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Kickbacks, Kayaks, & Kidnapping

Book 11 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series

Welcome to Normal, Kentucky~ where nothing is normal. A Campers and Criminal Mystery Series is another brainchild of USA Today Bestselling Author Tonya Kappes. If you love her quirky southern characters and small town charm with a mystery to solve, you’re going to love her new cozy mystery series!

Deep in the heart of the Daniel Boone National Forest, Mae West has spent the last few years bringing the rundown Happy Trails Campground and the small southern and cozy town of Normal, Kentucky back to a thriving economic community.

Mae’s efforts haven’t gone unnoticed. Not only is Happy Trails Campground in the running to be named Campground Hospitality of the Daniel Boone National Park, but she landed the coveted Paddle Fest kayak competition that secures the winner a spot on the Olympic team.

When champion and Olympian kayaker Bryce Anderson turns over in his kayak dead…there’s more than paddling going on and his death has been ruled a homicide. News of Bryce’s death spreads fast and Happy Trails becomes the center of bad publicity.

Come camping with Mae West and the Laundry Club Ladies as they put their sleuthing, well nosy, caps on and put their skills to the test so they can figure out who killed the Olympian and save Happy Trails from financial ruin.

Kickbacks, Kayaks, & Kidnapping

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Chapter One

Entrepreneur.

I mentally read the word I’d written on a piece of paper in the notebook the Laundry Club gals and I kept handy for when we’d put on our amateur sleuth hats. We’d use it to write down clues that helped us put two and two together.

“Entrepreneur.” I read the word out loud, smiling a little. I tucked a strand of my long curly brown hair behind my ear as I let out a long sigh.

Fifi, my toy poodle, jumped up on the small couch in our RV and wedged her head up under my arm.

“How do you think ‘Mae West, entrepreneur’ sounds?” I asked her.

She jumped up and swiped her tongue along my cheek.

“I knew you’d love it.” I sighed and picked up the copy of National Park Magazine I’d been reading a few minutes earlier when I saw the ad Abby Fawn, a good friend of mine and librarian at Normal Library, had placed as my social media guru for Happy Trails Campground.

The ad was for the new water activities I’d added to the campground activities: kayaking, canoeing, white-water rafting, and fishing. Until recently, I had been able to let my guests know about a company that provided these activities, but that company folded. It left me the opportunity to literally dip my toe into the water of extra outdoor activities, which led to more money on the bottom dollar for the campground.

Since the company had folded due to the owner going to prison, the price was pretty cheap. One problem: I knew nothing about kayaking or canoeing, much less white-water rafting. That’s when I decided it would be fun to host a weeklong summer festival called Paddle Fest.

Since Abby knew all things about the Daniel Boone National Forest, where Normal, Kentucky and Happy Trails Campground were located, she’d told me about how years ago, the forest hosted an actual kayak competition. Who knew there was such a thing?

In fact, there was even a kayaking team at the local high school. It would be perfect for kick-starting my new adventure. . .which made me, Maybelline Grant West, an entrepreneur.

“Right here.” I pointed at the ad to show Fifi. “It’s in fine print at the bottom, but it says Mae West, entrepreneur.” I squinted to look at the fine print Abby had put in the ad.

Fifi seemed to like it. Her stubby tail wagged so fast. She did a few twirls that completely warranted praise.

After all, she had been a pedigreed show poodle until she crossed to the wrong side of the campground where Ethel kept Rosco, her male bulldog, off leash. Most dogs weren’t on leashes in the campground—at the owners’ own risk since we did have some coyotes and some brown bears—so I, too, was at fault for letting Fifi run around when I had only been babysitting her. It was only at night that I would put her on a leash.

To say it nicely, Fifi had gotten pregnant, and it was her ticket to freedom from performing all those tricks. Plus, her owner had only used Fifi for the pedigree and saw to it that I take responsibility for the chaos I’d caused by taking Fifi off her hands—life changing for me and Fifi. Keeping her had been the best decision I’d ever made. Well, that and the decision I’d made not to sell the campground, making Normal my new home and living in an RV.

Talk about life changing. All my adult life, I’d lived in New York City after I escaped the foster care system in Kentucky. It wasn’t until I met and married one of the wealthiest, and oldest, businessmen in the stock market—who just so happened to go to federal prison, causing me to lose my Manhattan apartment and our Hamptons home—did I find out I was the owner of Happy Trails Campground. I’d spent the last few years bringing it and the tourism of Normal back to life, making me the entrepreneur.

