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Unexpected Riches (Bellingwood Book 13), page 1


Unexpected Riches (Bellingwood Book 13)

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Unexpected Riches (Bellingwood Book 13)

  Unexpected Riches


  This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, brands, media, and incidents are either the product of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously. The author acknowledges the trademarked status and trademark owners of various products referenced in this work of fiction, which have been used without permission. The publication / use of these trademarks is not authorized, associated with, or sponsored by the trademark owners.

  All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without permission in writing from the publisher, except by a reviewer, who may quote brief passages in a review.

  Cover Design Photography: Maxim M. Muir

  Copyright © 2016 Diane Greenwood Muir

  All rights reserved.

































  Watching Rebecca and Beryl sit together under the small shelter, blankets wrapped around their legs and sketching the scene in front of them, gave Polly a warm and contented feeling deep down inside.

  Today was colder than Beryl and Polly had hoped, but they'd waited long enough and Rebecca was desperate to be out and about with her mentor. Polly’s job was to make sure they had blankets to keep them warm on the outside and thermoses of coffee and hot cocoa to warm them from the inside.

  With a history of getting lost no matter how many times Beryl drove somewhere, Polly was more than glad to drive today. She began to believe that Beryl’s worst problem was that she spent more time looking at her surroundings than focusing on where she was or where she was going. While they'd traveled, Beryl and Rebecca chattered about the things they saw and lamented that they didn't have time to draw it all.

  Beryl's family owned property along the Des Moines River. A small shelter, just posts and a roof, stood at the end of a dirt lane, offering small comfort against the elements, but it was enough for today. Tall black trees rose up - stark against the white snow and bright blue sky. At the edge of the riverbank, a row of walnut trees stood as sentries. Even Polly was taken in by the intricate shapes of the branches as they reached upward.

  Once Rebecca and Beryl put pencil to paper, they were lost in the moment, ignoring Polly altogether. Polly put her hand on Rebecca's cheek to make sure she wasn't getting too cold. Her daughter's only response was a half-hearted brush-off, as if Polly were nothing more than an annoying fly.

  The two artists had been planning this day out for weeks and every day after school, Rebecca checked the forecast on Polly’s phone. Snow and messy weather had surprised them several times and the girl wanted today to be perfect.

  Polly sat beside Rebecca and tucked a blanket around her legs. After a few minutes of sitting still and being quiet, she realized this wasn't going to work. Obiwan should have come with them. At least they could have chased each other around the meadow. She got up and walked back to the truck for a book. No, it was too cold to just sit and read and sitting inside the warm truck didn’t seem fair.

  "I'm going for a walk," she said out loud.

  Neither Rebecca nor Beryl acknowledged her. Beryl was pointing at something on Rebecca's drawing and making swooping gestures with her fingers. Rebecca nodded enthusiastically and did something with her pencil.

  "Get in the truck if you're cold," Polly said. "I left the key fob on the console. I'll be back."

  Beryl lifted her hand and waved.

  "I was so concerned about making them comfortable that I didn't even think about how bored I'd be," Polly muttered as she wandered off. "I deserve a medal for this. Wonder-Mom or something." She giggled. No one would ever give her a medal for that.

  She found a deer trail and stopped to take pictures of roots and interesting rocks, fiddling with different settings on her camera. "I can be artsy, too," she said out loud. The world ignored her.

  Polly thought about calling Henry and making him talk to her while she walked, but he was busy. Since she and Rebecca planned to be gone for the day, he and Heath went to work. They were gone before she got out of bed this morning and wouldn't return home until late afternoon. Polly was glad things were going so well for Henry's business, but she missed him and the busy season wasn’t even here yet.

  They hadn't done much in the Springer House since purchasing it. She had taken most of her friends through it at different times, but wasn't ready to talk about their future plans. There was still so much work ahead of them.

  "Oh," she said quietly, as she realized that she should call Simon Gardner to help her decide what to do with things that were still there. A dumpster had already been filled with rotted draperies and curtains, shredded rugs, mattresses and box springs. She'd started clearing out the cupboards in the kitchen, surprised at the containers still on the shelves. The family really had pulled up roots and just walked out of the house.

