BY: DM O’BYRNE
She should have known when she fished that Pink Floyd T-shirt out of the creek that it belonged to that waitress, the one who disappeared…
Kathryn “Ryn” Lowell has escaped the stifling confines of her office at the New York travel magazine she writes for and pulls into Trout Fork, a tiny fishing hamlet in the Colorado Rockies, to write an article about the town. She hasn’t been there long, when along with her orange tabby cat, Jack Kerouac, she discovers a T-shirt in the local creek that belonged to the missing waitress. Now foul play is suspected, and Ryn, who has fallen for the quaint mountain town, is determined to find the killer and give her new friends closure. Teaming up with the local police detective, who seems to want more than Ryn can give him, she puts it all on the line—her heart, her job, and her life.
TAYLOR JONES SAYS: In Death in Trout Fork by D. M. O’Byrne, Ryn Lowell is a travel journalist who stops in a quaint little town in Colorado to write a column about it. The first day there, she learns that a waitress from the local café has disappeared, and Ryn takes a job helping out in the café until they can find someone to replace her. Later that day, she finds the missing waitress’s favorite T-shirt in the local creek, and the next day she finds the body buried in a shallow grave alongside the creek. Ryn has quickly fallen in love with this little mountain town and the people she has met there, and she is determined to find the girl’s killer if it is the last thing she does—as it may well be.
A first-class cozy mystery, the story is well written, fast paced, and intriguing. I hope the author is planning a series because I was left wanting more. A great read.
REGAN MURPHY SAYS: Death in Trout Fork by DM O’Byrne is the story of a young journalist who writes for a travel magazine. Kathryn “Ryn” Lowell travels around to small towns to do research for her column in the magazine. But when she pulls into the little mountain town of Trout Fork with her cat Jack, Ryn has no idea what she is getting herself into. One of the two waitresses from the local café has gone missing, so Ryn pitches in to help out until they can find someone new. The first day there, Ryn and Jack go jogging by the stream and find a T-shirt that belonged to the missing waitress. Strange as that seems, Ryn is totally unprepared the next day when Jack starts digging beside the path they are jogging on and uncovers a body. Ryn’s investigative juices start flowing, and she is determined to stay in town until she finds out who the killer is—which may be more dangerous than she realizes.
O’Byrne has once again demonstrated her marvelous talent for character development, and I fell in love with all the unique characters from Trout Fork. Fast paced, charming, and intriguing, Death in Trout Fork is one that cozy mystery fans should love.
I should have known when I fished that Pink Floyd T-shirt out of the creek that it belonged to that waitress, the one who disappeared. It was the same shirt she was wearing in the picture Ashley showed me of the two of them in front of Alma’s café. As I jogged along the path by the creek that evening with Jack Kerouac, my orange tabby cat, there was no hint of the madness that would threaten my life, the insidious kind of madness that infects whole communities and sets them at each other’s throats, the kind that turns fathers against sons and mothers against daughters.
Of course, I didn’t know all that when I pulled into Trout Fork, which could hardly be called a town, or even a village. It was just four stores under one shingled roof at the intersection of two winding mountain roads.
“Perfect,” I said out loud as I pulled into the parking lot. This was exactly what I’d been looking for all week, an off-the-beaten-path spot I could describe for my column, “Out of My Way.”
Cranky old Crenshaw, my editor, had been on my back for days. “This column doesn’t write itself, you know, Kathryn,” he had pontificated into the phone.
No kidding had been my comeback of choice, but I restrained myself.
I took out my cell phone and started to dial the number of the magazine to assure him he would be receiving another brilliant piece of travel literature in short order, but the No Service message told me Trout Fork wasn’t just off the beaten path. It was way off.
I got out of my old Corolla and opened the back door. Jack hopped down and stretched, gazing around with interest, while I put on his harness and leash. The air was typically Rocky Mountain dry and pristine, the kind that makes you grateful you can breathe. The sounds of water rushing over the rocks told me the fork where the creek and the river met was right across the street.