“I think. . .” The creak of the metal camper step up to my door told me someone was about to knock before their fist made contact with the metal around the screen door.

“Mae, you in there?” Dottie Swaggert’s face was barely visible through the screen, but her hot-pink hair curlers practically glowed in the darkness of the night. It was her deep Southern drawl that told me it was her.

“Come on in.” I slid the magazine over the notebook just as she swung open the door. Fifi jumped off the couch and happily greeted one of her favorite people.

“What are you doing up so late?” Her eyes zeroed in on the small dinette table. She put her hand down to pat Fifi. “Are you moonlighting on the gals?”

She moved her hand from Fifi to one of the curlers that’d come unsnapped around a piece of her thick red hair. Within a second, she’d rolled the hair right back around the sponge and made sure it was snapped close to her head.

“Moonlighting? Are you kidding? I’m already exhausted from running this place.” I showed her the magazine. “Abby’s ad came out for the locals to enter the kayak competition this week, and I can’t wait.”

“The ad she ran a couple of months ago pretty much filled it up. Do you know we have people coming from all over the country to compete?” She shook her head and made herself comfortable on the couch.

Fifi took it as an opportunity to score more loving by lying next to Dottie.

I’d never even known camping was so popular or everything that went with it. When I’d first shown up in Normal to check out this new ownership of mine, the place was so run-down, it took every bit of anything I could pawn, sell, and barter to get it cleaned up enough to open.

Not to mention what it took to make the RV my home. When I looked around, I was pretty proud of all the elbow grease I’d put into the place.

I’d used every bit of space possible. I took down all the walls to create an open-concept plan with the kitchen and family room in one big room. I put up shiplap walls and painted them white. I’d gotten a cute café table with two chairs and a small leather couch from the Tough Nickel, the local thrift store. I’d even redone all the floors with luxurious vinyl that resembled grey wood flooring. The kitchen cabinets and all the storage cabinets were white. I’d transformed my little camper into a charming country farmhouse décor.

I’d strung twinkle lights everywhere I could. The bathroom had been updated with a tile shower and upgraded toilet, which was nice. My bedroom was located in the back. I’d opted to buy a new mattress, with some wooden pallets painted pink and nailed together as a headboard. I’d gotten a dresser from the Tough Nickel that went perfectly with my distressed look. The fuzzy rugs and milk glass vases that were currently filled with different floral arrangements from the Sweet Smell Flower Shop, the local florist, were the perfect romantic touch, especially now since I’d been dating Hank Sharp.

“I’m not sure why you keep spending money to put ads in all them papers and magazines since we ain’t got no place to put people.” Dottie snarled. “We’ve been booked for months.”

“Thanks to a great manager like you.” I knew a little praise went a long way with her. “Just because we are booked doesn’t mean other people from the other campgrounds can’t participate. They will see how awesome our campground is and want to go ahead and book for next year.”

It was crazy how the campground was booked up for months. Cancellations went out every Tuesday morning at eight a.m., and we’d book back up within a few minutes of the emails going out.

“I guess I’m not complaining. It’s good to have a steady job.” Dottie had recently had a bout of fainting issues that resulted in her falling down and breaking a hip.

She’d lived in a local rehab facility while she got back up on her feet, which made her none too happy. The Laundry Club gals, our small group of friends, and I took turns visiting her day in and day out so Dottie didn’t have to be alone.

The Laundry Club gals were a big reason I’d decided to stay in Normal and make it my home. The Laundry Club was the name of the laundromat in Normal, where I had to do laundry when I first moved there since the laundry room at the campground wasn’t working. There, I’d met the owner, Betts Hager, along with Queenie French and Abby Fawn. They were all friends with Dottie, and it just so happened to be the place where all four of them hung out.

Years later, we all still met there for book club, coffee, and social hour. Plus, there was a police scanner there. Talk about hours of entertainment. The National Park Rangers along with the police department got several crazy calls every night. Campers got themselves into some crazy situations. We loved meeting up at the Laundry Club and gathering around the scanner to see what was going to happen next. Sometimes we’d jump into Betts’s old cleaning van and go see what all the commotion was about. Especially when there was a death.

