SOLVING PECULIAR CRIMES





Welcome to adventures that bring surprising crimes into the lives of folks that, many readers say, would make good next-door neighbors. Each story in this collection stars the ever-caring and curious Carrie McCrite and her husband, retired Police Detective Henry King. In several stories, they are helped by friends already introduced in the "To Die For" series of mystery novels, and, in two surprising cases, four-year-old twins star as crime-solvers.





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What did the Scarecrow hear?


Whatever Happened to Dana Jean?

   Carrie stopped at the edge of the garden, watched her husband put a ripe tomato in his basket, then said, "S'posed to stay in the 80s today, and it still feels pleasant, so Shirley and I are going berry picking. I noticed the blackberries on the vines along the road have begun to turn black, and she says she'd enjoy the break from tending to cows, and the walk with me, though they do have blackberry bushes on their farm. I'm meeting her at the head of our lane."

   Henry straightened up and said, "Stay on the road. Chiggers and ticks are pretty heavy right now."

   "Too right! I did spray my clothes, and we'll be careful. See you in an hour or so."

   Shirley was waiting when Carrie reached the road. She was dressed like Carrie in tall boots, jeans, a long-sleeved shirt, and a wide-brimmed hat. "Think one of those lady fashion magazines would do somethin' about how to dress for summer berry picking?" she said. "Only thing is, truth be told, you're not skinny enough for them. Remember?"
  
   Carrie laughed and nodded. When she married Amos, her first husband, a plain suit had been appropriate for the judge's office. For her much dressier wedding to Henry, she had wanted a real wedding dress, and, at her insistence, she and Shirley looked at dozens of photos in the bridal magazines Carrie brought home from the grocery store. When Shirley dropped the last magazine on the floor, she said, "Dresses look like they're only fit for putting over a broomstick with bazooms. So, will you listen to me now? I will make your wedding dress. Made both my girls' dresses, I can easy make yours."

   Carrie, who'd felt an increasing despair after studying photo after photo of thin young brides with-as Shirley had noted-bazooms coming out of low-cut dress tops, had accepted the offer. Shirley was, therefore, quite familiar with every curve in Carrie's body.

   As they moved along the road, picking berries from bushes leaning over pasture fences, Shirley pointed at pairs of bushes and said, "This here's my bush, and that's yours. We don't want to run into each other and get scratched. Careful the barbed wire, it's worse than berry thorns."

   Carrie always nodded agreement, but rarely spoke, since she usually had a mouth full of berries. After they had gone about a half mile along the road, Shirley turned toward a partly overgrown dirt road angling off into a farm that, Carrie knew, had been abandoned for many years. "Let's try our luck down that old road. Besides, I'm curious to see if Floyd Jackson's old Dodge truck is still there."

   "Ah, the Jackson farm," Carrie said. "When Amos and I were looking at Ozarks property, oh, probably ten years before Amos was killed and I moved here to our land, we were told about the Jackson farm, but the real estate agent said it wouldn't be a good buy. Never said why, but by then we had seen the land that became Blackberry Hollow and liked the fact that the land had a live spring and a creek. We never looked at this place. Odd that it's never sold."

   "Not so odd. It's not 'zactly haunted, but bad things happened here. Besides, there might be a living Jackson heir somewhere. There was a daughter, Dana Jean, though folks say she's prob'ly dead. They say Floyd Jackson killed her, though her body was never found.

   "No question but what he did kill his wife. There was a big deal trial, and he went to prison. He died there just a few months ago. Dana Jean disappeared about the same time her mother died, so guess that's why the talk is he killed her too."

   "How awful. How old was she?"

   "Sixteen or seventeen, as I recall."

   "Did she have a boyfriend?"

   "I never heard of one. But her daddy would have stopped that anyway. He was always an angry man, a drinker, and had fits of rage. Wanted to control his women, and everything else, I reckon. Roger said the men talking at the cafe in town didn't like him much, worried he'd fly off in a rage at one of them if they weren't careful about what they said. Ended up beating his wife to death, so folks still think he did that to the daughter, too, and somehow got rid of her body, carrying it off somewhere before he killed his wife. They looked for new digging in the woods and searched other places, but never found anything. In these hills and hollows though-who knows?"

   "Oh, Shirley."

   "Sheriff did say the wife was made unconscious quick from a hit on her head, though she was almost unrecognizable when they found her. Guess he just kept on beating until his rage wore off."

   "Not sure I want to go down there."

   "That was at least fifteen years ago. I'm sure the place is cleaned of evil by now. Growing plants and trees tend to do that, at least for me. It used to be a pretty place, thanks to Leona Jackson.' Shirley had already started down the road, so Carrie followed, trying to erase an image of Leona Jackson. "I hope the daughter is alive and happy somewhere."

   "We all do. Since Floyd Jackson is dead now, mebee she'll come back to claim her land, at least if she hears he's gone. I've always hoped he didn't kill her and she just ran away." "Wonder why she didn't leave earlier." "Stayed around because of her mother, I reckon." "Um. Yes, I see."

   Carrie noticed that Shirley was ignoring the berry bushes they passed, and she followed along, hesitating only to pick a few to put in her mouth since she knew they could pick when they came back this way.

   "Well, I'll be, Floyd Jackson's old red truck is still here. I did wonder if somebody hadn't hauled it away by now to sell for scrap. Prob'ly could do it without anyone noticing, especially at night." Shirley started toward the truck, wading through weedy undergrowth and a waist-high tangle of Queen Anne's lace.

   Carrie stayed on the road, staring at the truck, now largely buried in honeysuckle vines and surrounded by white flower heads. The truck's front was still visible, though most of the red paint was more rust color than red. It looked like the wind-shield glass was still intact.

   "Someone's been here," Shirley said. "They opened the truck door, and it swept away the vines. Looks like the stem breaks are pretty fresh."

   Hinges shrieked as she, also, opened the door. After a long silence, Shirley said, "Come here, Carrie."

   "Uh, can't you just tell me about it? I'm not eager to get into that heavy growth. Both chiggers and ticks are especially fond of me."

   "Well, suit yourself, but I think I need a witness to what I see here. You got your phone that takes pictures with you?"

   "Yes."

   "Okay, you need to make a picture here."

   Now Carrie forgot about biting pests and pushed through the tangle toward Shirley, who shoved the squawking door open a few more inches and said, "Look there."

   The photo of a man was stuck to the back of the partly missing cover on the driver's seat. A small kitchen knife held it in place.

   "Floyd Jackson?" Carrie asked.

   "Yup. Take your picture."

  
  

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