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Authors: Radine Trees Nehring

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A Valley to Die For

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A Valley to Die For

Radine Trees Nehring

 

This novel is a work of fiction. Any references to real people and places are used only to give a sense of reality. All of the characters are the product of the author’s imagination, as are their thoughts, actions, motivations, or dialog. Any resemblance to real people and events is purely coincidental.

 

Ebook version

ISBN 978-1-60364-042-8

 

Edited by Elizabeth Whiteker

Cover design by Diana Tillison

Cover art by Cat Rahmeier

Copyright © 2002 by Radine Trees Nehring

First Edition 2002

 

Advance Praise


A Valley to Die For
, Radine Trees Nehring’s charming debut mystery, is a story of good people fighting for their beautiful Ozark valley. Readers will delight in Carrie McCrite, a spunky heroine who faces danger and finds love. A pleasure awaits mystery lovers.” —
Carolyn Hart
, author of the
Death on Demand
and
Henrie O
mysteries

“Author Radine Trees Nehring creates a fine heroine and a fascinating mystery story that gets better and better as the pages roll. My wife and I love this novel about mature people finding rewarding activity and adventure in later years—including doing successful detective work!”


Mike Flynn
, producer and host of the “Folk Sampler,” heard weekly on public radio

“It’s great to read fiction about the Ozarks that rings true, a book that is moral without being moralizing, and interesting without the obvious gratuitous happenings that mar so much fiction.
A Valley to Die For
has the clash of ‘progress’ with the inherent serenity of the hills and valleys of the Ozarks as its background theme. Its feisty and philosophical ‘come here’ heroine confronts in fiction some of the very problems this unique area of the nation is facing in reality.”


Dr. Fred Pfister
, editor of
The Ozarks Mountaineer

 

ACKNOWLEDGMENTS

Many menaces, procedures, and circumstances revealed in this novel were beyond my knowledge or experience when I began writing. I depended on information from a number of people around the United States, all experts in their fields, and I hereby acknowledge their willingness to help, and their patience with my questions. Any mistakes in details herein are my fault, not theirs.

Lt. Col. Dick Clohecy, US Army (Retired), and thirteen-year veteran of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office, is a resource any mystery novelist would be glad to have. Dick is a specialist in small arms, a competitive pistol shooter, and a firearms instructor. He explained hand guns, insisted I hold several types, and taught me about bullets and the damage they do. Dick helped create the “beer can bombs” used in this story.

Special thanks also to Ruby Nell and Bill Gladish, and Judy and Robbie Roberson, who taught me about caves and stone quarries. Ruby Nell, an expert caver, took me deep into “Carrie’s Cave.”

Expert archeological and geological information came from Don Dickson, an archeologist working for Historic Preservation Associates in Fayetteville, Arkansas, as well as from the staff of the Departments of Anthropology and Geology at the University of Arkansas, and Dr. Michael Hoffman, now retired, former curator at the University Museum, U. of A., Fayetteville.

Native American historical details and legal information came from former law clerk Marlon Sherman at the National Indian Law Library of the Native American Rights Fund; and from Walter Echohawk, a lawyer with NARF, headquartered in Boulder, Colorado.

At Cherokee Nation Headquarters in Tahlequah, Oklahoma, Chad Smith, then Tribal Prosecutor, now Principal Chief of the Nation; and Richard L. Allen, Ed.D, Research and Policy Analyst, were wonderful sources of historical and legal information.

Mary Jane Lenz, Curator in the National Museum of the American Indian at the Smithsonian, was another friendly and knowledgeable contact. Ms. Lenz helped me work out the Smithsonian’s small but important place in this novel.

My sincere thanks to Ozarks story tellers, Richard and Judy Dockery Young, who know all the tall tales re-told by Roger Booth.

Thanks, also, to the men and women of the Benton County Sheriff’s Office and the Gravette Police Department. I have worked and spoken with many of them for several years, and I’m sorry there isn’t space to name everyone. Special thanks are due, however, to former Detective J. R. Gibbs of the Gravette Police Department and Lieutenant Kenny Farmer and Sergeant Danny Varner of the Bella Vista Division, Benton County Sheriff’s Office. They were the ones who most often answered my questions when I was stuck on a detail.

