Romantic Mystery Novel
by Barbara W. Klaser
van skids off a snowy mountain road. . . .
Tess returns home to bury her dead. There an old flame rekindles, promising the warmth of a winter romance, while Tess begins to suspect her family was murdered.
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Tess drove to Stoneway, entered through the lobby, and asked the desk clerk for Angie.
"Tess. I didn't expect--" Angie stopped in her office doorway. Her smile turned to a frown as she peered at Tess's black eye. "What happened to you?"
"Did you know Trent Cambridge raped a teenage girl right here in your parking lot?"
Angie glanced around the lobby. Only the desk clerk was there now, but Angie beckoned Tess into her office and closed the door. Once they were seated she said, "I know the girl says she was raped in my parking lot and she claims it was Trent. Why?"
"Does Trent spend a lot of time here, Angie? I saw him here myself a couple of nights ago." Trent had said in the note he left on Tess's door that he'd waited for her in the parking lot, the same place he'd raped Karen's friend. Tess shuddered.
Angie narrowed her eyes. "You never mentioned that to me. Are you sure you're all right? What's going on, Tess? You look like you've been in a wreck."
Tess shook her head. "I'm angry. I'm scared. I'm upset. I want to know why he was here, Angie. Does he spend a lot of time here?"
Angie shrugged. "A lot of people come here for the food, the entertainment."
Tess wanted to shake her, but she realized she wasn't being reasonable. "Someone came into my house yesterday, tied me up, and tore the house apart. I think it was Trent. He had someone else with him. He scared the hell out of me. I'm trying to figure out what's going on. I heard today that the girl he raped most recently was assaulted right here in your parking lot."
There was a knock on the office door, and Angie's brother Kevin poked his head in. "Karen Jensen's dad just called--Oh, hi Tess. Sorry, I didn't-- What happened to your eye?
"It's a long story." Tess stood up.
"You okay? I've been looking forward to that turkey tonight, but if you're not up to it we could move the party here."
"I'm fine. I'd better go put that turkey in the oven." She'd better put makeup on her eye before her dinner party, or she'd frighten all her guests. "I'm sorry, Angie. I was so upset, when I heard that happened here, I--"
"Dinner's still on, then?" Angie said with an encouraging grin. She got up and gave Tess a brief hug. "What a trouper. I'm glad you're okay. We'll see you tonight."
Tess drove back to the house and went up to her studio without a word. Paige followed her and watched as Tess stood looking at the furniture and shawl concealing the cabinets.
"Oh, Paige, I'm so frustrated. There's an answer here somewhere, I know there is. I can't let it rest. I can't rest until I find it."
Paige appeared, for the first time since Tess had known her, not to know what to say.
Tess didn't think she could sit around until evening and wait for her turkey to roast. She gestured at the cabinets. "Will you help me open these up again?"
This time they focused on the boxes Tess had set aside yesterday, one containing the personal effects the sheriff had returned to her, and the other her mother's journals.
Tess opened the box of journals first, to look for those covering the most pertinent dates, after her accident, and the following few years when her parents had kept her from visiting home. When she searched for the one written the year of her accident, she didn't find it with the others. Paige helped her search for it, but it wasn't in the box. Tess sat still and thought for a minute. Finally she remembered that after Joe's visit last Friday night she'd read the page her mother had written while waiting for Tess to regain consciousness. Her mother's words had upset Tess so much she hadn't wanted to read any further. She'd stuffed the journal under her pillow.
Tess went to her bedroom and checked under the pillows. The journal wasn't there. She opened the nightstand drawers and searched through them, throwing things out onto the floor.
"Hey, I just organized that," Paige complained.
"It's not here. They must have taken it. Trent and his accomplice must have it." Tess returned to the studio and opened the box of personal effects she'd received from the deputy. She doubted she would find anything incriminating in there that the sheriff would have missed, but she had to do something. These were the things her family had taken with them to see the sheriff that morning.
"I wonder why Spence didn't take the blouse with him that morning," Paige said.
Tess looked at her, wondering the same thing. "Maybe he wasn't going with them. It was a school day. It's possible they were going to drop him off at school first. I'd ask Karen, but she seems reluctant to talk about any of this."
"Why is she reluctant?"
"Her father thinks she's scared. Trent's most recent rape victim is a friend of hers, and that rape happened in the parking lot at Stoneway. Karen quit her job there right after it happened. Remember that single key that you found in his backpack? I think it was the passkey that Karen used when she cleaned the offices at Stoneway. Spence offered to return it for her, after she quit."
"Then why did he still have it? And if he was going to school that morning, why didn't he have his backpack with him?"
