Hannah is delighted to reconnect with her former roommate, Susan Lockley, owner of Scarborough Fairs, at a college reunion, and agrees to step in when Susan's assistant drops out of managing the Sasquatch Sesquicentennial in Granite Falls, Oregon. But when Martin Radcliffe, a professional debunker, is found murdered, surrounded by gigantic footprints, the culprit appears, or was meant to appear, obvious: Bigfoot.
Fantasy or fact? As the conference disintegrates into a chaos of finger pointing, mistrust and fear, it falls to Hannah to restore order. Working closely with Jake, a retired policeman and his K-9, Harley, Hannah hastens to stave off the vigilantes and solve the crime before Bigfoot, if he exists, comes one step closer to extinction.
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Footprints to Murder
By Marcia Talley
Severn House Publishers LimitedCopyright © 2016 Marcia Talley
All rights reserved.
November 8, 1721. 'The first night I lay in this habitation, there was a great alarm at nine at night. I inquired the cause of it and they told me there was in the neighborhood a beast of an unknown species, of a monstrous size, and the cry of which resembled no animal that we knew ... It had already carried off some sheep and calves and killed some cows.'
Pierre-Francois Xavier de Charlevoix, Historical Journal, Hi storical Collections of Louisiana. Pt. III. NY, D. Appleton, 1851, pp. 157–159
The French thought a lot about the past. Guillaume Apollinaire hibernated in it, as I recall, while Marcel Proust had a good, 3000-page wallow while writing A La Recherche du Temps Perdu.
Me, I was driving west toward my past along Ohio Route 511, heading for Oberlin College and my fortieth class reunion. Past the Auto & Tire Works, past the IGA Foodliner, past the Lorain Laundramat where – what was his name, the waiter from Dascomb Hall? – took me on a date in the first semester of my freshman year. Perhaps he had found it romantic sharing a dryer – his tightie whities tangled up in my bra straps. I'll never know. We never progressed to date two.
After Tappan Square, I turned right on North Professor Street and slowed, looking for a dorm that hadn't existed during my time at Oberlin: Kahn Hall. I would have had to be blind to miss it – a huge crimson-and-gold banner was draped over the entrance: Welcome Class of 1975. How could it have been that long? I thought as I pulled into a driveway between Kahn and the next building. A student wearing an orange vest popped up from a folding chair, balanced her iPad mini on her forearm and directed me to a parking lot behind the dorm where I slotted my Volvo into a spot in the shade. After fluffing my recently lightened curls and refreshing my lipstick in the visor mirror, I collected my wheelie bag from the trunk and made my way back toward the dorm where I'd be staying. According to the reunion brochure, the modern building was totally dedicated to energy sustainability.
A classmate I didn't immediately recognize was in the lobby to greet me, printed nametags spread out in alphabetical order on the long table in front of her. 'Hannah Alexander!' she chirped. 'Gosh, I love your hair!'
I grinned, taking a split second to steal a glance at the nametag she wore, hoping she wouldn't notice. 'Candy,' I chirped as memories flooded back, 'so good to see you again.'
Candace Peters and I had been lab partners in Biology 101. Back then she'd been a fluffy, petite blonde who'd created a sensation by walking into Wilder Hall student union flaunting the first pair of hot pants most of us had ever seen. The woman handing over my nametag now had pink-blonde hair cut in a neatly-layered bob and – judging from the rolls of fat circling her abdomen – had long-ago lost the battle of the bulge. 'You haven't changed a bit,' she said.
I laughed out loud. Candy was such a liar! In 1975 I subdued my shoulder-length curls with a hot iron, parted my hair in the middle and flicked it out on the sides like one of Charlie's Angels. The thumbnail graduation photo printed on my nametag attested to that fact. I was much more wash-and-wear these days.
On the wall behind Candy's head, a glass dome-covered porthole had been glowing green. As she handed me my nametag holder and a reunion information packet, the dome turned red. 'What's that?' I asked, gesturing toward the porthole with my free hand. 'Is the ship going down?'
