The tranquility of the village of Bear Creek in the Southern Sierra is disrupted by the suspicious death of the owner of the local Inn.
Investigating a murder case isn't Deputy Tempe Crabtree's job, but when the detectives don't look any further than Nick Two John as the primary suspect. Tempe begins asking questions. Putting the planning for her wedding to Pastor Hutch Hutchinson on hold, it doesn't take long for her to discover there are several more people who wanted the victim dead, including his wife.
Tempe follows the trail of clues putting her job, her upcoming marriage and herself in peril.
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.
"This book is a murder mystery for the ages. It has so many colorful characters, and it makes it even more interesting when almost all of them have a motive. The detailed descriptions make for an easy read. This book has all of the makings of the perfect book, and it keeps you guessing all the way to the end. There's never been a mystery like this, and there's a good chance that there never will be again."Chanita Davis -- Round Table Reviews
"Deadly Trail is filled with intrigue right from the outset as Nick explains each of the deadly cultivars growing along the Nature Trail. Tempe soon learns that one after another of the staff and owners of the Inn are involved in romantic entanglements. Jealousy, lies, deceit all are present. The reader is carried along on a wild ride of excitement until the killer is discovered."Molly Martin -- Scribes World
"A prequel to the popular series featuring female Deputy Officer, Tempe Crabtree, Deadly Trail proves to be a solid and clever, cozy-mystery. Marilyn Meredith style is poised and efficient, and her storytelling ability is comparable to anyone writing in the genre. Meredith has written a taut, compact mystery with three-dimensional characters. She knows how to draw her readers in with short chapters and tension-building scenes. A true puzzle with all of the pieces for the reading-sleuth to gather. I look forward to reading the other titles in the series."Phillip Tomasso III, author of Johnny Blade & Third Ring New
THE MUSCULAR, bronze-skinned Yanduchi Indian plunged his Buck knife deep into the sidewall of one of the big tires of the truck fully loaded with newly-cut logs just as Deputy Tempe Crabtree drove her official white Blazer down the rough track. She didn't have to see his face, she recognized him by his build and waist long black braids -- Nick Two John.
If it hadn't been for the group of angry loggers, their blocked equipment, and the belligerent demonstrators, the scene might have been idyllic. Lofty cedars and fir trees interspersed with an occasional Sequoia, grew so close together their foliage nearly blocked out the sun. Enormous ferns covered the floor of the forest.
Tempe jammed the brake pedal to the floor and leaped from her vehicle, but not soon enough to prevent Two John from yanking the knife downward and ruining the tire. Before she could reach him, a tall, skinny logger threw down his cigarette and stomped toward Two John. "What the hell's wrong with you, man? You can't get away with that!"
He swung at Two John. The Indian blocked the blow with the arm that held the knife. "Back off, buddy," he growled. "I don't want to hurt you."
With her hand on her baton, Tempe strode toward the grappling men. "Throw down your knife, Nick! Step away from each other. Now!"
"Did you see what he did, deputy?" the logger whined.
"How could I miss it? You're under arrest, Nick. You have the right to remain silent..." She recited the rest of his rights while Two John compliantly put his wrists together behind his back, awaiting handcuffs. He was only a few inches taller than her own five-foot eight.
When she'd finished, he said, "You ought to be ashamed of yourself, Crabtree."
Tempe laughed. "Because I arrested you? I'm only doing my job."
"No, that's not what I meant. You ought be demonstrating right along with me. Doesn't your Yanduchi ancestry mean anything to you?"
"Obviously not what you think it ought to." Tempe led him to the Blazer.
"Didn't your Grandma teach you anything about what it means to be a Native American?" Nick asked.
She opened the door. "I was only eleven when Mama Lena died." When Tempe thought of her grandmother, she remembered herself as a little girl sitting on the comfortable lap with her head against the cushioning bosom, gazing up into the wrinkled brown face and twinkling dark eyes. She remembered her grandma brushing out her long graying hair and braiding it, intertwining colorful beaded ribbons. The memories made Tempe smile and feel sad at the same time. She had loved her grandmother very much.
With Two John locked inside the Blazer, Tempe turned to face the rest of the Save-the-Forest demonstrators who looked out of place in the usually peaceful surroundings. They shouted unintelligible slogans while crowding around her in a threatening manner. Logging in the national forest in the southern Sierra had been a controversial issue for a long time. Tempe had never been drawn into the dispute before. As resident deputy of Bear Creek, she spent her time enforcing the law in and around the small foothill community. But today, when the dispatcher put out the call she had been the nearest to the trouble.
