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River Spirits

While filming a movie on the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, the film crew trespasses on sacred ground, threats are made against the female stars, a missing woman is found by the Hairy Man, an actor is murdered, and Deputy Tempe Crabtree has no idea who is guilty.

Once again, the elusive and legendary Hairy Man plays an important role in this newest Deputy Tempe Crabtree mystery.

Book 13 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 One

“Delia is nuts. She makes me so angry I could kill her.” The shrill outburst came from a slender woman not much out of her teens stomping into the dining room of the Bear Creek Inn.

The diners turned to stare at her, including Deputy Tempe Crabtree and her husband, Pastor Hutch Hutchinson. He leaned closer to Tempe and asked, “Who is that?”

“She’s probably one of the movie people who are filming on the reservation,” Tempe said.

“She doesn’t look like a star.”

Hutch was right. The woman in question had a puff of short, curly red hair. Freckles polka-dotted a plain but animated face. She wore cutoff jeans and an oversize pale blue shirt that hung off one bony shoulder.

Claudia, the owner of the inn, came rushing after her. “Excuse me, dear, what can I do to help you?” Claudia appeared to know the girl, or at least who she was.

She whirled around to face Claudia, but didn’t lower her voice. “Delia doesn’t like the food she ordered. She wants something else and she wants it right now.”

“Come with me to the kitchen. We’ll see what we can do for her.” While casting apologetic looks to the many other patrons as she passed, Claudia took the girl’s arm and led her away.

Hutch returned his attention to his dinner. “I wonder what that’s about.”

“I’m guessing she is Delia West’s personal assistant. It sounds like she has a difficult job.” Ever since the movie company invaded Bear Creek, Tempe had been hearing rumors about the problems they caused. Thankfully, nothing she had to take care of in her capacity as resident deputy of the mountain area surrounding the small town of Bear Creek—at least not yet.

Hutch finished the last of his steak and pushed the plate aside. He focused his gaze on Tempe. “I’m still surprised the Tribal Council gave them permission to film on the reservation.”

“Me too. But from what I’ve heard, the production company promised the movie would promote a positive image of the tribe and bring tourists to the casino. That weighed heavily on the decision. Not everyone is enthusiastic about the project.”

“Did they have an opportunity to read the script?”

Tempe admired her husband before answering. The wire-framed glasses perched on his nose helped his pastoral image, but contrasted with the twinkle in his eyes and his tousled auburn hair. “I don’t know, but I would think so or they wouldn’t have agreed.” Tempe glanced around the room. “Some of the other people connected with the filmmaking are having dinner here. I suspect the assistant’s remarks will get back to Ms. West.”

“I figured that’s who these strangers are. They kind of stick out.”

Besides being strangers, the extra people didn’t dress like the citizens of Bear Creek. Some of them wore what they might have thought mountain people might wear: brand new shorts and slacks, crisp shirts, and boots, looking like they stepped out of a Land’s End, J. Crew or L.L. Bean catalog.

“I hope that young woman doesn’t get into trouble.” Hutch pushed his empty plate aside. “This is one time I’d like to have Nick Two John fill us in.”

Nick Two John was Claudia’s partner in life, the main chef at the inn, and a good friend of Tempe and Hutch. Over the years, Nick educated Tempe about her Indian heritage and culture. Hutch didn’t always approve, but despite some disagreements their friendship grew.

Almost as though he’d heard Hutch, Nick stepped out of the kitchen following Claudia. She continued on to the front desk, but Nick pulled a chair up to their table. “Claudia told me you were out here.” His long black braids hung down over his white shirt, tucked neatly into worn Levis.

Hutch obviously couldn’t contain his curiosity. “We couldn’t help but wonder about that young woman. Where did she go, by the way?”

“Her name is Kate Eileen Shannon and she is the personal assistant to Delia West, the movie star.”

“She doesn’t sound too happy about her job,” Tempe said.

“Ms. West is difficult. I cooked a special meal at her request, but it didn’t suit her. She blamed Kate Eileen and ordered her to fetch something else. I fixed up a plate of tonight’s special and sent her out through the kitchen.”

