WICKED EDDIES is book two in the RM Outdoor Adventure Mystery series by Agatha Award finalist Beth Groundwater.
Fly fishing is dangerous? River ranger Mandy Tanner had no idea until days before a huge tournament in Salida, Colorado. True, the Arkansas River can be a man-eater, but the rapids weren’t responsible for driving a hatchet into the neck of would-be competitor Howie Abbott—a secretive man who may have been cheating. While casting about for suspects, Mandy seeks clues from Abbott’s family members, including her best friend, bartender Cynthia Abbott. But when Cynthia becomes the prime suspect, Mandy realizes that trolling for the true killer has plunged her way too deep into wicked eddies.
A shiny black raven shot a raucous caw toward the blue whitewater raft that nudged its nose into the Arkansas River bank. Disturbed, the bird flapped its wide wings and swooped to another large peachleaf willow farther downstream, where it scolded the two interlopers in the raft.
Ignoring the Native American’s keeper of secrets, Mandy Tanner stowed her bow paddle and stepped out onto the muddy bank. She planted a sandaled foot against an exposed sandbar willow root to keep from slipping then pulled on the bow line to beach the raft.
The stern paddler, Steve Hadley, her boss and the chief river ranger of the Arkansas Headwaters Recreation Area, swept his paddle in the calm water of the eddy to give her an assist.
Mandy secured the bowline to a nearby wooden post sunk into the river’s shoreline at the Vallie Bridge campground for just that purpose. Then she stretched and drank in the sight of the collegiate range of the Colorado Rockies to the east. The 14,000 foot-plus peaks of Mt. Harvard, Mt. Oxford, Mt. Yale, Mt. Princeton and Mt. Columbia knifed into the clear blue sky. Mandy reluctantly dragged her gaze down to the muddy earth and held the raft still for her boss.
“This should be an easy clean-up,” Steve said while he clambered out of the raft.
Since the campground was solely walk-in or boat-in access, it had only sixteen primitive tent campsites partly shaded by four large peachtree willows. Even the pit toilets were located at the day use area next to the road about a hundred yards away. Vallie Bridge was the least used of the six campgrounds maintained by the AHRA.
“So you only assign yourself the easy ones?” Mandy flashed a teasing grin at Steve.
Of course, as Steve’s partner on this end-of-the summer trash pickup excursion, she benefited from the light assignment, too. Usually she got the worst grunt work and shifts, this being her first season as a river ranger. That meant a lot of sweaty tree and brush removal and busy weekend river patrols dealing with clueless, and often inebriated, tourists.
“Seniority has its privileges.” Steve unzipped his personal floatation device, shucked it and tossed it into the raft. The short sleeves of his dark green ranger shirt exposed well-tanned and muscled arms.
Heat waves shimmered off the parched ground. Mandy followed Steve’s lead, removing her PFD and lifting her blond ponytail off her damp neck. An early September Monday in Chaffee County, this one was showing signs of being a record-breaking scorcher. While Steve took a long pull on his water bottle, Mandy shielded her eyes from the sun’s glare and scanned the Vallie Bridge campground. All the tent sites looked deserted.
With the annoyed raven now quiet, the only sound was the hot wind soughing through the nearby willow trees, bringing with it the scent of baking dry vegetation, and something else…
Mandy wrinkled her nose. “Something smells rank.”
Bestselling mystery author Beth Groundwater writes the Claire Hanover gift basket designer series (A Real Basket Case, a Best First Novel Agatha Award finalist, and To Hell in a Handbasket) and the Rocky Mountain Outdoor Adventures series starring whitewater river ranger Mandy Tanner (Deadly Currents, an Amazon bestseller, and Wicked Eddies). The third books in both series will appear in 2013. Beth enjoys Colorado’s many outdoor activities, including skiing and whitewater rafting, and loves talking to book clubs. Please visit her website: http://bethgroundwater.com/