The Travelling Detective Series (boxed set)
So far there are three books in The Travelling Detective Series and all three are in this one boxed set. Elizabeth Oliver, the main character, is a nursing attendant who’s dream of becoming a travel writer is slowly coming true. She has had a few articles published in various travel magazines and in the first book of the series, Illegally Dead, she has an assignment from one of them to write an article on the Crowsnest Highway in southern Alberta. On her way to the bed and breakfast where she will be staying with her dog, Chevy, while doing her research, she meets two men who have discovered a skeleton in a septic tank. She had solved the mystery of a woman’s death the year before while working on a speculative article and now feels the pull of this mystery.
In the second book, The Only Shadow In The House, there is a combination of three genres: mystery, travel, and poetry as one character tells her story through her poetry. This time, Elizabeth Oliver’s boyfriend, Jared, asks her to help him find out if someone had actually murdered his mother thirty years ago when he was just four-years-old. As the story develops, Jared learns that his mother was not the angel he thought he remembered and that there were a number of people who had reason to kill her. While working on this mystery, the stabbing death of a man around the same time becomes entangled in their search.
Whistler’s Murder takes place in the resort town of Whistler B.C. in the summer. Elizabeth Oliver’s best friend, Sally Matthews, is attending a science fiction writing retreat and Elizabeth goes along to write an article on Whistler in the summer and to relax. They stay at a bed and breakfast near the retreat and on the second day of their stay a partially decomposed body of a young woman is discovered when the house next door is demolished. Word gets around that Elizabeth has solved mysteries in the past and a neighbour woman secretly tries to hire Elizabeth to find out who had killed the young woman. Elizabeth protests that she is not a detective and cannot accept any payment but the woman insists. Finally, Elizabeth agrees and goes through the motions of acting like a detective on television. While this is happening, Sally is approached by a fellow student to help her find out about the death of her cousin two years earlier at the same retreat. When that student also dies, Elizabeth steps in to assist Sally.
Books of The Travelling Detective Series boxed set:
The Only Shadow In The House
Illegally Dead--Chapter 1
It was very early Sunday morning when Elizabeth Oliver pulled out of her driveway and headed south out of Edmonton on Highway 2. The sky was clear and there was the promise of a hot day. She grinned, excited about her upcoming adventure.
“Did you know that this is a special trip, Chevy?” she asked of her four-legged travelling companion. “We actually have an editor waiting for our article.” She still had a hard time believing her good fortune.
For the past two summers she had done all her travelling, research and writing before actually finding a travel magazine to publish her article. This time, however, Elizabeth had felt confident enough to do some preliminary research about the Crowsnest Highway and to send her pitch for a feature story to the editor of a major travel magazine. She’d included sample pieces on some of the attractions to be found along Canada’s most southerly highway and rail corridor through the Rocky Mountains. The editor, who’d liked the article Elizabeth had submitted the summer before, sent her agreement for the project by email. Elated, Elizabeth had immediately begun planning her trip.
She drove a standard-shift red Tracker, which was very fuel efficient, a good thing with the rising gas prices. Part of her plan was to camp in the mountains for a few days after her research, so last weekend, with her dad’s help, she’d taken the passenger and back seats out. They’d made a makeshift bed down the length of the vehicle out of some wood and a narrow sponge mattress. In the area behind the driver’s seat she put in a pillow and blankets along with a container of water for drinking and washing. She usually bought fresh food daily, but still kept a supply of canned food on hand, just in case. For Chevy, she had a bag of dog food, and she always shared her leftovers when she had some.
Chevy was her five-year-old cockapoo, a cross between a cocker spaniel and a poodle. In books she’d read about the breed, his hair colour was described as apricot although it looked more tan. She had taken the precaution of having his hair trimmed before leaving home. The only real amount he had left was on his head and ears as well as a pompom on the tip of his long tail, which she had refused to have docked when he was a puppy. He weighed only about ten kilograms but his bark was loud and sharp and he was full of fighting spirit when the occasion arose. Elizabeth liked to take him with her as he gave her someone to talk to, although he was very poor at keeping up his end of the conversation.
