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Canyons, Caravans, & Cadavers

Book 6 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to Normal, Kentucky~ where nothing is normal.

When the principal of Normal High School asks Mae West to teach a semester on small town economics, since she helped bring the thriving economy in Normal, Kentucky when she used her brilliant ideas to bring the Happy Trails Campground back to life, Mae is thrilled and happy to teach the young people.

But when a fellow teacher and archery Coach Roger Carlson, is found stone-cold dead, facedown in one of Happy Trails Campground campers with an arrow sticking out of his back, it puts a damper on the thriving campground when tourists cancel their reservations and Mae’s excitement to teach.

Mae’s hankering to snoop into the coach’s private life and find out exactly why he was renting a camper in Happy Trails and not living at home with his young wife. Her efforts don’t leave her short on suspects. Especially, since Mae uncovered many unhappy parents who had relied on an archery scholarship and perfect ACT scores as their child’s ticket to get out of Normal and go to college.

Mae has to be careful or she just might find an arrow with her name written on it.

Canyons, Caravans, & Cadavers

Excerpt

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Chapter One

“Welcome!” Mayor Courtney Mackenzie wore a t-shirt with the logo of Normal, Kentucky, and a pair of capri-length khakis, appropriate attire for the warm spring night we were having in our tourist town embedded deep in the Daniel Boone National Park. “I’d like to welcome everyone to the Happy Trails Campground on behalf of Mae West. We are here to honor her with a key to the city for her hard work over the past year to boost Normal’s economy.”

My chin dropped to my chest, causing my long, curly brown hair to fall over my shoulders and shield my red face from all the eyes on me.

“ “I know that we usually have these at our Tuesday Chamber of Commerce meetings, but I wanted to host this ceremony here at the campground since not all of our local town folk have had a chance to visit Happy Trails since it was renovated.” The Mayor was doing a great job talking up the campground that I’d spent a lot of time – and money – fixing up and modernizing in the short time I’d owned it. “Mae has opened up a few campers for your viewing pleasure and to show you that Happy Trails isn’t just a campground anymore, but a glampground.” The Mayor laughed at her own joke. “Get it? Glamour and campground mashed up .” She shrugged and moved side to side before continuing. “Mae has taken your basic mini-campers and RVs and transformed them into a very glamorous experience, whether or not you like hiking and camping.”

Hank Sharp put his arm around my shoulder, resting it on the back of the chair. He leaned over and whispered, “You should be enjoying this.”

I lifted my chin and looked at him. He smiled. His beautiful bright teeth were perfect and so were his green eyes. I couldn’t stop smiling back at him. He curled his hand around my arm, tightening his arm around me and squeezing me to him. His lips met my temple with a soft kiss that made this day even more perfect than it already was.

“Mae West!” The Mayor had finished her speech.

The crowd of locals that’d come to the campground to see me receive the key to the city were clapping from the rows of folding chairs behind me. When I stood up, I turned around and waved to them.

I took in the lake behind us and all the campers and the manicured lots the campers sat on that were situated around the lake. The fountain in the middle of the lake spilled over in a magnificent water feature as it aerated the lake. The Tiki Hut next to it was open for business to the campers. This is where campers could pick up some food from Normal’s local restaurants.

“Mae, if you would join me and Principal Bass from Normal High School up on stage, we’d like to present you with your key now.” The Mayor waved me up.

On my way up to the stage, I glanced over at Mary Elizabeth Moberly, my adopted mother. She was tapping her index fingers on the corners of her mouth, which was her way of telling me to smile.

“Shoulders back,” she mouthed, still trying to get me to use all the techniques I was taught in etiquette school over twelve years ago.

“Mae West!” The Mayor put her hands out towards me like I was a prize on the Price Is Right show. “Mae,” she said my name again when I stood next to her. “Principal Bass is here not only to help me honor you with a key to the city, but to also invite you to teach a six week class to economics students about the economies of small towns and how small businesses can bring so much to small rural towns like Normal.”

