Meet Jenny Dee with this sample of The Errant Heirs Caper

Chapter 1

Tyler, Texas - 1936

“JD Pierson’s office.”

I said the words in a sing-song voice, mimicking my dad’s old secretary, Lola.  Since we’d been forced to let her go several months ago, I had been filling in at the desk.

“Well, hello there, Jenny.”

“Oh.” I forced myself to smile, hoping I could fake my way into sounding chipper. “Blake Broadmore, how are you today?”

“Fine.  Just fine.  So, you’re still on the switchboard, eh?”

“Well, you know…” My voice trailed off as I silently prayed for a way to get him off the phone.

“So, I received a call from Rufus Scribner today.  You know Rufus, up at Lake Keegan?  Well he says there’s some problem up there, and he wants me to run out to check on a potential claim, but honestly, Jenny, I’m just in over my head with work. I thought maybe JD could…”

“Oh, no, Blake,” I said a little too quickly, then licked my lips and paused. “What I mean to say is, I’m very sorry but my father couldn’t possibly right now.  He’s very busy these days.”

“Oh, come on, Jenny.  This is Lake Keegan.  I know how much your dad loves that place.  If there’s a problem there, he’d want to be the first one to check into it.”

“He just can’t.  I don’t know how he’d ever fit that into his current schedule.” Noticing a scuff on my left shoe, I leaned over to try to rub it out.

“I feel like I’ve heard this song and dance routine a lot lately.  I think maybe JD is working too much.  He’s burning himself out.  Now, this case shouldn’t be too…”

“No, Blake, I’m very sorry, but you’ll have to find someone else.”

He was quiet a moment, and I wondered if maybe we’d lost the connection, but then he said in a soft, deep tone, “You never know, Jenny.  It might just do him some good.”

I bit my lower lip as I cast my eyes down, shifting the telephone to my other ear carefully so that it wouldn’t muss my hair. I wondered if he knew more than he let on.  Was it possible that he’d somehow found out about Dad’s problem?  Blake was an investigator, too, so it might not be too difficult for him.  A little knot formed in the pit of my belly as I said, “I don’t think so, Blake. I don’t believe he has the time.  We’ve been just run over with work.”

The lie slipped right out of my mouth again even as I glanced around the tomb-like office space.  I’d gotten good at these sorts of fabrications, but it was always different with Blake.  He wasn’t just one of our top connections with Gilead Mutual, he was also a friend.

A very good friend.  And that’s what made it all the harder to keep the truth from him.  I wanted to spill the words, tell him all that had happened and plead for help.  But that couldn’t happen.  Dad’s pride would be destroyed, and I just couldn’t bear that.

So, I didn’t have much choice in the matter right now.  After all, it was two o’clock in the afternoon, and my father was nowhere to be seen.  But if I went out looking for him, I knew I’d eventually find him deep inside a bottle by now.

“I appreciate it, Blake, but I know Boyd’s has a case that…”

“Now don’t give me that, Jenny Dee,” he said my first and middle name in a condescending voice laced with irritation. “I know for a fact Biden hasn’t spoken to him in weeks.  Now just tell him it’s imperative that he get to Lake Keegan this evening to look into this thing.  All expenses paid.  The insurance company’s picking up the entire tab on this one.  Tell him… tell him if he doesn’t get to his favorite old fishing haunt by nightfall, then it will never be the same again. And if he wraps it up early, maybe he can throw a hook into the water, too.”

I worried at the scuff again, wondering how I could get rid of him. Could I fake someone breaking in on the party line?

“Can you just tell him for me, Jenny?”

He sounded bossy now, and that always irritated me.  I stuck out my tongue at the phone, then took a deep breath.

“I’ll tell him.  Thank you again for calling, Mr. Broadmore.” My response was made in my best “secretarial” voice, and I giggled a little to myself as I hung up the phone even though he’d started to implore me one more time to get my dad down to Lake Keegan.

I knew what trick he was playing.  The details about the “case” at Lake Keegan were vague at best.  It wasn’t hard to figure out that Blake’s only game was to get my dad to take a break,  thinking a little respite would be the thing to get him back into the game.

