Music To Die For
Carrie and Henry's special vacation is cancelled by
kidnapping and murder.
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MUSIC TO DIE FOR
is set at Ozark Folk Center State Park in remote Stone County, AR. Carrie
and several friends have planned a weekend vacation at the Folk Center, where
they're signed up for craft classes. Crafts take a back seat to a kidnapping,
arson, and murder after Dulcey Mason, four-year old daughter of famous
country musicians Chase Mason and Tracy Teal, disappears, and her
abductor is found stabbed, his house burned. Romance blossoms again
between Carrie and her best friend, Henry King, as they rush to save a
child, solve a murder, and repair tragically broken lives. Can they do
it before they, too, become victims of MUSIC TO DIE FOR?
here to read the first chapter
is the Dressmaker's Shop in the Craft Grounds at the Ozark Folk Center-- where Music To Die For is set. Within these walls a dead body
The doll was smiling. Dolls always smiled, didn't they? Her Mandy always smiled. Momma said Mandy was a happy doll.
She looked at the teddy bear. Teddy bears weren't like dolls. Mostly they didn't smile. Only Pooh bears smiled.
She turned back to the doll, who looked a lot like Mandy, but it wasn't Mandy. Mandy was back at Grandma's house, waiting for her. This doll was sitting on a bed she'd never seen before.
She wondered if Momma was waiting for her. They were s'posed to go play music. Was it time to do that? Was it time for Momma to come get her?
Was it time for supper?
She wouldn't cry, 'cause Daddy said it was wrong to cry when you were with strangers, even if crying was what you wanted to do, and you had to snuffle and swallow and that made your singing bubbly.
Daddy said she must smile at the strangers, even when they smelled stinky and reached out hands to grab her or patted her head like she was Grandma's doggie, Bounce. Bounce liked patting. She didn't. She'd tried to imagine she was Bounce, which would be fun, but it wasn't any good. She still didn't like patting.
But she did want to do what Daddy said, so she learned to make a scrunchy-face smile, even when people hugged too tight or their hands went places she didn't like.
Her feet took her to the bed. It was a big bed and had a quilt with red squares. The red was pretty...like Christmas.
She climbed up and sat, remembering to keep her shoes over the edge so they wouldn't touch the red quilt. She looked at the doll, blinked her eyes, swallowed, and picked up the teddy bear. She didn't want to hold a smiley doll.
Maybe, if she was very quiet, it would be okay to take Teddy for a walk. Outside. There were woods outside, she could see them through the window.
She'd pushed at the window. It didn't open, so she and Teddy could play like being ghosts. They'd walk through the door and go hide in the woods. Daddy hadn't said hiding from strangers was wrong, everyone knew hiding was a game.
She slid off the bed and her shoes made a small click as they hit the floor. Oops. Shhh.
She and the teddy bear moved across the room. Shhh, shhh. Each foot up, over, down; and up, over, down. Running would have been better, but the strangers might hear her, so she must be as quiet as Teddy, quiet as a ghost.
Now she and Teddy were at the door. She reached up, held on to the knob as tightly as she could, and twisted.
Oh. It was one of those that took two hands.
She sat Teddy on the floor by her feet and put both hands on the knob, wrapping her fingers around the cold metal and swinging her body to help her fingers make the knob move.
The knob turned. She tugged, but the door didn't open. After several more tugs she picked up the teddy bear and backed away from the door so the two of them could think about why it didn't open. Was it like outside doors on a house? Did it need a key?
She was thinking about keys when the floor on the other side of the door creaked. Something went "chunk." A whimpering noise rolled up inside her, and she lifted a hand to cover her mouth as she watched the knob turn.
Her eyes were wet now, but she was a good girl. When the stranger came into the room, she remembered what Daddy had said. She put her hand down--and she smiled.
The droning stopped, and popping noises erupted.
Carrie jerked out of a comfortable doze and saw that the speaker was nodding his head to acknowledge applause. She began clapping and hoped the dim light in the auditorium had concealed her own nodding head.
What on earth had the man been talking about?
She turned pages in her convention program. Ah, there he was: "Chamber of Commerce, Tuckatoo, Arkansas, Rice-growing Capital of the United States: Honeymooning Among the Rice."
For good garden seed! What next?
She looked. "Chamber of Commerce, Bean, Arkansas: The Yearly Bean Bottoms Festival, Featuring our Famous Catfish Calling Contest."
For three days she'd listened and taken notes. She'd collected stacks of brochures to take back to the tourist information center in Bonny, Arkansas. But now...
The program coordinator called the final afternoon break, the auditorium lights brightened, and Carrie picked up her briefcase. Smiling at nearby colleagues, she hurried up the aisle toward the back of the room.
Once out in the hall she turned left, joining a cluster of women headed for the pink door with a bonnet painted on it.
She allowed several women to get in line ahead of her, then backed away from the chattering crowd. Five steps beyond the pink door she backed around a corner, pushed against a plain grey door, and slipped through the opening into sunshine. The door clicked shut and locked.
Carrie had learned long ago that it paid to explore buildings where meetings were being held.
