Shadow Lake

SHADOW LAKE a chainbooks publication Starter Chapter by William J. Humphrey, Jr. Final Chapter by Patty Greywacz Alternate Ending by Sarah Madderra Edited by Nancy Arant Williams, Gregory S. Humphrey and Emily Davis

Publication Information Copyright 2011 chainbooks, llc all rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form, except for the inclusion of brief quotations in review, without permission in writing from the publisher.

ISBN-13: 978-0-982-05461-1 First Edition - October 2011

The publisher welcomes feedback at chainbooks is on the internet at Additional copies may be purchased by visiting, or writing to the publisher PO Box 1231 Dandridge, TN 37725 USA

chainbooks is an on-line social network for authors from all walks of life to gather with the goal of creating manuscripts one chapter at a time. Shadow Lake is our first such publication that has combined the collaborative efforts of twenty-four different writers of various skills, experiences and nationalities. While there are a tremendous amount of people that deserve mention on these pages we would be remiss if we did not mention our Partners and Board Members that worked to get chainbooks off of the ground (Sallyann, David, James, Matthew, Rory and Patty) our Investors that funded our start up, our friends and families that encouraged a dream that took two years to come to fruition, my wife Sallyann who has worked tirelessly throughout this process and never stopped loving me, our friends Mark and Angie, Val and Pastor David who motivated us, all the authors who’s positive words stimulated and encouraged us when we wanted to give up and Christine Rockwell who left us too early but not too early to be an inspiration to press on (sorry the first book wasn’t about you). Thank you and we all hope you enjoy our efforts. Please read this with the understanding that twenty-four people combined on this effort, writing each chapter in less than five days and none had any earthly idea what was happening next or where it was going, but we hope it entertains you as much as it has entertained us.

Contributing Authors
William J. Humphrey, Jr., Ohio, USA J. Matthew Evon, Tennessee, USA Gregory S. Humphrey, Tennessee, USA Rory Anderson, Perth, Australia Tim Anderson, New Zealand Traci Carnes, South Carolina, USA Brooke Williams, Nebraska, USA Michaela Graf-Jones, Florida, USA Marie Williams, Maryland, USA Sue Tripp, Pennsylvania, USA Kate Barber, Tennessee, USA Mya Barrett, Georgia, USA David Higginbotham, Virginia, USA Leah Hughes, Georgia, USA David Velarde, Tennessee, USA Rochelle Devoe, Colorado, USA Jes Starr, New York, USA Liora Halevi, Massachussetts, USA Vicki Miller, Idaho, USA Tonya Stokes, Louisiana, USA Angel Granata, Colorado, USA Patty Greywacz, New Hampshire, USA Sarah Madderra, Missouri, USA

Contributing Editors
Nancy Arant Williams, Missouri, USA Gregory Humphrey, Tennessee, USA Emily Davis, Virginia, USA

The initial author’s concept of Shadow Lake was that a retired Police Officer from Chicago, Illinois was visiting a small town in Wisconsin on a weekend trip. The visitor was attempting to get back to nature, visit an old friend, determine if this was to be his retirement home and to reaffirm his relationship with God. With the assistance of the creative minds of twentythree writers, Shadow Lake has much more to offer. Follow all of the twists and turns imaging how you may have changed the story. Each writer was given five days to read the previous chapter and write their chapter. Never knowing what would be put in place before them, that is the intrigue of a chainbooks publication and the mystique of Shadow Lake.

Chapter One
The gravel of the old road crunched under the weight of the pickup’s tires as it slowly made its way down the grade. The side of the mountain was lined with tall pines among outcroppings of boulders. A narrow, potholed stretch, it had been a long hard ride up, and now Cliff Morgan was hoping it would be a very quick ride down. He had to pee like a racehorse. He glanced over at his coffee thermos. Coffee may be the work of the devil. On the other hand, maybe he was just getting older and his bladder couldn’t take the strain like it used to. Out the passenger’s side window, he could see the glistening surface of Shadow Lake—his destination. Maybe his retirement locale. Maybe his final resting place. The town nestled around one end of the lake looking small and quaint—picturesque. Just as it had been described to him by his old friend, Ben Jackson. Ben had moved here almost twelve years ago and told him that the place was just about as peaceful and quiet as you would ever want a place to be. He was looking forward to seeing Ben again and reliving old times. Thoughts of Ben and the little town vanished into thin air as he came back to the reality of his situation. He still had to pee. He reluctantly pulled the truck over and