I’d been passing on work for my father, JD Pierson, for weeks, telling Blake that Sydney Taylor at Lone Star Mutual had him on a job while I assured Travis Biden from Boyd’s of London that he was on the clock for Frank Covington with Sunflower Life and Casualty.  The merry-go-round of lies had gotten harder and harder to keep track of, and even though I was doing little or nothing for our business to actually make so much as a nickel, I was so exhausted that I felt like I could use a good vacation myself.

It wasn’t that I didn’t think Dad could use a little time away.  Fishing was his favorite pastime—besides drinking, of course—but I knew good and well as long as he was on a bender, he wouldn’t take the “bait” so to speak.  And lately, those benders were getting longer and longer.  I was afraid that one day he’d never come up out of his drunken fog, and we would have to shut down the office for good.

It was hard to say whose heart that would break the hardest, his or mine.  Since Mom had died, I’d been like my father’s right-hand man… er, daughter.  He’d not only come to rely on me to help run his office, but he’d also taught me everything he knew about the business.  I enjoyed tagging along as he investigated insurance claims.  Instead of dancing at the fine parties I’d once frequented, I had enjoyed learning how to verbally two-step with suspects on arson and accident cases.

Somehow, I’d discovered my passion in insurance work, something a woman, especially one my age, just didn’t do.  But now that Dad was getting more and more lost in liquor, I felt like I was just a cliff’s edge from losing everything I loved most, especially my father.

I heard heavy steps making their way down the terrazzo hallway to our office.  A man’s shadow appeared on the other side of the frosted door, and I waited for it to open.  When it did, I was surprised to see the familiar skimmer hat with a striped green and red ribbon peek around the door frame.

“Ah, there you are, Jenny, I’ve been looking everywhere for you.”

I blinked, then shook my head as I pushed the chair away from the desk and stood, watching as my dad grabbed the brim of his hat with one hand and tossed it to the coat rack.  It caught the top hook, nearly sliding off before settling into place.  He grinned big, then put his arms back so that his coat could slide off, draping it over the chair beside the door.

“You’ve been looking everywhere?  Except here?  Where I am every day?”

I couldn’t help the sarcasm.  But still, I was a little bit in awe of the bright-eyed look in his eyes.  That was the thing about his drunken splurges.  When he came out of them, it was almost like switching on a light.  He could emerge from the fog of liquor almost as if he’d never been drowning in it.

“Ha!  You’re such a smarty pants, Jenny Dee.  Just like your old man, I guess.  So, have I missed any calls?  What do our prospects look like for today?”

My hand swept across the numerous messages I’d taken over the last several weeks.  There had been many more calls that I hadn’t even bothered to write down.  And most of these were long since past their expiration date.  If an insurance company couldn’t get JD Pierson, they’d move down the line to the next investigator on their list.  I’d put the most promising in a stack under the photo of my mother that I kept on my desk.

Still, I hesitated as I reached for them, instead tapping my foot as I thought about Blake Broadmore’s call. Without looking at him, I could feel my dad’s gaze on me.  My lips lifted into a smile, and I picked up the phone.

“I think there’s a pretty good prospect.  How about a little trip to Lake Keegan?”



Chapter 2

Lake Keegan, North West of Gruene Texas

We arrived at Lake Keegan just about nightfall, pulling Dad’s Model A up to the Reel ‘Em Inn, a place owned by the slightly rotund, but always friendly Rufus Scribner.  I’d tried to call Rufus earlier in the day to see about reserving two rooms for us, but the switchboard hadn’t gotten through. As soon as my father switched off the car and the lights went out, a cold inky blackness seemed to settle in on us.

A little shiver went up my spine, but I forced it aside and opened the car door.  My black and white patent T-strap heels made crunching sounds as I stepped out onto the gravel parking area.  I was wearing a stylish but comfortable dimity fabric dress in grey with little black and white flowers.  It looked new, though it had belonged to my mother.  I couldn’t thank her for my abilities with a sewing machine, but she’d at least left behind a vast array of dresses that I’d been able to cut up and repurpose for the newest styles.  Times were hard for everyone these days, but at least I could continue to enjoy my fondness for pretty clothes.

“Quiet as a tomb around here,” Dad remarked as he hopped up onto the porch of the Reel ‘Em Inn and peeked into the darkened window.

“I wish I’d gotten in touch with Mr. Scribner before we got here.” I squinted and peered down in the direction of a pair of headlights that were just starting to become visible along the winding road leading around from the backside of Lake Keegan.

“I believe that’s him now,” my father said, ducking his head left and then right as the car got closer.

