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Authors: Mark Bentsen

Tags: #Rocky Mountains, #Mystery, #Contemporary

Nothing Is Negotiable

BOOK: Nothing Is Negotiable
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Nothing Is Negotiable

By Mark Bentsen

 

 

Copyright 2013 Mark Bentsen

Digital Edition published by Mark Bentsen, 2013

Cover design by
Phillips Covers

Photography by Glenn Frels of Connie’s Studio by Glenn

Digital formatting by
A Thirsty Mind Book Design

All rights reserved. No part of this book, except in the case of brief quotations embodied in critical articles or reviews, may be reproduced in any form by any means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without prior written permission from the author.

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locales, business establishments, or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

The scanning, uploading, and distributing of this book via the Internet or via any other means without the permission of the copyright owner is illegal and punishable by law. Please purchase only authorized electronic editions, and do not participate in or encourage electronic piracy of copyrighted materials. Your support of the author’s rights is appreciated.

 

Special thanks to:

My wife, Sharyn: Your patience and encouragement were much more important than you will know. Your honest feedback helped me stay on course and get this project finished.

Karen MacInerney, founder of Austin Mystery Writers. You blazed the trail ahead of us and gave us hope and guidance.

Other members of Austin Mystery Writers over the years: Kay George, Laney Henelley, Dave Ciambrone, Mary Jo Powell, Kimberly Sandman, Sylvia Dickey Smith, Janet Christian, Gale Albright, Manfred Reimann, and Kathy Waller.

Consultants along the way: Paul Jeffers with the RCMP, Dr. Steve Bentsen, Dr. William Gorman and Dr. Anna Bell – for helping me with all my medical questions. Also, Nolan Card for answering many questions about Cardston and Canada.

Editors – Mindy Reed, Jim Thomsen, and Pam Headrick.

Proofreaders – Friends and family who helped include: Doug and Marinel Hayes, Jackie Kayser, Lori Singleton, Tim Bentsen, and Stacy Eleuterius.

Cover design – Karen Phillips – I wish everyone in the world was as easy to work with as you.

Photographer – Glenn Frels of Connie’s Studio by Glenn.

Sharyn’s mom and dad, Betty and Verbon Anthony for their support (And I want to apologize to them in advance for the profanity in this book. Overall, the language isn’t really too bad, but I had trouble with a few characters... I had no control over their foul mouth. It’s just the way they were).

And a special thanks to my Dad’s cousin, Kenneth Bentsen. At a family reunion in 1988, he insisted I read Larry McMurtry’s novel
Lonesome Dove
. I hadn’t read many novels at the time but I promised him I would. That novel hooked me on fiction and cannot imagine living without it today.

 

 

Dedication:

To my Mom and Dad, Marion and Vivian Bentsen – they sacrificed so much for my three brothers and me. Our only regret is that we lost them much too early.

Chapter 1

The golden leaves of autumn reflected in the smooth water where a grizzly stood knee-deep looking at her twin cubs. They perched on an egg-shaped rock in the middle of the river where they watched their mother as if she were telling them the story of Winnie the Pooh.

“My boss took that picture up on Lee Creek last fall,” the teenage girl cheerfully said as she slowed her pace to admire the framed photograph for the umpteenth time. She carried a bronzed sculpture of a buffalo to a wooden table and set it down. She turned around and said, “Aren’t those cubs the cutest?”

Luke Wakefield studied the details of the framed photograph. He recognized the qualities of a good picture because his wife, Bonnie, an outdoor photographer with two coffee table books to her credit, had shared her love of photography over their twenty years of marriage. Though she focused on Texas ranches, wildlife and sunsets, the characteristics of a good photo knew no boundaries.

“It’s a great shot,” he said as he stepped back and panned the walls of the studio. “Did he take all of these pictures?”

“Yes, sir. All of the photos are his. The other stuff, like those paintings and these bronzes, were done by other people. But they’re all from here in Montana.”

