Assailants, Asphalt, & Alibis
Book 8 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Welcome to Normal, Kentucky~ where nothing is normal.
The legend of John Swift Silver Mine has been a tale tell around the Daniel Boone National Park for over 400 years. This year the treasure hunters have descended upon Normal and staying in Happy Trails Campground before they head out on their yearly expedition to find the treasure.
Once again, Mae and the Laundry Club ladies, along with Mary Elizabeth, find themselves doing things they never thought they’d never do. Go on a treasure hunt! They pile into Mae’s RV and join the treasure hunters so they too can try their luck at striking it rich.
Telling stories around a campfire about the curse of the John Swift Silver Mine is a fun story….until one of the treasure hunters is found dead…was it the curse or was it murder?
Mae discovers an unheeded warning that will bring the tall tale to life if she can’t end the story for good before the killer strikes again with or without finding the John Swift Silver mine.
Assailants, Asphalt, & Alibis
Book 8 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Assailants, Asphalt, & Alibis
The silence from at least one hundred people was almost as deafening as the bullfrogs billowing around the Happy Trails Campground lake while one of the treasure hunters told the group about the regional legend of John Swift’s silver mine.
The flicker of the red, yellow, and orange flames showed in all their eyes as they focused on the intriguing story of the possibility that in and around my campground could be a massive amount of silver just waiting to be claimed.
“In the year 1760, John Swift made his way into Kentucky from the Gap and followed the creek known now as Swift’s Creek. He was a well-educated Englishman that was a natural-born leader and sailor of his own ships off the coast of the Carolinas. It was when he’d come to Kentucky when he met up with a man by the name of Montgomery. Swift wasn’t happy with the British and let it be known. It was then he and Montgomery had begun to counterfeit the British crown as a way of getting back at the British for invading the land we are gathered upon today as well as the entire Daniel Boone National Forest.” Mason Cavanaugh’s voice held a mysterious tone that rose up and down with the importance of what he had to say.
He held up a piece of paper that appeared to be the journal he’d mentioned.
“Swift had heard of the mines in Kentucky and maybe a mention or two about there being silver here. Thus began his several mining expeditions to Kentucky.” Mason leaned over his knees and swept his hands in front of him. His eyes grew big. The flames of the fire made his blue eyes sparkle to life, making the scene ominous.
“It wasn’t until a wounded bear led a very courageous Swift to a rock house, which is what we call a cave. This was the first time Swift found silver. It wasn’t the only rock house, or cave, where Swift found silver. He noted all of the places in his journal, including maps.”
He held up more papers with upside-down V designs and big Xs scribbled all over them. He brought the paper up to his eyes and leaned into the glow of the campfire.
He read, “Taken directly from John Swift’s journal.” Then he continued, ““Seven miles above the mouth of the creek is a natural rock bridge. On the northwest side of the creek, a short distance below the bridge, is a branch. Follow the branch to its head, thence ascend the ridge, leaving the highest part of the ridge on your right. Go along the ridge to a point that is higher than the others, where a large rock seems to have fallen from above. Go in between them. This is where we obtained our best ore.”
He pulled the papers down from his face and sat back, turning his head from side to side as if he were trying to see what others thought about his tale. His stare stopped on another camper. I watched as her brow rose and didn’t break the eye contact.
He looked back down at his papers as if he were trying to compose himself.
“The creek he refers to we believe is what we know now as Swift Creek, located right here in Normal.” He looked up, and a slow grin crossed his face. The flicker of the fire caught his eyes at the right moment, making shadows cross his face.
Goosebumps crawled along my legs.
“Don’t tell me you are falling for this crap.” Dottie Swaggert flicked the ash off her light cigarette and brought it to her mouth, taking a long draw. Her red hair lay in curls around her head. “Because if you do, I’ve got a gold mine right under my old camper over there. I’ll let you have it for one hundred dollars.” The smoke rolled out of her mouth, and she pointed to her camper at the front of the campground.
A few people turned around to shush her. She gave them the death stare with big eyes.