stopped. He got out and paused long enough to look once more at the lake. He took a deep breath of the fresh, crisp air and then hurried around to the back of the truck and did his business. The rough gravel road eventually spilled out onto a newly paved section that led directly into town. Simpson’s Creek was located just this side of town. A short, rickety-looking wooden bridge represented the line between Shadow Lake and the rest of the world. A sign on the far side of the bridge proclaimed the town to be “A Peaceful Place.” Cliff chuckled. He pulled his pickup into the first empty spot along the beginning of the street. Stepping out he surveyed the little town. A narrow main street populated with single story buildings. A combination grocery store and gas station. A post office that looked much like it had been a private home converted many years ago. A small bait shop. The sheriff’s office. A sheriff’s office, he thought to himself. I’ll have to stop in and say hello. Cliff unzipped his jacket. There, his detective’s badge hung from his belt. He touched the badge, by force of habit. He always carried it, even on vacation. He believed that being a detective was a twenty-four-hour-aday, seven-day-a-week job. Always on. Always ready. Maybe that was why he was thinking so hard about

retirement. He felt weary and worn down by always being on. He zipped his jacket and started a leisurely stroll down the main street.His first stop would be the bait shop. Entering the place, he had to make sure he didn’t bump his head. He was not a tall man, five-feet ten inches, but the place had a very low doorway. Once inside his senses were barraged with all sorts of musty smells and a wide variety of antique fishing gear. Most of it looked like it had probably been around when he was a kid. The old man who ran the place popped up from a chair stationed behind the counter. “Can I ’elp ya?” The man had a New England accent, Bostonian if he wasn’t mistaken. Cliff liked to play a little game with himself trying to pinpoint the exact origin of a person’s dialect. He was guessing Boston on this one. “No. No. I’m just looking around.” He picked up a few items of miscellaneous fishing gear, slowly turned them over in his hand, studying them for a time, and then put them back in their respective bins. “You ain’t from around here, are ya?” “No. I just came to town to look at some property about half way across the lake there.” He absently gestured toward the lake. The old man peered out the window of his shop and took note of the license plate on Cliff’s pickup.

“Illinoy. I figure Chicago, by the sound of ya.” For the second time that afternoon Cliff had to chuckle. He thought only police detectives studied dialects. “Yeah, you’re right. South side of Chicago. I’m getting ready to retire and hoping to set up housekeeping down here.” The old man pulled a piece of wood out of his back pocket and a knife from under the counter and began to whittle nonchalantly. “Well, I can tell ya this, mister. You couldn’t have picked a finer spot to settle down. The people here are real nice and—well, you know the country’s just about as pretty as it gets.” They both looked out the window toward the foot of Bald Mountain just on the other side of the creek. The lake had already started turning a deep, dark blue in the shadow of the mountain, just after the sun crested its peak. It was a far cry from Chicago. Cliff sighed. “How long have you been here?” The old man paused. “Goin’ on nearly ten years now. I was an angler ‘fore that. Commercial, had a rig out of a little town north of Boston.” “Boston.” You nailed that one. “Why did you quit?”

The old man looked at Cliff as if he’d just asked the dumbest question he’d ever heard. “Fishin’s hard—a job for young men. Besides that, the kind of winters we had. Not suited to an old man like me. Not suited to no one really. Colder than a witch’s ti ...” He stopped himself. He started back in on his piece of wood. “You planning on doing any fishin’?” Cliff didn’t even have to think about it. He nodded enthusiastically. “Oh, yeah. If the place I’m looking at is even half-way decent, I’ll be fishing before I unpack. “ The old man smiled, showing a few gaps where teeth used to be. “Hey now, don’t forget to get a license. You can pick one up at the sheriff’s office.” “I was headed up that way. I’m looking forward to meeting him. “ The old man was trying to carve a delicate notch cut into the wood and only half-listening to Cliff. “Meeting who?” “Your sheriff.” The old man smiled again. Not as big a smile this time. “Her. Her name is Linda. Linda Spencer. She’s been the sheriff since about three years after I got here.” A female sheriff. This ought to be interesting. “Her brother was sheriff before her,” the man continued. “Then he died in the line of duty and the town elected her to take his place.”

“In the line of duty, you say?” Cliff began taking mental notes then stopped himself. You’re not in Chicago and this isn’t an investigation. Just cool it. “Ya. He was checking out some vandalism or some such thing. And I guess he was maybe too close to the road. Some drunk, some kid, or some drunken kid hit ’em. Broke his back and then left him in the ditch to die.” The old man bowed his head. “Tragic thing. He was a good man.” Cliff didn’t know what to say. “I’m sorry.” The old man put the stick of wood back in his rear pocket and brushed the shavings off his coveralls. “Well, you let me know if you need any fishin’ gear, won’t ya.” Cliff headed toward the front door, remembering to lower his head. “I’m sure I’ll be seeing you.” He waved his hand. “Oh, I know you will...” the old man said. Once Cliff was outside the door, he yelled in a louder voice, “I got the best night crawlers in this part of the county.” While walking down the street Cliff looked up at Bald Mountain. It towered over both the town and the lake, a huge protective mass that sheltered the town from the rest of civilization.