The view of the mountain range to the west was breathtaking, and I stood mesmerized. I had seen the Alps and the Pyrenees, but these Rockies were in a league of their own. Their craggy crests, some still holding onto patches of snow even now in mid-summer, seemed to strain to pierce the sky above. The fourteeners, as the locals call them, challenge the adventurous to scale as many of the fifty-three mountains over fourteen thousand feet as they can.
I had parked in front of Gil’s Bait Shop, which was right next to Trout Fork Liquors. A dusty-looking store called Madam Gauzie’s Antiques was at one end of the building, with Alma’s Café at the other end. The smell of coffee drew me toward Alma’s, and as I passed the bait shop, a tall, hawk-nosed man was watching me through a screen door decorated with a huge American flag.
“Afternoon,” I said pleasantly. “Lovely day.”
He growled something and disappeared back into the store. Apparently helping people murder fish had made Gil a dull boy.
Alma’s was a homey little place with blond oak tables and straight-backed chairs in a small dining room with a massive brick fireplace taking up most of one wall. I joined the line under the “Order Here or Be Seated for Table Service” sign and perused the menu scrawled on the blackboard behind the counter. The sign next to the cash register said, “We don’t do fast food. We do good food as fast as we can.”
A short, red-faced forty-something woman in a long white apron was taking orders. She rang them up on the cash register, gave the customer a number, and then dashed back into the kitchen. Soon plates of food were being fired through the window in the wall between the kitchen and the counter. “Order up!” she shouted to a harried-looking teenage girl who was delivering plates of food to the customers scattered throughout the room and the patio.
“We don’t allow animals in here,” the girl said apologetically, gesturing to Jack sitting quietly at my feet. “Sorry. Health Department rules. He’s a beautiful cat.” She bent down to scratch Jack’s head, while he closed his eyes and allowed himself to be adored.
“How about the patio?” I asked. “Would he be okay out there?”
“Sure,” the girl called over her shoulder as she hurried away.
The red-faced woman scurried back out to the counter, wiping her sweaty forehead with her sleeve. “What can I get you, honey?”
“A burger, please. Well done, with fries and coffee. And an extra plate.”
Her pudgy fingers pounded the cash register keys. “It might be a while. I hope you don’t mind. My waitress up and left two days ago. No notice. Nothing. It’s just me and my daughter until I can find someone.”
“No problem. I’m not in a hurry. I’ll be out on the patio.”
“Thanks for understanding.” She gave me the change and the number six on a wooden stick shaped like a tall fork with a plastic fish impaled on it. Then she swept back into the kitchen.
On my way out to the patio, the girl gave me a grim smile as she brushed past me. I picked out one of the metal mesh tables with a bright green umbrella providing shade from the bright sunlight.
The railing around the patio was covered with planters of purple and fuchsia flowers cascading over the railing.
I sat down and gazed around at the idyllic setting, wondering how I could have survived city life so long. Jack hopped up onto one of the chairs and proceeded to wash his paws as though he knew lunch was coming.
By the time the girl brought my lunch, I was ravenous.
She plunked the plate in front of me. “Sorry this is so late.” Her mannerisms and long chestnut hair reminded me of a Thoroughbred yearling, all legs and energy with the promise of future grace and beauty.
“That’s okay. I hear your waitress quit.” I cut up some of my hamburger and put it on the extra plate for Jack. He sniffed at it with interest and then began to eat daintily. Two older women at the next table smiled at him.
“Quit? She just bailed, no notice, nothing. Probably rode off on the back of some dude’s Harley, the same way she rode in. I just wish she had told someone. We’ve been slammed, and my mom is freaking out back there.”
“Is your mom Alma?”
“Yeah. Alma was my grandmother’s name, too. She’s dead now.”
A family business. More grist for the column. “Do you go to school around here?”
She laughed. “Nah, there’s no school in Trout Fork. I go to school in Pineland Park. Anything else I can get you?”
“No thanks. Oh, I guess there’s no cell phone service here?”
