Authors: Nikki Andrews
Tags: #mystery, #murder, #art
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either the product of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons living or dead, business establishments, events, or locales, is entirely coincidental.
COPYRIGHT © 2014 by Nikki Andrews
All rights reserved. No part of this book may be used or reproduced in any manner whatsoever without written permission of the author or The Wild Rose Press, Inc. except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews.
Contact Information: [email protected]
Cover Art by
The Wild Rose Press, Inc.
PO Box 708
Adams Basin, NY 14410-0708
Visit us at www.thewildrosepress.com
First Mainstream Mystery Edition, 2014
Print ISBN 978-1-62830-243-1
Digital ISBN 978-1-62830-244-8
Published in the United States of America
For Dave, who believes in me
“I didn’t want to put it down.”
~Julie MacShane, author
“Couldn’t help myself—stayed up till 2 a.m. to find out whodunnit.”
is a really fun read, lots of suspense and some wonderful characters in a novel setting.”
~ Jessie Salisbury,
journalist and romance author
“Andrews immediately moves her reader into an intimate knowledge of rural New England, where three would-be sleuths take their friendship to its limits in order to solve what may be the crime of the season.”
~Destine Graf, M.A. English and American Literature
“A gem of a cozy mystery.”
~Diane Breton, editor
The second snowstorm in two weeks bulged down out of Canada, threatening to close roads all across New England. Yaneque Duprey hoped it would hold off a couple more hours so she could finish her deliveries before the state police closed the highway over Temple Mountain. At the moment, a mean, nasty rain of small hard drops hissed on her windshield. Some of the drops were ice. Not a good sign.
Yaneque took justifiable pride in her new business, RunAround—“Let us RunAround for you!” A lot of people had tried to discourage her from offering the courier service, but back when she was still in high school running errands for her family and neighbors, she saw a need in the scattered little towns of southwest New Hampshire. It wasn’t long until she figured out a way to fill it. She ran regular pickups at the drugstore for the senior citizens’ homes, worked out a deal with a grocery store to deliver orders, and made herself available for packages that needed quick, personal service. She’d started small, with a beat-up old car she nursed along until she could afford a brand new PT Cruiser with her company logo painted on each side. Now, several years later, all the licenses and insurance had fallen into place and Yaneque had regular runs along the Keene-Mill Falls corridor. She was on her way to the Great American Dream—but snowstorms were a nightmare.
Why Jerry Berger chose today to call RunAround for a special delivery, she couldn’t imagine. All her other accounts understood about the weather, sometimes even phoning her to tell her to stay home. Not Jerry. He wanted this package out today, before noon, if you please. She assumed it was a painting; Jerry was an excellent artist with a widening reputation. She sighed and tucked a wayward braid under her knitted cap.
He’d better have the item packaged and ready. Today’s errands required four trips over the east-west Temple Pass, twice in each direction. Jerry’s errand would take her to Westford, near Mill Falls, where she would pick up a parcel for another client and run it west beyond Keene, practically to the Vermont border. At least Berger hadn’t quibbled about the mileage and fuel surcharges, the way her other client had. Jerry was like that; she didn’t hear from him for months, then he would have a rush job for her. This time was exceptional even for him, though. He wanted this item picked up and delivered so fast that on a good-weather day she’d have had to push the speed limit. Well, her contract allowed for weather delays. And she wouldn’t let him waste her time with his usual badgering about modeling for him.
Yaneque switched on her wipers and headlights as she downshifted for the last climb up to the old ski resort. Truckers coming toward her from the west flashed their four-way blinkers in warning. Snow whipped from the roofs of their trailers. She gritted her teeth and hoped her snow tires were all the sales rep had promised.
Spitting snow mixed with the rain by the time she got to Douglass, where Jerry lived and had his studio, just below the Temple Pass. In the distance, clouds shrouded the peak of Mount Monadnock and its long ridge wore white far down its shoulders, where it had already been snowing for some time. Maybe Temple Mountain would hold the storm to the west, as it often did. If the storm didn’t cross the pass, she could do Jerry’s errand and get home before the road closed, postponing the Vermont trip until tomorrow.
Jerry was pacing impatiently outside his door when she arrived. He clasped a paper-wrapped parcel under his arm, and his intense blue eyes were cloudy with worry. “Hey, Jerry!” she called as she lowered her window. “What’s the hurry on this one?”
The artist thrust the package at her with paint-stained fingers. He was in no mood for conversation. With none of his usual warmth he snapped, “Can you make it to Westford with this weather? I hear it’s gonna be bad.”
She set the small parcel on the seat beside her and held out a clipboard for him to sign. “Do my best, Jerry. It’s getting icy on this damned dirt road of yours. Why do artists always have to live back of beyond?” She shut her lips on the words. She hadn’t meant to open a conversation, not with this weather. He usually loved to talk about his work.