The Post Office. He looked in through the big picture window. Just as he thought, it was once someone’s home. They had added a counter, some shelves, P.O. boxes, and had cut a new door to a back room. Tile flooring covered a floor that had probably once been thick shag carpet in a living room. A younglooking, perky blonde, wearing a light blue postal uniform top, was busy wrapping a package for an elderly lady. Her lips and her hands were moving a mile a minute. People like to talk in this town, he thought. Next was a building that Cliff had missed when he first looked over the town. It was the smallest barbershop he had ever seen. He cupped his hand to shade his eyes and peered in the window. One chair. Three waiting seats. Out of date calendars hanging on the walls. Magazines that he was sure were at least three or four years old. He could just imagine the smell of musty newspapers and hair tonic. He brushed his graying mop back with his fingers and read the sign hanging on the door. Open Tuesday, Wednesday and Thursday 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. “Now there’s a guy who knows the value of a long weekend,” he said to himself. He made a mental note to pay the barber a visit if he was still here on Tuesday. The sheriff’s office was located a couple of doors down the street. The door stuck a little at its bottom as Cliff tried

to open it, and he had to put a little shoulder into it. He looked down at the scarred threshold, worn down by the scraping motion. An electronic tone sounded in one of the back rooms to signal his entry. He heard the distant sound of shuffling papers and then footsteps. As he walked into the main room of the office he noted how much it looked like all the other sheriff’s offices he had ever been in, and he had been in a lot of them. A counter at the front, a desk behind that, mostwanted posters hanging on the walls, and a gun cabinet in the corner. He felt right at home. All his life, or at least as far back as he could remember, he had been totally engaged in the pursuit of police work. He loved every part of it and had always been around others who enjoyed the work as much as he did. The sheriff emerged from her office holding a small stack of papers. Skimming them as she walked, her reading glasses were perched precariously on the end of her nose. She was quite an attractive woman. Cliff guessed her to be about forty-eight, maybe ten to fifteen pounds overweight, but not fat. The extra bulk was in all the right places and her khaki uniform blouse seemed to fit her like a glove. She had shoulder-length blonde hair. She did not look up until she reached the counter. “How can I help you, hon?” she asked as she took off her glasses and looked up. Blue eyes. Smooth, clear

skin and dimples. Cliff was still making his assessment of her and was slow to respond. “Um, a couple of things. I need to get some directions to a friend's cabin.” He felt his face flush slightly. She placed the papers, face down, on the counter top and folded her glasses on top of them. "Well, I'll help you if I can. What's your friend's name?” “It's Jackson. Ben Jackson. Do you know him?” Sheriff Spencer flashed an amused smile. “Sweetie, around here everyone knows everyone.” She said the words in a southern belle voice that sounded a little sarcastic to Cliff. She motioned out the window toward the lake. “You take the lake road about half a mile and you'll come to Larson's Pass Road. Turn onto it and Ben's cabin is the sixth or seventh on the right.” “What color is it?” He had to ask the question, just in case the directions weren't that accurate. “It has cedar siding on it and a red roof. You'll see it, honey. Can't miss it.” Cliff nodded and looked around the room again in deep thought. The sheriff watched him for a second and then broke the awkward pause. “Are you looking to move down here?”

Why would she ask me that? Before he could run the possibilities in his mind, she spoke again, “I mean, Ben had mentioned that he had told a couple of his friends about our neck of the woods, and I figured you were probably one of them.” Her warm smile showed off her dimples. “Besides, I know the Shaw place just went up for sale.” Cliff grinned. It was the same deduction he would have made. He took a moment to look at her. Very little makeup. She wore her age well and did not try to hide it. Cliff appreciated that in a woman. He found her lack of vanity both charming and refreshing. “Yes I am,” he answered. “The Shaw's place. Is it nice?” “Sure is and it’s just about a quarter mile from Ben’s cabin. Do you know how to get there?” Cliff nodded. “They sent me a map and a picture.” A quiet little buzzer went off and the sheriff looked over at the phone, and saw one of its lights pulsing. “Excuse me, hon. I'm the only one here.” She listened intently and then replied, “Thanks for the call, Cyrus. I'll get out there as soon as I can and check it out. No, don't worry. I'll take care of it.” She hung up and picked up the threads of the conversation without losing a beat. “It's a newer place. They were real nice people. It's a shame they had to sell, but Sarah had allergies and they decided to move out