“I’m so honored.” I looked back and forth between them. “But I don’t have a teaching degree.”

“That’s okay.” Principal Donald Bass stepped up to the microphone and handed me a diploma. It was something they gave to all the people who received the key to the city, even though I didn’t graduate from there. “As Principal of Normal High School, we are giving you an honorary diploma.  We are truly grateful for your knowledge and business sense that you’ve brought to our town. It gives our children encouragement today that will help bring change to Normal tomorrow.”

I stood there in shock and it must’ve shown on my face because Mary Elizabeth got my attention by clearing her throat. I looked at her and she used her hand to gesture to me to shut my gaping mouth.

“On behalf of the citizens of Normal, I’d like to honor you with the key to the city.” The Mayor handed me a wooden plaque with a small gold key fastened to it.  A small gold plate was inscribed with my name, the data, and the name of our town.

I faced the crowd and smiled as I looked out at all the applauding people that I had come to know and love since coming to Normal. There were a few faces I didn’t recognize, but based on where they were sitting they had to be teachers from the high school. I was grateful they had come out to the campground to see me receive this honor.

“Thank you,” I spoke into the microphone once the applause had died down. “There are so many people I’d like to thank.  This wouldn’t have been possible if Normal’s shop owners hadn’t taken a chance on me and donated goods to the campground for me to promote their shops.” I named off the key people who took a chance on me when they had absolutely no reason to trust me.

In fact, they had all had a reason to want to run me out of town when I drove my rundown RV across the town limits.  Today I could look in the eyes of all the people who didn’t want to trust me and stand proud of what I had accomplished.

Of course, this ceremony wasn’t as quite as simple as I’ve made it out to be. Mayor Mackenzie had agreed to hold the ceremony at the campground and not the courthouse under one condition. This was how she got elected, by wheeling and dealing and playing nice.

“We’d also like to take a moment to honor another wonderful citizen in Normal who has also had a great impact on our community. If it weren’t for her, our little town would’ve taken an economic hit if the world had thought Normal was unsafe.” The Mayor wasted no time knocking me out of the limelight when my fifteen seconds of fame were over.

Although, I have to say those fifteen seconds were glorious and that I was really looking forward to six weeks to whip the minds of these little hooligans into shape. I zeroed in on Principal Bass’s son, Davey. Davey and I had a little history together. At the beginning of spring, Davey and his friends stole an RV from guests at my campground and did a little partying in it at Kissing Point, a remote area in the national park where kids went to do what kids like to do.

The judge had ordered Davey to do community service and all of his work was at the campground. Now I’d be able to keep an eye on him at school.

I’d made it a mission to not make his life so easy because his little joyride had nearly caused me to lose my campground and go bankrupt.

“Violet Rhinehammer is not only the new Editor in Chief at the Normal Gazette, she has been awarded the National Park Magazine Reporter of the Year Award with her coverage of the prison break that put Normal in the national spotlight.” Mayor Mackenzie smiled at Violet.

Yep. In order for the ceremony to be held here at the campground, I had to agree to share the limelight with Violet Rhinehammer, a big pain in my you know what. At least I wasn’t likely to see her after today unless she was doing a segment on Channel 2, where she was a regular contributor.

“As the principal of Normal High School, we’d like to honor you by giving you an honorary degree in journalism and extend an offer for you to mentor our young adults on the NHS Telegram for six weeks.” He was talking about Normal High School’s student-run newspaper.

“I’m just so shocked.” Violet flipped her long blonde hair to the side, letting it cascade down one shoulder in dripping curls. Her perfectly lined red lips exposed gleaming teeth that exuded charm. Her bright eyes twinkled as she bounced with giddiness.

Although I wasn’t paying much attention to her, I thought it sounded like she got more applause than I did.

“Did he just tell her she’s going to work at the school too?” I leaned over and asked Mayor Mackenzie, gripping my key to the city and diploma so tight that my hands started to hurt.

