Maggie Sefton
Maggie Sefton
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       Unraveled


EXCERPT

Kelly leaned against Jennifer's car door and watched a county police officer lead the ambulance crew into the cabin. One man pushed a gurney-type stretcher. Kelly recognized it from watching similar scenes before. First, there were questions, while others went to check the body. Then, there were more questions. Meanwhile, several officers wandered around the property and the outside perimeter of the cabin.

The ambulance crew had arrived right behind Peterson and his officers and had rushed inside as soon as the ambulance rocked to a stop in the bumpy dirt roadway. The siren's wail still echoed on the canyon's breeze. Peterson had been inside with the medical crew ever since. Meanwhile, a younger officer interviewed both Kelly and Jennifer. Now, another police officer wrapped bright yellow police tape around the porch railing.

"Oh, brother, I remember seeing that last year," Jennifer said, her expression changing. "The sight of that yellow tape brings up some baaaaad memories."

Kelly glanced over at her friend, who'd dramatically transformed her life since the traumatic events from last year when Kelly, Jennifer, and others were in this canyon for a special retreat. A man died while they were there. Murdered.

"Let it slide off, Jen. That was last year and another life ago. It's dust in the wind now."

Jennifer nodded. "You're right. It seems like another life long ago."

Lt. Peterson came out of the cabin and onto the porch. He glanced over at Kelly and Jennifer briefly, then approached an officer on the porch.

"Isn't Peterson going to talk with us?" Jennifer asked. "I'm going to have to get back to the office and talk with my broker before he leaves. I probably should have called him before the cops arrived."

"He'll be over in a minute. I can tell," Kelly said, watching Peterson talk with the young officer who interviewed them. "See, he's writing in his notepad. That's his procedure. I swear, I have it memorized by now."

"Well, this is the last time for me," Jennifer declared. "Even if that means I don't take any more canyon properties. I swear, I'm not gonna go through this again." Jennifer gave a finalized motion with her hand.

Kelly couldn't help but laugh. "C'mon, Jen, you know that doesn't make sense. Besides, the statistical probability of something like this happening again is—"

Jennifer's hand cut her off. "You know what they say about statistics, don't you? They're liars, or some such thing."

Kelly didn't bother to correct Jennifer's memory about the famous quote. Besides, true to form, Detective Peterson was headed their way, trusty notepad in hand.

"Hello, Ms. Flynn, Ms. Stroud," Peterson said, a grin spreading. "Imagine my surprise to find the two of you up here in the canyon at yet another death scene. Perhaps you both should reconsider visiting the canyons for a while, in the interest of public safety, you understand."

Kelly spotted the twinkle in Peterson's eye, but Jennifer jumped right in. "I told Kelly I'm not driving up here again with her. In fact, I'm not sure I want to list any more canyon properties."

"Well, it is a recession, Ms. Stroud," Peterson advised sagely. "You might not want to be hasty. Just leave Ms. Flynn at home."

"You got that right."

"Hey, I simply came along for the ride," Kelly joined in the teasing. "Jennifer promised pretty views. Nothing was said about dead bodies."

Peterson flipped through his notepad, all business again. "Ms. Stroud, you said you'd met your client Fred Turner about a week ago and had spoken to him several times, both in person and on the phone. And he had never said anything that sounded like he wanted to end his life, correct?"

Jennifer nodded. "Yes, sir. Turner was all business all the time. He's been buying and selling properties for years, and he's quite successful. He likes. . .uh, liked to buy low and sell higher, if he could." She gestured to the cabin. "This was a property he acquired through a defaulted loan, and he wanted to make a good deal on it because of the location. As you can see, it's a beautiful setting."

Peterson glanced around. "Yes, it is. Did you have a buyer yet?"

"As a matter of fact, we did. That's another reason I invited Kelly up here, because it was one of her business clients who gave us a purchase offer only three days ago. Arthur Housemann of Fort Collins."

Peterson scribbled in his notepad, then glanced up at Kelly. "Had your client mentioned he was making an offer, Ms. Flynn?"

"Yes, he had. He said he'd been looking for mountain properties when this came on the market." Kelly deliberately didn't add Housemann's long-term fascination with the property. Those were details of a private conversation.

"Had you spoken with Turner today, Ms. Stroud?"

"No, I hadn't," Jennifer answered. "I was simply driving up here to put a Sale Pending banner across the sign, and I thought Kelly would enjoy the drive." Jennifer paused, then continued. "On the way up here, however, I had a call from Turner's assistant who told me that Turner had an appointment scheduled here this morning with a Mr. Birmingham who wanted to make an offer on the property. Apparently this man left a message on the office voice mail."