West. I hope you get it.” She thrust her hand out toward him and gave him a firm handshake, more substantial than he had expected. “My name's Linda Spencer.” Suddenly Cliff realized that he hadn't introduced himself. All of his years on the force had trained him that the first point of business was to introduce himself. Well, he thought, this isn't business. It's all about retirement now. Over the past few weeks, he had been trying to remove himself from his work mode. Maybe it was working. “I'm sorry. I'm Cliff Morgan.” She smiled. “Well, it's nice to meet you, Cliff.” “You too, sheriff.” He reached for his wallet and pulled it out of his back pocket. “The other thing I came in for was a fishing license. I hear you sell them here.” “Sure do.” She hastened to add, “You may want to wait until you buy that house. There’s a significant difference in price for residents and nonresidents, you know.” He shook his head and put his wallet back in his pocket. “Well,” he said with a chuckle, “I suppose there’s no sense in throwing money away. I’m getting ready to retire and I may as well start thinking about budgeting now.”

She looked at him skeptically, as if she believed he was too young to retire, and although she didn’t say it, he still felt somewhat flattered. He turned away from her and looked out the big window in the front of the office. “It’s really beautiful down here. A peaceful place, just like the sign says.” “Well, not always.” She looked down at the note she had just written. “That call was from an old geezer outside of town who hasn’t got used to the fact that young men sometimes play their music too loud.” She smiled another amused smile. “It’s probably not all that loud. I think Cyrus is just a little bit sweet on me.” Cliff smiled and changed the tone of the conversation as quickly as he could, before he said something he might later regret. “I’ve just felt the need to take the time to smell the roses, go fishing, read a book, all the things I never took the time to do before.” He paused for a long moment. “My wife died several years ago, and I guess when something like that happens you start thinking differently about things.” He had no intention of relating all the details. Cervical cancer. A horrid, merciless disease that had robbed Ellen of her will to live. All that pain, and the treatment was almost as bad as the disease itself. Chemotherapy—injecting poison into the body in the hope that only the bad cells will be killed off. Agony and suffering day after day.

Had it really been worth it, to extend her life for a few more miserable years? Cliff turned his head to the side. He had no more tears, but the memories still brought pain. God, did I make those last few years any easier for her? Every day I hope and pray I did. She deserved that much. She didn't deserve to have her dignity stripped from her in such a cruel way. There, he did it; he didn’t go on and on to someone about Ellen. In a strange way, it felt good that he had stopped himself. Linda read the look on his face and changed the subject. “So how long have you and Ben been friends?” He stood up straighter. “We go way back. We actually knew each other in high school. We used to have the best time just talking. He’s such a character, a good talker, and so imaginative. He can convince you that he’s been places he’s only seen in picture books.” Cliff chuckled and Linda smiled. This little town was going to be good for him; he just felt it in his bones. He was already comfortable enough to let go and relax. He hadn’t looked at his watch since he exited his truck. In some undefinable way he had already begun the metamorphosis from high-energy police detective to average retired guy. “What line of work are you in?” Linda asked.

“Same as yours.” The statement seemed to catch her a little off guard. He continued. “I work—worked for the Chicago PD twenty-six years.” “Oh, a big city detective.” She suddenly looked down at her watch. “Well listen, honey, you better get going if you want to make it out to the Shaw place before dark.” He once again glanced out the window. “You’re probably right. Well, it was nice meeting you.” He touched two fingers quickly to his forehead in a sort of mock salute. “Hopefully I'll be back soon to get that fishing license.” When he turned to leave, he pulled hard on the knob and heard her mutter softly, “A big city detective.” The road was heavily shaded, rough and winding. The trees seemed to encroach on its space and he thought it was a good thing that the area didn’t get much snow. It would really make it hard to get around if it did. They probably couldn't even get a snowplow through it. Then he wondered if the town even owned a snowplow. He drove along for about ten minutes and was sure he had taken a wrong turn back at the last fork when he saw a cabin that matched the photo in his hand.

Chapter Two
It would soon be dark, so Cliff thought he would peer through a few windows of the Shaw house. Less than ten years old, the cedar cabin was nice but not fancy by any means, which was just what he had been hoping for in a retirement residence. The house seemed solid and quite charming. He had driven down the main road and then into the driveway that approached the south side of the house. About ten feet behind the house was a trickling creek in which nature had staggered large mossy rocks that only amplified the sound of moving water. A long, narrow porch covered nearly the entire front of the house, and at one end a porch swing hung invitingly from one of the porch beams. From what he could see through the front window he estimated it to be about 1500 square feet, probably a three bedroom. It had several exterior doors, including one on a back enclosed porch that entered what appeared to be the kitchen. A dining room in front of the kitchen had its own entrance through a quaint set of French doors that opened onto the front porch. He made his way around the house and cupped his hands around his eyes at each window to look into each room, trying to get the lay of the land from the outside. Out of habit, he checked each knob to