Tess shook her head. "No matter what I decide about my career, I know I don't want to be a detective. It's too frustrating!"
"You're too close to this, and you're scared yourself."
"I am," Tess agreed. "I'm afraid that it's someone I care about, someone I'd never suspect of wanting to harm my family or me."
Tess looked at Paige. She shrugged. "Last night Joe told me Rose still hasn't accounted for where she was when Trent and his accomplice were here yesterday."
Paige groaned. "Don't tell Harry you suspect Rose. Well, look, at least you know it's not Joe. He was with us at Cottage Arts, wondering where the hell Rose was, when whoever-they-are were here searching your house. That reminds me, what was Alan doing here when Joe arrived? Joe asked the same thing yesterday, before the sheriff threw everyone out."
"Alan had offered to help--after I practically accused him of killing my family."
Paige waited for an explanation of that. Harry came in then and asked if they needed help.
Tess told Paige and Harry about the damage to the van's tire, and described Alan's athame. "My parents made me quit seeing Alan, around the same time they fixed me up with Trent. Laura says he was heartbroken after I left to live with my aunt. So I guess I was suspicious of him." She told them Alan's story about why he no longer owned the athame. "I believed him."
"It would be next to impossible to damage a tire that way, with a knife, while the vehicle was moving," Harry said.
Paige ignored him. "Tess, Alan had good reason to feel resentful if you'd broken up with him, and surely he could use the money the blackmailer's demanding, for his new business. For that matter, so could Rose." Paige cast a quick glance at Harry, then, and bit her lip.
"Rose?" Harry looked from Paige to Tess. "You suspect Rose? What possible motive could she have?"
Tess shook her head. "None that I know of. I didn't know Rose very well back then." She nodded toward the box from the sheriff. "These are the things my family had with them that morning."
"I uh, have to leave for a bit." Harry told them he had to go back to Stoneway for some things he'd left there. He looked worried, and said he might stop by and see Rose.
Paige shook her head after he left and said, "He's smitten with Rose, you know. I've never seen him like this."
Tess focused on the box. It contained Jim Hunter's and Spence Hunter's wallets, Cathy Hunter's purse, a paperback romance novel, sunglasses, a California road map book, some loose change, keys, a couple of Jim Hunter's prescription bottles, an empty pocket-like bag of the sort he might have kept on his wheelchair, and various mundane items of the sort one would keep in the glove box of a car, as well as emergency items: tissues, napkins, pencil, paper, emergency blankets, a flashlight, flares, a portable radio, and a compass.
Paige read the label on one of the emergency blankets. "They were prepared for anything. Have you gone through the wallets and purse yet?"
Tess glanced at the open cabinets, which were again in disarray. "Let's put the rest away. I want to keep the house ready for a dinner party, at least until after tonight."
"Oh sure, now you turn back into a neat freak, after you tossed the nightstand I straightened for you." Paige put the wallets and purse back into the box and picked it up, while Tess closed up and concealed the studio cabinets. "Something's starting to smell good down there."
Tess had just agreed that it was time to go down and check on the food, when the phone rang in the kitchen.
Paige nodded at the box she held. "I'll put this in your closet."
Tess went down to get the phone. The caller was Laura Greene. "Are you okay? Alan told me about your trouble there yesterday. You should postpone this gathering tonight until you're better."
"I'm fine. Dinner is still on. Are you at Cottage Arts today, on a holiday?"
Laura laughed. "It's a disease of the self-employed. I had some work to catch up on. I want to be as free as a bird next Friday, for the opening. Alan and Rose were both here this morning, too. I'm leaving my office now. Are you sure you're okay? Do you need help with dinner? I can arrive at your place early if you need me to."
"I have plenty of help, but come early if you like. It will give us more time to visit."
When Laura arrived, an hour later, she was with Harry, who'd given her a ride so she could ride home with her husband later.
While Laura exclaimed over Tess's black eye, Tess noticed that Harry wore a grave expression. He drew Tess aside.
"I need to speak to you for a few minutes in private." The look in his eyes told Tess this was serious.
She nodded. "Let's go into the study."
Tess sat behind her father's desk, while Harry closed the door. Tess noticed he had several sheets of paper in his hand.
He cleared his throat. "When I visited Rose the other day, I noticed the research she's been doing. I remembered it again today, when you mentioned the tire damage the sheriff described. So I went to see Rose again for a second look." He showed Tess his set of printouts, from web sites having to do with hunting.
"These are called broadheads. They're the types of arrow tips you use for bow hunting."