She took a deep breath and stood still, letting bird calls and the scent of damp brown leaves replace the sounds and smells of the auditorium. Ahhhhh.
She could hear a titmouse and...
Was she imagining...? No, it was music! Faint, ghostly, from some stringed instrument...but where?
Then, as if the player had been strangled, it was gone. Maybe the music had been a trick of the breeze, or her imagination. She shook her shoulders to dispel the eerie memory and started downhill toward the cluster of cabins.
As manager of an Arkansas highway tourist information center, Carrie McCrite couldn't skip the yearly Department of Parks and Tourism Convention. But the towns being covered this afternoon were in the southeastern corner of the state, and right here, all around her, was a forest begging to be explored.
At least the department was holding this year's meeting at the Ozark Folk Center State Park near Mountain View, rather than among crowds and concrete in Little Rock.
Carrie had moved from Tulsa, Oklahoma, to the Arkansas Ozarks five years earlier, partly to get away from crowds and concrete. Her other reason for leaving the city was murder.
The violent death of her husband had pushed her out of a quiet existence as Mrs. Amos McCrite, dependent wife and part-time librarian, into a choking fog of worried widowhood, with too little confidence, too little peace, too little money, and far too much mystery.
Then one spring day, while looking through old photographs, she'd realized that the bride, the young mother, the dutiful wife she saw there were all history now. Surely there must be a new Carrie waiting somewhere inside the veneer of her former life. All she needed to do was find and free that Carrie.
So she packed up everything, including her courage, and fled to the Ozarks. She found a job with Parks and Tourism, built a home on land she and Amos had bought for their retirement, and set about discovering the new Carrie.
Though both Amos and her friend JoAnne had been killed near where she now lived, the comfort of the natural world all around her had almost wiped out the horror of their deaths, just as helping discover who killed them had given her confidence and a new-born awareness of her own strength.
She was content in her small house above Walden Valley. Living in the woods had turned out to be just right for her, in spite of dire predictions from city friends and family when she'd told them her plans.
And, she thought, as she unlocked the door of her room, tossed her briefcase on the bed, and started to peel off too-tight slacks and blazer jacket, friendship with her neighbors in and around Walden Valley was also just right.
Carrie's lips twitched in a smile. Oh, yes, the very best, the most right thing, was friendship with her nearest neighbor, retired Kansas City police detective, Henry King.
JoAnne's brutal murder had brought Henry into her life. Now, possibilities lay before them.
Henry and two other Walden Valley neighbors, Jason and Eleanor Stack, would be joining her tomorrow for the spring opening of the Folk Center's weekend craft classes. Henry and Jason were learning wood carving; she and Eleanor, studying herbs. In the evenings they'd enjoy music shows in the auditorium, and of course there was always the wonderful Ozarks cooking at the Folk Center restaurant.
Thinking about the restaurant reminded her she was hungry, and she glanced at her travel goodie box between the room's two beds. Apples, bananas, fruity fiber bars. Nope, better not. Better save hunger for tonight's banquet. She pulled on elastic waist jeans, breathed deeply, and sat down, reaching for her walking shoes. As soon as the shoes were tied, she picked up the convention schedule.
Dinner tonight included several kinds of smoked meat, with spring greens, corn bread, black-eyed peas, and the Folk Center's own Apple or Peach Chunky to pile on the corn bread.
As she read she wished she'd paid more attention to the evening program before now. Henry should be here. Country musicians Chase Mason and Tracy Teal were the entertainers, and they were favorites of his. She could have invited Henry to come a day early. The Folk Center Lodge was full until after the convention, but...
She looked at her room's unused bed.
Well, it wouldn't have mattered to anyone whether her roommate was Henry or, as originally planned, her friend Beth, who managed the other tourist information center in northwest Arkansas. She and Henry were mature adults. He was divorced and very proper. She was a sensible widow--certainly no ingénue. Besides, it was absolutely amazing what was accepted without comment once your hair was grey.
And Beth was out of the picture. Almost as soon as she'd pulled her car up in front of the lodge office, the department director had come out to ask if she'd fill in as host for the convention's two keynote speakers. Their original host was still at home, dealing with a last-minute emergency. That meant Beth had driven off to the Mountain View Bed and Breakfast Inn where convention speakers were staying, and Carrie was left alone in their very comfortable room with a view of the forest, two rocking chairs, and two beds.
At least she had lots of space for organizing all the brochures and booklets she was collecting. The top of the second bed was covered with them.
Carrie looked back at the evening's program. It said that, as a special treat, Chase and Tracy's four-year-old daughter Dulcey would perform on her miniature dulcimer, and Chase's mother, old-time fiddle player Aunt Brigid Mason, would be accompanying her family.
The program explained that the Masons were Stone County natives, and Chase and Tracy had started their music careers right here at the Ozark Folk Center. After a year of performing together, they married, and their combined talents took them on a sky-rocket ride to the top of country music charts. They owned a theater in Branson, Missouri, now, but were often away on highly publicized tours.
All this Carrie already knew from Henry, who read everything he could find about the Masons and shared most of the information with her.