“All these people are fools.” She took one last puff before she threw it on the ground and snuffed it out with the toe of her flip-flop. Dottie stormed off toward her camper. She’d had enough.
“Not all of those journeys were successful. Swift and his crew were met with numerous obstacles from Indian attacks to mutiny among his crew, which was when John Swift holed up in one of his silver mines and finished his journals. He even had time to fall in love with the widow Renfro before he was deported back to England, where he was convicted of counterfeiting the crowns. It’s rumored he left his journals and treasure map with the widow Renfro until he rejoined her after he’d served his sentence.” Mason’s eyes shifted back and forth.
“Unfortunately, Swift became blind while imprisoned, making him unable to find his treasure, leaving it buried forever.” He took a deep breath and sat up, pulling his shoulders ramrod straight. “Or until someone finds it.”
Murmurs from the crowd around Mason came up as they dispersed to their own campfires, campers, or headed home. Abby Fawn, Queenie French, and Mary Elizabeth Moberly, my adoptive mother, all walked up. I glanced around them and noticed Mayor Courtney MacKenzie had made her way over to Mason.
Mayor MacKenzie rarely came to the campground for monthly themed parties, and her presence made me question why she was there. Mayor MacKenzie didn’t do anything that didn’t get her attention, and election year was right around the corner.
“Do you need any help cleaning before we go?” Abby asked, breaking my concentration.
“Nah.” I blinked a couple of times to get present with my girlfriends. “It’ll give me something to do tomorrow,” I said.
Every month I hosted a get-together between the community and the camping tourists. It was a fun party where Blue Ethel and the Adolescent Farm Boys, a local band, strummed on their instruments, giving it their best go at bluegrass music while the guests enjoyed local foods donated by restaurants in Normal.
“That is a fun campfire story,” I said to Abby Fawn, noticing all the camping lots and the campers I provided for rental were all occupied. It was nice to see all the campfire rings lit up. “I’m sure it’s the talk around all the s’more-making.” I noticed everyone was enjoying the ingredients I’d given them when they rolled into the campground as a little special treat to thank them for choosing Happy Trails Campground for their vacation.
“Story?” Abby swung her head toward me, flinging her ponytail around. She stared wordlessly at me.
“Oh, honey, it’s no story.” Queenie French’s hot-pink Jazzercise leotard shimmered more than the blanket of stars in the midnight sky. She picked at the edges of her short blond hair nervously. “Don’t you know all of these people are here just for the annual Legend of John Swift Excursion?”
“You’re pulling my leg.” Mary Elizabeth’s southern-accented voice held questions. “Right?” She fingered the pearls around her neck.
“I ain’t pulling nothing.” Queenie’s nose curled; her right brow rose. “I’m telling you, there’s several people out there who have found crown catches from John Swift’s counterfeiting in these here caves.”
Mary Elizabeth ran her hands down her Lily Pulitzer jumpsuit and then clasped them in front of her.
“The library is filled with tourists trying to get their hands on one of John Swift’s treasure maps.” Abby shook her head. “I keep telling them they need to go to the Historical Society.”
Abby was the local librarian, Tupperware representative, and social media expert.
“Is that why I’ve had an uptake in calls?” Queenie’s face drew as she stepped to the side to get a good look at Abby. She put her hands on her hips. “I was about to tell the mayor I was stepping down as the Historical Society president because it’s taken up too much time away from my Jazzercise classes.”
Queenie French was in her sixties. She was active in the community and taught Jazzercise in the undercroft of the Normal Baptist Church. I’d like to say she kept all the citizens of Normal in shape, but she only kept them in the latest gossip.
“From now on, I’m telling them to go back to the library.” Queenie crossed her arms in frustration.
“Or don’t answer the phone.” Mary Elizabeth’s face lit up like it did when she heard Nordstrom’s was having their big annual sale. “Abby, you don’t need to worry about the library, because”—Mary Elizabeth bounced with excitement—“we are going to go on the expedition.”