"Quiet down," Tempe said. "Your permit is for a peaceful demonstration. You don't want to join Two John in the jail down in Dennison, do you?"
The voices lowered to a rumble, but the small group continued to press nearer. If there were a problem she couldn't expect much help from the loggers, she'd handed out too many speeding tickets to them. Pulling herself into the driver's seat of the Blazer, she radioed to the substation requesting back-up. A highway patrolman came on to report he was only a few minutes away and would come and take over so she could transport her prisoner.
One overweight woman wearing a sweatshirt and baggy jeans, sandals on dirty feet, and Indian jewelry around her neck, approached Tempe. "You ought to be arresting the loggers, not any of us," she shouted, spraying Tempe with spit. A faint odor of stale perfume and perspiration emanated from her.
"Excuse me, ma'am, but I saw Two John ruin that truck's tire. The loggers haven't broken the law," Tempe said, hoping the highway patrolman would come before the situation exploded. "Like you, they have permission to be working here."
The woman's round face turned red. "The hell you say, the loggers are destroying the forest!"
Tempe glanced around. Though she could see a few stumps of trees that had been cut, the forest still seemed pretty much intact, but she wasn't about to get into an argument with the woman. "Listen, ma'am. You do have a permit for this demonstration, but it doesn't give you the right to interfere with the logging operation. I suggest you direct your energies to moving the obstacles you've put across the road blocking the equipment."
"Hah! No way!" the woman said, and whirled around, her large buttocks wiggling as she rejoined her friends. They began their shouting again.
Tempe shook her head. She couldn't understand their words and didn't want to. She looked over the motley group. The men seemed to be in the late thirties to early fifties, long haired with mustaches and beards. They didn't look much different from the loggers who leaned against their trucks and equipment, disgust and frustration on their faces. The women demonstrators ranged in age from late twenties to sixties, most of them had lots of hair, a few had tamed theirs with bright scarves. Some wore full skirts, blouses, open vests, and what looked like homemade necklaces. No one seemed familiar. Except for Two John, they must have all been imported for the event.
She heard a vehicle arrive, and gratefully watched a black-and-white highway patrol car park near hers. A large imposing figure stepped from the vehicle, and Tempe smiled as she watched the demonstrators visibly shrink away.
Despite the authority displayed by her own crisp, khaki uniform, Tempe had to admit being a big, male law enforcement officer certainly had its advantages.
"Sure glad you're here, Stevens," Tempe said.
"Giving you a bad time, Crabtree?" The officer peered through mirrored sun glasses past Tempe at the gathering.
"Nothing serious, but I'm sure their behavior will improve now that you're here."
"Who you got there?" the officer asked with a nod of his head toward the Blazer.
"A local by the name of Two John. Caught him slashing the tire of that lumber truck."
"Oh, yes. I'm well acquainted with Nick Two John. Arrested him a couple of times for drunk driving. Ornery as hell when he's drinking."
Tempe expected him to make some crack about Indians not being able to handle liquor but he didn't. He probably held back because of her own Native American heritage. "Nick quit drinking a while back."
"Glad to hear it. You can go ahead and take him in. I'll watch over this so-called peaceful demonstration until more deputies arrive."
As Tempe walked back to the Blazer, Stevens tucked his thumbs into his belt, spread his legs, and said, "Haven't any of you people got anything more productive to do with your time than interfere with hardworking citizens?"
As soon as she fastened her seat belt and started the engine, Nick said, "Didn't you ever have any curiosity about your Native American heritage?"
Tempe maneuvered the Blazer down the narrow, winding dirt track. What came back to Tempe was the way she had been teased at school because of her Indian blood made obvious by her straight black hair, her copper skin color, and prominent cheek bones. Though surprisingly blue, her eyes were the same almond shape as her grandmother's. She'd been called "half breed" and "squaw" by some of the kids. During her growing up years, she'd found little reason for pride in her ancestry.
"If you want the truth, Nick, I felt ashamed of my Indian blood when I was growing up... and that made me feel bad because it made me think I didn't respect my grandmother's memory. But now, to be perfectly honest, I don't even think about it anymore."
"You're missing out on an important part of your life, Crabtree."
"Maybe so but it isn't anything I've noticed."
"I used to be like that back in my drinking days. It wasn't until I nearly killed myself driving off that cliff that I realized how I was wasting my life."
Tempe remembered the accident that occurred after Nick had spent the evening drinking in a local bar. Following a long stay in the hospital, he'd gotten a job at the Bear Creek Inn.
