Trapping, Turkeys, & Thanksgiving
Book 28 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Amazon All Star author and USA Today Bestselling author Tonya Kappes brings you southern and quirky characters in her mystery series. Her stories are charged with humor, friendship, family and life in small southern towns.
Mae West is bound and determined to stay in shape for her wedding day and with all the delicious southern dessert Mary Elizabeth is serving for Thanksgiving Mae has joined the local running group to race in Thanksgiving’s annual Turkey Trot.
She never figured murder would be on the menu and a couple of people she loves have a perfect motive.
The list of suspects isn’t exactly brief especially when one of the governor’s recently pardoned prisoner is at the top of the list. Mae has a pretty full plate between trying to plan a wedding that will satisfy everyone, keeping Dottie in line as well as trying to get a long with her future mother in law.
So what’s a little investigation to keep her mind off things? If Mae’s not careful, she may find herself served up as a last-minute course with all the trimmings.
#cozymystery #cozymysterylover #cozymysteryseries #cozymysteryreader #tonyakappes #acamperandcriminalscozymystery
Read an Excerpt
Trapping, Turkeys, & Thanksgiving
Book 28 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Trapping, Turkeys, & Thanksgiving
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It was a whiff. A brief moment really. Enough of a moment that got my attention and took me right back to the small kitchen of my childhood home in Perrysburg, Kentucky.
A far cry from where I stood at the kitchen sink at the Milkery where my hands were busy peeling the shells off hard-boiled eggs.
“Be sure you knock it against the sink all the way around the outside before you start to peel.” Mary Elizabeth gave me the side-eye when she must’ve seen me staring out the window. “I know my hard-boiled eggs are delicious, but they look good when you have the nice and shiny smooth outside. Especially when they are sitting in the little egg holder of the antique china of my mama’s. Which one day soon will be yours.” Her voice trilled with excitement.
“Hank and I have no place to put any extra dishes,” I told her, knowing she was going to try to pass off all her china, vases, family cloth napkins, and things I’d need to host a southern dinner party, which was not on my radar even if I didn’t live in a campervan.
I picked up another hard-boiled egg from the pan of cold water. As I knocked it along the ceramic sink, I carefully rotated it to make sure it was cracking all the outside of the shell.
“You’ll have to find a place. You are also going to have to get a bigger refrigerator to keep a frozen coffee cake, so when you do have company drop by, you will have something good for them to eat on a beautiful serving plate.” She sighed happily at the thought of my impending nuptials to Hank Sharp even though the wedding wouldn’t be until the next year. “Which does make me wonder if you two have talked about a real house.”
“Nope. We’ve not discussed anything about the wedding, though I do think I’ve narrowed down my bridesmaids.” I knew I had to give Mary Elizabeth something to chew on to get her through the holidays.
The bell over the front door of the Milkery sounded, signaling a new bed-and-breakfast guest for her.
“Hold that thought.” She picked up the edges of her apron and wiped her hands clean before she reached around to untie it, threw it on the kitchen table, looked into the microwave as a mirror to make sure she was presentable, and darted out of the kitchen to meet her new guests.
The back door swung open. Abby Fawn Bonds, my sister-in-law, peeked inside.
“Knock, knock. Anyone home?” Abby’s eyes darted around.
“Thank goodness you are here.” I tossed the broken eggshells in the empty coffee tin Mary Elizabeth had given me so she could use the shells to compost and put in the Milkery garden to help fertilize the soil. “Mary Elizabeth has some dishes for you and Bobby Ray.”
“Oh no you don’t. We’ve already turned them down. We told her it was only right for the daughter to get them.” She snickered and pulled off her coat. “It’s turned downright cold. I think we skipped right over fall and went straight to winter.”
“Fine by me.” I gave her a hug after she’d hung her coat up on the hook next to the door. “I’m so ready for the season to slow down.” I laughed. “I never thought I’d say it, but I need a break.”
After I got Happy Trails Campground, the campground I owned and lived in, up and running as one of the best campgrounds in the state, we were always packed. Even during the winter months, but it was those few months where the more experienced campers came because it wasn’t as packed as the seasonal months. They didn’t require all my attention, and over the last couple of camping seasons, we’d been swamped, leaving me little time to think about, much less plan, a wedding.
“If the weather is going to be anything like the almanac says, we are in for big winter storms, starting on Thanksgiving.” She sighed and walked over to wash her hands before picking up an egg to help me.
“That’s just a few days away.” I glanced back out the window and looked up at the skyline on top of the mountains of the Daniel Boone National Forest. “How many more do you think we need?”
“She told me there’s about fifteen guests.” She looked down at the bowl of unshelled eggs. “This is a lot more than fifteen guests.”
“Keep shelling.” I giggled and picked one up. I was able to peel them while looking out at the orange, red, gold, and green colors dotting the mountainside.
Fall in and around the park was a picture like nothing else I’d ever seen. I certainly didn’t take it for granted. Autumn was my favorite season. Hank and I hadn’t made a true wedding date, but as the fall season was quickly passing by with the first snowfall of the year, my heart was being tugged to plan a gorgeous fall wedding, which meant we’d have to wait almost an entire year.
