Snow Happens (PAPERBACK)
Snow Happens (PAPERBACK)
When a Park Ranger is found dead, sleuths Sarah Garland and Amanda Funnel team up with Detective Conrad Spencer. They're racing against time to solve not just a murder but a case with secrets of biological warfare that could impact the world.
The trio faces an ever-growing list of suspects and life-or-death decisions, especially when Amanda gets taken hostage by a mysterious stranger. With the stakes sky-high, the cozy town of Snow Falls becomes the epicenter of a global crisis.
Don't miss out on this gripping, clean-read cozy mystery. Perfect for fans of women detectives and small-town secrets.
Read a Sample
Read a Sample
Diamond Lake was shaped like its namesake, a beautiful, priceless rock. The frozen lake appeared to be snuggled down into a mysterious dream as it cuddled under a blanket of snow, surrounded by white trees and huddled under a dark gray sky. “It’s freezing out here,” Amanda fussed as she pulled her thick, pink wool scarf up over her mouth.
Conrad spotted a man wearing a brown park ranger jacket standing off in the distance. The man waved at Conrad and pointed to a body lying in the snow. “You ladies had better stay here,” he said in a concerned voice.
Sarah brushed snow off her white coat and shook her head. “We’re big girls, Conrad,” she said.
Conrad watched the falling snow land on Sarah’s pink ski cap. For a second he forgot all about the dead man and wondered what it would be like to take Sarah’s hand and go for a cozy walk in the snow together.
“I’d rather stay right here,” Amanda cut in, interrupting his thoughts. “I’m not really keen on seeing a dead body.”
Sarah drew in a deep breath of cold air as Amanda hugged her arms together. The winds weren’t very strong—at least for the time being. The icy temperature was harsh and yet, as she looked around at the snow-covered lake, the beautiful woods, and the sleeping trees, Sarah saw a beauty that somehow warmed her. Sure, it was cold enough to freeze your thoughts in place, but somehow the cold didn’t bother her at the moment. “We’ll stay right here then,” she agreed. Conrad nodded his head and walked off down the narrow trail that hugged the edge of the lake.
“Maybe a bear got that poor guy,” Amanda suggested.
Sarah watched Conrad make his way over to the park ranger, shake hands, and then look down at the body lying on the ground. “Bears are hibernating right now,” she pointed out.
“One can only hope a rogue bear woke up,” Amanda replied, watching as Conrad bent down. With worried eyes, she watched him methodically examine the body of the dead man. “Please let it be a bear...please, oh please.”
Sarah bit down on her lower lip and pushed her gloved hands into the pockets of her coat. It was clear to her from Conrad’s manner that the victim had not been attacked by a bear. No, the hands of a human being had taken the life of this park ranger. “The man’s death could have to do with Frank Gatti?” she ventured, even though the suggestion seemed very weak in her own mind.
“Let it be a bear...oh, let it be a bear,” Amanda begged again.
Sarah saw Conrad stand up. He looked over at her and shook his head. “It wasn’t a bear,” she told Amanda in a sour voice.
Hearing footsteps behind them, Amanda glanced over her shoulder and saw Andrew approaching. “Ladies,” Andrew called and waved a hand at them.
“Send in the cavalry,” Amanda sighed with mock misery.
Sarah kept her eyes on Conrad as he began searching the area around the body. Ignoring Andrew’s approach, Sarah said to Amanda, “You stay here, okay?” and then walked toward the edge of the lake.
As she approached the crime scene, a tall, stout man with a large belly and round face greeted her. “My name is Sarah Garland,” she introduced herself in a professional voice.
“I’ve heard about you,” Park Ranger Dave Dandleton replied, pulling his brown ski cap down over his ears. “Do you want to take a closer look at the body?”
Sarah glanced down. She saw a man in his late forties or early fifties, his brown park ranger’s uniform already dusted with snow and his limbs lying peacefully, almost as if he had simply laid down for an ice-bitten, fatal sleep. “Yes,” she said and bended down to examine the body in closer detail.
Ten frozen minutes later, Conrad approached her. “Well?” he asked.
Sarah shook her head and stood up, brushing snow off the hem of her dress. “Single needle mark on the left side of the neck. Wallet is missing. No keys. You find anything?”
“No,” Conrad said in a disappointed voice. “The body has been out here for a few hours. The wind and snow have covered any tracks left behind.”
