A boxed set of books 5-8 of the full length Morelville Mysteries series novels featuring Sheriff Mel Crane and Agent Dana Rossi. You get:Book 5: Viva Mama Rossi! - A delayed honeymoon getaway takes a deadly turn for newlyweds Mel and Dana; meanwhile, two meddling mothers won't let sleeping fisherman lie in the latest Morelville Mystery.Does an unsolved shooting death far away from Morelville have local ties? Did a fisherman really drown or was there something more sinister afloat?All Mel and Dana wanted was to enjoy a nice, relaxing honeymoon in the Smokey Mountains, away from the strains of life in the public eye. Instead, they end up involved in a case local law enforcement has completely written off. In this prequel to The Morelville Cozies, things are no better back home where their own mothers are stirring up an all new hornets nest that they think Mel and her own department have written off.If there is going to be any rest for anyone, something is going to have to break in one case or the other...Book 6: A Crane Christmas - Is it the Christmas season or the ‘silly season’?All Sheriff Mel wants to do is close out the year and spend a joyful first Christmas with Dana and with their extended families. She’s even hired a new detective, Janet Mason, to ease some of the workload for her and her only other detective, Shane Harding. Things were shaping up great for her and Dana for a relaxing holiday season. Too bad it just wasn’t meant to be…The local criminals want it all too and a string of burglaries in high class county enclaves have Mel and both of her detectives stymied. Throw in a bunch of disappearing dogs, some designer sheep, a lonely woman and an unsolved murder case, and the good guys are at their wits end. Meanwhile, back in tiny little Morelville, things aren’t much better; the village is buzzing over Dana’s family taking over the store but Dana herself isn’t so sure that’s a good thing.Can Mel and her team resolve everything before Christmas dinner comes out of the oven? Will Janet Mason fit in at all? Will Dana find a balance between work and family that works for her in time to enjoy her first Christmas with Mel?Book 7: Mad for Mel Rival gangs will stop at nothing to gain sole control of the drug trade in Muskingum County and they’ve picked Valentine’s week to create a firestorm of murder and mayhem as they battle each other for supremacy.Sheriff Mel Crane is blindsided by looting, murdering and marauding bikers at a time of year when most Harley’s are tucked safely away from the effects of Ohio winters that come rife with snow and ice. They’re rolling out, they’re out of control and she can’t stop them. On the home front, she’s feeling guilty about spending hardly any time with Dana, especially when she knows Valentine’s Day is right around the corner…or so her mother-in-law keeps reminding her.Dana just wants Mel to be safe; she has her own problems to worry about. What to do?
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Viva Mama Rossi!
The Morelville Mysteries – Book 5
Prequel to the Morelville Cozies
To my mother and grandmothers
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2015
All rights reserved: No part of this publication may be replicated, redistributed or given away in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means including information storage and retrieval systems without prior written consent of the author or the publisher except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages for review.
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are actual places used in an entirely fictitious manner and are not to be construed as real. Any resemblance to actual events, organizations, or persons, living or deceased, is entirely coincidental.
Chapter 1 – The Morning After
Chapter 2 – The Smokies
Chapter 3 – Gone
Chapter 4 – Cabin Fever
Chapter 5 - Lost
Chapter 6 – Bullets and Casings
Chapter 7 – Found
Chapter 8 – MYOB
Chapter 9 – Coffee Klatch
Chapter 10 – Lifted
Chapter 11 – PI Moms
Chapter 12 – Positive ID
Chapter 13 – The Sordid Side
Chapter 14 – On the Road
Chapter 15 – Manicures and Truth
Chapter 16 – Home Sweet Home?
Chapter 17 – Report!
Chapter 18 – Bereaved?
Chapter 19 – Family Fun Day
Chapter 20 – Boo Boo
Chapter 21 – Trash or Treasure
Chapter 22 – Ah Ha Moments
Chapter 23 – A Haunting We Will Go
Chapter 24 – Seized
Chapter 25 – Denouement
A Crane Christmas
Chapter 1 – Newbie
Chapter 2 – The Ropes
Chapter 3 – Robbed!
Chapter 4 – ‘Napped!
Chapter 5 – Stop, Thief
Chapter 6 – Prized Pooch
Chapter 7 – Hoity-Toity
Chapter 8 - Disaster
Chapter 9 – Stakeout!
Chapter 10 – Family Time
Chapter 11 – Second Impressions
Chapter 12 – And Again...
Chapter 13 – What’s Up?
Chapter 14 – Boo to You
Chapter 15 – Done ‘Fer
Chapter 16 – Hannah in the House
Chapter 17 – Two and Two
Chapter 18 – Making a Case
Chapter 19 – Go Time
Chapter 20 – Boo?
Chapter 21 – Joy
Chapter 22 – Bar Bash
Chapter 23 – Re-Boo-t
Chapter 24 – Merry Christmas Epilogue
Mad for Mel
Chapter 1 – One Week | Warren Brietland
Chapter 2 – Dreaming | Dana
Chapter 3 – Breaking Loose | Mel
Chapter 4 – Warfare | Mel
Chapter 5 – Regroup | Victor Voll - Chief
Chapter 6 – Replay | Mel
Victor Voll – Chief
Chapter 7 – Do Over | Mel
Chapter 8 – Meddling Mothers
Chapter 9 – On Assignment | Dana
Chapter 10 – Tripped Up | Mel
Chapter 11 – Nabbed | Dana
Chapter 12 – Interrogation | Mel
Chapter 13 – Try, Try... | Dana
Chapter 14 – Boar’s Head | Mel
Chapter 15 – Tailed | Dana
Chapter 16 – SRT | Janet Mason
Chapter 17 – Freaky Friday | Mel
Chapter 18 – The Big Day | Mel
Chapter 19 – Report | Dana
Chapter 20 – Come Together | Mel
Chapter 21 – Anointed | Victor Voll
Chapter 22 – Date Night | Dana
Epilogue | Mel
Chapter 1 – Lady with a Baby | Mel
Chapter 2 – The Whole Story?
