Authors: Radine Trees Nehring
A FAIR TO DIE FOR
The Seventh Something to Die For Mystery
by Radine Trees Nehring
Oak Tree Press Taylorville, IL
A FAIR TO DIE FOR, Copyright 2012, by Radine Trees Nehring. All Rights Reserved. Printed in the United States of America. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission except in the case of brief quotations used in critical articles and reviews. For information, address Oak Tree Press, 140 E. Palmer St., Taylorville, IL 62568.
Oak Tree Press books may be purchased for educational, business or sales promotional purposes. Contact Publisher for quantity discounts.
First Edition, June 2012
Cover by Reese-Winslow Designs
Interior Pages by Linda W. Rigsbee
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and incidents either are the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental.
eBook ISBN 978-1-61009-466-5
who, like me, found her
home in the Arkansas Ozarks
One of the many pleasures I value as an author is seeking out expert information about events and locations in the plot I am creating. In no instance has this been an unpleasant task. People who are knowledgeable about their fields have been eager to help me get the facts straight, and I always enjoy learning from them.
I am grateful to the following people for telling me the truth about many topics discussed in A FAIR TO DIE FOR. If in any detail I miss the mark, it’s my fault, not theirs!
Thomas Flowers, Agent in Charge, Fayetteville Resident Office, Drug Enforcement Administration
Officer Travis Grant, Gravette Police Department
Detective Lee Lofland, Police Procedure and Crime Scene Investigations Expert
D.P. Lyle, MD
Trent Morrison, Chief of Police, Gravette, Arkansas
Detective Lonnie L. Nichols, CID, Washington County Sheriff’s Office
Jack Phillips, Gravette, Arkansas. Former dairy farmer
Greg Steckler, VP, Log Rhythms, Inc., Log Homes on the Internet, Bend, Oregon
And, last, but far from least, for her continuing help:
Dana Sutton, Treasurer, War Eagle Fair Board
John Bohnert, who appears in this story as “Chef John Bohnert,” is stolen from the pages of the DorothyL list for mystery fans. John is known there for telling us, not only what he is reading, but for the mention and sharing of his many intriguing recipes. Thanks to him for helping improve Carrie and Henry’s cooking skills (and mine).
And, in honored memory of long-time friend, mystery fan, and book reviewer, Eden (Edie) Embler, I named Carrie’s astonishing new cousin Edie Embler.
THE SECOND PHONE CALL
Carrie clicked “Play.” Neil Diamond began singing to her about Sweet Caroline, and she increased the volume on her CD player to wall-shaking level. Henry King’s taste in music listening ran to a volume that, he said, their neighbors a mile away couldn’t hear, so she waited until her husband wasn’t home to play her favorite CD’s—whether Brahm’s First Symphony or their Elvis Gold album—loud enough to be
Henry was joking about the neighbors hearing anything, but she still tried to keep the volume down when he was home.
She’d been to enough live concerts to know how loud the music could be there. At the last Elvis concert she’d attended . . . whoo-ee!
She moved toward the kitchen sink in dance steps. Oh yes, Neil would get her through potato peeling in style.
Carrie was only half way around the first potato when the phone rang.
Henry? Meeting running late again, I’d bet on it
She put the potato down, rinsed her hands, and softened the music before she said “Hello.”
“Hi, Little Love. Our board meeting is going to run about an hour overtime. A new rural area wants to join our water district, and there’s a lot to discuss. Hope that doesn’t complicate supper.”
“Nope. I was just starting on potato peeling. I can put them in a bowl of water to wait for you.”
“And then where are they going?”
“Oven. I thought we’d have oven-fried potatoes with sliced ham and cole slaw. There’s left-over fruit gelatin, too.”
“Ahhh, I’m in love with a cook.”
They laughed, and, as she walked around the center island to move one of her prized Delft canisters back into line, she said, “Me too. Your turn to cook tomorrow night.”
“Good. Got to go, we’re only taking a short break before we start to unknot the problems for this new area. See you in about an hour and a half. Roger has already called Shirley, so you don’t need to do that. I’ll phone again when the meeting’s over so you can put those potatoes in the oven.”
“Okay. Big hug for you, and back to the kitchen sink for me.”
She heard him laughing as the phone went dead.
“Cracklin’ Rosie” was the woman of choice when she turned the sound back up and returned to potato peeling.
Neil had progressed into “Song Sung Blue” when the phone rang again.
It was a female voice. Using her maiden name. “Yes, who . . .?
“This is your cousin Edie. Remember me? It’s been a long time. Edith Embler it was. Still is, actually. Took my name back after the divorce.”
Cousin? Carrie’s thoughts went galloping back through the years. No, not possible. She had no living cousins. All she could think of to say was “Edie?”
“We moved away right after your fourth birthday, so maybe you don’t remember me. Your father’s sister Edith is my mother. I’m named after her.”
“Sister? But I thought . . .” Carrie stopped. She knew her dad once had a younger sister, but all her life she’d understood that girl died as a baby. Revealing this right now probably wasn’t the best idea.
Edie didn’t seem to notice the interrupted sentence. “We lived in Tulsa until Dad got a job in D.C. He died years ago, or at least disappeared during a business trip to Mexico, and was reported dead. Mom’s still perking at eighty-nine, and I promised her I’d look you up when I came this way. Your folks gone? Mom says they were middle-aged when you were born.”
“Yes, they’re both gone.” Carrie’s inner caution light was working overtime now, and she ran a hand through her grey curls. “Uh, did you say your father disappeared?’