Tempe glanced in the rear view mirror. Nick Two-John's eyes stared at her with what looked like pity. He was handsome and had the reputation of being a ladies' man. He'd been a year or two behind her in school, so she hadn't really known him until she'd moved back to Bear Creek after her husband, a highway patrolman, was killed in the line of duty. When no one could remember her married name, Tempe had taken back her maiden name of Crabtree.
"How's your job?" Tempe asked.
"Good. Been there almost two years now."
Tempe drove out onto the highway that led down to the small community where she made her home with her sixteen year-old son, Blair. She would be driving on through Bear Creek and down into Dennison to book Two John into the small jail at the substation.
Right before they reached the two block stretch of highway that made up the business portion of Bear Creek, they passed the Inn. Once a stage coach stop, the sprawling log building had been added onto and turned into a hotel during the thirties. Remodeled again in the seventies, it had become a popular restaurant for people driving up the twenty miles from Dennison and even farther. Under the management of the latest owners, it had undergone even more changes.
"Stop!" Nick shouted.
"Sorry," Tempe said. "Can't do that."
"Hey, just let me tell Claudia what's going on so she can spring me."
"You'll have the opportunity to make a call after you've been booked. Tell her then."
"C'mon, Crabtree. Doesn't our kindred blood mean anything to you?" His voice had softened.
"You're one hard bitch."
"Just doing my job." She glanced in her rear view mirror once again.
Nick had turned in his seat to stare back at the Inn."You may look like you've got Yanduchi blood, but it must be too diluted by the white part to do you any damn good."
"Sorry I'm such a disappointment to you, Nick," Tempe said lightly, Nick's opinion of her and her profession meant nothing. She loved her job as resident deputy of Bear Creek despite some of its drawbacks. Having to arrest a fellow resident was one of them.
"Damn, I should have told Claudia what I was going to be doing today, then my arrest wouldn't come as such a shock to her."
Tempe knew Nick was thinking out loud. "You should have considered how your actions might affect your job before you slashed that tire."
Nick chuckled. "I don't have to worry about my job. Claudia and I are pretty tight."
So, the rumors about Two John and his employer, Claudia Donato were true. "Maybe Mr. Donato won't be as generous."
"Andre Donato is too busy with his own affairs to even suspect anything about me and Claudia." Nick winked at her reflection in the mirror.
"I see," Tempe said, but wondered what kind of affairs Nick was referring to -- business, pleasure, or both. Andre and Claudia Donato had made significant improvements since they purchased the Inn. The menu had become more sophisticated without losing any of the food's quality, they hired entertainment for the weekend crowd, and the couple were both highly visible in their establishment and the community.
There had been other changes too, changes that involved Nick Two John. Nick had been hired to create a nature trail to attract more visitors and to occupy hotel guests during
the day time. The attraction necessitated his staying on to keep it up and to act as a guide, giving him a full time job -- and obviously a bit more. Tempe didn't care to know the details about the latter.
"Tell me about your nature trail. I've been trying to get Blair to come with me to take it in."
"Blair? Oh, sure, he's your kid. Be good for both of you. Make you aware of a bit of your heritage... you certainly could use some educating along those lines."
"Once you're out of jail, we'll do that. I bet Blair would get a kick out of it."
"Might bring along that preacher boyfriend of yours too. Probably do him some good."
Tempe felt her face flush. She didn't look up in the
mirror. Keeping her voice steady, she said, "Yes, I'm sure you're right, Hutch would enjoy it. He is interested in that sort of thing."
"I take a bunch out nearly every afternoon, usually around two."
Tempe drove the remainder of the way in silence. When she pulled into the parking lot of the sheriff's substation and started to get out of the Blazer, Nick leaned forward.
"Hold on, Crabtree," he said, a sense of urgency in his voice. "Listen to me for a minute."
"There's nothing you can possibly say that's going to change things, Two John. I've arrested you, and now I'm taking you inside to be booked." She opened the back door to let him out.
He stuck one foot and his head out, staring up at her.
"Reconsider. There's lots of stuff going on in Bear Creek that you don't know about. Things that are going to affect a bunch of folks. Turn me loose and I'll let you in on some startling information."
"Sorry, Two John. Get out of the car."
He climbed out slowly. She took hold of his arm and guided him toward the stairs that led to the back door of the plain, boxy building. His face sullen, his black eyes flashed with anger. "You're going to remember that I gave you the opportunity to prevent what's about to happen in Bear Creek. You're going to be real, real sorry you didn't listen."