She admired the farmland as she drummed her fingers on her steering wheel in time to the music on the radio. Highway 2, known as Queen Elizabeth II or QEII between Edmonton and Calgary, was a four-lane highway, constructed to replace the original that wound through various small towns between Edmonton and Calgary. The new highway was faster and most of the traffic exceeded the 110 kilometre speed limit.
At Red Deer she drove along Gasoline Alley, a strip of highway littered with gas stations, convenience stores, fast food outlets, and other retail stores. Elizabeth checked her gas gauge. She had enough gas to last until Calgary or further so she didn’t bother stopping.
Chevy lifted his head from the sponge mattress beside her. She reached over and scratched his ears. “Yes, it’s going to be a good trip this time. No dead bodies, I promise.” The article Elizabeth had sold last summer had been on the original highway, which bisected Red Deer as it headed from Edmonton to Crossfield. It was while walking the trail system in Red Deer that she’d found a body.
With that thought, the memory of the discovery and her subsequent involvement in the investigation came flooding back. The whole thing had totally upset her carefully planned research trip. It had felt so bizarre to find herself suddenly working with the police on such a horrible case and she’d been astonished and somewhat chagrined at the thrill she’d gotten from it. And just by a fluke, it was something she herself had stumbled upon that ended up leading the police to the murderer. She remembered thinking at the time that she was well suited in some ways to the investigative life, but the vocation she preferred was as a writer.
She turned her thoughts to her present research. The Crowsnest Highway ran from the British Columbia border to Medicine Hat and she wanted to drive it from end to end exploring its history, attractions, museums and idiosyncrasies. She had taken three weeks holiday from her job in a long term care facility to do the travel research and write the article and she did not want any distractions. If everything went well and she finished the research on time, she would do her camping in the mountains with Chevy before returning home to write.
She went over the equipment she had brought with her, making sure she had packed everything. She had put in her digital camera, with a chain to carry it around her neck, and her laptop computer, which plugged into her cigarette lighter. It had voice activated software so she could verbally record what roads to take to get to a site and describe the scenery and sights while driving. She’d brought a tape recorder for her descriptions of what she saw when she walked around an attraction or a town. And plenty of tapes because sometimes she got carried away with her impressions of the places she visited and filled them quickly. These she carried in a pouch that could fit on her belt. Her cell phone case also attached to her belt.
On the days when weather or some other problem prevented her from travelling, she would spend her time entering the recordings into her laptop. A bit time consuming, but it worked for her.
When she began planning the research for a highway article she had to decide on the best way to present the information to the reader. She could start at mid-point and work in each direction or she could begin at one end and describe everything along the way to the other end. If she took the latter method, then she had to pick from which end to begin.
She liked the idea of being centrally located somewhere along her route and then being able to take day trips in either direction, so she decided to stay at a Bed & Breakfast in Fort Macleod and do Fort Macleod to the British Columbia border. Then she would do from Medicine Hat to Lethbridge and combine the two into the article. Some of the places she planned to visit weren’t on the highway, but as the visitors were already in the vicinity, they might as well be told about other attractions within a short driving distance.
Dick Pearson parked his sewage suction truck on the road in front of the old farm house and grunted as he climbed out of the high cab. His back was sore again. At sixty-five, he was too old to be doing this anymore. He limped a little as he walked up the driveway. It was Sunday afternoon and he should be home watching the rest of the baseball game on television. But yesterday Ed Bowman, who worked for Ace Developers and represented the Western Hog Corporation, had asked him to clean the two septic tanks on this place. When he’d hesitated Ed had offered him double time. It looked as if the corporation wanted to get this hog barn up and running as quickly as possible, so he’d accepted. Unlike some people, he had nothing against a hog barn in the area.
Both tanks had fields but one hadn’t been used in over thirty years. Ed had had the tanks located and the grass and weeds cut from around the lids. Dick could see the orange survey tape from the road but he wanted to check out the yard for old nails or broken glass before driving in. He didn’t need a flat tire.
He found the older tank to the right of the driveway beside the old house that had been converted into a garage. The newer one was on the other side where the previous owners had once set up a mobile home.
