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Authors: Sheila Simonson

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Meadowlark

BOOK: Meadowlark
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Meadowlark

A Lark Dodge Mystery

 

By

Sheila Simonson

 

 

Uncial Press       Aloha, Oregon
2013
 

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events
described herein are products of the author's imagination or are
used fictitiously and are not to be construed as real. Any
resemblance to actual events, locations, organizations, or persons,
living or dead, is entirely coincidental.

ISBN 13: 978-1-60174-165-3

Meadowlark
Copyright © 2013
by Sheila Simonson

Cover design
Copyright © 2013 by Judith B.
Glad

Previously published by St. Martins Press,
1992;
Worldwide Libraries, 1997

All rights reserved. Except for use in review, the reproduction or
utilization of this work in whole or in part in any form by any
electronic, mechanical or other means now known or hereafter
invented, is forbidden without the written permission of the
publisher.

Warning: The unauthorized reproduction or distribution of this
copyrighted work is illegal. Criminal copyright infringement, including
infringement without monetary gain, is investigated by the FBI and is
punishable by up to five (5) years in federal prison and a fine of
$250,000.

Published by Uncial Press,
an imprint of GCT,
Inc.

Visit us at
http://www.uncialpress.com

 

For my son, Eric, with love.

Prologue

Western Meadowlark
(
Sturnella neglecta
)
Orioles (Icteridae)

Description
: 8 1/2"-11"(22-28 cm). Robin-sized.
Mottled brown above, bright yellow below, with V-shaped black bib;
top of head has black-and-white stripes. Sexes look alike. Yellow on
throat extends farther onto cheek (malar area) than in Eastern
Meadowlark; mottled back and tail are lighter brown than Eastern.
White tail margins are prominent in flight, and tail flicks open and
shut when bird is walking.

Voice:
This popular bird has a large repertoire of
songs very different from the Eastern Meadowlark. It may utter its
loud, melodious flute-like phrases one at a time or repeatedly. The
male sings even when migrating or wintering, and at the height of
the breeding season may rise in air while singing
hip, hip, hurrah!
boys; three cheers; oh, yes, I am a pretty little bird; or utah's a pretty
place
. Call notes include a harsh
chuck
. Its bright colors,
fearless behavior, abundance, and above all its loud, cheerful song
make the Western Meadowlark perhaps the most popular of western
birds.

Meadowlarks are shaped like starlings. In flight they keep
their wings stiff, typically fluttering them a few times and then
sailing.

Source: Miklos D.F. Udvardy,
The Audubon Society Field
Guide to North American Birds,
Western Region, New York:
Knopf, 1987.

Chapter 1

I had my new bookstore going before Christmas. That
surprised me. I recycled the name, Larkspur Books, from my place in
California. I also recycled the capital, almost a windfall, from the
advantageous sale of the other store.

It was strange the way the money rolled over. The pleasant
couple who bought the old store had sold a home in L.A. just before
the bottom dropped out of that real estate market, so they weren't
haggling. I recouped my family's original investment with a tidy
profit and we moved north. Because my husband, Jay, had also sold
his house for very good bucks, I hadn't had to touch "my" money to
buy our house in Shoalwater. So there was all that cash sitting in the
bank, attracting IRS agents like mako sharks around a dying tuna. In
the nick of time, the Robinson Building came up for sale.

The Robinson Building was a narrow, two story Victorian
property, brick-fronted and loaded with atmosphere. Wonder of
wonders, it had new wiring and plumbing. It sat smack on the main
street of Kayport, which was then gentrifying by fits and starts.
Because the decline of fishing on the Columbia River had thrown the
local business scene into disarray, the price was right. More than
right--a steal.

I called my parents. They flew out and fell in love with the
fin de siècle
charm of the old riverport as I had hoped
they would. They were ready to invest. They suggested we buy the
building, and lease out the smaller of the two commercial spaces and
the two apartments overhead to cover the mortgage payments. That
left me a large area for my bookstore, rent free.

The woman who ran the doodad shop in the smaller space
wanted to stay and the used furniture business in the other half had
died the year before, so there was nothing to slow me down. Thanks
to remodeling experiences with our house in Shoalwater, I knew
which carpenters and electricians to call and which not. October is
downtime for builders in a beach town. We had the interior fitted
and a dedicated line run in for my computer by Thanksgiving--only
two thousand dollars over and two weeks later than what the
contractor promised. A miracle.

I held a reception in the spruced-up shop on Thanksgiving
weekend for Jay's colleagues at the community college. Everyone
seemed enthusiastic about having a real bookstore in town. Apart
from two used paperback outfits and the college bookstore, which
specialized in textbooks and sweatshirts, I had no competition on the
Peninsula. I liked that.

My stock began coming in that week. My friend and
neighbor, Bonnie Bell, helped me inventory and shelve books. Out of
sheer exuberance, I held another reception the next weekend, a tea,
with a tantalizing display of books but nothing for sale yet, for grade-
and high school teachers and librarians.

Some book dealers think of librarians as the natural enemy.
I don't. Apart from being nice people, librarians create a huge
appetite for books, especially hardcovers. I've known patrons to
develop a passion for a given author at the public library, then move
over to collecting hardcover first editions. True, many people use
libraries because they can't afford to buy books or don't have the
space to shelve them. If they can't afford hardcover prices, killing the
libraries isn't going to change that. I like libraries.

So I had a tea for the teachers and librarians, two men and
eighteen women, and I was able to announce my Grand Opening, ten
days before Christmas. Just right for desperate last-minute shoppers.
Also my mother was coming. My guests at the tea were mildly
interested in that, and the reporter for the Shoalwater
Gazette
even picked up on it as worthy of mention in the
Calendar of Coming Events. I didn't care a lot whether the local paper
carried the story. I was aiming higher--or, rather, farther.