'Oh, that!' she sniffed, glancing quickly back over her shoulder. 'It monitors the energy efficiency of the building. When it turns red ...' She shrugged. 'Everyone's flushing toilets at the same time, I'd guess.'
'A lot of folks already here, then?' I asked as I slipped my nametag into the plastic holder and looped the cord over my head. 'Sorry to say, I haven't kept up with many of my classmates since graduation but I'm hoping to catch up with my roommate, Susan Lockley.' I ran my hand along the tabletop, scanning the nametags, but the space between 'Lindsay' and 'Loring' was empty.
Candy squinted at a checklist attached to a clipboard. 'Susan? Yeah. She checked in early this morning.'
'Can you tell me what room she's in?'
'Says here she's staying at the La Quinta in Elyria.' Candy looked up. 'I can give you the phone number there if you want.'
I smiled and waited as she wrote the number down for me on an Oberlin College Post-it note. The La Quinta, I knew, was a good twenty miles away, near the Cleveland Hopkins airport. Not everyone longs for the good old days of dorm living, I supposed.
After thanking Candy and promising to see her later, I dragged my suitcase up to the second floor, down the hall and through the door of the room that would be my home for the next three days – a student double, simply furnished with utilitarian blond-on-blond furniture. I opened my suitcase on the spare bed, retrieved my toiletry bag, then – thinking about the unisex bathroom I'd be sharing with others halfway down the hall – wished that I'd checked into the La Quinta, too.
From the semi-comfort of an ergonomically correct desk chair, I sent an 'arrived safely' text to my husband, a message he'd get whenever he and the Naval Academy training sloop he was chaperoning came within range of a cell-phone tower. Last I heard, the forty-four foot Resolute was offshore, somewhere between Cape May, New Jersey and Halifax, Nova Scotia, so it could be days before my message popped up in Paul's inbox.
Then I called Susan. She wasn't in her room, so I left my cell-phone number and asked her to call me back.
I was strolling across Tappan Square toward Gibson's Bakery where I'd hopefully still be able to connect with a tall cappuccino and a worship-worthy peanut-butter brownie when Susan texted me. 'Excited! See you at the president's reception tonight?'
'You bet,' I texted back. Then added as an afterthought: 'I'll be wearing a red rose in my lapel and carrying a rolled-up New York Times.'
'Goofball,' she texted. 'FB!'
I'd looked up Susan on Facebook, too, so I knew that she lived in Issaquah, just east of Seattle, and was owner/manager of Scarborough Fairs, a conference management and event planning service. She had no private Facebook page, so whether there was still a Mister Lockley in the picture or a passel of successful Lockley children and darling grands would have to wait until we reconnected later that evening.
Marvin Krislov, like Oberlin college presidents before him since 1927, lived in a symmetrical, Flemish bond, two-and-a-half-story Georgian Revival home on Forest Street. As guests wandered in from points all over campus, college staff herded them down the driveway to a party tent in the backyard where wine, beer and hors d'oeuvres would keep the alumni happy until the speeches began later on. I went through the receiving line, perma-grin firmly in place, grabbed a glass of pinot grigio, some shrimp and something wrapped in bacon on a toothpick and merged with the crowd. I was nibbling on a cold shrimp, in deep discussion with John Congdon from the college development office about Oberlin's recent crowd-funding efforts, when someone boomed, 'Hannah Alexander!'
Still holding the toothpick, I turned.
The same abundant hair, now unnaturally blond. Same boyish face. Same straight, impossibly white teeth. I didn't have to check the guy's nametag to remember the jerk who was leering at me: Duane Edward Becker. We'd gone out a couple of times during our sophomore year. After a movie at the Apollo one evening I'd made the mistake of allowing him to kiss me goodnight. The next thing I knew, his hand had been snaking under my sweater, crawling up my back and skillfully unhooking my bra. One well-aimed knee had cut him off in mid-grope and we hadn't seen each other, except in passing, since.
