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The Turkey Tussle
The Morelville Mysteries – Book 9
To Dorothy Parker
Jug Run Press, USA
Copyright © 2017
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 | Dana
Chapter 7 | Dana
Chapter 12 | Dana
Chapter 15 | Dana
Chapter 21 | Mel
Chapter 23 | Dana
Chapter 24 | Mel
Chapter 25 | Dana
Chapter 28- Epilogue | Dana
About the Author
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Also Written by the Author
Late Morning, Monday, November 2nd
The outside air was crisp but not cold as we finished our walk and reached the bakery. Jef cooed in his stroller. He knew he was about to see his mama.
When I pulled the door open, the smell of fresh baked bread wafted outside to tease my nose. I held the door back with my hip and pushed the stroller inside in a practiced move.
Jef’s mother was edging her way between tables in the tiny dine-in area, holding a coffee pot aloft, as she refilled the cups of a table full of older women.
Four well-dressed ladies had pushed two of the small, two-person tables together and were arrayed around the setup drinking coffee and eating cupcakes and muffins. After a year and a half in the area, I recognized all of them from around the village and I knew most of them by name. They were most of the group of women I’d heard Faye refer to jokingly as the ‘Matriarchs of Morelville’.
All eyes turned to us as we entered. I rolled the stroller over close to the two tables the women had pushed together to share and said hello to Hannah and the group.
Hannah smiled down at her son and then back at me and asked, “What brings you two out today?”
“It’s just so nice out. I thought we’d take a walk before the weather turns so nasty we can’t do it anymore.”
“Bring that baby on over here,” Bridget Novak commanded. “That boy needs a taste of this caramel apple cupcake his Mama foisted upon me. I swear she’s trying to make me bigger than I already am.” She patted her ample belly.
I looked at Hannah. She gave me another smile and a toss of her head so I wheeled the baby around the other side of the table to Bridget.
“Not too much now Mrs. Novak,” I said. “He’ll be having his lunch in a little bit.”
She flipped a dismissive hand at me and started lifting Jef out of his seat as she cooed to him in a grandmother’s voice, “Let’s just get this coat off of you little man. Your mama is keeping it plenty warm in here and you won’t be needing it.” She pulled Jef into her lap and took off his coat and hat while he eyed her cupcake hungrily.
“How old is he?” Selma Morrison asked.
“He’ll be one in January,” I answered, before Hannah could. “Ladies, I’m so sorry to interrupt your get together. We just needed to get out of the house.”
Lucy Sharpe stopped watching Bridget’s interaction with Jef long enough to respond to my apology. “Oh dear, you’re not interrupting anything at all. We were just having a nice little outing and some conversation in a place where we could all sit and talk peace without having to hear the men folk around here trying to talk and argue over each other like they do over at the restaurant.”
I smiled inwardly at the idea of any conversation that the women in the gathering were having as being peaceful but I kept my thoughts to myself. They all meant well and I was aware of that.
“We were actually just talking about what a huge success this year’s fall Festival was,” Selma said. “I think we have you or you and your Mama, that is, to thank for a large part of that.”
“Me? No it wasn’t just me or even just us. We can’t possibly take more than a little credit. Everyone, including most of you,” I scanned around the group, “helped to make it successful this year after the fiasco we had last year.” I thought back to the death of old man Purcell and shook my head ruefully as I thought about the fact that a large part of the crowd in attendance this year, especially for the haunted house, was probably there out of nothing more than morbid curiosity to try and get a glimpse of where Purcell was murdered at the previous festival.
Instead of bringing all of that up, to the ladies I said, “We did have an all new haunt this year and people seemed to enjoy it.”
“Enjoy?” Bridget responded a little too loud, making Jef jump in her lap. She steadied him and fed him another bite of the sweet cake in front of them before she continued, “I just don’t get the attraction of those things! I’d be scared out of my wits.”
The women around the tables laughed and nodded.
“True; I don’t think my heart or my bladder could take it,” Selma said.
“Well, all of that aside, the community center coffers are overflowing,” Lucy put in, “and that’s a good thing. The past year’s been a struggle, what with trying to come up with all of the necessary funds to keep the place going after our biggest moneymaker got closed down last year.” She shook her head and then took a sip from her tea cup.
Hannah noticed she was getting low and asked her if she wanted a refill too.