“Depends on where you are. There’s a cell tower in the area, but it’s not close by. The mountains are so tall that it gets blocked. Some places you won’t get a signal, or you can get cut off mid-sentence.”
“Ashley!” her mother bellowed from the kitchen.
The girl rolled her eyes and hurried off.
I took in the scenery as I ate. The cloudless sapphire sky arched over the pines packed so thick on the rust-colored hillsides that no sunshine could penetrate the darkness under them. A group of motorcycles roared off, leaving only the sound of the rushing water in the creek. I leaned back and smiled. This assignment was going to be a piece of cake.
Jack and I finished our lunch, and on the way out of the café, I noticed a Help Wanted sign had been hastily taped to the cash register. Outside, we ambled along the wooden sidewalk, my Birkenstocks making hollow sounds with each step. I decided the best way to get the lay of the land was to chat up the locals, so I started at the end store.
The sign on the door said, “Enter,” so I did. The store was chock full of old stuff on shelves and tables, some of it genuine antiques, but much of it nothing more than garage sale rejects, all of it covered with layers of dust.
An elderly woman dashed toward me with energy that belied her age. She wore a loose-fitting, flowing print caftan that seemed to flutter in the breeze created by her quick stride. Her gray hair was tied up in a bright orange scarf, and necklaces of varying lengths and materials clattered and jangled as she walked. I wondered how she could possibly make a living in this isolated location trying to sell antiques to bikers and fishermen.
“Welcome,” she gushed. “Were you looking for anything special?”
If I were, this is the last place I’d find it. “No, just looking,” I said.
“Well, I’m Madam Gauzie, the owner. Let me know if I can help you.” She pronounced her name “Go-zee,” as though it was French. She looked skeptically down at Jack. “Oh, you have a kitty on a leash. I hope he won’t do anything he shouldn’t in here.”
“No. He never does anything he shouldn’t.”
Jack sniffed around a bit, investigating, and sneezed twice. I wandered through the store, looking for something to use as a conversation starter. If anyone could tell me more about Trout Fork, it might be this old woman.
On one shelf, I noticed a blue and white nineteenth-century Delft vase standing out from among the junk. “Oh, this is a nice piece.” I leaned closer. “My mother has one like it in her collection.”
“Really? Where does your mother live?”
“New York City. West side.” I could see the dollar signs pop up in her eyes, like they do in those old-fashioned cash registers. If only she knew that I had escaped as far from that white-glove society scene as I could with barely enough money to buy gas and cat food. Even my trust fund wasn’t really mine until I turned thirty, and that was still two years away.
“What brings you to Trout Fork? Just passing through?”
I offered my hand to her. “I’m Ryn Lowell. I write for a travel magazine, and I’m always looking for out-of-the-way places for my column.”
“Ryn? Ryn? That’s an unusual name.”
“Short for Kathryn.” Once again, I was overwhelmed by the same unwanted vision of my little brother running down the beach, his chubby two-year-old legs kicking up the sand as he ran giggling and squealing, “Catch me, Ryn!” He could never pronounce Kathryn, and his name for me had stuck with the rest of the family. Except for Mother, of course. I would always be Kathryn to her. I forced Davey’s image back down into my subconscious. Where it belonged. Where I had to keep it. “Do you live around here?”
She nodded. “My cabin is behind the store.”
“A nice quiet little place away from the noisy, crowded city, huh?”
She peered uneasily toward the parking lot where another group of motorcycles had pulled in. “Well, it used to be a lot quieter. Now we get so many of those motorcycle people. They can get quite rowdy at times. Especially the young ones. One night a few weeks ago, a bunch of them had a party right in the parking lot. Loud music from their radios, booze, and God knows what else. I locked my doors and went home early. Disgraceful behavior.”
My journalist’s instincts were piqued. Now we were getting somewhere. It sounded like a scene from The Wild Ones. That angle would never fly for the column, of course, but maybe I could use some of it in the novel.