“Yes.” Mayor confirmed with a nod and then shushed me like I was ten.

I jerked around and put a smile on my face while they gave their closing remarks.

“Be sure that you stay for the reception. Just like Mae always does, the local restaurants and business have graciously donated not only their products, but their time to come out and support our two wonderful citizens.” Mayor stepped back and gave us one last round of applause.

As soon as everyone stopped clapping, I high-tailed it down the steps of the stage, passing Ethel Biddle on the way down.

“I hope you don’t mind” was how Ethel started her conversation with me, “I took Rosco down to your RV and your door was unlocked.”

“You opened my door?” I questioned.

“Mmmhhh,” she ho-hummed, seeing nothing wrong with her actions. “Rosco wanted to visit with the mother of his children. So I let him go right on in.”

Rosco was Ethel’s dog. He and Fifi, my former prize-winning poodle, had done the unthinkable and Fifi had gotten pregnant, stripping her of her award-winning heritage.

At the time it seemed like one of the worst things that could have ever happened, but in the end and like most things, it all turned out fine. Fifi came to live with me and Roscoe and Fifi became parents to the cutest babies.  Soon after I made sure that wouldn’t happen again and had Fifi spayed.

“If you’ll excuse me, my public awaits.” She picked at her neck skin. “Me, me, me, me.” The pitch in her voice moved up an octave with each me. “Me, me, me.”

I moved out of the way of the banjo player and fiddle player to make room for them on the     stage. Ethel wasn’t just the owner of Smelly Dog Grooming, the only pet groomer in Normal, she was also the lead singer of Blue Ethel and the Adolescent Farm Boys.

They were actually pretty good and everyone who stayed at the campground loved them, so it had been a no brainer to book them for the monthly themed party I had at the campground. Since we were celebrating my – I mean, my and Violet’s – honor, I had decided to hold the monthly party today.

“Congratulations, May-bell-ine.” My foster brother turned adopted brother Bobby Ray Bonds gave me a good smack on the back with his free hand while the other gripped a beer can. “Can you believe it? From the foster care to the key to the city. You sure have done well for yourself.”

“Thank you, Bobby Ray.” I noticed his thinning hair covered by a ballcap and that he was still wearing his greasy mechanic overalls. “Just getting off work?” I asked.

There were small clusters of folks gathered around, eating and drinking. In the background I could hear the band plucking on their instruments to get in tune.

“Yep. I didn’t have time to change.” He gestured down to the far side of the lake where I had small bungalows for rent for those that didn’t like to stay in campers. “I went home to change, but someone was parked in my spot. I figured it was a guest, but come to find out it’s that archery feller from the school.” Bobby looked down at me from underneath his brows, looking for an explanation as to why the high school economics teacher, who was also the coach of the Rifle and Archery Club, wasn’t living at home with his wife.

“Bobby Ray, you lived with Mary Elizabeth too long.” I tsked, referring to how nosey and gossipy Mary Elizabeth was.

“He didn’t live with me long enough.” Mary Elizabeth came out of nowhere. “You did mighty fine up there with your speech, but you’ve got to remember, tits up and shoulders back,” doing the motions as she said it.

“Thank you for coming,” I reached over and hugged her, ignoring her critiques. “I’m going to get me some food.” My stomach grumbled from the delicious smells coming from the campfires in the stone firepits that I provided at each lot. “Want some?”

“I’m so hungry my belly thinks my throat’s been cut out.” She snickered, nudging me.

On our way around the campground, I made a quick pit stop at my little RV and let out Fifi and Rosco. Both darted out with their noses up in the air as if they were running to the smell of food. They were on a mission.

Even though today was a day of celebration, I kept the rules of the monthly theme party the same. If you were staying at the campground and wanted to participate, I asked you to make some sort of food to share with the group. Each person got a plate and walked around the campground, taking a little from each campfire stove to fill a plate.

