Laina Turner, Author
L.C. Turner, Author

Quacks and Quarrels a Presley Thurman Cozy Mystery Free Chapter

Chapter 1

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“Well, Bella old girl, I can’t believe we’re doing this,” I said to my drooling sidekick as she lounged in the passenger seat of my borrowed red pickup truck. She barely looked in my direction, her eyes heavy with sleep.

I chuckled to myself, shook my head, and then turned my concentration back to the road. While Cooper had shown me the skills needed to drive a tow-behind camper and made me practice in the high school parking lot with safety cones, I wasn’t yet feeling confident hauling a twenty-three-foot travel trailer behind a pickup truck I also wasn’t used to driving.

I had never been a big fan of camping but had entered a sweepstakes at the grocery store a few months ago, never expecting anything to come of it. For the first time in my life, I’d won something. And not just a little something. A camper that was awesome, as far as campers went, in my opinion. Not that I had been in many. It had a cool slide out that made the middle of the camper very spacious, enough for a 5×7 rug, and my favorite part—the LED lights that ran around the ceiling. I could turn off all the main lights and read in bed under the soft glow of the blueish LEDs. It was a great place to relax and cuddle with Bella.

I didn’t plan on keeping it but my husband Cooper—it was still weird to think of him as my husband although we had been married five months now—felt that I should at least take it on a maiden voyage before deciding what to do with it. I readily agreed, thinking it wouldn’t be bad and at least the two of us could get away for some alone time. I had been so busy with my mom getting me up to speed with Petal Pushers before she and my dad left for their around-the-world trip that I felt like I hadn’t really spent much time with him since the honeymoon. I had planned a trip to a town called Dandridge in Missouri that had a campground that looked relaxing and offered hiking trails and fishing. Not things that were on my top ten, but stuff Cooper liked to do.

Then a week ago something urgent came up at work and Cooper told me he wouldn’t be able to go. I admit I almost canceled, not wanting to go without him or drive the camper all the way on my own. Barreling down the highway in a truck with a huge, heavy camper attached seemed overwhelming. Somehow, he convinced me I would be fine, and I started to get excited thinking about a girls’ adventure. Just me and my dog, Bella. Braving the elements, living off the land, just two girls on the open road… okay, I’m getting carried away. A luxury camper hardly counts as roughing it.

According to my GPS we were only about fifteen minutes away from the campground. That’s where the true test would start. I would have to back this monster into my campsite. Without brightly colored cones or Cooper to direct me.

It wasn’t long before we were pulling into Camp Tranquil. I hoped the campground would live up to its name. I was ready for a relaxing vacation.

I pulled off to a spot that had a sign labeled “fifteen-minute parking for check-in” and breathed a sigh of relief that it was a wide-open lot where I could easily turn around. No fancy maneuvering yet. I cracked the windows for Bella, thankful it wasn’t that hot.

“I’ll be right back, girl,” I said, giving her ear a soft tug. She sat up long enough to watch me close the door and then I saw her sink back down into the seat. I had to chuckle. She looked imposing at a solid one hundred fifty pounds, but she was the biggest baby and cuddle bug.

I pushed the door of the office open. The bells on the door clanked and the woman behind the counter looked up and smiled.

“Welcome to Camp Tranquil. How can I help you?”

“I’m Presley Thurman. I have a reservation for the next week.”

“Why yes, you do. I have your welcome packet right here,” she said and reached to her right, running her finger down a line of folders until she snapped one up and put it in front of her. “I’m Rita Tower. I’m the manager, and the owner, of Camp Tranquil. Glad to have you with us.”

As Rita told me she was the owner, I had to admit I was a little surprised. She didn’t seem the type to be a hardcore camper. She was probably in her sixties, with her silver-gray hair up in a French twist. She had on gray capris and a pale blue sweater set, with one strand of pearls around her neck. She looked like she would be more comfortable seated next to my mother at the Junior League garden show than running a campground. But then, what did I know? I had only been camping once as a kid with a friend’s family. That one trip had been enough for me when we found a spider’s nest in our tent and ran screaming for the safety of the family car.

I walked out to the truck, campground map in hand. Rita had thoughtfully traced the route I needed to take to get to my site with a Sharpie. I looked over to Bella, who hadn’t stirred, and said, “Here’s the moment of truth. Let’s see if I can back this thing in.”

As per usual with Bella, she opened one lazy eye and then closed it as if to say I shouldn’t get worked up.

“Maybe you’re right, girl. I mean, what’s the worst that can happen?” I put the truck in drive and headed down the road. “I run into something? It’s all fixable, right?”

I was happy to see when I got to my site that it didn’t appear as if there was anyone home at the campsites on either side of me. The last thing I needed was an audience. That would make me even more nervous.

I took a deep breath and pulled the truck and camper past the campsite as Cooper had taught me. “Just take it slow,” I muttered to myself. “Nothing to get all riled up over. You can do this.”

As I started the slow process of backing in, I saw out of the corner of my left eye an older woman. She was probably my mom’s age, maybe a little older, standing sentry in front of the campsite on the other side of the road. Great, I do have an audience, I thought. I didn’t want to get distracted, so I put her out of my mind and kept checking my mirrors until I slowly but surely, and much to my surprise, eased the camper into the spot.

I had just a few inches to go until I could say I had successfully backed in when the woman across the street started waving her arms and yelled, “Watch out!” Shocked, I slammed on the brakes, waking Bella up and almost spilling her from her sleeping position on the bench seat to the floor of the truck. My heart was pounding and I worried I had hit something, or worse, someone. The woman speed-walked to my truck, her arms keeping a furious motion, and reached me just as I was getting out.