'Duane,' I chirped. 'Have you met John Congdon?' I sent a wide-eyed, semi-desperate look to John, who picked up my SOS immediately.
'Duane,' he oozed, extending his hand and drawing the guy aside. 'Can't tell you how much the college appreciates your support.' He turned to me, a co-conspirator's grin lighting his face. 'Thanks to Duane, the Columbus Greater Medical Center is now matching charitable contributions.'
'So, what do you do at the Columbus Greater Medical Center?' I asked, genuinely curious. With his thousand-dollar suit and boyish, Botoxed good looks, I figured he had to be somebody important.
'I'm Chief of Obstetrics and Gynecology,' Duane said.
'There's somebody I'd like you to meet,' Congdon said then turned to me, his eyes twinkling behind his wire-rimmed glasses. 'Please excuse us, Hannah.' He seized Duane gently by the arm and steered him off into the crowd.
I snagged another shrimp from a passing server and made a mental note to up my annual donation to Oberlin College by at least a hundred dollars.
Over the course of my chat with John Congdon, my wine glass had grown mysteriously empty. I wandered over to the bar for a top up, then stationed myself near the receiving line, slowly sipping, waiting for Susan to show.
I didn't wait long. A white-haired woman dressed in navy slacks topped off by a festive, multicolored embroidered jacket was being efficiently passed from hand to hand along the receiving line. My college roommate still showed her love of all things Southwest in the turquoise and silver barrette that secured her shoulder-length hair to one side.
'Hey, you,' I said as she finished running the gauntlet.
'Hannah! You look wonderful!' Susan hugged me so hard that wine sloshed out of my glass and ran down my hand. 'Sorry,' she said as she released me.
'No damage done,' I told her, shaking my hand dry. 'That's why I drink white. Grab a glass for yourself and let's find a place to sit down.' While Susan waited in line for her wine I piled a plate high with cheese, crackers and cut-up vegetables then joined her at a table not far from the exit.
I brought her up to date on my family. Paul was still teaching math at the US Naval Academy and our daughter Emily's spa, Paradiso, was an unqualified success. There had been a Mister Lockley, I learned – Harold – but he passed away of a heart attack in 2010, leaving Susan and two grown sons, one in banking and the other in real estate. Between Susan and me there were eight grandchildren, and we'd both come prepared – quelle surprise – with iPhones loaded with pictures.
Susan was faster on the draw. I nibbled on cheese cubes while she paged through her photo album, then I did the same. As one impossibly cute grandchild after another scrolled past my thumb, I was vaguely aware that the tables around us were filling up, but it wasn't until someone thumped on the microphone that I realized the speeches were about to begin.
I glanced up. Duane Becker had escaped from John Congdon's clutches and was gliding my way, heading, I was certain, for the empty chair to my right. Damn! I leaned so close to Susan that our heads almost touched. 'Let's get out of here.'
Susan expertly pocketed her iPhone. 'Good idea. My engine only runs for so long on cheese cubes.' With a farewell glance at the podium where a line of speakers appeared to be gathering, she added: 'If we sneak out now, nobody but Duane will notice.'
Chatting amiably about our student days, we ambled up South Professor Street toward the Conservatory of Music. We skipped across the crosswalk painted like a piano keyboard, ducked around behind the Co-op Bookstore and made our way to Lorenzo's Pizzeria Restaurant, the best pizza joint in town – possibly in all of Ohio. 'The Beautiful Flame,' Lorenzo's wood-fired pizza oven, was parked in the lot nearby. Hauled on the back of a specially equipped flatbed truck, the oven made regular appearances at fairs and private events all around the state. The evening was balmy and it was tempting to sit outside under one of the umbrellas, but yellow jackets were buzzing around the patio tables so we opted instead for a table inside.
Although the joint was jumping, a server appeared promptly and handed us menus. 'A bottle of Chianti,' Susan told her without even consulting it. 'Sound good to you, Hannah?'
'Perfect. What could be better with pizza?'
