A Fair To Die For
It's October, craft fair season in the Ozarks, and
Carrie and Henry are helping their friend Shirley sell
her quilts and Baby Cuddlies at the War Eagle Craft Fair.
After a mysterious cousin with ties to drug dealers appears, danger stalks the fair. When Carrie is abducted by killers following a breakfast at War Eagle Mill, she's afraid she won't escape because--though her aim in life has always been to help others out of problems--no one who can help her knows where she is.
"There is no me out there to help me."
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Review of A Fair To Die For on Ask David
Busy day at the War Eagle Fair.
"A FAIR TO DIE FOR offers
readers an intriguing premise, a surprise a page, and a
delightful protagonist. A fine entry in a series with
Carolyn Hart, author of WHAT THE CAT SAW (Fall, 2012)
"Carrie McCrite has never been in better form--nor gotten into worse trouble--her relationship with Henry never more endearing. Set during Arkansas's historic War Eagle Fair, the dangers that engulf Carrie are buried in the tangles of family history. Is the lonely Edie really a cousin? Or is her motive for seeking out Carrie much more sinister?
Donna Fletcher Crow, author of A DARKLY HIDDEN TRUTH, The Monastery Murder series.
"Tasty as an apple pie, comforting as a mom's hug, entertaining as a sand-lot baseball game, A FAIR TO DIE FOR pits home-spun sleuth Carrie McCrite against evildoers whose lack of scruples are no match for her abundance of not only scruples but also charm."
Lillian Stewart Carl, author of the Jean Fairbairn/Alasdair Cameron series
THE SECOND PHONE CALL
Carrie clicked “Play.” Neil Diamond began singing to her about Sweet Caroline, and she increased the volume on her CD player to wall-shaking level. Henry King’s taste in music listening ran to a volume that, he said, their neighbors a mile away couldn’t hear, so she waited until her husband wasn’t home to play her favorite CD’s—whether Brahm’s First Symphony or their Elvis Gold album—loud enough to be felt. Henry was joking about the neighbors hearing anything, but she still tried to keep the volume down when he was home.
She’d been to enough live concerts to know how loud the music could be there. At the last Elvis concert she’d attended . . . whoo-ee!
She moved toward the kitchen sink in dance steps. Oh yes, Neil would get her through potato peeling in style.
Carrie was only half way around the first potato when the phone rang.
Henry? Meeting running late again, I’d bet on it.
She put the potato down, rinsed her hands, and softened the music before she said “Hello.”
“Hi, Little Love. Our board meeting is going to run about an hour overtime. A new rural area wants to join our water district, and there’s a lot to discuss. Hope that doesn’t complicate supper.”
“Nope. I was just starting on potato peeling. I can put them in a bowl of water to wait for you.”
“And then where are they going?”
“Oven. I thought we’d have oven-fried potatoes with sliced ham and cole slaw. There’s left-over fruit gelatin, too.”
“Ahhh, I’m in love with a cook.”
They laughed, and, as she walked around the center island to move one of her prized Delft canisters back into line, she said, “Me too. Your turn to cook tomorrow night.”
“Good. Got to go, we’re only taking a short break before we start to unknot the problems for this new area. See you in about an hour and a half. Roger has already called Shirley, so you don’t need to do that. I’ll phone again when the meeting’s over so you can put those potatoes in the oven.”
“Okay. Big hug for you, and back to the kitchen sink for me.”
She heard him laughing as the phone went dead.
“Cracklin’ Rosie” was the woman of choice when she turned the sound back up and returned to potato peeling.
Neil had progressed into “Song Sung Blue” when the phone rang again.
Oh, for gosh sake.
It was a female voice. Using her maiden name. “Yes, who . . .?
“This is your cousin Edie. Remember me? It’s been a long time. Edith Embler it was. Still is, actually. Took my name back after the divorce.”
Edith Embler? Cousin? Carrie’s thoughts went galloping back through the years. No, not possible. She had no living cousins. All she could think of to say was “Edie?”
“We moved away right after your fourth birthday, so maybe you don’t remember me. Your father’s sister Edith is my mother. I’m named after her.”
“Sister? But I thought . . .” Carrie stopped. She knew her dad once had a younger sister, but all her life she’d understood that girl died as a baby. Revealing this right now probably wasn’t the best idea.