Bonnie and Luke had stopped at Glacier Gallery and Camera Supply to pick up a battery for one of her cameras. While she bought the battery, Luke wandered into the gallery to browse. The double doors that connected the camera store to the gallery were open and as Luke moved closer to them he could hear an animated discussion. He looked around the corner and saw his wife across the counter from a tall man with shoulder-length blond hair.

“Excuse me, Miss Wakefield, but that was no poor lady,” argued the man. “She’s from Orange County in California and will spend more money on her vacation than I’ll make in a year.”

Luke wondered how he knew her name.

Bonnie listened sympathetically but said, “I’m sorry, but even if she is rich, that’s no reason to take advantage of her.”

“I was not taking advantage of her,” he said, stabbing his finger on the glass case. “That camera is worth every nickel of the price I quoted her.”

“That’s not what I mean,” she retorted. “I know it’s a good camera. I shoot Nikon. I love Nikon. My dog’s name is Nikon. But that camera was too much for that lady.”

“She wanted that camera. You had no business telling her not to buy it.”

Bonnie’s face hardened. “When she asked me for my opinion, it became my business. She’s a soccer mom, for God’s sake. This is the camera she needs,” she said, pointing to a simple point and shoot in the adjacent display case.

“I know you mean good, lady, but let me explain something to you.” The man glanced at Luke who had stepped into the store and slowly moved toward them. The man lowered his voice a notch. “You’re in northern Montana right now, not Texas. I’m only open eight months a year because it gets so frigging cold up here. The rest of the year we’re snowed in, windblown and all alone. Roads are closed and outside it’s colder than a witch’s tit. There are no tourists, no camera shoppers, and no one buying art in the gallery. And that means no income.”

Bonnie tried to speak. “But if—”

He cut her off. “That means if I want to keep my doors open, I have to make as much in eight months as you people down in Texas make in twelve.” He thrust an open hand toward the blue sky out the window and said, “And besides that, the rains we had in June just about killed this year’s tourist season.”

Luke knew Bonnie could take care of herself and wouldn’t want his help in a simple argument, but he didn’t like the hostility in the man’s tone. He stepped in a little closer and said, “Hey, Babe, you about ready?”

“I’m sorry you lost your sale,” Bonnie said, grabbing Luke’s arm who had ambled up next to her. “This is my husband Luke.”

Reluctantly, the tall man extended his hand. “Sonny Diamond.”

“Those are some incredible photos in the gallery,” Luke said, trying to interject a positive comment. “Are they all yours?”

Sonny’s tone was sour. “Yeah, but that’s another problem. Maybe you can explain this to your wife. I’m a good photographer, but there’s a shitload of
great photographers
up here. I sell a few prints now and then, but I’m nobody. Everyone wants a picture by the next Ansel Adams. It’s hard to make a living up here.” He looked from Bonnie to Luke. “Do you know how many three thousand dollar sales I get in a year? Two, maybe three.” He looked at Bonnie and thrust an open hand toward her. “I had one today, but Miss Guilty Conscience couldn’t stand it.”

Luke had been in enough arguments with Bonnie to know that when she folded her arms he knew she’d had enough. “I’m sorry, Sonny, but I’d do it all again if it came down to it. She asked me for my opinion, and I gave it to her.”

“I wasn’t doing one thing unethical,” Sonny insisted.

After a few uncomfortable seconds of silence, Luke said, “Did you get what you need?”

“Not yet,” Bonnie said. She dug around in her purse and pulled out a small gray battery. “Do you have one of these?”

Without speaking, Sonny turned to the shelves behind him and pulled one off the display. Bonnie paid him, and within seconds she and Luke were out the door with no
Thank you
or
Have a nice day
.

As they headed back toward their car Luke glanced up at the window and saw Sonny watching them. There was no doubt he was still upset.