Chapter 3 – Plans? | Mel
Chapter 4 - Assistance | Dana
Chapter 5 - Gone
Chapter 6 - Shunned | Mel
Chapter 7 - Goner | Mel
Chapter 8 - Torn | Dana
Chapter 9 – Kin
Chapter 10 – Nap Time
Chapter 11 - Canvass | Mel
Chapter 12 – Stunned | Dana
Chapter 13 – Amiss | Mel
Chapter 14 – Witness
Chapter 15 – A Fight | Hannah
Chapter 16 – A Find | Dana
Chapter 17 - Victorian
Chapter 18 - Sketch | Mel
Chapter 19 - Conniving | Dana
Chapter 20 – Nabbed | Mel
Chapter 21 – Snooping | Dana
Chapter 22 – Co-inky-dink
Chapter 23 – Bereaved? | Mel
Chapter 24 - Dilemma
Chapter 25 – More Questions
Chapter 26 - Confession | Dana
Chapter 27 – A Word with Mama | Dana
Chapter 28 – A Slight Deception
Chapter 29 – A Sighting | Mel
Chapter 30 – Now What?
Chapter 31 – Baby? | Mel
Chapter 32 – Young International | Dana
Chapter 33 – Loose Ends | Dana
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Sunday Morning, October 12th, 2014
“Good morning beautiful.”
Dana stretched on the bed next to me but then she pulled a pillow that had strayed down between us up and half way across her face. “Turn off the sun,” she groaned. “I’m not ready to get up.”
“We don’t really have a choice, babe. We have house guests, a mess to clean up at the farm and, well, there’s the matter of a murder investigation I need to gear back up on.”
Dana flung the pillow toward her feet and sat up on one elbow to look at me but then she dropped her head and ran a hand through her long hair. “That really happened, didn’t it? I didn’t dream it?”
“Yes, it really happened. Now I have to figure out what to do about it.”
Dana looked worried, “Mel...our...our honeymoon...”
I knew what she was thinking because I felt the same. We’ve had a tough go of it these past couple of months, I thought to myself.
I looked at my wife, “I’ll figure something out babe. We’ll leave today, I promise.” I just couldn’t disappoint her. She needs the time away. We both do.
I showered quickly and then tiptoed into the living room. Nevil Harper Jr. was curled up in a ball in a sleeping bag on the floor. He was sound asleep. Chloe Rossi’s giant Chihuahua, Lady, was curled up in the middle of the camp cot Chloe had slept on for the night but she wasn’t in the room. I scratched my head and wandered toward the kitchen of our newly acquired home.
I found Dana’s mom there measuring coffee out of a can she must have spirited away from the wedding reception we’d shared with my twin and her new husband Lance yesterday and transferring it to a new looking coffee maker that I didn’t even know we had.
“Good morning Mel. I hope you don’t mind; I opened one of our wedding gifts to you and Dana. I just can’t get the day started without coffee.”
“Oh, um, no problem.” I nodded. I didn’t have the heart to tell her I’m not a coffee fan myself. I got a glass of water instead and took a gulp just as she spoke again.
“That boy slept like the dead last night.”
Trying not to spew water everywhere, I thought to myself, you don’t know the half of it!
“What’s his real story?”
“Oh, come on. Last night you told me he had family troubles and he needed a place to stay for the night. I know there’s more to it than that.”
“A little more. He’s a, uh, witness to a case I’m working on.”
She raised her eyebrows, “He’s not in any danger is he?”
“No, and he’s not a danger either, if that’s what you’re thinking.”
I don’t suppose you can tell me anything else?”
“No ma’am. Sorry.”
“You’re just like my boy Vince! You cops are all alike, I swear. I’m an old woman!” She elbowed me gently, “Don’t you know I need a little bit of excitement in my life?”
“You’re hardly old Mrs. Rossi.”
“Mel, please, calling me ‘Mrs. Rossi’. That makes me feel even older. Just call me Chloe or call me mama like everyone else does.”
I just smiled and turned to dig in the fridge.
“Are you hungry? I can make you some breakfast, if you like?”
“No need to,” I waved a hand toward the gaping open appliance. “We have all of these leftovers from the reception and there’s a ton more out at the farm. We’ll be gone all week so we really should eat up some of this stuff and haul the rest back out there. I don’t know what we were thinking.”
“About what?” Dana loped into the room, fresh from her own shower.
Chloe spoke before I had a chance to answer her myself, “Forget those leftovers. I promised your mom I’d stay the night and be out there to help clean up today. I’ll take those back out to her myself. As for you two, you’re just to be on your way after I send you off fat and happy with my homemade beef stroganoff.”
“Ooooh,” was Dana’s only response.
Chloe smiled at her daughter, it’s been a long time hasn’t it?”
“Yes mama, it has.”
I grabbed an oversized bowl of fruit salad and spooned some into another bowl. “I can live with that but if we really are going to get on the road this afternoon, I have to figure out what to do with my charge that’s still in there sleeping and get my guys back geared back up on the investigation.”
Dana simply nodded. I headed upstairs to where we’d decided to set up my office.
Our house was mostly unfurnished. We’d moved my bedroom suite and the desk and chair from my den over from the house I’d shared with Kris and her children when we took possession of our this one right next door and Dana had gone out and bought what kitchen and comfort items we needed to get by on for a week. We’d spent the week since we took possession of the home focusing on preparing for my twin’s wedding rather than on furnishing and decorating the house. Dana was looking forward to jumping into that with a vengeance when we returned from our honeymoon.
“I didn’t see sour cream in your dairy case. Do you have any?”
“Yes ma’am, in the back. I’ll get you some; big or small?”
“Two large, please. I need one for stroganoff.”
The man moved toward the back of the store while a woman took her time to ring up my other purchases. When she finished, she eyed me up and down with open curiosity.
“You know I’m not from around here but you think you’ve seen me before, don’t you?”
The storekeeper seemed taken aback, “Are you some kind of mind reader?”
“No dear, it’s written all over your face.” I smiled, “I’m Chloe Rossi. I’m pretty sure we met briefly yesterday at the wedding for Kris and Lance.”
“Oh, that’s it!” Recognition dawned on her face, “I’m Sheila Ford. You must be a friend or family to Lance Miller then?”
“No, no. I said ‘Rossi’. Dana Rossi is my daughter. She married Kris Crane’s...well, Miller’s sister, that wonderful peach of a girl, Mel.”
