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Authors: Jeff Shelby

Last Resort

BOOK: Last Resort
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Last Resort

By Jeff Shelby

 

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 any persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

 

LAST RESORT

All rights reserved.

Copyright ©2014

cover design by Eden Crane Designs

 

 

This book is protected under the copyright laws of the United States of America. Any reproduction or unauthorized use of the material or artwork herein is prohibited without the expressed written consent of the author.

Books by Jeff Shelby

The Joe Tyler Novels

THREAD OF HOPE

THREAD OF SUSPICION

THREAD OF BETRAYAL

THREAD OF INNOCENCE

 

The Noah Braddock Novels

KILLER SWELL

WICKED BREAK

LIQUID SMOKE

DRIFT AWAY

 

The Moose River Mysteries

THE MURDER PIT

LAST RESORT

ALIBI HIGH (OCTOBER 2014)

 

The Deuce Winters Novels (Under the pseudonym Jeffrey Allen)

STAY AT HOME DEAD

POPPED OFF

FATHERS KNOWS DEATH

 

 

Short Story Collections

OUT OF TIME

ONE

 

The airport shuttle careened to the left and Jake's body slid into mine.

“Really hoping I don't need to visit the E.R. before we get to the gate,” he said, wincing. One minute earlier, he'd slid the other direction, his shoulder colliding with the window.

“I know first aid,” I told him.

We were on our way to our first vacation since we'd gotten married. It was a pseudo-honeymoon—at least, that's what we were calling it. I'd entered us in a drawing at Olga Stunderson's mortuary at her urging and, after her brother's murder was solved, we found out that we'd won. It seemed like a just reward after the mess of finding a body in our basement and basically being accused of murder.

But we hadn't gone on the trip right away. Not just because it was the dead of winter and sun and warmth didn't make its way back to Minnesota until May, but because we'd spent a fair amount of money remodeling the basement and coal chute so that it could never be used as a dumping spot for dead bodies ever again. So we planned the trip for the beginning of the summer. We had a better shot of not seeing snow and I felt comfortable leaving the kids for a few days with my parents so that Jake and I could finally take a little quiet time for ourselves. We'd parked the car in a lot just outside of the airport in Minneapolis and were now fearing for our lives as our driver kicked the shuttle into high gear. He seemed determined to win a race we didn't know we were participating in.

The loudspeaker in the shuttle crackled to life. “Folks, my name's Ken and I'm your shuttle driver this morning.” He paused. “I'm a little different than other drivers you may have had.”

“Unlicensed?” Jake whispered.

“Folks, back when I was in the Marine Corps – SEMPER FI! – in San Diego, well this one morning I was trying to make my flight and my old buddy Jasper said he knew a short cut to the airport.”

I looked at Jake, my eyes wide. The way he was chatting with us made it seem like we were sitting at a bar with him, shooting the breeze. Except he was driving a massive shuttle like a crazy person and we weren't buckled in.

Ken the driver continued. “Well, turns out he didn't know squat and I ended up missing my flight in San Diego, which meant I missed out on a little R and R with this cute girl up in San Francisco I'd met a few weeks before.” His voice was inordinately loud for six in the morning. “Well, folks, on that day, I promised myself that I would make sure no one would ever miss their flight again on my watch.”

“He knew he was going to be an airport shuttle driver back then?” I whispered.

Jake nodded. “It's a calling.”

The shuttle jerked forward as Ken dropped the accelerator to the floor again and all of us jerked right along with the shuttle. I glanced at the other passengers; a man in business attire and a couple who were easily my parents age, dressed in Hawaiian shirts and bermuda shorts. They were holding on for dear life, too.

“I promise you today,” he hollered into the speaker. “No one is going to miss their flight on account of me. That makes me different than all of the other drivers you might have had in the past.”

“You don't say,” Jake whispered.

“Nothing—I repeat, nothing!—will prevent me from getting you folks to your airline on time this morning,” he shouted. “So...sit back and enjoy the ride!”

Five minutes later, the shuttle tore through the airport entrance, leaned on two wheels around a curve and skidded to a halt in front of our airline. We grabbed our bags and got out just before Ken slammed the doors closed, hit the accelerator and peeled out on his way to his next stop.

“We could've just had him drive us to the resort,” I said as we walked into the terminal.

“Probably would've beaten the plane,” Jake said.

The airport was more crowded than I'd expected for six in the morning and we got into the security line with the other travelers. I hitched my purse on my shoulder and pulled my roller bag behind me. Jake had his bag and was scrolling through messages on his phone. He'd taken the week off from work but it didn't mean he was totally checking out from the energy plant. He didn't have it in him and I wouldn't have wanted him to.

“Kids will be fine, right?” I asked as we serpentined our way through the line.

“They'll be fine,” he said automatically.

“They won't lose any of them, right?” My parents were not high on the trusted-babysitter list, even though they were staying at our house and even though we'd secretly told Emily, our fifteen year-old, that she was second-in-charge.

“If they do, let's hope it's the one we like the least.”

“Jake.”

He shoved his phone back in his pocket and put his around me and kissed my forehead. “They'll be fine. We're not even gone for a week and we can Skype them if you want to see them.”

