Sunday, January 7, 2018

Murder @ the Black Mesa Café Vol 1 Chapters 1-10 SAMPLE

Murder @
the Black Mesa

A Minerva Doyle Mystery (vol. 1)
 Marty Knox
 “In every land,
Hardness is in the north of it,
Softness in the south,
Industry in the east,
And fire and inspiration in the west.”
Irish saying
Copyright 2017
Martha Knox
All rights reserved.
White Barn Books Inc.
1301 Walnut Street
Golden City Mo 64748

Chapter 1
“Everything revolves around bread and death.”
Yiddish Proverb

“I won’t eat in a town with cement tepees as its main tourist attraction. I'm hot, thirsty and tired,” I stated to my hubby.
I finished my business with NCC (Navapache Community College) in Holbrook, Arizona. Thanks to Homeland Security rules, I brought every document I could think of when I accepted my new job. My briefcase bulged with transcripts, references, degrees, a fingerprint card, birth certificate, social security card, and passport.
“Geeze, I had to give them everything except a DNA sample and a pint of blood to sign my contract. My brain hurts,” I said as I jammed my seat belt tight.
“Minnie, how about that little place we saw on the way up to I40 off old Route 66?” Michael said.
“Sounds great, I’m exhausted,” I said. I leaned back against the headrest. A cold glass of sweet tea and a homestyle meal sounded perfect.
We pulled up to the Black Mesa Café, a burnt-red brick building. Emblazoned on the front window a hand painted sign read: HOME OF THE CRAZY BURRO! Signs nailed to the brick walls advertised Coca-Cola, Texaco, Camel Cigarettes, Beeman's Chewing Gum, even Route 66. I couldn't escape tacky.
Michael opened the door of the Café for me. A blast of cold air welcomed me. Delicious smells wafted over me from a mahogany counter full of freshly baked pies. Magnificent antique beveled glass mirrors decorated the back wall.
I perched on a red leather stool. I turned and twirled the chrome shoe kicks with my back to the crowd. An auburn-haired waitress in faded jeans, cowboy boots, and a black polo shirt dropped two menus in front of us.
“Welcome to the Black Mesa Café. What would you like to drink?” She asked. She smiled at us with pleasant warmth not a fake grin like most servers. Not much makeup other than a swipe of smoky eyeshadow, a dash of brick red lipstick, and a spatter of freckles showing on tanned skin, the outdoorsy type.
“Rose, she'll have sweet tea, and I want black coffee,” Michael said as he spotted her name tag. He knew everyone's name right off.
He raised his bushy eyebrows at me and pointed his chin to a dirty booth in the back of the Café. We scooted over to the cluttered red Formica and chrome table. With a flourish, he stacked dishes in a neat pile and wiped the table off with a wet bar towel someone had left behind. He'd do it all the time. He had a mischievous temperament that suited his optimistic nature. It was impossible for him to stay serious for long. We'd go to a strange restaurant; before I knew it, he poured water and coffee for customers. He used to embarrass me, but as long as the restaurant owner didn't fuss, I didn't either.
“Okay, you two played musical chairs on me.” Rose held our drinks and looked around in surprise. She spotted us in a back booth of the Café. She shrugged in a good-natured, straightforward way, set down chips, homemade salsa, and our drinks.
“She'll have the Crazy Burro, red sauce, guacamole and sour cream on the side, and I'll have the Cowboy Burger with fries,” Michael ordered for both of us.
As we waited for our food Michael and I played our favorite guessing game. Each one of us tried to outdo the other with a fantastic imaginary profile of our fellow diners. As a retired ATF agent (Bureau of Alcohol, Firearms, Tobacco, and Explosives) Michael loved to scrutinize people.
“See that fellow at the bar in dirty blue jeans. He smells of sulfur and brimstone. Is he the devil's apprentice? Come here to grab an unwitting soul?” Michael said. The sooty man slouched over burger and fries, gobbling up the meal as if he had to run out the door. The man slurped up his coffee and banged the empty cup for a refill. He turned to glare at the sizeable noisy family in the back booth.
“Welder, in a hurry to get back to the job site,” I guessed. “Look at his white forehead. Tiny burn holes in his shirt from the sparks. His jeans blackened from welding rod. Look at his thick shoes, steel-toed. It's bad news to drop a steel bar on your foot.”
“How about Mr. Cowboy over there? The one with the mustachio and $200 Stetson,” I said at my turn to challenge him.
Michael inspected the man. “Knife pleated jeans tucked into spit-shined black boots, crisp starched ironed blue denim shirt, and a bolo tie. Gun at his waist. It's Arizona, okay to carry a weapon. A badge on his shirt pocket. Yep, he's the local law.” Easy guess for Michael. The man placed his hand on his belt near his gun and turned to inspect us as he paid his bill.
“All right, score one to one. Even. Your turn, loser pays for lunch,” I said.
“How ‘bout the old lady in the next booth surrounded by a circle of kinfolk? Do her,” he said.
A sizable clan of ten people took up the entire back booth of the Café. I watched the family dynamic. Each person gazed with rapt attention as the white-haired elder commanded their silence.
She pointed her bony finger at each person in turn. The sun-beaten weathered woman spoke in a dry, raspy voice, “Ever' one of you are after my money. I got my updated will right here in my pocketbook. No one gets a damn thing unless they help me like I want. I can change it anytime I want. Lawyer Smith is very helpful to me since I pay him a wad of money every month. I got everything tied up nice and legal: land, mineral rights, and grazing leases. I got it all here. Nobody gets a thing unless I say so,” the crone's voice blasted over the diners. A baby whimpered in the back booth.
Most people in the Café ducked their heads down, ignored the loud outburst and tried to focus on their food.
“She's somebody's mama,” I guessed, “but wouldn't want her as mine. Got them in her tight fist. The family's afraid to look crosswise at her in case she leaves them out. She must hide something important in her purse. She holds onto it for dear life. I hate emotional blackmail. My answer, a dysfunctional dynasty in action. I'll bet she pits one against the other to see them squirm.”
Rose arrived with our dinners. The game over, I dug into my Crazy Burro.
“Homemade salsa, handmade tortilla, and fresh guacamole. I'll bet a little old lady cooks in the kitchen,” I said. I entered foodie heaven with my first bite. Michael couldn't talk with his mouth full, so he nodded in agreement. We ate in satisfied silence as dishes clattered around us in the busy Café. A little later Michael stretched out in the booth and pulled out his shirt over his jeans.
“Terrific burger. Add the Black Mesa Café to our Diner List,” he said.
On our honeymoon last summer we traveled across the United States in an RV. We checked out little mom and pop diners and wrote our favorites on our Route 66 Diner List.
Shouts of horror from the large family in the next booth interrupted us. A baby shrieked. Plates and cups crashed to the floor. Our elderly matriarch passed out on the table. I punched 911 on my phone. The dispatcher knew the exact location.
Michael strode over to the booth. Helpless relatives fluttered around the elderly victim. Only a fashionable slender woman beside the old woman kept calm.
“Can you settle your family while Michael helps?” I asked her. The baby’s screams were deafening.
“Mother…” The daughter patted the old woman's hand. “Mother?”
The old lady’s head rolled back unresponsive to her daughter's urgent query.
Michael pushed the table back and laid the old woman down on the booth. He cleared her airway and checked her pulse. I dealt with the relatives as he performed CPR. I heard the sirens.
“Help me move the tables. The EMTs need room,” I commanded using my teacher's voice. I stood up and started pulling chairs out of the way. I needed to get the family out of the way now.
Rose stepped forward to help me. “Come on get these chairs up to the wall. Richard. Victor. Flynn. Ed. Move stuff out of the way now. Let's go.” She snapped her fingers in impatience at the most prominent man in front, and the others soon followed his lead. She acted like a Chief Master Sergeant. Guys in the Café moved the tables, and the gals stacked chairs.
I heard the sirens stop. A wiry pony-tailed woman burst through the door. She wore navy scrubs and cop shoes. A Stethoscope wrapped around her neck.
“Lady passed out a few minutes ago. Pulse thready, face clammy. I cleared the airway,” Michael informed the pony-tailed woman.
He stepped back out of the way as she took over rescuing the victim. The EMT clicked open a gunmetal gray suitcase packed with equipment. Three more EMTs dressed in heavy black and yellow boots rolled a Striker folding bed through the Café. They eased it down to a few inches above the floor. The EMTs lifted the victim onto the bed.
I got out of their way and went back to our booth. I watched as the EMTs wheeled the elderly matriarch out of the Café. The family gathered up their belongings and followed the EMTs out the door.
“Thank you for helping Mother,” the elegant woman announced to the crowd before she left the Café.
“Everybody. Listen. Let's say a prayer for Mrs. Steven,” Rose said. People in the Café went silent and bowed their heads. “Dear Jesus, please hold Mrs. Steven in your hand. Help her on her journey. Thy will be done. Amen.”
Rose looked around at the messy Café. Michael and I pushed the chairs back; soon other customers straightened up the Black Mesa Café. Women cleared dishes. Men moved heavy tables back in place. Someone grabbed a broom and swept up the EMTs' debris. People moved with quiet efficiency.
“Leave your tickets at the cash register. Dinner's on me. Thanks for all your help,” she said.
The Black Mesa Café looked as if nothing had gone wrong, but an odor of medicinal alcohol and ozone wafted in the air. Michael and I lingered behind.
“Oh my God, I need a drink, thanks for your help,” Rose said. “I’ve never had anything like this happen since I inherited the place from my Dad.”
She gathered up the dinner tickets strewn around the cash register. During the confusion, people had thrown piles of twenty dollar bills on the counter.
Rose wiped her eyes with a napkin. “This town. I told them dinner’s on me. They didn't have to leave any money.”
“I’m glad her daughter had the common sense to calm the family,” I said.
“Yeah, it's a good thing Mrs. Steven had Gloria here, she's the brains of the outfit,” said Rose. “At times the Steven’s clan goes for each other's throats, but they come together in troubled times.”
“Are you going to be okay?” I asked as I patted her shoulder.
“Tomorrow's another day. I always say ‘nothing a good night's sleep, and a good breakfast won't cure.’ I hope Mrs. Steven comes out of the hospital okay. God willing,” she said.