Madam Gauzie was warming to her subject. “When I got here the next morning, do you know what I found?”
“That girl. That waitress from Alma’s. Passed out on the bench in front of the liquor store. And her boyfriend, the one she came here with?”
“Gone. Left her here like so much excess baggage. Took off during the night. She was flat broke, too. If it weren’t for Alma taking her in and giving her a job, God knows what would have become of her. Alma, I told her, you’ve got to be crazy taking that floozy into your home. Her with her pierced lips and nose and whatever else they pierce these days. And she was such a flirt, that one. Making eyes at every man that came into the café. And Alma letting her share a room with Ashley! But she wouldn’t listen to me. Too softhearted by half. Took that girl in just like that stray cat of hers. She won’t stay, I told her. One day she’ll up and clean out the cash register and hightail it down the road.”
“Is that what happened?”
“Well, she didn’t rob Alma, but she disappeared Sunday. Left Alma in an awful bind. She and Ashley can’t run that place without help.”
“Didn’t anyone see her leave? She must have gotten a ride with someone.”
“Who knows? I did see her with some of those bikers that afternoon. You’d think she would at least have said something to Alma before she left. But that’s young people today. No consideration.” She pulled her loose garment around her more closely. “If I were you, I wouldn’t hang around here too long. It’s not the same anymore. Not the same…” She moved among the shelves, lovingly caressing some of the items.
Jack and I left her to her faux antiques and headed to the next store in the row. The sign on the door of Trout Fork Liquors said, “We don’t serve minors. No ID, no service. No exceptions. Hank Edwards, prop.”
I entered the store and nodded to the tall, burly man with bushy red hair and a scraggly red beard standing behind the counter. He frowned at Jack. “I don’t allow animals in here. Not sanitary.”
I took Jack back outside and tied his leash to the infamous bench. I patted his head, went back inside, and took a bottle of water out of the cooler at the back of the store. I brought it back to the front, where the man was carefully cleaning the counter with Lysol and paper towels.
“This all for you?”
“Yes.” I looked around at the boxes of wines and liquors stacked near the counter. “Are you the owner?”
He flashed a wide smile. “Sure am, honey. You here for the fishing?”
“No. I don’t fish. I’m a writer.”
Immediately, the smile vanished. “What kind of things do you write? Newspaper stuff?” He looked at me as though a bad odor had suddenly wafted in.
I steeled myself for the usual diatribe against the press. “No. I write for a travel magazine. Mostly I write a column about interesting places I find. Like this one.”
The smile returned. “Oh. That’s okay then. Can’t stand those snoopy newspaper reporters. How long you planning to be here?”
“I’m not sure. Is there a motel anywhere nearby?”
“No. People who come here are mostly just passing through to spend the day fishing. There are the houses and cabins that the locals use. But that’s about it. Nearest motel is in Pineland Park. About twenty miles south on this road.”
“Oh. Thanks.” I took my water, and Jack and I sat on the bench. I poured a little water into my hand for Jack to drink from. “Not sanitary. He’s got his nerve, right Jack? You wash yourself every day, don’t you?”
As I watched him drink, I thought about the waitress. What would prompt her to leave without a word to Alma, the woman who had been kind enough to take her in and give her a job? Was she in trouble of some kind? Running from something? Or someone? Maybe there was a story there I could use, certainly not for the column, but I tucked it away in my memory for the novel.
After about an hour, I wound up back at the café. The lunch rush had subsided, and the dining room was empty, except for Alma and her daughter, who sat at one of the tables. Alma had taken off her sneakers and was rubbing her feet, while her daughter sat engrossed in a book. The woman quickly hid her feet under the table when she saw me.
“Taking a break?” I asked as I approached.
“A short one,” Alma said. “Did you want something?” Her bright blue eyes shone from her round red face.
“No. I’m just looking around. I work for a travel magazine, and I’m thinking about writing an article about Trout Fork.”
The girl looked up from her book and regarded me as though I had recently escaped from a mental asylum. “You’re writing about this place? Seriously?” Without waiting for an answer, she rolled her eyes as only a fifteen-year-old can and went back to her reading.
