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Authors: Victoria Houston

Dead Rapunzel

BOOK: Dead Rapunzel
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For Pete

“Three things in human life are important. The first is to be kind.
The second is to be kind. And the third is to be kind.”


Chapter One

“Judith, you won't believe what I just bought! I made an offer of twenty-five million and it was accepted—the biggest deal I could ever hope to make in my
. Oops, I better quiet down. I think I'm shouting into the phone.”

Rudd Tomlinson took a quick look around, but with the exception of one couple sitting two tables away and an older man deep into his newspaper at the counter, the Grizzly Bear Café was empty. Early-morning regulars were long gone into the frigid outdoors where the icy March winds made people anxious to stay inside, turn up the furnace, and light the logs in the fireplace. While a few fanatic snowmobilers might venture into the coffee shop soon for an early lunch, it was the kind of day when a wise fisherman hunkered down to clean tackle.

Reassured she had not been overheard, Rudd lowered her voice as she said, “The people involved insisted I keep this a secret, so I haven't been able to say a word to anyone—not even you—but the deal is done.
, believe it or not. I have just bought the largest collection of Georgia O'Keeffe art in private hands—two flower paintings, a sculpture, and a landscape.

“We finalize details on March eighteenth, and I will need you there as my witness. So, Judith, please, call me the moment you get this.” Rudd couldn't help chuckling: “I can't believe I've been able to do this. We have to celebrate.”

Setting the cell phone down on the table beside her mug of hot coffee, Rudd stared through the café picture windows at snow devils whirling down an ice-covered Main Street. A car crawled by, witness to the treacherous roadway.

In the distance she could hear the rumbling of a logging truck. With spring's road-weight limits just weeks away, the monster trucks were a constant sight as they barreled down Main Street, which was their only route south. The hundreds of lakes and rivers dotting the region made it impossible for the state highway to avoid meandering through the small town. Annoying as the fumes and noise might be for these few weeks in March and early April, Loon Lake residents rarely complained: Since the 1800s, timber had been the lifeblood of the Northwoods.

Rudd checked emails one last time before tucking the cell phone into a side pocket of her purse. She wondered if the silly, satisfied grin on her face made the couple at the nearby table think she was nuts. So what if they did. That eight
phone call had made for an amazing morning.

Only Judith would appreciate what it meant to her. After all, who would have ever thought, twenty-two years ago when Michael and Ava were killed in that awful accident, that she would someday be one of the wealthiest people in northern Wisconsin? Not only rich but about to endow, design, and build one of the finest art museums in the Midwest.

Rudd paused, glancing down at her coffee cup. The happiness that had filled her heart moments ago faltered under the memory of losing her first husband and their only child so many, many years ago. To be perfectly honest, she thought as she drank the last of her third cup of coffee and handed her breakfast plate to the waitress, she would trade the money, the art, and every luxury in her life today—if she could have Michael and Ava back. She'd give it up in an instant. But that's easy to say when you know it isn't possible.

Getting to her feet, she reached around for her coat and started to pull it on. “Excuse me, but your coat is absolutely stunning,” said the woman sitting with the man two tables away. “Is that a mink lining?”

Surprised at the comment and anxious to downplay the value of the coat that Philip had forced on her, Rudd offered an apologetic smile. “Yes, but it helps make the coat a little lighter to wear—you know how heavy sheepskin is. Warm but heavy.”

Philip, the wealthy widower she had fallen in love with and married so unexpectedly five years earlier, had meant well when he insisted on buying her a fur coat.
even though she said she did not want to wear anything so ostentatious. “You know I hate being over-accessorized,” she had said. “It's not me, Philip. I don't care how much you love me.” And so they had compromised on a custom-designed coat with shearling on the outside and the mink lining, which she was able to hide most of the time.

After wrapping a colorful wool scarf around her neck, Rudd pulled on a pair of fur-lined leather mitts, flung her purse over one shoulder, grabbed the flat leather case with all her notes inside, and pushed through the café door. The wind was so fierce against her face that she had to tuck her chin down into the scarf.

Hurrying to the curb where a path had been shoveled through the snow bank, Rudd stepped forward to peer past the parked cars for oncoming traffic. Another logging truck was thundering her way. She stepped back onto the curb, waiting for it to pass. Cold as it was, she felt more relaxed than she had in weeks.

Rudd loved her morning ritual, which she had fallen into after Philip's death. Seven days a week she would arrive early at the well-lit, warm little café where she would sit at the same table and order the same breakfast: a “green” omelet laced with fresh spinach and oozing goat cheese, one buttery brioche, a small OJ, and three cups (never more, never less) of black coffee. She made it a habit to arrive at seven-thirty so she could be on the curb by nine, ready to cross to the modest brick-and-stone building that she had purchased and was renovating into offices for the curatorial staff she hoped to hire soon. Speaking of which, she made a mental note to scan her notes—

Before she could finish that thought, she was airborne, pushed so hard that she flew off her feet. The logging truck came at her, crushing her beneath its massive tires.

Michael stood smiling. He was holding Ava, who was waving happily at her mom. Nothing appeared to have changed: Ava was her darling two-and-a-half-year-old self, Michael as handsome as the last time they had embraced. Ecstatic, Rudd ran toward them. She started to apologize for her coat only to realize she was wearing a T-shirt and shorts. That's right, she remembered, we're planning to take Ava out on the new pontoon and surprise her with that plastic fishing rod—the kiddie pole with a neon-green crappie hanging off the line. Michael had found it at the five-and-dime store. Fun!