“You catch more flies with honey than vinegar.”
Yiddish Proverb

I woke up the next morning with a scratchy passionate kiss from Michael. I hugged Michael. I loved the smell of his Old Spice, although he always had a perpetual five o’clock shadow no matter how often he groomed. When he worked for the ATF, he had to run to the men’s room to shave before a court deposition.
I tousled his wet hair with my fingers. His black Irish hair inherited from some long-dead Celtic ancestor stuck straight out and curled around his ears. He was blessed or cursed with a dimple in his chin, and a cheery lopsided grin. Startling lapis lazuli eyes looked out at the world in mild surprise at the wickedness he saw. The only thing that kept him from being an Adonis was his squashed potato nose, which had long ago been broken in a donnybrook and had never healed properly.
Michael was easy to shop for, his plain pocket undershirts were navy blue or black. I bought them by the six-pack. Nothing white ever lasted for more than a few minutes on him. He chose black or indigo jeans, cotton socks, and comfortable leather moccasins. He had no favorite sports team and picked whatever team gimme-hat he grabbed from the closet.  He said it was a great conversation starter. He never went anywhere without his multi-purpose Swiss army knife that had every tool under the kitchen sink attached to it. He was Mr. Fix-it personified. He snapped on his cartoon wristwatch, and he was ready to face the world. Yet in spite of his neat habits, he would unravel until relaxed scruffiness won out at the end of the day.
I showered quickly. I still got dressed in less than five minutes, old habits die hard. For years I was used to sharing a bathroom with my kids and getting them ready for school took first priority. I slapped on a bit of my favorite lipstick, a swish of eyeshadow and I was good to go. I never needed blush because my cheeks were fever bright red at the most inconvenient moments. I dressed in my usual uniform of the day; boots, jeans and a sweater. I stuffed my hair under a straw rancher’s hat, and we were ready to go.
In the morning Michael and I headed back to the Black Mesa Café. The muffins and OJ offered at the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed didn’t meet my ideas for breakfast. Although Michael's sweet tooth mandated him to grab a handful of muffins for a snack later, I started the day with something nourishing. Michael and I sat at our table in the back of the Café. He knew what I wanted to eat. I figured if they screwed it up I wouldn't return.
“Morning, Rose. Don't need a menu. Denver omelet for her, side fruit, English muffin dry, salsa. Two over easy, bacon, crispy hash browns, sourdough for me. Black coffee, lots,” Michael said.
“Pardon me, may I talk to you for a minute?” said the town Marshal as he gazed straight at Michael and tipped his Stetson to me. “Ma'am, don't mean to interrupt, but I need to ask your husband a few quick questions.”
I approved and nodded my head. The Marshal and Michael moved to the counter and drank coffee while they conferred.
Rose came to my table with our breakfast. “I'll have iced coffee, nothing fancy, a plain glass of ice with coffee. I'll need cream too,” I said. “How are you feeling?”
“I'm fine. Got a good night's sleep,” she said.
“Do you know what happened to the woman who fell ill last night?” I asked.
“She's at the county hospital in Show Low. Nice of your hubby to step in to help. Mrs. Steven has a big family, but sometimes they don't have common sense. They eat here every Payday Friday. I know exactly what everyone eats and drinks. They're some of my regulars. Although they didn't sit in their usual spots,” Rose replied.
“Well, I hope she's okay. Kind of shook us up,” I informed her.
I hoped to pull out some local gossip. “My husband's retired. I start a new job at the college in August. We're looking for a place to buy around here.”
“Are you LDS?” asked Rose.
“No, why?”
“Well, most LDS (Latter Day Saints) members want to buy a house by the Temple in Snowflake. Other folks like it here in Black Mesa. We're all kinds of outcasts. Don't fit in with the high and mighty too much,” she said so no one overheard her.
“Is the Steven’s family LDS?” I asked.
“That's where all the feuding comes in. Mrs. Steven doesn't approve of Mormons. Her son Victor is LDS. She thinks it's the devil's own work, a cult. It doesn't bother me any what people believe as long as they work hard, stay honest, and abide by their word. Most town-folks think the same,” she said as she left my table.
“Couldn't help overhearing,” a robust grey-haired man leaned over my booth. “Here's my card. I can find you a home out east if you want something with a little land, beautiful, and quiet. Give me a call when you're ready,” he turned back to eating.
I filed the card in my planner as Michael came back to our table. Michael dug into our food.
“So what did the Marshal want?” I asked.
“Marshal Dubois thanked me for my help. Things could have gotten out of control. It still doesn't look good to have people passing out when you're eating,” he said. “Dubois commended me because I kept a cool head. The EMTs seem to live at her house. The old lady keeps getting rushed to the hospital. The court appointed two of her daughters as her legal caretakers. The youngest daughter’s her power of attorney. Dubois thinks they're a pack of vultures waiting for the old lady to die.”
“No wonder Mrs. Steven holds her will over their heads. I wouldn't trust a crew like that with my welfare. Rose told me about the family feud. I guess Mrs. Steven didn’t approve of some of their church choices,” I filled him in on what I knew.
“Religion or lack of it can start an argument in any family,” he said.
Marshal Dubois stopped by our table and leaned down. “Would you two come down to my office after you’re done? It's up the street. I'd like a little more private conversation.”
Michael agreed.
“What's that all about?” I asked.
“He wants more background info on us. We’re witnesses. Can't blame him. Just routine questions,” Michael reassured me. “Seems like an honest guy.”