“Ohhhh. Now I remember.” The slight tint of a blush dusted Sheila’s cheeks. Words spilled out in a rush, “We all just love Mel around here. She’s the Sheriff you know. Well, of course you know. You’d know that...”
I reached out a hand and patted her arm gently, “Relax. I’m aware their relationship is more than a little unconventional for most folks around here. Really though, those two are so in love, who could ever deny them that? They only have eyes for each other.”
“Yes, of course.” Shelia leaned out over the counter and peered down the main aisle of her two aisle store. “Just where is Terry? I swear that man will be late to his own funeral! How long could it possibly take to fetch two containers of sour cream?” She stepped from behind the counter and marched off down the aisle toward the storeroom. She swung open the double hinged door and bellowed out Terry’s name.
I started digging in my purse for my wallet and, preoccupied, startled at the unexpected yell. I turned in time to see Sheila step through the door into the back area. As it swung closed again behind I heard her exclaim, “This is a fine mess you’ve made!”
Moments later, she emerged alone with the two requested containers.
“My apologies. Terry seems to have wandered off. There’s a slimy mess back there where he must have dropped two of these and he’s gone, probably in search of the mop while forgetting all about you waiting.”
Once I settled in to work, I was thankful Dana had the cable company come out as soon as we took possession of the house. We hadn’t purchased our own televisions yet, but we did have digital phone service and internet in the God forsaken no man’s land that we lived in where, even on a good day, cell service was spotty.
After booting up my laptop and scanning through my email quickly, I spent the rest of the morning on and off the phone and computer trying to coordinate a renewed investigation into the death of Olivia Stiers based on Nevil Harper Junior’s statements to me during the reception. Shane Harding, my only detective right now, was on his way over to pick Jr. up and take him into the station for a formal interview and a sworn statement. He’d handle the investigation from there, until I returned.
Nevil Junior wasn’t a danger to anyone; I really felt that in my gut. I just couldn’t lock the kid up but he couldn’t go home either if he really did suspect his own father of the murder of his girlfriend.
After spending a few minutes thinking about what would work best for the 18 year old that had grown up far too fast the past couple of months, I dialed the Zanesville Toyota dealership where he’d been working before he disappeared. The service department was closed and the service manager wasn’t in on a Sunday, but I was convincing enough with my urgent and authoritative tone to work an emergency number for him out of the woman at the front desk.
He answered his phone with a question in his voice, “Eric Graham?”
“Mr. Graham, Sheriff Crane. My apologies for disturbing you on a Sunday.”
“No problem; what can I do for you Sheriff?”
“You had a mechanic working for you until a couple of months or so ago, Nevil Harper Jr.”
“Yes. Great mechanic, for such a young one. We’ve missed him with the foreign stuff. Heard he got himself into some trouble though.”
“He’s not in any trouble himself Mr. Graham. Please understand, I can’t go into any of the details but Nevil may have information about a case I’m working on. My department is working with him on that.”
“Do you think I know anything about what he’s talking to you about?”
“No sir, not at all. The reason I actually called is, well, I need to find a place for him to stay for a little while and, well, maybe...”
He interrupted me, “And maybe get his job back?”
“He’s a good kid. He needs a hand right now and he needs money.”
“I know he’s a good kid; a good kid and a damn fine mechanic. Tell you what, why don’t you bring him over here?” He rattled off the address, “I like the boy and we have plenty of room. If he wants to stay for a few days or for a while, we can work something out and I can always use his hands back at the dealership.”
1:00 PM Sunday Afternoon
I waved at Mel and Dana as I pulled out of their driveway. Little Lady and I were headed out to the farm to help with what was left of the after party clean-up. They were packing up Dana’s car for their trip to Tennessee.
I’d told the girls I’d be back for my bag later and that I’d make sure everything was locked up for them before I headed home. I really had no intention of going home this week but they didn’t need to know that.
The farm was on higher ground than the house in the village. My cell actually got reception there so, as soon as I was stopped in the driveway, I called my husband to fill him in.
“Marco, it’s me. Did you get in alright last night?”
“Yeah, no problems. It’s only a two hour drive. You on your way?”
“No dear. I told you, I was going to stay out here and help out today. The girls just pulled out a few minutes ago. I’m back out at the farm now.”
“So you’ll be home sometime tonight then?”
“That’s what I wanted to talk to you about.”
“What are you up to?” His tone was accusing.
“Nothing like what you’re thinking. They just moved into that house is all and it needs a lot of work...you know, cleaning and dusting and sorting and putting away; that sort of thing. I think I’m going to stay and do all of that and surprise them when they come home next weekend.”
“Do you think that’s a good idea?”
“How could they possibly object to a helping hand?”
Sunday Evening, October 12th, 2014
I worked the key in the lock as I talked to Dana back over my right shoulder, “I got the recommendation for the rental agency from Terry Ford over at the store. I found this cabin online, through them. I hope it’s a nice...” The handle turned and I stood gaping, speechless, at a beautiful wood and dark stone kitchen.
Dana nudged me forward to step in herself and look around. “This is nice but you ain’t seen nothin’ yet, I’m sure.”
My spirits deflated, I knew Dana had been to the Smokies before. Coming here was her suggestion because she thought I’d enjoy it. From her statement, I figured she’d been in this cabin before. “I’ll just get the rest of the stuff out of the car.”
“Don’t you want to look around first? I’m going to!”
“You mean, you haven’t stayed in this cabin before?”
“Babe, don’t be silly. Do you have any idea how many rental cabins there are dotted all over the Smokey Mountains?”
At my blank expression, she answered her own question, “Thousands. Lots of them are quite nice and, it appears, this is one of them.”
We walked through the kitchen to the hardwood of the living room with its vaulted ceiling and sky high windows. We could see that outside a set of double doors was a deck and a hot tub, all with a beautiful view of the mountains.
Stepping out on the deck, we both took a look around. The cabin was perched on a hillside that rose to our left toward a ridgeline and fell away below us. A neighboring cabin on the left side as I faced outward was almost completely shielded from view by a row of thick pines. I hadn’t seen any vehicles or activity there when we pulled up. The hot tub was on that side of the deck with a lattice screen behind it, despite the trees that shielded it from the neighbor’s view.
