Marilyn Meredith and F.M. Meredith author of mysteries and Christian thrillers

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Genre: Mystery
Mundania Press
Trade Paperback, $12.95
eBook (PDF), $4.99

A Tulare County Supervisor, with both Native American and Mexican roots, dies under suspicious circumstances. Because of Deputy Tempe Crabtree’s own ties to the Bear Creek Indian Reservation, she’s asked to help with the investigation.

To complicate matters, besides the supervisor’s husband, several others had reason to want the woman dead.

Tempe has unsettling dreams, dreams that may predict the future and bring back memories of her grandmother’s stories about the legend of the Hairy Man. Once again, Tempe’s life is threatened and this time, she fears no one will come to her rescue in time.

This book is part 8 of the Tempe Crabtree Mystery series


How People Were Made

All the birds and animals of the mountains went to Hocheu to make People. Eagle, chief

of all animals, asked each one how they wanted People to be. Each animal had the opportunity to say what they thought.

Eagle was first. “People should be wise. Wiser than I am so they are able to help animals and take care of our earth.”

Fish said, “People need to know how to swim like me. So let them be able to hold their breath and swim very deep.

Hummingbird said, “People should be fast, like me. They need good feet to take them far and have endurance.”

Turtle said, “People have to be able to protect themselves, like me. We should give them courage and strength.”

Lizard said, “People should have fingers like I have so they can make baskets and bows and arrows.”

Owl said, “People need to be good hunters like I am, so we’ll give them knowledge and cunning.”

Condor said, “People should look different from us. Give them hair, not feathers or fur, to keep them warm.

Coyote said, “People should be just like me because I am smart and tricky. They should walk on all fours.”

Hairy Man shook his head and spoke up, “No, people should walk on two legs like I do.”

All the animals agreed with Hairy Man and Coyote got angry. He challenged Hairy Man to a race. They agreed that whoever won would decide how People should walk.

They met at the waterfall, below Hocheu, to start the race. Coyote ran fast and took a shortcut. Wiser than Coyote, Hairy Man knew that Coyote would try to cheat in order to win so People would walk on all fours. Hairy Man didn’t run after Coyote. Instead, he stayed with all the other animals to make People. They went back to the big rock and drew People with two legs on the ground.

The animals breathed on the People and they came out of the ground. Hairy Man was pleased. He went to the People, but when they saw the Hairy Man they were afraid and ran away. Hairy Man was sad.

Coyote came back and saw what the other animals had done. He was angry and drew a picture of himself on the road eating the moon. All the other animals drew their pictures on the rock too to help People remember them. Hairy Man was sad because People were afraid of him and he drew himself with a sad face. That is why Hairy Man’s picture is crying and that is how People were made.

—Tule River Indian legend


Chapter 1

“You could at least pretend to be happy.” Hutch jabbed Tempe with his elbow.

Tempe forced a smile. Even though she was Native American, as resident deputy of the mountain community of Bear Creek and the surrounding area, Tempe Crabtree wasn’t always a welcome guest on the reservation, especially when she came on official business. Her husband, Hutch Hutchinson, the pastor of the community church, had been asked to give a joint blessing with Chief Dan Kowalko, at a social event given by the casino.

The fact that she didn’t really want to be here and Hutch did, was a bit ironic. She’d supported the casino since its beginning, but Hutch had joined the protests against it. Finally, Hutch had come to accept that the money the casino brought in had added quality to the lives of the Indians who lived on and off the reservation. But, wearing her uniform and listening to politicians speak wasn’t Tempe’s idea of a great way to spend the first free evening of her work week.

The event was being held in the casino’s Bingo Parlor on the one night a week bingo wasn’t played. The room was cavernous, crammed with tables and chairs, only about a third of which were filled. Most of the guests seemed to be Indians from the reservation, many of them employees of the casino.

She turned to Hutch and grinned. “At least I know the food will be good.”

Chief Kowalko, the elected leader of the tribe, wearing a colorful shirt and a string tie with an arrowhead decoration and sharply pressed tan slacks signaled to Hutch. “It’s time for us to offer our blessings.” The Chief was probably in his sixties, brown cheeks lined from many days spent out in the sun during his occupation as a roofer. He wore his dark hair neatly cropped.