“How do you know that?” I asked, as the car was still half a mile away.

“One of his cylinders is bad.  Noticed it last time I was up here.  It’s just like Rufus not to get it fixed.”

I stored that information away, just another bit of knowledge to add to my investigator’s repertoire. Rufus finally pulled in beside us, and I was surprised when the passenger’s side door opened along with the driver’s.

“Why, Jenny Dee, as I live and breathe.” Rufus Scribner’s smile was so wide that his teeth looked like a line of stars in the night sky.  He caught me off-guard by tugging me in for a tight bearhug. I shouldn’t have been surprised; Rufus had known me since I was a little girl, and he’d always thought of me like an adopted daughter.

Over his shoulder, my eyes were focused on Blake Broadmore as he shook hands with my father. He looked fine in dark trousers, a white shirt and black suspenders.  His jacket was folded across one arm, and he’d taken off his fedora as he approached, inclining his head respectfully. I couldn’t help but notice he wore his blond hair a little longer these days.

Rufus finally let go of me and unlocked the door to the inn so that he could turn on the porch light, then jumped down to switch off the car headlights.  When he did, Blake approached, politely putting out his hand to me.  I shook it, then slid my fingers back as soon as I could.

Over his shoulder Rufus said, “Should have known Blake would call in the best when I told him about what had happened.”

“I didn’t expect you to come,” Blake confessed softly as we both turned to follow my dad and Rufus into the building.

“I should have called, I suppose.  To let you know.  I thought…” My words trailed off.

I’d thought his urgent entreaty that I get my dad to Lake Keegan was no more than a ruse, a way to get him to take some time off.  If I’d know there was really a case, I’d have called Blake to let him know we would handle it.  As it was, it appeared he’d had to make the trip himself since he thought his top freelance investigator wouldn’t.

“Don’t worry, Jenny.” He grinned from one side of his mouth. “It isn’t what you think.”

I drew back with one eyebrow raised as he held the door for me. “What do I think?”

He inched in closer, lips just inches from my ear. “This case came after I called you about getting JD here to Lake Keegan.  This isn’t why I called you.”

“Sorry the place was locked up.  The missus is at her weekly Bible study over in Gruene.  As it is, I’m real surprised you got here this soon,” Rufus was saying as he flipped on lights and led us to the back of the Reel ‘Em Inn. “You must have hit the road as soon as you heard.”

“Well, I haven’t heard much of anything,” Dad said as accepted a seat in Rufus’ side office. “All Jenny knew was that there was something important going on here at Lake Keegan.”

“Actually,” Blake interjected. “I called Jenny to…”

“Because we wanted to surprise you, Dad,” I cut him off, wanting to be sure I could maneuver the nature of our previous conversation.  I’d never once let Dad know about how I’d turned away business during his binges. “We thought a little vacation would be nice.  You know, a fishing trip.”

My father narrowed his dark eyes, frowning as he peered from Blake to me and back again. “Vacation?  What would I need a vacation for?”

I opened my mouth to answer, but he turned back to Rufus.

“So what’s this about a problem here at Lake Keegan?”

“Murder, that’s what.”

My mouth popped open. “Murder?”

“Now we don’t know that yet,” Blake rushed in, his tone laced with the same sort of warning I’d heard him use many times when Dad was suspicious about a claimant on an insurance policy. “It’s strictly conjecture at this point.”

“All right, all right, conjecture at this point.  Got it.  Rufus?” My father rolled his hand in front of Rufus, indicating he should give us the story.

“Late yesterday afternoon old lady Maybelline was out in her canoe.  You know she loves to go out on the lake to watch the sunset…”

I nodded my affirmation, then quickly stopped when I saw that Dad was making the same gesture.

“Well, she saw Presley’s boat run ashore up on Goat Island.”

Goat Island was the name for a small spot near the center of Lake Keegan.  Years ago, someone had dropped a few goats onto the piece of land.  Local story said they did an excellent job of keeping the vegetation trimmed so that tourists could explore, but the locals were plagued by the constant and incessant sounds of bleating.  One day the goats “mysteriously” disappeared, the residents enjoyed a fine banquet and finally, a solid night’s sleep.  But even after the animals were gone, the name remained.

“She thought it was a little strange, and when she got back home decided she should call the authorities.  It was dark by the time I could make it out there to check on him.”

