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Two Buckets of Berries

Two Buckets of Berries

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Two Buckets of Berries

289 pages
4 hours
Jan 11, 2018


A Charlene Parker mystery.

Set mostly in northern Ontario at a cottage resort and partly in rural Nova Scotia, Two Buckets of Berries (book two in the Kirk Lake Camp series of books) features a former Hamilton police detective who would like most of all to just do the never ending everyday chores of running a resort but who seems to end up having to solve murders instead.

It’s another season and creepy poaching Bob is still peeping, Sarah has even more issues to talk about, Joe is still upset and there is still Jim in Nova Scotia to think about, it’s hot and Charlene still must find time to cook for herself and half the police detachment while they poke about the resort trying to solve the murders before Charlene does it for them.

Then of course there are the guests. Not only are the trees too sappy, too messy, too numerous, the mosquitoes and black flies are too many and too pesky, the cabins are too rustic with too few luxuries, with too few televisions (as in none) and too expensive, the other guests are too loud, too drunk, too close, too present, the air temperature is too hot or too cold or too windy or not windy enough, the lake is too cold or too rough, with too few pickerel and bass, the wolf howls are too scary and too close, the black bears are too smelly and too scary and too close, the water snakes too skittish and scary and too close, the garter snakes too, too, too close, the red squirrels and blue jays too chattery and bossy and too close, and the guests' own families are too obnoxious, too stressful, too close.

It's enough to make Charlene want to head south back to a dark alley in the north end of Hamilton to chase a criminal in a hoodie (always a hoodie), with a gun, who is too scary, too mean, too drunk, too stoned, too hilarious, too stupid and too close.

Thank goodness she has time to unwind every now and then with a good Cape Breton single malt whisky.

At least nobody died at the resort this time. Charlene could breathe a sigh of relief. She had enough work running Kirk Lake Camp without dealing with that again. It was the height of the season and all the cottages and fishing boats were rented. To top it off, a perfect storm was brewing.

It wasn't just the high humidity, heat and strong winds that had Charlene worried. Her married guests were quibbling, a young boy staying at the resort was troubled, her best friend Detective Sarah Davidson was deeply troubled, there wasn't enough time to pick blueberries and that was double trouble, Charlene couldn't make heads or tails of her own relationships and that wasn't even worth the trouble, and, oh yes, one of her guests was killed ... but at least not at the resort ... phew!

Jan 11, 2018

About the author

Ms. McCluskey is a Canadian author of cozy murder mysteries and short stories. Her current cozy mystery series, Kirk Lake Camp, takes place primarily in Ontario but with an ever stronger connection to Nova Scotia as the series progresses. The author has first hand experience similar to that of the main character of the Kirk Lake Camp and Back Road to Shore cozy mystery series. Her book of short stories is life on the Eastern Shore of Nova Scotia as seen through the eyes of a CFA, Come From Away, after having moved from northern Ontario to the Eastern Shore.She joined the Hamilton Regional Police Service in Hamilton, Ontario and was a police officer for 14 years. She started as a beat officer in Stoney Creek, then became a Detective Constable in the Criminal Investigative Division, partnered with a Sergeant, investigating crimes such as serious assaults, robberies, sudden deaths, sexual assaults and break and enters. She was promoted to Sergeant and worked in the Special Investigative Unit as a detective in the Sexual Assault Unit. She was also specially trained in Child Abuse investigations and Domestic Violence.She passed her Staff Sergeant exams and attained the rank of Acting Staff Sergeant before she left policing and moved on to another career in which she owned a water access resort in northern Ontario that included 12 rental cottages, fishing boat and canoe rentals, and a small general store.After seven years she sold the resort and taught Police Foundations at a small college in Sudbury, Ontario, before she moved to Victoria, B.C.She moved back to northern Ontario and concentrated on her work as a freelance writer going back to what she missed most, writing.Well before her policing career, she graduated from Print Journalism. She has been writing for over 40 years including her time as a police officer and resort owner. Her articles included a weekly fitness column, feature stories, and a short stint as a beat reporter for criminal court and town council.She now lives with her partner in an old farmhouse in a small community along the eastern shore of Nova Scotia, not far from Cape Breton Island.She enjoys traveling to visit her daughters and grand-children. While at home she kayaks, hikes, cycles, swims, practises yoga, and drives the back roads to explore the beauty of her new province where she gets inspiration for her writing and life in general.K.L. McCluskey is currently working on the Kirk Lake Camp murder/mystery series of books. The series will consist of six books in total and when completed will lead to the Back Road to Shore series. The books are available as ebooks and are published by An Taigh Buidhe air an Lohan (The Yellow House on the Pond in Scottish Gaelic) Publishing, a small Nova Scotia publisher, and distributed by Smashwords.