Looking off the right side, back down the hill we’d driven up, we realized the closest neighboring cabin in that direction was several acres away with lots of trees dotting the unimproved lots in between. A grill was situated at that end of the deck. We’ll have plenty of privacy for any time we spend out here, I thought to myself.
Dana looked at me, “We’re about seven miles out of Gatlinburg. There’s tons to do on the strip we drove down through Sevierville, Pigeon Forge and then Gatlinburg so this isn’t very convenient to it,” she waved her hand around, “but the cabins are a lot more plentiful and closer together there too; more people.”
“This is nice. I like having a little seclusion and, compared to what we’re used to, seven miles to civilization isn’t all that far.”
Dana grinned at that and nodded. “Let’s go upstairs and check out the bedroom.” She turned on her heel and headed inside. I followed like a lovesick puppy.
We climbed gleaming wood stairs to an enclosed loft style master with a massive, thick king sized bed sitting on the far wall facing what would have been toward the downhill slope, had there been a window on that side. Regardless, the room was so well appointed, I felt my jaw drop again. I went over and tested the bed. It was heaven. “We have got to get one of these!
“It would fit in our room back home nicely since Larry and Karen remodeled and expanded it,” Dana replied.
I patted the bed beside me.
“Nope. Not yet. There’s a bit more to see and we do have to get the car unloaded before it gets too dark. Bears can be a problem.”
She wasn’t listening. Instead, she inspected the Jacuzzi tub a few steps to the right of the bed as she faced it and then opened the bathroom door alongside the Jacuzzi and peered in. Her smile as she turned back to face me said it all.
I got up and moved to the left of the bed toward double doors that led out to the balcony. When I walked out, I realized I was standing over the front of the cabin with the car just down below me in the little pull off from the road. Across the roadway that continued uphill to my right as I faced it, another hill also rose into a knoll. A copse of several trees stood tall at the top with a heavier wood line, just visible, farther back. There were no cabins visible at all on the steep hill on the opposite side of the road. With any luck, we wouldn’t have neighbors all week in the cabin next door. I shuddered at the quiet and the seclusion of it all.
Dana took a small sip of her champagne then carefully set the flute down on the edge of the hot tub. I looked on as she sunk a little deeper into the bubbling water, relaxing after our long drive and the subsequent hauling in of the stuff we’d packed for the week. The champagne had been her little honeymoon surprise for us.
Her eyes closed and she allowed her head to loll to one side. I half rose and moved slowly to hover over her, being careful to keep my feet in the same position they’d been in and not give away my intent too soon. As I lowered my body to hers, I whispered, “Happy Birthday Dana; I love you.” Her eyes flew open as I pressed myself to her gently.
“Mel, we agreed we weren’t going to do anything this year, given the weddings, and receptions, and the house...”
I pressed my finger to her lips, “Shh.” Removing it, I kissed her gently. “I didn’t do anything special but I did at least want to say it to you, to acknowledge it.” Slipping onto the bench beside her and gathering her wet form into my arms, I cradled her and nuzzled her neck.
“I didn’t even let my own mother do anything for me today babe, and I know it was killing her.”
“Oh, so you think the whole stroganoff thing was just a spur of the moment decision for her in our barely functional kitchen?”
Dana narrowed her eyes and peered into mine, “What are you saying?”
“Baby, she brought her own pans...”
My beloved tapped me lightly on the nose and then threatened, “You so owe me Mel Crane!”
“Hmm, what shall I pay?” I wiggled my eyebrows suggestively as I tightened my grip just a little around her back and across her legs. My right hand slowly rubbed the outside of her thigh suggestively as we snuggled just a bit deeper into the water.
“I’ll have to think about that.”
“Oh really? I could just turn you over my knee and give you 35 good swats!”
“Go ahead and try it; I dare you!”
We tussled in the water for several seconds, her smaller form holding its own with the added bit of buoyancy she was able to gain over my larger one but, in the end, I captured her and lowered my weight on her. I claimed her lips in victory.
The kiss was searing in the already hot water. I rolled onto a bench seat and hauled her back into my lap, my hand firmly on her behind. I began to rub it suggestively through the lycra of the suit she’d insisted on wearing, though we were miles from anyone’s line of vision.
Dana moaned a little against my mouth and arched toward me. Leaving an arm around behind her to hold her, I move my hand from her backside up to her shoulder. I lowered the strap of her suit exposing her breast to me then cupped it gently.
In the warm water, even exposed to a bit of the cooling night air, her nipple didn’t peak at first. I rolled it between my fingers then bent to pull it between my lips. At the touch it pebbled and Dana bucked in my lap.
Keeping her in my mouth, I slid my hand away and down her front, between her legs, under the still bubbling water. Nudging the suit aside, I ran a finger along her slit. It was slick with a wet heat that I didn’t think was just from the rolling water. Pushing into her core, I finally knew that she was wet in the best way and more than ready for me.
I nipped at her nipple as I moved one finger slowly in and out of her then, lifting my head and capturing her lips and tongue in a sweet torture that she was more than willing to return, I pulled out, then pushed two fingers in.
Going gently at first, then building harder and faster, I had her bucking and splashing as she tried to cling to me at the same time. Her walls closed in finally in several spasms and then she stopped thrashing in the water and went limp against me.
10:40 AM Monday Morning, October 13th, 2014
Sheila Ford sat at the kitchen table nursing a cup of coffee. Her brother-in-law Steven Ford was in a chair adjacent to hers doing the same.
Treadway looked back and forth between the two people. They were adamant about filing a missing persons report, though Terry Ford had barely been gone 24 hours. “So you last saw him, you believe, just after 10:00 AM yesterday morning?” He made an annotation in his notebook.
“That’s right,” Sheila replied. “I normally go to Sunday school at 9:30 and then the church service starts at 10:30. Lacy, our helper, called in yesterday morning just after Terry started to open at 9:00 and said her son was sick and she couldn’t be there. I went in to help Terry get everything opened up. A woman came in just after 10:00 asking for sour cream. Terry went to the back to get it and he never came back. When I went back to check on him, there was sour cream on the floor and he was gone. I missed church and then ended up waiting there all day for him. He left his cell phone on the back counter.” Her tone was angry then it softened, “He hasn’t been back to the store or home since.”
Steven spoke up, “We were supposed to leave on a fishing trip first thing this morning; a three day trout derby up at the lake sponsored by the Sportsman’s Club.”