Edie didn’t seem to notice the interrupted sentence. “We lived in Tulsa until Dad got a job in D.C. He died years ago, or at least disappeared during a business trip to Mexico, and was reported dead. Mom’s still perking at eighty-nine, and I promised her I’d look you up when I came this way. Your folks gone? Mom says they were middle-aged when you were born.”
“Yes, they’re both gone.” Carrie’s inner caution light was working overtime now, and she ran a hand through her grey curls. “Uh, did you say your father disappeared?’
“Well, I am sorry, it must have been a tough time for you and your mother.”
Edie ignored the sympathy and said, “I remember coming to your house for Thanksgiving dinner when I was about seven. It was a pretty day, and our folks took us to the park after we ate. I pushed you in a swing, but pushed it crooked. The swing went sideways and you fell out. Bloodied your nose. Boy, I got in trouble for that.”
Swing. She’d hit her nose on the swing seat when she fell. It bled. Had there been another girl there?
“I don’t know if I remember falling off a swing,” she said, unwilling to admit anything yet. “Do you know why our families didn’t stay in touch, or travel for visits after you moved away?”
“I guess things just didn’t work out. Dad had a top secret job with a government agency and was gone a lot. I suppose he had enough of travel through work. Besides, I don’t think your dad and mine got along. Mom and Dad never mentioned family in Tulsa after we moved away. But now Mom has mentioned you, and here I am!”
Carrie managed only “Here you are,” as she dropped into a chair at the kitchen table.
What, I wonder, is the real reason for this woman’s call? Who is she?
Edie laughed and repeated, “Yes, here I am.”
There was a pause filled with prickles, then Carrie said, “Well, where, exactly, are you? And how did you find me?”
“Oh, I’m in Tulsa now. Thought I might locate you here, though goodness knows why, since I knew you’d probably gotten married and changed your name. But, Mom insisted I try. Well, of course I didn’t find you in the phone book, or anyone else named Culpeper. Mom doesn’t remember your mother’s maiden name, so there was no way to locate that side of your family. She did have the address where you used to live, so I drove there. The woman who answered the door said she didn’t know of any Culpepers. She and her husband bought the house from people named Smith, and she never saw paperwork about previous owners. I tried houses on either side, but no one was home. A woman across the street remembered your family but all she could say was ‘Those folks been gone for years.’”
“That would be Mrs. Murphy, and it has been several years. I sold the house to people named Smith, but it’s obviously changed hands. So then, how did you track me down?”
“Went to the Tulsa County Courthouse. I found records in the county clerk’s office that listed a Carrie McCrite who inherited the Culpeper house and sold it. But that was a dead end. Since the library was handy I walked across the mall to try a computer search.”
“Ah.” This woman was sure interested in finding her. But a cousin? How could that be? The only cousin she knew about, a boy, was on her mother’s side of the family. Eric had died in Vietnam.
“I was just getting started on research when the computer did something peculiar and froze up. Frustrating.”
“Computers can be very frustrating.” Carrie was trying so hard to think back into the past it almost made her head hurt. If only she could remember anything at all about her father’s sister, then maybe everything about this situation wouldn’t feel so wrong. It would be nice to have a living cousin.
Be careful, be careful. “Looks like you found me anyway. So, what happened?”
She could almost guess. The library Edie had landed in was the one where Carrie had worked until her marriage to Amos McCrite.
Edie laughed. “The computer problem turned out to be a piece of good luck. I had to get help, and when I told the woman who came what I was looking for, she knew who you were because you’d worked at that library years ago. She called in another employee who worked with you back then. That woman knew you’d moved to Arkansas. She hesitated about giving me your current address, but finally did give me this phone number.”
“My goodness, that must have been Irene. I haven’t seen her for a while. It’s time I planned a trip to Tulsa to have lunch with her.”
“That’s the name, Irene. Now then, if you’ll tell me how to find you, I can come for a visit.”
“Yes, well it’s so nice of you to have taken this trouble to look me up. My first husband, Amos, was killed several years ago. I’m re-married now, almost a year. Henry and I will both be glad to meet you. We can come to Tulsa tomorrow.”
“I’d rather come there, if you don’t mind. I’ve never been to Arkansas. Could I come see you tomorrow?”
What in the heck am I supposed to do about that? I sure wish Henry was here. Could this be someone from his work in the Kansas City Police Department? Could it be someone dangerous?
