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A Cold Death

Deputy Tempe Crabtree is the resident deputy of the mountain community of Bear Creek and its nearby surroundings in the Southern Sierra.

A horrific snow storm traps Tempe and her husband in the lodge of a summer camp along with the caretakers and seven most unpleasant people--one becomes a murder victim.

And to complicate matters, the ghost of a former camper makes contact with Tempe.

Book 16 of the Tempe Crabtree Mystery series

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Marilyn Meredith

Marilyn Meredith is the author of over thirty books in several genres, but mainly mystery. She embraced electronic publishing before anyone knew much about it. She taught writing for Writer's Digest School for ten years and served as an instructor at the Maui Writers Retreat, has been a judge for several writing contest, was a founding member of the San Joaquin chapter of Sisters in Crime, serves on the board of directors of the Public Safety Writers Association, is also a member of EPIC and Mystery Writers of America.

Marilyn lives in the foothills of the Southern Sierra in California in a place much like Bear Creek where her heroine Tempe Crabtree serves as a resident deputy. She is married to the "cute sailor" she met on a blind date many years ago and is grateful for all the support he gives her and her writing career every day. She is proud of the fact that she and her husband raised five children and now are grandparents to eighteen and great-grands to thirteen.

"What happens in my books is the only place in my life where I have any control," Marilyn says, smiling.

Coming Soon...
Excerpt

Chapter 1

“What a strange request.” Tempe hung up the phone and turned to her husband. Because of the unusual and heavy snowfall, she’d been called out several times to check the welfare of several citizens, especially those who lived in the remote cabins in the higher elevations. As the resident deputy of the mountain community of Bear Creek, instead of calling 911, most of the town folks never hesitated to contact her on her private landline, or her cellphone. She’d lived and worked here for so long she knew almost everyone who lived in the area she patrolled.

“Who was it?” Hutch asked.

“Mac McConahey.”

Hutch scratched his already mussed auburn hair. “I’m not sure who he is. Name sounds familiar though.”

“Mac and his wife run that summer camp for girls. The one way up in the mountains.”

“What are they doing there now?”

“They’re the caretakers in the winter, and I suspect that’s when they do repairs.”

“Is the snowstorm causing them a problem?” Hutch started to clear the table.

“Kind of, but what Mac asked was that I come and convince some not-so-welcome guests to go home.”

Hutch laughed. “That is odd. What are you going to do?”

“Head up there and take a look at the situation.”

“Let me get these dishes in the sink and I’ll go with you.”

“I’d like that.”

It would be a long and tedious trip. Though the plow had probably made an attempt at clearing the road, it hadn’t stopped snowing. Though Tempe had been called to the camp in the summer a few times for minor problems, she’d had no occasion to visit in the winter.

“We better put on heavier clothes, and pack an overnight bag, just in case we get stranded.” It might be quite late by the time they reached their destination, and from what she remembered, even in good weather, driving all the way into the camp wasn’t possible. Mac said because of the heavy snowfall they’d have to park near the entrance. Spending one or more nights might be a necessity.

Tempe asked, “What about church on Sunday?” Hutch was the pastor of the Bear Creek Community Church.

“Remember, I have a guest pastor coming. I’ll call the head elder and warn him about I might not make it. I’ll gather a few other things we might need.” Hutch moved quickly.

Tempe didn’t wear her uniform. Instead, she put on warmer pants, a long-sleeved flannel shirt, thick socks, her snow boots, and pulled a black wool cap over her ears. She tucked her long, thick, black braid inside her heavy quilted jacket and put lined gloves in her pocket.

 

****

 

Once they were in Tempe’s official sheriff’s truck, she radioed the dispatcher with her plans. Tempe had the weekend off and another deputy was already taking her place. Working overtime wasn’t unusual for her—whether or not she’d be paid for it wasn’t a consideration.

“Why don’t you tell me who these unwelcome guests are and why the McConaheys would like to see them go.” Hutch squinted through the windshield, his striped watch cap pulled down over his auburn hair and covering his ears.

Driving on the slick road with snow still falling wasn’t easy, but she had plenty of time to explain the situation as it had been told to her by Mac McConahey.

“The extra people who are there are the owners of the camp and their guests, arrived without invitation. If they’d called ahead, Mac would have warned them about the weather situation, but they just popped in unannounced.”

Though Hutch didn’t quit staring at the road ahead, he asked, “How many extra people?”

“Besides the owner and his wife, I think there are five more.”

“Ah, I understand his dilemma. Because it’s Mac’s boss he doesn’t want to be the one to kick them out.”

“Mac said these people had problems getting in. They left their vehicles and walked in, attempting to carry their suitcases and extra bags. It’s a long trek through the snow, and they left some of their belongings behind. Mac used a makeshift sled to fetch everything he could find.”

“I’m surprised he doesn’t have a snowmobile.”

“He has one, but it’s not working. He’d asked his boss for permission to get it fixed, but it wasn’t granted.”