Joe Treadway looked skeptical, “A derby during the week?”
“That’s right. It was for the 55 and older group of members; mostly retired. Terry’s a little eccentric...hell, even downright odd at times but it’s not like him to miss a fishing trip especially for a derby.” Sheila nodded her agreement.
“Was there any sign of a struggle in the back of the store or out in the lot Mrs. Ford?”
“No. Not at all...other than the sour cream mess. The containers both burst open. I assumed he went looking for the mop and he realized he probably put it out back in the storage barn, out of the way, or even that he had brought home for some reason and he came back here after it.”
“Would he have brought it here?” Treadway asked her.
She shrugged. Steven too made a look like ‘who knows’ towards the deputy. He was the one to speak, “I told you deputy, Terry was an odd one. I think, more than that, he was getting a little forgetful as he aged.”
“That’s true. So,” Sheila asked, “what are you going to do to try and find him?”
“I have a few more questions first. You said there was no sign of struggle. How would Mr. Ford have left the store?”
“Oh, we both use a side door back by the coolers to come in and out before opening and after closing. He would have gone out that way and gotten into his truck.”
“He drove there yesterday?”
“He does every day. It’s only a quarter mile from the house to the store but he’s a smoker and not big on exercise. He won’t walk it; says he can’t breath.”
“Where’s the truck now, ma’am?”
She shrugged again. “Probably wherever he is. Is there anything else, officer?”
“Deputy. He’s a deputy,” Steven Ford corrected his sister-in-law gently.”
“Just one more thing; is anything missing that you’re aware of.”
“No. I don’t think so. I mean, see for yourself, all his gear for this trip he’s supposed to be on is right there by the front door. He was excited...packed it all up Saturday night before he went to bed.”
Treadway looked at Steven, “Are you familiar with the gear the other Mr. Ford usually takes with him sir?”
Steven nodded, got up and walked toward the weekend bag, tackle box, waders and other assorted odds and ends. He glanced over it then turned back to Treadway, “Everything appears to be here except his favorite pole.” He pointed to a case, “That’s his spare, broken down in that case, but he never took his favorite pole apart.”
Monday Afternoon, October 13th, 2014
“That was quite a night last night and then, our brisk little hike around this morning...” Dana sighed, “I’m feeling every bit of 35 today, that’s for sure.”
“Hey, what’s that supposed to mean?” I demanded. Dana knew I was already 35 myself. We’d kind of glossed right past the birthday I shared with my twin in July. Dana was recovering from a kidnapping incident at the time and I was in the midst of a murder investigation that involved the criminal activity of one of my own staff. Celebrating was the last thing on my mind, then.
“You know what I mean. Between my leg issues and a level of other activity I’m not, ahem, used too,” she cleared her throat suggestively.
I tried to hid my grin but I failed miserably. Instead, I suggested, “It’s a little warm outside yet today but maybe you ought to soak it out in the hot tub; you know, to limber up a little bit.”
“Naw, too warm outside right now, you’re right. It must be 70 out there. But, maybe I’ll just go upstairs and give that Jacuzzi tub a try.”
“Hmm, naked this time?”
“Well, yes. It’s a tub silly!” She swatted at me lightly.
“I may just have to come and make sure you’re doing the whole soaking thing right.”
“Great...you’re the reason I need to soak in the first place,” Dana tossed over her shoulder as she marched as smartly as she could muster toward the steps.
After about a half hour of waiting downstairs at loose ends, I couldn’t take the thoughts running through my head anymore and I went upstairs to check on my wife. I found her still lounging in the tub as it bubbled gently from the jets. She was leaned back against the far end which was along the same wall as the head of the bed. Her eyes were closed but, from the lazy circles she was drawing with the foot she had raised partially out of the water, I knew she wasn’t asleep.
I stepped into the space between the bed and the side of the tub where the water spigot was. “Dana, honey, your water’s probably getting cold.”
She half opened her eyes and looked at me. “It feels so good in here. I don’t want to move.”
I glanced at the clock on the nightstand beside the bed, between it and the tub. “It’s almost...”
I’d been about to say ‘noon’ when I checked myself and stepped over to look at the stand a little more closely. I pointed at the edge closest to Dana, “What does that look like to you?”
“What does what look like?”
“That.” I moved my finger back and forth a few inches over the trim lip of the bedside table.
She leaned over the side of the tub to get a good look, “It looks like grimy fingerprints.”
“Close, but not quite. It’s fingerprint dust that picked up some fingerprints.”
“Ewww!” Dana screwed up her face, “Are you sure?”
“Positive. Someone’s done a crappy job cleaning this place but, worse than that, it looks like a crime may have been committed here. The place must have been dusted but somebody was slacking on the job and missed lifting these.”
Once Dana was dressed, we drove down the mountain to speak with the management company. We needed to check in with them anyway since we’d arrived after hours but now I was far more angry than pleased with the cabin and I wanted some answers.
Heidi, a cutesy 20 something supposed property manager with a little gold name tag met us at the counter. “How can I help y’all?”
I pulled out my ID because I knew she’d need it but I left my wallet open with my wallet badge prominently displayed. “I’m Melissa Crane. We got in yesterday after you were closed.”
The young woman interrupted, “Oh right, the Mountain Hideaway cabin. Let me just pull up your paperwork right quick.” With that, she stepped away from the counter and back to a desk across from a man only slightly older than her who was expounding on the features of various cabins to someone on the phone. I stood there tapping my foot impatiently as Dana waited silently next to me.
She pulled some papers out of a small stack after rummaging through another larger one first. When she returned to the counter, she handed them across to me. “That there’s your rental contract. I just need to copy your ID, I need her name if she’s staying there with you,” she pointed toward Dana, “and I need your signature on page three.”
Listen, Heidi, about the cabin...”
“It’s a nice one isn’t it? It’s one of our most popular ones for honeymooners...and... for couples.” She paused, looking between Dana and I again, a question in her eyes.
I didn’t owe her any explanations so I didn’t explain our relationship. She, however owed me an explanation and I wasn’t about to let her interrupt again. “Heidi there’s a problem with the cabin and an explanation is definitely in order.” I looked at her pointedly. The man on the phone, likely catching my tone of voice, stopped talking and looked my way too.