“Like my parents will know how to use Skype.”

“Well, of course they won't know how,” Jake said. “Will can show them.”

“Good point,” I said, thinking about the thirteen year-old kid who knew more about computers than everyone else in the house put together.

We threw our bags on the conveyor belt, partially disrobed so that the TSA could see we weren't concealing knives or bombs in our underwear, and made it through the x-ray machine and scanner a few minutes later. We grabbed our stuff, slipped our shoes back on and headed to our gate, stopping to grab coffee before we found seats in the gate area while we waited.

I took the lid off my coffee and blew across the surface. “We should've just driven. It would've only been about a three hour drive.”

Jake shrugged. “So? We won a trip, which included airfare. Feels more like a vacation if we're terrorized by an airport shuttle driver and frisked by TSA.”

I nodded, sipping at the coffee. “I guess. I'm just hoping it's as amazing as it looked on the website.”

Jake took a long swallow of his coffee, grimacing as he burned his tongue. He set the cup on the empty seat next to me. “It's a lakefront resort. Five stars. All expenses paid. It's going to be awesome.”

The website had indeed looked awesome. Views of a pristine, azure lake. Photos of large, spacious rooms and an aerial view of a charming, boutique resort. Restaurants and lake beaches nearby. Access to boats and jet skis along with hiking and walking trails. All of this during the short season Minnesota calls summer. Jake had quickly figured out that summers were the best part of living in Minnesota. Warm temperatures during the day, cool temperatures at night, sunsets that went on seemingly forever. Sure, he wasn't a fan of the mosquitoes or the humidity that sometimes reared its ugly head, but he'd hailed from Texas and I'd spent years in Atlanta—summer in Minnesota was heaven on earth compared to those places.

More than anything, though, the reason we'd decided to go was because we needed a break. Between the kids, Jake's job and the ongoing renovation projects in the house, we were both exhausted. We needed a chance to recharge our batteries. So when I'd gotten the call that I'd won the drawing for the trip to Windy Vista Resort on Lenzen Lake north of Duluth, I'd jumped at the chance. Thankfully, Jake hadn't needed much convincing. We'd grabbed a calendar and found our dates and booked the trip.

The woman at the podium came over the loudspeaker and announced that we were about to begin boarding.

Jake patted my arm. “I'm excited. Can't believe you won it.”

“Right? I never win anything.”

It was true. The only other thing I'd ever won was a prize from a PTA raffle back when I'd lived in Georgia. Emily was five and we were visiting the local elementary school to check things out. I'd dutifully paid a couple bucks for the PTA raffle fundraiser and Emily and I went on our way, touring the school. She'd dissolved into tears once she saw the kindergarten classroom—“Where is
your
chair, Mommy?”—and announced she wasn't going. After meeting with the draconian kindergarten teacher and the principal who looked and acted like Miss Havisham, I'd concurred. We'd left the school with her in tears and me determined to look into kindergarten alternatives. We'd also left with a certificate for a free dog grooming, courtesy of the PTA raffle. And we didn't own a dog.

“We're going to have a good time,” Jake said, smiling.

I nodded. “You're right. It's going to be great. It's a lakefront resort and it's free. What could go wrong?”

 

TWO

 

 

I leaned forward and peered through the bug-splattered windshield of the rental car. “I think this is the right way.”

We'd landed on time in Duluth, found our rental car and after a few minutes plugging the address of Windy Vista into Jake's phone, we headed north, away from the city and into the rolling hills that hugged the shoreline of Lake Superior. The landscape shifted abruptly, from a bustling port town to virtual wilderness, the highway flanked by thick forest and lush greenery, the blue expanse of Lake Superior barely visible through the copse of trees. The highway took us in and out of tiny towns that reminded me of the tiny villages that dotted the Northeast coastline. The towns would pop up suddenly, the road morphing from a highway to a street lined with houses and antique shops and candy stores. Tourists strolled the streets with ice cream cones and the local kids buzzed by on bicycles, the sun glinting off the shiny rims and the wind whipping through their hair.

“This does not look like Minnesota,” Jake said, slowing as a young woman walking a large Newfoundland crossed the street.

“Because there's no snow?”

“Ha ha. No. Because of all this,” he said, waving his hand. “The hills, the little towns. This looks like a tourist town. You know, like some place people would actually want to visit.”

“That's because people do,” I told him. I grabbed my purse from the floor and pulled out a pack of gum. I unwrapped a piece and handed it to him. “I told you it was nice up here.”

“It's like a different state.” Jake gazed out the window, his jaw working as he chewed the gum. “It reminds me of Maine.”

I popped a piece of gum into my mouth. “You've been to Maine?”

“No.” He looked at me and grinned. “But this looks like what I think Maine looks like.”

“Well, this is Minnesota,” I told him. “You know, the state you hate nine months of the year.”

“I don't hate it,” Jake said. “I just don't like being cold.”

I rolled down the window and warm air rushed in. “Don't think we have to worry about that right now.”

“Good,” he said. The town disappeared behind us and he stepped on the accelerator. “Because the warmest thing I brought to wear is my swim trunks.”

