Friday, December 16, 2022

Murder in Stopover by Mary Hagen


Barnes & Noble

Murder shocks the citizens of a small town in Wyoming when a body is discovered in the city park. Townspeople speculate and gossip about who would kill Pat Sullivan, a respected member of their community.

Sheriff CJ Roberts and Beth Perkins, his assistant deputy, begin an investigation and find their skills quickly challenged. Hal Hansen, also a deputy in the department, immediately steps in and guides them on how to conduct the gruesome task. Threatened by his knowledge, Beth is torn between solving a murder, her own ambitions, and falling in love with Hal.

Step by inconceivable step, the three discover hidden secrets about the victim, his family and his business. They find themselves ill prepared for the atrocities they ultimately uncover.

Chapter One



When the call came in at nine a.m., I had just entered the sheriff's office. I grabbed the phone before I put my handbag and lunch on the table, my mind doing a double take as I listened.

"Beth, Zoe here." Her voice sounded raspy. "Oh my god, you aren't going to believe this." She drew in her breath as I waited for her to get to the point.  "Well, I was finishing my morning run around the park. There's a dead man lying right in the track. Pat Sullivan. I've never seen a dead man before lying right out in the open.  Oh my god, what'll I do?"

"Calm down. You've done the right thing. As soon as Sheriff Roberts gets here, we'll come to the park. It'll be a few minutes. In the meantime, can you wait?"

"Okay," she said the word with hesitation. My mouth was open. Pat Sullivan was one of our most respected and active men in town. "Are you sure the man is Pat Sullivan and he's been killed?"+

"Positive. " She drew in her breath loud enough for me to hear. " He has a bullet hole between his eyes."

Impossible. Not in Stopover. I struggled to regain my own voice.  "Don't leave. I'm hanging up to make some calls. We'll be there shortly,

"I'm not staying here. I'll wait at the top of the hill."


As soon as I was off the line with Zoe, I punched in Jim Black's number at his veterinarian clinic. His assistant answered the phone.

"I… Cher, this is Beth Perkins at the sheriff's office. I need to speak to Jim immediately."

"He doesn't like being bothered when he's on his rounds," Cher answered. "I'll have him call you back."

"I need to speak to him, now.  We have a murder on our hands," I shouted into my cellphone as though she was hard of hearing.

"A murder? Oh, come on, nobody ever gets murdered in Stopover."

"We've got one now. Get Jim on the line."

"Okay, okay. You don't need to yell at me."

In a few minutes Jim picked-up the phone. "Hi, Beth. Don't you think it's in bad taste to report a murder in Stopover?  We never have a murder here."

"It's not a joke. Zoe Martin found the body of Pat Sullivan in the park on her morning run. Get over there. CJ and I'll be right there, too."

"Pat Sullivan? I played golf with him on Sunday. You must be kidding."

"I'm not. You're the corner. See if you can figure out what happened. Now, I've got to call the highway patrol." I hung up before he could say more and placed my call to the patrol.

Sheriff Roberts walked in as I hung up my phone. His first words to me were the same as usual. He didn't need to say anything. I knew them by heart. "Bring me coffee with two teaspoons of sugar and one teaspoon of cream." He placed his briefcase next to his desk and swung his hat onto a hook.

"The coffee is not made. We've got a dead man in city park, Pat Sullivan," I said.

CJ turned and faced me. "What? Pat Sullivan? Did he commit suicide? Why? He's healthy as a horse."

"I've called Jim and the highway patrol. They're on their way. I told him we'd be right over."

For a minute, CJ stood and stared at me in disbelief before saying, "Grab my briefcase and the keys to the Jeep and lock the jail. I'll call Beatrice and she will fill in for us. I want you with me." He headed out the door, glanced at me and added, "Call Hal. He's on his way to the Gilbert ranch to check on vandalism to his mailbox and gate."

In addition to the sheriff's items, I grabbed my new handy little one and a half pound thirteen-inch computer I'd purchased with my own money after the town board turned down my request. It meant taking money out of my savings intended for getting out of Stopover, but I loved it and I could take notes.

As we drove to the city park, I called Hal and gave him the message. I heard his wheels screech and gravel hit against metal as he turned his car around. Before hanging up, he said, "A murder in Stopover. I can't believe it even if I'm new to the area."

The man was my nemesis.  I admit, I resented him. He got the job as CJ's deputy, the job I wanted, but I was passed over because I was a woman. Since my mother passed away, I'd worked as CJ's assistant, dispatcher and whatever needed doing and went with him on the usual calls we received.  If we were busy, his wife, Beatrice, filled in for us while we were gone. Our calls usually involved disturbing the peace after football games, drunk driving accidents, and occasionally domestic disputes, but never murder. I did reluctantly admit he was better trained.

The closest thing to murder occurred some thirty years ago before I was born when two ranchers, Lou Smart and Bob Curtis, got in a dispute over right of way passage. They shot at each other but missed and the problem was solved by our town lawyer, and our judge, Hubert Booker. We still have the same judge, but Bill Smith is our town lawyer now. The citizens of our small town will have something new to talk about.

