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Murder in Maggie Valley (A KEPS Cozy Mystery)

By Kasandra Elaine

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Chapter One

The view of the towering mountains, shrouded with color, captivated Edna Pidgeon as she and her sister-in-law finished their long drive from Texas. “Klara, would you just look at this view.” The hardwood trees created a sort of patchwork quilt as they ended their yearly cycle, setting the mountains ablaze with red, golden yellow, and orange. The Smokey Mountains lived up to their reputation.
“Gorgeous. Wish we had come here before…”
Klara didn’t have to finish her sentence. Edna felt the same way. She cleared her throat of the tears clogging it. Get a grip. It’s been five years. “Do you have the directions to the rental office?”
Klara reached up to the sun visor where she had put the North Carolina map and some brochures she had picked up along their journey. “The directions should be up here.” She pulled out a folded piece of copy paper. “Here it is.”
“What’s the exit number?” Klara told her, and Edna calculated the distance from their current location. “About three miles. That’s great. I’m tired of sitting.”
“I know. I think my backside will be numb forever.”
A half hour later, Edna steered the small SUV onto a shaded cul-de-sac where eight cabins were located. She pulled to a stop in front of the second one. “Well, this is it.” Edna turned off the ignition of her small SUV and smiled at Klara. “Shall we check out our temporary home?” She opened the door, stepped out, and stretched her arms over her head. Their home-away-from-home was a log cabin nestled on the side of a hill.
Klara slid from the vehicle, stretched as well, and then twisted from side to side to work the kinks from her back. “God painted a pretty picture for us to enjoy while we’re here.” She lifted her digital camera and snapped a picture.
Edna took in the peaceful view, took a deep breath of the clean, mountain air, and thought about their trip and their hopes for the future. They had driven all this way from Texas to enjoy the beautiful fall colors and to refine the recipe for a new pastry they hoped to market, so they could earn some extra cash. The journey had been exhausting, but the spectacular scenery made up for the long trip. Edna prayed the pastry would turn out as well as the scenery.
No one rushed to unload the SUV for them, and another pang of loss surged through Edna’s heart. Tears stung her eyelids. She blinked to dismiss the tears before Klara noticed them. Edna ran her hands through her short, graying hair. She missed Wade. He had always joked he was just the muscle and she was the brain in their marriage. She could use his muscle right now. Enough of that, Edna. Get busy. As she obeyed her own advice and trudged to the back of the SUV, she heard loud voices coming from one of the cabins further down the drive.
“Seems we have some noisy neighbors.” Edna removed some of their belongings and set them on the porch of the cabin.
“I hope it’s not like this for the whole two months we’re here.” Klara dropped a large suitcase that landed with a loud thud.
The voices grew louder as Edna climbed the steps of their cabin and unlocked the door, pushing it open. “Call me crazy, but I don’t think that’s just loud talking. Sounds like an argument to me.”
Klara glanced up the gravel drive. “Maybe they’re moving. There’s sure a lot of furniture on the porch.”
Edna nodded and grunted as she hoisted a heavy box containing their stand-mixer and some other kitchen utensils. “Maybe so. I know the few times Wade and I moved during our marriage we had several moments of ‘intense fellowship’ as Pastor Wayne used to say. Maybe that’s what they’re doing.” Edna shoved the bulky box onto the kitchen table just inside the door. “But you know, I thought all these cabins were rental units. They shouldn’t be moving the furniture.”
“I know. The contract states that we’re not to even move the furniture around inside the cabin, or we’ll have to pay a penalty. That rental agent, Talley Myers, sure was adamant about that point when we picked up the key just now.” Klara shook her head. “I wonder what happens if you move the furniture outside onto the porch?”
Klara carried a large suitcase up the stairs and into the great room. As Edna struggled to get another box of supplies into the cabin, there was a loud crash, like glass breaking, coming from the direction of the argument.
Edna shoved the box onto the stove then peeked out the door toward the middle cabin. “Sounds like they’re having a moment of ‘extremely intensive fellowship’ bordering on the violent side.”