Henry had recently reported, with more than casual concern, that there might be dark clouds moving over the Chase and Tracy landscape. Some entertainment writers hinted at temperamental outbursts behind stage and said Chase and Tracy were flying too high for their own good, especially now that they were parents.
"Don't worry," she'd told him, intending comfort, "it's probably only tabloid-style gossip. We can't judge people living in a world we don't understand." (And besides, she'd thought, temperamental music stars are not our problem.)
Well, it really was too bad Henry wasn't here. Maybe they'd have CDs for sale; she could buy one for him and get it autographed.
But now it was time to be out in the forest. She picked up her walking stick and eased the door open. There were three people in the distance, going into another guest cabin. They'd probably escaped the convention's afternoon sessions too. They wouldn't matter.
She headed toward a worn path leading into the woods surrounding the cluster of cabins, striding quickly, swinging her walking stick in time to her steps. She didn't look around until she was safely out of sight of the Folk Center buildings.
As soon as she was alone in the comforting tangle of the forest, she slowed her pace, looking to see what spring wildflowers were visible. Sarvis had bloomed at home, as well as rue anemone, bluet, and spring beauty. It was almost the season for redbud and dogwood, and maybe there would be creamy spikes of bloodroot, which she rarely saw in her own woods.
She lost track of time as she strolled along, soaking up the peace that nature's quiet acceptance of life always brought to her. She watched a tortoise making its way through a tiny forest of beginning May apples and smiled at a pair of chickadees flirting among green buds.
At the edge of a deep hollow she stopped, looking down at wisps of ground fog that were beginning to float among the ghostly cedar trees below her. She left the path to sit on a large rock, shutting her eyes, listening to bird chatter. She heard no human sounds from either the town or Folk Center. The rest of the world could be a million miles away.
But it wasn't. Behind the crisp bird notes, the sliding, sad music came again, floating like the ground fog. Yes, something strummed, and now she recognized the melody, since she'd heard it dozens of times on Henry's car radio. It was "Lying to Strangers," a folk song that had become a theme for Chase and Tracy. Someone was playing the tune on what sounded like a mountain dulcimer, creating music both eerie and beautiful. It seemed a part of the breeze that was beginning to shush above her in the treetops. Carrie opened her eyes and looked around. The notes came from no direction. It was impossible to decide their source.
Then, just like before, the music stopped as suddenly as it had begun. She continued to sit, this time enjoying the melody's memory on the slow breeze.
Movement caught her eye, and she looked down in the hollow. The form of a woman was just visible through wisps of fog. The musician?
The ghostly shape began climbing the hill without effort or noise. Carrie stood, ready to hurry back toward the lodge. No. How silly to be afraid. This must be one of the Folk Center workers, someone else enjoying the afternoon.
So Carrie stayed where she was and watched the woman climb. She was wrapped in black from bonnet and shawl to long skirt and boots. When she was about ten yards away, Carrie called out "Hello" and was surprised that her voice shook.
The woman looked up, stared for a moment, then turned away to head back down the hill. After taking two steps, she hesitated, swung around, glanced back toward Carrie, and began climbing again without speaking.
She halted when she reached the path, and Carrie saw a face that was tiny and wrinkled, with a pointed chin. It looked like the woman had few teeth, and she wore no make up, but her black eyes were lively and sharp. This apparition might be a hundred years old, but she walked as quietly as a ghost.
Carrie felt a chill, wiggled her shoulders to dispel it, and told herself again that it was silly to be afraid.
"Isn't it a lovely afternoon?" she said.
The stranger scowled, and the sparkle faded from eyes that now looked storm dark.
"Beware," she said in a whisper that was almost a hiss, "beware the gowerow. The gowerow has stolen the child."
Carrie stared. "What? What did you say?"
"The gowerow has stolen the child," hissed the woman.
"What child? What's a gowerow? What on earth do you mean? Tell me..."
There was a noise behind Carrie, and the woman looked toward it. Then, silently as she had come, she rushed off, following the path deeper into the woods and ignoring Carrie's cry of "Wait!"
As the long dress swirled out of sight, Carrie imagined she heard a whisper floating back to her, light as the breeze that had brought the music: "Beware, beware the gowerow..."
Carrie stood in stunned silence for a moment before she heard other, more normal, voices. She turned to see two Chamber of Commerce speakers she recognized from the morning session coming toward her along the path.
"Did you see that woman?" she asked.
Their quick look around and blank "no" answers left Carrie quite alone in her memory of the woman in black and her words, so she changed the subject and, after making a few polite comments about their presentations that morning, headed back toward her cabin. It was time to shower and change for dinner.
Well! When she got home she'd ask her neighbors, Roger and Shirley Booth, what on earth a gowerow was. Must be some folk tale character. This was, after all, deep in the Ozarks where such tales were born.
Roger and Shirley would know. Their families had been in the Ozarks for more than a hundred and fifty years.
But...a child? Why had this total stranger mentioned a child? It hadn't sounded like a joke. Carrie shook her head to dislodge the eerie memory. The woman must be what Shirley called "tetched in the head."
When Carrie reached the clearing, she saw that people were beginning to come out of the cabins, and they were dressed for dinner. She'd better hurry if she was going to catch up.
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