Along the way, they got to know their fellow campers so they wouldn’t know just me and Dottie Swaggert, the campground manager.

“Campfire chili.” My mouth watered just saying what the first camper had made. “Do you want some?” I asked Mary Elizabeth as I took a bowl for myself.

She was too busy talking to the campers and bragging on how I was her adopted daughter, so I left her behind and started making my way around the campground. When I got to the bungalows, I noticed Coach Scott Goodman and a few of the students in his club were having target practice with foam targets for their arrows. His Normal High School Archery and Rifle Club track suit showed he was proud of his job as a coach.

Coach Goodman stood about six foot one inch tall with a nice head of blond hair that had a wee-bit of a wave to it. By the way he filled out the track suit, I could tell he took care of himself.

“Hi, Coach. Do you want some chili?” I asked him, holding out the bowl for him to take. I noticed that he was wearing his wedding band.

“Nah. I’m not hungry. Just enjoying the kids. But I might have to get some of that later.” He nodded and eyed my bowl. “I guess we will be working together for a few weeks. Congratulations.” He folded his muscular arms across his chest and stood with his legs spread in a stance.

“I’m excited. I’ve got a few ideas. Maybe I can run those by you later.” I watched as one of kids drew her bow back. She used a steady hand and carefully looked down the arrow at the target.

When she let go, the arrow whizzed through the air with ease, hitting dead set in the center of the target.

“She’s one of the best.” He shook his head. “Got a good chance for a scholarship.”

“Is that right?” A deep voice came up from behind us. “Ken, Ken Patterson.” He stuck his hand out for me to shake. “My son is Sam Patterson. He’s the one who should be getting scholarships.”

“Mr. Patterson, I’m not going to talk with you about Sam’s future outside of school. I’m more than happy to talk to you with Alena Russell present, but not here,” Scott said sternly, very clear about where he stood.

“You’ve not heard the last of me, Goodman,” Ken warned him before stalking off.

“I can never escape the classroom.” Scott sighed, staring Ken down as he walked away. “Some parents think their kids deserve the world when they don’t.” He leaned in a little closer. “Between me and you, I’m not planning on being around here long enough to care what happens to Sam.”

“Mae! Skillet brownies!” Mary Elizabeth bounced on her toes in delight and pointed to another camper’s delicious treat over their firepit. Vigorously, she waved me over.

“I guess you must love brownies.” Scott smiled, trying to put on a good front, but I knew it was a cover for something deeper going on in his life.

I knew. I’d done that for a long time myself.

“If you need anything while your renting the camper, let me know.” I pointed to the small white travel trailer that I’d converted a single camper.

I made it cozy by upgrading the kitchen and installing gas heaters in each room for really cold nights. The living room had a large leather couch, a reading chair, a fireplace, and a TV from the 1980s. This particular trailer also had both an indoor and outdoor shower, beautiful antique decor, and heavy vintage flannel blankets and bear skins for staying super cozy. From the looks of it, Scott Goodman felt right at home.

“And for future reference,” I pointed to the car pad that went with Bobby Ray’s bungalow, “that’s for the bungalow. You can park on the other side of the camper.”

“Oh, I know. That dude made me well aware of where he parked his heap of junk and chewed me a new one.” The nice side of him suddenly disappeared.

“That’s my brother and he works hard. It’s his parking spot. Thanks for listening.” I didn’t need to say much more. As nice as I thought Scott might be, there did seem to be a dark side to him that I didn’t plan to get to know.  “I’m going to get my brownie now.”

“Looking forward to hearing your ideas,” he said before he went back to the students.

“Who was that?” Mary Elizabeth asked.

“He’s the economics teacher I’m going to be working with.” I left it at that, deciding that I wouldn’t make any snap judgements about my new renter.

Mary Elizabeth and I stepped aside as a red convertible Mustang came around the lake going faster than the fifteen miles per hour posted speed limit.