“Did you get into Bobby Ray’s moonshine?” I asked, referring to my foster brother. “Bobby Ray!” I flailed my arms in the air and yelled over to him, where he was with a group of friends.
“Hush.” Mary Elizabeth batted my arms out of the air. “I’m serious. We haven’t done anything exciting since I moved here.” She started to count on her fingers. “December, January…” She continued reciting the months. “Eight months I’ve been here and not been camping at all.”
“In those eight months, you bought the Milkery and opened a bed and breakfast. I’d say you’ve been very busy.” I recalled the dairy farm and all the hard work she and Dawn Gentry had put into the Milkery’s old farmhouse to open a much-needed bed and breakfast in Normal. “Besides, I have to run the campground. Abby has to work at the library, and Queenie, she’d never cancel her Jazzercise classes.”
“Yes, I would.” Queenie nodded back and forth between me and Mary Elizabeth.
“I could take some time off too.” Abby shrugged. “I have some vacation time. What are we talking, just the weekend?”
“Dottie said it’s not real.” A nervous laugh escaped me. I pushed a strand of my curly brown hair behind my ear.
I had to stop this nonsense. I’d seen that look in Mary Elizabeth’s eye before, and it was the kind that meant when she had her mind on something, nothing stood in her way to get it, whatever it was.
“If you don’t want to do it, then we will do it.” Mary Elizabeth’s chin lifted in the air, and she looked down her nose at me. “Though I’d normally beg you to wear something presentable, you’re going to have to wear different shoes.”
I knew when I’d decided to wear the cute sequined flats that Mary Elizabeth would love them. They were from the Neiman Marcus from my former life. A few of the finer things I did keep, and I pulled them out every once in a while. Plus, I loved how they sparkled and glistened like the lightning bugs when I was standing near the campfire.
“Oh come on, Mae.” Abby nudged me. “It’ll be fun. We can even drive your camper and stay in it instead of a tent.”
“Sounds wonderful.” Queenie did a grapevine dance move with excitement. “I’ll be here in the morning.” She waved goodbye to us and headed to the parking lot in the front of the campground.
“This is perfect.” Mary Elizabeth squealed with delight, just like the time I’d agreed to enter the Miss Eastern Kentucky beauty pageant at the county fair when I was sixteen.
That turned out to be a disaster, and I’d put money on it that this little treasure hunt would be too.
The three of them had decided upon a time to meet in the morning. We all agreed I’d ask Mason if it was all right so we could be sure he didn’t mind four tagalongs.
“I’ll text you what he says,” I told them.
“He can’t stop us from going to look for the treasure.” Queenie was bound and determined to go on the hunt this weekend. “I’m the one they have to register with, so I’ll just march on over to the Historical Society office in the morning and put our names on the list. You just let me know which campsite they are intending to use.”
“Campsite?” I asked. I was still a little green to most things in the camping world. “You mean campground.”
“No. I’m talking primitive campsites, but you can put your RV on it, just not all the fancy you got here.” She rolled her hand in front of her. “There are several campsites that cater to the treasure hunters just for the John Swift silver mine expeditions. Unfortunately, some of those roads are gravel and not stable for big recreation vehicles like your RV.” She glanced over her shoulder to Mason’s camper behind his big truck. “He must be going somewhere that’s not too terribly hard to get to if he’s taking that big thing.”
“Either way, if he is, we can still go somewhere else.” Abby smiled. “I have so many John Swift maps that I can get, it won’t matter where we lay our heads at night.”
“I’m still in.” Mary Elizabeth rubbed her hands together.
She looked like she was in with her perfectly styled hair and beautiful red fingernails I was sure she’d just gotten manicured by Helen Pyle down at Cute-icles. However, I would be curious to see Mary Elizabeth without her pearls, which I’ve never done. I swore she slept in them.
“Fine. Y’all go on home, and I’ll head on over to talk to Mason.” I shooed them off and made my way over to the mayor and Mason’s inner circle.
“Mighty fine party you hosted.” The mayor flashed her million-dollar pearly white smile that I knew had to come from some dentist not in Normal.