Thanks also to Dodie Evans, Editor of the Gravette News Herald. He’s a terrific local research assistant!

And a big hug and thank you to my husband, John Nehring, who stands by to help with computer fix-its and so often does “the other things” while I write.

All of you—named and un-named—those close by as well as those I will never meet in person, are invaluable parts of this story. I find memories of each of you within its pages.

 

 

Radine Trees Nehring

 

Dedication

To Barbara Brett

 

INTRODUCTION

August, four years ago

The man still looked like he was trying to swallow a sour pickle whole.

Carrie watched in silence as he jumped in the moving van, jerked it into gear, and began the winding climb toward the county road.

He hadn’t even smiled when she handed him the cashier’s check. About all he had done through the long afternoon was carry and sweat and frown. And swear. Actually, swearing was what she’d heard most from the three people in the moving crew—including the woman, who looked like she could lift a refrigerator by herself. The movers swore at the trees, the rocky, uneven ground, the heat, and probably at her too, when she was out of earshot.

She hadn’t gathered enough courage to complain about the swearing. They were, after all, carrying her possessions.

Now, at last, they were gone. Carrie stood on the concrete pad in front of her garage and watched the cloud of dust on the road thin and settle. Then the grinding thunder of the truck engine faded and, except for insects, birds, and other forest creatures, she was alone.

She leaned her head back to look into treetops that arched above her new home, a six-room log cabin full of wood smell and, now, full of boxes and partially arranged furniture.

Carrie put thoughts of house straightening aside for the moment. Rob would be here in the morning to help unpack and put up hooks and pictures and curtains. Other than finding something to eat and making her bed, settling in could wait.

She began to turn slowly, still looking up into the treetops. She was, she decided, performing a symbolic ritual—turning away from asphalt, traffic, lined-up buildings, and rushing people. She was also turning away from Mrs. Amos Anderson McCrite, city wife. She was now Carrie Culpeper McCrite, independent woman, and Ozarks forest dweller.

She stood in a green well with walls unbroken by anything but the narrow window of her lane to the road.

Actually, she couldn’t blame the moving people for swearing. The hole in the forest was cut for one small woman and one small house and car, not a moving van. She hadn’t thought of moving vans or lumber delivery trucks when she directed the worker who helped her make this clearing. She was only thinking of getting away from the city and living her own life—living in peaceful harmony with the creatures of the forest.

The forest creatures were fitting enough company for her. Forest creatures didn’t have money, and now she didn’t either, though Amos had promised, over and over, that they would eventually retire here in style.

Well, she was in the Ozarks all right, but she was also alone in the remnants of a world that had shattered when a bullet ended every plan Amos had made for both of them.

“Cut down in his prime,” they’d said, over and over. How stupid—STUPID—that sounded, especially when the words dripped with sympathy. Amos had been sixty-five. When was prime? If she, too, was prime, why had everyone but Rob treated her as if when Amos ceased to exist she did too?

After the awful stuff to do with his death was sorted out, moving to this Ozarks land, the dreaming place she and Amos had bought and held for their future, was all she could afford if she wanted to be independent. And she would do just fine here, no matter what everyone said.

Everyone but Rob. Her son, at least, felt she was capable of rational action.

So. It was time to move on, forget... She shook her head violently, but now the picture was back again... Amos, lying just over there on the hillside... and the blood...

Stop, STOP it! That was past, gone! She had prayed, asked for guidance, and she had listened. Well, tried to listen, and this felt right—a fresh start, a new life.

Next week she’d begin looking for a job in one of the nearby towns. Maybe McDonald’s. They hired senior citizens. Social Security and the surprisingly small amount Amos had left her weren’t going to stretch very far.

No matter how he insisted otherwise, Rob didn’t have room in his life for her, and he certainly didn’t have room in his apartment near the university.

A teaching assistant. Soon to be a Ph.D. She said it aloud, “Dr. Robert Amos McCrite.” But his life was foreign to her now, even more foreign than living alone in a forest.