“What was that all about?” Luke asked trying to keep up with Bonnie’s pace.

“He’s a jerk,” she said coldly.

“I picked up on that. What happened?”

“A lady in the store was looking at a camera and she told me she was really confused. She saw my name tag and asked me if I was a photographer.”

Luke glanced at Bonnie’s blouse and saw she was still wearing her name tag. Across the top in small letters it said,
American Society of Outdoor Photographers.
Under that in bigger letters it said
Bonnie Wakefield, Lampasas, Texas – Speaker.

“I told her I was. She said she wanted to buy a camera, and Sonny told her she needed a Nikon camera with three lenses, a tripod, filters, extra batteries, and three flash cards with sixteen gigs of memory each. She asked what I thought. I asked her a couple of questions to figure out how camera-savvy she was and what she was going to use it for, and knew immediately it was way too much for her. I told her she’d probably like the little Canon Elph. I told her how versatile and easy it was to use. She said that was exactly what she wanted. So, she spent three hundred dollars rather than three thousand.”

“I can understand why Sonny might be pissed, especially if she was ready to spend three grand.”

Bonnie stopped on the sidewalk and glared at him. “Luke, that lady had no business buying a camera like that. She told me the only camera she’d ever used before was an Instamatic. And one that used film, for God’s sake. And he was trying to convince her that she was going to be the next Kristen Westlake.” Kristen was a talented outdoor photographer who mentored Bonnie while she was getting started as a photographer.

“Yeah, well, the guy has a point. If she’s got the money, let her spend it.”

“That’s
not
the point,” Bonnie said sharply. “You should have seen her. She was dripping with diamonds and I think he saw an easy mark. She didn’t have a clue what she was doing and he was taking advantage of her.”

“Yeah, I reckon you’re right,” Luke said, knowing when to quit. He put his arm across her shoulder and pulled her closer. “But next time you pick a fight, pick on someone a little smaller.”

Her expression didn’t change.

“Please?”

She glanced up and slowly a smile crept across her face. “Oh, come on. He wouldn’t have had a chance against this redhead. And even if I did need your help, you could have kicked his butt.”

Luke scoffed. “Did you see him? I’m six foot and weigh two hundred pounds, and he was as big as me, three inches taller and ten years younger.”

“Come on. I’ve seen you throw bigger, meaner steers than that.”

“Yeah, but that was fifteen years ago. See this gray hair.” Luke lifted his cap to reveal his dark hair which showed signs of gray at the temple. “Those cowboy days are long gone. I’m way past forty and I can barely get a bale of hay in the back of the pickup without throwing my back out. I don’t need to be fighting someone like that.”

Luke pulled a key chain from the pocket of his cargo shorts and punched the button to unlock the doors. Bonnie looked over the top of their rented Chrysler Sebring and said, “But you’d do it for me, wouldn’t you?”

As they slid into their seats, Luke buckled his seat belt and said, “Of course I would, Buttercup. I’d take on Rambo, a pack of rabid pit bulls, Rosie O’Donnell and the Vienna Boys Choir, all at the same time. Anything to protect your cute little ass.”

Bonnie grinned and rolled her eyes. “You’re so full of shit.”

That was one thing he loved about her. After twenty years of marriage, she still laughed at his corny jokes. Smiling, he pulled the car onto U.S. 89 and headed north.

The day before, Luke and Bonnie had flown from Austin, Texas to Calgary, Alberta, then driven three hours south to St. Mary, Montana for the regional workshop of the American Society of Outdoor Photographers. This year, the three-day conference took place at Glacier National Park on the Canadian border and Bonnie had been invited to be one of the speakers. It was her first speaking engagement outside of Texas and she was excited about it. She’d been a member of the organization for a few years but had never attended any of their functions. Then four weeks ago she got a call asking her to be a speaker at their summer workshop, talking about two of her favorite subjects: Sunsets and Silhouettes.