“This is my daughter, Ashley.”
The girl looked at me and nodded.
“I’m Ryn Lowell. Mind if I sit down?”
Alma pulled a chair out. “Not at all. Where’s your cat?”
“He’s sleeping in his bed in the car.” I had pulled my old Corolla into the shade and opened the windows. Jack had kneaded his kitty bed with his paws then curled up with a sigh. Daytime wasn’t his thing.
“Not often we get people interested in this place,” Alma said.
“You never know what you’ll find in a small community like this one. There are often fascinating stories just waiting to be told.”
She raised her eyebrows. “Really?”
“Well, I must admit I have an ulterior motive. I’m also trying to write the great American novel, and I’m always on the lookout for interesting characters and plot lines. What I don’t use for the column, I can save for the novel.”
At the word “novel,” Ashley put her book down and regarded me with renewed interest.
“Where is the magazine based?” her mother asked.
“New York. That’s where I’m from.” I’ve always found that answering questions isn’t as productive as asking them, so I said, “How about you? Your daughter said your mother once owned this place.”
“Yes. I grew up here.” She leaned over and rubbed her calf. “But it was different then.”
I made a mental note. “How so?”
“It had a different feel to it. Then it was mostly the locals and those who came to fish. Now there’s the bikers and other tourists. You get all kinds. Some of the locals don’t like to stay all year. Most shut up their cabins and go back to the city for the winter. Not that I blame them.”
The door opened, and a paunchy, balding, middle-aged man came in. He stopped when he saw the three of us at the table. He wore thick glasses that made his eyes look huge, reminding me of a bug. He was wearing a long-sleeved shirt that must have been uncomfortable on such a warm day.
Alma got up from the table. “Afternoon, Rev. Having a late lunch today?”
“I thought I would,” he said in a somewhat high-pitched voice.
Alma went behind the counter and waited for his order.
“I guess the turkey sandwich with salad on the side,” the man said.
“Coming right up. Been out fishing today?”
“Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. Matthew four nineteen,” he intoned seriously.
“Right. Have a seat and Ashley will bring your lunch.” She disappeared into the kitchen.
As the man sat down at the other end of the dining room facing us, Ashley snickered. “He does that all the time,” she said quietly. “That’s why we call him Rev. His real name is Zach something. Heather used to rag on him every time he came in.”
“The waitress who left. She used to tease him like crazy. One time she asked him to explain the word ‘fornication,’ and he nearly choked on his lunch. It was hysterical.”
“Order up,” Alma called.
Ashley got up and delivered Rev’s plate. “Do you need anything else?”
He gave her a saintly smile. “It is written, man does not live by bread alone. Luke four four.”
“I’ll take that as a no,” Ashley said with a smirk and came back to my table.
Alma emerged from the kitchen with a cup of coffee and sat down with us, groaning slightly as she settled into the chair. Something about this place and these oddball characters set my journalist’s whiskers aquiver, and I wanted to dig deeper.
I gazed around the café, my eyes resting on the Help Wanted sign. “Having any luck finding another waitress?”
“Not yet,” Alma said.
“I’d like to apply for the job.”
Ashley looked at me and grinned. “Great. You can share my room in the cabin. It’s just behind the café. That’s what Heather did. ”
Her mother was a little less enthusiastic. “Do you have any experience? I thought you said you’re a writer.”
“I put myself through college waiting tables.” Much to Mother’s horror, I thought. “I can fill in until you find someone permanent. It will give me time to write while I’m here.”
Alma took a deep breath, whether from relief or trepidation I wasn’t sure. “When can you start?”
“Okay. We’ll give it a try. Ashley can show you to the cabin. After you get settled in, come back before dinner, and I’ll give you some quick training.”
“Great. I’ll just get Jack and my suitcase out of the car.” As Ashley and I left the café, I had the unnerving sensation we were being watched.
© 2018 by DM O’Byrne