Missing, Assumed Dead
by Marva Dasef
MuseItUp Author page: http://tinyurl.com/MIU-MarvaDasef
When Kameron McBride receives notice she’s the last living relative of a missing man she’s never even heard of, the last thing she wants to do is head to some half-baked Oregon town to settle his affairs. But since she’s the only one available, she grudgingly agrees.
En route, she runs afoul of a couple of hillbillies and their pickup in an accident that doesn’t seem . . . accidental. Especially when they keep showing up wherever she goes. Lucky for her, gorgeous Deputy Mitch Caldwell lends her a hand, among other things. Her suspicions increase when the probate Judge tries a little too hard to buy the dead man’s worthless property.
Working on a hunch and trying to avoid the Judge’s henchmen, Kam probes deeper into the town’s secrets and finds almost no one she can trust. With Mitch’s help, she peels away the layers of prejudice, suicide, murder, and insanity. But someone in town doesn’t like her poking around, and when they show their intentions by shooting her through the police chief’s office window, the stakes are raised. Kam must find out what really happened to her dead relative before someone in this backward little town sends her to join him.
And she thought Oregon was going to be boring.
Excerpt 1 ...
Kam gasped and jumped down the embankment toward the creek, stumbling through the underbrush. She heard the pickup tires screech and glanced back. Scruffy had gotten out and headed down the slope behind her. She moved faster, gripping her hair spray. A strap broke on her sandal, and she kicked it off. Ignoring the brambles poking into her legs through her jeans, she moved as fast as she could, the terrain preventing her from flat out running.
She heard the crashing of bushes behind her and put on more steam. She knew the pickup would have reached her car by now, but she’d be coming up on the passenger door, slightly downhill from the driver’s side. She switched the hair spray to her left hand and pawed into her purse for the keys. Finding them, she dropped the bag on the ground to free her hands and kept moving.
When she reached the Chrysler, the driver had already skidded down the embankment and was standing on the driver’s side. Thin compared to the other man, but his arms were solid muscle under the tats. She rushed to the passenger side, jerked open the heavy door, dived in, slammed the door and hit the lock button on the key fob.
The driver pounded the window with his fist. The scruffy one had caught up and pulled on the passenger side door handle. Kam hit the panic button on the fob. The deep and seriously loud Chrysler horn went off with honking bursts. Both men jumped back from the car.
The driver yelled, “I’ll fetch the rifle.” He scrambled to climb up the embankment.
Kam’s heart almost stopped. Even the shatterproof windows wouldn’t stand up against a hunting rifle. She looked around the car wildly, her breath coming in sharp rasps, and then launched herself over the console and into the rear. Sweat ran from her armpits, soaking her blouse. She ran her shaking hands across the top of the seat back hunting for the latch. She hoped the Chrysler had fold down back seats. If she could just reach the tire iron, she’d have a weapon. If this stupid car even had one that is.
She felt the latch pin, grasped it and pulled it up. It clicked. She grasped the seat back in both hands and pulled it down. On her belly, she crawled halfway into the trunk searching for the spare tire well.
Excerpt 2 ...
Salvadore didn’t recognize either of the men. The driver was in his forties, the passenger younger, maybe thirty. When they opened the pickup doors and stepped out, they hitched up their gun belts in unison.
It wasn’t unusual for men to wear guns in these parts, so it didn’t worry him. Salvadore noted the rifle rack in the back window of the truck. Most likely hunters. Both wore their hair close-cropped and dressed in khaki camo trousers and black T-shirts. The outfits reminded him of uniforms. Tattoos covered the bigger one’s arms. Salvadore stared at the spread-winged eagle on his upper arm. It seemed familiar. “Howdy, fellas. Can I help you?”
The driver looked at the other man and smirked. “Anybody up here, old man?”
“What do you mean? I’m up here.”
“I meant any other people, old timer. We’re lookin’ for somebody. Thought he might have come up this way.”
A chill crawled up Salvadore’s crooked spine. “Nope. Haven’t seen nobody but you two.” He instantly regretted his too honest answer. Now they knew he was alone. He pointed north. “If you’re wantin’ the best place to hunt bighorn, you should head that way.”
The driver moved closer. Salvadore took a step back.
The front yard—if the flat space in front of the house could be given that much honor—was a mass of sharp gravel. Kam was happy to have her tennies on. The bottom of her foot was still sore from her impromptu foot race along the creek.
“Let’s look in the house first. Mirabel said the body was in the shed, so I’d just as soon put that off.”
