Jan Kepler and Swatara Creek Police Officer Flora Vastine were neighbors and schoolmates, but never close.
When Jan, a school teacher, avid birder and niece of a fellow officer, goes missing and is found dead in a nearby tract of woods Flora finds herself thrust into the middle of an examination of the other woman’s life, as she searches for clues.
As usual, the police have more than one crime to deal with. There’s illegal timbering and a series of vehicle thefts taking up their time. And there are other issues to deal with. Flora is concerned there’s some shakiness in her relationship with Cpl. Harry Minnich who seems to be making a lot of secretive phone calls.
Still Flora maintains focus on the murder. Despite evidence implicating other suspects, the odd behavior of another former classmate rouses Flora’s suspicion. Flora’s probing opens personal wounds as she observes the cost of obsessive love and tracks down the killer.
Harry’s attitude was more optimistic when he called her cell later that night.
“Peg’s group only got through part of the gamelands and you guys didn’t cover everything either,” he told her. “There are some thick woods out there. Fresh growth on the trees and brush. Deep leaf cover on the ground. You said yourself, her knapsack was half-buried and you didn’t see it till you kicked it free.”
“I was so sure we’d find her after that.”
“I’ve heard hunters telling all my life how difficult it is sometimes to find a wounded deer—even in the season when most trees are bare. Even in a small area like the Preserve, nature can conceal more than you might think.”
“I hope you’re right, honey.”
“If she’s out there, we’ll find her. The Staties have promised two search dogs for tomorrow morning. Aaron said one of the Boy Scout troops is going to pitch in, too.”
Flora lay back on her bed. Despite the shower and rest, muscles in her legs ached from the strain of tramping over the rough landscape. “Before I found the pack I was almost ready to agree with Fred and think she’d gone somewhere else.”
“Well, now you know she must be out there. Fortunately, the weather isn’t frigid like it was last month. She’s young and healthy. If she isn’t too bad hurt and we find her…”
“Oh, God. What if we’re too late, Harry? We…”
“Think positive, babe. Think positive.”
But Harry’s optimism couldn’t obliterate Flora’s fears. Despite her tiredness, it was a long time before sleep came as Flora kept visualizing scenarios of Jan lying in the muck in the darkness, wild animals circling round her, no one responding to her desperate cries for help as the dampness of the night sucked away her strength and will to live.
About the Author
A retired newspaper editor, J. R. Lindermuth has published 14 novels and a non-fiction regional history. His short stories and articles have been published in a variety of magazines. He is a member of International Thriller Writers and is a past vice president of the Short Mystery Fiction Society. He has two grown children, four grandsons and several granddogs.