought.  Charlotte Clark was famous and with fame came popularity.   Students across campus wanted to take her courses on addiction, whether they were Psych majors or not.  And Charlotte always made her students participate in research.  Too bad she didn’t allow them to participate in animal psych research too.  Then her friend Arliss, who taught animal psychology, could benefit from Charlotte’s largess.  However, Pamela was not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.  She would use her participants however she got them.
 She turned to the young man beside her, saying, "You can hold off on data entry until tomorrow.  Then, changing the subject, she added, “Kent, are you sure you locked the lab up properly when you left this afternoon?"
"Sure, Dr. B," he answered, "I'm always very careful with the lab."
"That's good," she replied, sounding a note of caution.  "We can't be too careful, really.  That lab has some of the most expensive equipment on campus or even in the state.  I'm sure there are plenty of people who’d like to get their hands on it."  She hated playing campus cop like this, but her Chair had been pounding the faculty lately about lab security.
"Like I said, Dr. B," he repeated, "You can count on me.  I always lock it when I leave and I double check to make sure all the equipment is put away and safe too.  Don’t worry."  Kent waved good-bye and trekked across the hall towards the seminar room on the right. 
Pamela noticed her colleague Phineas Ottenback coming out of the departmental office across the hallway on the left.  He locked the door behind himself. 
"Oh, Dr. Barnes," he said turning, eyes popping open as he saw Pamela, "Did you need to get into the office?  I'm sorry I just locked it."  A shock of wispy, red hair flopped down over his forehead.
"That’s all right, Phineas," she responded.  She thought it amusing that Phineas was always so formal, even when there were no students around.  "I'm on my way to my seminar.  I assume you’re on your way to class too."
"Oh, yes, upstairs." he said, in that quaint, nasal voice that Pamela found just slightly irritating.  As he started towards the large central staircase further down the hallway, he suddenly turned back to her.
"Oh, Dr. Barnes, " he confided, "You're on the Tenure Committee, aren't you?"
"Yes, Phineas," she sputtered, "but…but I can't, in good conscience, discuss anything about the committee or its procedures with you, seeing as how you’re a candidate."
"Yes, Dr. Barnes," he said, hesitating, "but, I was just wondering if I…about the possibility of …what you would think if someone removed their name from consideration for tenure?"
"Phineas," she responded, "You surely wouldn't want to do that.  I mean, I can't say anything officially, but I believe your chances of getting tenure are as good as the other two candidates.  I really can't and shouldn't even say that."  She now felt horrible for even having this conversation with the man.  Tenure was a serious and private matter.  It was a make or break moment for young faculty members such as Phineas.  Get tenure and you had a job for life.  Be denied tenure and you were essentially fired.
“It's just a thought, you know," Phineas said, "I was only wondering what would happen—hypothetically--if someone were to drop out of the running, so to speak..."  He pulled himself from deep thought with a strange jerky motion and suddenly changed the topic.  "Anyway, thank you very much, Dr. Barnes, for your honesty.  I would appreciate it if you wouldn't mention this conversation to anyone."
"Of course not, Phineas," she answered, befuddled.  He took her hand gingerly and shook it very formally, then quickly headed up the central staircase without another word.
How strange. She hadn’t studied the tenure portfolios for the Psychology Department’s three candidates yet.  She needed to get down to Charlotte’s office—Charlotte was Chair of the Tenure Committee—and study the files.  But from what she knew of Phineas’ work, he would likely be granted tenure.  He and his research partner, Rex Tyson, churned out several solid articles each year in top-notch journals, and tenure decisions were typically based on research productivity.  It didn’t make sense for Phin to even contemplate removing his name from consideration for tenure.
She stood there, staring after him for a moment.  Then, selecting her key to the department’s main office from her key ring, she quickly opened the glass-windowed door and entered the darkened insides. Just a narrow beam of light from the hallway illuminated the faculty mailboxes on the wall. As she reached into her cubby hole for her mail, she heard voices coming from the office of the Department Head, Mitchell Marks, which was located through a second small office where the departmental secretary worked.  