The young manager swallowed hard while trying to maintain her smile then looked toward the man on the phone. He asked the person on the phone to hold for a moment and then stepped quickly up to the counter. “I’m Josh, the GM. Is there a problem?”
“Yes Josh, there is. The cabin we’re renting hasn’t been cleaned very well at all after an apparent crime or an alleged crime took place there, possibly very recently. I’d like a full explanation, please.”
It was Josh’s turn to smile nervously, “Oh.” He paused, and seemed to be gathering his thoughts.
After several seconds of my own impatience, I prompted him, “Was a crime committed there?”
He finally spoke, “Sort of, yes.”
“Actually, it was an accident, see.”
A woman was staying in the cabin back in September, a uh, a few weeks ago. She was out on the front balcony where she caught a stray bullet or something from a hunter and she was killed.”
“She was killed on the balcony by a hunter?”
“That’s what the police determined.”
“Was anyone charged?” Dana asked.
Heidi piped up in response, “I don’t think they ever even found anybody who realized they did it.”
I was dumbfounded, “So someone was supposedly hunting, God knows for what in September, kills a woman by mistake, never comes forward and no one knows a thing?” The two managers simply nodded.
“Well here’s my question then, if it was an accident, why did they dust the cabin for fingerprints in the first place and leave powder residue on the furniture?”
Josh shrugged a slim shoulder and held up his hands in protest, “I can’t answer that. Maybe they did all that before they determined her death was accidental.”
“Let’s back up a bit, okay? What was the victim’s name?”
Josh pursed his lips.
Dana jumped in to assist, “Look guys, it’s a matter of public record. You may as well tell us because we’re going to find out anyway.”
“Oh, alright,” Josh gave in. “It was Patricia Dunkirk. She was a regular that would come down from Ohio and stay in one or another of our cabins every couple of months or so.”
My eyebrows rose involuntarily, “Ohio, you say?”
They nodded simultaneously.
“Why would anyone have been hunting in the area in September? I mean, what’s in season in Tennessee then.”
“Technically, nothing was then,” Josh supplied, “but you can hunt coyote and wolves year round because they’re a nuisance, what with killing off chickens and small house pets and such. That cabin’s not far from the local sportsman’s club. Some of their members were known to be out in the area hunting coyotes at that time. Cops figured one of them shot at a one and the bullet found her instead.”
Heidi, found her voice, “I can get someone up there right away to give your cabin a thorough cleaning or, we have a couple of empty one bedroom cabins right now, we can, um, move you maybe,” she looked to Josh for confirmation, “if you like.”
Before I could speak, Dana nudged me with a foot below the counter and out of their view. “Neither will be necessary,” she said. “We’ll take care of it.”
Once we were outside and out of earshot, I questioned my wife, “Dana are you sure? Why don’t you at least want them to clean it?”
“Something isn’t right Mel. I can feel it; don’t you?”
I set my mouth and nodded at her. Once we’d climbed into her car, I admitted, “Yeah, I do too. My primary question is: why would the police dust for prints inside the cabin if they thought the shooting was an accident? Something inside had to originally trigger them to think it was murder.
We drove through Gatlinburg, through the park and down to the strip in Pigeon Forge, chatting about the ‘how’s’ and ‘what if’s’ as we went. Once we were seated in one of the many pancake houses that seemed to dot the strip and Dana had decent cell reception, she pulled out her smart phone and started searching on the name ‘Patricia Dunkirk’. It didn’t take her long to find something.
“The top result is from the Gatlinburg daily newspaper from the day after the shooting reporting that an Ohio woman, Patricia Dunkirk, was shot and killed on the balcony of any area cabin. The body was reported to police by an anonymous male caller. When police arrived at the scene, they found her lifeless, on the balcony wrapped in a towel and wearing a swimming suit that was wet. She had an apparent gunshot wound through the neck. No other persons were present in the area. The caller that reported her body had not come forward at press time. The Gatlinburg Police Department and the Sevier County Sheriff’s Departments are investigating. They are asking anyone with any information to contact the county crime hotline or to come into either station to make a report.”
Dana scrolled down a bit. “That’s it for that article.”
“There’s no pool anywhere nearby,” I said. “If she was in a swimming suit and wet, she was either in the hot tub downstairs at the back, which makes no sense unless she went upstairs to change and went to the balcony for some reason, or she was in a suit in the Jacuzzi, got out and went to the balcony.”
“There’s a whole déjà vu, statement...” Dana smiled and went back to her search results but shook her head several times as she scanned through them. “Most of the reports are from the next day or a day or so after that. Nothing says much more than that.” She paused as something seemed to catch her eye.
“Did you find something?”
“Yeah, a short mention in the same paper. About a week after she was shot, the Sevier County DA ruled Dunkirk’s death ‘Negligent Homicide,’ a Class E felony in the State of Tennessee. Still no suspects though.”
7:30 AM Tuesday Morning, October 14th, 2014
Joe Treadway looked from face to face at the group of volunteers assembled outside the Morelville General Store. He cleared his throat and, when all eyes focused on him, he began speaking, “Terry Ford was last seen, as far as we know, here in his store on Sunday morning at approximately 10:10. He left the store for reasons unknown in his blue, F-150 pick-up truck.” Treadway reeled off the plate number for the truck.
“It does not appear that Mr. Ford at any time came back to the store or went back to his home. At this time, we do not suspect any foul play. Mr. Ford may be out there somewhere, injured and in need of assistance. Our job is to mount a search and rescue operation to find him and get him home safely.”
He looked around, “I’m going to divide you into a few teams. Would those of you who know Mr. Ford, please raise your hands?”
Jesse Crane and several others in the gathered crowd raised their hands. Would you all please step over by the SUV to my right? Thank you.”
Addressing the dozen or others left after 20 some people stepped aside, he said, “We’ll be teaming the rest of you up with a couple of the folks who know Mr. Ford and one of our officers. Thanks for coming out to help. Please stand fast while we get everything under way.”
Jesse Crane was chatting with Steven Ford when Treadway moved over to their group to start breaking them down into teams. “Deputy?” he called to get his attention.
“I’m Jesse Crane, in case you don’t remember me, and this here’s Terry’s brother.” Jesse jerked a finger toward Steven.