Hutch stood, leaned down and kissed Tempe’s cheek and followed the Chief to the side of the room where a microphone had been positioned. The casino’s manager, wearing a suit, white shirt, but no tie, displayed a wide smile as the two men approached him. Daniel Burcena looked more Mexican than Indian. Tempe knew that his Native American heritage and his law degree had influenced the appointment to his job.

Burcena introduced Hutch and Chief Kowalko who moved in front of the microphone first. Holding up both hands, he began, “We return thanks to our mother, the earth which sustains us. We return thanks to the rivers and streams which supply us with water. We return thanks to the sun that shines upon us and the moon and stars that give us light when the sun is gone. We return thanks to the Great Spirit who reflects all goodness and we ask for direction as we embark on new endeavors to help our people.” He paused for a moment before ending his prayer with, “We return thanks for unknown blessings already on their way.”

Though she hadn’t heard any details, Tempe knew that the Yanduchi had big plans in the works not everyone was happy about.

Hutch, handsome in his gray suit that he wore only for Sunday morning services, stepped to the mike and bowed his head. As usual, his thick auburn hair was mussed. “Our dear Heavenly Father, we ask your blessing on all of us gathered here together in friendship. We also ask for your blessing on the food that we are about to receive and for the hands that prepared it for us. We ask this in your Son’s name, Amen.”

As the Chief and Hutch made their way back to their tables, Burcena moved closer to the mike and announced, “While you’re eating, we have a special treat for you, the Mariachi band from Dennison Middle School.”

Everyone applauded as the troop of youngsters, dressed in mariachi costumes, assembled and raised their violins and trumpets. As the music began, all the guests were guided to the buffet line to fill their plates with enchiladas, guacamole, salsa, homemade flour tortillas, crisp salad greens, Spanish rice and refried beans.

The food was delicious and the music lively. What Tempe wasn’t looking forward to was the long-winded talks by the politicians who occupied the two front tables. She recognized the Mayor of Dennison, Josh Kirkpatrick, a handsome, silver-haired man who was a retired school superintendent with higher political goals. In fact, he’d lost his bid in the race for supervisor against the woman sitting next to him, Lilia Quintera.

Not only was Lilia Quintera the first female country supervisor, she was the first person of Native American and Mexican descent to serve on the Tulare County Board of Supervisors. Tonight she was the guest of honor. The man sitting at her other side was Wade Bates, Lilia’s husband. Lilia had been elected to office before her first husband died of a heart attack and she’d retained his last name. Tempe wondered how Mr. Bates felt about that.

Tempe didn’t use Hutch’s last name, but she’d gone back to her maiden name of Crabtree when her first husband had been killed in the line of duty. Everyone in Bear Creek knew her by Crabtree. It had been easier to continue as Deputy Crabtree after she married Hutch.

Bates seemed to be enjoying himself. He looked a few years younger than his wife. His obviously dyed blond hair was cut short. Clean shaven, he seemed quite aware of his good looks. A muscled chest stretched the collared T-shirt he wore. Biceps bulged below the short sleeves. While his wife’s attention was occupied by the mayor, Bates was obviously flirting with the sultry Indian woman sitting across from him. Tempe didn’t recognize her, but lots of Indians at Tempe didn’t know were at the gathering.

“What on earth are you looking at?” Hutch asked.

“Just watching Supervisor Quintera’s husband flirting outrageously with the woman sitting across from him,” Tempe said, absently scooping beans with a tortilla.

Hutch glanced in the direction Tempe had been watching. “You have to admit, she’s a looker, but Mrs. Quintera isn’t too bad either. She seems to be occupied by Mayor Kirkpatrick.”

“Whatever he’s telling her doesn’t seem to be setting too well,” Tempe said.

A deep frown line creased the supervisor’s round, pleasant face. Her dark brown page boy fell across her cheek as she listened intently to whatever the mayor was telling her.

She said something, and the mayor’s face turned bright red.

“Wish I knew what that was all about,” Tempe said.