After scouting the yard Dick backed his truck into the driveway, trying to maneuver as close as possible to the septic tank. He grabbed the handle on the concrete lid and pulled. It didn’t budge. He gritted his teeth and tried again. This time he was just able to raise it and then drop it on the grass. Dick caught his breath. In his younger days he would have lifted it off easily. Peering in, he immediately noticed the crack in one wall, not big enough to allow the liquids to dry up but probably the reason the other tank had been installed.
The tank was divided into two sections. Everything from the house drained into the first side and the solids settled to the bottom, but when the liquids got high enough they flowed over a wall into the second section. Once they reached a certain level on that side they were pumped out into the perforated pipes of the field. In this tank the solid side was about three‑quarters full, the liquid side about half. Dick grunted as he unravelled the hose. It seemed to get heavier every day. He dropped it in the solids before starting the suction motor. The hose vibrated slightly as it sucked up the sludge.
Letting the machine do its work, Dick took refuge in the shade beside the house and breathed in the fresh air. He’d been in the business for a total of thirty‑seven years, first with his father and then on his own, and he still hadn’t grown used to the smell. As he waited, he thought again about retiring. It was time. But if he wanted a change he’d have to sell. Unlike his father, he had no son or daughter to carry on the business, and he’d never married. The only love of his life had rejected him many years ago.
Ben Drummond’s offer to purchase his truck might be the best way out. It was a fair price, since the truck was an older model but Ben wasn’t interested in paying for the customer base. After all, as he said, there were no signed contracts. Dick knew Ben could set up his own business and quite competitively too if he wanted. Retaining his customers would be a fight and he didn’t have the desire to do that anymore. So he might as well get what he could for the truck and be finished with it.
As he walked over to check the progress of the pump, something leaning at an angle in one corner of the tank caught his eye. He stopped in mid-stride then scrambled to shut off the motor and went back for a closer look.
A bone. Only the whitish, knobby end showed but by judging the remaining depth of the tank, he could tell that it was long. Probably a leg bone. However, it wasn’t as thick as cow bones he’d seen and looked sturdier than deer bones. He tried to remember the X-ray he’d been shown of his own broken leg many years ago. Didn’t it have a knobby end something like this one?
A chill ran down his back as Dick straightened up and moved away from the tank. His mind began to race. If it was a human leg bone, what was it doing here? Whose was it? Even more disturbing, who had put it here?
Stomach churning, he tramped over to the old house and leaned against it, trying to control his rising fear. He should notify the police or Ed Bowman, someone who could deal with it. But that could be the beginning of a lot of trouble for him. The police would do an investigation, ask all sorts of questions of him and especially of Peggy, who until recently had owned the property. She would be reminded of Harry, who had run off with another woman years ago. And those memories might take precedence over his plans.
He looked out at the road. No vehicle had passed by since he’d driven in. He took a deep breath and tried to think clearly. He could continue cleaning the tank then take the bone, or bones if there were more, and throw them into the sewage lagoon where he always dumped his load. If he did that no one would ever know what he had found.
Dick walked back to the tank but before he could put his thoughts into action a car drew up and stopped. Alarm rushed through him when he saw Arnie Trebell step out. As soon as Arnie spotted the bone, he would raise hell.
“Hi, Dick,” he said, walking towards him.
Dick could only nod, his mind on how he could head Arnie off from the tank. He took a few steps toward his truck.
Arnie wrinkled his nose at the stench but he still came right up to the tank. “I heard Ed made you an offer you couldn’t refuse.”
Dick didn’t answer. He took a couple more steps.
“They’re sure not wasting time,” Arnie continued. “They only took possession on Friday. You’d think they would wait until Monday to get you to clean this out.”
Dick struggled to concentrate on what Arnie was saying. He had to try and maintain a semblance of composure. “They knew I’m available most days,” he said, hoping his voice sounded normal.
“You could have told them you wouldn’t do it, helped out our cause a little.”
“You don’t have a cause any more.” This was part of an argument he and Arnie had been having for months. It didn’t take much of an effort to state his side. “The decision has been made.”