see if it was locked. He ended his tour at the French door on the front porch. On the far end of the house a small covered porch jutted out from the rear of the cabin, which meant it extended almost over the creek in the back. Again he looked through the window that, from the inside, would have a nice view of the creek. Just before walking away, he thought to give the usual check to the knob of the solid back door. It was unlocked. He assumed that Shaw or perhaps a real-estate agent had left the door unlocked for potential buyers. Using this as justification, he entered what was no doubt, a small bedroom, with an open door on the left interior wall that led to a bathroom shared with a second bedroom on the other side. The room had a solitary porcelain light fixture in the center of the ceiling with a seventy-five watt light bulb hanging low, waiting to light the room. Another interior door held a position on the far wall of the bedroom directly across from the door he had just entered. This door was currently closed, and it piqued his interest. The hardwood floors groaned under his weight as he walked across the small room. The daylight was fading fast, but the bare windows invited the last of the light to linger. He planned to make his tour quick; he was not fond of navigating unfamiliar roads in the dark of night.

The closed door had the type of knob and hardware you would see on an exterior door—the type that took a skeleton key, which he found somewhat intriguing. He took hold of the black knob, turned and pulled, but it wouldn’t budge. He wondered if it was locked, but gave it another tug, pulling harder. The door opened, creaking in opposition as it swung wide to reveal a closet. Another door exited the closet into another bedroom on the far side, this one a little larger than the last, perhaps the master bedroom. With no central hallways there was a third bedroom on the far side of the living room. It was an odd configuration, but interesting. The second bedroom exited through a door into the living room that opened onto the long, covered front porch. He really liked the large windows that made what was actually a mid-sized room seem much larger and more open. He could easily visualize where he would put his large screen TV and a recliner. He was mentally arranging his other furniture when he suddenly heard the back door slam shut. Startled, he quickly took a strategic position against a wall and reached for his sidearm. But his holster was empty; upon his arrival in town he had taken it out and placed it under the seat of his vehicle. Believing he was in a safer place than Chicago, he had assumed there was nothing to be concerned about, and

yet he couldn’t stifle the years of police instincts that automatically kicked into gear. He’d been on the job too long not to respond that way. Searching his memory he tried to recall if the offending door had been left open or closed when he entered through the rear porch door. He was sure he had closed it, out of habit—standard procedure. He decided to see if he could retrace his steps through the house and get back to the rear bedroom by the way of the small bathroom he noticed when he first walked in. From the living room, he made his way through one of the bedrooms that shared the bathroom and then headed toward the rear door where he had entered. The outside door was closed, and he decided he had seen enough; by then the sunlight was all but gone. He exited onto the porch and shut the door with force and listened to see if the slamming sound was similar to what he heard earlier. While it sounded like a door slam, it certainly didn’t clear up the mystery. Maybe I neglected to pull the door shut and the wind decided to do it for me. He made his way around the front of the house, and glanced onto the porch where he saw what looked like paper sticking out from under the welcome mat that he hadn’t noticed on his first pass. If the Shaws had moved, leaving the house empty, it would be the neighborly thing to do to check out the

note, possibly left by someone who didn’t know they had moved. Plus, his law enforcement instincts could never resist the temptation to investigate something like a mysterious note. He lifted the mat and picked up a plain post card. On the front, it said only “POST CARD.” On the other side was nothing but the numbers “30567.” It didn’t seem like an important message, perhaps just a set of numbers to the lock box realtors used, but a look around told him there was no lock box. After a moment’s pause he replaced the card, hiding it completely under the welcome mat. Once he settled into the seat of his truck, he reached under the seat and felt for his thirty- eight. The cold steel brought a familiar sense of comfort as his fingers found the barrel of his gun right where he had left it. At that moment he decided that, vacation or not, he would keep his sidearm with him the next time he decided to explore empty houses or the like. He had just reached down and turned the key in the ignition, when a shadow from inside the house abruptly caught his attention at it went past a window. Had someone been in the house when he was there? Maybe the door was slammed by someone coming in behind him. Cliff sat and thought about it for a few seconds while keeping an eye on the house, trying to decide whether it was any of his business if there was a squatter

in the cabin. What bothered him most was the idea that someone else had been there at the same time he was and had never announced himself. But then again, he hadn’t gone out of his way to announce his own arrival either. He shut off the engine and decided he would just go knock on the front door and see who answered. As he got out of his truck and started toward the house, he realized it was already quite dark. The few dim rays of the setting sun now did little to shed any light on the cabin at all. Reaching out he opened the screen door and knocked on the lower part of the front door, just below its window. No one came to the door, nor did he see any sign of life inside. He knocked again, harder this time. When there was still no answer he turned and made his way back to the truck, unwilling to hunt in the dark for an unknown subject. He really liked this place and hoped to live there sometime in the near future, but the idea of someone squatting there without invitation really creeped him out. Out of curiosity he waited another five minutes, knocking intermittently, with no results. Then he decided it was time to go inside. He made his way back around to the back of the house where he had left the door unlocked. It would be great to sleep accompanied by the sounds of the creek, he thought to himself. For a moment he indulged his imagination