Pamela stood frozen as the two voices rang out behind Mitchell’s closed door.  It was unusual for Mitchell to be in his office this late in the day.  Pamela couldn’t make out the gist of what was apparently an argument, but it soon became clear to her who the combatants were—obviously Mitchell, the Head of Grace University’s Psychology Department, and, no surprise to Pamela, Charlotte Clark, the department’s prima donna, star grant-getter, and world-renown expert on addiction.  Pamela cocked her ear closer to the intervening office door, trying to decipher the cause of the fight. 
"For God's sake, Mitchell," she heard Charlotte Clark bellow. "I’ve brought this department millions of dollars in research funding, a beautiful state-of-the-art experimental computer lab, and hoards of fame.  The Dean had damn well better consider that, and the multi-million dollar grants I’ve brought and will bring to Grace University." 
"Now, Charlotte, calm down," said Marks. It was a request, not an order.
“Don’t try to calm me down, Mitchell!” Charlotte yelled.  “Remember, I have tenure so I don’t have to do his bidding.  And I’m not some boot licker like the rest of this gutless faculty,” she said, “not wanting to jeopardize an upcoming promotion or book deal.  I can say what I think.  And what I think is that this entire department is full of cowards.  And Mitchell—you’re the worst of the lot, the biggest coward of them all. You let the Dean walk all over you.  It’s time somebody stood up to him. All you care about is avoiding conflict.  But I don’t care about avoiding anything and I’m going to give him a piece of my mind.” 
 Pamela could hear Charlotte’s voice getting louder as she came closer to the door, then, evidently, turning back to Mitchell as he called out to her.
Charlotte, for heaven’s sake, don’t do that!”
“Just try and stop me!” Charlotte screamed back at him, and her voice suddenly became even louder as she opened the door between Mitchell’s office and the secretary’s office.  Pamela could see the outline of her body highlighted in the door frame.  Charlotte was a striking, middle-aged woman, with a beautifully styled head of blonde curls.  Her designer suit and Monolo Blahnik heels looked elegant enough to be featured on the cover of Vogue.  As she turned to leave, she tossed a final comment over her shoulder:
“And, Mitchell, you can forget that stupid Chili Cook-Off of yours that you so foolishly think of as a departmental fundraiser.  I won’t be participating this year!”
As Charlotte’s footsteps stormed toward her, Pamela quickly grabbed her mail and headed out the main office door and across the hall toward the seminar room.  She slipped into the room just as she heard Charlotte slam the main office door shut and storm down the hallway.  The last thing she wanted was to get in the way of an angry Charlotte Clark steam-rolling in her direction. 
What in the world had caused such a fight between Charlotte and their Chair?  And where was Charlotte going now in such a huff?  To the Dean as she’d threatened?  And if so, what for?  She’d love to be able to find out, but Pamela was sure the gossip mill would supply the answer tomorrow. 
Right now, she had to concentrate on conducting her Tuesday night graduate seminar in acoustics.  She looked around the room.  She could smell the old wood paneling and the faint scent of leather in the worn, but comfortable arm chairs situated around the long conference table.
Kent had positioned himself in his favorite location on the side of the table near the windows.  Two girls were already in the room and were talking to Kent.  He was cheerfully responding to their eager questions.  Luckily, it appeared the students had not heard the horrific argument between Mitchell and Charlotte that had just occurred across the hall. 
Pamela went quickly and quietly to the end of the long table at the front of the room and sat down.  Then she began to review the articles she’d assigned her class—the impossibly hard ones according to Kent--while she waited for her class to arrive.
Soon, three more female students and three male students arrived and Pamela began the class.  In no time at all she had forgotten—well, almost forgotten—Charlotte Clark and her tirade in Mitchell’s office.
"Okay, class," she announced, rising and getting their attention, "you read three articles about acoustics for tonight's class.  Who can tell me, in a nutshell, what these articles had in common, and how they were different from each other?"
One girl quickly raised her hand.
"Dr. Barnes," she declared, "Those articles were very technical, more than any other articles you’ve assigned.  Truthfully, I was lost."  She looked a bit sheepish, until several other students chimed in, in agreement.
