-Deborah Smith, NYT bestselling author
-Mary Balogh, NYT bestselling author
West of Glory--Excerpt
Daisy Sutherland could barely see where she was going even with the wipers on full speed. She glanced in the mirror. Damn! Water trickled through the convertible’s cracked vinyl rear window and dripped onto the seat. Uncle Leroy only drove the old Thunderbird on clear summer days with the top down and he probably thought she’d do the same. In this weather, maybe she should have grabbed the keys to her father’s Oldsmobile instead?.
Pure reflex. The dawn call from the paper’s high school reporter had woken her from a dead sleep and she’d jerked into action. Clothes, bathroom, shoes, keys, jump in the car, drive to the reserve. Now that she was here, on the remote Rocky Mountain back road the teenager had directed her to—where exactly was she? Really?
Rain yesterday and all night had left the dirt track slick and riddled with water-filled potholes of varying depths, some bonecracking, she’d discovered, thanks to the T-bird’s aging suspension. She touched the brake lightly. If she didn’t pay serious attention she’d end up in the ditch herself instead of at the crime scene.
But now that she’d driven ten miles and her adrenaline had kicked back a little, she was wondering why she’d rushed. She wasn’t in the big city anymore, fighting for a scoop with several other newspapers and a couple of TV stations. This was Tamarack, Alberta, pop. 1900, where nothing ever happened and folks liked it that way.
Only something had happened.
It turned out that John Spears, the high school senior who wrote a video column, developed photos and swept out the premises at the Times was also a devoted eavesdropper on police scanner traffic. Talented kid, Daisy was beginning to realize. He’d heard the code for cop down and called her right away.
Crime scene--what was she thinking? More likely a traffic accident, in this weather. And what was a high school kid doing still up at at that time in the morning when he had final exams coming up? John Spears was more nerd than party animal.
Never mind that. Daisy frowned. Okay, now turn right at the next crossroads and go about a mile or so and then look for some police activity. She slowed to make a careful turn but even so, the convertible fishtailed giving her momentary heart failure.
Near mid-summer meant the sun rose around four in the morning, over an hour ago, but in this weather, it didn’t make much difference. Everything around her—the scrub grass, the sparsely forested hills climbing the mountain flanks, the treacherous narrow road that led who knew where in this part of the Pekisko Valley--had the grey, ghostly cast of pre-dawn. She couldn’t even see the Rockies looming massively to the west, a near impenetrable boundary between Alberta and the westernmost Canadian province, British Columbia.
There were three cruisers at the scene, flashers going, and an ambulance pulled away just as Daisy arrived. No lights, no siren. That meant either no serious injuries or someone was dead. With luck, not badly injured. She was getting a horrible, sinking feeling in the pit of her stomach. Excitement. Dread. That old, too-familiar rush that went with big-city investigative journalism and all the crime, corruption and heartbreak therein--everything she’d vowed to leave behind her when she returned to Tamarack to take over the family paper.
Nope. This is just another story, she told herself firmly. Simple, straightforward. You’ll interview the cops, take a few photos, drive back to town, write it up for next week’s paper. Even if someone was dead?well, someone was dead. Too bad. It was news. Accidents happened. Remember the advice you got the day you started your first summer job at the Sunshine Coast Record? “Car crashes sell papers, kid, don’t you forget it—“
A policeman in raingear appeared out of nowhere and waved her toward the left. She stopped where he indicated, facing north, on the wrong side of the road and rolled down the window.
You live around here, miss?” The officer’s moustache was heavily beaded with rain.
“Where you headed this morning?”
He looked surprised. “Your name, please?”
“Daisy Sutherland, Tamarack Times.” Daisy held up her notepad and camera. “I’d like to ask a few questions, take a couple of pictures, if I may-“
“This is a crime scene,” the Mountie snapped. “You shouldn’t be here. Don’t get out of your vehicle. I need to talk to the officer in charge.”
“Okay.” Daisy nodded. Normally she would have been more insistent. You didn’t win top reporting awards by practicing meek-and-mild but she’d been in town less than a month and there was no point in stepping on toes. Having a decent working relationship with the local police was vital to doing a good job of running the Tamarack Times. Her father was putting a lot of faith in her by handing over the reins as he had and, hey, the officer had a point--she could have used the extra sleep. There’d be details from the Mounties soon enough—who, what, where. The nuts-and-bolts facts of what had happened. They never went into why, that was her job. But maybe the why didn’t matter so much here in small town Alberta?.
Crime scene. That meant it wasn’t just a traffic accident. Daisy’s heart was pounding. She watched the tall policeman retreat toward the cruisers, his image blurred by the rain which still thumped on the roof of the convertible and vibrated puddles on the road.
Not great weather for a crime scene, was it? She tried to see through the annoying slap-slap, screech-screech of her wipers, still on full speed. Another car, a cruiser she hadn’t noticed at first, was parked on the opposite side of the road, facing her, maybe thirty feet away. That made four. The driver’s door hung open. No flashers. Brown, foamy water filled the ditch alongside the vehicle, just as it did on her side of the road.
She peered through the curtain of rain, watching for the policeman’s return, and then realized there was another vehicle, a pickup truck parked on the edge of the ditch, slightly behind her and to her right. With all the police activity, cars, flashers and officers, not to mention the downpour, she hadn’t noticed it right away either. Its driver’s door was open as well.
There was a knock on her window and Daisy rolled it down again. The officer had come back while she was gawking. “You’re gonna have to move, miss,” he said. “We’re busy here. You can phone the Glory detachment later for anything you want to know--”
“I won’t even get out, promise!” Daisy protested. Two cops were moving their way, stringing yellow tape. “I’ll stay on this side of the road, I just need a photo—“
“Okay, okay,” the officer grudgingly allowed, straightening. “One picture and then you’d better be on your way,” he warned, leaving to join the men putting up the tape.
Daisy scuttled over to the passenger side of the T-bird and rolled down the window. This angle wasn’t too bad; she could get the cop cars, a good chunk of the yellow tape and what else was there? Rain, grass, mud. Nothing too exciting here to sell papers. She clicked off several exposures. She had to have something for the front page. There was no sign of anyone but police.
What was the so-called crime? Whatever it was, Daisy hoped no one was seriously hurt. Actually, she was feeling a little silly now, jumping out of bed and high-tailing it out here half-asleep. She hadn’t even left a note for her parents and Marian Sutherland was the worrying type.
How long would it take her to get back to town—half an hour? Mentally, Daisy reviewed the tortuous return trip, reversing John’s directions. It’s a wonder she hadn’t gotten lost trying to find this place, maybe she would on the way back. That’d be a nice light piece for the op-ed page. “Award-winning journalist lost ten miles from home.” Give the town a laugh. Everyone liked to feel superior once in a while?.
Another cruiser arrived and moved slowly past her, stopping so that she could no longer see the other cop cars. Thanks, buddy! She started to squirm back into the driver’s seat but something about the way the pickup was parked, door gaping, caught her attention.
She snapped off a couple more pictures to finish off the roll. It was an older truck, with rusted fenders and a battered fibreglass canopy over the box. A red plastic streamer of some sort hung limply from the radio antenna and she could see an oversized pair of dice hanging from the rearview mirror inside, the kind they sold in truckstops, along with deodorizers shaped like pine trees and cowboy hats. The upholstery on the driver’s seat was torn in several places.
Whose truck? The bad guy’s? What bad guy? Maybe it belonged to whoever had discovered the incident? Or just a helpful passer-by?.
Then Daisy saw something that made her skin crawl. Beside the truck, rain had filled a large indentation in the muddy surface of the road.
The water was pink.