Valley Mystery Chapters 1 - 3
Chapter 1:

I was driving along a deserted country road one morning in my restored vintage Ford pick up minding my own business. The newest electronic toy that had been recently installed an in dash emergency band scanner was picking up periodic law enforcement radio chatter that provided background noise. I can’t stand the regular radio unless a baseball game is being broadcast, all the talk shows get me angry and distract my driving.
The sun was just beginning to peak out from behind the Sierra Nevada mountains in the distance as I drove east on highway 168. I was taking my time this morning because my camper shell was on the back of the pick up and my latest vehicle a retirement gift from the Fresno County Sheriff’s Office was being towed behind. 
At the age of 55, I Michael Lewis Brown had retired after a thirty plus year career in law enforcement. The first five were as a patrol deputy, the next ten in the county jail and the better part of the last two decades I’d been a bailiff in the courts. I’d put in my time and I was ready for some rest and relaxation. 
My buddies at the department had each chipped in a few hundred bucks to get me a nice used fishing boat. It was a nice small cabin cruiser in good shape and perfect for fishing or cruising the large lakes I was headed to. The little cabin space would come in handy when it got windy or the fishing was slow and I needed a nap. I had just passed thru the foothill community of Prather when the CB Radio came to life, “MLB this is Walker, do you read me?”
“MLB to Walker,” I said grabbing the microphone from the clip on the dashboard, “How are you on this fine morning?”
“Picking up some mud and sinkers,” the familiar voice of Xavier Rollins my longtime partner in the courts replied.
“I just finished my cup of mud,” I said as I pulled into the slow lane and started to climb the mountain towards Shaver Lake.
“You headed up to the lakes?” Xavier asked.
“Yes I am,” I said with a smile, “Time to put the boat in the water and test her out.”
“Enjoy yourself for us,” my friend replied I could sense the jealous tone of his voice.
“10-4 MLB Out,” was my automatic reply.
“10-4 Walker Out,” was his familiar goodbye. 
Chapter 2:
It was the middle of September, the Labor Day crowds had gone home and summer had come to an un-official end in the mountains. The local business people would have to find a way to survive until the snow fell and the China Peak Ski Resort opened up for business. 
The lack of crowds meant I had my choice of camp sites and I quickly settled on one with a view of the lake. It was still early and I drove to the marina to see if I could launch my boat and keep it in the water while I stayed there. The tiny hamlet of Lakeview has a post office, general store and resturant / bar within it plus a repair place that works on boats and jet skis or snowmobiles depending on the season. About two dozen people reside here year round, the land is technicaly all owned by the federal government and leased to people who have cabins. When there is no snow on the ground, access to the cabins is easy via a network of dirt roads in the forest. Once the snow falls you better have a snow machine or enjoy walking with snow shoes on they only plow the main road and that’s only so the power company can get to the dam at the end of the lake if they have to. Due to the wintertime access issues, most of the cabins are only occupied in the summertime by people who use them as vacation homes or rent them out. 
There were still a few boats in the water at the marina. As I entered the office, I recognized the man working behind the counter. He smiled with a wide grin that cracked his well tanned skin and said, “So you finally did it! Congrats MLB!”
“Thanks Tim,” was my reply with a grin back, “How’s the fishing?”
“Honestly kinda slow because they have quit planting,” he replied as he extended a hand worn rough by years of working with tools and in the outdoors.
“Well I guess it will be a nice slow cruise with the outboard and time to troll,” was my reply as I shook his hand firmly.
“Is that your new boat?” Tim asked as he looked out the window at my rig.
“Yeah,” I replied, “It was a retirement gift from the fellas.”
“Go ahead and drop her in,” Tim instructed, “You can have slip number 7. They just pulled out yesterday for the season. Fancy people from the Bay Area. Their money is good but they are pain.”
“Giants fans?” I jokingly yelled as I left the office, Tim is an Oakland Athletics fan who can’t stand anything from San Francisco except the seafood. 
Once in the water, the vintage restored cabin cruiser handled like a dream. The Sea Ray Sundancer lived up to its name and wanted to charge out into the open water of the lake. At twenty five feet my boat was one of the larger ones in the marina except for a couple of sail boats. The afternoon winds are legendary on this lake attracting sailing enthusists all summer long. If you want to fish here the story goes get up early or risk getting blown off the lake later.
As I gently guided the Sundancer into slip number seven, Tim was waiting. Without saying a word he jumped from the dock onto my new boat and started a quick visual inspection. He listened to the purring sound from the single inboard / outboard Mercury Engine and nooded with satisfaction before commenting, “You’ve got over two hundred and fifty horses here, this baby can get up and fly.”
“My water ski days are over,” I replied jokingly, “Plus this water is to damn cold to swim in.”
“I see you have all the comforts of home,” Tim commented from inside the cabin.
“Yeah I guess I could’ve left the camper at home and slept in there,” I replied as I shut off the motor and finished tieing the boat to the dock.
“The head room is a little tight,” Tim joked as he emerged onto the dock and gave the boat one more look over, “Your boys did well. This is a very nice boat.”
“Brand new engine plus auxilary outboard,” I explained as we walked back towards the marina office.
“Ready to rock and roll,” Tim replied with a grin, “Say it will be super slow here tomorrow, lets take a cruise around dawn.”
“Sounds like a plan,” I said as we shook hands and parted ways.
I left the boat’s trailer in the parking lot near the marina, after detaching it I went back to my campsite near the shore of the lake. It didn’t take long to set up camp, I dropped a couple boxes of firewood by the fire ring and unfolded a pair of chairs. Less than five minutes later I was on my way to Lakeshore’s hang out - The Mountain House a combination of burger stand, roadside cafe and bar depending on the season and what kind of tourists were around.

