I wrote a short story to go along with my latest Jazzi and Ansel novel, The Body in Someone Else’s Bed. This is a shameless promotion to interest you in the new book. I wrote a FREE short story featuring the main characters. It has 4 parts, and I’m loading one a day.
Ansel was happy to go on a fishing trip with Jerod and their friends until Jazzi had their baby, Toby. He’d like to back out of the trip, but Jerod would never let him hear the end of it, and Jazzi assures him that Toby won’t forget him if he’s gone for four days. So, off they go to Michigan to fish when the salmon are running. And this time, when there’s a murder, Jazzi’s not there to help solve it.
Fishing For Clues
Ansel didn’t want to go. Last year, he’d promised to join Jerod, Walker, Thane, and Radley for a fishing trip in upper Michigan. In early October, the salmon were supposed to be running in the Manistee River. Jerod drove up there to fish every year, filling the freezer in his basement with plenty of Coho. He hunted deer every fall, too, and had plenty of venison. He’d tried to get Ansel to join him a few times, but this year, he’d rented a cabin, and all of the husbands were going together for a Guys’ Getaway Four-Day Weekend. Ansel had been excited about it until Toby was born. His baby boy was only two months old. He didn’t want to leave him.
“Toby’s not going to forget you in four days,” Jazzi assured him. “And the first floor of the warehouse we’re converting is finished. Fazal and his mom have moved into the two-bedroom condo, Fazal and Elspeth have opened their bakery, and a family moved into the big condo across the hall from them.” Their share of the profit from those sales paid off the extra they’d put in for Fazal’s condo so that his mom would babysit Toby. “When you come back, we’ll start working on the second floor. It’s a perfect time for you to get out of town and have some fun. Besides, if you don’t go with Jerod this year, he’s not going to be too happy with you. You promised you would.”
She was right. He’d only be gone four days, and he’d promised. If he tried to weasel out of the trip, he’d never hear the end of it. All four guys would give him grief. With a sigh, he packed his bag, and when Jerod came to pick him up on Friday morning, he gave Jazzi and Toby a last kiss, then got in Jerod’s truck. He turned to watch Jazzi wave as they drove away.
“Pathetic,” Jerod told him. “It’s not like you’re going overseas and won’t see them again for a year. What’s in the big cooler Jazzi sent?” He’d helped Ansel load and secure it in the truck’s bed and knew a cooler meant Jazzi had cooked for them.
“Four huge foil pans, a meal for each day. Lasagna, scalloped potatoes with ham, corned beef and cabbage, and chicken enchiladas, along with lots of muffins and a coffee cake. She didn’t want us to starve.”
“No salad?” Jerod grinned. “She’s letting us skip our vegetables. Gotta love that. I like fresh salmon but not every day. I’m inviting you all the time if she sends food with you.”
Not a surprise. Jerod loved her cooking. Not that Ansel could blame him. Franny was learning to make different dips, and Jerod was handy in the kitchen, but no one cooked like Jazzi.
Jerod turned north onto the highway, then clicked on the radio. “You might as well lean back and get comfortable. It’s a five-hour drive to the cabin.”
Ansel moved his seat back and stretched his long legs to relax and enjoy the passing scenery. In half an hour, they left River Bluffs behind them. The farther they drove, the more pine trees he saw. When they reached the Michigan border, the pines made up most of the forests bordering the highway. After a while, they even grew in the meridian between the south and north two-lane roads. Ansel pointed. “An eagle’s flying to that one.”
“You’re going to see more of them. I see a few every time I’m here.”
The road stretched for miles with no traffic. Ansel turned to glance behind them. “I thought we might see Walker’s truck once we got this far.”
“They got a late start. They’ll be an hour behind us. Walker had to wait for Thane to drop the baby off at his mom’s house first.” When Olivia got pregnant, and Thane’s parents learned Olivia and Jazzi’s dad was going to watch Kate every Tuesday, they left Phoenix to move back to River Bluffs so they could babysit, too. “We missed our family,” they told Thane. “And our old friends. We’ll take care of Kate on Wednesdays, Thursdays, and Fridays while Olivia does hair at the salon.”
Ansel watched a deer walk to the edge of the tree line. He pointed it out to Jerod. “I was surprised when Thane told us they were moving back, but we’ve all gotten lucky. We all have babysitters we can trust for our kids.”
“And it’s still hard to pry any of you away from your new babies.” Jerod slowed down as the deer got nervous. It finally darted back into the trees, and he sped up again. He cracked his window and breathed in deeply. “I love the smell of the air, so clean and piney.”