Chapter 3
We walked to the Marshal's office, a remodeled grocery store. I expected a walk-in somewhere, and an IGA sign out back. I smelled oranges. Full-length white drapes covered the plate glass windows. Gold lettering spelled out names and the location of town officials. We entered a foyer and turned right to an intake window.
“Good morning Peg. We're looking for Marshal Dubois, he asked us to stop by after we finished our breakfast,” Michael said.
How did he know her name? Oh, yes, a nameplate on her desk. He had sharp eyes. Terrible with names, I could never keep them straight. I met people two or three times before I remembered their names. Yet, I recalled all the little details about how they looked. So I guess it evened out between us.
“Oh,” she fussed. “Marshal Dubois didn't tell me. Let me see if he's in, please wait right there,” she disappeared into another office. Chubby with a genuine welcome smile, Peg measured five feet tall on a good day. Her permed hair arranged in tight ringlets around her face.
“Charles, there are folks out here to see you. Did you forget to tell me? You know I have to keep track of your schedule,” she scolded him.
“Bring them in. I'll get with you later on my calendar,” he said. I noticed the Marshal didn't seem too concerned with obeying her wishes.
“Hi, take a seat. Ma'am right here. Michael over there,” he gestured towards two large rocking chairs.
The office looked more like a living room; a claw-footed round oak table for a desk and a buffet piled up with folders. A brass barometer hung prominently on the wall telling the local weather. A well-kept basic black Underwood manual typewriter sat on a stand in the corner with a new stiff white piece of paper rolled into it, ready to go. He even used a traditional black Bakelite landline telephone. Beige cowboy hats hung over elk antlers. Some pricey Cowboy Artist pictures covered the walls.
When he took his hat off, Charles Dubois hair stood straight up in a 1950’s buzz cut. His forehead from his eyebrows up was pale and smooth. Shaggy eyebrows bristled over his tawny brown eyes. His wrinkled eyes and leathery skin told of life outdoors rather than one stuck in a patrol car. He had the look of a hunter. If he was an animal, he could have passed for one of the wild Arizona mountain lions that still roamed the Mogollon Rim. His hands were gnarled with large bony knuckles. An heirloom train engineer’s gold pocket watch peeked out of his black leather vest. Crisp ironed blue jeans, boot cut, were stuffed into black mirror finish squared toed western boots. A magnificent hand braided horsehair bolo tie with a cabochon of copper-bearing Azurite completed his sober demeanor.
“I'm Charles Dubois, Marshal of Black Mesa,” he pronounced his name with a soft C. He shook Michael's hand and nodded in my direction. “I got a call from the hospital before you got here. Mrs. Steven didn't make it. She died this morning. I hope you can help me with anything you observed when all this happened.”
“Do you mind if I record you?” he said as Peg bustled with the machine. “Saves me writing. Got arthritis in my hands. Peg does most of my paperwork for me. She'll transcribe what you say when we’re done. You can read it. Make any changes you see fit, and then you can sign the statement. Thanks, Peg, that’ll be all.”
“I don't know how much help we can give you. We arrived yesterday. Don't know anyone here,” Michael said as Peg scurried out of the office, her arms piled with folders.
Marshal Charles Dubois seemed like one of those old-fashioned types who thought the little lady came along for the ride. I kept my mouth shut and observed the situation while my brain calculated on overtime.
“Let's get your names and where you're from. The basics,” Charles said after he spouted legalize into the recorder.
“Michael Sean Doyle. Grew up in Miami, Arizona. Joined the Marines out of college. Pretty much traveled all over the world. Entered the ATF after I got out of the Marines. Got divorced. Stayed with the ATF till I retired recently. Got married to Minnie. Always wanted to move back to Northern Arizona. I missed the open skies. The Valley lifestyle annoys me, too citified for my taste. We took my boys camping up here, and we had a terrific time. She got a new job at the local college. As soon as her contract down in the Valley finishes at the end of May, we'll live up here in the mountains,” Michael stated.
My turn next, “Minerva Helen Doyle, friends and family call me Minnie. I'm from Joplin, Missouri. I went to Missouri Southern State College after high school got my B.S. in Math. Divorced, left Joplin with my kids after the tornado wiped out my home and my teaching job at the high school. I moved out to Arizona. Got a Masters in Computer Science from Arizona State University. I started teaching at Central Arizona College and met Michael there. Got married. We decided to live a rural lifestyle in Northern Arizona,” I said. My life summed up in sixty words or less.
“Mid-west folks like you two have common sense. That's what I need in a good witness. Tell me what you noticed, even obscure details. The oddest fact could contribute to the investigation,” Charles said.
Michael related his astute observations about the incident at the Café. “Noticed a big family eating dinner. Mrs. Steven gave them a real dressing down and upset them. Helpless relatives; they stood around in shock like most civilians. Then I rushed over to her when she passed out. Figured I'd better do CPR till the EMTs came on board. Concentrated on keeping her breathing and her airway open. Luckily the EMTs got there ASAP, and then I let them do their job.”
“Not surprising the EMTs got there fast because most of them eat lunch at the Café since the county keeps a tab going. They know her pretty well. They get called a lot on her,” Charles commented and then asked me. “How about you Mrs. Doyle, did you notice anything unusual?”
“I noticed the relatives didn't seem happy to eat at the same table with her. She talked about changing her will. She pulled a fat document out of her purse and kept saying she was seeing a lawyer. The family's mother had them under her thumb. This morning the waitress from the Café told me Mrs. Steven didn't approve of some of their lifestyles,” I said.
“The county coroner will let me know exactly how Mrs. Steven died. She kept getting rushed to the hospital for bronchitis and pneumonia. A couple times passed out at the grocery store, church, and yesterday the Café. Appreciate all your help. Most folks wouldn't have bothered,” Charles said.
“I do my duty. Couldn't stand by and watch. If you need anything let us know, we're at the Bed and Breakfast close to the Café, room four. We're in town all this week,” Michael said as he shook Charles’ hand.
“Why don't you two stop over to my house for a home cooked meal tonight around five, so we can talk a little more? Here are the directions,” Charles said.
The Marshal drew Michael a rough map and explained directions Arizona style. “Easy to find. Turn left on Aspen Lane. Keep driving when you hit Third Street, go down past the cornfield, over the orange cattle guard, to the dead end. That's my house. Can't miss it. Big Adobe. Red Metal Roof. Built it myself.”
“We've eaten restaurant food for the last two days,” Michael said. “I'd like a home-cooked meal.”