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Two Buckets of Berries - K.L. McCluskey


Two Buckets of Berries is dedicated to my daughters Keely and Teri.

They put up with me during my policing and cottage resort job, stressful years wrought with heartache and drama, and they still put up with me and I don’t have the words to thank them properly. Imagine, me, no words!

I would also like to acknowledge the many times I dragged them out to pick berries in their childhood even though it was quite apparent not everyone likes to forage as much as I do.

Thank you to my sister Karen for the beautiful gift of the photograph she took of a white quarzite rock face. It was the inspiration for the cover of this book.

I would like to be able to thank my mother for her encouragement in getting me started on A Kayak for One, my first book. Her enthusiasm and belief that I would serve myself better if I wrote down the words that were piling up in my head, motivated me to just get at it. Sadly, my mother died before I completed the book.

My thanks and appreciation go out to Arthur, my partner, who listened to my idea for a series of books and told me he thought it was a great idea. His continued support has encouraged me to continue writing. We have shared our thoughts about the characters with lots of laughs over potential plots for the six book Kirk Lake Camp series. I would also like to thank him for creating the art work for the covers and getting my books formatted to be available as e-books.

Last, but not least, I would like to thank my family members and friends who read rough drafts of my books and were kind and said they wanted to read the next one. Thank you.


Chapter 1

Monday, July 18, 2016


As she bent over, Charlene tried to balance the empty frozen yogourt container on top of the branches. She knew a container with a handle would be easier to carry, but she also knew that the handle got in the way when she used both hands to pick the blueberries that hung like gorgeous grapes this year. She had a cloth grocery bag, and she could put the container inside it and sling it across her back with her arms through the handles like a knapsack. If any berries fell out of the container they would still be in the bag as she zigzagged across the hilly terrain in search of the perfect patch. There were almost too many to pick this season. The thought of all the berries just hanging in such abundance was almost too much to see and Charlene found it disconcerting. She thought she would go crazy wandering around the rocks looking at what she knew she would not have time to pick. She was pressed for time, and she better settle down and just pick.

Sam offered to stay in the office for a few hours while Charlene hiked up the hills at the back acres of her cottage resort to pick blueberries. In the past few seasons she usually put a note on the office door when the office closed at 5 o'clock letting the guests in her six rental cottages know that she would be away for an hour or so. Being a water-access resort, a short boat ride to the parking lot where guests left their cars, she also had to let everyone know she would not be available to get them over to their cars. Most guests understood, but sometimes a guest would say they did not like to be 'stranded' with no way to get to their car if they felt like going for a drive. Charlene would then have to stick around just in case she was needed to motor them over to the parking lot in her 32' pontoon boat. Usually, the guest who complained had a canoe or fishing boat rented and could get themselves over to their car if needed. Some people just didn't like that she withdrew her boat service thinking they paid for it, so she better be at their beck and call.

Not this time though. Sam said he would stay in the office for a bit while she picked blueberries. He could take care of boating guests over or getting them a full propane tank if they ran out. He wouldn't take any money or run the cash register though. He told her he didn't want to be that responsible. Sam didn't talk much and didn't smile much, so leaving him behind to man the office meant the guests didn't ask for much. Most were spooked by his silence and stony face.

He was the resort handyman and though not many words were spoken between them either, he had become someone Charlene could trust into her fourth season. Sam had three blueberry seasons working for her, and she felt the gesture to cover the office also had a lot to do with the blueberry fudge she would make and give to him once she was finished picking and freezing an ample supply to get her through the winter. Some years she had to eke out the berries a few at a time on top of her year-round breakfast of porridge, but the picking was so good this year she would have enough berries to freeze, make fudge, and bake a few batches of Blueberry Buckle when it was cooler out.

