Wildlife, Warrants, & Weapons
Book 19 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
SOUTHERN HOSPITALITY WITH A SMIDGEN OF HOMICIDE
“It creams my corn to think I’ve been accused of murder.”
I’m a handyman in the Daniel Boone National Park. My main employer is Mae West at the Happy Trails Campground.
When I got a phone call to take down some trees on this guy’s property for a side hustle, I jumped at the change. That’s one of the biggest money making jobs around these parts.
Unfortunately I got hauled off to jail after I was accused of being part of an illegal logging crew. Simple enough, I gave Sheriff Hank Sharp the name of the man who hired me, only he was found murdered by one of my tools.
Not only am I accused of illegal logging, now I’m the number one suspect in this man’s murder.
It just creams my corn to be accused of murder.
There’s only one person I trust to get me out of this mess and that’s Maybelline West.
I’m sure she, along with her nosy friends, the Laundry Club Ladies, will snoop around to help clear my name.
Wildlife, Warrants, & Weapons
Book 19 in the Camper & Criminals Cozy Mystery Series
Wildlife, Warrants, & Weapons
A calmness had fallen over Happy Trails Campground after a very busy spring season. The seasonal rain had finally come to an end, leaving a trail of vibrant colors that’d painted the Daniel Boone National Forest.
I’d been getting ready for the wedding of Bobby Ray Bond, my foster brother, and Abby Fawn, one of my best friends, over the last few months. Tomorrow was the big day. But today, I had to focus on the maid of honor, me, getting together with the bridesmaids.
I swore it was a made-up gig. When Abby told me one of my duties was to host the event, I had no idea what I was in store for, much less the cost associated with such an event.
Of course, after Mary Elizabeth had gotten word I was in charge of such a joyous occasion for her future foster daughter-in-law—mm-hmm, Mary Elizabeth was my and Bobby Ray’s foster mother until she adopted me—she plunged her Southern hands all up in the event, and here I stood, in front of my camper van with a jug of Mary Elizabeth’s sweet tea in each hand, about to make my way over to the large white tent she’d insisted we get for the festive occasion.
“Let’s go.” I looked down at Fifi, my toy poodle. “Don’t you dare jump in the lake,” I warned.
Fifi loved to jump into the lake and swim around with the ducks. I had no time between now and tomorrow, the wedding, to give her a bath.
Did y’all think she really listened to me? Heck no. As soon as I took a step to go up to the front of Happy Trails Campground, the campground I owned, she darted off and took a flying leap in the air before I could scream.
Too late. She was happily paddling around with her head stuck out of the water, sights on the ducks, swimming their way.
“She never listens,” I groaned and headed up the road to the front of the campground, where the white tent was set up in the grass between the recreational center building and the tiki bar.
A few times, I glanced over at the lake and couldn’t help but smile at Fifi. She’d stolen my heart a few years ago after she wiggled herself into a situation that left her homeless. If truth be told, Fifi was my bestest friend, not the Laundry Club Ladies.
“I can’t believe it’s finally here.” Abby was standing up near the long banquet table at the far end of the tent, smack-dab in the center of our group of friends.
The Laundry Club Ladies.
Our group consisted of Betts Hager, Dottie Swaggert, and Queenie French, along with honorary members Mary Elizabeth Moberly and Dawn Gentry.
“Here’s our maid of honor now.” Abby smiled so brightly. Her long brown hair was down and flowed over her shoulders, which was rare to see since she literally wore it up in a ponytail almost every day. “It’s gorgeous.”
She waited for me to put the jugs of tea on the table before she gave me a giant-size bear hug.
“You do know this was all of Mary Elizabeth’s doing, right?” I didn’t want to take credit and gave credit where it was due.
“I just put a little bit of Southern magic on it.” Mary Elizabeth’s fingertips grazed the strand of pearls around her neck before she clasped her hands in front of her, resting them perfectly against her pink short-sleeved Lily Pulitzer cardigan, which lay at the waistband of the white Lily Pulitzer pants with little yellow-and-green pineapples embroidered all over them.
Her eyes swept up and down me, giving me the judgy Southern-mama vibe that my wardrobe of choice didn’t suit the occasion. I pinched a grin, and instead of poking the bear, which in this case was Mary Elizabeth, I kept my mouth shut.
“Tea?” I unscrewed the lid, filling the air with the sweet smell of sugary tea, knowing Mary Elizabeth had really outdone herself on this batch.
I filled the glass tea flutes halfway since that was the Southern-etiquette way to do things. I should know. Mary Elizabeth had spent a pretty penny on etiquette lessons for me, and though I rarely practiced them in my daily life, I knew when to put the lessons to good use.
When she was around.
“This looked like it cost a pretty penny.” Smoke rolled out of Dottie’s mouth.
“Yeah. I had no idea what an event of such fanciness would cost.” I kept a static grin on my face so Mary Elizabeth wouldn’t notice.
“I bet you wished you’d kept that little velvet bag of diamond we found in your old penthouse instead of just willy nilly handin’ them over to the FBI.” Dottie took a drawl off the cigarette and blew out a long steady stream.
“I might’ve kept one or two if I’d known how much being a maid of honor was going to cost me.” I winked at her, teasing of course.