It was one of the dye jobs only one of those sleep-in dental plates could give, or so claimed the infomercials. She had her long red hair pulled up in a high ponytail like a cheerleader. Her long and lean frame wore a linen jumper with a pair of sensible sandals.
“Thank you. Mason, I see you met our mayor.” I smiled, looking between them. “I’m so happy you’re here.”
“And miss a chance to talk to one of Normal’s regular John Swift hunters? Never,” she gasped and drew her hand up to her chest, showing off the hand with no wedding ring. She batted those big eyes. In the dark of the night, I could see Mason blush. “He’s going to find that treasure, and with his advice, I’m so pleased to let him know his suggestion of the asphalt was presented at the Kentucky assembly, and I got it passed.”
“You did?” Mason sounded a little shocked.
“What asphalt?” This was the first I’d heard of any projects taking place locally.
“As a matter of fact, they started a couple of days ago.” She propped her hands on her hips in a bossy way. “I told them the sooner the better.”
“What asphalt?” I asked a little louder this time.
“Last year the mayor had asked me what improvements she could make to the trails getting to the Swift mines, and I told her how we could stay longer, which does pour money into the community, if we had roads instead of gravel.” He stomped his food in the gravel we were standing on.
If he only knew how much asphalt cost to replace the gravel, he’d appreciate that we let him even look for the John Swift, but I kept my mouth shut.
“I took his suggestion to heart and realized how right he was and saddened the treasure hadn’t been found.” She gave me a squinch-eyed look, like I better not have any sort of opinion on what she was yammering on about. “I went straight to Frankfort for the assembly when it was in session with my concerns, and don’t you know they have grants for things such as this.”
“As mayor, you didn’t know that?” I just had a hard time keeping my mouth shut. But it was a very reasonable question.
“I have not only the Kentucky legislature and law to understand, Mae, but also the National Parks laws and regulations that have to go together.” The mayor put her hands together like she was doing a puzzle with her fingers. “And it just so happens, they started on the gravel road to the Furnace.” She raised her brows at me like I knew what the Furnace was.
“That’s exactly where me and my crew are headed.” Mason seemed very happy with the big news.
“Now, I did hear some rumblings from our local news reporter there was some whispering about some protesting going on from one of the environmental groups about asphalt.” The mayor was quick to dismiss any sort of claims. “So just keep going tomorrow if anyone is protesting. I’ve got the police on alert.”
I skimmed over her protest comment and decided to let Mason in on how me and my crew were going to join him.
“Mason, me and a few of my friends are going to join you if you don’t mind.” I looked Mason in the eyes and tried to determine what kind of man he really was and if he would help us.
“Ummm…” One of Mason’s crew members let out a loud sort of protest before he cleared his throat and looked down at his feet.
“Your friends?” Mason looked up at me.
“Just me and a few of my close friends who have lived here all their lives, minus Mary Elizabeth, but she’ll probably stay in the RV the entire time. Air conditioning and all.” I waved my hand in front of my face.
“There’s no electrical hookup at the campsite we are going to, so you probably wouldn’t be comfortable if someone needs air.” He looked as if he had an out with me.
“You know we are in the dog days of summer here.” The mayor fanned her hand before her own face. “My mama never let me play in the creek during the dog days. Said it was bad luck. There are a lot of creeks near the Furnace.”
“What is the Furnace?” I finally asked.
“It’s a rock formation believed to be in the area where some of the silver is hidden. And with the new asphalt roads, there is a greater chance someone will finally find the silver after 400 years.” The mayor was still selling the asphalt.
“You know, I think we’ll be fine.” I shrugged. “If not, we can leave.”
“According to the Weather Channel, there seems to be a little rain moving in over the weekend but nothing to worry about.” The mayor was saying anything just to keep in the conversation. She seemed a little nervous. “Maybe you and the gals should just hike your trails.”
“I think we will be fine.” I gave the mayor a hard look.
“If you really want to go.” Mason gave in, but his friend stormed off. “We will be leaving from here around eight in the morning.”