“A man without dinner means two for supper.” Irish Proverb

Michael and I left the Bed and Breakfast at 4:15 p.m. He drove while I navigated. I hated using a GPS, although Michael loved it. The voice got on my nerves. Half the time it sent me out on some weird route. Give me two cross streets and a map, and I can find anything. I’m left/right dyslexic when it came to directions, but I could always feel North, South, East, and West.
After turning off the main road, I pointed to a dirt road. Farmland on the roadside smelled loamy and sweet. I noticed corn planted in the fertile soil. Tiny green shoots already poked up from the ground. An ancient cottonwood tree loomed over the red-roofed adobe house. Marshal Dubois' home dead-ended on a cliff that overlooked the rest of the town. Michael parked the car, and I got out. I could see clear across the valley to the looming Black Mesa volcanic outcrop and the lake beside it.
As I walked up the stone path, two lazy Australian Shepherds by the front of the house didn't even get up to bark a warning of strangers approaching.
“Don’t mind them, about all those hounds do is eat and sleep,” Charles greeted us at the door. “Come on in. There's more danger tripping over them than getting bit by them.”
“Take a seat. Supper's almost ready,” he said.
He pulled out a massive wooden bar stool at the inlaid Mexican tile counter for me. The breakfast bar wrapped around the room ending at the kitchen stove. Cilantro, beans, and spicy meat cooking in pots on the stove smelled intoxicating. Charles handed us a glass of sweetened ice cold fresh lemonade, with a sprig of mint and a slice of lime on the glass.
“Hope you like Mexican. You don't mind a little spice, do you?” Charles asked.
“Minnie likes spicy, me not so much. I'll try anything once though,” Michael said.
“Hon, welcome Michael and Minerva Doyle. They're moving to Black Mesa. He helped out with the incident at the Café. Let's eat supper before it gets cold. We can talk about Mrs. Steven later,” Charles said.
“Hi, I'm Sunny, Charles' wife. Glad he invited you. He told me all about you. I never know who's going to drop in, so I make plenty to go around. Enough left for my widow ladies too,” she said. She wiped her hands on an over-sized cobbler's apron. Many hearty meals stained the front. Underneath she wore jeans, a western shirt, and cowboy boots.
Charles piled our plates with fresh tortillas, refried beans, and spicy fajitas mixed Hatch green chilies and grilled onions. “Here you've got to try my homemade salsa. Folks around here call it Gunslinger.”
Michael's eyes teared up. “Wow. That's got a bite.”
“You've got a baby's palate, son,” Charles laughed.
I piled on the salsa and munched away. Michael couldn't understand how I could eat blistering spicy food. I loved it: horseradish, wasabi, chilies, and the hotter, the better.
“These beans taste savory. What's the secret?” I asked.
“Charles puts plenty of Tequila in them when they're cooking,” Sunny said.
Michael handed the Marshal a business card, “Who's this guy?”
“Paragon Realty. Ed Sanders. He's lived here for a couple years, from New York. He’s kind of quiet for a city fellow. He hasn't had any dealings with the law, or complaints from the locals. But to be on the safe side, read the fine print when you sign a contract with him,” Charles said.
After we had eaten, we all went into the family room. Michael and I sunk into massive lodgepole pine chairs, while Sunny and Charles took the gigantic couch. A polished slice of a tree trunk served as a coffee table. Charles propped his feet on the table. Sunny knocked them off with her arm and gave him a look.
Charles got down to business. “I'm sorry that Mrs. Steven died. She worked hard as a man, and did all the ranch chores. Folks around town say she wore the pants in the family.”
“She had to stay strong. Her husband died in a mine accident,” Sunny said. “She raised all those children herself. Five of them: there's the oldest boy, Victor; the twins, Loretta and Deborah; the youngest boy, Flynn; and the youngest girl, Gloria. It makes for a huge family. They've done well for themselves.”
“When men give their word around here, a good man's handshake says enough, honor bound,” Charles explained. “The Steven's bunch got into trouble because lots of handshake agreements went bad.”
Sunny said, “People around here get the gossip out quick if someone doesn't hold to their word, or tries to cheat. Most people don't trust any of that Steven's clan except for Flynn; he's a ‘good hand’ like his daddy. Flynn's the family outcast because the rest of them act like their Momma.”
“I wanted to warn you, nobody deals with Mrs. Steven or the family unless there's a lawyer involved. Count your fingers after you shake hands with them,” Charles said. “I'm having an autopsy done on Mrs. Steven. I got permission from Holbrook to have her examined by the Pima County Office of Medical Examiner. It will take six to eight weeks for all the paperwork. I’ll piss off the family, but it's what I have to do. Don't want you, me, the EMTs, the Black Mesa Café, or Navajo County blamed because of the circumstances surrounding her death. I’m covering my bases.”
“You scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours.” German Proverb