“Maybe we’ll find out when we hear the speeches,” Hutch said.

The rest of the meal was occupied with small talk among the others sitting at their table, a couple who owned a coffee shop in Bear Creek, the president of Bear Creek’s Chamber of Commerce, Jess Holmes, and his wife, and the owner of an antique store and his wife.

When most had finished eating, Daniel Burcena thanked the youngsters in the Mariachi band who headed for the buffet while being applauded for their efforts. After welcoming everyone, he introduced the dignitaries who were received with rounds of applause. The first to be called to the microphone was Mayor Kirkpatrick.

After making the usual political comments about how much the casino had contributed to the community, Kirkpatrick cleared his throat and said, “We in Dennison are excited about the growth of the businesses created by the Native Americans of this reservation and their vision of developments that will benefit both the residents of our city and the reservation.”

“What developments?” Hutch asked.

“I have no idea,” Tempe said.

It was apparent not many knew of what the mayor was referring. Though Supervisor Quintera didn’t appear surprised, she obviously wasn’t pleased.

Kirkpatrick waved a manicured hand in Burcena’s direction. “Dan, why don’t you tell these people the good news?”

Burcena returned to the microphone. “What Mayor Kirkpatrick is referring to is just in the planning stages, but I suppose this is as good a time as any to make the announcement. We have purchased acreage on the highway near the lake. Our intention is to build a destination hotel and, in time, a golf course with all the amenities that go with it. We’re planning an indoor amphitheater where we can host major attractions. For our guests who like to gamble, we’ll have buses to take them to and from the casino. Many jobs for the residents of the reservation, Bear Creek, and Dennison will be created in the process.”

He stepped to an easel covered by a cloth. He yanked off the cloth, revealing a detailed architect’s drawing of a sprawling hotel complex, Indian symbols in bright splashes of red, turquoise and warm browns, surrounded by lush lawns, with the hint of a golf course in the distance.

A smattering of applause accented the buzz created by the declaration and picturesque depiction.

Holding his hands up for silence, Burcena continued, “Like I said, we’re very much at the beginning of this project. We’re busy applying for the required studies and permits. Perhaps Supervisor Quintera would tell us what we have to expect in the way of hurdles.” He beamed in the supervisor’s direction. “Lilia, maybe you’d like to take this opportunity to address us now.”

Lilia Quintera’s bosom heaved in an obvious sigh. Her husband turned his attention toward her long enough to clap loudly, though before Lilia reached the microphone, he was back making eyes at the woman across the table.

The supervisor commanded respect as she made eye contact with everyone in the room. Her plump figure was encased in a stylish Navy pants suit, with a pale yellow low-cut blouse accessorized with a simple gold necklace. Rose blush accented her high cheekbones.

Hutch leaned close to Tempe and whispered, “She’s a good looking woman. Her husband ought to confine his flirting to her.”

Smiling and lifting her well-shaped eyebrows that accented her black, slightly almond eyes, Lilia calmed the audience with her quiet, “Thank you, Daniel and thank you, everyone at the reservation for hosting this event. I think it’s a bit premature to discuss the proposed hotel that Mayor Kirkpatrick and Mr. Burcena have mentioned. The proposal hasn’t been brought up at a Board of Supervisors’ meeting yet. Though I’m all for any project that will bring more employment opportunities to our area, there’s a lot to be taken into consideration before any final plans can be made.”

Lilia cleared her throat, but before she could say anything more, Mayor Kirkpatrick stood.

“But Supervisor Quintera, surely you’ll be able to convince the other supervisors that this is a viable project they should back unanimously.”

Lilia smoothed the edges of her long jacket. “I don’t really think this is the place to discuss the pros and cons of what’s being planned, but I can assure you the other supervisors definitely will take it under consideration.”

“What could anyone have against such a project?” shouted an older Indian standing near the back of the room.

Lilia ignored the interruption. “There’ll have to be a study made on the impact of such a business on the highway. Plus a study must be done to see if there is enough water for an undertaking of this size. Environmental issues have to be studied…”

One of the Indians in the room made a rude sound. “You just don’t want Indians to have businesses off the reservation.”