“Perfect. We will be ready. Have a good night’s sleep.” I walked away before he could stop and think about us tagging along, not giving him any time to tell me he really didn’t want us to go.
“Mae! Mayyeee!” The mayor hollered after me and trotted up next to me. I continued to walk. “Don’t you mess this up for Normal. You of all people know how important it is to continue with the great economy.”
“What are you talking about?” I stopped and turned to look at her, a little confused. “Look at my campground. I obviously have the best in mind for Normal.”
“You don’t know, do you?” She smiled. “You know it’s just a legend. The silver. I mean, John Swift is real, but it’s been 400 years. No one has found it?” She laughed. Then she stopped when she saw that I’d not joined her. “You really believe the legend, don’t you?”
“I never heard of the legend until tonight, but Abby and Queenie seem to believe it. We are really just going for the fun of it. Real or not.” I shrugged.
“I don’t care really what you think, but I’m going to do whatever it takes for everyone in the world to believe somewhere deep in the Daniel Boone National Park, specifically Normal, that the John Swift silver mine is still buried and ready for all the treasure hunters of the world to come here and spend as much money as they want in our town to find it. Do you and I have an understanding?” She cut her eyes at me and started laughing when Mason walked by. “I hope you girls have a great time. And good luck!”
I stood there watching the mayor sashay off to another group of campers to tout how she’d gotten the government grant for the asphalt.
“Some tale, right?” The woman I noticed had caught Mason’s stare and almost threw him off his story stopped in front of me. “The John Swift legend,” she clarified when she noticed my confusion.
“Oh, that.” I laughed. “I had no idea. I’ve been here a while now and still don’t know all the secrets the forest holds.”
“There’s so many secrets.” She winked and headed off before I got to ask her name or question her any further. “Nice shoes, by the way.”
Many more secrets? I stared at her since I was now more intrigued with the town I’d made my home. I clicked the heels of my shoes together and smiled.
“There’s no place like home. There’s no place like home.” I laughed and headed in the opposite direction.
“I’m coming!” I hollered through my home on wheels from my bedroom, which was located in the far back.
My new home was a far cry from the Manhattan skyrise or the beautiful beach house in the Hamptons. You might question how on earth did I end up in the camper. Well, I’d say I wasn’t the happiest person in the world when I found out my now-dead ex-husband Paul West, hence my last name, had pretty much screwed everyone we knew when he pulled one of the biggest Ponzi schemes that’d ever taken place in the United States. He left me with nothing but a run-down camper and campground along with a lot of people who, well, let’s say had a very bad taste in their mouth about me.
I’m not going to lie. I’d planned on traveling to Kentucky, selling Happy Trails Campground along with the old camper, and getting back to my life in New York. Mary Elizabeth always told me nothing ever turned out as planned. Boy, was she right.
If you’d told me a year ago that I’d be living in a camper in the middle of the Daniel Boone National Forest in a campground that I owned and would have a dog and date a detective, I’d have laughed in your face.
Turned out, I was in love with my life in Normal, and I’d embraced my Kentucky roots once again. Again? Yep. I grew up in Kentucky. I loved my life until my family was killed in a home fire and I was placed into foster care.
Don’t get me wrong. Mary Elizabeth Moberly’s house was fine. It was all the manners and classes she insisted I take in order to be a Kentucky debutante that weren’t so appealing. Now, if my mama had put me in those things, I probably would’ve loved them, but as a teenager, I didn’t want no one but my mama. That included Mary Elizabeth.
When the clock struck midnight on my eighteenth birthday, I was outta there, and that’s how I got to New York, where I’d become a flight attendant and met Paul West on a flight.
“Hey.” I swung open the door, putting my foot in front of the opening so Fifi, my poodle, didn’t run out when I let Detective Hank Sharp and Chester, his dog, into the camper. “No, Fifi.”
Fifi danced around in anticipation of Chester. She loved Hank’s hunting dog, though Hank didn’t hunt. Darnell Grassel used to be Chester’s owner. Darnell had died, and Hank took Chester in even though Darnell had family. Chester really took to Hank, so it was just natural he went to live with him.