“No dear. This will do for now, but thank you.”
“Is he walking yet?” Selma asked Hannah, interrupting, as she held a hand out toward Jef.
“No; not yet. He...what do you call it? Cruises? He pulls himself up and walks holding on. Sometimes he’ll stand up on his own and stand there for just a little bit but he hasn’t tried taking steps without holding on to something yet.”
“It won’t be long,” I told the ladies. “He’s ready. He’ll surprise us real soon, I’m sure.”
Lucy reached over to him and wiped some icing off his chin as she said, “And then you won’t be able to keep up with him.”
Jef rewarded her confidence in him by reaching out with a sticky, icing and caramel covered hand to grasp hers.
Hannah moved fast but Bridget had already caught his arm up by the time she reached out for him. “Here,” she said to the older woman, “let me just take him into the restroom for a minute and get him cleaned up before he finger paints on you...on all of you.”
She whisked him up out of Bridget’s lap like he weighed nothing and carried him toward the little restroom my dad and Jesse Crane had put in for customers to keep Hannah and her little shop all nice and legal.
“Pull up a chair and join us,” Lucy said.
“Thanks; that is, if the others don’t mind?”
Selma reached around to the two-seat table behind her and dragged one of the chairs over beside hers without even bothering to get up. “There you go, young lady,” she said. “Have a seat and let us pick your brain for a few minutes. Humor some old women.”
Tilting my head and giving her a look, I asked, “What did you want to talk about?”
“I’m curious,” she said, “about what your next move is.”
I raised an eyebrow. “I’m not sure I follow?”
“Well, you seem to be involved in so many of the mysterious goings on around the area; I just wondered what you’ve got yourself mixed up in right now?” Her look and her tone were not chastising but curious.
Lucy added, “I for one think Mel should just go ahead and put you on the force. Then you could be all official, like.”
There were nods around the table.
“Oh, no no!” I begged off as I settled into the offered chair. “I’m completely done with investigating crimes.” I rubbed my left thigh self-consciously as I told them, “I’ve tried but I just can’t do the actual leg work...the physical stuff I need to be able to do.”
“You’re sure?” Lucy asked as she studied my face.
I gave her a half smile and nodded. “I’m Positive. It’s just too much.”
“So what will you do instead? I mean, I don’t mean to pry dear, but you hardly seem like the type to lie about and do nothing.”
I had to smile and nod at that too. “There’s Jef, of course. I help as much as I can with him...when I can get him away from my Mama and Faye and the Hershbergers...”
Marsha Pugh, the oldest member of their group and quiet until then, joined in. “Doesn’t sound to me like you have him all that much then.” She waved a hand back over her shoulder, “His little mommy there is very involved with him too.”
“True,” I said as I grinned inwardly at the old woman’s feisty nature, “but she has this shop and then there’s culinary school three nights a week. I do have him some and I’m not complaining at all. Actually,” I said as I watched Hannah and Jef emerge from the restroom, “in the quiet moments, when he’s down for a nap, I’ve been writing again...or, at least, trying to.”
“Ooo!” Lucy clapped her hands together. “Have you been writing mysteries?” I just love a good whodunit!”
“Uh, well, I tried,” I admitted, “but it seems I’m not cut out for fiction. I’m not much of a storyteller...I suppose because I’ve written too many reports in my lifetime. I’ve just always wanted to write.”
“Well how about true crime, then?” Bridget said. “Write up some of your old cases...if you’re allowed to, that is.” Eyes lit up around the table.
“Yeah; could you do that?” Marsha asked.
“Some of them, yes. The ones that are closed with convictions or maybe even some of the older unsolved ones. I’d actually given some thought to that.”
“Cold cases!” Lucy’s excitement was palpable and we all laughed.
“One thing I do love about police type work is doing the research,” I said. “There’s a lot of detective work that doesn’t involve leaving your desk. I could research old cases and write those stories up.” As I talked, Hannah came out of the restroom and moved into the open area in front of her counter where she put Jef down on his feet. She held his little hands as he waddled his way over to the display case and peered inside.
“He wants a cookie,” Bridget called out.
Hannah smiled demurely at her customer and reminded her that he’d already polished off half her cupcake.
“So, what case are you going to work on first?” Lucy asked, picking up where we’d left off. “Anything we may have heard of?”