“We’ve met,” Treadway supplied.
“We suspect he might have grabbed his favorite pole Deputy and headed to one of his honey holes to fish. Something may have happened. I know a few places he might have gone.”
“Okay, great. That’s a good start. I’ll assign you two to Deputy Gates and you can go around with him to all the places you know of.”
Gates stepped forward. Treadway reminded him to report anything they found back to him then he beckoned to the two men to follow him to his cruiser.
Jesse looked at the patrol car and clucked his tongue, “This ain’t gonna work Deputy. We might just need four-wheel drive for some of the places we’re going. We better take my truck.”
“Is that okay with you Mr. Crane?”
“Wouldn’t have offered if it wasn’t.”
“Lead on then.”
8:00 AM Tuesday Morning, October 14th, 2014
My, my things sure kick off early out here in the country!
I looked over at the General Store as I passed by. There were people and police cruisers clustered about. Slowing my car, I turned off the state route by the only gas station in the little village my daughter was now calling home and then picked my way back around to the store.
Bypassing the deputies and the folks outside, I went into the store. I was surprised to find The main aisle shelving shoved back into the only other aisle and tables set up inside. Faye Crane and another woman were hovering about behind the counter, getting crockpots set up while Sheila Ford sat nearby, on a bench under one of the front windows, staring off into nowhere.
I hadn’t expected to find Faye there. I’d never said anything to her during the party clean-up about staying on longer but, now was as good a time as any. Before I could frame my approach, she spoke first.
“Why Chloe, this is a surprise. I thought you were headed home last night.” Her smile reached her eyes and I felt instantly at ease. She hadn’t handled her daughter marrying mine very well but, the past few days, she’d been quite friendly toward me. Now that the official festivities were over, that seemed to be continuing.
“To be honest, I’d actually already decided to stay on and sort of, how to explain it, help our girls out. My Dana’s not completely mobile right now and your Mel is just so busy.”
“Help out how dear?”
“Oh, you know, this and that. A lot of cleaning, a little organizing, maybe seeking out some – a few – furniture and décor items...”
“Do they know you’re doing this?” Her eyes narrowed slightly as her overall look took on an air of suspicion mixed with curiosity.
“Um, not actually, no.”
Faye’s demeanor changed again, “Ooo, a surprise! I love the way you think!”
The other woman tried to squeeze by Faye with a wrapped tray of sandwich rolls. Faye excused herself to the woman and then turned back to me and said, “I apologize but I really should be helping. Those guys will all come back hungry here in a couple or three hours and we need to be ready.”
“That’s why I stopped. What’s going on?”
The second woman stopped and stared at me, “You mean you haven’t heard?” she asked.
Faye flipped a hand in her direction, “Oh Helen, she’s not from around here. She’s just here visiting.” Lowering her voice and tipping her head toward Sheila, she told me, “Terry Ford is missing. He left the store Sunday and he’s not been seen since.”
I looked at Sheila and caught her attention, “The guy you were in here with on Sunday morning when I came in to buy the sour cream?”
“Her husband,” Helen provided.
Sheila finally broke her silence, “That’s right,” she looked me up and down, “you were the one that was here. He never came back after he dropped those sour creams you wanted.” She started staring off into the distance again.
Faye leaned across the counter toward me and whispered, “She’s got it in her head that he either took off or he’s out there dead somewhere. Terry’s brother convinced her they needed to mount a search and rescue effort so that’s what’s going on this mornin’.”
I was shocked but I quickly gathered my wits and asked, “What can I do to help?”
Faye patted my wrist. “Nothing dear. We’ve got it under control in here and the searchers out there all know the county and, I dare say, Terry, pretty well. They’ll find him and he’s going to be just fine, just you wait and see.” She raised her voice a little for Sheila’s benefit and looked toward her on that last bit.
“Yes, of course. Now, tell me, what are you getting yourself into today with this plan of yours?”
I smiled, “I spent yesterday cleaning. They did a decent enough job when they moved in but, not like I do it.”
Faye nodded knowingly.
“Between you and me, I’ve slept in their bedroom the last couple of nights since they don’t have much furniture. They need some nice guest room and living room furniture but, that’s just such a lovely old place...all of the gorgeous woodwork; I just think they’d love to have a few choice antique or vintage feel pieces to show it all off, don’t you?”
“Oh my word, yes. You’re right.”
“I know my Dana’s tastes but I’m not sure about Mel’s...”
“Mel isn’t picky dear. She tends toward things that will last, like her father. Old and antique for some things will do just fine for her but she likes her comfort too.”
“It’s too bad you can’t come along with me. That would be fun and, you could keep me from making too many mistakes...Hopefully they find Mr. Ford soon and he’s alive and well.”
“I hope so too but, at least, I can give a couple of tips for now.”
“I’m all ears. Tell me where I should go.”
“Well, there are furniture stores in Zanesville, of course, and lots in Columbus too, if you want to go that far. There are Amish furniture makers dotted through the hills around here that you really should check out for wood pieces that will go well with the woodwork in the house and sit well with my daughter.”
“How would I find them?”
“That’s the problem; it’s easier to show you than to tell you. Maybe, we can go out together tomorrow for that. In the meantime, you should head north toward the turnoff for Zanesville, just before you get there, on the left side of this road, there’s a junk shop an old friend of Jesse’s owns, Dale Walters; Dingy Dale we call him.”
“Dingy Dale? That doesn’t sound too promising.”
“Oh, you might be surprised. You never know what you’ll find in Dale’s place and he’s harmless, just a little cuckoo.”
“What makes you say that?”
“He’s, what’s the word...’quirky’, I guess, and he’s always been full of odd ideas. Lately he’s been making what he calls art out of what everyone else calls junk. No one around here buys the stuff of course, but his place is always chock full of all sorts of odds and ends.”
“He usually opens around 9:00. By the time you’re done there, Lucy Sharpe’s antique shop will be open out on 146. Instead of turning left when you get to it to go into Zanesville, turn right and head toward Chandlersville. There’s signs. Her shop’s down about two miles on the right, before you get to the village. Sharpe’s Antiques; you’ll see it.”
Tuesday Morning, October 14th, 2014
“You’re liking that tub a lot...we have one at home now...our home, remember?”