It seemed a little morbid, but we did it anyway. That’s where the notebook came in handy. There’d been a few murders in these parts. Since it was a national forest and park, people figured they could just hide a body out here and it would never be found.

Somehow, one of the Laundry Club ladies or I would always discover or happen upon some sort of murder that put us in the thick of things, which was when we’d put clues in the notebook so we’d have them all in one place.

“I’ve been writing down ideas for the festival for next year in the notebook since we’ve not used it in a while.” I set the magazine back down on the small café table and took a good look at Dottie. “Are you out doing your physical therapy?”

She grimaced when she moved, but she tried to hide it from me.

“I’m trying, but I still can’t get good sleep with this new hip,” she moaned and rubbed her side.

“You’re just a couple of months out.” I slipped on my flip-flops. “Come on. I’ll go a time or two around with you.”

I walked over to the couch and helped her up. It wasn’t too late. I figured it to be around ten or so, since right before she’d gotten here, the night had turned completely dark. During the summer, it was still light out until nine thirty, which made the campground stay alive until around midnight.

The smell of the campfires was carried on the light breeze as it came through the open windows of the RV. It was a good time to walk around the campground and say hello to our guests.

I made sure we knew all of them by name when they arrived.

“I don’t need to bother you with walking me around like an old lady,” she grumbled and got to her feet.

“You are an old lady,” I teased, and she smacked me away. “We need to say goodnight to our guests. Remember, that’s why we are in for the Campground Hospitality Award.”

It was an honor to be in the running for the award with so many campgrounds in and around the national park. When I’d gotten word that we were up for it along with five other campgrounds, I knew we had it in the bag.

At least that’s what I told myself, determined to win. There was a competitive streak in me that I’d never been able to tame.

“Oh, they did put up the banner late this evening.” Dottie had told me the national park committee had called to let us know they were placing banners at each campground. “They had sent over the ballots for people too.”

“We need to make sure to distribute those tomorrow at the hospitality room.” I made a mental note to grab those in the morning from the office since it was my shift to open and take them to the recreational room, where there was complimentary coffee from Trails Coffee and donuts from the Cookie Crumble Bakery.

Both businesses were locally owned. I made sure when I opened the campground that I would feature local products and businesses so if the guests liked them, they’d go visit the businesses and purchase. It was a foolproof business plan that’d brought Normal back as a thriving community and got me the key to the city. . .which brought me back to the title “entrepreneur.”

I couldn’t help but swell up with pride when we stepped out of the RV and looked out across the lake in the middle of the campground with all the campfires dancing under the dark night sky.

“We sure have come a long way,” I told Dottie as we walked around the lake on the far side, near the bungalow section of Happy Trails. “I guess I never figured we’d have all the bungalows filled as well as all the little campers.”

“It was all that fixin’ up you’ve been doing. Making them so popular with the young folks, old folks, and families.” She pointed to the largest of the bungalows, where we could see right into the large window.

The family who had rented it had planned their family vacation here. They were sitting inside around the large kitchen table playing a board game. During the day, they’d been busy hiking all the trails that started in the campground. Tomorrow, they were going to go explore some of the hidden waterfalls.

“This one is still my favorite camper.” I pointed to the small canned-ham red camper that was a single. It was the cutest. It was very popular and always had a waiting list.

“I know.” Dottie stopped and pulled out the cigarette case. She snapped it open and batted out one of her stogies.

I’d really hoped she was going to break that habit when she was in the rehab center, but I now thought rehab had made it worse. Every time I’d go see her, she was having herself a big time, sitting outside with other residents, laughing and talking and all of them smoking too.

“How y’all doin’?” Dottie asked a group of campers when we passed by another one of our campers they’d rented.

She meandered over to their fire while I waited for Fifi to catch up to me on her small walk. That’s mostly what we did at night when she was on the leash, but since there were so many people up and fires going, I knew it would be safe for her to walk around without worrying about a coyote snatching her up.

There were a few people sitting on the dock that jutted out on the lake. The paddleboats were pulled up in their places, and Henry was locking them up. Henry Bryan was the handyman who had already worked here, just like Dottie, so it was natural to keep them both on staff. They were the only employees I had, and they were worth their weight in gold.

“Mae, this here is the state kayak champ who is going to be trying out for the next Olympic team.” Dottie’s accent got stronger as the excitement grew in her voice.

By the way the group of young people laughed, I could tell Dottie entertained them.