After the server left to fetch the wine, I studied the menu. 'Lordy,' I said after a minute. 'There's something for everyone here. Veggie, vegan, gluten-free, dairy-free, soy-free, egg-free ...'
'College town, Hannah. Duh.'
I chuckled. 'I can't imagine what a vegan, gluten-free pizza would taste like. No cheese? There ought to be a law.' I set the menu aside. 'If you have to spell it c-h-e-e-z-e, it's not. Do you ever wonder how we survived to adulthood, back before we learned that everything is bad for us?'
Susan looked up and grinned. 'Well, I'm famished. I'm throwing caution to the wind. Deluxe pizza for me, even if it proves to be fatal.'
When the server returned with our wine and a basket of breadsticks, Susan ordered her pizza and a nine-incher with mushrooms, green pepper and olives for me.
'Tell me about Scarborough Fairs,' I said after the server disappeared into the kitchen.
'It's something I started out of my home about seven years ago. Now we manage a wide range of technical and non-technical conferences, tradeshows, workshops, seminars, symposia and the like.'
As a former librarian, I'd attended my share of conferences over the years, including ones like the American Library Association's Annual Conference. Just me in the big city with 17,000 of my closest friends. Managing a conference that huge had to be a major headache. 'So what does that entail?'
'Whatever the client wants, really, all the way from site selection to organizing the speakers. We're flexible.'
'I used to handle everything myself but last year I had the good sense to hire an assistant. That's the only reason I was able to attend this reunion, as a matter of fact. I've got the Sasquatch Sesquicentennial in Flat Rock, Oregon coming up next weekend. Without Heather I'd be up to my eyeballs in last-minute registrations.'
I stared at Susan over the rim of my wine glass, wondering if I'd misheard. 'Sasquatch Sesquicentennial? You're kidding, right?'
Susan grinned again and waved a breadstick. 'Dead serious. And so are they. It's been about 150 years since some missionary named Zebulon Blackburn wrote an article for a local rag called The Daily Mountaineer describing a species of giant apes that came down from the mountains to steal salmon out of fishermen's nets. They've been looking for Sasquatch ever since.'
Sasquatch, Bigfoot, Swamp Ape, Yeti, Abominable Snowman – tales of such elusive wild men perpetuated, especially on late-night cable television. As far as I knew, though, other than footprints, grainy photographs or shaky videos, no evidence had yet been found that conclusively proved their existence. As if reading my mind, Susan raised both hands and said, 'Hey, their money's good. Who am I to judge?'
'That's got to be one of the weirdest conferences I've ever heard of,' I said.
'Oh, I've seen my share of weird. Back when Harold was working for the World Bank in Washington, DC, I volunteered at the biennial meeting of the International Rhinologic Society.'
'Rhinologists, right? Nose doctors?'
She nodded and tapped her temple. 'Seared into my brain. They called it "The Nose: 2000 and Beyond." The logo was a profile of George Washington superimposed over the Capitol dome.' She leaned forward. 'Old George had quite a schnoz on him.'
I laughed out loud. 'You are making this up.'
'Well, you may scoff, Mrs Ives, but former first lady Barbara Bush was one of the speakers. And I still have the T-shirt.'
Our pizzas had arrived, served on elevated pizza tray stands. Susan sprinkled hers liberally with red pepper flakes. 'They had sessions like, I swear to God, "Your Nose is a Microbe Luxury Resort." You gotta love it.'
I took a bite of pizza and chewed appreciatively. 'Some of the Sasquatch sessions will be every bit as entertaining, I'll bet.'
'For sure,' she said. 'I've signed up a scientist from New Jersey. How could anyone pass up a program on scat analysis?'
From deep inside her handbag, Susan's iPhone began to chime. As she bent down to answer it, she added: 'They've even managed to snag Martin Radcliffe from Don't You Believe It!'
Excerpted from Footprints to Murder by Marcia Talley. Copyright © 2016 Marcia Talley. Excerpted by permission of Severn House Publishers Limited.
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