Dave stared down at the body. “Charlie just transferred up here from Wyoming a few months ago,” he said sadly. “I admit that I didn’t really take a liking to him, but...” He shook his head in disbelief and looked out across the frozen lake.
“Why didn’t you like him?” Sarah asked carefully.
Dave shrugged his shoulders. “No reason,” he admitted. “Sometimes you just get a feeling...a vibe...about someone. Charlie came off as cold as a glacier and never attempted to warm up to any of us. Out here, you see, park rangers are a team. Our lives depend on one another.”
Sarah nodded her head and looked at Conrad, who was staring down at the body. “Did he ever talk about anyone? Was he married? Did he have any kids?”
Dave shook his head. “I processed his transfer papers,” he explained. “I guess Charlie could have lied on his paperwork, but I don’t see why he would.”
“Why did he transfer to Alaska from Wyoming?” Sarah asked.
“I don’t know. He never said. He used to work at Yellowstone,” Dave explained, keeping his eyes on the frozen lake. “He spent nearly twenty years there, too.” Dave paused and finally turned to focus his eyes on Sarah. “He came highly recommended. After Bert retired, we sure needed a good man with experience. I thought, well, our part of the land was getting a good deal. I was wrong.”
“Why?” Conrad asked. “Didn’t he do his job?”
“Sure, sure,” Dave said and shrugged his shoulders. “Charlie did his job and did it well.”
“Then what?” Conrad pressed. “Listen, it’s cold out here and I don’t feel like waiting around while you drag your feet, okay? A man is dead and I need answers.”
Dave looked up, stung but chastened, and he sighed reluctantly. “Charlie preferred to work alone, and even when he had to go out with a team, he still worked alone. Can you understand that? The man was a loner...he always seemed to have something on his mind and didn’t want to be bothered by anyone.”
Conrad nodded his head. “I get it,” he assured Dave. “So you found the body about three hours ago?”
“Yeah. I put the time down on my log sheet. It’s a good walk from the parking area to the lake. I came up from the south trail and started navigating around the lake. I didn’t find Charlie until I came around to the north side here.”
“And you came out to the lake because...?” Sarah asked.
“After each storm, we check around Diamond Lake for damage...see if a tree has fallen on the lake that could have cracked the ice, check for any fallen signs, make sure the trails are still passable to and from the lake, those kinds of things.”
“What was Charlie doing here?” Conrad asked. “Is checking out the area a two-man job?”
Dave shook his head. “Charlie was supposed to have the day off. What he was doing here in his uniform is beyond me.”
Sarah studied Dave’s face, red from the cold. “Have you seen anyone acting strange lately?” she asked.
Dave shook his head again. “Look around,” he said, “this isn’t exactly a hot spot. Even in the summer, the most we get up here are fishermen and maybe a hiker or a biker. The truth is, Diamond Lake is just an eight-foot-deep lake sitting out in the middle of nowhere. I know it looks big, but it’s shallow with a grassy bottom fed by a natural spring. But the lake is part of the park and, as I said, after each storm, someone has to check this area.”
“You didn’t spot anyone when you arrived? No vehicles in the parking area?” Conrad asked.
Dave shook his head a third time. “Only Charlie’s truck. I wasn’t sure what to make of Charlie being out there. The guy did take a liking to this area, so I figured he was out taking an early morning walk or maybe even checking the lake himself. I wasn’t really interested in bumping into him. What Charlie was doing on his day off was his business, you know.”
Conrad beckoned to Andrew, who was keeping Amanda company. Andrew nodded and hurried over to Conrad. “Coroner is on his way, but it’s going to be a bit. It’s rough going getting this far out,” Andrew said, breathing white trails of condensation from his mouth.
“Got a tarp in your truck?” Conrad asked.
Andrew nodded, then looked down at the body with mournful eyes. “I saw this guy in town a few days back. He was buying some groceries. I tried to strike up a conversation with him because he was wearing his park uniform. I guess he just wasn’t in the mood to talk.”
Sarah locked eyes with Conrad, who nodded. “Did you see anyone with him?” he asked Andrew.
Andrew shrugged his shoulders. “I guess he could have, but I didn’t see anyone. I was in a rush to get home, anyway. I didn’t mind too much that he didn’t want to talk.” He shook his head. “I was hoping...maybe a bear...I knew better, though. I’ll go get a tarp from my truck and cover the body.”
“I’ll walk with you,” Dave said, “...if that’s okay, Detective?”
“One more question,” Sarah said in a patient voice.
“Okay,” Dave agreed.