Selma asked before I could even frame an answer, “What about local stuff; delving into old crimes from around here?”
Lucy nodded her head vigorously. “I’m not just an antiques dealer you know? I’m also the local historian. There’s lots of colorful history you can sink your teeth into from right around here.”
“I remember Mama mentioning that you were involved in some of the research on the Old Opera House when they were working on getting it on the National Register.”
“Yes, I did help out with that but I’m talking about the lore...the good stuff. Like, during prohibition when all the moonshining started around here and all of the stuff surrounding that.”
My heart skipped a beat. “I don’t know that I want to get too involved in digging into the moonshine trade around here. I found out the hard way that it’s still an ongoing concern.” I rubbed along my left leg again. I’d been shot in a firefight and later, after multiple surgeries to remove the bullet fragments and repair my wounds, I’d been abducted by illegal moonshiners and held captive in cramped quarters. I wasn’t up for tangling in all of that mess again.
“Hmm,” Lucy said. “Well, there’s always all the fights over oil rights and such. Some of that stuff got downright nasty back in the day.”
Bridget leaned across the table then, towards me. “She’s not kidding there. Why, now that I think about it, there was even a murder that was never solved that involved your mother-in-law’s family.”
“The Cranes? Over oil?”
“No, before that. When she was a Lafferty. A man was murdered back in the seventies right there in the house they lived in.”
“At Thanksgiving, with a house full of people,” Lucy added. “I don’t know that it was necessarily over oil though.”
I was shocked but definitely interested in hearing more. I felt like I knew all about the Cranes but I didn’t know anything about the Laffertys. Other than Faye’s brother Brian and his family, I’d never met any of them and no one ever talked about them.
“What can you tell me about the murder?”
Selma started to speak but Hannah waved a hand in the air and then led Jef away from the case and back toward me, shaking her head no, slightly.
Hannah tipped her head toward the counter and the kitchen area beyond it. I nodded and clammed up but Selma either completely missed the exchange or she chose to ignore it.
“It happened in the early seventies,” She began, “before Melissa and Karissa were born.”
I winced at the sound of Mel’s proper name being used.
“It was ’72,” Lucy said. “Even before Faye and Jesse were married. They were courting back then but they were both still in high school. Faye’s six or seven years younger than me and I’d been out of school a couple of years by the time it happened so I know it was ‘72.”
I smiled. The old woman was sharp. “They got married in ’76, a couple of years after they both graduated,” I said. “We had a little 40th anniversary dinner for them this year.”
Selma leaned back and crossed her arms. “So ’72 then; that means Faye was about 16 when it happened.”
“That sounds about right,” Lucy said.
My curiosity got the better of me. Disregarding Hannah’s unspoken warning, I plunged in. “So what happened?”
Bridget rested her forearms on the table and leaned across it, toward me. “It was at Thanksgiving, like Lucy said. They were having a big gathering with a lot of family from all over the area in and several local people too. One of the locals, a man named Tanner Mathis, was killed that day...stabbed to death, as I recall.”
“Mathis? That name doesn’t ring a bell to me.” I rubbed at the back of my head as I wracked my brain over the name.
“It wouldn’t,” Lucy said. “He wasn’t family to them; just a family friend.”
“He was stabbed inside their little water closet,” Bridget said. “A small powder room that was under the stairs,” she clarified, at my puzzled look.
I knew what a water closet was; I just didn’t know where it was. There’s no bathroom under the stairs in the house Kris lives in that used to be her grandparents place and that still, technically, belonged to her grandmother, Eunice Lafferty, who was in a nursing home. If there ever had been, it wasn’t apparent to me.
Lucy picked up the thread of the story before I could even ask about the bathroom. “It was a real whodunit at the time with multiple suspects but it was never solved.”
“Were any of the Faye’s family suspected?”
There were nods around the table.
“Things were dying down around here by then,” Marsha said. “Most of the Laffertys had already moved from the area and were just in for the holiday. They didn’t go real far away, mind you but, really, only Faye’s immediate family stayed on here in the village. Her parents, her and her sister and her brother were all that were left living here in town.”
I shook my head hard. “Sister? I didn’t know Faye has a sister.”
Selma patted my hand. “She’s long gone, dear. She was older than Faye; born mentally disabled and she died fairly young.”