“Do you two want to join me for a nightly walk?” Hank and Chester had come inside. He shut the door behind him and gave me a quick kiss.
“Of course we do. I’ll go get my shoes.” I headed back to the bedroom to exchange my flip-flops for tennis shoes.
It was pitch black at night here, without the glow of big-city lights. It was safer to wear shoes that covered your feet because we had plenty of snakes. They might not be poisonous, but nursing a snake bite wasn’t on my to-do list.
I’d used every bit of space possible. I’d taken down all the walls and made it an open concept plan with the kitchen and family room in one big room. I’d put up shiplap walls painted white. I’d gotten a cute café table with two chairs from the Tough Nickel as well as a small leather couch. It was perfect for one. The floors were redone with a prefabricated grey wood. The kitchen cabinets and all the storage cabinets were white. I’d transformed the little camper into a country farmhouse.
I’d strung twinkle lights everywhere I could, and I redid the bathroom with a tile shower and upgraded toilet.
I grabbed my tennis shoes and sat down on my bed. It was actually very comfortable, and I’d made a headboard using some wooden pallets painted pink.
I’d gotten a dresser with four drawers from the Tough Nickel, located in downtown Normal, that went perfectly with my distressed look. The twinkle lights added a bit of romance, along with the fuzzy rugs and milk glass vases full of fresh flowers or wildflowers that grew here in the Daniel Boone National Park.
“What is all this?” Hank asked. “All this stuff on your counter?”
“I’m going on a treasure hunt.” I tied up my laces. “I’m going with Abby, Queenie, and Mary Elizabeth to find John Swift’s silver.”
I headed back into the family room combination part of the RV.
“Oh geez.” Hank ran his hand through his hair. “Did you really fall for all the gibberish from them?” He gestured to the outside.
I knew he was referring to the group of treasure hunters, including Mason, who were staying here for the night until they moved to the more primitive campsite, where we’d be going tomorrow.
“I think it sounds interesting and fun.” I shrugged.
I grabbed the bottle of bug spray, which was a must when you lived in a campground or even just in the forest. Especially in the middle of summer, when the heat and humidity brought out all the bugs and creatures that loved to bite.
Hank had gotten Fifi’s leash on her for me. Chester and Fifi were eagerly dancing in front of the door. They both ran around the campground freely during the day, but night was different. We had a lot of creatures that would eat the pups as a snack, and we didn’t want that to happen.
“If I find the silver and cash it in, we’ll be rich.” I laughed and pumped the juice all over me. I handed the bottle to Hank when I finished spraying myself. “Besides, it’ll be fun to get away for a couple nights.”
“Couple nights?” Hank whined.
“Yeah.” I put my hands together and batted my eyes. “Will you watch Fifi for me?”
I’d planned on asking Dottie to do it for me, but Fifi would much rather stay with Hank and Chester.
“I guess since I’m not investigating anything right now.” Hank was a detective who used to be a Park Ranger part time. It wasn’t until recently he’d become a full-time detective, and his office was located in the sheriff’s department. “We can show her how the boys live.”
Hank hadn’t been living in the campground long. He had a trailer on his parents’ property, but they had recently moved back from being mostly on the road with his sister, who’d been pursuing a modeling career that went nowhere.
Another story for another time. But the short of it was he lived in one of the rental campers from me. When I built Happy Trails back up, I’d fixed up some campers for people to rent so they could experience camping without having to haul their own. Happy Trails also had hookups for people who did trailer their own campers or RVs. The most popular were the small bungalows nestled in the far end of the campground in the woods. They were adorable and perfect for couples or friend getaways.
“You do know about the John Swift silver curse, right?” Hank asked on our way out of the camper.
Immediately Fifi darted to the right into the grass, the leash taut. Chester followed her, so that’s the way we decided to start our walk.
“Curse?” I gulped, happy it was super dark and he couldn’t see how big my eyes had grown.