“Welcome to Happy Trails.” I wanted to make sure we gave a proper hello to our future Olympian. “Are you going to be participating in the kayak race?”

“Of course he is.” A young woman got up from the campfire and took her place next to him. “I’m Alli Shelton, Bryce Anderson’s agent.”

She had long straight brown hair, with all the pieces around her face pulled back into a clip that fastened at the back of her head. The big black-rimmed glasses took up a lot of her forehead and cheeks. From what I could see, she didn’t have on any makeup other than maybe a hint of lip balm—not exactly what I assumed for an agent.

Not that people got all dolled up when they went camping, but in her case, renting one of my fanciest campers, I’d say she was glamping it.

“Nice to meet you.” Hmm. . .I gave her a once-over as best I could, given it was dark out. By the way she held herself, I could tell she was also an entrepreneur, being an agent and all. “Bryce, we are honored to have you here.”

I made another mental note to be sure to look up kayaking, the Olympics, and Bryce when I made it into town tomorrow.

“You are the owner of the campground?” Alli asked me. I nodded. “And you’re the one putting on the kayak race, correct?”

“I am. If there’s anything you need, please just ask.” There was no doubt in my mind she would take me up on my offer.

“Oh, don’t worry. Bryce gets whatever it is he wants.” She glanced his way, but he’d already gone back to the campfire, where he was doing a couple of shots with a few of the others. “If you’ll excuse me, I need to go talk to him, but I do want to come visit you in the morning to discuss his training while we are here and what times we’d like you to shut down the water activities.”

“Shut down?” I questioned and looked at Dottie after Alli rushed off. “Does she expect me to shut down the waterway for him to practice?”

“I guess she thinks his you-know-what don’t stink and he gets what he wants.” Dottie’s lit cigarette bounced from the corner of her mouth as she talked.

Both of us stood there and watched as Bryce and Alli had a disagreement. Apparently, from what I’d overheard, she wasn’t happy with him drinking and thought he needed to get some sleep. After he told her to lighten up, she stormed off in the direction of one of the little red campers she’d rented while he casually made his way over to another set of campers filled with some college girls taking a summer girls’ trip, not caring one bit about the Paddle Fest.

“He don’t give one iota about kayaking.” Dottie nudged me when Bryce grabbed a girl by the hand. “That woman is right. That boy gets whatever it is he wants.”

They disappeared down the mouth of the closest trail.

“Mm-hmm,” I said, smiling, “and he’s gonna get some chiggers in places he don’t want too.”

 

 

TWO

There was nothing that could come close to the sunrise in the Daniel Boone National Park. As much as people wanted to try to think the beach was better than the mountains, there was no comparison.

The golden rays extended like fingers as the orange-and-pink sky rose just above the treetops. Various colors of green danced from tree to tree as the light filtered through. Six a.m. was one of my favorite times of day.

With a good night’s sleep, Fifi darting ahead of me, and the birds chirping all around me, I headed up to the office to get a jump on the day with a smile on my face. There was always a lot to do in the office, and with the festival starting today, I had to run into town for a few last-minute items.

“Mornin’, Mae,” Henry hollered from across the lake at the entrance of the recreational center. “I’ll be right over after I get these donuts in here.”

Henry liked to get up early. If the donuts and coffee weren’t delivered by the time he came up to the office, he took it upon himself to call the shops and let them know he was coming to get them.

Fifi was busy doing her morning business, so I had nothing to do but wait on Henry. I sipped my coffee and enjoyed the light summer breeze blowing across the campground. Some of the campfires were still smoldering. My eyes swept across to the trail where I’d seen Bryce and the college girl slip down, and I wondered how their night had gone.

It was none of my business. As long as they didn’t disturb the other guests or destroy any of the forest, we were good.

The trails around the campground were clearly marked, and it was highly recommended not to hike them in the night. I figured Bryce and the young woman weren’t going hiking, and I wasn’t their mother. They were adults.

“How’s it going?” I asked Henry when he finally made it over to my side of the lake.

“It’s all good. I got the kids games all set up down by the creek. The picnic tables are situated just like you wanted them to be. Coach has set up the archery stations. I was going to ask you to get some more ballots run off because it looked like they only gave you a few to hand out.” He took off his hat when he talked to me. His scraggly hair was pretty much gone in most places. Henry always took off his ballcap when he talked to any woman. It was a Southern-gentleman thing. “I want to hand them out at the festival.”