Kam tried the door. It swung open easily. The single room held only a cookstove on one side and a narrow cot on the other. A small table on the kitchen side had a single chair. Kam opened a wooden cupboard to find it lined with metal—an icebox. Desiccated carrots and shrunken potatoes hung limply on the wire racks that served for shelving.
Kam hunted for evidence of an electrical supply. Not so much as a two-prong socket adorned the walls. Two kerosene lamps stood on either end of the room. But the shack was neat and homey. Salvadore hadn’t had much, but what he had, he kept clean and tidy.
“This is awful,” Kam said, picking up a tin plate from the table. Something had congealed, and petrified itself to the plate.
Mitch was on the other side of the room examining the bookshelf. He held up a photo album. “You wanted to find photos or records. Is this what you’re looking for?”
“Yeah. Mom will definitely want that. Would you fetch the box off the porch and load it with everything from the shelf?” She leaned over one of the kerosene lamps. “I know a guy who collects these. I’ll snag them too.” As an afterthought, she added, “I hope Salvadore doesn’t mind.”
Kam opened the album to the first page. A stern-faced couple stared out of the sepia-tone pictures. She worked her fingernail under the edge and lifted carefully because of the brittleness. She could just make out a faint scrawling on the back. The writing was spidery and elegant, very turn of the century. The name Vasco was clear, but the rest of the notation was in a language she didn’t recognize. Her brief studies on the Basques revealed their language, Euskara, was not at all like Spanish. She decided that when she got back home, she’d help her mother research this side of her family.
Mitch brought back the box with the metal cup inside. “That might be a collector’s item.”
“Maybe.” She put her hands on her hips and stared around the room. “Damn! I feel like a thief, but it’s better for Mom to have these things. She’ll cherish them rather than letting them rot out here.” Kam put the album and a few other books in the box. The titles and authors were in both Spanish and Euskara. They packed everything and put the box in the back of the Expedition.
Mitch closed the hatch, put his finger under her chin and lifted her face to his. “When this is all over, we need to talk. Seriously. About us.”
“What? Well, hold that thought.” Kam took a deep breath and let it out slowly. “Okay, let’s look at the shack now.”
She followed Mitch. She didn’t want to admit she was afraid the two rednecks might be lurking out here. Perhaps the judge had contacted them. Maybe he knew she’d found out what happened. The whole situation tied her stomach into a knot. When they rounded the corner of the house, Kam pointed. “The shepherd’s crook. I guess the judge put it there.”
“Why do you think he did that?”
Kam shook her head. “Mirabel said she’d carried it back here from the porch and dropped it. He probably propped it up unconsciously. It’s practically a signpost saying ‘Look Here for Evidence’.”
Brown grass and a couple of loose tumbleweeds obscured the bottom of the wood door. Mitch shoved the dead vegetation aside with his boot and reached for the door handle. He stopped abruptly. Kam followed his gaze to the ground. A rusted axe and shovel lay on the ground almost hidden by the weeds. Kam stared at them. “Rust or blood?”
Mitch shrugged and pulled open the door to the shack. Two dusty windows, almost hidden by the shelves, lit the inside with a diffused, dim glow, just enough to make out the interior. The eight-foot square space had shelves lining every wall where Salvadore had neatly arranged a variety of tools, ropes, and cans. At the far end, a workbench jutted from the wall.
“I don’t see anything suspicious. Looks neat as a pin,” Kam examined the cans and bottles. “Paint, turpentine, weed killer. Just the usual stuff people keep in a shed.”
Mitch knelt down and examined the floorboards. “There’s a dark stain over here. It’s different from the rest of the floor.”
Kam bent to examine it. “The judge cleaned up, but it could be anything.” In her heart, she knew it was blood. A chill raised goosebumps on her arms despite the heat. She rubbed them. “This is really creepy, Mitch. Let’s go outside.”
“We’ll take the axe and shovel.”
“Can you get them analyzed? For blood, I mean?” Kam reached down to pick up the axe, but Mitch blocked her hand.
“Let’s not contaminate the evidence. I’ve got gloves and some plastic garbage bags in the truck.”
Mitch went back to the SUV for the bags and gloves. Kam crouched in front of the shed for a moment, searching the ground for footprints or whatever. With a snort, she straightened. “Huh. That’s dumb,” she muttered. After seven years, the weather would have washed away anything left out in the open.
The growl of a truck engine startled Kam. She was about to follow Mitch, who had already disappeared around the house, but stopped abruptly when a voice called, “Howdy, Deputy Caldwell. Remember me?”
Thank you Marva for allowing us a sneak peek at your newly released book, Missing, Assu. You might also enjoy Marva's book trailer for her book Tales of a Texas Boy... http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WZI_8LgOIb4
Thanks for stopping by.