“In her late teens,” Bridget said in a low voice. “She lived in a state home during the last few years of her life because the family couldn’t really control her and care for her.” She pursed her lips and shook her head slowly.
“So back to my question, then; were any Laffertys suspected?”
Hannah, still standing by holding Jef, offered, “More coffee anyone? Can I get anyone anything else?”
I could hear the desperation in her voice but the ladies around the table were oblivious. They were off and running.
“Drew was, at least at first, I think,” Marsha said. “I don’t know about Owen, his brother.”
“Him too,” Bridget put in. “All the men there that day were suspects...or questioned, at least. Mathis was a good for nothing that wasn’t well liked,” she added. “Any number of people that day could have done the deed.”
The other women nodded except for Lucy. “I’m a little younger than these fine ladies, she said. “I didn’t pay a whole lot of mind to him back then, but someone sure had a problem with him.”
“What do you suppose it was about him that would push someone to murder him?”
All eyes turned to Marsha.
“He was a poker player,” she said. “Seemed to make his living at it. Most of the men around town farmed or worked the oil fields or both. The oil workers would play cards when they got paid in backrooms in illegal gin joints that dotted this village and the surrounding area. He did too and he seemed to win more than his fair share of the games. Took my own husband, God rest his soul, for a penny or two.”
“Yup,” Selma said. “The village went dry during prohibition and it stayed dry, aside from moonshine, for a good 15 years after the murder until some of the younger folks pushed for beer carryout at the gas station.”
Bridget rolled her eyes. “Now they have beer at that pizza shop. It’s turned into a pub and a hangout for all the backwoods oil men that don’t want to clean up to go up to the Boar’s Head.”
I chuckled out loud at the notion of The Boar’s Head being a higher class place they had to clean up for.
They diverged from the subject at hand to rail about the pizza shop turned bar for a minute and I watched as Hannah breathed a sigh of obvious relief. It was to be short lived.
The swinging door from the kitchen burst open as a rack of bagged, freshly baked bread was pushed through it. Faye was behind it, doing the pushing. Since Hannah still had Jef, I jumped up to go and help her get it into position behind the counter.
She smiled when she saw me. “I didn’t know you were out here. Did you bring the baby?”
I nodded but she was already waving to Jef while Hannah held his little arm and waved it for him back at her.
The ladies all looked on silently – not at all like them.
Fayed stepped up behind the display case and questioned them as a group, “Why so quiet? You’d think we were having a funeral in here.”
Lucy coughed on her sip of tea. She recovered as Bridget patted her back and started explaining, “We didn’t even know you were back there Faye. We weren’t trying to say anything to upset you.”
Selma shot Lucy a look but she missed it as she rattled on. “We were only trying to give Dana some of the local history for a book she might write.”
My Mother-in-law turned her head and looked at me with raised eyebrows.
Glossing right over the fact that some of the conversation had been about her, she instead quizzed me, “So, you’re back to writing are you? What about now? Local history of all things? There really isn’t a whole lot of that, that isn’t already covered, you know?”
“It’s just a thought,” I said. “Something the ladies brought up when I mentioned that I’d thought about trying my hand at writing up some true crime stuff and maybe even dissecting some of my old cases.”
“What sort of local history stuff?” Faye asked as she spun away from me and looked pointedly at the women arrayed around the table as she walked out from behind the counter.
Lucy cleared her throat and admitted, “We were telling her about Tanner Mathis – the one that died that Thanksgiving when you were a teenager. His...it was never solved.”
Faye looked back at me then. “Lots of people were there that day. Lots of cops too. They went over and over everything.” Her tone implied that if they couldn’t figure it out, it couldn’t be figured out.
My curiosity won out over my fear of upsetting her. “When,” I asked, “was the last time anyone looked into the case? Does Mel even know about it now that she’s the Sheriff and all?”
“I can’t answer that,” Faye admitted. “I honestly don’t know what she knows about it. It was well before she was born...heaven’s, more than 40 years ago, I’d say.” She rubbed her temple and then shook her head out as if to clear it.
“Let me have at that baby for a minute,” she said as she smiled and changed the subject. She walked around the end of the counter and out into the open.
Hannah put Jef down on his feet again and offered her fingers down for his little hands to hold while Faye squatted to get down to his level.