“If we delayed them long enough.” Arnie stood his ground. “They just might go somewhere else with their damned hog barn.”
“I doubt it,” Dick said, standing over in front of his truck in an effort to distract Arnie from the tank. “They’ve already bought this place and they have the government’s permission to do whatever they want with it.”
“How much do you have left to do?”Arnie glanced down into the tank as he spoke. “Hey, what’s that?”
Dick’s heart sank and he drooped against his truck. “It’s a bone.”
“I see that. It looks human.” He looked at Dick for confirmation.
Dick didn’t answer, which Arnie seemed to take as a yes. “Wow, a human bone in the tank. Do you think there are any more?” His voice rose with excitement. “What if there is a whole body in there?”
Dick waved his hand vaguely. It was hard to speak.
“Have you called the police?”
“I don’t have a cell phone,” Dick answered.
“I don’t either. So the way I see it we have two choices.”
Arnie was taking over and Dick let him.
“One of us could guard it while the other drives to the nearest home and uses their phone to call the police and then comes right back, or one of us stands guard while the other goes into town to get them.”
Dick stared at the field of grain. He didn’t want to make the choice. He wished fervently that he hadn’t found this bone because he had a feeling that it was going to disrupt a lot of lives, including his own.
He barely heard Arnie asked. “Do you know what this means? There will have to be an investigation, questions will be asked, delays are inevitable. This might even stop them from going ahead.” He rubbed his hands together with glee.
Elizabeth was south of Calgary before she turned off to gas up at a self‑serve station along the highway. She felt the heat of the day as soon as she stepped out. When her tank was full she went in to pay and bought herself a chocolate bar. She ate it while letting Chevy have a run in the weed-covered lot beside the station. She offered him some water and a dog treat then was soon back on Highway 2.
She had spent most of the trip listening to the radio and enjoying the feeling of freedom that went with starting her travel research, but now, glancing at the Rocky Mountains to the west, she suddenly was reminded of her mother. She bit her lip to stop the tears that threatened as she thought about how much her mother had loved the Rockies and had instilled that love in her three children, especially Elizabeth. Until her death six months ago from breast cancer, she had spent at least three weeks every summer hiking along mountain trails with Elizabeth’s father.
No one in the family was over the loss yet. When they gathered together they still dwelled on the fact that the doctor hadn’t listened to their mother three years ago when she’d told him she had a lump in her breast. He’d said it was only a cyst and not to worry about it. When another doctor finally diagnosed the cancer, she immediately started treatment.
Not one to sit around, as soon as her chemotherapy and radiation were over her mother had joined Breast Friends, an Edmonton dragon boat racing team made up solely of breast cancer survivors. The first year she’d paddled with the team, she’d gone with them to dragon boat festivals in Vancouver, Lethbridge, and Saskatoon. She was planning to do the Regina, Calgary and Kelowna festivals in her second year. But over the winter the doctors discovered tumors in her brain, and none of the treatments stopped their growth for long.
The hardest part for the family had been watching their once energetic mother lie in bed and slowly waste away. Near the end, the pain had been so bad that she’d been on morphine. She had slept away most of her final days.
Elizabeth’s father had been inconsolable when her mother finally died. Elizabeth and her best friend, Sally Matthews, moved from the apartment they shared into the two-bedroom suite in his basement. To make sure he ate regularly they’d invite him down for a meal or help him cook one. Even after six months, he was still in mourning, only leaving home to go grocery shopping and even that was usually under protest. In spite of her urging, he refused to go to the Legion to play darts with his friends. And he hadn’t gone golfing once so far this year. In the past he and her mother used to book tee times as soon as the courses opened.
Elizabeth worried about leaving him to come on this trip, but he insisted she go, saying, “Life has to go on.” She wished he would take his own advice.
Thankfully, her twin siblings, Sherry and Terry, promised to help Sally keep an eye on him. So, deciding she would phone him often, she continued with her plans.