“When you arrived, did you see any prints in the snow, any tracks leading away from the body, anything at all?”
“All I saw,” Dave explained, “was Charlie lying on the ground. I sure didn’t know what he was doing here, but when I saw him, I thought he had had a heart attack or something. The first thing I did was feel for a pulse and check his breathing. I called the police station and started CPR on him...until I couldn’t go any more. But I knew there wasn’t anything else I could do for the poor guy...he was dead. I guess I already knew that when I started CPR. His body was already as cold as a glacier.”
“Thanks. You did the right thing,” said Sarah.
Conrad bent down to examine the body once more. “Now why would this man transfer all the way up here to Alaska?” he wondered aloud.
“Maybe he was running,” Sarah said, squatting down beside him, “but the killer caught up with him. Or maybe he had personal problems back at Yellowstone and wanted a change of scenery? Maybe he didn’t get along in his new job and one of the park rangers here killed him?”
“Well, we know he was poisoned,” Conrad said, pointing his finger at the needle mark in the man’s neck. “He doesn’t strike me as the drug addict type.
The autopsy will tell us more.” He stood up and looked around. “The killer strikes, covers his tracks, and then fades away into the snow. Sarah, we’re going to have to really use our brains on this one.”
Sarah stood up. “So far we’ve dealt with a mentally ill model who builds creepy snowmen and some very dangerous men with deadly intentions. At least on this case, the killer has nothing personal against you or me,” she said in a relieved voice.
“I didn’t handle the last case very well, did I?” Conrad said miserably. “I let Frank ambush me, and if you hadn’t shown up when you did...I would be dead right now, myself. I...really let Sophia get to me. I thought she was dead and couldn’t stop blaming myself.”
Sarah reached out and touched Conrad’s shoulder. “I couldn’t stop blaming myself for my divorce. I kept thinking...was it something I did? But I’ve finally come to realize that sometimes, Conrad, the answers we seek just aren’t there.”
Conrad nodded. “I know,” he agreed and drew in a deep breath. “My mind is straight now,” he assured her. “I’m back on level ground and ready to get back to work. A man is dead and we have a killer to find.”
“Or killers,” Sarah said and immediately wondered why she had said that. But she knew it was likely.
“What do you mean?”
“Look at the position of the body.” Sarah pointed down to the snowy ground. “Conrad, this is an open area, plus this man was a park ranger. I doubt anyone was able to overcome him while he was unaware. And just about anyone whose life is in danger is going to put up a fight.”
Conrad looked around. Amanda was standing in the distance, cradling her arms together over her chest. Andrew and Dave were walking off toward the south trail. He could see everyone clear as day. “We could have more than one killer, but then again,” he pointed out, “maybe the killer was someone he knew? Come on, let’s go check out his truck.”
Sarah glanced down at the body one last time and walked away with Conrad.
“Well?” Amanda said through frozen lips as the two approached. “What’s the bad news?”
“Murder,” Conrad said simply, shaking his head as he headed toward the south trail toward the parking area.
Sarah put her arm around Amanda’s shoulder. “There was a needle mark on the left side of the neck. Seems like the victim was poisoned,” she explained as they walked away from the lake.
“That’s creepy,” Amanda said, feeling an icy shiver trickle down her spine. Refusing to look back at the lake, she focused her eyes straight on the trail ahead where Conrad was walking several feet ahead of them. “Any ideas?” she asked.
“The victim transferred to Alaska from Yellowstone Park,” Sarah said in a thoughtful voice. “Dave, the park ranger you saw walking with Andrew, insists the victim was isolated and impersonal in his thought and actions, a loner. The victim—”
“Please stop saying the word ‘victim’!” Amanda begged. “You’re really creeping me out.”
“Sorry,” Sarah said. “The man’s name is Charlie, how’s that?”
“Better,” Amanda replied gratefully, brushing the snow off her bangs and the top of her ski cap as they walked.
“Charlie marked ‘single’ on his paperwork,” Sarah continued. “No wife and no children. Conrad and I will dig into his past and see who his parents were, if he has any siblings, aunts or uncles, or any close friends that may be of some help to us.”
“You should demand payment for your services,” Amanda said.
“Fulfilling one’s civic duty is reward enough!” Conrad called out over his shoulder.
“You hush up,” Amanda fussed at him. “I should make you pay me for my help with more than donuts and hot coffee.”
“Civic duty,” Conrad called out again. “But I can make sure you’re paid with as many donuts as you want.”