“We’d love to have you visit us, Edie. Give me your phone number. Henry is away at a meeting right now and I’d want him to be here to meet you too. He’ll be home in a couple of hours. Let me check with him on his schedule and call you back.”
“Instead I’ll call you around six-thirty if that’s okay.”
“All right. Talk to you then.
“Whew,” Carrie said to no one, and, giving up on Neal, went back to peeling potatoes.
While she and Henry ate supper, Carrie told him about the phone call. “So,” she finished, “what should I do about this supposed cousin I didn’t know existed? It’s all so strange. I have wondered if she might even be a danger to you.”
“Anyone coming after me could find me easily without going to all the trouble of pretending to be your cousin. And it is strange indeed, if she says she’s the daughter of your father’s sister, and that sister died as a baby. Why, I wonder, did that part of your family vanish?”
“She says it’s because her father had some kind of job my Dad didn’t approve of. Top secret, she called it.”
“The plot thickens.” He smiled. “You’ve got to admit it’s intriguing.”
“Well, maybe, but not in a good way. Henry, it was almost like Dad’s sister never existed.” She thought for a minute. “It is possible no one actually said she was dead, but all my years at home I don’t remember anyone mentioning her, except somehow I knew he’d once had a sister. After supper I’ll go through the box of photos my folks left, and see if anything there jogs my memory. As a young child I wouldn’t have been all that interested in a missing aunt if anyone did talk about her. But now Edie says they ate Thanksgiving dinner at our house before they moved away. That’s kind of a major activity, but I guess I was too young to remember it. Anyway, all this makes me feel squinchy.”
“Interesting word choice.”
“Squinchy? That’s something I do remember from childhood. It was a family word.”
“It describes the feeling well, and no wonder you feel squinchy. After all these years of silence, the daughter of a woman who supposedly died as a child, and certainly couldn’t have if her story is true, has appeared. Would you be glad if she turned out to really be a cousin?”
“I . . . guess so. I have almost no family left.”
“Then I think we should go ahead and invite the woman here tomorrow. We won’t find out more unless we do that, and maybe the mystery surrounding your dad’s sister will finally be explained.”
Carrie brought a box of black and white photos to the kitchen table after they finished supper clean up. Most of the people were known to her, and as she laid each picture on the blue and white checked tablecloth, she identified them for Henry, pointing out with special pride a faded photo of her great-great grandfather in his Civil War uniform. “That blotch on his pants leg came from a bullet wound in the leg,” she said. “I guess uniforms were hard to come by, and they didn’t worry about a few holes or bloodstains. Grandpa had a later picture of the man leaning on a cane. He was tall for the times, and distinguished looking.”
“He’s distinguished looking here, too,” Henry said, tapping a fingernail on the photo, “but it’s obvious the height didn’t pass down to your part of the family.”
“Hey . . . “
“Don’t ‘hey’ at me.” He began singing, “‘Five foot two, eyes of teal blue. . .’”
“Good grief,” she said, as she continued laying out the box’s contents.
There were photographs of her grandparents and parents through the years, and two aunts on her mother’s side. She smiled when Henry exclaimed over her baby pictures and a progression of photos marked on the back with captions like “Carrie, 3rd birthday,” and “Carrie’s first day at school.” She figured his comments about how cute she was were either prejudice or diplomacy, but, nevertheless, they were nice to hear. “You looked cuddly and soft, even then,” he said, reaching over to squeeze her hand.
There was one worn manila envelope tied up with yellowed seam-binding tape that obviously hadn’t been disturbed in years. “Gosh,” she said, “this was in the stuff I packed up after Mom died, and I obviously never got around to looking inside.”
She untied the tape and spread the envelope’s contents out on the table. After studying the assortment, Henry pointed with a finger, and said, “Your grandparents, right? I assume this must be your dad. He looks about eight. Then, who’s this little girl? Could she be the missing sister?”
Carrie said nothing as she studied the photo, then scanned the remaining pictures. “Here’s a photo of my dad with his parents. Maybe he’s late teens here?”
“Um hmm, and this picture seems to be the latest one in the bunch. No girl, but that really isn’t definitive.”
“No. We still have no concrete answers, though if that girl in the one picture is his sister, she couldn’t have died before she was, what? Four or five?”
The phone rang and Carrie looked at the clock. Six-thirty. At least the woman was punctual. “Good timing,” she said to Henry. “Lunch tomorrow?”
Copyright 2015 by Radine Trees Nehring
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