As soon as her mother had been diagnosed with breast cancer, Elizabeth had gone to her own doctor with the information and had been sent for a mammogram. It had come back negative. Taking that as proof that the disease wasn’t hereditary, her younger sister, Sherry, refused to tell her doctor the news and have a mammogram herself. She’d said that according to all the facts, women her age didn’t get breast cancer. And, besides, she would start doing the monthly self-exams. No amount of pressure from her family could make her change her mind.
However, when Elizabeth had made her goodbye phone calls to her siblings the night before, Sherry had said she was going to see her doctor on Monday for a check-up and to finally have the mammogram everyone was after her to get.
She’d been so caught up in her leaving that it wasn’t until this morning she wondered what had made Sherry rethink her decision. Elizabeth was afraid she might have discovered something during one of her self-exams. She resolved to phone her first thing tonight and ask.
As Elizabeth passed the junction with Secondary Highway (SH) 785 that went west to Head‑Smashed‑In Buffalo Jump, she focused on her trip again. Soon after, she crossed the sedately flowing Oldman River. At the Crowsnest Highway she turned left and drove into Fort Macleod. She had a room booked at the Prairie Bed & Breakfast just south of the town. She liked staying at B&Bs. She usually got a lot of information about the local area from the people who owned them.
The Crowsnest Highway divided in Fort Macleod and Elizabeth followed it to the east end where she knew the tourist information centre was located. Shirley McNealy, co-owner of the B&B, had given her directions starting from the centre. Elizabeth also wanted to pick up some brochures and pamphlets to read before beginning her exploration the next morning.
“Good afternoon,” the woman behind the counter said.
“Hi,” Elizabeth answered, cheerfully. It felt good to be out of her vehicle after that long drive.
“You’ve certainly picked a lovely day to visit our town.”
“It is warm out there.”
“Would you like to sign our guest book?” The woman indicated the open book on the counter.
Elizabeth wrote her name in the name column and Edmonton in the residence column. Some places liked to keep track of how many visitors they had during the summer.
The woman waited and when Elizabeth finished, asked. “Are you staying or passing through?”
“I’m booked at the Prairie Bed and Breakfast. I just stopped in here for some information.”
“Oh.” She looked at her watch. “My shift is almost over. If you don’t mind waiting until then, you can follow me out there.”
“Oh, you don’t need to do that,” Elizabeth protested. She’d always found the volunteer staff at these small town information centres very helpful and friendly but this was being too nice. “Shirley McNealy gave me directions.”
The woman shook her head at Elizabeth. “Shirley is my daughter and I’m going out there anyway.”
While she waited, Elizabeth picked up a few brochures on the town. “Fort Macleod was the first North West Mounted Police outpost built in the west,” one of them began. She read on with interest, but was interrupted a few minutes later by the woman bustling out from behind the counter. “My name is Peggy Wilson,” she said. She was short, slightly overweight, with immaculately styled grey hair and a bit of rouge on her cheeks. She reminded Elizabeth of her favourite aunt.
“I’m Elizabeth Oliver,” she replied, stuffing the brochure she was reading in her jeans pocket and gathering up the others. She followed Peggy out the door. As soon as she stepped into the sunshine, Chevy’s sharp barking erupted from across the parking lot. Peggy looked over at the sound.
“My dog,” Elizabeth said.
“He’s cute,” Peggy smiled. “My granddaughter is going to love having him there.”
Shirley hadn’t said anything about children, but Chevy loved playing with kids, so the granddaughter would be a bonus.
“How long are you staying at Shirley’s?” Peggy asked, as they walked in the hot sun.
“It really depends on how well my research goes,” Elizabeth said. “I’ve booked a room until Thursday.”
“What research is this?” Peggy looked up at her.
It felt so good to be able to say this. “I’m a travel writer and I’m working on an article about the Crowsnest Highway.” Until this year, she’d been hesitant to admit what she did. She wasn’t sure if having a couple of magazine articles published was enough to qualify her as a writer.
“A writer.” She stopped and scrutinized Elizabeth as if looking for a sign of proof. “I’ve never met a writer before.”
Just then a vehicle entered the lot. It stopped beside them and the woman driver rolled down her window. Elizabeth could feel the cool blast from the air conditioning.
“Peggy, I thought that was you,” the woman said then looked pointedly up at Elizabeth.