Ah, still a cynic she realized, and she shouldn't be where Sam was concerned. She shook her thick, wavy blondish, grey hair that was cut blunt just below her jaw line, and wished she put on a headband before heading out. Her bangs were falling over her lashes and into her face with the summer breeze. She was trying to grow them out so she could keep the hair off her face especially when she had to bend over the toilets, cleaning up after the guests checked out. Right now her bangs were at that nuisance stage. So was her hair. She had been naturally fair all her life and now she had more grey than blonde, but it streaked together in a shade many people commented favourably on, but she wished it would be one or the other colour. To her it looked dyed, and she didn't like that look.

She checked her canvass short pockets for an elastic band to make a small ponytail but all she came up with were a few cigarette butts.

She still allowed the guests to smoke on the property, but she wished they wouldn't flick the ends all over the ground rather than in the cigarette containers she had by the communal fire pit and outside the office door. One of her daily tasks was to keep an eye out and bend down and pick up the dirty butts and put them in her pockets until she could throw them out. She often forgot about them until she had to deal with the mess in the washing machine. Even though she tried to discourage smoking inside the cottages with laminated signs requesting smokers to only smoke outside or in the screened porches with the door into the cottage closed, many of the smokers would smoke where they chose.

The old growth pine trees and root-exposed landscape around the cottages was a risk for fire. She had little hope that the volunteer fire department down the highway, a 15-minute drive away, would be able to do anything to stop a fire once started. She'd have to stop trying to douse the fire and boat over and pick up the firefighters at the landing anyway. She didn't pay taxes for firefighting. The local council tried one year to get her to pay, clearly not in the know of the rule that stated that water access properties were exempt. That caused some ill will between a few members and her, the ones who couldn't or wouldn't accept they erred, but she didn't care. They made the rules and should have known what they were.

Charlene was a firm believer in rules. She knew it was the ambiguity that could cause a lot of trouble, and she had watched many of her bosses squirm when faced with a rule they made that was not clearly expressed and left open to interpretation. In most cases it protected her or her former co-workers who followed the rules to a tee, as they thought they were expected to do. She left a few offices with a red-faced man sitting behind a desk not able to do anything but wish the people writing the policies and procedures had been better at their job.

A water pump with 100 feet of hose was stationed at the end of the resort gas dock. If there was a fire on the property Charlene would be able to put the hose and pump on the pontoon boat and take it to any of the docks closer to the fire and pump from there. The hose would reach the building that served as the resort office, storage, and her home, as well as the five cottages that dotted the expansive shoreline. The sixth cottage was set back between cottage #1 and cottage #2 and was probably out of reach of the length of hose. She never tested it and though she probably should, Charlene did not want to know her set-up was inadequate. She hoped she could count on the guests with a bucket brigade to save that little cottage during the height of the summer dry season. What she hoped for more was that her guests would just stop smoking, especially on the gas dock. The signs she made were huge and hung from every vantage point on that dock. A lot of guests thought NO SMOKING meant smoke but be careful or smoke and flick the butt on the dock. If a fire started and hit the barrels of gas she had stored on the dock, there would be no way she would be able to put it out. All the fire extinguishers she had hanging in quick-grab places would be useless. The explosion would take the dock out.

The spring started off being unusually wet. The moss in the interior of the forest was still a bit springy and soft and a bright green colour in areas, inviting as a plush carpet, but the lichen, in a multitude of varieties that were initially thriving as they spread their tentacles across the rocks where there was more sun, were starting to dry and curl at the edges now.

All the spring rain and winter runoff pooling made for ideal black fly conditions from late May to mid-June, much to Charlene's discomfort, but the pesky, biting flies helped pollinate the blueberries, explaining in part, the bumper crop all around her. Lightning strikes and fires also helped rejuvenate the bushes. A heat wave the past few weeks had temperatures going up to mid to high 30 Celsius every day and not cooling down much below 25 at night. The high temperatures killed off any remaining black flies and the mosquitoes weren't bad in the day with the wind blowing across the peninsula, on the tip of which sat the resort. They still came out in a teeming mass at dusk though and stayed out until about 11 o'clock, biting anyone brave enough to sit anywhere but around the fire pit and the smoke. After that, they seemed to vanish and it was amazing to sit outside in the late night heat listening to the loons undulating calls to each other over the flat and quiet lake. During peak season Charlene didn't go out that late with her early get ups, but she had her bedroom windows wide open and could hear guests’ soft voices outside as well as the loons as she tossed and turned, warm from the weather and hot from the intermittent hot flushes and night sweats she had every night now, summer or winter.

