Hammocks, Handguns, & Hearsay
Book 31 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Grab your hammock and your bug spray, and join Mae and the Laundry Club Ladies on a wild ride through Happy Trails Campground, where the only thing more dangerous than the handguns is the gossip.
When famous bounty hunter Colt Lincoln is found dead in the Smelly Dog Groomer, clutching a sponge curler that belongs to Dottie Swaggert, Mae West and the Laundry Club Ladies know they’ve got a real doozy of a case on their hands. Despite Colt’s catfishing ways and the fact that he’d parked his fifth wheel camper in Happy Trails Campground, owned by Mae and run by Dottie, they know their friend couldn’t have done it.
As they start digging, they discover that Colt had been chasing a member of a notorious motorcycle gang member across the country. To complicate matters further, there’s a motorcycle convention in town, and the Laundry Club Ladies have to go undercover to find out if any of the gang members are among the convention attendees.
But that’s not all – Mae’s mama, Mary Elizabeth, is breathing down her neck about finalizing her wedding plans with her fiancé Hank. With a killer on the loose and the campground buzzing with rumors, Mae’s got her hands full.
As Mae and her pals weave their way through the hearsay and red herrings, they uncover a web of deceit that threatens to take down more than just Colt. With the killer still on the loose and time running out, Mae must use all her Southern charm and camping know-how to catch the culprit.
Will they catch the killer before it’s too late, or will this case be the one that got away?
Hammocks, Handguns, & Hearsay
Book 31 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Hammocks, Handguns, & Hearsay
Hell in a hand basket.
Mmhmmm, that’s what I’d call how this day, this week, heck this month was turning out.
“ Hell in a hand basket,” I muttered and shifted a little bit in my seat.
I had to get a gander at was going on across the grassy median at the Smelly Dog Groomer shop.
“What’s happening now?” I asked and leaned a little more to the right. I had to get a clear vision of what was going on. After all, I was the one who found the dead body inside.
Not just any dead body.
As in the Colt Lincoln.
Yep. The famous bounty hunter who had his own television show, Colt Lincoln.
I looked out the window and took in all the surroundings. The sun had started to set and several tourists noticed, taking their phones out get that amazing shot so they could put it on their latest social media with the hashtag sunset or hashtag Daniel Boone National Forest.
Off in the distance I noticed Willie Nelson, not the Willie Nelson like the Colt Lincoln, but our local Willie who did take professional photographs of the national forest we called home.
It was my meeting with him to discuss hiring him to take photos of my upcoming fall wedding that even brought me the Smelly Dog Groomers.
In a roundabout way.
Chester, my soon to be step-dog, had an appointment to get a bath and nail trim at the Smelly Dog, so I thought it would be easiest to kill two birds with one stone. Not happen upon the body where it was kill one bounty hunter with one bullet kinda thing.
I’d been waiting on Willie to text me back and when he did, it was after finding the whole dead body bounty hunter to which Sheriff Al Hemmer told me to wait outside of the shop, to where I’d found myself wandering over to the coffee shop where it was much easier to wait with a cup of coffee.
Still, I glanced around and noticed just how deceiving the Daniel Boone National Forest was.
It was like a seduction of a beautiful woman who on the outside was stunning but inside deep and dark secrets loomed.
Pulling up the mug to my lips, I let out a little snort. The tourists laying on the blanket in the middle of the grassy median between me and the Smelly Dog Groomer had no idea just a few feet away the show they loved and the bounty hunter they’d made famous, Colt Lincoln, was in there.
My eyes lowered as they warded off the last little bit of sun as it began to dip towards the horizon, the sky transformed into a stunning canvas of warm hues. Shades of orange, pink, and gold streak across the sky, blended together seamlessly like a watercolor painting.
Again, my eyes wandered to the grassy median, the park like setting between the one-way streets between of downtown Normal, Kentucky.
The lush green trees and rugged hillsides of the forest are bathed in a warm, golden light, creating a serene and tranquil atmosphere, but here I was, anxiously awaiting what questions Sheriff Al Hemmer for me.
I looked back behind me into the Trails Coffee Shop, the local coffeehouse, and over to the living wall where Gert Hobson, the owner of Trails Coffee, had paid a pretty penny for a fancy architect to design it to reflect the seasonal foliage of the forest.
Wildflowers popped around in vibrant colors would make anyone smile, but not me.
Chester was laying up against the living wall next to the fountain style dog bowl she’d kept there for the four-legged friends since most of the time the patrons, which were mainly hikers and campers, traveled with their furry companions.
Seeing he was settled, I turned back to the window.
The colors of the sky intensified as the sun sunk lowering, casting a rosy glow across everything the last bit of rays touched.
The familiar shuffle of Gert’s hiking boots echoed closer and closer. Without looking, I slide my coffee cup along the table just shy of the edge for her to refill.
“Colonel Holz is wheeling the body out,” Gert Hobson said almost spilling the turned coffee pot away from my mug when the murder that’d take place a couple of hours earlier across the street. “I’m so sorry.”
She plucked a couple of napkins from the center of the table and wiped steaming liquid crawling to the edge of the table before it waterfalled to the floor.