My mother, Mary Wandworth Dailey, is a major minor poet.
The Borden Press had just brought out her
Collected Poems
,
and Ma decided she would do her first West Coast signing, not in LA
or San Francisco or Seattle or at Powell's in Portland, but at little old
Larkspur Books. Between us, we conveyed this fact to the Seattle,
Portland, and Astoria newspapers. Since Ma was set to do a short
course at a prestigious Portland liberal arts college in January, the
Portland press gave us space. One local TV station even sent out a
camera crew and interviewed me standing in front of my spiffy
display window. For Ma's signing I pulled out all the stops, even the
weather cooperated, and we had quite a large turn-out, as signings of
poetry collections go.

About halfway through the evening, a chic woman with a
cap of gleaming mahogany hair and intense brown eyes came up to
me. I was standing with Bonnie trying to decide whether the
canapés were going to last the evening. The woman caught
Bonnie in mid-sentence. I gave the stranger an automatic smile.

She waited until Bonnie drew breath, then thrust a square,
beringed hand at me. "You're Lark Dodge."

I admitted I was.

"I'm Bianca Fiedler. You know my husband. He teaches at
the college."

I drew a blank.

"Keith McDonald."

"Uh, yes. I've met Dr. McDonald." McDonald, then head of the
English Department, had led the opposition to Jay's police training
program. He and my husband were not friends and McDonald had
not showed up at the first soirée.

She said, "Keith couldn't make it tonight but I came anyway.
I wanted to meet you."

"It's a pleasure."

She was ignoring Bonnie, the intense eyes boring into mine.
"I need you. I've set up a writers' workshop for the first week in
March and I'd like you to help me run it."

I cleared my throat to utter a polite refusal but she
continued, "I believe you plan to close the store for six weeks."

"February first to March fifteenth," I conceded. She must
have seen the TV segment. I had told the interviewer I was going to
enjoy this store, not enslave myself to it. It would be closed Mondays
and Tuesdays, and for six weeks every year, like one of the successful
upscale restaurants in Kayport. The Peninsula was touristless by
February and didn't revive until the schools let out for spring
break.

"...so you'll be free," she was saying. "And it's a worthy
cause."

My feeling about worthy causes is that they are indeed
worthy, and can blot up your life, especially in a small town.

"The Environment." She pronounced the word with reverent
exactness. My eyes began to glaze over and I glanced at Bonnie to see
if she was going to rescue me. She was staring at Ms. Fiedler,
poker-faced. No help there.

"I really don't think..."

"I'm bringing in first class speakers." She named two
nationally known science writers. "And the students are all
journalists and magazine writers. We have to educate the
public..."

Memory stirred. Some joke about Old McDonald. Didn't
McDonald and his wife run an organic farm? "Meadowlark Farm," I
said.

"Yes." She gave a brisk nod, like a bird after a juicy bug. "It'll
be at the farm. I'm opening a study center. Everything's set up, but I
do need a coordinator for the event because that's tilth time, you
know."

"Tilth?"

"Soil preparation. I want somebody literate and
well-organized. I've been watching you set this operation up and I'm
impressed."

"I'm not a writer," I protested. The woman's intense focus
was flattering because I was the object. It was also very rude to
Bonnie, and I needed to turn my attention to my other guests.

I said, "It sounds interesting, Ms. Fiedler. Why don't you call
me at home tomorrow... No, Tuesday. My parents leave tomorrow.
We can talk it over Tuesday. Have you met my friend, Bonnie Bell?
Bonnie's a novelist." An unpublished novelist. "Bonnie, Bianca
Fiedler."

Bonnie said hello and Fiedler gave her a brief smile and nod
then homed in on me again. "I'll pay you a thousand for five days of
workshop and the opening day--reception, general mingling. I'll do
the paperwork. Okay?"

"I'll think about it. Nice to meet you." I went off to rescue my
mother from the Poet Laureate of Shoalwater County. Several
people, books in hand, were waiting for Ma to sign them. Jay and
Tom Lindquist, also our neighbor, were working the crowd under my
father's experienced eye. Bonnie headed for the caterers' station in
the back room. Fiedler melted into a clump of chattering guests.

That was my first encounter with the owner of Meadowlark
Farm.

Later that evening, when Jay had taken my parents home for
a drink before bed, Tom and Bonnie and I started the inevitable
clean-up.

Bonnie said, "Guess who offered Lark a job?"

Tom was hauling an armload of folding chairs to the back
room. "Hillary Clinton?"

She grinned. "Bianca Fiedler."

He shifted the load. "The same job she offered me?" Tom
was a novelist, too. Unlike Bonnie, he was published.

I was stuffing napkins and other food debris into a plastic
garbage sack. The caterers had taken their glassware and china and
left me with the junk. "She wants me to coordinate a writers'
workshop. I take it you turned her down."

"Flat. The book's due the end of March." Tom was finishing
his third novel and what with one thing and another was running
behind schedule. He chunked the chairs into the back room and
returned, dusting off his hands. "Don't tell me you suckered?"

"I told her to call me later. 'Suckered?'"

"It's a tax write-off."

"Oh." A worthy cause indeed.

Bonnie was straightening the poetry shelves. "You know
who she is, don't you?"

"Keith McDonald's wife."

Bonnie chortled.

Tom shoved at his forelock, which was inclined to droop.
"There are those who say he is Bianca Fiedler's husband."

Bonnie clucked her tongue. "Men are so catty. She's Eli
Fiedler's long lost heir, Lark. Don't tell me you missed out on that
story. It set Hollywood by the ears, I can tell you." Bonnie was raised
in Santa Monica and regarded the film industry as her turf.

BOOK: Meadowlark
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