“Minerva, let me give you a tour of the house,” Sunny said.
She showed me a large formal living room with dead animal heads galore on the walls. Not something I would consider a decorating style but I guess it went with the rest of her Southwest theme.
She saw my look. “Charles and the boys go hunting in the fall. Do you think Michael would like to join them?”
“He likes to fish,” I said. I knew Michael had enough excitement in the past hunting down men.
“During the summer my kids rough-house outside, and we don’t use this room. We use a whole log in the fireplace when winter comes around. We're glad to have it,” she said as she pointed to a mammoth floor to ceiling fireplace at one end of the room.
“My hideaway, I get more work done in the winter. It's my quilting time,” she said as we went to the next room.
I saw a lovely organized quilting room. Rows of flat drawers filled up one wall. A large folding table on the other side held Sunny’s sewing machine and cutting mats. Her long arm quilting machine took up the other wall. She had an entire walk-in closet full of sewing supplies.
“I'm jealous. I love your sewing room, you’ve given me some ideas for mine,” I said in admiration.
“During the summer we've got animals to take care of, alfalfa to grow, and corn to watch. It’s an all-day job keeping the crows off our plants. I can vegetables and fruit in the fall,” she said.
“I’m frustrated.” She continued. “I wrote a recipe book for the ladies in the Altar Society, but my computer went blank. Every time Charles touches anything electronic it seems to die, so he’s no help. I don't like the kids handling it either. I lost all my work once.”
“I’ll be teaching Computer Science at the college in the Fall. Let me take a quick look at it,” I said.
I went down a mental checklist. “First thing I do, check to see if it's plugged in. Sometimes cords can loosen up by tripping over them or pulling on them.”
I pushed all the plugs in. The screen popped right up. I could see one thing right away on her hard drive. No separate folders. All her files resided in one messy list.
“Do you back up your files?” I asked.
“Back up?”
“My recommendation, buy a flash drive to back up your recipe book. Get another for your pictures. That will clean up your hard drive so it won't run so slow when you turn it on, plus it will protect all your hard work. You can get an external hard drive to protect your computer on a weekly basis,” I said.
 “What's a flash drive?” She asked.
I saw her eyes glazing over. I gave her too much information. Sometimes I get wrapped up in my job. I needed to take it easy on the technical jargon. Bless her heart. From my experience, there are no dumb questions except the ones you don't ask. She needed to start from square one. I went into teacher mode.
“I'll tell you what. I'll get a couple of little storage devices big as your finger. Sometimes people call them thumb drives. They're small and portable. I'll plug them into your computer. I'll show you how to make a secure copy of all your latest work. A free lesson. My hostess gift for an excellent meal,” I offered.
“Great. Charles doesn't touch computers. When I ask him for help he tells me to ask the kids, but they show me so fast I don't understand,” she said.
“At least you aren't afraid to turn it on. One of my students took forever to touch a computer, terrified she’d break it,” I said in admiration.
“Charles needs help at work,” she stated. “The county court insists on storing all law files on the computer. Charles must save his records on one at his office and then e-mail the file to the county. The County Sheriff's department was computerized two years ago and even has computers in the patrol cars. Peg helps him with some stuff but he needs to learn how to use technology, or else he's out of a job.”
“I'm happy to do some consulting work for him if he's got the okay,” I said.
We continued the tour of her home. Her bedroom, an oasis of calm, with a beautiful blue and cream hand quilted wedding ring quilt on the bed. In the next room, sturdy rodeo patterned coverlets decorated the boy’s lodgepole pine bunk beds. Last, in her daughter's room, a 1930's cowgirl themed bedspread on an antique four poster bed surprised me.
“The boys rodeo every Friday. My daughter likes gymkhana. My kids rode since they could walk,” she said.
She brought me back to the family room where the guys were watching the fishing channel.
“Charles, Minerva says she's glad to help you organize your computer at the office. You need somebody that knows what they're doing,” she said.
“I did consulting work for the Maricopa County Sheriff's office. I have a fingerprint card, and I've had a thorough background check done,” I explained.
Charles admitted. “I'm not on the up and up when it comes to computers. Peg at the office does most of that for me. I could use all the help I can get. Navajo county contains more square miles than some eastern states or even some countries. The outskirts of town provide lots of places for bad folks to hide. Let's talk down at the office. Give me the details. I'll see how much I got left over in my budget. I could get away with hiring a consultant. Lord knows I need help,” he said.
I got to know Sunny better while we did the dishes, and cleaned up the kitchen. Sunny matched her name. She was a bubbly enthusiastic woman who no matter what life threw at her she came out fighting. She made it her mission to feed the hungry, clothe less fortunate children, and comfort the grieving widow.
Her home was decorated for comfort, everything thing Southwestern from dried red chilis hanging on the wall to original Cowboy Art. She had a series of black and white photos of pioneer women honoring their struggle to make a home on the frontier. They stared straight out of their picture frames. A woman washing clothes with a washboard, another woman boiling clothing over the fire, a group of women at a quilting bee, a horsewoman in a divided skirt driving a buckboard, and last a school marm sheltering her unruly awkward charges behind her long skirts.
Sunny’s greyish blonde hair was tied up in a messy ponytail, more for practicality than style. Her one instance of feminity was a necklace made of silver and turquoise in a beaded cascade waterfall. I liked her right away. She struck me as funny, honest and not afraid to learn new ideas. I met my first friend in Black Mesa, Arizona. She was my type of gal, not prissy, and not stuck up.
Michael and Charles conversed. They looked somber. Michael shook his head. Charles slammed his hand on the table. Sunny looked concerned. Michael gestured with the universal hand slicing a throat. What happened with those two? I thought they hit it off. I looked at Sunny, she shook her head in wonder. I couldn't take it.
“What’s wrong?” I asked.
“Not much,” Michael said. “Turns out we were both stationed in Beirut in October of 1983. We compared notes on our time there. No worries.”
Michael shrugged the memory off. He didn't talk much about his time in the Marines or the ATF. He kept himself to himself. Charles nodded in agreement, their friendship cemented. They watched the fishing show as if nothing happened.