I settled back into my seat and watched the scenery fly by: majestic pine trees, hawks soaring overhead, a small bi-plane headed to some small, country airport. There wasn't a cloud in the sky and I took a deep breath, allowing myself to sink even further into relaxation mode. Jake and I were on vacation. We had a beautiful resort lined up for our romantic getaway. And the kids would be fine.

Thirty minutes later, Jake pulled off the main highway and on to a county road. He handed me his phone with the map application open and I dictated directions as we traversed a maze of roads that led us further from the highway and further from Lake Superior.

“Aren't we supposed to be on the lake?” Jake asked, voicing my concerns.

“A lake,” I corrected. “It didn't say it was on Lake Superior.”

He shot a dubious glance in my direction.

“It's the land of ten thousand lakes,” I reminded him. “It's probably just on a smaller lake.”

He didn't answer and I glanced back down at the phone. According to the map, we were less than a block or so from the resort. My stomach jumped and it wasn't from bouncing on the gravel road we'd turned on to or giddy anticipation as we approached the resort.

Jake leaned forward over the steering wheel. “No. There must be two Windy Vistas.”

The knot in my stomach tightened and I looked up. A hand-painted sign identified the property we were approaching. Windy Vista, it read, the white painted letters cracked and peeling on the aged scrap of wood. There was a tiny guardhouse with a single strip of wood acting as a gate to keep out anyone who might want in. Looking up the hill and toward the property, we saw a dilapidated clubhouse, a pool encircled by a chain link fence...and mobile homes.

Jake glanced at his phone. “Let me type in the address again.” He tapped away on the screen, waited a moment, then frowned. “Still says this is it.”

“As does the sign,” I said, nodding at the piece of wood. “But this isn't what was on the website. Right? You saw it, Jake.” I suddenly wondered if I'd looked at the wrong site, if I'd confused things. Maybe this was all my fault.

He looked up from his phone. “This is most definitely not what was on the website.”

A golf car whizzed around us, skirted the gate and slid back onto the gravel road that led up to...wherever we were.

Jake pulled the rental forward and the gatehouse door opened. A woman wearing a purple tank top and denim shorts smiled at us. Her long gray hair was pulled back into a sloppy ponytail and the belly beneath the tank top would've suggested pregnancy except for the fact that I put her age around sixty.

“Look at her feet,” Jake whispered.

The woman was not wearing shoes. She glanced at us and then back down at a beat-up clipboard in her hands.

Jake rolled down the window. “Hi. We're looking for Windy Vista Resort?”

She nodded, her eyes roaming the clipboard. “Yep. You found it.”

“Uh. We were actually under the impression we were going to a resort?” I said, leaning across Jake. “On the lake?”

“Hotel will hopefully be under construction soon,” she said, still staring at the clipboard. She herself didn't sound convinced this statement was true. She waved a flabby arm out to her left. “And the lake is over that way. Not too far.”

I glanced at Jake. His head was back against the seat, his eyes closed, most likely praying that there was still a good answer for all this.

“You must be Mr. Gardner,” she said, leaning down to look in the car. “And the missus.”

“How did you...?” I asked.

“Ain't nobody else checkin' in today.” She looked down at the clipboard again, tapping it with her finger. “Oh my word! You all are the grand prize winners!”

“Ah, yes. I guess that's us. But...”

“Doncha know we've never had a single person take us up on that contest before?” she said, shaking her head. “Lots of winners, but never any takers. You're our first.”

“You don't say,” I said. I glanced at Jake. His lips were moving. I was pretty sure he was praying out loud now. Or cursing me. Either was a possibility. “You know, when I looked at the website...”

She rolled her eyes. “Oh, yeah. The website,” she said, chuckling. “Yeah, that thing was Harvey's big idea. Show people what he hopes it's gonna look like one day. Like if he wins the lottery or something.”

My stomach sank. “So there's no hotel?”

“No.”

“No spa?”

“Nope.”

“Restaurants?”

“Ice cream treats in the clubhouse. When I can get it open.”

“Lake views?”

“Sure, go stand on the hill and you might be able to see some water.”

Jake put his head on the steering wheel. “Great.”

“But we do have karaoke once a week over at the picnic shelter, the pool should be clean tomorrow, and we've got you in the nicest accommodations we can offer.”

“Dear God,” Jake whispered. “Dear. God.”

“And this is a great week to be here,” she continued, grinning. “The medallion hunt starts tomorrow and then we've got the parade at the end of the week.”

“Parade?” I asked

“Golf carts,” she answered. “Everyone dresses 'em up and outfits 'em real funny and stuff. It's a hoot. Oh! I forgot to mention. You also get the use of a golf cart while you're here.” She raised an eyebrow. “That's a special little perk we offered for the contest. To hopefully get some folks like yourselves up here.”

“Where exactly are we staying?” I asked.

She waved the clipboard in the air toward the dilapidated clubhouse. “Hang on just a minute and I'll get the cart and you can follow me. And my name's Delilah, by the way. Me and Harvey run Windy Vista.”

 

BOOK: Last Resort
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