Not today, however. He shrugged and cast a worried eye down the road. “Cold out here. Gotta run. You be careful. Call me when you get to Westford, will you? I won’t rest easy ’til I hear it’s been delivered.”
“Sure,” she said, feeling uneasy. Berger looked very nervous. Pale, even. His fingers twitched and he bit at his lip. “You okay?”
“Touch of the flu, maybe. Go…go now before they close the pass.” He stepped back and made shooing motions as she negotiated a three-point turn in his muddy driveway. She really didn’t want to mess up her beautiful new car.
By the time she reached the highway, the snow was flying thick and fast. With every stroke of the windshield wipers it packed into a deeper mass, and they labored to deal with it. Yaneque turned up the heat and directed it to the windshield to try to melt some of the heavy, wet stuff as it built up. She passed one refrigerated truck that had abandoned the effort and parked on the side of the road in one of the little areas cleared between banks of snow for just that purpose. The PT Cruiser held steady on the climb, but with every couple of feet that she rose, the snow came down harder and visibility dropped. She was nearly on top of a logger before she spotted its four-ways blinking. She slowed to let him gain some distance.
As they crept up the road, Yaneque caught sight of the blue flashers of a state police car ahead. At the same moment, she realized no one was coming down from the other direction, and she gulped. The cops must have already closed the mountain westbound, and she would be the last car allowed in the pass eastbound. If only there were no cars strewn across the road on the east side, she might make it yet.
Jerry’s parcel had better be damned important!
The logger made slow but steady progress up the last steep incline, and Yaneque continued to hang back. At the top, on the very short level space before the road dove into the next valley, she pulled over to catch her breath. She shook with strain. A state trooper, his face blue with cold, peered into her window.
“You okay, miss?” he asked, clenching his teeth to keep them from chattering.
“Just taking a breather, Officer. Is it bad down below?”
“Road iced up real fast, and then with the snow on top, we’re having to close it ’til we get a salter up here. I can’t let you stay long, or you’ll never get down.”
She nodded. “Right. I’ll be fine. Take care of yourself.”
He stepped back and she put the car in gear, careful not to spin the tires. She felt the slipperiness under her as she regained the pavement. It was harder than ever to see.
The logger was already invisible in the thickening storm. Yaneque eased down the road, straining her eyes for any sign of the shoulder. Earlier traffic had churned a single lane in the middle of the road. She stayed in that as much as she could, but conditions were all but a whiteout. She thought the road should bend a little to the left just about here, or was it a little farther on? She peered through the shrinking cleared space on the windshield.
Without warning, a huge black mass loomed up out of the snow in front of her. Automatically, she slammed on the brakes. The rear of her Cruiser spun toward the shoulder; the front wheels jolted into something long and hard and Yaneque lost all control of the car. She had just an instant to realize the logger was jackknifed across the highway. She careened toward him at a ridiculous speed—how fast had she been going anyway? It couldn’t be this fast! Then she slammed into more logs. There was a sensation of flipping over. The airbag exploded in her face, and something hit her head very hard.
Damn, I’ll have to paint the car again.
Everything went black.
When Yaneque came to several days later, she couldn’t make her mind work very well. Eventually, she remembered setting out from her house that morning and feeling proud of her Cruiser—totaled, demolished, gone to the crusher, the nurses told her, relieved at her narrow escape—but she never recalled anything else. When she heard Jerry Berger and one of his models had been discovered dead in the snow miles away, she mourned the loss of a client but never connected him with her accident.
In time, the insurance paid for a new PT Cruiser. Yaneque got her logo painted on it and soon she was back on the road. Sometimes when she drove over the pass, she wondered if her memory would ever come back. As the years went by and her business grew, she ceased to worry about it. Most people would be happy to forget what she couldn’t remember.
Ten Years Later
“He stood on the
” Sue and Elsie screamed with laughter. The rickety old ladder they used to change light bulbs would provide dubious support for someone of Jim Hatcher’s heft.
“Just so he could see his framing?” Elsie Kimball asked.
Ginny Brent nodded, grinning. “I put it on an easel for him, but he just couldn’t picture it, so he had to stand on the ladder and have me put it on the floor—mats, frame and all. Then he sort of swiveled his hips so he could see from different angles. I thought the darned thing would fall over.”
The three women stood gathered around the design table at Brush & Bevel, Ginny’s art gallery and frame shop. It was a cozy place with warm, butter-yellow walls and clear lighting. Samples of artwork decorated the walls. All the classic media—oils, watercolors, and photography—were represented, as well as high-quality prints and unique mementos like a christening gown and some old crochet. The display changed on a regular basis, creating a moveable banquet for the eyes.
“Honest, you two would’ve been in hysterics.” Ginny laughed now, too, releasing the giggles she’d had such a hard time restraining while the customer was in the shop.
Sue Bradley looked at the print lying on the framing table, a photo of a classic train thundering over a trestle at night. “And it took you an hour to put a black mat and a black frame on this simple poster?” she asked in disbelief. “What else could you have put on it?”