Klara giggled as she stared up the way. “Could be she had a vase he didn’t want to pack, so he broke it.”
“I never thought about breaking things before I packed them. Could have saved a lot of boxes that way.” Edna paused as a strange feeling stole over her. “But seriously, maybe we’d better rethink staying here.”
“We might do that…” Klara grunted as she lugged another suitcase into the cabin. “…if we could get our money back.” She got it inside and plopped onto one of the dining chairs. “Tell me again why we felt the need to bring all of this junk with us?”
Edna lifted her tote filled with vitamins and medicines, but as she did, she heard a loud bang and then a woman’s shrill voice. Pivoting toward the noise, Edna saw a blonde woman wearing a red sweater and dark pants storm out of the cabin. Edna spotted Klara’s head at the edge of her vision as Klara leaned out to watch the commotion.
“Donald Oliver, you can rot in...”
Edna gasped at the woman’s language.
“And I wouldn’t lift a finger to save you.” The woman screamed her words over her shoulder as she stomped down the steps.
A tall, dark-haired man burst out of the cabin holding a white cloth to his head. “Well, you tried to send me there, didn’t you?”
“Too bad I didn’t hit you just a little harder; then maybe I would’ve succeeded.” The woman jerked her car door open.
“If you’re not careful, you may make it down there before me.” He moved the cloth from his head but pressed it against his forehead after a brief glance. “Don’t bother coming back. There’s nothing for you here.”
As she slid into her vehicle, the woman yelled, “I’ll get what I want, and nothing you can do will stop me.” The car door slammed, and the engine roared to life. Dust flew as she sped away.
“Wow, that’s one angry woman.” Klara disappeared back inside the cabin.
“Sounds that way and seems she’s not too fond of that guy. From the way he held that rag, the glass we heard breaking must have been over his head.” Edna bent down to pick up a suitcase.
Before walking inside, Edna glanced at the cabin next door and noticed a woman standing on the porch.
“Hello.” The woman called and waved at Edna. “I hope you don’t think it’s always this noisy around here.”
A man came out of the cabin, and the couple walked down their steps and moved toward Edna. “Welcome, we’re Roger and Gloria Harris. That’s never happened before. Usually, Mr. Oliver is quiet and keeps to himself.” Gloria glanced toward the scene of the argument. “I don’t have any idea who the woman was, but, hopefully, she won’t be back.”
“Let’s hope not.” Edna smiled. “I’m Edna Pidgeon. My sister-in-law, Klara, and I are hoping for a couple of months of peace and quiet.”
“For the most part, that’s what you’ll find around here. Maybe we can visit after you two get settled. Roger and I are going into Waynesville.” Gloria followed her husband to their small car. “We’ll see you later.”
When Edna entered the main room of the cabin, Klara lounged in a large, overstuffed chair with her feet propped up on the matching footstool.
“Who were you talking to?”
Edna explained as she hurried to the bathroom. A moment later, she came out. “Now, I feel much better.” Edna propped her fists on her hips. “The rest of our stuff isn’t going to walk itself into the cabin.”
Klara groaned and dropped her feet to the floor. “Just where is Mitch when I need him?”
“Same place as Wade is.” Edna stuck out a hand to help Klara rise.
“Yeah, the rats.”
Thirty minutes later, Edna finished hanging her clothes in the large closet and went back to the living room. Klara rested in the same chair as before. “You got your things put away?” Edna sank onto the couch.
“Sorta.”
“Meaning your suitcases are lying on the bed with your clothes still inside.” Edna shook her head. “They’re going to have permanent wrinkles.” Klara shot her an impish grin.
“Can’t get much more wrinkled than they got on the trip here. I’ll unpack them later.”
Edna closed her eyes and let her head rest against the high back of the couch. After allowing herself a short rest, she decided they’d better take a trip to town now, or they’d put it off until dark. “Are you ready to go buy some groceries and get the fixin’s for KEPS?”