Chapter 3

The Mountain House gets its name from the fact that it looks like an overgrown log cabin on the exterior. A large porch dominates the front of the building, when the weather is good you can order burgers and fries at the take out window and sit in the umbrella covered tables and enjoy the view of the lake. When the summer crowd dries up, the umbrellas and tables go into storage. A big fire pit emerges in the middle of the porch and for most of the day and night it burns and welcomes guests with its warmth. 
A step inside the building and you are greeted by an enormous fire place that dominates an entire wall, during the winter the fire inside it never goes out. The bar runs along the wall across from the fireplace, it’s an old western saloon type that someone had hauled up the mountain. In the middle of the room is a collection of tables and chairs that don’t match but are all made of wood, some are painted, others are not it all adds to the unique personality of the place. 
“Mr. B finally retired,” comments a female voice from behind the bar, “I guess we will be seeing more of you in our little bit of paradise.”
“Yes Barb,” I reply as I settle into a stool along the bar, “What’s new?”
“You want some coffee?” she asks
“Sure,” I say, “I need a couple eggs and some bacon to go with it.”
“Coming right up,” yells another familiar voice from the kitchen, “Congrats on the retirement, Mike.”
“Thanks, Gus,” I say as I take a sip of the dark rich blend of coffee, “What’s new?”
“It was a pretty good summer,” Barb comments, “We just let the seasonal staff go. Everyone worked well together and made some good money also.”
“They were good kids,” Gus says as he brings me the eggs and bacon on a plate.
“We’ve had some weird folks hanging around periodically this season,” Barb commented as she brought over a fresh pot of coffee and filled up a mug for her and Gus.
“Did they cause any trouble?” I asked between bites of egg seasoned with red pepper sauce.
“Well we aren’t sure,” Gus commented, “There’s an open case. I am surprised you haven’t heard about it.”
“You mean the missing college kid from State?” I asked referring to an open missing person’s case involving a college junior who had gone on a hike with friends and failed to return to camp earlier in the summer.
“Yeah she went missing along with an older guy,” Gus explained in between sips of coffee from a metal travel style mug.
“I never heard about the old guy,” I replied as I enjoyed the extra thick slice of bacon that was a house specialty, “Who investigated the case?”
“Sheriff’s Department started it,” Gus continued, “Then they conducted a full scale Search and Rescue didn’t find anything.”
“You think the two cases could be related?” I asked pushing the empty plate back across the bar.
“They both supposedly went hiking in the same area,” Barb explained as she took the empty plate back into the kitchen.
“Well it would certainly be worth looking into,” I commented as I reached into my wallet for some money to pay for the meal, “I am retired now though, someone else’s headache to deal with.”
“Keep your money and do me a favor,” Gus said as he looked me in the eye, “When you get tired of fishing, take a horse and go up there and take a look for yourself. You might find something they missed.”
“I am going fishing tomorrow with Tim,” I explained, “If you have a couple horses available we could go the day after.”
“Sounds like a good plan,” Gus said with a grin, “I haven’t had a real day off all summer.”

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Novel / Novella
writing LRA
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unpublished novel I am working on