"Let’s look at it this way," responded Pamela.  "Eventually you’ll need to understand how to use the acoustic technology described in these articles if you intend to find careers using sound analysis.  You won't necessarily need to understand how the technology works.  Even so, it's a good idea to start with a discussion of the workings of a piece of equipment with which you’ll all need to become very familiar—the spectrograph."  She stopped and looked around the room.  Everyone looked a bit terrified.
"Consider this," she said, turning to the chalkboard and taking a piece of chalk and dragging it firmly down the board, making that unmistakable sound that makes a person's teeth clench.  The class cringed noticeably.
"Now," she asked, turning back to them.  "What was that?"
"Torture!" yelled one blond man near the door.  The class laughed in relief.
"In addition to torture?" asked Pamela.
"I’d call it—just noise," ventured one young woman sitting close to Pamela’s end of the table.
"Just noise?" Pamela prompted.
"Yeah," added another male near the far end of the table, close to the door. 
"So, what is noise?" she asked.  In her mind, she couldn’t help but recall the noisy shouting match she had witnessed just moments ago in the main office.  She was still mystified by its severity and its reason.  Charlotte was notoriously hot tempered, but this was the angriest she had ever heard her--so angry, in fact, that Mitchell had seemed almost overwhelmed by her fury.
Another young woman raised her hand.  Pamela nodded towards her.
"I’d say that noise is a sound that isn’t attractive."
"And," continued Pamela, "what constitutes 'attractive'?"
The class was seemingly stumped.  Pamela waited.  Then, she picked up one of the assigned articles.
"If you remember in this article, the author presents a rather detailed discussion of the difference between 'sound' and 'noise.'  Would anyone like to describe that difference?"  No one raised their hand. 
"All right.  Here's where all that technology comes in."  She turned to the chalkboard and drew a wavy, measured line, and next to it, a very choppy, disjointed line of the same length.  "What did I draw?" she asked.
A tentative hand peeked up over an open textbook. 
"I believe those are drawings of a vowel and chalk being scraped over a chalkboard."  She smiled sweetly at Pamela.
"That’s actually more detailed than even I was hoping for, Helen.  Bravo! I’m just guessing at the vowel or screeching chalk characteristics of these two masterful paintings I’ve just created for you."
The class giggled.  She liked to make them laugh.  All teachers, she realized had a bit of stand-up comic in them.  Even so, she was quite good at covering her true feelings when she lectured—and right now her true feelings were centered on the battle she had overheard earlier in the main office.
"What makes the first drawing different from the second?" she asked.
"The first one is smooth and regular and the second one is all over the place," said one young man.
"Right," answered Pamela.  "The first one is regular; it forms a pattern, just as does any ..."   She looked directly at the girl who’d brought up the "attractive" argument.  "Just as does any attractive sound, such as speech.  The second drawing is erratic; it has no regular pattern—it’s the pattern of noise." 
The class contemplated this distinction for a while.  The old analog clock on the wall audibly ticked off the seconds.
"Now," said Pamela, "let's take a look at some other characteristics of speech--our patterned sound.” 
She drew another wavy line on the board. 
"Let's assume," she said, "that this is the acoustic output for a portion of speech. We have sophisticated software that can analyze many acoustic features of speech and other sounds--even of noise."  She smiled and they all laughed.
"Let's say that this wavy line represents the word 'cat.'" She pointed to the line and she then added a horizontal and a vertical axis.  "Now, what types of features of a speaker's voice can we possibly determine by looking at this acoustic output?"
A hand rose.  "I believe if the word begins on the left and ends on the right of the line, that you could measure how long it took the speaker to say the word."
"Absolutely right," announced Pamela.  "That is, this acoustic wave provides us a measure of time--how long it takes to produce a sound or sounds.  What else?"  She looked around the room, hoping for someone else to volunteer.
Kent raised his hand.
"Mr. Drummond?" she asked.
"Not sure here, Dr. B., but I think the height of the wave is a measure of how loud the sound is."