Sarah grinned. It was good to see Conrad showing a sense of humor, as mild an instance as it might be. “At least this case isn’t personal,” she told Amanda. “And honestly, I don’t mind offering my services for free. Once a cop, always a cop.”
Amanda sighed. “I know, I know,” she said, keeping her eyes on the snowy trail. But,” she added, attempting to sound positive, “it’s like you just said, love, at least this case isn’t personal...no insane models or crazy mafia nuts.”
“That’s true,” Sarah agreed.
Amanda cleared her throat and spoke in her best mafia voice: “Forget about it...who is this guy... I’ll whack you...now pass the garlic bread or else.”
Conrad stopped walking and turned to look at Amanda. “Not bad,” he said, impressed.
“Thank you, sir,” Amanda replied and brushed past him. “Don’t dilly-dally, Detective. We have work to do.”
Conrad rolled his eyes. “Yeah, I’m coming.” He followed Sarah and Amanda to the parking area. Andrew was leaning over the bed of his truck, fishing out a green tarp. Dave was standing beside him, looking down into a deep gulley that bordered the lot. “I wonder what he’s thinking?” Conrad murmured, nodding his head toward Dave.
Sarah removed her arm from around Amanda’s shoulder. “Do you think he’s hiding something from us?” she asked softly, taking note of the park ranger’s brown Subaru parked next to Andrew’s truck. Notably, the Subaru appeared to lack sufficient snow accumulation on its hood and roof considering how much snowfall they’d had.
“Could be,” Conrad said seriously. He focused on the brown truck parked at the far end of the parking area, which was nothing more than a large, unpaved square with enough parking spaces for eight vehicles. Beyond the east side of it was a deep gully filled with snow, marked off with a metal safety railing. On the west side of the lot was a thick stand of trees. Two wooden signs nailed to two different trees marked the entrances to the south and north hiking trails.
“Come on,” he said.
Sarah and Amanda followed Conrad to the brown truck. “The victim’s...I mean, Charlie’s keys and wallet were missing from his body,” Sarah reminded him. “The killer obviously wanted to make the murder appear to be a fatal mugging.”
Conrad dipped his head over the bed of the truck. “Clean. Nothing except a spare tire and a jack under the snow in there,” he said in a disappointed voice. He went for the driver’s side door. To his relief, the door was unlocked. “Let’s see what we can find. Sarah, try the other door.”
Sarah walked to the passenger’s side door and found it unlocked. She pulled it open. “Based on the amount of snow on the hood and roof, this truck’s been sitting here for at least three or four hours.”
“Yep,” Conrad said, studying the interior with skilled eyes.
Sarah carefully opened the glove compartment box and began sifting through its contents. Amanda peered over her shoulder. “Insurance cards...vehicle registration...and a map,” she called out to Conrad.
Conrad bent down and studied the underside of the driver’s seat. “Clear,” he said.
“Let’s check behind the seat,” Sarah suggested. Conrad located the metal latch, pushed it down, and pulled the seat forward toward the steering wheel. “Clear,” Sarah said calmly. “We’ll need to check for prints.”
“Yep,” Conrad said, pushing the seat back into its original position.
Sarah closed the passenger’s side door and walked around to Conrad. “Dave’s Subaru—”
“Yep,” Conrad said again, “it should have more snow on the roof and hood.”
“You guys are good,” Amanda whispered.
“Training,” Sarah explained, “and years of trial and error, ups and downs, good and bad.”
Conrad casually walked over to the brown Subaru and slid his hand under the snow covering the hood. “Cold,” he told Sarah and Amanda. He spotted Dave standing a little ways off, regarding him with worried eyes. “Come on,” said Conrad to the two women.
Conrad walked over to where Dave and Andrew stood, where Andrew was shaking snow off the green tarp in his hands. “Why did you lie?” Conrad asked Dave without preamble.
Andrew’s head shot up and he stopped shaking the snow off the tarp. “Is there a problem?” he asked.
“Ask him,” Conrad said, nodding his head at Dave, who had a look of panic in his eyes. “You haven’t been here very long, have you, Dave? I’d say your story is missing some time.”
Dave nervously looked back at his Subaru. He could see now that the lack of snow on the car marked him as guilty. “I...” He began to speak, but hesitated.
“Talk to me or go to jail,” Conrad snapped.