Dana turned her head toward the bed where I was lounging, watching much of nothing on the TV. “Yes, I know, but at home, I don’t get used and abused quite so much. You work all day at least five days a week.”
I grinned, “You love it; you know it.”
“Yes, but that’s not the point. I have to recover from each round, see, and prepare for the next one.”
“If you insist but, really, it seems like I’m doing most of the heavy lifting.”
“Are you calling me fat now?”
Whoops! “No, no! That’s not what I meant. Not at all.” At her look, I continued, “I just meant that I do most of the, um, work...”
“Is that right Crane? Keep digging!”
“You’re twisting what I’m saying all around.”
“‘Is that right’ was a question.”
“Not the way you said it, it wasn’t.” I grinned wide, hoping to diffuse what I was picking up might not be so funny to her. When her look softened and she cracked a small sliver of a smile, I shifted my legs over the side of the bed and favored her with my most earnest expression, “Dana, honey, you’re not fat at all. You’re beautiful and I’m so blessed to have you in my life.”
“Are you sucking up now?” She was trying to be serious but she couldn’t keep the hint of a laugh out of her voice.
I played along, pretending to be hurt, “You’re so suspicious! No, I’m not sucking up. I was being honest. Now, I’m being honest about something else, I’m starved. We’ve only tried one Smokey Mountain pancake house. There must be forty more of them out there to try.”
Dana sighed, “I’m hungry too but I sure don’t want to drive all the way into Pigeon Forge yet this morning. Let’s look for one in Gatlinburg.”
“I’ll boot up the laptop, you get dressed.”
“Yes ma’am!” Dana snapped off a salute from her reclined position in the tub.
I pulled my laptop from the case and fired it up. While I was doing that, Dana turned off the jets and released the drain on the tub. I watched as she stood carefully on the slick surface still draining of water and reached for her towel on a hook on the wall just behind and to the far end of the Jacuzzi tub, near the bathroom door. She started to rub and pat herself dry but, when she realized I was watching her instead of focusing on my own task, she laughed and turned her back to me. I liked that view too but Windows finally opening caught my attention and I turned my concentration to the screen.
“Now, what the hell!”
Dana’s words were part question and part exclamation. My head shot back up and my eyes found her standing motionless in the middle of the tub, her back still turned to me staring at the wall behind the tub that divided the bedroom and bathroom. “What’s wrong babe?”
“Come here and look at this.” She pointed at the wall.
I stepped over to the edge of the Jacuzzi and leaned toward her. She moved aside slightly but pressed her finger to the wall just below something that was lodged into the thick, glazed pine paneling.
“Is that what I think it is?” She waited for me to respond.
“If you’re thinking it’s a bullet, then yeah, I think so.”
I retrieved my cell phone and the small pocketknife I always carry from the desk where I’d dropped the contents of my pockets the night before. I grabbed a water cup too and, after stepping gingerly into the tub, I took a couple of quick photos and then I carefully pried out the bullet that was lodged completely into the wall and sunk about an eighth of an inch past the otherwise smooth surface. A small caliber, jacketed shell dropped into the cup.
Dana and I both peered intently at the hardly deformed round.
I was shaking with anger again. “Is everybody around here incompetent? First the cleaning crew and now the cops too?”
“Since it’s a jacketed round, it must have passed through Patricia Dunkirk’s neck Mel and ended up in here. That might explain the dusting powder on the nightstand.”
“Or she was shot in here and somebody is covering something up. This looks like a .22 shell. .22s just don’t have that much range; you know that as well as I do.”
“Stand there in front of where it was, facing me.” She did as I asked.
Since I was still standing in the tub myself, I sized up what I was looking at from there, looked toward the balcony door, then I peered over the edge of the tub. “Okay, so if Dunkirk was standing in the tub, facing an open balcony door, when the round came through and it hit her in the neck, passed through and lodged in the wall, she was three, maybe four inches taller than you, even standing up here in the tub where you’ve got 2-3 more inches of height. If she were on the balcony or anywhere else in the room in the line of fire when it hit her, with the door open, then she was probably about your height and we have to account for the round coming in at a lower point like from a shorter shooter or from outside.
Dana stepped out of the tub and began getting dressed while I inspected the wall around the point of impact and below. I didn’t find a trace of any sort of blood spatter which doesn’t mean it wasn’t there, if this was where Patricia Dunkirk took the fatal shot.
I inspected the woodwork on the wall. This wood is pretty heavily polyurethane coated here to protect it from water damage. That would make it pretty easy to wipe down quickly and, of course, the tub would clean easily too.
“What are you thinking, Mel?”
“Just that, since she was in a swimming suit – which is odd, granted – and wet when she was found and the bullet was here, she had to have died here,” I pointed at the tub as I stepped out of it. “There’s no evidence of blood there of course with all the easy to clean surfaces but, since the body was found on the balcony, there would have been blood transfer in the process of getting her out there.”
“Why aren’t you considering that she really could have died on the balcony after going out there in a swimming suit?”
“I’m just thinking about the caliber of the round...it’s small...the range of such a pistol or rifle and the angle of the shot if the shooter was outside.” I looked at my wife and shook my head.
“What? You’re thinking something Melissa Crane; tell me what it is.”
“It’s really bugging me babe. I want to check the angles. Will you help?”
“I’m curious too. Go for it.”
“Alright then. I’ll go outside. You stand on the balcony to start with out in front of the door and leave it wide open.”
I went downstairs and out the front door, turned and looked up at Dana whose feet were roughly 9 feet above my head.
“We can establish that if the shooter were outside, say a hunter, from anywhere this close the angle is all wrong.” Dana just nodded. I stepped off about 16 feet to the edge of the parking pull off in front of the cabin then crossed the road and the opposite berm, calculating width in my head. “We’re roughly 38 feet right here, at the base of this hill but we’re not close to the angle of trajectory the bullet would have had to take.”
Wheeling around, I started up the knoll. The slope went from gentle to steep pretty quickly leaving the distance still under a total of 25 yards by the time I reached the top. The copse of trees was thirty more yards behind me.
“From right here I have a clear view of you and the angle seems about right if you were a little taller. I simulated holding a rifle then a pistol.”
Dana shot back, “Yes, but a hunter with a clear view wouldn’t have taken the shot.”
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