“Slow down! There’s kids around here!” Mary Elizabeth yelled and lifted her fist in the air. “Who is that?”

“I have no idea. Must be a local.” I shrugged, happy to see nobody was hurt on the Mustang’s way out of the campground.

I spent the rest of the evening thanking people for coming who then congratulated me on the key to the city.

As much as I didn’t want the evening to end, it was still a work night for everyone and I was planning to go to the school tomorrow to plan my six weeks of teaching.

“Are you sure you don’t mind watching the campground for six weeks straight?” I asked Dottie as we were stacking the folding chairs after the party had died down. The smell of BBQ drifted in the air and past my nose, making my stomach growl.

The sun had set long ago and the moon was high in the night sky, but there were a few campfires still glowing in the darkness. I eyeballed the one with the BBQ and decided to grab a plate and take some down to Scott since I’d not seen him since I stopped by there to tell him about the parking spot.

“What on earth do you think I did all those years before you came?” Dottie asked with a snarky tone.

“I like to think you need me.” I winked. “But you’re right. I’d never be able to run this place without you.”

Dottie Swaggert was the manager of Happy Trails when I came around to claim the campground that had been put in my name. Illegally. It was the only thing the government didn’t seize when they threw my ex dead – specifically, murdered – husband Paul West in jail for running a Ponzi scheme.

It wasn’t Dottie’s fault Happy Trails was all run down when I got here. Paul hadn’t paid any attention to the place.  But things work out in mysterious ways. I never could have imagined living in a camper, never mind running a campground. It’s truly been a blessing.

“I do need you.” Dottie was a softie at heart. She didn’t look at me when she said it since she was too busy fooling with the top snap on her cigarette case. “Listen, you tell them kids that they can’t expect things to just be handed to them. They need to work for it.” She pointed her pointer and middle finger at me with the cigarette in between.

“I’ll leave that up to their parents.” I wasn’t about to go on over and tell kids how they needed to be. I wasn’t a parent and had no idea how to be one. “I’m going to get Scott a plate of food to help break the ice.”

“Break the ice?” she asked. Her face glowed from the light on her lighter.

“Bobby Ray had a fit when he came home and found Scott’s car parked in his spot. I had to tell Scott and he was fine, but I felt some tension.” Or maybe it was the tension of that father who confronted Scott, but I kept that thought to myself. “I don’t want anything to be weird between the real teacher and me while I’m teaching them about how I got the campground up and running.”

“That’s what you’re going to teach them?” She asked as a puff of smoke barreled out of her mouth. “Heck, I can teach them that.”

“No. I thought I’d teach them how I created a business plan to bring the campground back to life and how I went around to all of Normal’s shop owners to help them too.” It sounded so simple when I said it out loud. “Gosh,” I said, gnawing the edge of my lip. “I hope I’ve got enough to fill six full weeks.”

“Sounds to me like you’ve got enough for a day. You need some plannin’.” Her brows lifted.

“That’s why I’m going to see Scott.” I gestured toward his travel trailer. Fifi made a couple of yipping noises when she saw me from a distance and ran my way, with her tail up in the air, wagging. “I’ll see you in the morning before I go to the school.”

“Sounds good.” She snuffed her cigarette out on the bottom of her shoe. “Don’t worry about a thing. Not even Fifi. I’ll be sure she’s all taken care of.”

“You’re the best, but don’t give her any hot fries.” I wagged a finger at her as I started to walk away and make my way around the lake.

Dottie loved those hot fries from the vending machine. I’d caught her giving some to Fifi several times and the crazy pooch loved them.

“I’m serious, if Principal Bass doesn’t do something about Goodman…” I overheard from a woman sitting around the public campfire near the pier on the lake with a group of women. She had on a Normal High School sweatshirt. “My husband is going to have to take matters into his own hands.”

“Goodman has no idea what Ken is capable of.” Another woman held up a beer can and the group of woman held theirs up and gave a cheers.

