“A lake is a landscape’s most beautiful and expressive feature. It is Earth’s eye; looking into which the beholder measures the depth of his own nature.”
–Henry David Thoreau
It was another beautiful September afternoon at Silver Pine Lake as Bill Harris traveled southwest across the water in his small powerboat. Everyone knew largemouth bass and yellow perch could be found almost anywhere, but trout was more of a challenge. A person had to find the right spot and the best time of day, which for trout, was early morning—or about an hour before sunset.
Bill cut the motor and let the boat drift. The kokanee, or silver trout, had been biting all summer, but he’d decided to wear his lucky red shirt anyway. His wife Linda had given it to him for his sixtieth birthday last spring, and every time he wore it, he came back with at least four big trout.
Bill and Linda had started spending their weekends at the lake decades ago, but this was their first full summer. So far, retirement had been all he’d hoped for and he smiled as he pulled out his fishing rod. The past few months had been worth the long years he’d put in as data controller for one of the largest banks in the state. Back then, Bill had dreamed about moments like this, so he took his time baiting the jig. Dropping his line in the water, he watched it sink towards the bottom of the lake, pulled it back up, then watched it fall again.
A half hour later, he was reeling in his third fish. As he reached for his net, he heard raised voices. Glancing over, he saw two men walking along the shore, not far from the gravel road that cut through the woods to the main highway. He couldn’t make out who they were, but that didn’t bother him. Plenty of people visited this end of the lake for hiking and fishing, not to mention the cabins for rent further down, and the larger lake homes on the other side.
Not as many of those cabins were occupied after Labor Day, but enough that Bill turned his focus back to the fish and getting it in the net. It was another silver trout and he knew Linda would be happy. She always cooked whatever fish he brought home, but she preferred trout. He looked at his watch and decided to try for one more. After all, he was wearing his lucky red shirt.
The voices grew louder and with the sound carrying across the water, Bill could almost make out what the two men were saying. Not that he really cared. He just wanted them to go further down the beach and away from his fishing spot.
When he dropped the line, the voices stopped. Relieved, he glanced back and noticed the second man was picking up a long stick. At the last moment, he realized the stick was a rifle. As his eyes widened in surprise, he opened his mouth to say something…and fell backwards. The shot echoed across the lake, but Bill was dead before he hit the water.
Kendra Phillips pulled over to the side of the road and unfolded the map again. She had to be close. She’d been driving since early morning and it was only supposed to be a six-hour trip.
“I knew I should have rented a car,” she muttered under her breath. Her old, reliable Blazer had taken her safely across a lot of miles, but it had no GPS system. And cell phone reception seemed to be non-existent here.
Her cat mewed once. Looking back at the carrier, Kendra replied, “I know, Luna. We’ll be there soon.” She turned the map around and tried again, then ran a hand through her shoulder-length brown hair. “This is hopeless. There isn’t enough detail to see anything but the main road. We’ll have to stop and ask at the next place that’s open.”
She pulled onto the road again and a few minutes later, saw a sign for a restaurant up ahead. As she took the turn, she could see a large log building with a big parking lot. Pulling into a parking space by the main door, she noticed there weren’t many other vehicles.
“It probably gets busier in the evening,” she mused. “I’ll be right back,” she told Luna. The sleek, black cat looked at her for a moment, then turned around and curled up with her back to Kendra.
“Tough crowd,” Kendra said, smiling slightly. She knew Luna was a bit spoiled, but she was also a very smart and normally sweet cat.
Walking into the restaurant, Kendra looked at the view across the room and paused. A large lake with low mountains on the far side. She walked over to the woman at the counter. “This is Silver Pine Lake, isn’t it?” she asked.
The woman, a tall blonde, gave Kendra a quick glance, then nodded. “Want something to drink?” She eyed Kendra more carefully. “Let me guess. A cup of tea, right?”
Kendra looked into the woman’s green eyes and smiled. “Actually, I’d like an espresso if you have it.”
The woman shrugged. “Suit yourself. The machine is in the bar.” She gestured towards an archway off to the side.
Kendra nodded and walked through it into another large space. This one was darker, but she could see several sets of glass doors that opened onto a deck or terrace with another spectacular view of the lake.
“Can I help you?” a man asked. Kendra guessed he was in his early thirties. He had dark, curly hair and was very attractive. Kendra told herself to quit staring and the man smiled. “Did you want something to drink?”