trying to picture himself there, enjoying retirement, living in the little cedar cabin, falling asleep in his recliner to a late night ball game with the sound of rippling water filtering in through an open window. Enough of wool gathering; he pulled out his thirty- eight and reached for the knob of the back door. As he turned the knob, it refused to budge; it was locked. He studied the door and its hardware. It was similar to the closet door inside the back bedroom, with a lock made for a skeleton key. That meant that someone would have to have a key to lock it. Who was in there? And why were they hiding? He knocked hard on the back door, this time calling out, “Anybody home?” Still no answer. His frustration level was rising; he just wanted to know what was going on. Was there a squatter living here or someone just hiding out? Heck, it could just be a couple of kids, now afraid that they might be in trouble for trespassing. Whatever the case, he had to have an answer before heading down the road. Once again he yelled to no avail. Maybe the shadowy figure had just been the sun playing tricks as it set for the evening. But if that was the case it did not explain how the unlocked door was now locked. Who had a key? Not that a skeleton key was that hard to come by; just about any hardware store sold them, and there were only a few different variations.

Finally he grew weary of the game and decided it would be better to investigate the situation after a good night’s sleep. He made his way back around the house again, looking in each window from a distance, looking for signs of life inside, but there were none. The temperature had suddenly plunged within the past fifteen minutes, and he pulled the collar of his jacket up around his ears to protect them from the cold wind. After climbing into the truck he stuck his thirtyeight into his belt, put the key in the ignition and started the engine; he waited a moment and then turned the heat on high. As he put the truck into reverse and turned to look out the rear window to back out of the driveway, he could not help but feel that he was being watched. He chose not even to look back as he drove away. Tomorrow would be a new day, with plenty of time to tour potential new homes. He now faced the challenging task of maneuvering down more narrow, winding roads in the dark to locate Ben’s house. His short adrenalin rush after the door slam, was a thing of the past, and he felt drained. He wasn’t even retired yet but was already looking forward to quiet, uneventful evenings. His first night in Shadow Lake had been far more adventurous than he

wanted. He could only hope that Ben’s house wasn’t far down the road and would offer a warm bed and a good night’s sleep.

Chapter Three
Finding Ben’s cabin turned out to be no easy task. He had gotten the same simple directions from everyone: just turn by the empty field near the corner, and you can’t miss it. Right. He finally concluded that one of two things was true: either he had taken a wrong turn, or both the sheriff and Ben had a warped sense of distance when measuring a quarter mile. In the headlights he could see the reflection of snow softly falling. The farther he drove the heavier the snowfall. Would he ever make it to Ben’s place? “Snow’s more here than it does in Chicago,” Cliff murmured aloud. The words were barely out before he realized he was doing it again—talking to Ellen as if she were beside him, as she had been for nearly thirty years as his best friend and companion. She had been gone for nearly five years, but the habit remained. As always he paused to listen, as if waiting for her to speak, even knowing it wouldn’t happen. He still talked to her every day either on purpose or out of simple habit. Sheriff Spencer was the first woman he had really noticed since Ellen’s passing. As an investigator he couldn’t help but look at every other woman with a jaded eye, wondering if she had killed her husband, robbed a liquor store, or written a bad check. It was an

occupational hazard for a cop, something he couldn’t help. He wondered if he would ever change, so that when he looked at people he could see the good in them rather than feeling suspicious and dissecting every little word and action. Maybe then he could take things at face value. But if other cops were any indication of what the future held he saw little hope for change. Tilting his head he saw his own tire tracks and realized he’d seen this place twice before; he was going around in circles. “Ahh—if I see that signpost one more time I’m just going to run it down,” he said, feeling his frustration rising along with exhaustion. “Or just shoot it.” He reached down to his belt to grab his gun and frowned; it was gone. “What the...” He felt around the truck cab that was now in darkness, except for the dim light of the dash. The snow was coming down much harder now. He knew a good detective should never be without his sidearm, but he figured it had just slipped out and fallen between the seats—a disturbing thought. The messy truck had been the one sore subject between them while Ellen was alive. She hated the Peppermint Patty wrappers, empty cheese curl bags, crushed plastic water bottles and loose change that fell from his pockets. Knowing it sounded defensive he said, “I know. I’ll