Elizabeth had noticed that in small towns people want to meet anyone they see with a friend.
“Corrine Duncan, this is Elizabeth Oliver,” Peggy announced. “She’s a writer.”
“A writer? How exciting. What do you write?” Corrine asked, as she used her hand to shade her eyes against the sun.
Before Elizabeth could answer, Peggy cut in. “She’s a travel writer and she’s doing an article about the Crowsnest Highway.”
“Are you going to mention Fort Macleod?” Corrine asked.
“Yes, it’s on my list,” Elizabeth said, with a smile
“Well, make sure you include our museum and the Empress Theatre.”
“I’m certainly going to visit them.” This woman seemed a little pushy.
“Fort Macleod’s history is definitely well worth mentioning. I’m sure Peggy knows most of it but if she can’t answer all your questions, you can try me.”
“We must be going,” Peggy said, abruptly, stepping back from the car.
“Where are you staying?” Corrine asked, ignoring Peggy.
“She’s staying at Shirley’s B&B,” Peggy answered, crisply. “I’m showing her how to get out there now.”
“Nice to have met you, Elizabeth,” Corrine said and drove away.
Elizabeth only had time to nod and step back from the window.
“If I can’t answer your questions, there are other people I would recommend before her,” Peggy commented, as they continued to her car.
I guess they aren’t very good friends after all, Elizabeth thought, a little surprised. Funny, how her first impression of Peggy had made her seem like the type of person who would get along with everyone.
Peggy stopped at a blue sedan while Elizabeth carried on to where her Tracker sat in the shade of a large poplar tree. Chevy had his head out the window and was panting from all the barking he’d been doing. She patted him then shooed him over to the other side. With a flick of her wrist she flung the brochures into the back before climbing in and starting the vehicle.
Elizabeth followed Peggy’s car onto Highway 2 heading south towards Stand Off and Cardston. It wasn’t long before Peggy slowed and turned left onto a gravel road. A short way along they came upon a car parked on the side of the road with two men next to it, waving their arms.
One was tall and slim and looked to be in his sixties while the other was shorter and heavy set. He appeared to be around forty and seemed quite agitated. Peggy stopped and Elizabeth did the same behind her. The older man leaned over to speak to Peggy. She shook her head, but pointed back to the Tracker. Elizabeth rolled down her window as he came up to it.
Chevy immediately began to bark and lunged at the window. Elizabeth grabbed him and told him to hush. He quit barking but emitted a low growl as the man, standing back from the window, asked if she had a cell phone.
She took it out of its case and handed it to him. “Is something wrong?” she asked, but he didn’t answer as he made his call. With some cell phones, the speaker’s voice on the other end seems to echo in the receiver while with others, the person’s voice can be heard across a room. Elizabeth’s phone was the latter type and she could hear every word spoken.
“Hello, Ace Developers,” a woman said.
“I need to talk to Ed Bowman.” Dick’s voice sounded tired and listless.
“May I ask who is calling?”
“Dick Pearson. Tell him it’s important.”
Elizabeth looked around at the hay fields, and wondered what was so urgent out here in the middle of nowhere that this man would need to phone someone about it.
Dick paced back and forth a few steps while he waited.
“Hello, Dick,” Ed Bowman’s voice boomed. “What seems to be the problem?”
“I’ve found a bone in one of the septic tanks.”
“A bone? What kind of bone?”
“I think it’s a human leg bone.”
That would certainly qualify as an urgent problem! Elizabeth was suddenly attentive.
“You’ve got to be kidding me,” Ed sounded irritated. “How do you know?”
Dick looked over the hood of Elizabeth’s vehicle and she followed his gaze. A sewage suction truck sat in an overgrown yard with a hose running to what she suspected was the septic tank.
He closed his eyes tight, as if trying to erase the memory, then opened them. “It looks like one to me.”
“Is there only one bone?”
“Look, we don’t need any more bad publicity. Why don’t you see if there are any more and call me back.”
“I think you should come now before the police get here.”
“Have you called them?” Ed asked, hastily
“Well, don’t call them yet. I’ll get there as soon as I can.”