Tess examined the pages. The broadheads in the pictures were nasty looking weapons, sharp metal tips that expanded on impact, increasing the odds that the game a hunter shot with them would be killed and not merely wounded. Tess recalled the books she'd seen in Rose's office the other day. This must be the research Rose had said she was doing for her novel. Rose had acted distraught when Tess saw the hunting books.
Harry went on. "I found types that come with two, three and four blades." He pointed out each type on the printouts as he spoke. "They're used on arrows for long bows and compound bows, and the same types of heads fit on the shorter arrows called bolts that are used with crossbows. It's possible that whatever hit the tire on your parents' van was a double-bladed broadhead. See that one?"
Tess looked up at him. "Someone could've shot the van's tire with a bow and arrow?"
"A crossbow is more likely if they were on a snowmobile at the time. It would be a difficult shot, I should think, but it makes a lot more sense than a knife. I'm taking these pictures to the sheriff. If I leave now I can be back in time for dinner."
"Did Rose show you where to find this information?"
Harry met her gaze. "Actually, Rose took me to see Alan, to ask him to show me, on his computer. He's apparently quite an expert bow hunter. But he'd already left, so I did some searches myself, on Rose's laptop."
Tess saw Harry to the door, with a caution to drive carefully. The wind outside was beginning to be alarming in intensity. She wondered whether some of her guests would cancel, after all, due to the weather, as she closed the door against a freezing gust.
"Where's he going now?" Paige said in exasperation, when Tess told her Harry had left again.
"He has a theory." Tess glanced at Laura, unsure how much she should say. "About the tire damage that caused the accident. He's going to see the sheriff."
"Is that what he was so worked up about?" Laura turned to face Tess. "Is there some mystery about your family's accident? Is that why those people ransacked your house yesterday?"
"The sheriff thinks my family may have been murdered." Tess explained Harry's theory to Paige and Laura.
"Well at least that theory leaves out Rose, I should think," Paige said.
"Don't be so sure," Laura said with a grim look. "Rose was the best shot in archery class, in high school. It was the one gym class she ever aced."
Both Paige and Tess turned toward Laura and Paige demanded that she explain what she'd said.
"Well, you know," Laura said, looking at Tess. "She was so overweight, she was terrible at most sports, always the last one picked for a team, things like that. We had the same gym class one year." Laura looked at Tess with her eyes narrowed. "A whole quarter was devoted entirely to archery, and Rose turned out to be the best shot in the class. She amazed the teacher."
"Oh crap," Paige said, taking in her meaning. She turned to look at Tess.
"It doesn't mean it's Rose," Tess said, too defensively for her own comfort. "A lot of people here hunt, and a lot of them hunt with bows. I know Angie does. I saw a compound bow in her office."
Laura nodded. "Alan does too, with a bow. I don't think Rose actually hunts, though, and I know Joe doesn't. He told Ed that he has to put down enough animals in his work; doing it for sport doesn't appeal to him. Ed doesn't either, though he sells all the equipment. So, it's not necessarily Rose or Joe." Laura said with a nervous laugh. "What am I saying? It's not any of them. Besides, you said Harry thought it had to be a crossbow. I don't know anyone who hunts with a crossbow. According to Ed, they're frowned upon by bow hunters, unless you're disabled and can't shoot a regular bow."
Tess was thinking, and she knew that Paige was as well. They now knew of at least three of Tess's friends who were possible suspects, if Harry's theory was correct. Three people who had lived here at the time of Tess's accident, as well as her family's, and knew how to shoot a bow. Paige listed them out loud. "Rose, Angie and Alan. Which one has a motive?"
"Alan did, at one time," Laura said. "He was resentful about your break up, Tess. Angry with your parents for making you break up, and with you for giving in to them and then not telling him where you'd gone when you moved away. You may not have meant to, but you broke that boy's heart, big time."
"Do you know if Trent Cambridge hunts with a bow?" Paige asked her.
Laura shrugged. "He's out of my circle, and I don't hunt. Alan might know. Ask him or Ed, or Angie, when they get here."
Paige was intent on Laura. "Can you think of any motive Rose might have to harm Tess or her family?"
Tess sent her a look, which Paige ignored.
Laura thought for a minute. Finally she shook her head. "No, but you mentioned Trent Cambridge?"
"I think he's one of the people who ransacked the house yesterday," Tess put in.
"Well, there was a rumor that Rose dated Trent Cambridge for that whole summer. Your last summer here, Tess. I remember I heard about it and realized that she must have stopped seeing him right before you went out with him."
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|All characters and events in the novels on this website are fictitious, they are solely products of the author's imagination. Any similarity to real persons or events is purely coincidental.||
Copyright (c) 2004 Barbara W. Klaser. All rights reserved