Tarnished Remains Blurb
Shandra Higheagle is digging up clay for her renowned pottery when she scoops up a boot attached to a skeleton. She calls in Weippe County detective Ryan Greer. The body is decades old and discovered to be Shandra’s employee’s old flame.
Ryan immediately pegs Shandra’s employee for the murderer, but Shandra knows in her heart that the woman everyone calls Crazy Lil couldn’t have killed anyone, let alone a man she loved.
Digging up the woman’s past takes them down a road of greed, miscommunication, and deceit. Will they be able to prove Crazy Lil innocent before the true murderer strikes again?
Shandra Higheagle leaned on the shovel handle, staring into the pine forest to her right. She loved her excursions up Huckleberry Mountain to collect clay. She’d purchased this land two years ago for this pocket of clay. The yellowish mud, when cleaned and purified, enhanced her art. Using Mother Nature’s bounty to make her inspirations come to life enriched the overall appearance and authenticity of her work. That she used natural clay and formed pottery as her ancestors once had, made her pieces unique and sought after.
Enough musing and wasting time. She raised the shovel, sunk the metal blade into the ground six inches, and pulled out a shovel full of yellow clay. The packed soil held enough moisture to cling to the shovel. She knocked the blade against the top of the bucket, dropping the clay in. A good shove with her foot set the spade into the ground for another scoop. The metal grated on something hard; possibly a rock. She’d hit a few while digging clay in this pocket.
Wiggling the shovel, she shoved again and pulled up another chunk of clay. Her artistic imagination saw a chunk on the side that resembled the shape of a cowboy boot heel. Shandra chuckled at her imagination and knocked the shovel against her plastic bucket. The chunk broke apart and a boot heel fell to the outside of the bucket.
Shandra eased down onto her knees beside the bucket. Using her trowel, she broke up the rest of the chunk. Nothing.
Perhaps someone—years ago—while riding or hiking up here lost a boot heel.
She stood, picked up the shovel, and sunk the blade into the ground not far from the last scoop.
Instead of the usual high pitched zing of the metal slicing through the soil, there was the sound of a stick breaking. She shoved the blade farther with her booted foot. Another crunch, and she shoved down on the handle, freeing a section of clay larger than her usual scoopful.
Tingles raced up her spine at the sight of something white sticking out of the clay. She lifted and tipped the shovel, dumping the clod on the ground.
Her dead Nez Perce grandmother’s face flashed through her mind.
“Ella, what have I stumbled onto?” Shandra asked her grandmother.
She picked up her trowel and knelt beside the chunk of clay. Slow, small cuts with the trowel soon revealed she’d dug up a leather cowboy boot with intricate detailing and the foot it encased.
She’d made a thorough search of all the Native American burial grounds before purchasing this ranch on Huckleberry Mountain. There wasn’t any record of an Indian burial ground on the property. She’d made certain. With that information, and seeing the detail on the boot, she was pretty sure this wasn’t an Indian.
Reaching into her back pocket, Shandra slid her cell phone out. One faint bar of coverage up here.
Nine-one-one or Detective Ryan Greer?
Admitting to herself she wouldn’t mind seeing the detective again, she punched in his number. They’d met a month ago when she’d been a suspect in a gallery owner’s murder. They’d come away from the event friends. She also wasn’t shy to admit, she’d like to explore her friendship with the handsome detective a little more. They’d spent several days after his last case in Huckleberry talking, riding horses, and getting to know more about one another. She hadn’t heard from him in several weeks.
“Ryan, it’s Shandra Higheagle—”
“Shandra, I’ve been meaning to call you. Work has been dragging me out in the early hours and dropping me into bed close to midnight.”
She smiled at his boyish need to explain why he hadn’t called. “I’m afraid I’m going to add to your work.”
“Don’t tell me you found another dead body,” he said in a joking tone.
“I’m afraid I did.”