Dave swallowed nervously. “I...” he began again, and then his shoulders sagged in defeat. “Okay, okay,” he admitted, “I didn’t arrive at the lake at the time I logged in on my arrival sheet. I...made a side stop.”
“Where?” Conrad demanded.
“Betty Capple’s house,” Dave admitted in a low, embarrassed voice. “Betty and I are seeing each other, okay? I mean, what’s the big deal, anyway? Was there any rush to get out to the lake and pick up a fallen sign or lug a fallen tree off the ice? Who cares if I stop at Betty’s house for a cup of coffee and a slice of apple pie?”
Conrad looked at Sarah and saw her reading Dave’s eyes. He could tell by the expression on her face that Dave was telling the truth. “Okay, good enough,” he said.
“Is it?” Dave asked, the misery plain in his voice. “I mean, what if I had arrived on time? Maybe...just maybe I might have been able to help Charlie. But no,” he said, “I had to stop for coffee and pie. How was I supposed to know Charlie was out there, huh? Maybe he wasn’t anybody’s best friend, but that don’t make a difference when you’re dying. Nobody should die out in the cold like that.” Tears began dripping from his eyes. “I swear if I had known...I would have...I’m sorry I lied, okay?”
“I understand,” Conrad said and patted Dave on the shoulder. “How were you supposed to know?”
A thought suddenly struck Sarah. “May I ask you a question?”
“Sure, go ahead.” Dave wiped his tears away.
“Would Charlie have known you were going to make a check of this area?”
“We have a duty roster back at headquarters,” Dave explained. “There’s only four of us...me, Shelia, Matt and...well, Charlie. A ranger has to be on duty twenty-four seven. I make out the duty roster and the schedule and post them a week in advance.” His voice quavered as he said this, as if he was realizing for the first time that Charlie would never be on the roster again. Anyway...” Dave shielded his eyes from the sun with one hand, clearing his throat to steady himself again. “Anyway, everyone knows the ranger on morning duty is responsible for checking the green areas after any storm.”
“For us park rangers, that means lakes, picnic areas, playgrounds, camping areas, rental cabins, RV areas. Anything that’s not a forest, basically. It’s a shame Diamond Lake is so remote that all we have to offer is a few lakeside areas, some hiking trails and a camping area that is seldom used. Denali National Park is the state’s hot spot. Our little park, even though it’s beautiful, just doesn’t bring in many people.”
“Charlie would have known you were assigned to check the lake this morning, then,” Sarah concluded.
“Yeah, I guess so.” Dave shook his head regretfully. “Do you think maybe...Charlie came here because he needed my help?”
Conrad looked toward the entrance to the south trail. “Who knows?” he said. “But it does seem interesting that the deceased showed up in an area where he knew a fellow co-worker would be arriving sooner or later.”
Sarah bit down on her lower lip. “Charlie was wearing his ranger uniform...maybe he didn’t want the killer—or killers—to think he had the day off?”
“Possible,” Conrad agreed.
“Killers?” Dave asked, taken aback.
Conrad shook his head. “We’ll talk more down at the station. I’m going to need you to come down and make a statement, okay?”
“I...” Dave hesitated, then nodded. “I guess I can call Shelia in early.”
Andrew looked at the tarp he was still holding. “Well, I’d better go cover the body. You coming with me, Detective?”
“Yeah,” Conrad answered. “Sarah, Amanda, you girls take Andrew’s truck and drive back into town. Andrew can ride back with me.”
“I’ll start seeing what I can dig up,” Sarah promised. She looked at Dave. “I’m going to need Charlie’s full name and Social Security number.”
“Of course,” Dave agreed. “I’ll make a pit stop at headquarters and get his personnel file for you.”
Conrad nodded. “You can use the computer in my office,” he told Sarah and then walked off through the snowy parking area with Andrew.
“Ms. Garland?” Dave asked as they watched Conrad and Andrew walk toward the north trail.
“Me, Shelia and Matt weren't fond of Charlie,” he said, “but he was still one of us. Is it possible that whoever killed Charlie might come after other park rangers?”
Sarah hadn’t considered that possibility yet. She looked into Dave’s worried eyes. “I don’t know,” she answered honestly.
Dave shoved his hands into the pockets of his coat and looked down into the gulley again. He didn’t say another word, and they left him alone with his thoughts in the quiet, gray light. Amanda gave Sarah a worried look and walked to the passenger side of Andrew’s truck, opened the door, and climbed into the cabin. Sarah watched Conrad and Andrew disappear down the north trail into the snowy unknown.
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