"Right again!" she claimed.  "Excellent, class!  It appears you did read those impossible to understand articles after all.  The height of the wave is a measure of the sound's amplitude or intensity--or in layman's terms--loudness."  She drew some dramatically larger wave forms and some dramatically smaller forms and demonstrated the difference in their loudness.
"There's one more feature you can extract from looking at this form.  Anyone know what it is?" she coaxed.
"Dr. Barnes, please don't jump on me if this is wrong," offered the shy girl who had hidden behind her book, "but I think the third feature you’re looking for is the number of waves within a certain space."
"Yes, Peggy," said Pamela, "and what do we call that?"
"I think it's pitch--or rather—frequency," responded the girl.
"A perfect score for my brilliant class," announced Pamela.  The students were all looking around the room, smiling and proud.  Maybe, some were hoping, the “brilliant” label would continue through until final grades.  That’s what she loved about graduate students; they often didn’t trust their own instincts and they needed good instincts to be linguists or have careers in acoustic technology—as many of them wanted.  She knew that.  You had to be able to listen to sound and extract meaning from it other than just the words--like the words she’d heard shot back and forth between Charlotte and Mitchell earlier.  Now what meaning could she derive from that interchange?  From the volume?  The tempo?  The pitch?
"Yes," continued Pamela, "what we perceive as pitch is really the number of waves or frequency of waves within a certain space.  That is, a high pitched sound," and Pamela sang a very high note, "would have far more waves within a certain space," and she drew many evenly spaced waves together, "than a low pitched sound," and she sang a low note, "which would have the waves longer and spread out more like this" and she drew in the same space, fewer evenly spaced waves together. 
Pamela continued to explain acoustic technology and soon, before she realized it, several hours had whizzed by.  With some final words and an explanation of next week’s reading assignment, she dismissed the class for the evening.  As she was gathering her belongings, she called to Kent to come over.
"Kent," she said, "please, don't consider me an old fogy, but would you be so kind as to go down and check on the lab one more time?  Just be sure it's locked."
"Sure, Dr. B.," he answered, "I'm on my way."  He headed out the door, taking his book sack with him.  Pamela followed the last few students out the door, and then turned and closed the seminar door.  This door, she mused, didn’t need to be locked because there wasn't anything in this room of value--at least not of value to most thieves who were looking for equipment and devices that they could sell readily on the black market.  The department was more than worried about possible theft in their multi-million dollar computer lab, but the rest of the old dilapidated building contained little worth stealing.  She headed down the hallway towards the lab and the parking lot entrance.  Just then, Kent came running back towards her from the lab, yelling.
"Dr. Barnes!  Dr. Barnes!" he screamed, "Come quick!  Come to the lab!  It's horrible!  Hurry!" 

Patricia Rockwell has spent most of her life teaching. From small liberal arts colleges to large regional research universities-and even a brief stint in a high school, her background in education is extensive. She has taught virtually everything related to Communication-from a fine arts speech-theatre orientation to more recently a social science research approach. Her Bachelors’ and Masters’ degrees are from the University of Nebraska in Speech and her Ph.D. is from the University of Arizona in Communication. She was on the faculty at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette for thirteen years, retiring in 2007. Her publications are extensive, with over 20 peer-reviewed articles in scholarly journals, several textbooks, and a research book on her major interest area of sarcasm, published by Edwin Mellen Press. In addition to publications, she has presented numerous papers at academic conferences and served for eight years as Editor of the Louisiana Communication Journal. Her research focuses primarily on several areas of communication: deception, sarcasm, and vocal cues. Dr. Rockwell is presently living in Aurora, Illinois, with her husband Milt, also a retired educator. The couple have two adult children, Alex and Cecilia. SOUNDS OF MURDER is her first novel. Also, visit her at


Heroines With Heart is a massive blog tour that runs throughout 2013, that features books with strong female protagonists. We have authors from several different genres, including young adult, mystery/thriller/suspense, romance, sci-fi/fantasy, and Christian fiction. We are also giving away fun digital prizes and sharing new and noteworthy books throughout the year. Want updates?


    February contest!


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