“Behind every successful rancher is a wife who works in town.” Cowboy Proverb

I felt at home in Black Mesa when I first saw it, a green valley made by a tributary of the Little Colorado River. The Rio de Plata, ran through the west side of town, next to a massive black volcanic outcrop. Michael and I explored the unique village before our meeting with the Realtor. I ambled down the country lane, and I heard the wind stir through real trees for a change. Wildflowers popped up alongside the road: California poppies, ox-eye daisies, and wild irises.
Cattle munched sweet grass and horses roamed the fields, a familiar sight as Michael and I strolled around the town. Wild animals also found a home in Black Mesa. I held my nose because I smelled lots of skunks and manure.
We searched on Zillow to eliminate the houses we hated on sight and narrowed our list down to four homes. After breakfast at the Black Mesa Café, Michael and I approached the Paragon Realtor's office. I hoped the Realtor held up to the name of his business, a paragon of virtue.
“Ed, I'm Michael Doyle, this is my wife, Minerva. Here's our list. We're looking for a VA approved three bedrooms, two baths, fixer-upper,” Michael informed the Realtor. Ed pumped Michael’s hand. Michael had memorized Ed’s name from his card, a name I forgot. I remembered he came from New York, a plus for me.
“I'm surprised at the home prices,” I said.
“When the Paper Mill outside of Snowflake/Taylor closed we lost a lot of good-paying jobs. Farmers and ranchers lived here for generations, so most need a side income after the harvest season,” Ed said. “Then the recession hit and people now work for the county or state government. We get some tourists traveling old Route 66. Thank goodness the town officials didn’t tear down the old buildings like a lot of paces did in the 1970’s.”
“It's a beautiful quiet little town. You're lucky, before the recession, people couldn't find a house for sale in Black Mesa until somebody passed on, and the kids didn't want it.” He escorted us to a pea green Land Rover, and we drove off with him on our new house hunting adventure.
Ed showed us to the first house on our list within walking distance of the Black Mesa Café, A two-story stone cottage with old fashioned lead glass windows was tucked behind tall old growth cottonwood trees. A journeyman stone mason had laid the mauve streaked limestone and quartz turquoise bearing rock.
Ed gave us the pitch as he unlocked the door. “You see a historic home, built in 1870, one of the oldest houses in Black Mesa. Irish Catholic folks settled here after the Civil War. Most of the men came over on the boat together. They all joined the Irish Brigade on the Union side. Soldiers who survived brought their wives and families out west away from the devastation and tragedy. They worked the ranches and mines, plus they were excellent horsemen.”
Michael went inside the house like a little kid on a new adventure. “It's beautiful, Minnie. Wood floors, fireplace, look at those beams. What craftsmanship. Old wiring though,” Michael said as he glanced around.
As I stepped into the house, I got a weird feeling. One that made the hair on my neck stand up. My arms had cold shivers. I felt someone watching. I could not live in this house no matter how enchanting.
“Michael. Wait. Nope. No can do. I'll wait outside till you're done,” I stated.
I couldn't stand the atmosphere of the house. I ducked out the door, relieved to calm down in the sunshine. Michael teased me about my sixth sense, but it had saved my life when I lived in Joplin. I would not ignore it.
“I'm sorry Michael, not this house,” I walked toward the Land Rover.
The Realtor looked stunned.
“You know, and I know it's haunted,” I said.
“A left-handed gunman killed the first town Marshal. He left a widow with eight little kids. The tragedy happened over 130 years ago,” Ed said.
“There's more to it,” I stared him down.
“All right, they used it as a hospital during the Spanish Flu epidemic in the 1917's, right after statehood,” Ed said.
“Let's look at another one,” Michael said.
“One without so much history,” I said.

“He who has a farm with water and peat has the world.” Irish Proverb

Michael and I surveyed a couple more houses in town. Nothing else stirred our souls. We desired a home for the kids and grandkids to visit. Finally, Ed showed us a house about ten minutes outside of town, close to the Apache County line. Driving off Old Route 66, he turned down a dirt road lined with rural mailboxes and traveled up the gravel driveway to the house.
The saltbox style house had two stories on the front, slanting down to one story in back to an enclosed veranda with a sizeable twenty-acre lot, and a stand of old growth cedar trees. In the rear, more outbuildings, a pair of railroad cars were converted into a barn, and a small workshop was next to the barn door.
Ed unlocked the front door. In the living room, a wall of windows faced north; they let in sunlight but not the heat of the day. On the south wall opposite the windows stood floor to ceiling bookshelves on each side of a rugged stone fireplace. Oh, heaven for bookworms like Michael and me. Wood floors flowed throughout the house.
“The children’s bedroom runs across both sides of the upstairs. The first floor has the master bedroom, the kitchen, dining room, and another separate guest bathroom. There’s a combination sewing/laundry room off the kitchen. The enclosed veranda goes the whole length of the house. It gets a little warm in the summer, but it's cozy in the winter. I'll let you folks look around. It's the only house in these parts that has a full basement where all the mechanicals reside. Let me know if you have any questions,” Ed said as he finished his laid-back sales pitch.
“I love it so far. How about you?” I said.
“Let's look deeper. I want to see the electric, heating, and plumbing,” Michael said.
While he investigated the core mechanicals of the house, I looked at the rest of the downstairs.
In the kitchen, I envied the new black appliances, state of the art, thank the kitchen gods. But, the solid knotty pine cabinets in the kitchen seemed a bit dark for my taste so a lighter stain could freshen them up. Looking out to a flower garden, the large window over the kitchen sink dispelled the gloom. I could tell the downstairs bathroom off the kitchen took a beating from kids. Our first re-do.
I opened a door off the kitchen and walked into a pantry that was as big as the sewing room with floor to ceiling shelves. I stood in awe, a person could store a small grocery store full of food. Who needed storage for an apocalypse?
“Minnie, you're not going to believe it. There’s a finished basement. It's got a huge family game room, the guy left his HD TV,” Michael said. “There's a heat pump, on demand hot water heater, and state of the art wiring panel. The mechanicals were up to code. Let's look upstairs,” Michael said as he came up from the basement.
A wrought iron stairway ran up to the second floor. The railing continued around the second floor to mirror image loft bedrooms. Two sets of bunk beds stood in the middle of each room.
Ed said, “I know what you're thinking. Gigantic storage pantry and enough beds for a dorm. The man, LDS, built it himself in 2000. They had four boys and three girls. That's why the bunkhouse look. Father got a new job in Salt Lake City after the Paper Mill closed. He moved the wife and kids there last year. Owner’s a motivated seller. He bought a brand new house in Salt Lake City for cash. No mortgage on the house, quick close, no bank to slow down the process.”
I felt a happy vibe in the house. It seemed I could still hear children's laughter.
“We've got a big family too, between his kids, my kids, nieces, nephews and the grandkids we've got about as many,” I said.
“I can't foresee any problems. Let's put in an offer, with approval after inspection, and title search,” Michael said.
Then I decided. “Okay let's go for it. I've got to drive back down to the valley Monday. My plate’s full. Finals are coming up soon, and grades. I don't know how I can juggle this and semester end. Can you finish up the VA inspection and closing paperwork yourself? Do you mind staying up here?”
“I'll drive down on the weekends and help you pack. Got it under control. The Marines are always prepared, Semper Fi.” Michael kissed me and twirled me around the dining room. He looked so happy.