CJ is lazy so the job of sheriff in Stopover is perfect for him. He does wear his uniform that is always pressed and his shirt starched because of the efforts of his wife.  He spends a good part of most of his days snoozing in his swivel chair in his office.

As we drove to the scene of the crime, CJ kept shaking his head in disbelief. I knew exactly how he felt.

Stopover is in the middle of the short-grass prairie country fifty miles from the nearest big city, Cheyenne, Wyoming. We have one hill in our town and the park is located at the bottom of it on the east side. A small pond is to the east of the park and shaped like a football field. CJ stopped the Jeep near the coroner's vehicle, a van painted with a dog, cat, horse, and cow at four corners around his name, Jim Black, Veterinarian Large and Small Animals.  The patrol had not arrived.

Every time I saw Jim my heart went into triple time, I got all mushy inside, and I could feel heat rush up the length of my body. I knew my face turned red. I couldn't help myself.  He was my idea of the perfect lover and I had a crush on him. His black hair was thick and he wore it down to his collar. I could imagine running my hands through it. His eyes were deep brown and he was tall, one of the few men who made me feel short. I'm five feet nine inches. Unfortunately for me, he had his sights on our beautiful, petite librarian at our ancient Carnegie Library.

I pulled my rushing heart and mushy interior under control and walked with CJ to view the body. CJ took one look at the man and said, "Looks like a suicide to me."

Jim got to his feet and tugged at the gloves he had put on to check the body. "Afraid not. It's murder. Got shot right between the eyes. No sign of a struggled, no gun powder residue so I think he was shot from a short distance by someone he knew." He towered over CJ and me. "How you doing, Beth? How's that dog you found?" The sound of his deep voice almost made me melt into a puddle right at his feet.

CJ pulled on his earlobe. "You certain?"


With sirens blaring, the ambulance from our small hospital arrived on the scene and two medics jumped out. They opened the back doors and pulled out the stretcher and rolled over to Jim, CJ, and me.

The two stopped short of running over Pat Sullivan. "My God, Pat. Dead. Can't believe it," Eric Green, one of the medics, said.

CJ nodded his head. He glanced at our other medic, Virginia Sites who squatted next to the body and stared saying nothing for several seconds. When she spoke, she said, "Geez, a murder in Stopover and none other than our esteemed Mr. Sullivan. Can't believe it."

I was ordered to run yellow tape around the murder scene while Eric and Virginia bagged the body.  CJ was trying his best to act the part of a seasoned investigator and that included taping off the crime scene.  I thought he was out of his element, but all of us were. That is, until Hal Hansen roared down the slope, slammed on his brakes and came over to us.

He asked to see the body. Reluctantly, Virginia unzipped the bag and Hal studied the corpse. Before touching the body, he took gloves out of his pocket and put them. He poked the body a few times before turning to Jim, "We'll need an autopsy. How soon can you get it done?"

Jim's mouth dropped open showing his beautiful white teeth. I took in my breath.

"I've never done an autopsy on a human body. Besides, we'll need to talk with Pat's wife. Get her permission," Jim protested. He glanced at CJ for backup.

"We don't need her permission. This is murder. You've done animals. You can do a human." As usual, Hal would not take no for an answer. "Any idea of time of death?"

Jim shrugged his shoulders. "Not until we've done the autopsy. Doc Olivas may give me a hand."

While the medics loaded the ambulance with the body and the three men, CJ, Hal, and Jim, shifted their weight from one foot to another, I walked in ever widening circles around the crime scene in search of clues. That is until Hal barked at me, "What the hell are you doing? Disturbing the ground."

I resisted the temptation to snarl at him, "Go to…" You know where. Instead, I answered sweetly, "Looking for clues," without adding "you jerk."

Hal was almost as tall as Jim but not nearly as good-looking. He wore heavy rimmed glasses, both dark and clear. At the moment, his dark glasses were pushed up on his forehead and he was frowning.  Before he arrived in Stopover, the town's newest residents were the Sullivan's who came five years earlier followed by George Blackmore who was Pat's friend. We didn't have a deputy.

With the increase in tourist traffic, the town council decided we needed one to help with crime that might occur in our park.  In the wisdom of the council, they had authorized the establishment of three RV campsites with hook-ups at the end of our park for travelers to and from our national parks. The RVers could stay three nights free before they had to move on. It was hoped they would spend money in our fair "city" and I guess they did. The season was almost at an end with the start of schools around the country.

Our new deputy had retired from the Army. He had been in special forces, fought in Afghanistan, and been with an elite investigative group. He was such an egotist he made me puke. I had no doubt, he was aiming for CJ's job as sheriff of our large county in central eastern Wyoming. I did have to admit, he had nice blue eyes and light brown curly hair I would die to have. Mine was as straight as a spike of wheat.



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