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Allison, fortyish and divorced, is on vacation at the Blue Goose Lodge. The lake is lovely and serene, but there’s trouble at the lodge.
Instead of rest and recreation, she finds a murder. A touch of romance develops, and she enjoys playing detective until she nearly becomes the next victim.
Dinner was a somber affair. The children were bubbling over in excitement to tell of their afternoon in and on the water, but their enthusiasm didn’t touch the adults. Allison noted Charles seemed too distracted to listen, Teddy sullen, Imogene worried, and Derita bored. Catherine kept looking out the window like a prisoner planning an escape, and Bess seemed too tired to care.
It was obvious to Allison the future of the Blue Goose occupied their minds, but they didn’t want to discuss it, at least, not in front of their aunt.
Allison, seated between Jake and Imogene with the silence beginning to smother her, decided the weather might be a good place to start small talk with the old man. He agreed the last few days had been lovely. “But that dry spell in May hurt my peach trees,” he said. “Got scale insects. Pesky things. They can ruin the trees if you’re not careful. Had to buy spray to poison them. Expensive stuff but worth it.” Allison nodded her head in agreement although she knew nothing about fruit trees, and bug spray was not exactly what she considered good table conversation. Jake must have thought otherwise. “Yep. I got enough poison to kill every bad bug in the county and then some. You know what I mean? But I take care of my peaches. There’s nothing like chomping down on a ripe, juicy Elberta.”
“You’re right about that,” Allison said. “I remember my grandmother had a tree in her back yard. We kids would eat them right off the tree, not even bother to wash them. The juice would run down our chins, stain our clothes, even get in our hair. But it was a taste right out of heaven.”
Jake gave her a gap-tooth grin. He smeared butter on a hot biscuit, but took only a small nibble. He shook his head sadly. “Those days are gone forever. Can’t eat fruit off trees anymore. Probably kill you if you did. I don’t like using the spray, you understand. But it’s either that or lose my trees.” His eyes flickered to the head of the table where Bess struggled for breath between bites. Allison studied the old man. His face and eyes reminded her of a worried basset hound. His plaid flannel shirt looked like it had been worn summer and winter for more years than she liked to contemplate. His only concession to the warm evening was to roll up the sleeves, which revealed bony arms covered with stringy gray hair. His left hand clenched the uneaten biscuit, crumbling it to minute pieces. “Life is full of hard choices,” he whispered. “You know what I mean?”
“I guess,” Allison faltered, waiting for Jake to elaborate. But he didn’t. Instead he looked in dismay at his butter-coated hand and carefully wiped it with his napkin. Allison glanced around the table. There was little hope of a conversation with any of the others: the cousins were picking at their food, the children were asking for seconds, Imogene was whispering to her husband. Allison took another chance with the old man. “So-o-o, you’ve lived around here a long time?”
Jake bobbed his head. “Most of my life. The lake is not only my home, it’s my friend.” He gave Allison a quick smile. “You might say it’s my sweetheart since I never married. Bess even accuses me of making it my religion. I can sit on the shore and become one with the water. On calm days the water reflects peace, the stillness of the soul. And on stormy days I can feel the energy of the universe, the cleansing of detritus from the bottom of my life.”
Allison gaped in astonishment at the poetry spilling out of the mouth of this shriveled Methuselah. Jake suddenly seemed embarrassed. “Sorry. I can’t talk that way to many people. Somehow I thought you’d understand.”
“But I do. Really I do. I love the water too.” Allison squirmed nervously. “In fact, I consider lakes and oceans a source of healing power.” She smiled. “I can’t say that to many people either. I guess we have something in common.”
“Looks like.” The old man again turned his eyes to the head of the table. “I knew Bess didn’t like the lake, but I never imagined she would desecrate it.” He turned back to face Allison. “She’s got to be stopped, you know.” He wiped his mouth and pushed back from the table. “Excuse me. I need to take a little walk. It was nice meeting you.” Before Allison could say anything else, Jake was gone. No one else appeared to notice his departure.
Helen Goodman is a registered nurse, a native of Michigan and now lives in North Carolina. She is the author of six published books and her short stories have appeared in two anthologies. The Valley of Death is the second in the Allison Aldridge Mystery Series.
Book Publisher: Wings ePress
No. of Pages: 240
Paper Weight (lb): 10.2
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