It was fine. It wasn’t like either of us were going anywhere. Hank and Jerry Truman started their own private investigation service, keeping him busy. Happy Trails Campground was literally booked solid for the next two years, which had me tied up so the year would fly by. I wouldn’t tell my thoughts to Mary Elizabeth or even Abby just yet. It was only fair of me to consider Hank and his thoughts. Discussing it with him first would be the best thing to do.
The faint whiff of paprika circled me again, taking me right back to my childhood where I stood on a small stool next to my mama, not Mary Elizabeth but my birth mother, and helped her sprinkle the top of her hard-boiled eggs with the spice.
“There she goes again.” I heard Mary Elizabeth’s voice behind me. “She’s been daydreaming all morning.”
“You okay?” Abby leaned over the sink and looked at me. “You seem distracted.”
“It’s funny how you get one little smell of something and a whole host of feelings come sweeping in with a flood of memories.” I put the egg down and picked up the paprika. “This reminds me of my mom when I was a little girl and doing this exact same thing.”
“Then we won’t use it.” Abby plucked it from my hands and hurried off toward the butler’s pantry. “Anything that will make you sad will not be used for this Thanksgiving.”
“It’s fine. It’s fine.” I shrugged. “I love my memories of my mom when I get them. They’ve started to fade.”
This was something I knew would naturally occur as I got older. The memories of my parents and siblings along with the sound of their voices, something I’d tried so hard to keep, were starting to fade or take on a different image than what was true. The facts were the facts. They were deceased. I was adopted by Mary Elizabeth when I was a teenager, and now close to thirty, I’d been with Mary Elizabeth longer than my birth family.
“I too recently had some of those memories.” Abby nibbled on her lip. Her brows furrowed. “You can’t imagine my shock when Lester Hager walked into the library. Just seeing him again reminded me of all the work I’d done for the church at the library when he was the preacher.”
“Are you talking about Lester, Betts’s husband?” Dawn Gentry came into the kitchen.
“I know you’ve told this story a million times, but I’ve not heard it myself.” Dawn indicated the gossip mill was running wild with the governor’s recent pardon of two citizens of Normal, Kentucky.
“I’m not sure if you knew, but a few months ago, I’d gone to see Lester in the prison.” I glanced at Abby and smiled.
We—Abby, Betts Hager, Dottie Swaggert, Queenie French, and I—were known as the Laundry Club Ladies. We were a group of best friends of different ages who loved to eat, read, and had a knack for sleuthing out criminals.
It was something we just so happened upon once during our book club, and now we were like those crime podcasts but real-life armchair detectives.
Unfortunately, Lester Hager was the Normal Baptist preacher who’d killed someone. It was for self-defense, but it was still a crime, and he was sent to life in prison until recently.
I continued, “I was snooping around and knew Lester might have some prison insider information.” I grabbed the coffee carafe and headed over to the kitchen table to refill my mug from earlier.
Abby and Dawn gestured to me to fill their cups as we all took a seat at the table.
“Lester confided to me he’d been diagnosed with cancer and didn’t have much longer to live.” Though Lester did a horrific crime of taking someone’s life, he was still a person, and I had felt awful for him. “He made me promise not to tell Betts, and for months, I would avoid her questioning me about seeing him, because he took her off his list of visitors.”
It was one of the hardest things I ever had to do. Out of all the Laundry Club Ladies, Betts was probably the best friend and confidant of them all of them. Just thinking about Lester’s secret still made my heart hurt even though things had since changed.
“He thought if he took Betts off his list, she’d just forget about him, and then he’d die without her knowing what he’d passed from.” The reasoning was ridiculous, but I only wanted what was best for my friend, so when Lester first presented this crazy notion, I kept it to myself.
Dawn held on to the mug with one hand while her other hand picked at the edges of her pixie cut. Her hair was coal black as were her clothes. She had on a pair of skinny black jeans, a black tank top, and a black leather jacket. She wore the jacket as more of a shirt than a jacket.
Dawn had stayed in Happy Trails Campground when one of her famous author clients was in town to write and escape the daily grind of fame. Dawn ended up forming an unlikely relationship with Mary Elizabeth. Neither of them lived here, but the Milkery, the local dairy farm, had become available to purchase. They went into business together and literally transformed the Milkery into an amazing working dairy farm with a bed-and-breakfast.
“One night, there was a knock at my campervan door.” I laughed out loud, recalling the night. “Fifi and I thought it was Hank and Chester.”
Fifi was my little poodle, and Chester was Hank’s dog. Hank lived full-time in the campground, so it wasn’t uncommon for them to venture over when they were out for a walk or couldn’t sleep.
“I swung the door open, and there stood Lester and Grady Cox Jr.” Without going into too much detail about Grady Cox Jr., I continued to tell her about Lester. “Lester told me the governor had pardoned both of them.”
Grady Jr., who went by Junior, was a questionable pardon, but the governor didn’t care. He was going out of office, and a lot of the pardons he’d made didn’t make much sense, but I wasn’t in politics nor did I want to be.