Charlene felt a fraud referring to her property a resort. It was actually named Kirk Lake Camp about 50 years before she bought it, named after Kirk Lake, the water that fronted the property. She always referred to it as a resort though, even though when she thought of a resort she imagined sitting on a lounge chair in the Caribbean taking a Pina Colada from an offered tray, not vacationing in rustic housekeeping cottages where a guest had to do everything. Her web pages referred to it as a cottage resort, as did most of the other cottage rental places she scoped out on the internet. She supposed it added a sense of glamour, and the guests didn't seem to mind. Charlene knew her cottages were cleaner than any she had stayed in as a guest and the appliances were new and everything worked. She believed that if the bathroom and kitchen were spotless and well maintained the woman in the family renting the cottage would be happier and so would the rest of the family, and hopefully they would return which meant more money in Charlene’s pocket.

Flashes of heat lightning had been building up the past few nights. The flashes of light and the stars bedazzled anyone who looked up into the black sky not affected much by light pollution. The cottage exterior lights only came on when the guests went up the steps to the exterior screened porches. Raccoons meandering around the barbecues in hopes for some left-over greasy licks sometimes set off the porch lights too. Not many bears wandered around the cottages. Charlene had only seen two and heard about another.

One late fall, guests in cottage #5 were out barbecuing in the dark and a bear walked from the back of the cottage to the group of four surprised and frightened people. Apparently, wine glasses went up in the air as they all scrambled into the screen porch, secured the hook and eye lock and stood in the porch as they watched the bear push the food off the barbecue and devour it. They all looked at each other upset at first that the wine bottle was left outside but next because they forgot a screen was not a barrier to a bear. They all moved in unison into the cottage and watched the bear from inside. Once it ate everything in sight it ambled off, and they nervously went out to get the bottle of wine.

They laughed off their experience as they told Charlene all about it the next morning. She gave them a big plastic juice bottle and told them to put some rocks in it and shake it when they went out and talk loudly. They were the only guests that late in the month and nobody else would be disturbed. She was surprised to see them outside again really. They were city people and most city people she knew only liked the idea of a bear.

The first bear Charlene saw at the resort looked like a big mamma. Charlene was sitting at her desk in the office early one snowy November morning and saw the huge bear as it walked into her view from between two cottages and ambled into the lake and swam across to the opposite shore. She e-mailed her friend with the message that she had just seen a bear wearing her pyjamas. Her friend sent back, Why was the bear wearing your pyjamas?

Charlene wasn't sitting at her desk wearing her pyjamas the next bear sighting. Her private quarters were on the second level of the building but built into the hill so it was level with the forest at the back. When she opened the door to catch a breath of morning air, she noticed the wood disc that served as the lid on the steel drum that was her garbage barrel just outside her back door had been knocked off again. She replaced it several times the few days before. For some reason, during the entire first summer she lived there, none of the lids of the garbage barrels had been knocked off and no garbage had been disturbed. All the cottages had their own bin as well as one in front of the office and behind the house. The design of the lids was great. She was puzzled as to why her bin lid was coming off. She looked up at the roof and wondered if one of the dozens of red squirrels or a porcupine, or a raccoon, had jumped from the roof to the garbage.

Thinking the squirrels too light, and the porcupine not known for its jumping skills, Charlene began to watch the garbage. She watched raccoons try to take the lid off many times before, but the design of the lid stopped them. In the middle of the day while taking garbage out, she caught the cheeky beggar, a small bear cub, standing at the garbage, the lid off and her white trash bag in his claws. Both startled, the bear ran up the hill to the bush and Charlene stood still, frightened and shocked. Once she realized how small the bear was, like a small to medium-sized fat dog and rather cute, she laughed as she watched it struggling to hold on to the garbage bag as it ran.

Then she remembered it was not a laughing matter. Where there was a cub there was probably a mother bear close by. She brought the garbage barrel in to her back room and walked up to the bush. She picked up a few of her white trash bags on the ground, the plastic torn open. She had forgotten she had even put garbage in her bin. She was ready the next few days with a wooden spoon and a pot and banged and yelled at the cub before it was discouraged and didn’t return.