I gripped Fifi’s leash a little tighter. A curse? I’d not had a whole lot of luck while I’d lived in Normal. There’d been a couple of murders where I was somehow involved with finding the body or stumbled upon the killer. A curse was something I didn’t need. No way. No how.
“Of course it’s all part of the legend that a curse has been placed on treasure hunters, but over my life there’s been a lot of people trying to hunt the silver. But it’s silly.” He whistled for Chester and tugged on his leash when Chester found something on the tires of Mason’s big truck as we passed the camper he’d rented for the night.
“What about the curse?” I asked, not letting him off the hook.
“I recall Granny saying something about my granddad trying to find the silver.” He was talking about Agnes Swift, his adorable eighty-something-year-old granny, who was still working as the dispatcher at the police station. “She said one of the guys with him had a heart attack while in what they thought was the cave with the silver where Swift had followed that wounded bear. That took a while to get him out. Another one of the men with him had tripped over a rock going into that same cave and broken his leg. After my granddad got him out, then my granddad got his truck stolen.” Hank stopped and grabbed my hand, stopping me. “But that’s all silly talk. Part of the legend.”
“Hank Sharp,” I scolded when I saw a little shimmer of entertainment on his face. “Are you trying to scare me into not going? Because I can ask Agnes, and she’ll tell me.”
“Tell you?” He let go of my hand and laughed. “She’d go with you.”
“Then I just might ask her.” My eyes narrowed to see what was rustling around in the bushes outside one treasure hunter’s camper.
Hank and I both reeled the dogs in but not with a little protesting from Fifi. She was always determined to get her way. After all, she was a show dog before I had babysat her while her owner was in jail for one of those murders I’d referred to earlier. Fifi ran around this campground like a little floozy, getting pregnant by a pug named Rosco.
That’s when she became my dog. The owner couldn’t breed a tainted dog anymore, and Fifi wasn’t considered a pedigree now that she’d ventured to the wrong side of the tracks, and the rest was history. From that point on, we were stuck together. She still roamed the campground, but I got her spayed just in case she got any more ideas.
“Who’s there?” Hank bent down and pulled up the leg on his jeans, taking a gun from the ankle holster he wore when he wasn’t working.
“Excuse me?” The man’s voice came from beside the camper. “Who are you?” When he walked out of the shadow of the moon, I noticed it was one of Mason’s guys.
“You’re with the treasure hunters.” I walked over to him. “I’m Mae. I own the campground. I thought everyone was asleep.”
“Dirk Ivy.” He rubbed his hands off on a greasy rag, put it in his back pocket, and extended his hand for me and Hank to shake. “Yep. I’ve been out here with Mason a time or two. He says we are getting closer.”
“Me and my group of friends are going to tag along with your group.” I got a chill when I noticed how he looked at me. “I guess it’s okay.”
“It’s all good.” Hank was obviously taking the opportunity to let it be known that not only was I his girlfriend, but he was a detective. “I’m sure these fine treasure hunters will keep you safe and sound since I’ll be here making sure there’s not anything to investigate.” Hank put his arm around me. His gun dangled from his hand.
Dirk’s eyes fixated on the gun, and he continued to watch Hank uncurl his arm and bend down to put the gun back in his ankle holster.
“I grew up around here, so you make sure you be careful,” Hank warned. “I was just telling Mae about the curse.”
Dirk laughed. There was almost what we called a shit-eatin’ grin on his face.
“Part of the legend.” He looked around his shoulder at the camper. “I guess the curse got my camper because I’m having to get a couple-hundred-dollar fix in the morning from your local mechanic before we even drive out of here.”
“Joel Grassel?” I asked since Grassel’s Gas Station was the only mechanic shop in Normal.
“Yep. I met his worker tonight. Bobby…” He searched his memory.
“Bobby Ray. That’s my brother.” I left out the foster thing because it didn’t matter. I loved Bobby Ray Bond like a brother and truly tried to make up for the start in life he gave me when I ran off on my eighteenth birthday.
It was Bobby Ray who gave me the money. I never looked back, figuring it was the last time I was ever going to see him, until he showed up at Happy Trails Campground after he’d read an article about me in the National Parks Magazine.