In the little hamlet of Lake Keegan, Rufus was not only the innkeeper but also the local police chief.  I watched him reach up behind him and slide his hand under the back rim of his hat, pushing it over his head and into his lap.  Then he rubbed the back of his head hard before slapping his hand onto the desk.

“Found him face down in the sand about two feet from the boat.  He’d been gone long enough rigor had set in.  Had to get Tilghman and Peters out from the Sheriff’s Department to come help me get him off the island.  I just couldn’t see leavin’ him for the critters…”

A tingly feeling inched along my spine, and I closed my eyes, remembering Jarod Presley.  We’d known him for about five years.  Rumor had it that he’d made a lot of money wildcatting in Oklahoma just before the turn of the century.  Then, for some reason, he’d gotten tired of the oil business and had retired to sleepy Lake Keegan.  Even though he had plenty of money, he opened up a little bait shop, making himself into a regular fixture to both the locals and returning tourists like my dad and me.

“How was he killed?” my detective father asked.

“We don’t know that he was killed.  We only know that he’s dead,” Blake insisted again.  I saw that he had his company’s file in hand so I put my palm out to him, and he nodded before handing it to me.

“First thought.” Rufus paused to light his cigar, then took a few puffs before leaning back in his chair. “First thought was heart attack.  Factoring his age and all, it wouldn’t have been unheard of… well, yes sir, that was my first thought.”

I glanced at my dad and took a deep breath. My best guess would put Ol’ Presley at just about my dad’s age.  And he wasn’t known to hit the bottle the way my father did… well, if a heart attack had killed him, it could just as easily take JD Pierson at any moment, too.

“He was the image of good health,” JD remarked as he too remembered Presley.

“He was,” Rufus agreed. “But he did some strange things over the last few months.”

I faced Rufus again and took a seat against the wall, crossing my legs at the ankle and placing the file on my knees so I could review it. “Such as?”

He gazed at me when he answered, respectfully giving me his full attention. “For one, he came to me about two months ago and gave me an envelope that was marked ‘Rent-Paid in Advance.’ I opened it and found close to five thousand dollars in there.”

Dad pursed his lips and whistled loudly in astonishment.

“Also, he went to see Clarence Todd in New Braunfels about making out a new will.  And he deeded the bait shop property to the folks at the Lake Keegan Boat Tour Company.  Said he didn’t want to own the business anymore, just wanted to work it.”

“Maybe he wasn’t in such good health?” Blake suggested, still seeking the simplest answer.  The truth was – according to the papers in my hand – Blake’s company had issued a life insurance policy on Presley which included double indemnity.  That meant that even in the case of murder, they’d be liable to pay twice the face amount, in this case $2,500.00.  It was no surprise he wanted to believe a heart attack had killed Ol’ Presley.

“It’s plausible,” Rufus agreed. “His behavior could be called that of a man who knew his time was short.”

“But you don’t think so now?”

“Oh, I think that’s exactly the case, Jenny.  I just don’t know that the reason he felt his time was short had to do with anything natural.  Could just as well have been he thought someone was out to do him in.”




Chapter 3


I stood back as Rufus and Dad examined the scene of Jarod Presley’s death.  The shoreline was mostly sand, and I had to keep my weight on the balls of my feet so that my heels wouldn’t sink into it.

The morning had dawned beautiful, with bright sun and nary a cloud in the sky.  A nice breeze kicked up to the east, threatening to take my hat so I brought my hand up to hold it on my head while I listened to the men’s conversation.

“See that?” Rufus pointed, and Dad mumbled as he nodded in the direction the other man indicated.  There were several grooves in the sand alongside the spot where Presley’s boat was still beached.

“You’re right.  There was another boat there,” JD agreed. “But how would you know if it was here when Ol’ Presley was?”

“Rain.  There was a heavy rain until yesterday afternoon. I myself saw Presley go out in his boat not long after it let up.  And Ms. Maybelline found him only a little better than an hour after that.  So while it’s possible someone else was here just before Presley, it seems more likely they were here together.”

“Or after?” I queried softly.

“Nope,” Dad glanced over his shoulder. “See those prints?  That’s your boot print, Rufus.  You and I haven’t walked that way today.  And I bet those others are from Tilghman and Peters.  If the boat had come after you all retrieved his body, it would have smudged those out.  And if someone came between the time he died and when you all came to get him… well, why wouldn’t they have reported it?”