Excited, the boy trundled right out of his mother’s grasp and took four unaided steps toward one of the three women he thought of as Grandma as everyone in the shop oohed and awed at him.
After lunch, I decided to put Jef down for his nap in his crib upstairs so I could spend a little time in Mel’s den using her computer. Boo, my Boston terrier, and I crept out of his room and down the hall to the only room in the house Mel hadn’t allowed my mother to touch when she was helping us to furnish and decorate the place.
I’d initially questioned the wisdom of putting the den upstairs to begin with, when we were laying out the house but, in hindsight, it had worked out well. It was a quiet place for Mel to work when she needed to work from home and it allowed all of us to be close to Jef if he woke up while we worked in there. The room is all about Mel though.
Unlike her sparsely decorated office at the station, the walls here are covered with pictures of her sister’s kids Beth and Cole and, more recently, of Jef. As I looked around trying to pick out the latest shots she’d framed and hung I worked on moving some of her mess aside on the desktop so I could have a little work space. I finally got settled and booted the laptop.
The Zanesville Times Recorder didn’t have online archives that would let me search news articles from back in 1972. I really wanted to ferret out some names and to try to piece together more of the story that ladies had started to tell me. I did find a couple of brief mentions in some other rags that were partially indexed from back in the 1970’s, but I ended up wistfully longing to be out in my writing shed where I still had access to the databases I’d paid for when I was trying to take on security and investigative work for Young International.
The Sheriff at the time was a Vincent Sweeney; that much I was able to figure out from a county elections site. There wasn’t much record of him otherwise though and no mention that I could find with my limited access of him in relation to the murder investigation. This one was looking like a tough slog.
An hour or so into my search, Jef woke up and started crying. I rooted around quickly in Mel’s desk drawers until I found an empty file folder. I labeled it ‘Tanner Mathis Case’ and jammed the few notes I had and a couple of small printouts inside it before I went to him.
Mel came home as Hannah and I were putting dinner on the table. She gave me a quick kiss, scratched Boo behind the ears then snatched Jef up from his position seated on the floor with a car and a block; one in each hand.
“Hi family!” she said as she swung him back and forth in her arms. He reached for her badge as he always did and she half-heartedly scolded him for it as she always did, smiling all the while.
“You’re in a good mood.”
“Actually, I’m beat. It was a looooong day; a physically exhausting day.” She looked at Hannah and asked, “Shouldn’t you be in class?”
Hannah nodded. “Not till 7:00 tonight. They’re doing some sort of open house for prospects and not all of us had to be there.”
“That’s good for us,” Mel said, “because it sure smells good in here.” She put Jef down, rubbed her hands together and then reached to take off her gun belt.
Jef leaned into her leg and looked up at her, his eyes bright.
“Hang on little buddy. Let me get this off. I don’t want to conk you in the head with it.”
“Conk!” he repeated, grinning. With that, he let go of her leg and stepped backward a half step.
Mel swooped a hand down to steady him but I held out my own hand to stop her.
“Wait babe. Let him go and back up a couple of steps.”
She gave me a quizzical look but did as I said with Boo following her lead. Jef steadied himself and stood there in a wide legged stance for a few seconds then pulled one leg in slightly and took a tentative step toward her and the dog and then another.
Mel was waiting just a couple of more steps away but he started to waver and sank to the floor, crawling the remaining distance. Boo moved in fast to give him a face lick of congratulations.
“Wow!” was her response. “Look at you, big boy! Tryin’ to walk and all.” She looked at Hannah who beaming from where she still stood at the stove. “It’s going to be no time at all now Mama!”
“That’s what everyone’s telling me. I helped take care of my younger brothers and my little sister but I just don’t remember them all taking their first steps.”
I thought to myself, ‘That’s because you were practically a baby yourself.’ The ways of the old Amish order that Hannah had grown up in were quite a bit different, from my perspective.
“So what’s got you so worn out?” I asked my wife as we all enjoyed the chicken lasagna dish Hannah had prepared.
She shook her head slowly as she finished a bite. “It’ll be on the news tonight. My guys busted what we thought was a meth lab in the wee hours this morning. Well, they were making meth there but the people that were in there cooking were higher than kites, and not on meth. They were PCP or something even nastier.”