“I bet the boss regrets that decision.”

The snow came down thick and hard. The wipers couldn’t keep up with the huge flakes splattering against the windshield. Tempe slowed down even more.

“Can you see where you’re going?” Hutch asked.

“It’s not easy. Keep an eye out for a place on the left where several cars are parked. Mac said it’s a large clearing off the highway, near the road into the camp. We ought to be coming to it soon.”

“If these people had so much trouble getting into the camp, it isn’t going to be easy to convince them to leave.”

“That’s what I’ve been thinking, plus the way it’s snowing, we might have trouble getting out ourselves.”

It took another half hour of slow, careful driving before they saw the already snow-covered vehicles.

Hutch spotted them first and pointed. “That must be the place.”

Tempe managed to tuck her truck into a spot behind a van. “We’re here. Let’s grab our stuff and head in.”

They both zipped up their coats and pulled their hoods up over their knitted caps. Hutch had brought a sled with a heavy cord to pull it. They put their duffle bags on it, and Tempe grabbed her shotgun.

Frowning, Hutch said, “I know you have your service revolver, surely you won’t have to use that.”

“I don’t want to leave it in the truck for someone to steal.” She tucked her shotgun between the bags on the sled, turned back and locked the doors. She turned on her flashlight. “We better get moving.”

It wasn’t easy to hike through the snow. The drifts on either side of the narrow trail were eight foot or more. With each step their boots sank in about three feet, and it took effort to pull them out.

The cold seeped through Tempe’s outer gear. She shivered and attempted to move quicker.

Mac had reminded her about a footbridge that had to be crossed. She moved the flashlight back and forth across the path, looking for it. She certainly didn’t want to fall into the icy water of the full and rushing river. She’d had that experience before and didn’t want to repeat it.

The beam of the flashlight didn’t help much because of the relentless snowfall. She put one foot in front of the other into the snow, pulling one out and taking another step.

A large owl swooped down in front of her, wings spread wide. She halted. It flew off and disappeared. Not a good sign. Indians believed the surprise appearance of an owl was a harbinger of death. Tempe hadn’t been brought up to believe in all her ancestors’ legends, but in the past this one had proven true.

Hutch paused too. “Wow. That was one big owl.”

Tempe knew better than to say anything to Hutch about her thoughts. As a Christian minister, he considered most of the Indian beliefs to be nothing more than superstitions. “Be on your guard. There might be some wild animals out here.”

“Surely they have enough sense not to come out on a night like this.”

‘You never know.” Tempe moved the flashlight so that the beam crossed back and forth over the path. Not a pawprint to be seen.

They trekked along for another twenty minutes or so until she realized the snow bank that had created a tunnel effect had disappeared. The path ahead was delineated by five-foot-tall snow boundaries which Tempe guessed to be the bridge railings.

She pointed. “The bridge. Shouldn’t be too much farther now. Ordinarily a delivery truck or other vehicle can come this far.”

“If my eyes aren’t deceiving me, I think I see lights up ahead.”

Hutch was right. The lodge wasn’t far. If it hadn’t been for the storm, it would have only taken them a few minutes to reach their destination. Because of the density of the fresh snow, it took close to a half hour to maneuver their way to the door of the lodge.

Though Tempe knew what the two-story log building looked like, not much of it could be seen because of the snow banked up on the sides, all the way to the second-story windows. Huge icicles hung from the roof. A wall of snow piled on either side of the entrance, with a snow barrier blocking their way. Although the porch and doorway had been cleared recently, more snow had started to accumulate.

Feeling a surprising surge of energy, Tempe pushed forward, slid down the piled-up snow, waded through the new accumulation, up the two steps, and pushed open the front door.

A rush of heat welcomed her into a long but wide hallway. Voices in a lively conversation drifted her way.

Hutch followed her, dragging the sled inside. He paused long enough to close the door. “What should I do with our stuff?”

“Leave it here for now. Let’s announce our arrival.”

He left the sled and its contents on the damp and muddy floor.

After shaking the wet flakes from her jacket, pulling off her boots and cap, Tempe led the way into the large downstairs dining and meeting room. Round tables and chairs occupied three quarters of the space. A large pass-through opened into a darkened kitchen.

Tempe smelled the delicious aroma of coffee and noticed a large urn and a stack of Styrofoam cups on the end of a long counter.

A group of people gathered on a variety of chairs and sofas arranged in a semicircle around a massive stone fireplace. Stacked wood filled the walls on both sides.

Upon Tempe and Hutch’s entrance, all faces turned in their direction. Tempe only recognized two, Mac McConahey and his wife Mary Beth.

On his feet in an instant, Mac, big, ruddy-faced, with a thick head of light brown hair and a beard, shouted, “You made it, Deputy. Great.”

The other faces displayed various emotions, from surprise to irritation, and even disdain.