“I hope they don’t treat me like that,” I said to Fifi and walked over to the Dutch oven where guests of Happy Trails were still enjoying the aftermath of the party. “Smells good.” I leaned over the pot and took a nice long whiff.

“Help yourself.” One of the men handed me a plate. “We really are enjoying ourselves.”

“I’m so glad. I hope you take the time to head into town after one of your hikes and visit all the shops.” I took a bun from the card table and added some BBQ along with a scoop of coleslaw to top it off.

“If my wife has any say in the matter, we will,” he joked, followed by a round of the other men agreeing with them. Fifi took her turn running around the group of men and sucking up all the dropped food up like a vacuum. “Let us know if you need anything.” I wanted to make sure every guest knew we were always there for them. It was little touches like this that made the campground feel like a cozy home away from home. “Good night!” I called over my shoulder.

As my eyes glanced around the lake, I noticed the group of women still sitting around the public campfire with their beers. The back of one of the sweatshirts read PATTERSON’S MOM.

I rolled my eyes, remembering those parents from high school.

“Squeaky wheel gets the oil,” my mom used to say when I’d come home crying about something someone got that I didn’t. Things like the lead in the choir or the school play. Granted, it was elementary school, but she was right.

“Scott? You awake?” I knocked on the door of the little travel camper, feeling pretty confident he was since on the lights inside the camper were on. “It’s Mae West. I brought you something to eat and wanted to discuss the plan for my six weeks in your class,” I said to the closed door.

Fifi stood next to me, wagging her little tail and looking up at the door too.

I put my ear up to the door and heard the record player. This was another vintage touch I’d added to the camper. I bought a record player and a wide variety of records so every camper would be able to find something they liked. According to the surveys from campers who had stayed in this camper, the record player was a big hit.

“Scott?” I knocked a little harder so he would hear me over the music.

The door opened slightly, and Fifi pushed her way in.

“Fifi, no!” I scolded her and watched her little fluffy white body run in, pushing the door open more. “Fifi, come back!”

The music was much louder with the door open and the sound clashed with Fifi’s loud and piercing bark.

I took a step inside.

“Scott!” I screamed. All the muscles in my body relaxed, the plate fell, and food splattered all over the body of Coach Scott Goodman and the arrow in his back.

 

TWO
“The murder weapon is an Easton Full Length Aluminum Arrow,” Hank told the officer next to him who was writing down what Hank said about Scott Goodman. Hank was bent down over top of the body, wearing blue latex gloves and using a pointer to move things around on Scott’s person.

“How do you know that?” I probably should’ve been more focused on the dead body in my camper, but I was impressed with Hank’s knowledge. I wedged myself between him and the other officer. Fifi was snuggled in the crook of my arm.

“I’m reading the arrow.” He looked up glanced over his shoulder at me. “Mae, you should be outside.”

“Why? I’m fine. I’ve seen a lot of dead bodies now. With you.” I shrugged. “This one isn’t so bad. Not a lot of blood like the last ones.”

“What do we have here?” Colonel Holz had pushed his way into the tiny camper, making us all stand up with all of our shoulders folding forward, something Mary Elizabeth would have a heart attack over.

Colonel was a short stocky man in his early seventies. He had short gray hair that required a combover, wire-rimmed glasses, and a little belly. He wore khakis and a light blue button down under his white coroner’s coat that had his name embroidered on the chest pocket.

“Archery and Rifle Club coach from the high school. He’s been renting from Mae for,” Hank glanced back at me, “how long?”

“Two weeks.” See, I knew he needed me here. I squeezed my way into the corner of the trailer where the record player had been playing and noticed Scott’s choice of music was the 80s. Fifi wiggled a little. I held her closer to my chest.

“What’s that?” Colonel looked at the chili all over the floor. By the way his nose curled, he must’ve thought it was something that could’ve come out of Scott’s body.