“Don't judge people by their relatives.” Cowboy Proverb

Michael signed the papers on his end. I e-mailed, faxed, and over-nighted my end of the paperwork. Thank goodness for Internet, and Craigslist. I couldn't believe how fast the house closed. I got rid of stuff we no longer needed and made a little money. No sense in hauling things I didn't use anymore up a mountain. But, I couldn't get rid of our books.
Michael and I celebrated a second honeymoon when we met in my motel room on the weekends. After our romantic interlude, Michael carted our possessions up the Rim to our new house.
Staying in a motel by myself during the week helped me get all my school paperwork done in record time. My student's final exams were over, thank God. On my last day, I turned in my grades and left my phone number with the Dean's secretary. What a sense of freedom.
I looked at my phone, already eighty-three degrees at 5 a.m. in the Valley. The days got hotter and hotter. The Weather Channel predicted Memorial Day would average over one hundred and five degrees for the three day holiday. I wanted to beat the vacation crowds going to the lake for the weekend. I hustled to get out of town early Friday morning because I knew by noon the highway up to the White Mountains turned into a parking lot.
I beat the rush. The highway to Payson was clear with only a few cars on it. I turned off the AC when I got close to Payson because the steep climb was rough on a car's engine. The highway from the Valley, close to 1200 feet above sea level, goes up to over 7000 feet in Heber/Overgaard. Then it climbs over the Mogollon Plateau past Show/Low, reaches Holbrook on I40. I had a short turn-off to Old Route 66, and last Black Mesa. When anyone asks people in Arizona how far to a city, they never answer how many miles to a place. It's always spoken in hours. I made it up the hill in about four hours, a 235-mile trip for foreigners.
My stomach grumbled in hunger by the time I pulled into the parking lot of the Black Mesa Café. I walked in and saw Michael at our favorite booth.
“I see you've found a home.Your name on it yet?” I teased as I joined him. I gave him a hug. I missed him these last six weeks.
“All the locals hang out here. Learned a lot about them sitting here drinking coffee, listening to gossip, and keeping my eye on the characters. How was your trip up?” He kissed me long and hard in front of everyone. He didn't care what people thought.
“Tiring, traffic wasn’t bad coming up the mountain. I left early. Of course, everyone slowed down to a crawl going through Star Valley,” I said.
“Star Valley, a speed trap for sure. You didn't get caught going ninety miles an hour through town?” He teased.
He knew I white-knuckled my steering wheel as I drove up the mountains. When the tops of ancient 300-year-old trees stand level with the highway, I didn't dare look out the window. I kept my eyes focused on the front of the road ahead till I got up over the Mogollon Rim and past Heber/Overgaard.
“How did the movers do? Any trouble?” I asked.
“Got the bed made up,” Michael whispered as he kissed me again on my ear and smiled with a naughty grin.
“Anything else I ought to know?”
“I moved the furniture where you wanted it. Left the kitchen, pantry, and closets because I knew you'd want to do the organizing. But, I got my coffee pot going, grill set up, tool shed and barn finished. If I'm lucky I won’t need to do much remodeling or repairs on the house,” he said.
“Have you eaten yet?” I asked. I guessed he'd eaten out all the time I stayed down in the Valley.
“Sunny and Charles looked after me. Fended for myself at breakfast and lunch, but they had me over for supper every night. He's a fascinating guy. I liked him right off,” Michael said. “He's French Canadian, from Montreal, met Sunny when he was on leave from the UN peacekeepers. They got married and moved here close to her family. Her family's some of the original Irish Catholic pioneers.”
He waved Rose over. He tended to take a long time to get to know people and didn't trust anyone at face value. His few close buddies in the Marines and ATF felt the same. If my life depended on someone watching my back, I didn't want them to flake out on me either.
“I'm getting the chicken fried steak, taters, and white gravy, salad with blue cheese,” he said. “What's the vegetable?”
“Green beans,” Rose answered.
“Skip it,” he said.
“Glad to see you back, hon. What would you like?” Rose asked.
“Patty Melt, baked potato if you have it, and I’ll eat Michael’s green beans. Salad, French with an F not Ranch with an R,” I said.
“That's funny. I guess the two do sound alike. I'll have to remember that because sometimes I get people's salads mixed up, especially if they have a thick southern accent. I'll get this going for you. You want iced coffee, plain, nothing fancy, ice and coffee with cream on the side. Right?” She said.
“Yes, how did you remember?” I asked, astounded that she could recall what I drank more than a month ago.
“Oh, I remember everything when it comes to eating and drinking, by my everyday customers. You look like you'll be a regular like your hubby,” she smiled and nodded. She left to put our order in the kitchen.
“Thanks for getting the taxes done. Were they too complicated?” I asked.
Michael and I had gotten married last summer, so this year was our first tax return together.
“Found a local guy. Richard Fitzroy. Lives right across the street from us. He was an accountant at the Paper Mill for years. Now he’s retired and has his own tax business. Seemed like he knew his stuff, very meticulous,” Michael said.
“Did you hear anything else about our unfortunate little old lady?” I said.
“Not yet. Charles says it takes about six to eight weeks to get an autopsy done. They have to rely on Pima County. I used them before in the past on some investigations of mine around the border, they do an excellent job,” he said.
Michael was built like an Olympic swimmer, broad shoulders, narrow waist, firm butt, long legs, five feet seven inches on a good day in western boots. He had outdoor bronzed skin and untamed curly black hair. He could pass for any Mediterranean or Latin ethnic group.
Before he retired, he sometimes worked undercover for the ATF. He kept his slight gapped toothed grin, because expensive dental work could sometimes give an operative away. He didn't talk much about his old cases, and I didn't ask. Too gruesome from what I've read in the papers. My expertise; I analyzed numbers and data. I wasn’t a crime scene person.
“How is the family handling their Mother’s death?” I said.
“So far they haven't missed a Friday night dinner. I witnessed a lot of arguments. I sit still and listen. Interesting family dynamic. Don't have a handle on the players, but I will figure them out given enough time,” Michael said.
“You'd think it would give them the creeps eating at the same table where she died,” I said.
“The family leaves Mrs. Steven's chair and place setting empty in her memory. I noticed they always sit in the same places at the back booth,” he said as he took out his pocket-sized notebook.
He made a circle with his forefinger. “Clockwise around the table: Gloria, Richard (Gloria's husband), (twins) Deborah and Loretta. Flynn, (Flynn's wife) Jennifer, (baby) Lizabeth, (Victor’s wife) Pearl and Victor. Rose told me they eat and drink the same thing when they come in. She's about got their order ready when they walk in the door.”
Michael knew all their names. I still had trouble with people's names, but he’s a natural at remembering.
“Something else you should know. The whole family lives on our street,” he said.
“What, how did that happen?” I said.
“The guy whose house we bought didn't lose his job. He had altercations with Victor Steven, the oldest brother, over horses grazing on Victor's land. That's a no-no around here. Grazing rights are a serious issue in Arizona. Charles said both of them lived in and out of court suing each other,” Michael said.
“Great, I hope they leave us alone,” I said.