Back in the café kitchen, eighteen-year-old Chip Dietz was starting to attack the morning's dirty dishes when he glanced through the window over the sink just as an elderly man, shoulders hunched into his parka, head bare, ran by—
even though he had a face that looked to be a hundred years old. Of course, Chip shrugged. With a wind chill of thirty below zero, who wouldn't run? He went back to sorting the dirty silverware.

A moment later he heard a scream of metal on metal. Oh no, I'll bet it's that old man, thought Chip. He slipped on the ice and fell in front of a car—bet you anything.

Chip rushed through the swinging kitchen doors and past the counter to the dining area. The morning waitress stood with her forehead pressed against the front window as he ran up.

“Call 911!” she shouted. Chip dove for the phone.

Chapter Two

“Good morning, Dani. Any luck yet?” asked Lewellyn Ferris, Chief of the Loon Lake Police, as she pulled out a chair and sat down to watch over the young intern's shoulder. “I know you've been here since seven this morning, which I appreciate.”

Contrary to appearances—which included a six-inch eagle tattooed up her right forearm (the name “Herb” etched in scarlet below the talons), two silver rings piercing her left nostril, and vivid green-violet spikes exploding from the top of her head (all of which made her look more like a contestant on a goth reality show than a cop)—Dani Wright had an uncanny talent for demystifying computer code.

And she did wear the uniform of the Loon Lake Police with “Intern” embossed on the pocket over her right breast.

How Dani had come to be working alongside Loon Lake Police Chief Lewellyn Ferris was one of those crazy accidents of life. To earn money to pay for her cosmetology degree at the local tech college, Dani had taken a part-time job as an administrative assistant in the office of the local technical college president, a woman who was helpless when it came to using a computer, not to mention reading a spreadsheet.

Before long, the president knew whom to call every time she locked up “the damn mouse” or crashed her system. When the college website was hacked by a spammer siphoning money from students, and even the guys in the IT department were flummoxed, it was Dani who had worked the keyboard to locate the perpetrator.

For reasons no one could quite understand, the creative instinct and agile fingers that fueled Dani's interest in hair design played a similar role in solving complex computer puzzles, a talent with more lucrative potential than cosmetology. At least that's what Chief Ferris was able to convince her of, despite the siren song of the beauty salon.

“Dani,” she had argued, “what if you didn't have to
in a salon when you didn't want to? What if after a few years working for the Loon Lake Police you could afford to
a salon? Or two? Or seven? And do only the hair you want to do, the way you want to do it? What if?”

So it was that Dani had grinned and shrugged and agreed to come on board. She soon switched her major to law enforcement and started working part-time with the Loon Lake Police. Though she was only a lowly intern, she had proven to be one of the sharpest IT trackers in the upper Midwest.

The timing had been excellent, as cyber crime had been escalating in rural areas. Less than a month after Dani started her internship, two banks in Tomahawk were hacked. It took her less than a week to point the county sheriff in the direction of the hackers.

“Hey, yeah, good morning, Chief,” said Dani, eyes locked on the monitor in front of her. “Nothing yet, but I feel like I'm getting close.”

The computer, a laptop, belonged to Butch Johnson, owner of a small T-shirt and tattoo shop, who had been fleeced for more than a thousand bucks by some creep selling counterfeit Green Bay Packers jerseys online.

“Right before the Super Bowl, too, doncha know,” Butch had said when he called in to report the theft. “Green Bay was playing and I had customers desperate for those jerseys. That's why I didn't take time to check the jabone out. My fault, I know, but is it too late to blow a whistle on the guy?”

“Of course not,” said Lew. “You were victimized. I'll see what we can do. Come in Tuesday and bring your computer. We have an intern who is an IT expert. She may be able to help us locate the crook. Just don't drop that laptop before you get here.”

“Don't you worry, Chief. Tell you what—if that gal can get me my money back she gets a free tattoo—her choice.” Unfortunately he had made that promise when Dani was within earshot.

“Whoa, that's sweet,” said Dani. “How soon can I start?”

Ouch, thought Lew. She could live with the spiky hair and the piercings. Were there many young people in Loon Lake without them? But another tattoo . . . Lew checked the Policy and Procedures manual, where it was explicitly stated that such an off-the-books arrangement was highly illegal. She was relieved, Dani disappointed.

“Well . . . Chief,” she had argued, “I could get the tattoo where it can't be seen.”

“You must be kidding,” Lew had said with an appalled look on her face.

“Getting close, Chief,” said Dani now, pausing her dancing fingers to sip from the cup of cold coffee next to the keyboard. “Once I locate the log file in Mr. Johnson's computer, we may have a digital trail, and once we have that—we can nail the sucker.” Dani was cackling with satisfaction when the door to the conference room opened.

Marlaine, the morning dispatcher, poked her head in: “Chief Ferris, I just got a 911 alert that there's been a bad accident down on Main Street—right in front of the Grizzly Bear Café. A pedestrian may have been killed.”

BOOK: Dead Rapunzel
12.22Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub

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