“Well, I am sorry, it must have been a tough time for you and your mother.”
Edie ignored the sympathy and said, “I remember coming to your house for Thanksgiving dinner when I was about seven. It was a pretty day, and our folks took us to the park after we ate. I pushed you in a swing, but pushed it crooked. The swing went sideways and you fell out. Bloodied your nose. Boy, I got in trouble for that.”
Swing. She’d hit her nose on the swing seat when she fell. It bled. Had there been another girl there?
“I don’t know if I remember falling off a swing,” she said, unwilling to admit anything yet. “Do you know why our families didn’t stay in touch, or travel for visits after you moved away?”
“I guess things just didn’t work out. Dad had a top secret job with a government agency and was gone a lot. I suppose he had enough of travel through work. Besides, I don’t think your dad and mine got along. Mom and Dad never mentioned family in Tulsa after we moved away. But now Mom has mentioned you, and here I am!”
Carrie managed only “Here you are,” as she dropped into a chair at the kitchen table.
What, I wonder, is the real reason for this woman’s call?
Who is she?
Edie laughed and repeated, “Yes, here I am.”
There was a pause filled with prickles, then Carrie said, “Well, where, exactly, are you? And how did you find me?”
“Oh, I’m in Tulsa now. Thought I might locate you here, though goodness knows why, since I knew you’d probably gotten married and changed your name. But, Mom insisted I try. Well, of course I didn’t find you in the phone book, or anyone else named Culpeper. Mom doesn’t remember your mother’s maiden name, so there was no way to locate that side of your family. She did have the address where you used to live, so I drove there. The woman who answered the door said she didn’t know of any Culpepers. She and her husband bought the house from people named Smith, and she never saw paperwork about previous owners. I tried houses on either side, but no one was home. A woman across the street remembered your family but all she could say was ‘Those folks been gone for years.’”
“That would be Mrs. Murphy, and it has been several years. I sold the house to people named Smith, but it’s obviously changed hands. So then, how did you track me down?”
“Went to the Tulsa County Courthouse. I found records in the county clerk’s office that listed a Carrie McCrite who inherited the Culpeper house and sold it. But that was a dead end. Since the library was handy I walked across the mall to try a computer search.”
“Ah.” This woman was sure interested in finding her. But a cousin? How could that be? The only cousin she knew about, a boy, was on her mother’s side of the family. Eric had died in Vietnam.
“I was just getting started on research when the computer did something peculiar and froze up. Frustrating.”
“Computers can be very frustrating.” Carrie was trying so hard to think back into the past it almost made her head hurt. If only she could remember anything at all about her father’s sister, then maybe everything about this situation wouldn’t feel so wrong. It would be nice to have a living cousin.
Be careful, be careful.
“Looks like you found me anyway. So, what happened?”
She could almost guess. The library Edie had landed in was the one where Carrie had worked until her marriage to Amos McCrite.
Edie laughed. “The computer problem turned out to be a piece of good luck. I had to get help, and when I told the woman who came what I was looking for, she knew who you were because you’d worked at that library years ago. She called in another employee who worked with you back then. That woman knew you’d moved to Arkansas. She hesitated about giving me your current address, but finally did give me this phone number.”
“My goodness, that must have been Irene. I haven’t seen her for a while. It’s time I planned a trip to Tulsa to have lunch with her.”
“That’s the name, Irene. Now then, if you’ll tell me how to find you, I can come for a visit.”
“Yes, well it’s so nice of you to have taken this trouble to look me up. My first husband, Amos, was killed several years ago. I’m re-married now, almost a year. Henry and I will both be glad to meet you. We can come to Tulsa tomorrow.”
“I’d rather come there, if you don’t mind. I’ve never been to Arkansas. Could I come see you tomorrow?”
What in the heck am I supposed to do about that? I sure wish Henry was here. Could this be someone from his work in the Kansas City Police Department? Could it be someone dangerous?
“We’d love to have you visit us, Edie. Give me your phone number. Henry is away at a meeting right now and I’d want him to be here to meet you too. He’ll be home in a couple of hours. Let me check with him on his schedule and call you back.”
“Instead I’ll call you around six-thirty if that’s okay.”
“All right. Talk to you then.
“Whew,” Carrie said to no one, and, giving up on Neal, went back to peeling potatoes.
While she and Henry ate supper, Carrie told him about the phone call. “So,” she finished, “what should I do about this supposed cousin I didn’t know existed? It’s all so strange. I have wondered if she might even be a danger to you.”
“Anyone coming after me could find me easily without going to all the trouble of pretending to be your cousin. And it is strange indeed, if she says she’s the daughter of your father’s sister, and that sister died as a baby. Why, I wonder, did that part of your family vanish?”
“She says it’s because her father had some kind of job my Dad didn’t approve of. Top secret, she called it.”
“The plot thickens.” He smiled. “You’ve got to admit it’s intriguing.”
“Well, maybe, but not in a good way. Henry, it was almost like Dad’s sister never existed.” She thought for a minute. “It is possible no one actually said she was dead, but all my years at home I don’t remember anyone mentioning her, except somehow I knew he’d once had a sister. After supper I’ll go through the box of photos my folks left, and see if anything there jogs my memory. As a young child I wouldn’t have been all that interested in a missing aunt if anyone did talk about her. But now Edie says they ate Thanksgiving dinner at our house before they moved away. That’s kind of a major activity, but I guess I was too young to remember it. Anyway, all this makes me feel squinchy.”