“Here comes Al.” I scooted my chair back in place and acted as if I’d not been glued to Trails Coffee’s front window.
“Don’t forget the packages I put together for the campground,” she reminded me.
I’d called Gert earlier in the day to let her know I was dropping Chester off at Smelly Dog and needed to pick up the packages of coffee and filters for the rental campers and the bungalows that she graciously donated. Instead of grabbing the boxes after I dropped Chester off, Hank, my fiancé, his sister Ellis, and I were going to stick around downtown and have a good cup of coffee, maybe visit with Gert, and wait for Ethel Biddle to finish grooming Chester.
Speaking of Ethel, my mind curled back to me finding Colt. Ethel wasn’t there. Orlene Roth was though.
I shook my head to get the inkling of idea that I was going to put my nose into another murder when a flash of a shadow outside the window took my me out of my head.
“I also put some a special Hiker’s Morning Blend in the complimentary box,” she noted, put an empty mug on the table and filled it up. “That’s for you,” she told Sheriff Al Hemmer as soon as he walked into the door.
Al gave a solid nod to Gert before he reached for the back of the chair across from me. The legs screeched across the floor with his eyes fixed on me like he was trying to study what I was thinking.
“Alright, Mae, let’s start from the beginning,” Sheriff Al said, his brow furrowed in confusion after his attempt at trying to read me.
It went without saying that Al Hemmer got the sheriff’s job after his uncle, Judge Gab Hemmer had appointment him for the job at a temporary replacement.
Like most things around these parts, we didn’t like change and well once you get into an elected official job, it was hard to be scooted or booted out. That’s how we got stuck with Al.
Dottie Swaggert was right when she said he was fumbly like the old television deputy sheriff Barney Fiff from the Andy Griffith show. He even had the appearance of a much younger version. The thin, tall, long-legged, goofy sense of humor. At times it was endearing, not so much today.
“Me, Hank, and Ellis were going to meet with Willie Nelson here at Trails Coffee to discuss wedding photos.” I wasn’t like Ellis, my soon to be sister-in-law, had a say in it or that we were very close, but I’d started seeing a side of Ellis where just a kind hand, or even nice gesture would help her blossom into the person I often saw her hide behind.
I didn’t include how I’d made the meeting with Willie to be around Chester’s appointment. Again, kinda like that kill two birds with one stone thing I’d said about Colt.
“The door was open, like always and I walked Chester inside.” I shrugged. “I didn’t see Ethel in there but I heard Orlene scream.” I also left out the part about Chester’s hunting dog howl he’d let out. “And I found her standing over Colt’s body freaking out.”
“How did the body look?” He asked.
“Dead.” I knew what he was trying to get me to say, but I wanted him to say it not me. Not me on the record of whatever it was that he was writing down in his little notebook.
“You found Colt dead inside the Smelly Dog Groomer, holding a hot pink hair curler that belongs to Dottie Swaggert.” He took a small notebook from the pocket of his brown sheriff’s vest and tossed it on top of the table like it had some sort of effect on me.
I pushed a strand of my long curly honey blonde hair behind my shoulder and raised a brow.
“Is that correct?” He finally asked, slowly draping his right arm over the back of the chair, and then using his other hand to reach for the full cup of coffee Gert had left for him.
I could still hear the bell dinged over the door of the Smelly Dog Groomer’s front door.
“Help! Help!” I heard Orlene Roth screaming at the top of her lungs and it was like I wasn’t even in my body. Chester had growled like he’d done when he was a hunting dog right before Orlene barreled out of the back room.
“Mae!” The way Orlene had gasped my name still sent goosebumps up and down my spine, leaving me with a cold shiver.
You know those kind of bone chilling colds that no matter what you did you couldn’t get it to leave your body? That kind of shiver. And it’d settled deep inside my bones and was still there.
“I am not going to say it was Dottie Swagger’s pink sponge curler.” I wasn’t going to peg my best friend as a murderer, though her sudden disappearance had me slightly baffled.
It did look back on Dottie’s part. She’d kinda been dating Colt Lincoln. She’d found out he’d only dated her to get information, probably for one of his upcoming shows and she did give him the old heave-ho but not without publicly trash talking him, which didn’t look good on her when I found him dead with the sponge curler that suspiciously looked like the kind she used.
Plus she wasn’t answering my calls or texts. That didn’t look good, but I wasn’t going to tell Al any of my thoughts.
“And you didn’t see anyone else inside the groomer when you found him? Besides Orlene that is.” Al asked, scratching his head and curled his forefinger around the handle of the mug.
“No, Al I was just there to drop Chester off to be groomed. I didn’t expect to find Colt there,” I replied in a shaking voice. “I figured on Orlene and Ethel to be there, but not Colt.”
“Well, it just doesn’t add up,” Al said, leaning back in his chair, letting go of the mug. “Why would Dottie’s hair curler be there, and why would Colt be holding it?”
“Maybe it wasn’t Dottie’s.” I threw it out there. “Why don’t you get it tested for any sort of DNA if there’s a hair on it or fingerprints?”
“Yeah, yeah,” he was quick to answer before he excused himself for a moment to make a phone call.