That’s when he came and brought Mary Elizabeth with him. My past had caught up to me. Something I thought I was for sure going to regret, but a few months into them being here had really been a blessing in disguise.
“He said he’d take a look at it in the morning when there’s some light.” Dirk shook his head. “Maybe it’s the curse,” he said with raised brows. “If that’s all the curse does while we are here, we are good.”
“Good luck.” Hank nodded after he noticed Chester had his feel of Dirk’s setup. “Do you know for sure where y’all are going to be setting up?”
Was Hank asking for me? Or was Hank asking so he knew exactly where we were going to be?
“Mason said he wanted to set up camp right outside of Ore, south of the Furnace.” He rattled off places I’d never heard of, and I’d been living here awhile. “Mason wants to head north up to the rockhouse off the Furnace Creek where the West Mine juts off a little to the south.”
“Is that right?” Hank seemed to be gnawing on the location. “I heard just last year they had closed down that path to the West Mine. Something about a mudslide.”
“You’d have to ask Mason about that.” Dirk shrugged. “He’s the one who filed all the paperwork.”
“Maybe we are going to take the new asphalt road all the way in.” I was met with a look from both of them like I didn’t know what I was talking about. “The mayor mentioned the asphalt was being poured in that area.”
“Then I’m sure he’s gone through the legal channels.” Hank nodded before the gravel shuffled under his feet and we started back on our walk.
“See you in the morning.” I waved at Dirk and followed Hank. “You didn’t seem to like him too much.”
“What on earth gave you that idea?” Hank asked.
“You asked him about the permit and all that when he clearly isn’t in charge of it. Or?” I winked at him. “Are you worried about me being around these big treasure hunters and running off with them when we find all the silver?”
“Yep,” he said in a stern, non-joking voice, “that’s it. You got me.”
“I’m kidding.” I tucked my arm in his elbow and kept my thoughts to myself about how he was acting a little strange. “It’ll be fun for me and the gals to get away.”
“So it’s only you, Queenie, Abby and Mary Elizabeth?” he asked, walking down the small pier that was right across the lake from my camper.
“Yep.” I slipped my shoes off and sat on the edge of the pier. I unclipped Fifi and let her jump in for a late-night swim. Chester jumped in after her. I dangled my feet in the water and watched the goofy dogs in the glow of the moon. “I’m sure it’ll be a whole lot of fun.”
“Mmhmmm.” Hank sat down next to me and reclined back on his hip, one leg cocked at the knee. He didn’t put his feet in the water. “You really should ask Granny. She’s on vacation this week.”
“Really? You think she’d go?” I asked and put my hands on the deck behind me, reclining on them.
“Are you kidding? She loves this stuff. Anything to do with John Swift reminds her of my granddad.” He pulled out his phone. “I’ll even call her for you.”
“You sure do really want her to go.” I gave him the wonky eye to see exactly what he was up to.
“Fine. I want her to keep an eye out for your safety because the camp those guys are going to, it doesn’t have a lick of cell service up there. If something does happen, you’d have to pack up and leave camp. Granny, she’ll know exactly what to do.” He was too busy dialing her number to see the sheer fright on my face.
I’d never been without cell phone service. Neither had the queen of social media, Abby. Queenie would be fine, and so would Mary Elizabeth.
What if there was really a curse? What would we do?
“She’s really excited. I’m going to go get her in the morning for you.” Hank looked a little more pleased. “What?”
“Nothing.” I shrugged and whistled for Fifi, her signal to come.
“That look on your face doesn’t look like nothing.” His eyes narrowed when he looked at me.
“Do you really think there’s a curse?” I asked.
“Now that Granny is going…” He gave me that southern, snarky smile I loved. “Nah. Y’all be just fine.”
“Yeah. We will.” I waved off any knots in my stomach and grabbed up Fifi when she swam next to the dock.
Hank and I laughed when both dogs did the shimmy shake, flinging water all over us, except the tone of my laugh was a little more nervous than Hank’s.