There were guests in three of the cottages for that Thanksgiving week-end, so she asked them to not put their garbage out until morning when she would get it early and take it to the dumpster at her parking lot. After only one incident where it scared a woman in cottage #6 who was out picking mushrooms, the cub was not seen anywhere on the resort property again. Its mother was never seen, the poor cub likely orphaned. Charlene was happy the bear did not return but saddened knowing it would likely not survive the winter on its own.

She hoped she wouldn't have to put up the No Fire sign at the fire pit. The MNR were talking about an official fire ban throughout the north shore of Lake Huron, the great lake into which Kirk Lake flowed. There hadn't been any rain in the past weeks so it was probable there would be a fire ban soon.

Being so close to the big lake was part of what made the purchase of the resort a good investment for her. Fishers, hikers and boaters of all sorts loved the close vicinity to the big water for the sheer aesthetics of the landscape, and the North Channel was world-renowned for its sailing waters, where there was a well-attended sailing race each summer starting from Little Current on Manitoulin Island.

Guests also loved the availability of the numerous surrounding and connecting smaller lakes and rivers. A drawing point for guests were the two access points from Kirk Lake to a provincial park that could only be accessed via canoes and portaging from Kirk Lake. Her ten Nova Craft canoes were in high demand and were often fully rented out by her cottage guests or people who rented them for trips into the park. She didn't outfit the canoeists more than providing the basic safety equipment required and paddles and life jackets. All the rest of the supplies were up to the canoeists to bring. To Charlene, it just seemed like too much work for little income. With canoes renting for as little as $15.00 a day, any more effort was just not worth it to her. She was thinking she may just rent the canoes to only her guests next season and maybe even sell off a few. She was tired of paddlers arriving to rent her canoes and expecting she would supply them with bottled water, toilet paper and anything else one would think a person going on a trek for a few days would think to pack for themselves. She had been told on many occasions she was hard on people and had high expectations, but really? She found a lot of people were just helpless and had little common sense. She didn't bear stupidity well.

Just thinking about them made her hot, and Charlene felt the slippery sweat at the small of her back and around the elastic waist of her cargo shorts. The heat reminded her that the guests in cottage #1 complained again in the morning about no air conditioning in the cottage. They complained every time in the last three years since they started coming. They said they got out of Ohio to escape the heat. Each time they came had been a hot spell in northern Ontario, but they continued to reserve the same cottage for the same week each time, putting a deposit on the cottage for the next year when they checked out. She hoped they would do the same this year too, but they tried to sneak in a portable air conditioner this year and Charlene put a stop to it.

When they carried it onto the pontoon boat, she told them the other guests would be bothered by the noise. She thought of the extra hydro use and cost but didn't tell them that. They would likely think she was making enough money already and could absorb the increase. Really though it just irked her for anyone to have air conditioning at a cottage resort in the north. She also felt that if that family of six would lose some weight they may not suffer from the heat as much. The grandparents, parents and two adolescent boys were cut from the same mould it seemed. They were all bigger in the middle than last year, a family of pear-shapes with almost dainty looking feet reminding her of weebles who wobble but don't fall down. The women uttered a few feeble complaints but the men carried the air conditioner back to their SUV without further fuss.

She hoped the women would not be bothered enough to persuade the men that they should book somewhere else next year. The men loved the fishing and always caught their limit, happy as little boys as they cleaned and filleted the fish in the Fishy Wishy Washy hut built on the gas dock. During their first stay at the resort the two men suggested she name the fish cleaning hut. She painted a piece of driftwood and hung it over the screened entrance to the hut and since then it was a big hit with all the guests.

Cripes, Charlene thought, the guests were getting bigger and bigger each year, and not just the Americans as she found her first two seasons. The Canadian families were fatter now too, and sadly the children noticeably so. It was no wonder with stats indicating that one in 10 children in Canada were obese now. They huffed and puffed as they walked around the hilly and rough terrain around the cottages. It looked to her like the kids had no idea how to walk on a sidewalk never mind the bush. Charlene imagined the long line-ups of cars parked in the no park zone at the front of almost every public school, a parent waiting in the car, texting someone, anyone, while waiting to pick up their child even though the walk was under the required distance for the school bus. A

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