They drove another three hours before they reached Manistee. The river was dotted up and down with vacation rentals and houses, but Jerod turned away from town and Lake Michigan and stopped at a rustic cabin a small distance away, near the river. Trees hid neighboring rentals, giving them privacy. He parked in the gravel driveway, and he and Ansel unloaded the truck and carried things inside the log house. It had one great room with a kitchen, three bedrooms, and one-and-a-half baths. A stone fireplace stretched on the outside wall. Two of the bedrooms had two twin beds and the master bedroom had a queen-sized four-poster with a heavy quilt.
“I call this one,” Jerod said.
“That’s only fair. You arranged the entire trip.”
Jerod’s stomach rumbled and he opened the cooler. “But Jazzi sent all the food. What do you want to eat first?”
“Then I’m heating up the corned beef and cabbage. She has potatoes and carrots in it, too. A full meal deal.”
Ansel put the three other meals in the refrigerator while Jerod slid his pick into the oven. Wolfing down a muffin, he tossed his duffel bag on the floor of his room. Ansel did the same near his bed.
“I’m not bothering to unpack,” Jerod said. “I only brought another pair of jeans and a few sweatshirts, some underwear and pajamas.”
“No tux?” Ansel quipped.
“The fish don’t care what we look like, and that’s how we’re going to spend most of our time. I’d like to go out for a sandwich later tonight and maybe a few beers, but we don’t need to dress up for that.”
While the food warmed, the two men went outside to look around. The air was so crisp and clean, they kept taking deep breaths to enjoy it. A huge stack of logs was piled in the backyard.
“Bet they lose power up here when the weather’s bad,” Ansel said. “Have to keep warm by the fireplace. It even has a hook for a cooking pot.”
“There were kerosene lanterns lined up in the utility room.” Jerod walked to look inside a shed. It was locked, so he had to peek in the windows. “That’s one serious looking ax. I wouldn’t want to have to cut that much wood. There’s a lawn mower in there, too. Whoever owns this place keeps a tidy ship.”
A stream ran through the back of the property. It really was a beautiful setting and close enough to the river, they could walk there if they had to. They decided to cross the street to check it out. Fishermen were staggered up and down its banks, but the five of them wouldn’t be crowded like the people fishing closer to town.
By the time they got back to the cabin, Walker was turning into the drive. Thane and Radley got out of his vehicle to stretch their legs. Every single one of them was tall, Ansel the tallest at six-five.
Jerod held the cabin door open and yelled, “We’re just getting ready to eat. Hungry?”
The men followed him inside and sniffed.
“Oh, boy, that smells good.” Radley set a box from Elspeth’s bakery on the table. “Jazzi sent the food, and my wife sent us lots of cookies.”
“I’m renting a cabin every year,” Jerod said. “I usually eat jerky and salmon for a week.”
Thane grinned. “Olivia had me buy two cases of beer and five frozen pizzas.”
Jerod helped him load them in the fridge. “Our women don’t trust us. They don’t think we’re going to catch anything for suppers.”
“Works for me,” Walker said. “The more to eat. Didi sent sandwiches and all kinds of chips for snacking.”
They sat at the round kitchen table and finished off the corned beef and cabbage, then grabbed their fishing gear and headed to the river. The day was sunny and crisp, not cold, but not warm either. Ansel wore a long-sleeved T-shirt under his gray hoodie. By seven, the air was getting cooler, and they’d each caught their limit of five salmon a day. They brought them to an outside sink and garbage can near the stream. Perfect for cleaning scales and gutting. By the time they’d finished, they washed up and headed to a bar and grill they’d seen on the outside of town. When they walked inside, it wasn’t packed, but it was busy enough.
The special for Friday night was a cheesesteak sandwich. Smart. Everyone who came here probably had plenty of fish to grill. When the waitress came, they all ordered the special and a beer. They were making small talk, relaxing, when a man stalked to their table, looked at Thane, and growled, “You should have kept your hands off her.” He swung and would have punched Thane except that Walker caught his fist and held it. He stared the guy down. Thane and Walker had been friends since they were kids. If anyone picked on one of them, he had to deal with the other one, too.
Thane stood, heavier and three inches taller than his attacker. “Hey, man, you’ve got the wrong person. I just got to town a few hours ago. Whoever you have a beef with, it’s not me.”