Peterson peered at Jennifer. "You mean he didn't contact you? Earlier you'd said you were Turner's real estate agent. Why didn't this Birmingham contact you through your agency?"

Jennifer gave him a wry smile. "That's what I'd like to know. And why Turner would meet with a new client without letting me know. The property is clearly listed by my company, and I'm the selling agent."

Kelly decided to jump in at this point. "That's exactly right, Detective Peterson. We drove up here and saw Turner's truck. I waited on the front porch and Jennifer walked in and found him dead."

"And there was no one else here?" Peterson asked Jennifer.

Jennifer hesitated. "No, sir, but as Kelly and I drove along the canyon road, we saw a blue truck come out of this driveway and turn in the direction of Fort Connor. I think I recognized the woman driving the truck. It was Turner's wife, Renee."

Peterson stared at Jennifer with interest but said nothing. He simply wrote in his notepad. "Had you met her before, Ms. Stroud? You said you recognized her."

Jennifer glanced away, and Kelly could tell her friend was uncomfortable. "Yes, I'd seen Mrs. Turner come into her husband's office while I was there going over the listing contract. She'd... she'd been showing up at the office several times recently. Our real estate offices are on the same floor as Turner's office, so I've seen her several times. And, Turner's assistant, Anita, told me that Turner and his wife are in the midst of a divorce right now."

Again, Peterson watched Jennifer, then scribbled down everything she said. "I see," was his only comment.

But Kelly spotted Peterson's unmistakable signs of the detective's peaked interest. After watching Peterson in action for three separate investigations, Kelly had begun to recognize his body language. Not so, the formidable and less friendly Lieutenant Morrison of the Fort Connor Police Department. He and Kelly seemed to square off whenever they met.

"Turner never mentioned the divorce to me," Jennifer said earnestly.

Kelly decided to venture in again, even though it was none of her business. Simply to shift Peterson's focus away from Jennifer for a minute. Let her catch her breath. "You know, that gun he used looked kind of old to me, Detective," she said, deliberately changing the subject for a second. "I'm not an expert on guns or anything, but I've never seen a pistol that looked exactly like that before. What kind is it? Did you recognize it?"

Peterson gave Kelly a slow smile. "Well, you're right about it being old, Ms. Flynn. I'm not sure exactly how old yet, but our forensics people will be able to tell once they take a look at it." Then, he eyed Kelly. "You made sure you didn't touch anything or disturb the body, correct?"

She shook her head. "Absolutely not, Lieutenant. I know better than that."

Peterson actually chuckled. "Well, considering this is the third time you've been present when we've come to investigate a death, I imagine you have paid attention to our procedures, Ms. Flynn. Plus, your track record for conducting your own investigations into past cases is quite good."

"Thank you, Detective. That's high praise coming from you," Kelly said with a grin.

"I don't sense the same interest on your part, Ms. Stroud," Peterson said.

Jennifer shook her head vehemently. "No, sir. I try to block all of that out. Kelly's the one who likes to poke around in crimes. We call it 'sleuthing.'"

This time, Peterson laughed out loud, glancing to Kelly who shrugged good-naturedly. She was used to her friends' teasing. "That's a sensible attitude, Ms. Stroud."

Just then the ambulance crew started backing out of the cabin door with Turner's body wrapped in a white covering on top of the gurney-stretcher.

"Okay, you two, you know the drill," Peterson continued. "We may contact you again for further questions, so stay in town."

"Wait a minute, Lieutenant," Kelly said as he turned to walk away. "I almost forgot. While Jennifer was calling you guys to report, I was standing by the corner railing, and I saw a bearded man in a blue plaid shirt hiding in the bushes, listening."

"What! And you didn't tell me?" Jennifer cried aghast.

"I figured you'd been spooked enough."

Peterson flipped open his trusty notepad and began to scribble. "Can you describe the man?"

"He was obscured by the bushes, and I only had a fleeting glimpse of him. He had a light brown beard about three or four inches long and his brown hair was long and shaggy to his shoulders. And he clearly didn't want to be seen, because once he noticed me looking at him, he bolted."

Peterson scribbled. "Anything else, Ms. Flynn?"

Kelly paused for full effect. "Oh, yes. He was carrying a shotgun draped across his arm."

Peterson looked up at that, while Jennifer gasped.

©Maggie Sefton


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Maggie Sefton: Knitting Mysteries