“Deputy?” A balding and paunchy man wearing a tan sweater over a long-sleeved shirt stood also. “Has something happened? Is there need for law enforcement?” Behind rimless glasses balanced on a large nose, his light eyes glanced from Tempe to Hutch.

Since she wasn’t in uniform, he had no way of knowing she was the deputy. She stepped forward, pulled off one of her gloves and offered her hand. “Deputy Crabtree. I’m here to check on your welfare.”

The people in the chairs buzzed among themselves.

A smile replaced the frown of the man who stood. He clasped Tempe’s hands in both of his. “Allow me to introduce myself. I’m Dr. Sparks, Stuart Sparks. My wife and I own Camp Winnewaka.”

A woman with an odd shade of red hair raised a hand, several bracelets tinkling on her skinny wrist. “Velda Sparks here. We’re all fine.”

Tempe addressed the group. “Perhaps you don’t realize, but we’re experiencing a most unusual storm with no letup in sight.”

Mac moved closer to Tempe. “I called Deputy Crabtree to come here to convince you that because of the unusual weather you should go home.”

Mrs. Sparks jumped to her feet, causing her jewelry to jingle. “For goodness sake, we own this place. If we want to entertain friends here we certainly have that right without any interference from anyone—and especially you, Mac. You are merely a hired hand.”

Mac bristled, but Tempe didn’t give him a chance to speak. “No one’s leaving right now. If it keeps snowing like it is now, none of us will be able to get out of here tomorrow either.”

Mrs. Sparks settled back in the big pillows on the wicker chair, a satisfied expression on her face.

“In that case,” her husband peered over his glasses, “I’d like you to meet our friends.”

Though Tempe longed for a cup of the coffee she could still smell, she smiled at everyone.

Dr. Sparks gestured toward a pudgy woman with a huge grin. She nearly filled a small settee. “This is Alice Brisette. I’m sure you’ve heard of her, she’s a popular romance author.”

Tempe nodded. She’d never read a single romance novel in her life.

Ms. Brisette giggled and waved dimpled and fingers. White hair curled around plump cheeks. “Oh, Stuart, not everyone’s heard of me.”

“She’s being modest. Several of her books have been made into movies for TV. I starred in several of them.” The man who spoke seemed a bit familiar to Tempe, but she didn’t know why until Dr. Sparks said his name.

“That’s Alexander Noonan, former movie star.”

Noonan frowned at the word “former.”

Tempe remembered seeing him in old films. He’d usually played the other man, or the sidekick, never the hero. The once chiseled contours of his face had softened and sagged. He still had a thick head of dark brown hair, though Tempe suspected it might be dyed. “Nice to meet you, Mr. Noonan. I enjoyed several of your movies.”

Noonan lifted his chin, making his wattle jiggle. “Thank you. When you have time you’ll have to tell me which of my roles you liked the most.”

Tempe nodded. She hoped he didn’t pursue his quest because she couldn’t remember the name of any of the movies.

The next one introduced was Rebecca Ryan. Long locks of gray hair hung over the shoulders of a white cable knit sweater. Black sweat pants were tucked into fur-lined boots. “I’m a writer too. However I’ve never had the same breaks as Alice because I refuse to write formula books.”

Alice Brisette reached over and patted Ms. Ryan’s hand. “That’s all right, Rebecca, we all know how hard you’ve worked.”

Rebecca snatched her hand away.

A handsome white-haired man jumped to his feet. “I’m capable of introducing myself. Curt Lawson, lawyer, now retired. Love to play golf and hang out with my friends.” He gestured toward a younger-appearing woman he’d been sharing a couch with. “This is Gloria Schrell, a good friend of my dearly departed wife. You may have heard of Gloria, she dabbles in local politics.”

He was right, Tempe had heard of Ms. Schrell. She’d been a councilwoman for several years in the nearby city of Dennison and had an unsuccessful run for county supervisor. Her political signs had been all over Bear Creek and Dennison. Blonde curly hair surrounded an attractive face. Tempe had seen her occasionally, always dressed in smart business suits. Her attire was a bit different now; an oversized sweat shirt and flannel pants hid what Tempe knew to be a thin, angular frame. Near her feet an unfinished project spilled out of a large bag with knitting needles poking out.

Except for the caretakers, Gloria Schrell was the youngest of the group. The three of them appeared to be in their mid-forties.

A frown line appeared between Ms. Schrell’s arched brows. “As you can see, we’re all fine. You’ve made the trip for nothing.”

Tempe longed for a cup of coffee. “I’m pleased to hear that.”

Hutch grinned. “In case any of you are wondering, I’m Pastor Hutchinson. I’m Deputy Crabtree’s husband. I do hope there is room for us, because there’s no way we can leave tonight.”

Though all faces turned toward Hutch, the only one that smiled belonged to Alice Brisette. She clapped her pudgy hands. “Wonderful, a religious man. Perhaps you can do something to lift the spirits of these grumpy folks.”