The guy glanced back at his table of friends, and they stood and started toward them. Ansel, Jerod, Walker, and Radley stood, too. The friends looked at their size and muscles and slowed down.
Jerod said, “We’re tourists. Came for the fishing. We didn’t get here until this afternoon. You’ve got something wrong.”
The guy who’d thrown the punch frowned, confused. “How many men are there with wild, auburn hair pulled back in a ponytail? That’s who Sam saw her with.”
Thane shrugged, raised his left hand, and pointed to his ring finger. “If I played around on my wife, I could be dead. Not worth it. Besides, she just had my baby. I’m nuts about both of them.”
The townsmen looked at each other. One of them said, “If these guys just rolled in to fish, it can’t be him. There’s got to be another redheaded womanizer trying to catch salmon.”
Walker let go of the man’s fist.
He shook his head. “Sorry, mister. I thought it had to be you. My wife’s a fine-looking woman, and she works here some nights. A stranger made some moves on her and got a little rough. I don’t take kindly to that.”
“No one would,” Thane said, “but it wasn’t me.”
“Sorry,” the man said again, then went back to his table of friends.
The waitress came with their food, and they put the incident behind them. A case of mistaken identity. And if the guy who’d hit on the man’s wife was smart, he’d already left town.
The guys didn’t stay up much later when they got back to the cabin. They wanted to get up early in the morning to fish. But Ansel had trouble falling asleep in a twin-sized bed, his feet hanging over the end, with no Jazzi beside him. He tossed and turned. Just when he was starting to drift off, he heard a noise outside and went to the window. A mother raccoon and three babies were scampering across the yard.
“Everything okay?” Radley asked from his side of the room.
“We have to tie the garbage lids down when we toss fish bones and entrails into the bags. Raccoons found them.”
“I’m going back to sleep.” And Radley was out again.
Ansel lay down and finally fell into a deep dream. He was back on his dad’s dairy farm, squaring off against a man with crazy, auburn hair.
The sun woke him. It filtered through the crack in the heavy curtains. He tossed on his clothes and stumbled out to the kitchen. Jerod and Radley were already drinking coffee and eating muffins.
“Morning, sleepyhead,” Jerod teased.
Ansel rubbed his eyes. “I had trouble falling asleep last night. Heard a noise and saw raccoons running to the tree line.”
“I remember now.” Radley cut a slice of coffee cake. “I heard something, too, but then fell back asleep.”
Jerod drained his coffee and went for more. “After the long drive, I didn’t hear anything. We’ll have to be more careful with our fish scraps, though. There are bears up here, too. I didn’t think about it yesterday.”
Ansel went to fill his mug and glanced out the window over the sink. He frowned. “Where did you find the key to the shed?” he asked Jerod.
Jerod came to stand beside him, looking out the window, too. “I didn’t.”
“Then why is it open? It was locked yesterday.”
“Not a very sturdy lock. Just enough to keep animals out of the shed, but raccoons shouldn’t be able to open it.” Coffee in hand, Jerod started outside. Ansel and Radley went with him. The big, heavy ax wasn’t leaning against the wall anymore. It was buried in the back of a woman’s skull. She sprawled, face down, in the grass.
Jerod reached inside his jeans pocket for his cellphone. He called 911. Then they waited for a law officer to show up. One did with a team of crime scene techs.
“Let’s talk in the house and let the guys get to it,” he said. “You don’t want to see more than you already have.”
He was right about that. The three men returned to the cabin.
9 thoughts on “Part One”
Intriguing, Judi. Makes me want to read more.
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Thanks, Joan. How’s your writing coming now that you’re retired?
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I’m finally getting into a routine. The first few months I had to push myself to finish Menagerie. I think I was mentally exhausted. I began the first draft of my second Legends of Madeira novel in mid-January. I’m within 3-4K words of completing it. Fastest I’ve ever written a novel!
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Yay! Good luck with it!
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That’ll ruin your fishing trip.
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They still go home with a lot of salmon:)
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I’m going to have to catch up with this when I have more time to read. I’m hoping when it’s all done, I’ll also be able to grab it from Amazon for my Kindle.
BTW, I am 60% through The Body in the Bed. It’s fun seeing Jazzi and Ansel as parents, and you thoroughly have me guessing on the identity of the killer.
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I know you’re swamped right now, so I didn’t think you’d have time to read it. I’m just experimenting with things to try to find new readers. I’m glad you’re enjoying The Body in Someone Else’s Bed. It was a fun book for me to write. You have a book coming out soon, don’t you?