“Native Americans, more than anyone, should want to make sure the environment isn’t harmed,” Lilia said.

Her words were ignored, and more comments came from different places around the room. “It’s okay to come here to gamble and eat, but you don’t want to deal with us in your own territory.”

“Yeah, keep the Indians where they belong.”

“That’s not how I feel and you know it. You already have several business off the reservation,” Lilia replied sharply.

“Way out where you can’t see us,” a woman mumbled.

“Now you’re being unfair. After all, I have Yanduchi blood running through my veins too,” Lilia protested. Under her make-up, her cheeks had become even rosier.

“All the more reason why you should want to push this project through,” another man shouted.

Daniel Burcena stood with his arms across his chest, a smug smile on his face.

Hutch leaned close to Tempe and whispered, “I think Mr. Burcena wanted to put Supervisor Quintera on the spot.”

“It certainly looks that way,” she agreed.

Lilia raised her voice, “Please, everyone, I’m only one voice on the Board of Supervisors. I’m sure if this hotel project is presented in the proper way and all of the studies and permits completed properly, all will move along exactly as you desire.” She turned to Burcena. “Is there anything else, Daniel?”

Burcena stepped closer to Lilia and put a hand on her shoulder. “Thank you, Lilia. I’m sure that we can count on you to help us in any way you can. Let’s hear it for Supervisor Quintera.”

The applause wasn’t as loud as it had been when Lilia was introduced. She returned to her seat, eyes shining, cheeks still bright with embarrassment.

Burcena continued, “We’re happy you could come tonight. We hope you’ll stay and mingle. Have another cup of coffee and dessert.”

“Wow, that was uncomfortable,” the owner of the antique shop said to everyone sitting at the table he shared with the others from Bear Creek.

Jess Holmes, president of the chamber said, “H’mmm, I wonder what a big hotel like that would do to Bear Creek. A destination hotel. Do you suppose anyone would drive past it to come all the way up to Bear Creek?”

“What about the through traffic getting up and down the road to Dennison with all the vehicles headed for the hotel?” the owner of the coffee shop asked.

“It isn’t here yet. No point in crossing bridges until we get to them,” his wife said, pushing out her chair and standing. “Come on, let’s go.”

Jess shook his bald head. “Sure will be tough on all the businesses in Bear Creek, especially the Inn. I wonder if Nick Two John knows about this.”

Hutch laughed. “Nick knows about everything.”

Nick Two John was a Native American who lived with Claudia Donato, the owner of the Inn in Bear Creek. He had been instrumental in awakening Tempe to her Indian heritage.

Everyone at their table stood in preparation for leaving.

“I felt sorry for Supervisor Quintera. She was really put on the spot,” Hutch said.

“She wasn’t happy about it either,” Jess said. “No doubt they did it on purpose to put pressure on her.”

“Or they wanted to remind her she is an Indian and where her loyalties should be,” Tempe said, knowing something about that feeling.

“Lilia Quintera is an intelligent woman. That’s why she was elected supervisor despite everyone saying she had three strikes against her, being Indian, Mexican and a woman,” the owner of the antique shop said. “She’ll be able to handle the pressure.”

The group walked out together, saying their goodbyes as they parted on their way to their vehicles in the vast parking lot. Tempe noticed that different groups huddled together, still discussing the pros and cons of the proposed destination hotel.

It was dark by the time Tempe and Hutch started for home. He drove his new white truck carefully, the replacement for the one that was wrecked in Santa Barbara, around the sharp curves of the narrow road leading away from the casino and the reservation. They drove past the ranches and homes that lined the way until they finally emerged onto the highway near Lake Dennison.

As they headed toward Bear Creek, Tempe said, “Where do you suppose the Indians want to build this hotel?”

“They said near the lake, so I suppose some place where there’s a lot of open land,” Hutch said.

“Definitely something would have to be done about this highway. It wasn’t meant to take the kind of traffic a huge hotel complex would attract.” Tempe thought about the added work of policing such a venture, to say nothing of the controversy that had already been created. She felt sorry for Lilia Quintera.