Klara groaned. “Not really, but if we want to eat, I guess we’d better. And I’d rather do it now and get it over with.”
#
The next morning, Edna removed a fried KEPS from the hot oil as Klara emerged from her bedroom.
“That smells wonderful.”
“I thought I’d fry up a batch of KEPS for breakfast.” Edna grimaced and stared down at her chunky frame. “I can always use a few more calories.”
“Great. What do you have in mind to top them with?”
“I’ve cooked some fresh apples we bought with cinnamon and sugar.”
“Oh, that sounds good.” Klara moved to the refrigerator. “We can cook a couple of sausage patties, so we’ll have some protein with our meal.”
Just as Klara opened the refrigerator door, a piercing scream split the air.
Klara’s glance met Edna’s. Klara’s expression looked as frightened as Edna felt.
“What on earth?”
“I don’t know. Let’s find out.” Edna removed the last KEPS, turned off the burner, and walked to the door with Klara following close behind her.
The scream seemed to have come from the direction where the argument had happened the day before. The two women eased out onto the porch. Edna stared down the tree-lined lane and saw Gloria Harris standing in the middle of the drive in front of the cabin where Oliver and the woman had argued. Roger Harris held his wife in his arms. The sound of her sobs reached Edna’s ears.
A young couple ran up the drive to where the older couple stood. Edna and Klara hurried to join the group. As they arrived, the young woman squealed, and her hand covered her mouth. Her eyes grew wide, and her face paled. She grasped the young man’s hand.
Edna’s eyebrows rose, and she stared at Roger Harris.
Mr. Harris answered Edna’s unspoken question. “Mr. Oliver’s dead.”
Edna gasped. “What happened?”
“I’m not sure, but he’s layin’ in a pool of blood.”
Klara’s hand, resting on Edna’s shoulder, tightened at Mr. Harris’s words.
“I told you he shouldn’t have moved his furniture out of the cabin.”
At Klara’s whispered words, Edna had to stifle the giggle that wanted to escape. She swallowed hard and cleared her throat. “Are you sure he’s dead?”
Roger nodded. “Pretty sure.”
“Where’s the body?” Edna swiveled her head searching for Oliver’s body.
“Lying just at the edge of the RV.”
She and Klara had noticed Mr. Oliver carrying items from the cabin to the RV late yesterday afternoon as they sat on their porch. They had decided the man must be getting ready to leave the valley.
Edna eased closer to the RV. She could see Donald Oliver’s body lying on the ground. She closed her eyes and let out a long breath. “K…Klara, go call 911.” She forced her feet to inch toward the man lying on the ground. “Does anyone else here know CPR?”
“Ma’am, CPR won’t help that man.” Roger Harris continued patting his sobbing wife on the back.
Edna felt duty-bound to find that out for herself. After all, she did transcribe medical records. That gave her sort of a medical background, and she did know CPR. Donald Oliver, or at least the man they were assuming was Oliver, rested face down on the ground. Edna squatted beside the body, then reached out to touch the body, but jerked her hand back at the last moment. There was a lot of blood. She pressed her hand to her stomach. Maybe she could watch to see if he seemed to be breathing.
She focused on his back and prayed to see it rise. There was no movement. From what Edna could see of his skin, it was pale with a bluish tint, lifeless-looking. Just like Mr. Harris had said, this man was dead, and CPR wouldn’t help him. Edna rose and rushed back to where the Harris couple stood. She had to take several long, deep breaths to keep from being sick. Her hand trembled as she brushed a lock of hair from her brow.
Klara rejoined the group. “Ambulance’s on the way.”
The ever-thoughtful Klara handed Gloria Harris a bottle of water. Edna wished she had one as she tried to wet her lips. The remaining residents of the cabin community assembled in front of Oliver’s cabin. As they waited for the authorities, Gloria told Edna and Klara the names of the other cabin occupants. After that, no one spoke much. Once in a while, Edna would hear a mumbled comment or two but couldn’t make out much of what was being said.

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