Besides, she was independent, her own person. Except, except... she really wasn’t sure who that person might be.

Her family and friends said she should be considering a retirement village or apartment. Women of her age, they said, glancing at each other when they thought she couldn’t see them, simply did not go off and live alone in a forest.

Only Rob had supported her. She wasn’t sure he understood, but he’d helped her stand firm against dire forecasts about what might happen to her, off in “that wild, lonely place.”

Rob, at least, knew how un-lonely a forest could be.

“And,” he’d said to Velda and Dusty and Pat and the others, “she’s only seven miles from the town of Guilford, and there are neighbors less than a mile away. It isn’t a wilderness, after all.”

Now the sun was heading toward treetops in the west. Carrie stood very still as bird calls and cicada droning filled the air with throbbing twirps and hums. Her new world was noisier than the city had been, and she certainly wasn’t alone. There was life all around her. So, why did she feel—for the first time since she’d made the decision to move here—so small and frightened? Why did she feel so very much alone?

She blinked, then said, “Carrie McCrite, you will not cry!”

Hearing the words startled her even more than it did the pair of wrens hopping nearby, intent on catching a grasshopper.

The grunt of an engine being downshifted for a turn into her lane wiped out every other concern as she realized strangers were coming to this place, where all people would now be strangers.

She wasn’t ready. She needed more time! Carrie began a quick jog toward her front door, then halted.

No.

It was inevitable that strangers would come. She had to face that, so she might as well do it this very minute.

She lifted her chin and looked up the hill, standing firm as a battered grey truck bounced into view. The truck didn’t stop at the bottom of the lane, but turned boldly onto the parking pad. Carrie backed up, stumbled when her heel hit the front step, and sat down with a thump as the truck’s right front tire rolled to a halt beside her feet.

The driver’s door opened.

The first thing Carrie saw was shoe-polish black hair that frizzed every way but straight up. Then dark eyes in a dried apple doll face peered down at her over the truck’s hood, and a waxed-paper-wrapped sandwich sailed through the air, landing in her lap.

She’s very tall, thought Carrie, who felt frozen in place, incapable of getting up to greet her guest. It was as if she was standing aside, watching herself, and trying to figure out whether or not to be frightened.

The woman’s words rushed out. “You alone? Thought so, house didn’t look like it was being made ready for two, heard the movers leave, hope you like turkey, ‘n if you don’t, we’ll call it funny ham. We can sit here on the step and eat, y’don’t have to ask me in yet.”

The stranger was dressed in a faded chambray shirt and jeans tucked into stove-pipe boots. She came around the truck, stepped over Carrie’s feet as if they were obstacles she faced every day, and opened the passenger door to take out two bottles of lemonade and a package of cookies.

The tumble of words began again while she was folding her long legs to sit beside Carrie on the step. “JoAnne Harrington, your nearest neighbor.” A finger pointed. “Live that way along the ridge. Got high boots you can put on? After we eat, I’m headed to check on the Jerusalem artichokes by the old fence, thought you might want to come along. We can harvest them together this fall. I’ll share, they’re on your land anyway.”

The woman’s laugh was surprisingly girlish.

Carrie hadn’t the slightest idea what to say, but in a moment she began laughing too.

CHAPTER I

“If nothing else works, we’ll sit on the dynamite.”

That’s what JoAnne had said last Saturday, looking around at the seven of them, her eyes challenging any reluctance... or fear.

Impossible!

Carrie had looked around too, checking the expression on each face in Roger and Shirley’s living room. She was sure not a single one of them was willing to do such a stupid, dangerous thing, no matter how much they yearned to save the valley.

They’d all lived long lives, but that didn’t mean they were now willing to throw life away, to “put it on the line for a cause,” as JoAnne was urging them to do.

As far as Carrie was concerned, life became more precious with every passing year. It was not older people but the young ones who too often didn’t appreciate its value.

JoAnne hadn’t seemed to notice the silence that greeted her pronouncement, but then JoAnne was like that—single-minded, fearless, always a willing fighter for a cause she believed in—and bullheaded as a goat. Uh, no, that must be thickheaded as a goat. (One had to be completely honest, even about one’s best friend.)

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