Murder in the Boonies - Maggie Pill

CHAPTER ONE

Faye

When my kids were growing up, I taught them to be hard-working, loyal, and kind to small children and animals. I never stopped to think that those things can lead to heartache—and in a few instances can get you killed.

It started with a phone call. Before I could say a word, my sister started talking, her voice ringing with indignation, “Our renters are gone, and they gave me no notice whatsoever!”

“What do you mean, Retta? McAdams moved out?”

“I got a letter in today’s mail, saying they were leaving on Monday. They didn’t send me notice until the day they left.”

“Maybe the letter got delayed somehow.”

“The letter’s date is the same as the postmark.” She gave a ladylike snort. (Everything Retta does is ladylike.) “I’ll never show it to Barbara Ann. It’s so full of errors she’d have apoplexy. Can you imagine just sending a letter to say you’re moving away and leaving the same day?” She paused for breath. “I’m shocked, Faye. I never imagined those people would do something like this!”

Retta has the dubious honor of managing our family farm. After our parents died, first Dad, then Mom a year later, none of us wanted to live there. Barb was out in Tacoma, and Retta and Don had just built a nice home on the river. I had to stay in town since my husband Dale needs to be close to medical and rehab services.

I loved the old place, and selling it to strangers didn’t seem right, so I’d argued we should rent it out. Retta, who loves to be in charge of things, agreed to manage the property. She leased the fields to a local farmer and the house and outbuildings to a series of tenants. Ten miles out of Allport with a house that isn’t exactly a palace, the farm’s renters hadn’t stayed long until McAdams—I thought his first name was Ben—moved in. McAdams had come to Allport a single man just out of the military, rented the house and outbuildings from Retta, and brought in chickens and a few cattle. Later he’d found a girlfriend, a woman with three little girls, and since then the menagerie had grown to include other interesting creatures like reindeer and peafowl.

“I thought they were happy out there with their critters.”

“I did too,” Retta replied. “Rose is always really good about sending the rent money on time. But I’ve been busy planning summer events for the Chamber and VBS at church. With that and helping you two at the agency, I haven’t been out there in a while.”

Retta is part of the Smart Detective Agency only through sheer will on her part. Our older sister Barb and I started the business with the idea that we would solve crimes and help people. Retta noses her way into our business whenever possible, as she has since we were teenagers and she was the little sister we didn’t want along on our adventures.

I admit she is often useful. The widow of a state policeman killed in the line of duty, Retta has contacts Barb and I don’t. She also has a sharp intellect and plenty of courage. On the down-side, she’s impulsive and bossy, which irks Barb all the time and me sometimes. Barb keeps reminding me—and Retta, too—that she’s an auxiliary employee, not a partner. That doesn’t stop Retta from acting as if she runs the place.

Still upset about our renters’ disappearance, Retta went on with her news. “I talked to Chet Masters, the guy who farms our fields. He said not only are they gone, but they left their animals behind.”

“What?”

“I know! Half a dozen reindeer, a flock of peacocks, some chickens, and three or four cows. There could be more. I never paid much attention.”

“And they didn’t make arrangements for them?”

“None. Masters peeked in the windows, and he says there’s a lot of stuff still in the house, too.” Retta’s voice rose as her irritation spiked again. “How inconsiderate can people be? I’ll have to find someone to clean the place out before I can run ads and get new tenants in.”

“Don’t rent it if it’s too much work.” The regular deposits in my bank account were nice, but the agency had started picking up steam. “Since Dale and I moved in with Barb, we can manage without the money.”

Retta made a coughing sound, as if I’d suggested she do the Dance of the Seven Veils to spice up the opening of Vacation Bible School. “A house falls apart ten