Carol W Hazelwood

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Dark Legacy available from

Dark Legacy

by Carol W. Hazelwood

Chapter 1

Claudia’s road trip had been haunted by the news of her brother’s death by a bear mauling. How could such a thing happen to him on his own property?

The twisting road into the mountain town of Bear Creek, Oregon was deserted. Not a car in sight. The fall air was crisp and clear with the heavy scent of pine. Only the squawk of a jay and the rat-a-tat of a distant woodpecker broke the stillness of the forest.

She stopped her SUV shy of a weathered wood truss bridge. For the umpteenth time, she sighed with grief and shock over Jonathan’s death. Putting her car in drive, she inched forward, the tires thwacking in odd rhythm to the groan of old timbers. Oliver, her West Highland Terrier, sat on top of a duffle bag and poked his white furry head out the passenger window.

Although she was on the outskirts of the town, she hesitated after crossing the bridge, reluctant to continue. Confronting all that lay ahead seemed overwhelming. She edged her new Honda SUV onto a grassy siding well off the road and turned off the engine. The peaceful scene beckoned. Having left her motel at dawn after a fretful night, she felt sleepy – her reaction to coming stress.

She clipped on Oliver’s leash and pulled a small blanket and a thermos of coffee out of the heavily packed back seat. The Westie jumped to the ground, tugging on the leash. But Claudia was not about to let him run free even though he usually responded to her call or whistle. Searching for a curious dog in new territory was not on her agenda today.

After locking the car and pocketing her keys in her beige slacks, she set off for the riverbank, thermos, blanket and Oliver’s leash in hand. From the waterline markings on either bank, the river must have been high during spring runoff. But now in this first week of September, the stream trickled through its bed like a wandering old man. Large boulders nestled among tall grass, and after a search, she found the perfect spot: in the sun, near the water, but not buggy or boggy.

She spread out the blanket, sighed and sank onto it. An early morning chill hung in the air, and she hugged her late husband’s old cardigan with its leather elbows around her. Oliver eyed the water, but she restrained him, not wanting a wet dog inside her car. He sniffed the area within the stretch of his leash then settled on his tummy, his back legs splayed behind him. A breeze fluttered the blanket.

Sitting cross-legged, she poured coffee into a plastic cup and sipped it, reveling in its delicious aroma. She watched the gurgling rill and reflected on her situation. The decision to join Jonathan in Bear Creek had been made long before she knew of his death. After her husband’s death, she’d learned her friends weren’t interested in having a single woman of fifty-two at dinner or cocktail parties. She’d also come to understand what she had avoided acknowledging all her married life; her friends had been her husband’s friends, not hers. She had her career as a sculptress, a good marriage and a son and daughter, both reasonably competent. When her daughter had children, life seemed to have made the circle. Then her husband died, and her life turned another corner.

Moving in with her brother Jonathan had seemed an ideal solution. He’d built a large house, and she could have her own art studio. When she’d agreed to the arrangement, her daughter criticized her decision. “All your friends are in San Diego. Your grandchildren are here,” she’d said. “And you haven’t seen Jonathan for four years. He lives like a hermit.” But her son, in his usual deferential manner, had said, “Mom’s gotta right to live how and where she wants.”

“It will be great fun for you and the children to visit over the holidays,” she’d told her daughter, but received a litany of excuses squelching such an idea. Later when they learned of Jonathan’s death, they pleaded with her not to go. But as Jonathan’s only living relative, Claudia had to settle his estate. Besides, Bear Creek seemed like an interesting place to live and start afresh. After all, Jonathan had loved the area for the past six years.

Oliver’s ears perked up. He jumped up and barked. A man knelt at the river’s edge on the opposite bank a short distance away. The stranger glanced up with a startled expression on his pale haggard face. The scene settled like a freeze frame from a movie. The early morning sun filtered through the forest, giving the stream a silver sheen. Water droplets clung to the man’s matted blond beard. Momentarily, their eyes met. His piercing blue eyes widened. Claudia started to wave, but dropped her hand wary of the stranger. The man stood, turned and darted back into the forest, the tail of his red plaid shirt flapping as he ran.

“Well, I hope the rest of the people in Bear Creek aren’t as skittish,” she said to Oliver. But then she decided the stranger had looked more like a vagrant than an upstanding citizen.

Were there a lot of homeless people in Bear Creek? What did she really know about the town and its inhabitants? Jonathan had been enthusiastic about her coming and that had been enough for her. But now she wondered if visiting him first would have been a better idea than selling her house and moving here. Perhaps she should have taken her daughter’s suggestion. However at the time, she couldn’t have foreseen Jonathan’s death. Once again she’d be alone, but now she wouldn’t know anyone in the area. She shrugged. She’d manage. Living in Bear Creek was not set in stone. After she coped with his estate, she could decide whether to stay or move on.

She finished her coffee, got up and stretched. The stranger’s appearance and quick departure unnerved her. She’d drive to the sheriff’s office where she’d pick up the keys to Jonathan’s house. Back in her car, she started the powerful engine and drove toward town. A few minutes before eight she passed Bear Creek’s population sign: 2,923. The sign had a line through the numbers with no new data. Driving slowly, she looked left and right at the shops on the main street. Almost all had high wooden fronts with porches overhanging the sidewalk, a throwback to the early 1900s. Many were boarded up. A few had for sale or for rent signs stuck in the windows. But the stores still open looked clean and in good repair. And with some reassurance, she’d noted the relatively modern gas station as she’d entered the town.