clean it up tomorrow.” He had said it out of habit, to appease the now-absent Ellen, but as always, knew he had no intention of cleaning it up. She had always seen right through those old excuses. He shook his head, blaming fatigue. He was arguing with a ghost of the past; obviously old habits died hard. He slid his hand deep into the crack between the seats, searching for his gun, but found nothing. Just then he turned his attention toward a flash of movement, glimpsing a dark, shadowy figure just to the side of the roadway. Instantly he jerked the wheel to avoid hitting it —not a good thing to do on snowy, dark roads, in the middle of the night. He pumped the brakes, but the tires lost traction and began to slide directly toward the place where he had seen the dark figure. He had taken the required defensive driving classes at the academy, but his training made little difference in his effort to stop the sliding vehicle. While trying to think logically he hurriedly reached for the emergency brake and pulled it toward him. “That isn’t going to help,” he muttered out loud before downshifting in a final futile effort to stop. But the wheels still failed to grab, and he realized he’d better brace for impact noting a cluster of pine trees that now loomed large before him. The scene was surreal, as time suddenly moved in slow motion, while huge white

snowflakes reflected in his headlights as he careened toward the trees. His mind whirled, mentally bracing for impact, while, at the same time realizing the danger of being lost and injured in freezing temperatures. Briefly he wondered what had become of the shadowy figure that caused his now precarious situation. And last, he thought of Ellen. His senses were heightened when he heard the sound of branches scraping metal; that sent him into a sudden adrenalin rush, before he saw a small opening in the trees, but with one particularly large trunk dead ahead. Simultaneously he felt the concussion of metal crumpling, breaking glass and sending it flying in every direction. He smelled gas, at the same instant a deafening explosion sent the airbag crashing into his face. With a sigh of relief Cliff realized he had survived the crash, but he now had a new set of priorities. He moved each limb, checking for injuries, but felt no pain. He quickly grasped the gravity of the situation—he had crashed on a deserted road in the mountains with no cell service in the middle of no man’s land. And God only knew how soon help would come. Aware that staying with the truck was usually a good idea, it didn’t seem that wise when he saw glass all over the passenger’s seat, the result of the broken

passenger window that now let in massive amounts of frigid air. But there was one good thing—somehow, during the collision his gun had shifted positions and was now clearly visible at the back of the front passenger’s seat. When he reached for the thirty-eight he was distracted by a sound outside his window. Without thinking he grabbed for it, but felt pain as glass shards on the gun’s well-worn stock tore into his skin. Instantly he knew that move had been a mistake— he could feel the sharp edges of broken glass cutting his hand as he took aim to defend himself from whatever had made the noise just inches from his window. Ignoring the pain he tightly gripped the handle, pulled the hammer back with his thumb, turned to the window and assumed the position with trembling hands. Without warning a light flashed, temporarily blinding him. “Whoa there, big fella!” His shaking gun greeted a sight for sore eyes. He dropped his sidearm and exclaimed, “What the heck are you doing, trying to get yourself killed?” In a matter-of-fact tone the sheriff said, “No, but it looks like you are.” She stepped closer and used her flashlight to quickly survey the damage to his vehicle. “You okay, darlin’?”

Perhaps it was his sense of relief or her words of endearment, but suddenly the pain in his hand and the sudden throbbing of his lip hardly seemed worth mentioning. “Oh, sure. It’s just a little fender bender.” In that instant he seemed to come to his senses, grasping the truth of the damage. He frowned. “Hold on. What are you doing here?” “Well honey, it’s my job to keep track of what happens on Old Baldie.” She chuckled and shook her head as if he should’ve known, but when he tried to laugh the pain in his midsection warned him it was a bad idea. Maybe he had broken a rib, but he sure wasn’t going to let her know. She tilted her head and studied his face. “Actually I was worried about you. I was heading up to Ben’s place to make sure you made it.” She paused then added, “Newbies can easily get lost here if they aren’t careful. And since the rest of my flock is tucked in and sound asleep I figured I’d better go and check on you.” Turning to inspect the truck damage she added, “And now I think that it may have been a really good idea, wouldn’t you agree?” He reached for the door handle, and after more of a struggle than he anticipated it finally opened with a groan. As he inspected the damage he realized how lucky he really was. He turned back toward the road and

figured he had traveled about fifteen feet down the embankment, through a cluster of spruce trees, and hit one huge one along with several other slightly smaller ones. “Crap.” “Listen, if all you got was a split lip and a bloody hand, you did okay.” She reached toward his chin to determine the extent of the damage to his lip then added, “Well, other than totally smashing up the front end of your truck. He sighed aloud and shook his head. “Yeah, well —it could’ve been worse. Some maniac was walking the road and I barely missed him.” “You mean someone was out here? Really?” “That’s why I swerved—to avoid hitting him—or it. It happened so fast I couldn’t really tell who it was.” “Come on—you need to come and get in my car. Looks like I’ll get little or no sleep tonight. I’ll have my work cut out for me getting a wrecker out here, then searching for the guy you didn’t hit, and making the accident report.” “How’s that?” She sighed, clearly annoyed at having to explain. “Nobody lives within miles of this place, except Ben, now that the Shaws have moved. So that means there’s a stranger wandering around out here, and it’s gonna get