“Did I hit something?” I asked her.

“No, and if you had, it would serve him right,” she said angrily. I just looked at her, blinking. Who was behind me that she wanted me to run over and what kind campground was this?

“Topknot, get over here right now!” the woman screeched in my confused face as I watched a very overweight duck with an odd plumage of feathers on the top of his head emerge from behind the camper.

“A duck?” I asked, puzzled.

The woman didn’t answer right away as she was continuing to screech at the duck about what a bad boy he was. Much to my surprise, the duck actually looked contrite. Who would’ve thought ducks had facial expressions? He let out a plaintive quack and looked down at the ground.

“I’m sorry, dear,” the woman said as the duck reached her side and calmly sat down as if nothing had happened. “He thinks we own this campground. He should know better than to stand behind a moving vehicle. Don’t you, Topknot?” she said as she looked down at the duck and he quacked at her. “I’m Ethelyn Casket and this is my duck, Topknot.”

“Presley Thurman,” I said, my breathing starting to return to normal now that I knew I hadn’t hurt anyone.

“Go ahead and finish backing in. I’ll make sure this little rascal doesn’t get in your way again.”

I nodded and got back in the truck, and backed the camper the rest of the way in without an issue. Giving myself a mental pat on the back, I got out of the truck and held the door open for Bella, who jumped down and promptly ambled over to where Ethelyn and Topknot were standing.

“Bella, come here,” I said, once again my heartbeat increasing as I didn’t know what Bella might do to the duck. I doubted she would think the duck was a snack, but she’d never been around one so I didn’t want to take any chances. But I was needlessly worried, as the two animals circled one another, sniffing, and then Bella promptly lay down next to the duck with her belly in the air and the duck sniffed and shook his tail feathers before lying down next to her.

“What a beautiful dog. Her name is Bella?” Ethelyn asked as she reached down to give Bella’s fawn-colored belly a scratch. I nodded.

“I’d love to have a dog but it’s a full-time job keeping Topknot out of trouble. Well, I’ll let you be to hook everything up. If you need anything, I’m across the street and I’m here year-round. If you need something, I probably have it.”

I thanked her. As Ethelyn and Topknot made their way across the street, Bella got up as if she was going to follow them. I called her back. She looked sad to part from her new friends and then whined a little to confirm she didn’t want them to leave. Bella was such a big baby. Shaking my head, I figured there was nothing wrong with a mastiff having a duck for a friend but it was not a pairing I ever expected.

Bella lay under the picnic table in the shade while I whipped out my checklist with all the tasks I needed to do so the camper was operational. I was afraid I would forget something so, until I had more practice, I had typed up the checklist as a reminder. I eyeballed my list and started to hook up the electric and put the water hose in the city water connection. I’d been warned not to mix it up with the sewer water connection, lest I flood my toilet. I had practiced at home a few times, so it didn’t take long before I was in the camper organizing the fridge with the food items I’d brought in the cooler. I was sweating something fierce in the camper with no air movement. It was only May in southern Missouri, but without a breeze the camper was heating up, so I opened the windows as my next order of business.

It was almost dinnertime, so I thought I would go take a shower in the campground facilities, put on some fresh clothes, and then come back and fix a sandwich and maybe have some of the chocolate chip cookies I’d brought. Vacation was made for ignoring your vegetables in favor of cookies in my opinion.

I set out some fresh water for Bella, who was sprawled out on the floor, and, stepping over her, I grabbed my shower caddy from the bathroom along with a clean sundress from the small closet next to the bed. “I’ll be right back,” I said to Bella and shut the door behind me. I didn’t bother to lock it because there really wasn’t anything worth stealing in the camper. And even though Bella didn’t have a mean bone in her body, the deep rumble of her bark, along with her size, would be enough to dissuade someone from coming in. If they did come in, I imagined they would turn tail and run as soon as they took a look my gigantic pup.

Whistling cheerfully, I made my way down to the bathhouse feeling very proud of myself. So far my camping experience was without incident and I was feeling optimistic about my solo camping skills for the first time since Cooper had bailed on me. Now that the camper was parked, I was looking forward to this vacation as a chance to relax and decompress. May was insanely busy with weddings, and I’d been working sixty-hour weeks at my flower shop, the one my mother gave me for a wedding present. Something I still hadn’t completely forgiven her for. I didn’t know anything about flower shops, and I wasn’t ready to sell Silk, my boutique in Chicago. Molly, my manager, was currently running it for me but I knew that wouldn’t work permanently.

I walked into the bathhouse, impressed with how clean it was. I knocked on the first shower stall door to make sure it was unoccupied. “Hello,” I called out, but got silence in return. I took that as a signal that it was all clear so I pushed open the door and started to walk in.

“Oh, I’m sorry—” I started to say, then stopped as I realized the person in front of me wasn’t sitting on the bath chair bench, but rather he was slumped over. He might have been sleeping, except for the handle of what looked like a knife sticking out of his chest. That was a pretty good indication he wasn’t taking a snooze in the women’s shower. I started to sway, feeling a little faint. I backed my way out of the stall and closed the door, being very careful not to touch anything. As I was backing up, I bumped into someone behind me and let out a yelp.

“Well, where are you going in such a hurry?” Ethelyn asked.

“Don’t go in there,” I warned.

That was the wrong thing to say because she immediately opened the door and peered in.

“Oh my. This isn’t good.”

That was an understatement, I thought.

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