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Three for Pumpkin Pie?

Three for Pumpkin Pie?

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Three for Pumpkin Pie?

277 pages
4 hours
Jan 17, 2018


A Charlene Parker mystery.

Set mostly in northern Ontario at a cottage resort and partly in rural Nova Scotia at her old fixer-upper house, Three for Pumpkin Pie? (book three in the Kirk Lake Camp series of books) features a former Hamilton police detective, Charlene Parker, who would like most of all to spend the season just doing the never ending everyday chores of running a resort, but who seems to end up having to solve murders instead.

It’s Thanksgiving time and creepy Bob is still being Bob, Sarah has decided to stay at Charlene's to avoid her relationship woes at home, men are complicating Charlene’s life, three little old ladies are making it even more complicated than the men and Charlene still must find time to make a Thanksgiving dinner all the while running the resort.

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.

It’s the last busy week-end of the season and Charlene has lots of work to do to cook the Thanksgiving dinner, cater to her guests and close up the cottages for the winter. What a mess. Sarah invited Charlene's former lover for dinner without asking her first. Sarah is known to stick her nose into business that isn’t hers but she is a detective after all and that's what detectives do best. So instead of just her and Sarah at the table, Joe would be the third. The trouble was, Charlene was thinking a lot about Jim. The trouble was, one of the guests was murdered.

Jan 17, 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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Three for Pumpkin Pie? - K.L. McCluskey


Three for Pumpkin Pie? is dedicated to my father, Wilf McCluskey.

Thank you Dad for being who you are. I love you lots.

I would like to be able to thank my mother for her encouragement in getting me started on A Kayak for One, the first book in this series. 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.



Sunday October 9th, 2016

A hand, part of an arm and part of one leg were clearly visible. That's not what drew the eyes though. It's where the eyes naturally focused, not wanting to, not able to look at what was so visibly compelling. Looking away gave the brain a chance to get signals to the body to soften, dull, prepare, adjust, decipher, sort, compartmentalize, oxygenate, allow for adrenaline to flow for fight or flight, before allowing the eyes to focus on what the mind was trying to shut out. It only took a second for the brain to do all that, from the first glimpse to the blink of the eyes as they focused elsewhere until ready to see and decipher what was so vividly staring at them.

Deep breathes pushed the adrenaline through. Seconds later, sensing no reason to fight or flight, deep breaths tried to push out the adrenaline, all the time the eyes focused on everything yet nothing, the seemingly stoppage of time and air making the details pop out so clear and so close and so vivid, like the bit of red fibre caught under the torn fingernail, moving only slightly with the bits of breeze that alighted on the hand, the hand that was curled in anger. Or was it desperation or frustration at the eventual helplessness? Was it a show of the power of a last aggressive act that surged from a primal survival instinct called upon but obviously not enough to ensure survival?

The hand and tops of the fingers had splotches of dark bruising and blood that looked like it came from thin scratches beneath so clearly there was a struggle. But, were the wounds from a struggle against a person or from one of the raspberry or Hawthorn bushes that grew wild all along the nearby sides of the forest path? No assumptions. It would be fact, not an assumption, that the bruising and blood from the scratches occurred while there was still blood pumping through the hand, so in life or shortly after death.

A gold ring sparkled against the dark purple and red hues of the injuries to the skin. The brief burst of sunshine through the cloud cover made the ring shine and marked the contrast between the beauty and blood. A ring meant love, life, vitality. It meant the wearer liked to adorn. Ah, but did it really? It could have been a shackle to the wearer, an unwanted gift, a guilt gift, a token of possession. Did it mean marriage? It was not on the left hand. Only the right hand was visible and there did not appear to be any diamonds set among what looked like precious gems. What did that matter? Diamonds were blood money these days and not everyone wanted one. What did it matter these days as well what finger any ring was on? No assumptions.

A cuff of grey, maybe of light wool, was pushed up away from the wrist a few inches. A smattering of leaf bits were caught in the fabric, an old bramble the size of a Loonie, and a dried up thistle. Some soil was on top as if sprinkled like crumbled chocolate and some appeared to have been smeared into the cuff in a four inch swipe, the dirt just visible under the leaves. Was the arm moved or dragged on the forest floor? Was it this forest floor? No assumptions. The leaves, the bramble, and the soil from the fabric would be gathered into separate bags. Samples of the surrounding leaves, brambles and dirt from around the body would also be collected for comparison.