“Coffee,” Kendra managed. “I mean, a latte with a little cinnamon if you have it. To go if possible.”
“Sit down.” The man gestured to a stool. “It’ll be ready in a minute.”
Kendra sat and told herself to focus. He was handsome, but she was acting like a schoolgirl. “This is Silver Pine Lake, isn’t it?” she asked, glancing towards the glass doors.
“That’s right,” the man replied. “Looking for a cabin?” He smiled at her again and his blue eyes held hers.
“I’m, um, that is…” Kendra tried again. “I’m looking for Maddie Lawson’s place. I believe it’s on the east side of the lake?”
“Oh,” the man paused, and his eyes clouded slightly. “Miss Maddie passed away a few months ago.”
“I’m guessing that would make you Kendra,” a man’s voice said behind her. Turning, she saw a tall man with rugged good looks, probably in his late 50s. His hair was a combination of dark and silver, carelessly pulled back in a ponytail. Holding out a hand, he offered it to her. “I’m Royce Collins.”
“Nice to meet you,” Kendra replied, shaking his hand. “You knew my great-aunt?”
“Very well,” Royce replied. “She and I were good friends for a lot of years.” He looked Kendra up and down. “You look like her. Same nose. Same chin.” He smiled. “Same hazel eyes.”
Kendra nodded. “So, I’ve been told. I wish I’d known her better.”
Royce ran a hand along his mustache as if considering something, then smiled. “The house is just down the road, take the second right and follow it to the lake. Her driveway is the last left before you get to the lodge.”
“Thank you,” Kendra replied.
“And be sure to lock up tonight,” Royce added. “We’ve had some problems lately with thefts and…”
He stopped as a deputy walked in. “Royce, I need to talk to you,” the man said. He was Native-American and seemed to be in his late 30s. “Have you seen Bill Harris today?”
“No, I haven’t,” Royce replied.
The deputy looked at the man behind the bar. “Jason, have you seen him?”
“No,” Jason replied.
“He didn’t come home last night,” the deputy explained. “Mary called around eight and was really upset.”
“It’s not like Bill to just take off.” Royce looked at Kendra, then back to the deputy. “This is Miss Maddie’s great-niece.” They exchanged a look, but Kendra guessed they were worried about the missing man.
“Thanks again,” Kendra said, picking up her coffee. “I hope you find your friend.”
“If you need anything, just ask Natalie at the lodge,” Royce said. “She and Miss Maddie were real close.”
Kendra nodded and walked out of the bar. Getting into her car, she put the coffee cup into the holder between the seats. “Come on, Luna. Let’s get you settled, then we’ll figure out something for dinner.”
The cat meowed. “Yes, well you’ve got plenty of food.” Kendra glanced into the rear-view mirror as she started the car. “I just forgot to bring anything for me to eat.”
She followed Royce’s directions and soon found the road. She drove slowly along the curves, since the road was fairly narrow and steep. She was glad to see it got wider as they neared the water. “This is beautiful,” Kendra said. “Looks like the lodge up ahead, so this must be our turn.”
She took the left and followed it about a quarter of a mile. The cabin, if you could call it that, was more like an Arts and Crafts home with wood siding. It had two stories with a low roof and wide porch across the front looking out towards the lake. The front door was painted a dark green.
Parking the car, Kendra opened her purse and found the large key. It had seemed a bit old-fashioned, but now she could see it suited the house. “Let’s get you inside,” she said to the cat, picking up the carrier.
As they walked up to the door, she set the carrier down and turned the key in the lock. The door opened easily, and Kendra glanced back at the lake. “Nice view,” she said, then smiled as she walked into the house. “Oh, Luna. Look at the garden!”
The door opened into a large foyer that lead straight through to the back of the house. A small dining table and chairs in front of French doors looked out onto a huge garden. “You wouldn’t think there’d be enough light with all these pine trees,” Kendra mused.
Luna meowed. “Okay, we’ll get you situated, then I’ll explore the rest of the house. I even brought your food with me,” she said setting down her purse and taking out of a can of cat food. She picked up the carrier and carried it up the stairway to the left. “One of the bedrooms should do nicely.”
After she got the cat settled in the room with her food, water and litter box, Kendra decided she’d take a quick tour of the house. Then, she was going outside for a closer look at that garden.
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