“Always take a good look at what you're about to eat. It's not so important to know what it is, but it's sure crucial to know what it was.” Cowboy Proverb

While knee-deep in boxes, I heard the front door knocker. Great, my home’s a wreck. I wasn’t finished unpacking. I found the coffee pot this morning but not the can of coffee. I yearned for my drug of choice sugar with a bit of coffee. Michael hadn't come back yet from the store. Had he forgotten his keys? I yanked open the door.
A tall slender elegantly dressed woman smiled at me. “Hello, I'm your neighbor Mrs. Gloria Fitzroy. I noticed you moved into the neighborhood. I'm in charge of the Black Mesa Chamber of Commerce welcoming committee. I wanted to give you this packet of information about all the local places to shop, and coupons for local stores. I also brought a little token of local treats from artisan businesses who are members of the Chamber. Am I interrupting you? Is this a good time?” Gloria said. She glanced around at my mess.
“No, I'm trying to get things straightened up. Unpacking, and organizing; last in first out. Of course, all the stuff I need right away is at the bottom of the pile. Come on in, I've got sweet tea if you'd like or Coke. That's about it,” I said.
“I don’t drink sugary drinks. Bottled water is perfect for me,” Gloria said. She was one of those naturally slender women who wore higher priced off the rack Nordstrom’s clothes like they were designer originals. Skin made flawless by artifice, I knew it was an exacting makeup job. Not a sliver of hair escaped her perfect blonde French twist. She seemed out of sync with the outdoorsy pioneer type women I had met so far in Black Mesa.
 “I've got a case of bottled water around here somewhere. Give me a sec. Please, make yourself comfortable,” I said as I shoved a pile of books off the sofa.
She brushed the couch off and sat down, her legs crossed at the ankles. She wore pale hose and tan spectator pumps.
I felt like a rube dressed in a Suns’ baseball cap, hair sticking out, jeans, an old Phoenix Suns’ purple and orange T-shirt, orange socks and purple sneakers. Yep, I was a fashion plate. I took the basket of goodies to the kitchen.
“This looks yummy,” I called out to Gloria, as I ran to the pantry to get a water bottle.
At least I had some semblance of order in the main room. Though, I noticed she had snooped around in the living room while I left. It might look messy, but I knew the contents of each pile.
“So, where exactly in the neighborhood do you live?” I asked. Not too close I hope.
“My family owns most of the land around here. My husband, Richard, and I live across the street in the large white colonial. My mother lived in an old ranch house next door to me. My oldest brother Victor owns all the grazing pasture, alfalfa field, and cornfield along with the two-story log cabin next to your property. He also has a stable and barn on the other side of his house. You should be glad the smell isn’t close to you. You have a common lot line with him.”
“My twin sisters, Loretta and Deborah, live in Show Low near the hospital. My brother, Flynn lives at the end of our road in the double-wide manufactured home. Thank goodness no one can see him from the road. He doesn't exactly bring up neighborhood property values, but our area is zoned for manufactured homes and farms, as well as proper houses, so what can one do?” she said.
She interrogated me, “Where does your husband work? Does he own his own business? We welcome new members to the Chamber of Commerce.”
“He’s retired. I’m teaching Computer Science at NCC this fall. I'm looking forward to helping people learn how to use computers,” I said.
 “I’m the English department chair at Navapache Community College. My brother, Flynn, is a tenured Geology professor at the college. I trust I'll see you at our fall faculty reception. Adjunct faculty is also invited. You should be getting an e-mail. Make sure you contact your department chair in person, sometimes the quality of the secretarial pool is lacking,” Gloria said. “I couldn’t help but notice your collection of books. Very impressive, quite an unusual range of authors.”
“Michael and I are both bookworms. He likes thrillers, non-fiction, true-crime, history, biographies, and sci-fi. I read classics, science, technology, math, mysteries, and adventure. When I was a kid, I read all my dad’s favorites like Treasure Island and the Three Musketeers. A good book, comfy chair, and a cozy fireplace then my life is good.,” I said.
“We have something in common I see you have an extensive collection of 18th and 19th-century women writers. That’s my area of expertise,” she said as she lovingly passed her fingernail over my books.
“Any women's groups around? Quilting groups? I love to quilt,” I said.
“I am involved with the Chamber of Commerce, a professional group, so I’m not familiar with women in those other groups,” she said. “I had better go. I have more visits to make today. I’m glad to meet you. I'll see you at the next Chamber of Commerce meeting, third Thursday night of the month, at the Black Mesa Café, 7 p.m.”
“We have been talking about upgrading our records to a computer and putting the town of Black Mesa on the Internet. We could use your technical expertise to bring us into the twenty-first century,” she said. “Thank you for the bottle of water. It was refreshing.”
“Thanks for the info. I'll keep the Chamber in mind,” I said. Given my first impression of her, she was an executive type. I prayed her outfit today wasn’t the dress code for the college. I expected a more jeans, boots and even an upscale Eddie Bauer country vibe for teachers. Fingers crossed. Otherwise, I would have to buy a whole new career wardrobe.

“A meager compromise is better than a fat lawsuit.” Danish Proverb

June 5
Mr. Michael Doyle and Mrs. Minerva Doyle
4445 South Opal Drive
Black Mesa AZ 85938

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Michael Doyle,

This letter is to inform you that we, the family of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Steven, have decided to initiate a wrongful death lawsuit in the matter of our Mother's recent demise.

As you know the family gathered together at the Black Mesa Café on the night of March 23, 20__. We were having a quiet family dinner when Mother began to choke. She then passed out in front of us. Mrs. Doyle, you held us back from helping our mother. Mr. Doyle, you immediately presumed to take over the responsibilities of the EMTs who are professionals. Mrs. Doyle, you were lax in your timeliness to call the EMTs. You kept us gathered together in such an emotional state and turmoil that none of us could come to Mother's aide. As a result, our Mother died wrongfully and through your neglect. Mr. Doyle, you are not a medical professional. You should have waited until the EMTs arrived and you should have let them do their job.

It is for this reason that the family of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Steven has asked me, Mrs. Gloria Steven Fitzroy, as executor, to inform you of our decision to file this lawsuit. We are requesting the following damages:

1) Economic. We have incurred close to $50,000 in medical expenses due to her stay in the hospital, and the cost of ambulance services. Funeral expenses are expected to be close to $10,000. Loretta Steven and Deborah Steven, my twin sisters, are no longer professional caregivers for my mother. Also, we have to pay unexpected taxes due to the sale of family land to cover the immediate financial burden. My brother, Vincent Steven, has stood to lose the grazing lease rights which amount to $50,000 per year.

2) Non-economic damages. We have suffered mental anguish, pain, and suffering because of the loss of the love, society, companionship, care, protection, guidance, advice and nurturing from our Mother. Although these items are less tangible, they have more value to our family than any economic loss. We, therefore, decided we will ask one million dollars for mental anguish and suffering.

3) We are further asking three million dollars in punitive damages. Mr. Doyle should not ever presume to have the knowledge to rush to perform CPR when he is not a medical professional. We ask for these costs to compensate for elder abuse, misconduct and the resulting death of our Mother.

4) Attorney's fees. As the survivors, we plan to recover interest on damages and be reimbursed for attorney's expenses incurred in bringing this lawsuit. Attorney's fees will be minimum of $125,000.

Mrs. Gloria Fitzroy nee Steven
Executor of the Estate of Mrs. Mary Elizabeth Steven
4448 South Opal Drive
Black Mesa AZ 85938