“It’s chili. I dropped the bowl when I found Scott.” I blushed. “Muscle control went completely out the window.” My hands flailed around before I gained control of them and stuck them in the front pockets of my jeans.

“His license says he’s forty-five and lives over on Race Run Trail Road.” Hank and Colonel looked back at me.

“Fine.” I knew they wanted the dirt. “He’s married. I’m not sure why he’s here. I haven’t gotten that much information from him yet. He gets up around six a.m. He leaves for what I assume is work around seven-thirty-ish and is back by around five p.m. unless they have practice, which is on Monday and Wednesday. Then he’s usually driving back into the campground around 8 p.m.”

So what if I watched everything everyone did around here. It was my campground and I had to make sure everything was good.

“Have you talked to his wife yet?” Colonel asked Hank.

“How’s it going in here?” A woman that I’d seen once before popped her head into the camper. “Hank.” She greeted him with a big smile and did that whole French thing where they kiss both of each other’s cheeks.

She didn’t bother acknowledging me.

“Hi, I’m Mae.” I took a step forward to make sure she knew I was there because the last time I’d seen her at a crime scene, I thought she was the coroner and that she had flirted with Hank.

Since then, I’d found out she was the assistant county coroner and mostly worked at the morgue. Still, she worked directly with Hank on some cases and I knew that look she gave him when she greeted him.

“Nice to meet you.” Her eyes went from me to Fifi and back to me as she unclipped the flashlight from her utility belt and shined it in the corners of the camper. Her hair was long and black to just below her shoulder. It was parted on the side and had a nice wave to it that looked natural. She wore a fitted black suit with a crisp white shirt underneath. I could tell because the collar was standing up and stiff. Her heels were sensible and not too high, but high enough to make her look like she had longer legs than she really did.

“You called in the murder?” She asked me without even giving me her name. Not a very southern attitude.

She stepped aside to let the cop finish taking photos of Scott.

Fifi squirmed when the camper door opened, and an officer walked in. I let her down and she made it out the door just in time before it shut on her.

“Are you French?” I asked and put my hands back into my pockets when I realized I was doing that nervous flailing with them when I talked.

I watched the officer use scissors to cut Scott’s shirt up the middle, exposing the wound. I looked away when I saw a little more blood trickle down his side as the cop bent down and touched the skin to get another photo.

Ahem, Hank cleared his throat. A sure sign to tell me he wasn’t happy with my attitude.

“I did call in the murder, but I thought you worked with the bodies at the morgue, not at the crime scene.” I was just trying to find out what she really did.

“I work with the crime lab and estimate time of death based on what the body tells me.” She clicked off the flashlight and bent down to look at the body with Colonel. “Shot with a Genesis Bow. Interesting.” Her brows rose.

“What does that mean?” Hank had bent down next to them and they were studying the arrow in the poor man’s back.

“The Genesis Bow is the only bow approved by the NASP.” Colonel stood up and the others followed. “It appears he was facing this way.” He pointed to the front of the trailer. “The killer was pretty close.” He looked back towards the bedroom. The little camper was so tiny that there was a clear view of the bed and it looked like it had been slept in.

The Colonel started to write on his clipboard. I scooted a little closer to get a better look at what he was writing. Next to the body outline on the paper, he wrote “NASP” by the arrow.

“The NASP is National Archery in the Schools Program and it’s the only association approved for the schools, Normal High School being one of them. We know because his granddaughter and my niece are both on the middle school archery team,” said the still nameless assistant coroner. She opened her crossbody bag and plucked a pair of gloves from it.

Without saying a word to anyone, she bent down and pulled the arrow from Scott’s back. It was like she and Hank had some ESP thing going on. He had an evidence bag waiting for her.

“If we take Scott out of here with the arrow in his back, the little crowd gathered outside will all pass out.” She slipped off her gloves. “Natalie Willowby.” She put her hand out towards me. “I might be asking you about some timelines. I’ll get your information from the police report.” She turned to Hank. “Can I see you for a second?”