There was no way I was going to keep the bag of diamonds Dottie and I had found when we took a little visit to New York City. They weren’t mine to keep and though it was pretty tempting, it would’ve been bad karma and I needed Paul West to be out of my life for good. He’d proven to be more of a pain in the you know what dead then he was living. With those diamonds in the hands of the authorities, I didn’t have to worry about Paul or his illegal dealings anymore.
Boy oh boy, I thought to myself, it would’ve been nice to have just one of those diamonds to pay for all of this. I looked around.
Underneath the white tent was a long banquet table, a small gaslight fireplace, and a s’more stand for later tonight. We were all staying in the campground at one of the bungalows I’d reserved for this special night.
Henry Bryant, my handyman; Dottie; and I had strung thousands of twinkly lights around the top and poles of the tent. We’d gotten them from Buck down at the Tough Nickel Thrift Shop in downtown Normal, the small rural Kentucky town we lived in.
The lights were strung across the ceiling of the tent and dangled down like a little cobweb of romantic lights. If we weren’t having the wedding at the Milkery, I would’ve suggested we have it all here since it truly had a magical and romantic feel.
The large barnwood table in the middle of the tent looked gorgeous with a white runner down the middle and was the perfect fit for fifteen long stemmed light-pink taper candles. The milk-glass vases glowed from the flickering candles. All the romantic vibes coursed through me at the sight of the pops of hot-pink, pale-pink, and white roses. It truly was a special event for Abby.
The setup wouldn’t have gone off without Mary Elizabeth arranging, rearranging, and arranging again to give it the perfect Southern flair.
She’d told me that it wasn’t every day your son gets married, so she pulled out all the stops even though Bobby Ray wasn’t her birth child. She loved me and him like we were, and for that, I was grateful.
“Toast.” Mary Elizabeth nudged me with her elbow before she lifted her glass in the air.
“Oh, yeah.” I, too, followed suit and lifted my glass up in the air. Everyone else joined me. “Abby, when I first met you the day I rolled into town—a new RV’er, broke, with no friends and what I thought was no family—you embraced me in the first hug.”
Long, happy sighs escaped everyone as I continued.
“I remember you telling me that we hugged around here. You’ve done more than hug me. You took me in when I didn’t deserve a friend. You did all of this with your fantastic marketing skills when I didn’t have a dime to pay you.” I glided the glass in the air, gesturing to the campground. “You loved a family that I didn’t know still loved me.” I glanced over at Mary Elizabeth, who happened to find me after I’d disappeared from her life many years ago, but all of that was water under the bridge. “And your heart opened up to a man who believed in me and became the big brother I needed. That’s what you’ve done for just me in the few years I’ve known you. I can’t imagine what you’ve done for everyone here. But I can say without a doubt that I can speak on behalf of our group of family”—I did think of Betts, Abby, and Queenie as my family—“that we are thrilled for you. The happiness you wear is shown daily. The joy in your relationship is something that gives me hope that one day, I will be happy too. Your relationship has become an example to me and, I’m sure, everyone here.” My voice cracked as I thought of my relationship with Hank Sharp, which had come to what felt like the end. “I’m so excited and honored to have a sister that I can walk through the rest of my life with, that I also consider a best friend.”
I held the glass up a little longer in the air. There were a few sniffles, but I didn’t look to see who was crying.
“To our beautiful, thoughtful, and amazing friend, Abby. May you continue to enjoy a lifetime of happiness. Cheers!”
There wasn’t a dry eye amongst us, especially after everyone had gone through and given a little speech.
We all turned after we heard some gravel spitting up underneath some tires and gave little yelps of joy when the Pamper Camper mobile spa came around the corner and stopped in front of the tent.
“You didn’t.” Abby jerked around, dancing in place, squealing in delight after I gave a hard confirmation nod.
The spa idea was all mine, and I was happy to have done it for Abby.
The door of the mobile spa popped open.
“Where’s our bride?” Glenda Russel stood in the camper van. Her long red hair flowed down the sides of her face with a strand of braids fixed around her head like a band. She was so lovely for an older woman. She had the most unusual features, with the combination of her hair color, gray eyes, and olive skin.
“I see her.” Tex, Glenda’s partner and local chiropractor, appeared behind Glenda.
She stepped out of the camper van, giving us a full view of Tex.
Shirtless. His usual attire. His shorts were so snug his muscles bulged along with the veins in his thighs. I was sure if Tex could get away with being a nudist, he would.
“I’m ready to do some reiki.” Vigorously, he rubbed his hands together and pointed at Mary Elizabeth. “You’re first.”
He grabbed a folded-up reiki table and left the camper van. He headed over to the far side of the tent, where he quickly unfolded the table.
Mary Elizabeth blushed and giggled before she did a little giddy up toward the makeshift reiki station while Tex got all the sheets, oils, and special smelly good things he liked to use on his clients.
“Is our bride ready?” Glenda gestured for Abby to follow her into the mobile spa.
There was an inward peace settling in my gut right before I heard more gravel spitting up underneath some tires.
Since I was technically working the campground offices and Dottie was enjoying another glass of sweet tea while sucking down her cigarette, I looked over my shoulder to see if it was one of the campground guests and if I needed to go over to greet them.
The sheriff’s car pulled up and around the lake.
My heart sank when I saw it was Sheriff Hank Sharp. I wasn’t really sure what I’d call him. But I knew it was no longer boyfriend.