“I take it that monstrosity out back belongs to Ms. West,” Hutch said. He referred to the 40-foot silver and black luxury motor home taking up a quarter of the parking lot.

“I think the studio provided it for her. She expected it to be set up on the Bear Creek Reservation, but the Tribal Council wouldn’t allow it. Supposedly it’s because they don’t have hookups for RVs, but I suspect they had other reasons too.”

“So you let it be parked here.”

“Ms. West wouldn’t agree to any of the campgrounds. I doubt any of the local ones have room for such a big rig. The production company offered enough money to make Claudia agree to have it here.”

“What’s it like having a famous movie star here?” Tempe asked.

“Do you want the truth?” Nick glanced around as if to make sure no one was listening and lowered his voice. “She’s not a nice person. The gossip is she’s not happy being in this movie, but it’s the only part she’s been offered in three years. I have no interest in such things so I don’t know whether this is true or not.”

“We aren’t experts on movies either, but Hutch and I do enjoy seeing one every so often. What I do know is she’s getting older, and Hollywood isn’t known for being kind to older actresses.”

Hutch leaned forward. “Do you have any idea what this movie is about?”

Nick’s expression remained impassive. “I’ve heard various things, supposedly a romance between an Indian woman from the reservation and a white man working at the casino.”

Hutch raised an auburn eyebrow. “Not exactly an original idea.”

“Have there been other movies like that?” Nick asked.

Tempe said, “Not exactly, but the theme of a person falling in love with someone outside his or her culture has been done many times.”

“I suppose the Indian woman is the part that Ms. West is playing.” Hutch finished the rest of his coffee. “Couldn’t they find an Indian actress to play the part? Seems like that would’ve made more sense.”

“I’m not sure they even looked. That’s another reason some of the Indians on the rez are unhappy about this project.” Nick glanced around. “I better get back to the kitchen. Having so many extra people staying here in the inn means more work at dinner time.”

“Must be good for business,” Hutch said.

“Claudia’s happy.” Nick got up, nodded, and headed toward the kitchen.

The waitress stopped by and refilled Tempe’s and Hutch’s coffee cups.

Tempe thanked her and when she’d gone, said, “All this movie activity is giving the people in Bear Creek something to talk about. I’ve heard some state they wished the movie was being filmed in town instead of the reservation. The only time they get to see the strangers is here, the café or when they go into the store. The only stars staying here are Delia West and the two male leads. Most of the crew are in various motor homes and trailers on the campground at the lake. Their accommodations are nothing like Ms. West’s.”

“I would think that means they aren’t as important as she is, or thinks she is.”

“I’ve seen some of them, but frankly I didn’t recognize anyone. My guess is this movie isn’t going to be a blockbuster.”

“Guess it doesn’t matter, though I think having these extra people around is giving a boost to Bear Creek’s economy, and I bet to the casino too.”

“No doubt, since there isn’t much else to do around here or in Dennison either.” Dennison was the nearest city, a forty-five minute drive, and it didn’t have much in the way of cultural or entertainment venues. Besides gambling, the casino had special events on the weekend like concerts featuring celebrities and MMA fights.

“I wonder if we’ll see any of these movie people in church.” As pastor of the local community church, Hutch was always happy to welcome visitors.

Though Tempe had her doubts, she said, “We’ll know if any strangers turn up tomorrow for the service.”

 

****

 

A reorganization of deputies’ schedules had resulted in a change for Tempe. She worked days and had weekends off. She could still be called out any day or night when a resident had an emergency. This wasn’t much of an improvement over working the evening shift and having Monday and Tuesday off because as before, no one hesitated to call her for even silly reasons, no matter the day or time.

She’d nearly finished braiding her long dark hair into a single queue when the phone rang.

“I hope that isn’t anything that will delay us,” Hutch called from the kitchen. “We’re running late as it is. It’s a good idea for the preacher to arrive on time.”

She smiled at Hutch’s remarks before she answered, “Deputy Crabtree.”

“Hey, Deputy, this is Miqui Sherwood.”

Miqui lived in a house on a hill looking over much of downtown Bear Creek. Because she liked to spend time on her expansive front porch, she often knew more of what was going on in town than anyone else.