Bear Creek was a three-stoplight town, each light hanging from wires dangling across the street. She wondered why three lights. Even now at eight o’clock on a Monday morning, not a car or truck was on the road, and no pedestrians strode the streets. The town appeared to be asleep or worse. Was it fading away like so many other small towns where logging had been the mainstay?
From the directions she’d received from the sheriff, his office was next to the fire station on the far side of town. It didn’t take long to spot the brick building. She pulled into a small paved area and parked beside two patrol cars, clearly marked “Bear Creek Sheriff’s Department.” After snapping on Oliver’s leash, they walked into the building.

An olive-complexioned woman in her early thirties dressed in khakis with a sheriff’s patch on the shoulder of her long sleeve shirt sat at a computer. A counter separated the waiting area from the front office. A door with “Sheriff” printed on it in black lettering was located behind the woman’s desk. As she looked up, she flicked at her long black hair and smiled at Claudia.

“I’m Claudia Parnell, Jonathan Murdock’s sister. I was asked to come by to collect his house keys.”

The woman shoved back her chair, rose and came to the counter. “We’ve been expecting you. My condolences to you about your brother, Mrs. Parnell.” She leaned across the counter and looked down at Oliver.

“I hope you don’t mind,” Claudia said, “but I didn’t want to leave him in the car. He’s housebroken.”

“It’s okay. He’s cute. We usually get big slobbering bloodhounds in here. I’m Deputy Gwen Wilcox. Sheriff Orten just came in. Wait here a minute.” She turned and went through the door marked “Sheriff.”

While Claudia waited, she glanced at the “Wanted” posters tacked on one wall. Each face seemed menacing.

“Mrs. Parnell,” a deep voice came from behind her.

She turned to see a tall rangy man move toward the counter.

“I’m Sheriff Hal Orten. We talked on the phone.” He put out his callused hand and grasped hers. She read compassion in his blue eyes.

“You’ve been very kind,” Claudia said as she withdrew her hand. “I appreciate the information you gave me about the arrangements for Jonathan. I’ll need directions to his house.”

He walked to the swinging gate at the end of the counter. “Please come in. I have a few things to discuss with you.”

She followed him into his office, where he motioned her to sit in a worn navy blue upholstered chair next to his desk. Oliver walked sedately at her heels. He hadn’t barked at either the sheriff or the deputy, perhaps recognizing authority.


Although she’d had her fill of caffeine, she said, “Fine.”

“Gwen, bring us two coffees and some of my wife’s scones, will you?” The sheriff turned to Claudia, “Black okay?”

She nodded.

He smiled and lines around his eyes and mouth crinkled his tan skin. “I left the house early and haven’t had breakfast yet, have you?”

“No, but…” She thought she shouldn’t take up his time eating and chatting, but didn’t want to offend him. “A scone would be nice. Thank you.”

He looked down at Oliver. “Not sure we have any dog biscuits.” He sat behind his desk and stared at a file lying on top. “How long do you plan to stay in town?”

“Excuse me?” She frowned. “I thought you knew Jonathan had asked me to move in with him. Jonathan’s lawyer, Maxwell Durbin, notified me that I’m the trustee and will have to manage his affairs.”

“Max is a good man. He’ll help you out, and you’ll probably need all the help you can get.”

Gwen brought in two steaming coffee mugs and a plate with blueberry scones. “Never say the sheriff’s department lacks for service,” Gwen said and left the room, closing the door behind her.

“I was wondering about a memorial service for Jonathan, for his friends in Bear Creek.” She took a bite of scone and felt as if she were at an afternoon tea. “Your wife’s a good cook.”

“Ah, thanks.” He eyed her, his coffee mug halfway to his mouth. “I don’t think a memorial service is a good idea.”

“Oh? It’s a good way to say good-bye, a closure for people.”

“Well,” he put his mug on the desk. “Jonathan never attended church as far as I know.”

“It doesn’t have to be in a church.”

“Not too many people knew your brother real well.” He glanced out his window and added, “His body’s at the mortuary.”

“But when I talked to you earlier you said you’d take care of arrangements to have him cremated.”

“Things changed. You’ll have to sign paperwork at the mortuary. If you do want a small ceremony, I could give you names of a few people who had a connection to him, but I wouldn’t expect much of a turn out.”

Her shoulders slumped. “I didn’t realize he had so few friends. He’d lived here for over six years.”

The sheriff took a sip of coffee and looked across his desk at her. “After I tell you the result of the coroner’s report, you may decide not to stay in Bear Creek.”

Claudia was about to take another bite of scone, but put it down. “For heaven’s sake, why? Haven’t you caught the bear?”

“That’s just it, Mrs. Parnell. I tried to reach you, but your phone had been disconnected, and I had no way to contact you. Your brother’s death was not caused by a bear.”

“But I thought you said he’d been mauled.”

“That’s what it looked like. The autopsy report states that blunt trauma to his head caused his death.” He studied a piece of paper. “The claw marks to his body were made after death. Apparently, someone wanted his death to appear as if a maverick bear had attacked him.” He looked up at her. “In other words, your brother’s death may be a homicide.”

Dark Legacy available from