“Where? Are you in danger?” His demeanor went from joking to all business.
The sound of tires dragging against gravel proved he was out in his SUV somewhere in Weippe County.
“I’m on my property digging clay. No, I’m not in danger. This person looks to have been here a while.” She gave him all the details.
“I’ll be there in an hour. Don’t do any more digging.”
His siren shrilled in the background.
“Go to the ranch and have Lil bring you up.”
Shandra closed her phone and stared down at the bone and the leather boot. “Who are you and why are you on this mountain?”
Even though Ryan told her not to dig any more, her curiosity got the better of her. At least she’d read enough about archeological digs and even helped out at one in high school to know to use her hands and go slow to not damage any evidence.
In the time it would take Ryan to get here, she could have something more than a foot and boot for him to investigate.
Ryan pulled into Shandra’s ranch, his siren still shrieking and lights flashing. The serene cabin and studio in the middle of the forest made him feel like an interloper. He switched off the lights and siren immediately and then the engine.
Crazy Lil, Shandra’s hired hand, approached the car with a scowl. “What you scarin’ all the animals for?”
Ryan stepped out of the vehicle. Crazy Lil’s head came to the middle of his chest. For a small woman she gave off a larger presence. He knew little about the woman other than she worked for Shandra Higheagle and all the locals called her Crazy Lil—but not her employer.
He’d met Shandra under the worst of circumstances a month ago when an overzealous newbie tried to arrest her for murder when she was found in the same room as a recently murdered gallery owner.
His heart picked up pace remembering his first encounter with the intriguing woman and the days they spent together after he solved the case.
“Wanna wipe that grin off your lips and tell me why you came screaming in here?” Crazy Lil smacked him in his solar plexus, causing air to whoosh between his teeth and lips.
“There’s no need to hit an officer of the law,” he snapped, rubbing his chest. “Shandra called. Said she found a body and wanted me to come check it out.”
The woman’s face paled. “A body?”
“Yes. She said to have you bring me to her. She found it where she collects clay.” Ryan waved to the passenger side of his SUV. “Hop in.”
Crazy Lil shook her head. “Can’t get there with a vehicle. Have to ride a horse.”
“How does Shandra bring down the clay?” He knew the woman was tenacious, but he couldn’t see her packing buckets of clay off the mountain.
“She’s got horses.” Crazy Lil rolled her eyes and turned toward the barn and corrals. “You can ride Oliver.” She whistled.
One horse trotted to the corral railing and hung his head over. He had some age on him judging from the gray in his red coat and the sway in his back. Ryan might have worked in the big city of Chicago, but he grew up on a ranch forty miles from this mountain. He knew horses, and he knew how to ride.
“I don’t think that sorrel will make it up the mountain without someone on his back. Let alone carrying me.” He waited for a response from the woman.
She spun about. “You gonna talk or you gonna help me saddle up the horses?”
Ryan studied the woman marching into the barn. She was either an ornery, abrupt, no-nonsense person or socially inept. Given what Shandra had said about the woman growing up on the ranch and rarely leaving, he’d go with socially inept.
He hustled into the barn behind the woman and was relieved to see two younger, spryer geldings in stalls. One was the horse he’d rode when Shandra gave him a tour of her property.
“Do I get Duke? He and I got along fine the last time I rode him.” He walked to the stall with the bay horse, hanging a wide, white-blazed face over the gate.
“You might as well, you aren’t riding my horse.” Crazy Lil pointed to a saddle hanging over a stand. “Use that one.”
Ryan picked up the halter hanging by Duke’s stall and opened the gate. “Hey boy, remember me?”
Fifteen minutes later, Ryan had Duke tacked up and his gear stowed on the saddle. He threw a leg over his mount and followed Crazy Lil up the side of the mountain. This was his first trek into the mountains for a body. He hoped whatever Shandra had stumbled into didn’t get her caught up in trouble. The woman seemed to be a magnet for murder.
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