The blood on the back of the hand lay in small goblets. The dried blood showed stark against the white skin, the blue of the veins deadened. Black staining at the edge of the sleeve looked like it might be blood, soaked into the fine fibres spreading upward, but there was no blood on the few inches of exposed skin below the cuff between the edge of the fabric and the wrist. The lack of blood smear suggested the cuff had been pushed up before the injury but then how did the blood get there? Was there more injury still hidden beneath that soaked through the material and not up? Had the blood on the sleeve dried before the sleeve was pushed up? Who pushed it up then? No assumptions. Could it be what pushed the sleeve up then? It was a northern Ontario forest after all, and raccoons and porcupines and birds and squirrels were all around, in the trees and on the ground, busy stocking up on food. An animal may have scampered across, not aware of what was beneath. It was too neat though, that cuff, and an animal would have been aware that what was beneath was no place to linger unless to feed and there were no visible nibble marks.

It was as if only the realization that animals could have been there that the sounds from the forest revealed that animals were there. Their noises broke through the deathly silence. The loudest, a red squirrel, chattered incessantly as it scolded at them and what lay there, and from afar, a blue jay squeaked like a clothesline in need of some oil on the pulley. A downy woodpecker hammered for its food, sparrows sounded as large as bears as they walked the leaf-strewn forest floor, and a loon flying overhead called for it's mate, it’s sound as haunted as the setting in front of them.

Later, when the hand would be covered with an evidence bag, a forensic mitten, the stiffness of the muscles cocooned in a warm wrap, the death gases left to soften the curled, talon-like hand, there would be time to examine what they saw. They would try to piece together the puzzles of what they could only guess at first glance, until they had a picture based on reality, on facts. The red fibre under the nail, the ring, the blood and other, if any other, DNA or evidence on the hand or sleeve or under the nails or on the clothing would be saved and examined as clues.

It didn’t seem to be a large leg as far as legs went. The buildup of after-death gas may have caused it to look larger than the size the fine bones of the knee pushed against the fabric of the black trouser leg would indicate, plumping the leg out like a sausage too small for its casing. The size of the knee did not seem to match the rest of the leg, the thigh bent with the knee facing to the right, in a yoga butterfly or cobbler's pose.

The leaves hid the area of the leg below the knee and revealed nothing until the eyes travelled down and rested on a black shoe that was turned out just slightly as if it was placed on the leaves separate from the rest of body. The hint of a black sock at the top of the shoe was just visible.

The good leather of the shoe would never be worn and tested to its full potential, not for this wearer. What size was the shoe? A look at the sole, anything to not look up, but there was no clear marking visible to the eye. Were those darker splotches blood that seeped into the soft leather at the top of the shoe?

The shoe, and foot, please let there be a foot, and please let there be another arm and a leg and a body attached, would be further examined later, and the dark splotches scraped and studied under a microscope.

Had the person wearing the shoe walked on the forest floor here or been killed somewhere else and dumped here? There was dirt in the bottom of the shoe that looked damp, stuck in the treads. That too would be scraped, preserved, examined, and tested along with soil from the surrounding area as a comparison.

Lying on the pile of pine needles and leaves as the body was, almost made it look like a comfortable final resting place, the rigidity of the limbs disguised by the quiet softness of the mix of old and new forest debris. The heady, sun-warmed scent on the needles almost masked the smell of death and the rich iron smell of all the blood not yet visible. The heavy scent meant there would be blood though, lots of blood. The leaves made a blanket best left undisturbed, but it was time.

The brain, the body, the training, the experience had worked. The eyes moved finally to what both attracted and repelled, the mind now more ready to handle what the eyes had seen.

The eye, an eye, open but not seeing, visible as if a whirling dervish came down just for them and cleared the leaves and needles from around the face to reveal only an eye widened in horror. That was not an assumption. What other emotion could leave such an expression recognizable even when devoid of life?

The blue of the iris looked like a marble, a keeper, pale, but yet still so vibrant against the darkened compost that surrounded it.