“That’s a great idea.” I patted my leg and made smoochy noises for Fifi to come on. “I’ve got to go to town to grab a few things, and I’ll stop by the library to get some more printed off.”

There was a copier in the office, but it was built into a basic home printer, and we needed a few hundred ballots. The library had a nice one, and it was free for local businesses, and I wanted to talk to Abby about the social media marketing plan she had for the rest of the week.

“A few new campers came in last night.” Henry’s eyes moved past me and beyond the campers behind me.

Happy Trails Campground was pretty large and took up a great deal of land. Campsites varied in size and what they offered. The land we had allowed us to provide many options and sizes of campers and RVs. Guests didn’t even have to own an RV or camper to stay here, and that was what Alli Shelton and Bryce Anderson were actually doing. They’d each rented a different camper that stayed put, kind of like renting a hotel room but with the camping experience. We also had bungalows for rent, which were little cabins with all the necessary amenities. And we had full-timers who rented camper pads, each complete with a concrete slab and grassy area, and lived here year-round.

Though not many, we did have campers and RVs for yearly rentals as vacation-type homes. Dottie, Henry, and I were full-timers along with Hank, Ty Randal, and Ty’s father and brothers.

All sites were situated around the big lake in the middle of the campground with a blacktop drive around it. Dottie’s camper was the first camper on the right after you passed by the office and the storage units. There were a few more campers between me and her. Behind us were a few trailheads, but right behind the bungalows were tent camping sites as well as more RV and camper pads. These were tucked into the woods and were loved by the campers who wanted to be alone or feel like they were really roughing it.

I’d found over the past couple of years that our guests loved the community we’d created. We had a nightly supper where each person could sign up to make one dish over a campfire, which would add up to be enough for the whole campground, and everyone would walk around with plates and eat together. It was a great way to get to know each other and really form a bond.

“I must’ve been passed out,” I told Henry because I normally heard every time someone came in late.

I used my key to open the late-arrivals container on the outside of the office, where the guest could check in after hours with a code that was emailed to them upon arrival, and noticed one was gone.

“Wooded lot?” Henry asked since he lived back near there. “Green TT, about a twenty-four-footer.”

He’d recalled it was a TT, standing for “travel trailer,” and its size. That meant it was hauled in by a truck or large SUV, which wasn’t uncommon. We had more TTs than RVs lately with the boom in sales over the last year.

I read the name of the person who checked in. “Larry Baine. He’s here for the race.” I recalled talking to him when he’d called to make a reservation. Plus, I’d been doing a lot of research on who was who in the kayak world.

When he’d made the reservation, he’d asked me all sorts of questions about kayaking and water flow, which made me realize I needed a lot more knowledge about kayaking. During my research, Larry Baine’s name had come up because his grandson was an up-and-coming kayaker.

At that point, I knew I needed an expert of sorts, and that’s when I knew I had to get Alvin Deters involved.

Alvin Deters. Another person I needed to see today when I went into town.

“He sure was having a hard time backing in.” Henry snickered. His big nose grew bigger when he gave me a smile so wide that it showed the hole where his two front teeth were missing. “I was watchin’ too.” Henry slowly nodded. “I was prepared to help if I needed to.”

“Mornin’, May-bell-ine,” Bobby Ray Bonds, my foster brother who lived full-time in one of the bungalows, hollered out the window of his beat-up old truck on his drive out of the campground.

I gave a wave, as did Henry.

“Must be six thirty.” I didn’t need to look at the clock to know it was the same time every day that Bobby Ray left the campground to head into downtown Normal, where he worked at Grassel’s Garage as the head mechanic. “That means I’ve got to get to work.”

“Be sure you get me them flyers,” Henry reminded me as I unlocked the office door. “And the electrical inspector gave us a pass on the new lights going down Red Fox Trail.”

Fifi ran in before I could flip the lights on. She ran over to the water bowl to get a drink while I opened the window blinds to let a good bit of morning sunshine in before it got too hot. For it being the dead of summer, the forest trees did provide good shade, but the humidity was still a bummer during the later afternoon hours. That’s when I’d take Fifi home so she could stay in the camper and rest.

When I pulled up the blind behind Dottie’s desk, I noticed Alli Shelton was talking to a man I didn’t recognize.