“Lester didn’t have a place to go. Junior had me call Ava.” I was talking about his mama, Ava Cox, a local attorney. “She rushed to the campground, and you know Dottie.”
The three of us laughed.
“She had no idea who was driving so fast up the campground.” I smiled. I couldn’t get the images out of my head of Dottie running down the road of the campground toward my campervan with her red hair snugged up in those hot-pink curlers, cigarette smoke rolling out of her mouth, with her fuzzy housecoat and matching slippers on.
She looked like she was on fire.
“Ava took Junior home and left me there with Dottie, who was in major disbelief.” I was shocked too. “Never in a million years did I ever think Lester or Grady Jr. would be pardoned.”
“This is like one of those crime show stories that are so hard to believe.” Dawn’s brows lifted. She slowly shook her head and took a sip of the steaming hot coffee.
“It was crazy. Dottie had a million questions because she was hot on the cell phone calling Al Hemmer.” I groaned talking about Normal’s sheriff. “Lester had all the paperwork, and he was in street clothes but super thin and just looked ill.”
“I heard he has cancer.” Abby pulled her foot onto the seat of the kitchen chair and hugged her bent leg. “Betts is taking care of him, and happily.”
“She is. She’s been taking him to treatment, though he’d resisted treatment at first.” From what I understood, there wasn’t a cure, but Lester and Betts were still God-fearing people who believed in miracles. “Betts keeps saying a mustard seed of hope.”
“Still, it’s crazy he showed up at your place.” Dawn looked down the hall when she heard someone walking.
Mary Elizabeth stopped at the door and placed her hands on her hips.
“What do y’all think you’re doing? Sittin’ around like this when we have a Thanksgiving dinner to fix for the fifteen guests.” She stuck her leg out wider. “Well? Get up.”
“Was she like this when you were growing up?” Dawn teased.
“Worse.” I stood up and wrapped my arms around Mary Elizabeth, giving her a nice hug before I went back to my egg-shelling job. “But I love her.”
“If you love me so much, you will set a wedding date before I die,” she muttered just loud enough for all of us to hear her.
“Before you die?” I rubbed my thighs. “Before I die. My legs are killing me.”
“How is that going?” Abby asked and picked up her coffee to take a sip. She looked so cute in her long brown pigtails. Abby was the librarian at the Normal Public Library, and most days, she literally played the typical idea of how a librarian was portrayed with her hair pulled up in a tight bun or a swinging ponytail.
“I’m not sure, but I think Christine is very much enjoying the fact I am having a hard time keeping up.” I was joking about Christine Watson.
She was the owner of the Cookie Crumble, and it was a well-known fact that I did enjoy her cookies very much. Too much.
When she dropped off the weekly cookies for the hospitality room at Happy Trails Campground, I did sneak a few of them to my camper so I could enjoy one daily with my own coffee. This time of the year especially. She made seasonal cookies and her’s were to die for.
They came at a cost. Calories and sugar. Not that I cared too much about gaining some weight. But I still had this image of me in a wedding dress since I was a teenager that didn’t include me holding a cookie from the Cookie Crumble.
So to offset any unwanted health issues and have my cookie too, I’d taken Christine up on her offer to join her running group. Little did I know they were training for the upcoming Turkey Trot, a local 5k run where the proceeds went to local food banks, which was a much-needed charity around here.
“You’ve been running for a month or two now.” Dawn leaned back with both hands around her mug.
“Each morning they make the run longer and longer. Don’t get me started on the extra night runs.” I sighed and looked at the clock. “Which I told Christine I’d meet her at the Cookie Crumble for an afternoon jog so we can all meet up at the Red Barn tonight.”
“Yes. Bobby Ray is excited. He said he’s met a lot of new guys that hung out with Joel.” Abby was referring to Joel Grassel, the owner of Grassel’s Garage, the local filling station and mechanic.
Bobby Ray worked for Grassel’s Garage, and they’d become good friends.
“People around here are crazy about tonight’s tradition.” Mary Elizabeth could tell we were all about to leave, so she filled up our cups of coffee.
It was her way of nonchalantly keeping us there by telling us we had to finish our coffee. She didn’t want us to leave even though she was busying herself by cleaning up the mess we’d made from all the pre-cooking we’d done.
“A few of my guests are in town just for tonight.” She wiped down the kitchen counter and turned the water faucet on to clean out the dishrag before she wrung it out, laying it over the edge of the sink.
“Hank is too.” I knew the annual reunion of locals coming in for the Thanksgiving holiday was a long-standing tradition held at the Red Barn Restaurant.
According to Hank, for years, everyone gathered there, talking about old times, good times, catching up, and it was something they all looked forward to. No matter what year they graduated from the local high school, they all gathered.
This was the first year I was able to go, and Hank was excited to introduce me to some of his friends who were coming into town that had long moved away, so getting in one of those extra runs with Christine made me feel like I could enjoy some of the great appetizers and a drink or two while Hank showed me off.
I snickered at the thought.