When Jeanine Talbott’s dad remarries, the whole family comes together for a weekend of festivities—that is, until the wedding planner is murdered. This family, unfortunately, is no stranger to mystery or murder.
The Talbotts cooperate with the authorities and do a bit of their own sleuthing as well. Adding to the mystery is a cranky wilderness expert, a nosy ranger, and Daniel Boone.
Jeanine wanted her dad to have a wedding to die for, but not quite so literally.
In recent years, the Talbott clan has had their fair share of blessings and joy—not the least of these include my father’s bride, Margo, as well as the blooming relationship between Frank and Aimee.
But in addition to the good stuff, we’ve had a more-than-usual allotment of the not-so-good. Some of it showed the worst of sin and gave my kids homeschooling lessons that I wished they’d never had. They’ve already seen the results of three violent crimes. That’s too much evil for a couple of sweet kids.
I was staring up at some of that evil right now. Yea, up. Murder victim number four that I had encountered was tied into the branches of a tree.
Before I set the stage for replaying our latest adventure, I should backpedal just enough so you know who’s talking to you. My name is Jeanine. Jeanine Talbott. I am the homeschooling mom of two of the most (usually) delightful kids. Justin just turned twelve and Josie is ten. It’s hard for me to believe that by my son’s next birthday, I will be the mother of a teenager.
My husband and the provider/sustainer of our homeschool way of life is the amazing Captain James Talbott. At one time, I would have sworn backwards and forwards that I would never marry someone in the military, but God is both good and has a sense of humor. James is the best and only man for me. He does the Army proud, and I love him for it.
While we dated, James thought the proliferation of J’s in our names was cute. (My maiden name started with a J, too—don’t ask me about the J.J. grade school years.) He made me promise that we’d all be J’s and we are, even down to our loyal and slobbering bulldog, Jelly.
The pooch must have known that I was thinking about him because he barked on cue.
My normally well-behaved pup strained at his leash, trying to get closer to the apparition in the tree. The victim, who I recognized even from this distance, was wrapped in rope so securely that it fastened her to a branch of the dying pine and covered most of her clothes. A spot of dark brown colored the needles below her–with what I assumed to be blood.
I heard footsteps scuffling in the gravel behind me and knew my walking companion had caught up. “Is this where Jelly dragged you…” She broke off. “Oh my.”
I thought ‘you can say that again,’ but it sounded callous. So instead, I said, “Jelly has a nose for trouble. Especially after the mysteries in the last two years.”
Josephine nodded and looked a little green. Josephine, my best friend from forever whom Josie is named after, had come in for my dad’s wedding to Margo. We had decided to escape from the busy-ness and go for a walk to catch up. Her Air Force hubby and my Army man tended to pull us in opposite directions, and I hadn’t seen her as much as I would have liked over the years.
So walking Jelly through these green mountains, relatively cool even in the summer heat, seemed a perfect excuse to get away.
Until this moment.
Now the idea of crowds of people felt almost comforting.
“Is that…?” she asked.
I sighed. “Yes, of course it is.”
While I did not like the sight in front of us, I knew that nothing we could do would change it. She was already dead.
“I know you had told me about the crazy things that happened to you since your move to Gentle Springs, but I never expected to be a part of it.” My best friend swallowed hard, possibly choking back the natural effect that unnatural death had on one. She looked a little more intently at the body in the tree. “Is it her?”
I knew what she meant and who she meant. “It appears so. But we have to contact whatever authorities are in charge here. They’ll take care of all those ropes and get the body down from the tree.”
There were a lot of ropes. The victim was strung to a bare branch of one of the mountain pines. The tree had seen better years as most of its lower third was devoid of greenery. I couldn’t even see any brown needles on the empty limbs. Of course, almost anything could be hiding behind all that rope. Who would have done this? It would have taken a long time. I couldn’t imagine patiently wrapping rope around a dead or dying body. It was a warm summer day, but I shivered.
It was beyond not nice and definitely evil.
“Let’s head back as quickly as we can and get someone else to handle this,” I suggested. All curiosity evaporated and instead I was filled with a strong desire to escape.
“Amen,” Josephine concurred.
And letting Jelly lead us, we raced down the mountain.
“I had to call you,” Dad said, “once we decided.”
It was in the middle of a school day, so I looked at the kids as I responded to make sure they were making progress on their work. There’s nothing like a phone call, or sometimes any distraction, to make school less than appealing.
Justin was at the computer doing his math program. When he saw me with the phone on my ear, he drew a question mark in the air.
‘My dad,’ I mouthed in response.
At that he leapt up and lunged at the phone. “Hi, Papa! I’m doing well on Twinkle Two.”
His papa had convinced him that years of handling had made the original stuffed squirrel look kind of creepy. One glass eye popped out so frequently that Justin forgot to put it back in more often than not. The tail had been caressed into oblivion. That means there wasn’t a speck of fur on it. It looked as though it belonged on a rat instead of a squirrel. So Justin had obtained a new squirrel while visiting his Papa (I didn’t ask how) and was proceeding to turn it into a new and improved Twinkle.
I covered up the phone with my hand. “Get back to work. Remember you still have history after this and soccer practice at three o’clock.”
My dad chuckled in my ear. “Say ‘hi’ to my grandson.”
“Later,” I sighed. “I promise.”
Josie sprang into the room. How she had heard us from her spot at the kitchen table, I don’t know. “Tell Papa hello. Is he still planning on coming to the Passion this weekend?”
The Sunday School group at New Hope Community Church was putting on a modified version of the Passion this weekend, and Josie had the part of Mary Magdalene.
I could hear the smile in my dad’s voice. “Let her know that Margo and I wouldn’t miss it for anything. We’ll arrive Friday.”
I relayed the message to my daughter who joyously hopped back to the table and continued working on her vocabulary lists. Justin, though, was still looking at me and hoping to get in on the conversation. Trying to mix both gentleness and forcefulness, I used my phone-free hand to steer him back to face his math problems. He groaned, but as I walked away, I heard the familiar ping of a correct answer.
“OK, Dad, what couldn’t wait for this weekend?”
He sounded like an eager schoolboy. “Margo and I are going to get married on the one-year anniversary of the day we met.”
Thousands of details and plans drove at warp speed through my brain. “But that’s less than two months away! We can’t possibly plan a wedding in that time.”
Dad didn’t get my complaint and appeared not to hear my second statement. “I know. Perfect, right? That way we can spend more of our remaining years married to each other. After all, my beloved and I aren’t getting any younger.”