“That’s good,” I responded to Henry. It was like everything I’d planned to get the campground ready to be a host for Paddle Fest seemed to be coming together in the final hours. “All the extra lights will be a bonus for everyone at night.”

There were already a few light posts that dotted Red Fox Trail, which led down to the rapids where the kayak competition would start for Paddle Fest. The kayakers would then keep going, passing many trails and other campgrounds in the Daniel Boone National Forest, until they got to the end.

All of us campground owners had planned and worked together, and we’d decided to host various activities for people of all ages to bring guests to our campground. I had planned activities up into the night, so it was very important for me to get Red Fox Trail all lit up so no one got hurt or worse, lost.

It was easy to get lost on a trail. That was the number one emergency call during the height of hiking season around here. Someone would report that a person had gotten lost or gone missing after they veered off a trail, taking them deep into the forest where the forest rangers had to stage a rescue.

I sure didn’t want that to happen. At all.

Henry told me all about the various activity stations he’d set up before I’d left my covers this morning, including target practice, sightseeing, bird-watching activities for children, children’s kayak lessons, and many more.

“I bet that’s Larry,” I said to Fifi under my breath as I looked out the window, but she didn’t seem too interested. She was already lying down on the big pillow next to Dottie’s desk, where she’d wait patiently for Dottie. Fifi knew Dottie would give her a treat if she waited long enough.

Henry continued to talk, and I continued to watch Alli and the man I assumed to be Larry walking up to the office. So they wouldn’t see me spying on them, I hurried over to the coffee maker, which Dottie had prefilled the night before, and pressed the brew button.

Dottie and I both loved coffee so much. We had an understanding that whoever closed had to get the coffee ready for the person opening the next day.

The office door opened.

“Good morning, y’all.” I smiled and looked between the two people in the doorway.

“I don’t think we are going to have time,” the man told Alli.

“But we are here, and there seems to be nothing but time on our hands. Not much to do around here.” Her hair and lack of makeup were the same as they’d been last night, but she was a spitfire, and I guess that’s what you’d want in an agent.

“Seems to me like you got plenty to keep your hands tied.” The man gave a slight smile. “Last night when me and Hunter pulled in, Bryce and some little woman were dancing around the campfire. . .naked.”

“Naked?” Alli and I both gasped at the same time.

“Naked?” I said again and slid my eyes to her. “We are a family establishment. If you can’t keep your client in line, I’m going to have to ask you to leave.”

“Larry Baine, you are lying.” Alli’s hands fisted at her sides. “You and your grandson will wish one day that I was your agent.”

“Once you stop making Bryce Anderson your priority, then we will talk about it. And according to what’s being said around the circuit, that won’t be too long.” Larry took a breath.

“What are you talking about?” Alli glared at him as her words seethed through her teeth. “My client relationship with Bryce is rock-solid.”

“I heard he put out feelers, that’s all.” Larry’s head tilted. He paused to give her a moment to respond.

Though Alli tried to hide it, a woman knew when another woman was covering up her true feelings, and right now, Alli was trying her hardest not to give any indication that the rumors just might be true.

“I’m not saying you will not ever represent him. I’m telling you to stop putting your other clients on the back burner.” He must’ve decided to let her out of the hot seat.

“If you give me five minutes of your time, I’m sure it’ll be worthwhile.”

The woman confused me. One minute she was mad, and the next she was practically begging for Larry’s attention—but attention for what?

“Not today.” Larry looked up at me. “If you don’t mind, I need to speak with. . .” He searched for what to call me.

“Mae West. You must be Larry Baine in lot fifty-four.” I put my hand out like a good entrepreneur and shook his with some, but not too much, squeeze. “This is Henry. If you need anything while you’re here, you just have to holler for Henry.”

Henry nodded, taking his cap from the pocket of his overalls and pulling it back on his head before he dismissed himself to get on with his day.

“I’m telling you, Larry.” Alli had no manners. She continued to butt in. “Hunter’s career will not take off with his grandfather as his agent. Sponsorships come and go all the time when the parent gets greedy. I can look at the situation in an unbiased way.”

It dawned on me that she was trying to get his grandson Hunter as a client when the door swung open, nearly knocking Alli in the back. Dottie Swaggert stood there in her full housedress, hot-pink curlers in her hair and stumped-out cigarette in her grip.