Then suddenly, as if set to stage, a burst of wind made its way down through the trees and lifted the leaves straight up in a whirl, to reveal a small section of a face, the white skin of a cheek and beside it, the partially visible death-set grimace of lips curled back, teeth clenched together, before it died down as quickly as it blew in. Though not possible, they hoped the person died as quickly, and then the leaves floated down and settled back onto the face and this time covered the eye as well. The breath of the living was audible, the sigh of the palatable relief at what small mercy nature had just given them.

Chapter 1


Friday October 7th, 2016


It was almost two weeks early. What should she think or feel about that? She stood at the super box and opened and closed the birthday card. She should think it is great that her birthday was remembered and someone wanted to celebrate it with her. She should think that it was a nice gesture. She should think she would do the same, but would she? She should think she should put an end to it sooner rather than later. November will be less than three weeks away. She should feel uncertain, upset at the uncertainty, nervous, wary, reluctant. She should stop looking at the card and reading the personal message and put it in her pocket. She should burn it in the fireplace when she got back. She should do this because instead of what she thought she should feel, she felt loved, liked, elated, nervous in an anticipatory way, giddy, light-headed, and relieved. She felt relieved that she was likeable and lovable, but she still felt uncertain as to whether she was worthy. That was Joe’s doing. Not entirely his fault, her fault too, but...

To keep the card would confirm this and assuage her doubts. To burn the card would mean she no longer cared what others thought. She knew it was more important to have internal confidence rather than nice words on a card from someone else no matter how special they were to her, but she couldn't go inside herself yet. Skirting along her emotional edge was easier for her these days.

Charlene put the card in the inside pocket of her wind jacket and zipped it back up. It could stay in there until she decided what to do with it. She took the rest of the mail out of her box and dumped the flyers in the recycle bin. She would deal with the other mail later. She had already opened the important one. The fact that she thought this surprised her. Why this thought came to her mind so quickly and freely made Charlene feel more reluctant to think about it. If it was that important to her, than how unimportant was the rest? How important was he to her?

A nuthatch was making a racket as it worked its way upside down along the trunk of the old white pine that stood at least 60' tall, rather crooked, the side branches cut by hydro crews in an attempt to keep the tree off the power line. A red squirrel was staring at her from an overhanging maple branch. She was clearly in the squirrel's space somehow. She was getting a scolding. She stared back at the squirrel and only stopped when she realized it was silly knowing she wouldn't win the contest.

It was a clear fall day. The sky was blue and cloud-free. The oak leaves were rustling. Early frosts had changed the colours of the leaves by mid-September, and a fierce rain storm with high winds blew the beauty from the boughs. Now the branches of the maples, birch, aspen, ironwoods and all the other deciduous trees that Charlene didn't know the names of, were bare, letting the blue sky be seen so much closer to the ground. Only the oaks held some of the leaves, and these would likely stay all winter, rustling in the breeze and scaring her when she walked in the woods. The Tamarack needles were golden, but another high wind would blow those off soon too. The weather was supposed to change by the afternoon and cloud over and be miserable with rain again. It didn't really matter though. Charlene's time was the fall. The fresh air, the cozy blankets and sweaters, the smell of wood smoke, the smell of the dampness from the lake that came earlier in the evening and stayed until mid- morning, the piles of leaves and mounds of pine cones on the ground, the lack of bugs, biting bugs especially, the grass no longer green or growing, nature and animals going to bed for the season, and the tourists mostly all staying home, made fall her favourite time of year.

Once the guests left after this Thanksgiving week-end, she would almost be finished catering to strangers. Cottage #1 would be full of anglers a week from now, but she could work at closing the other five cottages for the winter and almost be done with it all for another season.

She was close to telling the guys she was closed right after the Thanksgiving week-end, but knew the money from the 10 day cottage rental with three rental fishing boats would give her the extra income to feel more settled when the resort closed down until spring. She had a bill to settle for a new roof that was installed on her house in Nova Scotia during the summer. Besides, the men had come every year for something like 10 years, the last four trips with her as the owner, and they were no trouble. In fact, they were wonderful to her when she first bought the resort. They were the only guests she had after she bought the resort since the purchase closed in the late fall, and she had no other guests that late in the season before she closed the resort for the winter.

Each fall when the group of guys came, they all left in their boats early in the day and came back for lunch, then went out on the lake again late afternoon and were back by dusk. Charlene heard loud laughter and often drunken gaiety into the night if they sat around the outside fire pit or had their cottage windows open, the cigar smoke getting too much even for them. Knowing they were the last guests of the season made it easier for her to appreciate them and tolerate the noise. She knew that when they left she would have her own peace and time to herself.