“Yes, Miqui, what can I do for you?”

“I’m hoping to do something for you. If you and Hutch don’t have any other plans, I’d like you to come over after church and join me and my house guests for lunch.”

“House guests? Who are you hosting now?” Tempe couldn’t keep the surprise she felt out of her voice. Earlier in the year, Miqui had shared her home with two couples during a horrific storm. Besides being unpleasant and demanding, one of them turned out to be a murderer.

“I heard about the hard time some of the movie people were having finding a place to stay so I put an ad on the bulletin board at the post office. Guess who answered the ad?” Miqui sounded pleased.

“I have no idea.”

Hutch hollered again. “Hurry, Tempe, I don’t want to be late.”

“Miqui, I’ve got to go.” Tempe agreed to accept the invitation in order to end the conversation. “What time do you want us?”

 

****

 

She didn’t tell Hutch about their luncheon engagement until church was over and he’d told the last of his congregation goodbye.

“Have you thought about where we should eat?” Hutch asked.

“To be honest, you know that phone call I got before we left this morning?”

He nodded.

“It was Miqui Sherwood inviting us to lunch.”

“Really, and you agreed?”

“It seems she’s putting up a couple of the movie people and wants us to meet them.”

Hutch opened the passenger side of his truck. “Oh, my goodness. Didn’t she learn her lesson the last time?”

Tempe climbed in and waited to respond until he’d come around to the driver’s side. “Apparently not.”

He started the engine and began backing out of the parking lot. “When?”

She glanced at her watch. “Right now?”

“What holiday is she celebrating?” Hutch asked.

“I have no idea. St. Patrick’s Day and Easter have passed. What else is there?”

“Seems kind of early, but I wouldn’t be surprised if she’s not decorated for Fourth of July already. It’s only three weeks away.”

Miqui was known for her lavish decorations for every popular and obscure holiday. As they drove up the hill to her house, the first thing they noticed was her mailbox decked out in red and white stripes and a scatter of stars on a strip of blue.

“You’re right. Fourth of July it is.”

American flags on wooden posts lined both sides of the circular driveway. Another flag fluttered from a stand on top of a pile of decorative river rock. Displayed on a metal holder on the front porch, a large American flag waved in the slight breeze.

Hutch parked his truck behind a bright yellow Hummer and a red Cadillac convertible with a black top. “Whoever these people are, they must have plenty of money.

No sooner had they stepped on the porch that went the length of the front of the house when the door opened. Miqui greeted them, her short, blonde hair in a fresh and flattering bob. Blondie, her long-haired Doxie mix danced around her ankles, tail wagging, and her bark a high-pitched greeting. Cleo, Miqui’s other dog had recently passed away.

Miqui hushed her pet. “I’m so glad you could come. I do hope you’ve brought a hearty appetite. I made Indian tacos and Spanish rice.”

Though Miqui did have on a dark blue top with a series of American flags across the front and white slacks, the interior of her house displayed a different theme. Ceramic Native American figurines and tipis decorated the mantel and the tops of bookcases.

Tempe noticed a lanky white-haired man sitting in the armchair off to the right and a slightly past middle-aged woman in one of the dining chairs. Her prematurely gray hair swooped down to curve around a prominent chin. She peered at Tempe and Hutch over black-framed glasses.

Blondie remained close to Miqui, keeping her distance from the newcomers.

The man rose and held his hand out to Tempe first. “You must be the local law. I’ve heard a lot about you, Deputy. I’m Peter Yalinsky.” He released Tempe and toward Hutch.

Miqui hovered nearby. “I only said good things.”

“Indeed. From what she told us, you are certainly an asset to this community.” The woman stood, and moved close enough to also shake hands. “Gretchen Stone, Peter’s assistant.”

After an exchange of pleasantries, Miqui pointed to the table in the dining room. The centerpiece was a horn of plenty with oranges and apples spilling from it. “Come sit down. The food is ready to serve.”

Whenever Miqui moved, her small dog trotted close by, finally lying beside her mistress’s chair when she sat.

The others chitchatted about the differences of living in a small town and a big city while enjoying Miqui’s version of Indian tacos, spicy rice and a fruit salad. Tempe noticed the director spent a lot of time staring at her.