It didn’t take a master sleuth to see Dottie Swaggert had popped up to Al’s suspect list, taking the coveted number one spot. A list where number one was not a winning spot.
I tried to recall the sponge curler in my mind to see if there were any sort of details I could compare to the ones Dottie used, but nothing was coming to me.
Time. I needed some time to process.
It wasn’t unusual for a little shock, after something like finding a dead body, wash over someone and the following events right after becoming a little less clear. In time small bits and pieces would come back, but right now all I remember was bending down to see if Orlene was okay after she fainted and calling 9-1-1.
Al came back to the table and sat down.
“Do you know what is going to descend upon Normal if we don’t find out who killed the Colt Lincoln?” Al’s confidence waned, giving me a slight edge to this here conversation.
“When the world finds out the most famous bounty hunter in America is murdered?” I snorted and nodded. “Yeah. I know.”
Boy did I know. Better than anyone in Normal, Kentucky.
Heck. For that matter, better than anyone in Kentucky after my history of being the wife of the biggest Ponzi scheme crook in all of American history.
“Yeah. I reckon you do.” He sat up and leaned on his elbows on the edge of the table.
My phone vibrated, face down on top of the table.
“Dottie?” Al asked after I picked it up and sent it to voicemail.
“No. I was hoping.” My lips tugged in a smile. “It was Willie Nelson.”
“The zealot?” Al’s eyes narrowed.
“He’s not a zealot. He’s passionate and a great artist,” I said, though Willie was one who liked to live as a nomad in the forest. It was like his art and life were being one with each other gave him the opportunity to take in the real beauty, not the surface things, of the forest.
The way the lens of his camera had captured the stars and night sky over top of the Daniel Boone National Forest was something I’d never seen before and soon he was going to be world famous. Or at least he would be after I got Abby Fawn Bonds, my sister-in-law and marketing genius, to spread the word about him.
He would be a viral sensation.
“I need to take this.” I wagged the phone.
“When you’re finished, I want you to come back over to the Smelly Dog.” Al stood up. The chair smacked the floor after he fumbled around a bit, then he went to pick it up and his rump hit the table, almost knocking the coffee mug over again.
I waved a hand and put the phone up to my ear.
“Hi Willie,” I greeted him and dug down into my jean’s pocket to grab some cash to leave for a tip. “I know we were going to meet up tonight, but something has come up. Can we meet up later this week to discuss the wedding?”
Willie mumbled something about some of his buddies coming in and he was going to be busy for the week. Though I’d seen him in the park a few minutes before Al had walked into the coffee shop, I’d glanced out the window to see if he was still in the park. I didn’t see him.
“That’s fine. The wedding isn’t until this fall, so we have some time,” I told him as the coffee shops glass window rattled from the gang of motorcycles driving past.
It was hard not to notice them. There had to be at least fifty of them. They were so loud even the conversations in the coffee shop had stopped and a few customers had walked near the window to watch them drive past.
It wasn’t unusual for people to drive their motorcycles through the forest on a gorgeous day. The scenery was breathtaking and the weather was perfect, but I don’t recall ever seeing that many. It was unusual to see a lot of them wearing the same jacket and motorcycle clothing that got the attention that this was a real motorcycle gang.
“I heard there was a biker’s convention,” Gert had joined me at the window. “Maybe I need to make a biker’s brew,” she said as I hung up with Willie.
“You are so smart.” I laughed and pointed to Chester. “Do you care if he lays there until Hank is done”
Hank and his partner, Jerry Truman, had rented out the empty back room of the coffee house when they decided to quit law enforcement all together and open a private investigation. They’d only gotten tedious jobs that kept them busy and today was not different.
While Chester was going to his appointment at the Smelly Dog Groomer, me and Ellis were going to hang out at Trails Coffee to visit with Gert while Hank did some work in the office.
Colt Lincoln changed all of that. Well, at least most of the plans had changed.
Ellis had walked down to the Normal Diner. Ty Randal, her husband, and his family owned the diner. Al had asked me to stay around to get my statement and there was no need for Ellis or Hank to hang out. They’d not seen anything.
“Yes. He’s always welcome to stay here,” Gert said.
I knew she wouldn’t’ve had a problem but it was always nice to ask and not assume. Chester would come to Trails Coffee with Hank, so he truly wasn’t trouble and he was fast asleep like he’d be if he was in Hank’s office.
“I’ll be back after I answer all of Al’s questions,” I told her and stepped out onto the sidewalk, stopping to watch even more motorcycles roll past.
There was a brief opening between riders for me to run across the one-way street. Like the customers at the coffee house, the people in the grassy median, park-like setting between the one-way streets, had stopped what they were doing and watched to.
It was interesting to see what got people’s attention and what didn’t.
Take the Smelly Dog for an example.
There was a sheriff car, a ranger truck and a hearse all parked in front of the groomers. No one seemed to even bat an eye at the three vehicles.
Then there were the slew of bikers driving through town and everyone stopped.
Out of the corner of my eye near the far left of the amphitheater, I noticed someone standing in the shadows of one of the pillars with his eyes focused on the Smelly Dog.