They men always took the fishing boats over to the parking lot across the lake if they needed to get to their cars and hadn't once asked her to take them over on the 32' pontoon boat she used for transporting guests back and forth from cars to cottages. They somehow managed to make it to the Black Cat restaurant a short drive down the highway for a dinner of wings and beer either by designating a driver or taking a chance. They came back in their fishing boats quietly and didn't disturb her on the one late night off the property they enjoyed.

When they arrived on check-in day, they always launched a big bass fishing boat they towed with them. Three guys came over the lake to the office in that boat, signed for three rental fishing boats then motored them back over to the landing along with the bass boat to load their gear to bring over to the dock in front of cottage #1. They did it all in reverse when they checked out, using their own boat to transport the eight guys, in two trips, back to their cars.

That was eight guys in a three-bedroom cottage and a pull-out chesterfield. For the first few years Charlene thought they doubled up in bed and on the pull-out, but they laughed when they discovered she thought this, and told her their set-up was one man to one bed. They used their own camping cots for the other four guys, strewn about wherever there was room. She offered to rent cottage #2 to them at a discounted rate so they could have more room but they said they tried separate cottages on past trips and it didn't work out. They wanted to be together to share their experiences. They went fishing two to a boat and switched partners every day. They told her that worked the best for all of them, and gave them a chance to catch up with each other.

A few years ago, one of the men brought her a candle as a gift. He noticed her apple candle from the seventies on a shelf in the office and decided they had a shared interest in vintage candles. The one he gave her was beige and white and black, a tall candle with those wonderful curls cascading down the sides that was all the rage in the seventies and eighties. He said he and his wife bought it at a garage sale and kept it, just as Charlene kept her apple candle all these years for some unknown reason, but they had so many candles they decided it was time to clean them out. He said he would be happy to bring more each year and he did. She had a collection of frog and turtle candles in the office from him and she wondered what kind of candle he would bring her this year.

Charlene kept all six cottages open but so far only four were booked for the Thanksgiving week-end. She was hoping to fill the cottages, but she knew the holiday week-end was often spent at home with family. Three sets of guests were expected to arrive within a few hours and the other guests would arrive on Saturday for the other cottage.

She could almost taste the freedom coming. First she would have lots of work to clean the cottages then get the boats and motors winterized and stored away, and get the wood cut for the spring and fall guests as well as for the office wood stove. Knowing that her all-day job for the past six months without days off would soon be ending was exhilarating to her. The freshness of the fall air helped to clear her head and relax her, yet excite her as well. She knew her trip east in November was coming soon and she could hardly wait to be close to the ocean for the winter and work on fixing up and decorating her Maritime home.

The thought of the card in her pocket was exhilarating to her too. When she was with Jim she felt herself, her new self since she divorced more than four years ago, quit her job as a detective with the Hamilton Police Service and travelled for a year before she bought the resort. She was only 54, soon to be 55 on October 19th. Only 54, she thought. To a young person, 54 would seem ancient. To Charlene it felt like she was still in her thirties physically, with only a few aches and pains associated with aging. Only the reflection in the mirror told the truth.

At the start of her work day when she walked down the stairs from her second floor private living quarters above the office/laundry/storage area of the house built into the side of the hill just a stone throw from the lake, she looked at herself in the small mirror she hung on the wall at the bottom of the stairs. It was her smile mirror, put there to remind herself to smile at the guests no matter how tired or frustrated she was with herself or them. Most days she didn't need the reminder before she opened the door and entered her work space, but that left some days when the sheer exhaustion of working long days, months at a time, got to her and she really felt like just shutting herself away from people.

The mirror reflected deeply etched lines that used to be just around her mouth. The laugh lines and the crinkles at the side of her eyes had multiplied so her face was a not-so-fine web of lines she could probably catch that nuthatch in, she thought, never mind a fly. Her jaw had a deep line on either side, probably from gravity drooping the muscles in her face as she lay in bed, curled like a baby on her side, waiting for sleep that usually left her alone. She was a few years into menopause and a few years into no sleep other than bits of deep exhaustive, heavy, early morning dreaming time that left her sweaty

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