“Sure.” He nodded and put his hand on my arm. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” I gave him a blank stare. The jealousy coursed through me and I hated it. My phone buzzed, saving me from saying something that wasn’t appropriate. It was Abby Fawn texting me, asking me what was going on.

“We will finish up here and I’ll stop by your place to ask you a few questions.” It was his standard way of telling me to get out of way so they could finish up.

“Okay.” I nodded and waited for him to kiss me, but he didn’t. He walked off to meet Natalie in the corner. “Gonna go check on my friends.” I waved the phone in the air, like he even cared.

Natalie was a little modest when she said a small crowd – it was more like a large mob. All the guests from the campground had gathered in the side yard between Scott’s rental and Bobby Ray’s bungalow. Bobby had lit his firepit and they were all hanging around talking.

The local residents that’d come for the ceremony were gathered closest to the lake in a cluster, including the Patterson kid’s parents.

My heart sank when I saw Ken Patterson down a beer while looking toward the crime scene. He didn’t seem to have any emotion on his face whatsoever.

Then there was my group of friends from the Laundry Club.

“Over here! Mae!” Queenie French jumped, at least a foot in the air, using her arms to pump her up and landing on her feet with a hand clap. It had to be a Jazzercise move for sure. She was an instructor and no matter how she moved around, there was a dance feel to all of it. “Over here!” she screamed again, adjusting the neon green headband around her short blonde hair.

My head jerked as a light flashed right into my eyes, leaving me blinded for a few seconds.

“What’s going on in there?” I recognized Violet Rhinehammer’s chipper voice.

It was exactly how she sounded when she got a great scoop.

“I heard the coach was offed by an angry parent.” She had all sorts of theories. A camera hung around her neck and she had a notepad and pen waiting to write down what I was saying to her. “What about his wife? Does she know? I did put a call into her. She didn’t seem to know yet, but still.”

“You what?” I blinked away the light spots the best I could and looked at her.

She still looked gorgeous with a black light spot taking up half of her face.

“Are you telling me and my paid newspaper subscribers that Scott Goodman isn’t the victim?” A snide smile curled up on her lips. Her perfectly white teeth glowed in the darkness of the night like Queenie’s neon outfit.

“I have no comment.” I took a few steps towards my friends.

“Did you find him?” Violet asked, following me on my heels.

“Go away,” Dottie shooed Violet. “I’m telling you to get off our property.”

The office phone hooked on Dottie’s back pocket rang. Both of us stopped and stared at each other.

“Happy Trails Campground, are you ready to book your fun vacation to the Daniel Boone National Park?” Her chipper voice made my insides cringe since I knew what was about to go down. “You have a reservation for next week?”

There were a lot of uhhuhs, mmms, umkays, while she listened to the guest that I’m sure had already heard about the murder of Scott Goodman and was canceling their reservation. News travels fast on social media and most of our guests were younger and quite media savvy during  hiking season. We also got a lot of older RV lovers who traveled the states in their retirement years who weren’t as familiar with social media.

Violet took a step closer to Dottie, writing something on her notepad.

“I assure you the campground is safe and you’ll. . .” Dottie pulled the phone from her ear. She pushed a button and shoved the phone in her back pocket just as the phone rang again.

When she answered, she didn’t try too hard to convince whoever was on the other side of the line to keep their reservation. She simply said, “We didn’t want you at our campground anyways.” She looked at Violet. “What are you lookin’ at?”

“You.” Violet dropped the notepad. “And the good scoop that our key to the city recipient has just lost some business because of the murder that’s taken place.”

The phone rang again. Dottie pushed the off button to silence the calls coming in, but it didn’t help. It was call after call of campers cancelling their reservations. We had to quickly get the word out that Happy Trails was safe.

Wasn’t it?

 

end of excerpt

Canyons, Caravans, & Cadavers

is available in the following formats:

Mar 25, 2019

ISBN-13: 978-1798981221

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