Luke changed the subject. “Did you find out how they picked you to be one of the speakers?”

“Yeah, I spoke to the program coordinator. He said one of the members was at the talk I gave at the Wildlife Expo in Austin last fall. A lady named Rita.”

“You must have impressed her. Did you talk to her?”

“Just briefly. They had some problems with the computer equipment and my talk got bumped to twelve o’clock. So, while they ate, I talked. She saved me some lunch which I ate about one thirty. She’s a nurse in Cardston.”

“Cardston? That name sounds familiar.”

“It’s the last town we went through before we crossed the border into Montana. About fifty miles north, I think. She had to get back to work right after I gave my program.”

“What’s a nurse doing at the workshop?”

“Lots of the members have real jobs to pay the bills. She said photography’s just a hobby for her.”

“Why’d they wait until the last minute to contact you? Someone get sick or something?”

“Worse than that. One of the speakers was killed in a freak accident. His daughter had just picked him up at the airport and when they got back to his house, he walked inside with a lit cigarette, and it blew up. Killed both him and his twenty-five-year-old daughter. Really sad.”

Luke turned off the highway onto a gravel road that led to the Red Eagle Lodge. The rustic old motel sat in the shadow of Gun Sight Mountain on the outskirts of Glacier National Park.

As they made their way to their second-floor room they passed several guests sitting outside enjoying the beautiful day. In front of each room were two plastic chairs, perfect for watching the sun as it dipped behind the mountains to the west.

Luke unlocked the door and Bonnie pushed past him. “You know, the more I think about that jerk at the camera store, the more pissed off I am. If it’s okay with you, I think I’ll go run off some of this steam.”

“Fine with me. How far do you want to run?”

Bonnie was training to run in the New York Marathon in the fall. It would be her first marathon and it was only three months away. She looked out the window toward the mountains and said, “Not too far. If I ran eight miles I could do that in about an hour and fifteen minutes. Would that be okay?”

“Sure. Where will you run?”

“You know that road we were on this morning over by the KOA Campground? It was pretty flat.”

“Perfect. While you do that I’ll go to the store and pick up that stuff on your shopping list. On my way back I’ll stop at the river that crosses that road and do some fishing. It’s about a mile from here. When you go by, you’ll see me there. Just yell when you come by, and I’ll come back then, too. After we get cleaned up, it’ll be about time for dinner.”

Bonnie opened her suitcase and pulled out her jogging shoes, shorts and a white t-shirt with a picture of the state of Texas on it. Under it, it said
Don’t Mess with Texas
. Meanwhile, Luke grabbed a cold beer, kicked off his hiking boots, and stretched out on the queen-sized bed to watch Bonnie change clothes.

When she pulled off her blouse he admired her lean physique. He’d always thought Bonnie had the perfect body. She was five-eight, and running helped keep her firm and her weight under one twenty-five. She always said her breasts were too small, but he didn’t agree. Not too big, not too little. Just about perfect.

After she tied her shoes, she stepped outside onto the walkway and threw one leg up on the railing and leaned over it to stretch. Luke followed her outside, glancing across the horizon at the blue sky.

“I can’t believe it’s seventy-five degrees in July. I could get used to this weather,” Luke said. In Texas, they lived about seventy miles northwest of Austin where Luke ranched with his father. This was their first trip to Montana, and the beauty of the Rocky Mountains blew him away.

“Until winter, then you’d freeze your ass off.” Bonnie kissed him on the cheek, then looked at her watch. “It’s three forty-five now. I’ll see you at the river about five.”

“Sounds good.”

When she hit the parking lot, she broke into a trot.

He cupped a hand around his mouth and shouted, “Watch out for bears, I hear they have an appetite for redheads.”

She turned around and grinned while jogging backwards. “I’ll outrun ’em.”

“Hell, you’re probably too tough for them anyway... at least, too tough to chew.”

BOOK: Nothing Is Negotiable
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