“Oh,” I bit my lip. “You’re right.”

“There’s something else,” Dad said, then glanced over his shoulder at me, waiting for me to guess.

I took my time examining the scene, considering all that Rufus had told me and what I’d read in his preliminary report.  Carefully, still moving on my tiptoes, I made my way closer to them. “No rocks. No stumps.  Nothing but sand.”

Rufus told us that he’d looked over Presley’s body at the morgue.  He’d discovered a knot on the back of the man’s head, and the coroner had suggested he’d hit it on a rock or a log when he had the heart attack.

“It seemed plausible,” Rufus had told us. “But I’m still pretty sure it couldn’t have been a heart attack.  There’s some fishy stuff‑no pun intended‑about this whole thing.  I mean, when you see where we found him. you’ll know what I mean.  Something’s just off about it.”

Now Rufus chuckled, slapped my father on the back while moving his head up and down in sharp jerks. “That girl of yours is a crackerjack.  I swear it took me close to an hour to realize there wasn’t a single rock in the vicinity of this boat.”

JD winked at me, then went back to work.  He squatted down and bent his head.  I found myself bending at the waist so I could mimic his view.

“He could have hit his head on the boat. Tell me again where you found him.”

The policeman took a few steps, chopping his hands into an X to show how the body had been splayed.  “Right here.  With his head there.”

“Face up or down?”

“Up.  And there was something else.  No footprints.  Not a single print around the body.  I mean, sure, he could have hit his head on the boat, then stumbled this way, but no prints?  How would he get from there to here?”

“Brushed ‘em away,” Dad opined softly, picking up a sprinkle of sand before letting it slowly drop onto the breeze. “All the prints from yesterday are still visible.  See, those are Presley’s prints there near the boat.  So, he had to have made prints if he’d walked this way.”

“Or someone else should have made some.”

I piped in again. “Or both.”

“Yep, you got that right, Jenny.  Or both.” Dad stood up and stretched his back.  I heard the bones pop a little, and he groaned, then removed his hat to scratch his head. “Well, we’d better get back.  By my calculations, the family ought to be arriving any minute.”

Rufus tugged at the chain until his watch popped from his vest pocket. “Any minute is right.”

JD offered his hand to me so that I could step into the boat.  I’d considered wearing trousers but was glad I’d decided against it.  At least with a dress, I could hold the hem up so that it wouldn’t get into the water.  Once we were all aboard, Rufus started the engine and made a wide turn back towards his dock at the Reel ‘Em Inn.

We were just pulling up to the dock when I heard a popping and then a whizzing sound.  I frowned looking around in confusion. “What was that?”

“Head down, Jenny,” JD told me with an even but stern voice.  I did as he ordered, tucking myself low into the boat. I lurched forward, holding the sides of the boat to keep from toppling over as Rufus kicked the engine to go as fast as possible.  Dad was in front of me, just beside Rufus, and he reached into his coat pocket, hand emerging with his pistol in hand.

That’s when I realized it.  Someone was shooting at us.

I noticed, to my dismay, that water was beginning to collect in the boat.

“We’re leaking,” I called out above the noise of the boat motor.

“Almost there,” Rufus assured us, then he throttled the motor back and guided the boat up onto the shore beside his dock, tactically putting the platform between us and the shooter.  It wasn’t a graceful stop, but it did the trick.

I didn’t worry about getting my shoes muddy or my dress wet this time.  I hopped out of the boat along with my father and the police chief and the three of us hurried, bent at the waist, into the woods.

“Huntin’ rifle,” JD muttered thoughtfully, the only emotion in his voice a vague sense of curiosity.

“Yep,” Rufus pointed. “Coming from about there.  Where that little peninsula on the opposite side of the lake juts in closest.  Hope they didn’t hit the Inn.”

I considered the angle from which the shots had come and could see the reason for his concern.  The shoreline on this side of the lake was such that any bullets that missed us could very well have struck in the direction of the Reel ‘Em Inn.

We waited a few minutes. The only sound I could hear was my own heart pounding and a mockingbird calling from somewhere behind me.  Finally, Dad stood, stretched his back as he always did, then shot me a wide grin.

“Well, that was exciting.  Let’s head up and see if the relatives are here yet.  I could sure use a drink…”

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