mighty cold tonight. Would you want that on your conscience?” He watched as she glanced around with a mixture of uneasiness and concern. Then he turned back to the truck and pulled out the heavy canvas duffel that held all his belongings. Slinging it over his shoulder he grabbed the pistol he had left on the seat and carefully tucked it into his waistband. Turning he headed up the hill, following his rescuer. The snow on the steep hill made it slow-going, because he had to check his footing with every step, just trying to stay upright, with the heavy pack throwing off his balance. At the top of the hill they were both breathing hard when they turned to study the accident sight. The moon had emerged from the clouds just enough to illuminate the area. “Sugar, it looks like you’ve made quite a mess of it.” Her tone didn’t improve his mood one iota. “Can’t argue with that.” “You know, I doubt the wrecker could make it up here before morning in these conditions, so maybe we’ll just leave it until daylight.” After a slight hesitation she added, “Gonna have to give you a ticket for reckless op.” He nodded, but said nothing. She took his arm and nudged his shivering frame toward the waiting squad car where the engine was still

running. For the first time he noted the lights flashing red and blue on top of the beat up old vehicle. It was outdated, at least twenty years old, and he could only hope the heater still worked. She opened the door for Cliff, who all but collapsed in the front seat of the car. As he sat down hard he unearthed several notepads with girlie doodles on them and then shoved aside a half-eaten sandwich of unknown origin. Her half liter coffee mug had clearly seen better days— its logo was faded and worn, completely illegible in the dim light. “Oops—sorry. Don’t usually have people sitting up here,” she admitted as she pulled the litter closer to her side of the seat. Without thinking she went on, “Honestly...You wouldn’t know it, but I’m really a neat freak. I mean if you saw my house, you’d...” Her voice trailed off when she realized she had said too much. It was a small town, and people tended to talk. She knew this all too well. Because there was little else to occupy their time the town folks’ favorite hobbies included fishing and keeping up with who she might pair up with that week. As the population grew older the pickings were slim, leaving fewer eligible bachelors to choose from. It was a good thing she was content as a single woman. He cut her off. “I’m sure it’s nice.”

She changed the subject. “I’m going to call Doc, and we’ll just run you over there right now.” He nodded absently, wondering whether his truck was beyond repair. It was old, and he knew it would eventually need replacement, but because it was still reliable, he hadn’t planned to address the issue yet. Before he could respond she added, “But first, we’re going to make a couple of passes around Christine’s Circle here to see if we can find your mystery man.” Her tone let him know that she wasn’t sure of his story. By then he had his own doubts about what he had seen. Had there really been something there? The territory was unfamiliar, and the roads foreign, to say nothing of the dark and the crummy weather. Maybe he had imagined it. But after searching his memory he was certain he had seen something; he wouldn’t have swerved and risked life and limb to avoid something that wasn’t there. He wasn’t the kind to jump to conclusions or make judgments without first checking things out, which is what made him such a great detective. And he wasn’t about to back down now, no matter what the sheriff thought. And yet, there was the nagging feeling that he might have imagined it. Under her questioning gaze and no doubt, questions that would come later, he felt unsure of himself for the first time. Was the dark

figure just like the shadow in the window, a figment of his imagination? There were too many unanswered questions, but the primary question was: Am I losing it? What are the odds? While he was lost in thought the sheriff had made two laps around the snow-covered roadway. Suddenly her voice broke the silence. “We’ve been around this route twice and I don’t see any signs of life or even any footprints. You sure you actually saw someone, or could it be that you were overtired from the drive and your mind was playing tricks on you? Or maybe it was an animal?” “No way,” Cliff argued. “I saw someone. Just because we can’t find him now doesn’t mean it didn’t happen. Maybe the new snow covered his prints.” “Now don’t get in a snit, or you’ll get yourself all worked up and split that lip open again.” By that time he was chilled to the bone, so he reached over and picked up her thermos hoping for a warm drink of some kind. Coffee, hot chocolate or even warm, flat soda would be better than nothing. “Give me that,” she said reaching out for it. “There’s a trick to getting it open.” She had just turned the top of the red and yellow striped container, when suddenly, out of nowhere a dark, thin figure darted out from between the bushes and into

the path of her car. She turned the wheel hard to avoid the collision, but the snowy road made traction nearly impossible, so that instead of correcting her position the car skidded toward the other side of the road. Unfortunately there was no stand of pines to break their fall—only a broken guardrail. Beyond that, if memory served him, there was nothing but a steep cliff beyond that ended in the still, icy waters of Shadow Lake.

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