Finally he pushed his plate aside and said, “Tell me Deputy, have you ever considered changing your profession?”

What an odd question. “No, sir, I’m quite happy as a deputy. Why do you ask?”

“I can’t help noticing your appearance. With your long black hair and lovely tanned skin, you’d make a far better heroine for my movie than Delia West. Even with makeup and her hair dyed, she doesn’t look as much as I’d like for her to be a Native American.”

Tempe felt uncomfortable with his scrutiny and comments. “I’ve never had any desire to be an actress. I don’t think it matters too much that Ms. West doesn’t match your idea of what an Indian should look like. If you spend much time on the reservation, you’ll see plenty of folks who don’t look like most people’s idea of Indians.”

Miqui offered and served coffee.

“I have noticed that. Fortunately there are plenty who do that I’ve hired for small parts and to serve as extras.” He continued to stare at her. “You would certainly be perfect.”

“Thank you, I guess, but I have absolutely no interest in acting.” Tempe sipped her coffee. “How is the movie progressing? Are things working out on the reservation?”

“We’re moving along.” Yalinsky poured cream into his coffee and stirred. “It would be easier if the Tribal Council didn’t have so many rules.”

“What kind of rules?” Hutch asked.

“The biggest problem has been housing our crew. We feel fortunate that Miqui was kind enough to rent rooms to Gretchen and me. We’ve promised not to be much trouble. In fact, we will be gone much of the time. Our people are scattered here and there. The shooting schedule will be grueling. We’ve been held back by not being allowed free access to every place on the reservation, but we’re making do.” Yalinsky glanced at his watch.

Tempe frowned. “I’m curious. Where can’t you go?”

“They don’t want us filming on the campground in the mountains though it seemed a perfect place to film, secluded and wonderful scenery. Another was the Painted Rock Shelter.”

“Both places are considered sacred,” Tempe said.

Gretchen Stone leaned forward. “They’ve given us access to plenty, the casino inside and out, all the public buildings, the old sawmill, even the sweat lodge. We’ll be able to shoot our script quite adequately.”

Yalinsky turned toward Gretchen. He scowled at her for a moment, before rearranging his face and smiling again at Tempe. “It’s time we got moving. Thanks for the lunch, Miqui. Don’t worry about dinner. The casino is catering our meals while we’re working.”

He shoved his chair back and stood. “Nice meeting you, Deputy. Think about what I told you. The pay is far better for a movie actor than a deputy.” He put his hand out to Hutch who took it and smiled.

Blondie yapped and Miqui picked her up.

Tempe knew the director didn’t remember her husband’s name. “Glad to meet you both, but I don’t plan to change my profession.”

Yalinsky pulled his black leather jacket from the back of his chair and slung it over his shoulder.

Ms. Stone smiled at everyone, grabbed a briefcase from the floor and followed her boss.

Once they’d gone, Miqui sat back down. “Well, what did you think?”

“What should I think?” Tempe asked.

 Miqui grinned. “Maybe you should consider what he suggested.”

“No way.” Tempe reached out and squeezed Hutch’s arm.

“I’m glad you didn’t accept his offer,” Hutch said. “But at least the man realizes how beautiful you are and much more suited to play the part of an Indian than his star.”

“Thank you, Sweetheart. Being an Indian doesn’t mean I would be any good at acting.”

“You probably could do anything you put your mind to.”

“I agree,” Miqui said. “Don’t you think it would be fun, hanging out with those movie people?”

“Nope. I suspect it’s a lot more work than anyone realizes. I’ll stick to keeping reckless drivers off the road and doing what I can to keep folks safe.”

Miqui began stacking the dishes. “I know their working hours are horrible. I got a look at the schedule.”

Hutch stood. “Let us help with cleanup.”

“No, no, no. I invited you because I knew this was probably the only meal that they would have here except for breakfasts. I thought it might be fun for you to meet them.”

Tempe ignored her and picked up both hers and Hutch’s plates. “It was interesting, but I’m surprised you were willing to take in anyone else after the bad experience you had before.”

“What are the chances of another of my guests being a murderer?” Miqui giggled.