“You ain’t gonna believe who I saw last night, prancing around under the moon in his birthday suit.” She cackled before she looked up and realized we had company. “Sorry ’bout this. May-bell-ine, can I see you outside?” She couldn’t stop smiling.

“I’m gonna kill Bryce!” Alli pushed past a laughing Larry Baine and headed out the door.

I swear I could hear her heavy footsteps all the way around the lake.

“Dottie, this is Mr. Baine, staying in lot fifty-four. He and his grandson will be here a few days.” I introduced them.

“Are you unsociable or something?” Dottie gave him a once-over and rubbed her hip with the hand holding the blunted cigarette. “Only people who don’t like to be friendly normally camp way back there.”

“Dottie, I’m going to need to go into town today. What time can you come in?” I asked to take the heat off Larry, who clearly had no idea what had just walked through the door.

Dottie was as blunt as you could get. She didn’t mean any harm, and everyone around Normal knew that, but our customer didn’t.

“I can stay now. My hip is bugging me, and I got me a late-afternoon appointment at the rehab center. You think you can take me?” She walked over to the coffeepot and took the carafe. Then she poured a cup of coffee and extended it to Larry Baine.

“Why thank you, Dottie.” He smiled. “I appreciate it.” He had a charm that Dottie liked. She blushed the color of her hair. . .and not her natural hair either.

Dottie’s hair was box color 409 found down at the Cute-icles Hair Salon. It was something I had to get used to when I moved here. Long gone was the fancy spa in Manhattan where my stylist mixed various hair dye shades to get the perfect highlight for my skin tone, and hello box color that made my hair look as mousy as would a week without hair washing.

“What can I do for you so early?” I asked Larry and made my own coffee.

I kept a close eye on Dottie as she slowly limped over to her desk, where Fifi was sitting patiently, waiting for Dottie to sit down. Before Dottie had her surgery, Fifi would jump up on her and dance around, but now, it was as though Fifi knew Dottie wasn’t feeling well, so she stayed calm.

While Dottie stayed occupied with giving Fifi treats, Larry sat down in the chair in front of my desk, sipping his cup of coffee.

“I’m sure you overheard me and Alli. Her client and my grandson are both kayak competitors. We see each other on the circuit.”

Circuit? It all sounded so professional.

He lifted his right leg up and rested his ankle on the knee of his left leg. There was a nice ease to him. He was much more relaxed than Alli. “I was wanting to get a schedule of the festival events so we could get some practice times in.” He didn’t ask for anything unreasonable.

“You mean to tell me you don’t want no special treatment like shutting down the Daniel Boone National Forest waterways so your client can practice?” Dottie smiled so big.

“You mean to tell me she asked if you could close everything down for Bryce to practice?” Larry stared at me with a blank face.

“I’m sure we can get a schedule of events to you. Tonight, we will be passing out brochures that will show the entire route of the kayak competition. There are various campgrounds participating along the path, so each will have different activities going on there as well.” I had to pick those up at Deter’s Feed-N-Seed today since Alvin had a nice large printer and he’d agreed to print them off for our campground.

The phone rang, and Dottie grabbed it up.

“Happy mornin’ at Happy Trails Campground. What can I do you for?” she asked and followed up with some “mm-hmms,” “yeps,” and “sures.” She then held her hand over the phone’s receiver. “Lloyd Hornbuckle, Daniel Boone National Park President.” Her brows rose.

“I’m sorry. I need to take this call,” I told Larry. “I’ll be sure to get our brochure to you today, and Dottie will get a list of names and numbers from the other campgrounds so you can call them to get their scheduled events.”

Larry seemed pleased with my answer and stood up.

“Can I get a refill?” he asked.

“You sure can. In fact, there’s coffee and donuts in the hospitality room in the building behind us,” I suggested.

“It’s actually the recreational room by day and night, but in the morning, Mae uses her big-city language to call it the hospitality room.” Dottie looked at me. “Line one, Lloyd Hornbuckle.” She grinned then looked at Larry, who was on his way out of the office. “Mr. Baine,” Dottie called after him.

He turned around.

“No nekkidness.” She smacked the desk with her fingers, and her head flew back in laughter, causing Fifi to jump up out of a dead sleep.

 

end of excerpt

Kickbacks, Kayaks, & Kidnapping

is available in the following formats:

Aug 29, 2020

ISBN-13: 979-8672045405

Digital:

Print: