The Body in the Landscape (A Cherry Tucker Mystery Book 5)
exceptions. Big Rack Manager Mike and Head Guide Jeff Digby had joined them. Rick Miller had disappeared. And an extra hour’s worth of alcohol had been consumed.
    I hesitated before taking our place among the inebriated, wondering if I could slip away again to look for Rick. Talking to Rick about Abel interested me more than mingling with this crowd. But a job was a job and I already had my designated coffee/find-more-about-Abel break.
    “Do you think Rick followed us to Abel Spencer’s?” Todd’s disappointment in Bob Bass had eclipsed my own and he seemed just as reluctant to return to our station. “Why would he leave?”
    “That, my friend, is a very good question.” I pondered those queries for a moment. “Maybe Rick didn’t know about Abel Spencer’s death and heard about it during the hobnob? Drove out to see if it was true?”
    “Who would have told him? The guy barely talked to anyone.”
    “The bartender? Why would Rick follow us? He didn’t know us from Adam.”
    My eyes cut to Max’s, where he had been silently signaling a “get the hell over here and help me” kind of look. Or whatever the equivalent of that was in his country.
    We scooted to the bar to join him in the small cluster of hunters. I hoped I looked as abashed as I felt.
    I had no right to put Abel Spencer’s death over a patron’s needs. No right. Just an overwhelming desire. I had taken this job partly to sit on the mental box containing all the crap from home. The death of Abel Spencer made for a more interesting cushion than celebrity hunters.
    The Bear leaned into my ear. “You were gone longer than I expected, Artist.”
    “Sorry, just had to take care of something,” I whispered. “I’m here now. Ready to dazzle Bob Bass with my charm and get him to forget that although he’s lost a lot of money in your secret casino, you still want to beat him in this crazy contest.”
    “Your understanding is not accurate, but it is enough.”
    Max straightened, but not before flicking a crimson leaf caught on one of my dangling reindeer. “You have been in the woods again? Not the scene of the death, I hope.” His voice fell into a lull in the contestants’ conversation.
    The party turned to stare at me.
    “Sorry for interrupting. Hope we didn’t miss anything.” With their eyes on me, I felt the need to explain. “We were just visiting the house of the man I found in the ravine earlier.”
    “You went to Abel’s house?” said Jeff Digby. “Why would you do that?”
    “Pay respects.” My mumble was lost in Todd’s reply.
    “Cherry thinks there’s more to his fall than an accident.” Todd rubbed his hip where I poked him. “No need to worry about her, though. She does this thing all the time. When she gets a notion something’s not right, Cherry’s like a terrier on a squirrel. Until it’s proved one way or another, she’ll keep barking up that tree.”
    “What do you mean there’s more to it?” said Jeff. “That’s not what the police said.”
    “The police can’t say anything officially until they’ve finished their investigation,” I explained.
    “Then let the police handle it. Can we get back to our earlier conversation?” Jenny Sparks set her empty wine glass on the bar. “I want to make sure I understand what’s going on with the hunt.”
    “We were just talking about the issue of weather,” said Manager Mike. “We’re leaving for the bunkhouse tomorrow afternoon. The contest will start Friday evening. But another front’s moving in. It’ll keep the hog from scenting us but may make it harder to track him. And harder to travel.”
    “The problem is mud.” Jeff Digby let that fact hang in the air. Mud in Georgia is serious. We’re mostly a red clay state, which is great for pottery and bad for pretty much everything else. “We’ve got five all-terrain utility vehicles to take everyone out to the bunkhouse. It’s a long haul on a dry day. We’re going to split up from there, each

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