  Henry had removed plywood from windows that remained intact, allowing more light into the house as well as exposing the enormous amount of cleaning that was required. Polly spent a week tearing out spider webs and gaining control of most of the dust on the main level. What she really wanted was to get a good look at the furniture. Even though the upholstery was worthless, she couldn't bring herself to throw things out until she knew for certain they couldn’t be restored. Little things caught her eye, such as the leaded glass inserts in the buffet and hutch in the dining room. Several chairs in the parlor had potential and the bedroom sets looked like they could be beautiful. But it would require work and she already knew how much Henry hated refinishing furniture.

  When Henry had asked the realtor about the contents of the house, the woman had been taken aback, not expecting anyone to be interested in all of that junk. Some quick negotiations with the trust’s lawyers brought back a reasonable price, which Henry and Polly were more than willing to pay.

  Polly was desperate to start on renovations, but there were so many things that had to happen first. The original house plans had given them room dimensions and that started Polly's mind whirling. Once she had a better idea of what she wanted, she would sit down with her new architect friend, Sandy Davis.

  "It's a good thing Henry told you that it would take a year or more," Polly said to herself. "Until you know what you want to do with it, nobody can get started."

  She stumbled and stopped to look around. After walking through a wooded area, she'd come out into a clearing about the size of the corner garden at Sycamore House. A weathered wooden split rail fence stood in the middle, though it was mostly falling down.

  "What's this?" she asked out loud. Polly had long ago given up worrying that she talked to herself.

  She tramped across the snow,
stepped over a downed fence rail, then paced along the inside of the fence to the other side and brushed snow off a tall stone. When she saw that it had been chiseled and shaped, she brushed away more snow and discovered she was standing in an old Carter family burial plot. Polly wondered if Beryl knew this was here.

  Kicking snow out of the way and brushing more stones clear, she took pictures of what she found as she made her way around the plot and back to the place where she'd entered. There were at least twenty stones and Polly couldn't be sure that she'd uncovered them all.

  As she cleared the area near where she’d entered, she realized that the ground around the last stone had recently been dug up. A thin dusting of snow covered loose dirt that had been arranged in an odd formation.

  "That's weird. But it means that someone knows it's here," she said, wishing there was anybody else here to talk to.

  Polly might have walked away from the cemetery, but then she realized that the streaks on the side of the stone were blood red. She began pushing at the loose dirt, terrified of what she might find, but knowing that she couldn’t leave it alone.

  She stopped when she felt something solid. Taking a deep breath, she lifted more dirt clods away and realized that she was looking at a frozen hand. This was not a century old set of bones, but a very recent death. It figured, didn't it?

  Hoping she was still in Boone County, she took her phone out and dialed.

  "Sheriff Merritt's phone. Who's calling, please?"

  "You know who this is," Polly said to Aaron.

  "Let's just call it amnesia. I haven't heard from you on this phone in several months. I thought you planned to find fewer bodies in twenty-sixteen," he said.

  "They find me," she replied. "I have no control."

  "Have you found someone?"

  "I think so."

  "What does that mean?" he asked.

  "I found a hand."

  He took in an audible breath. "Is it attached to a body?"

  "Maybe. I'm not digging any further."

  "Digging? It's buried?"

  "In a cemetery."

  "Polly," Aaron said patiently. She heard it in his voice. "You aren't supposed to go to cemeteries to find bodies. Everyone knows they're already there."

  Polly shook her head in mock disgust. "Yeah, yeah, yeah. Have you ever been out to the old Carter family cemetery?"

  She waited for him to say something. "Are you there?" she asked.

  "Where are you?"

  "I'm out at Beryl's family place. She and Rebecca are being artists and I took a walk."

  "Of course you did. You need to stop going off by yourself." He sighed. "That's not true. I suppose you had to go off by yourself so you could find this. Tell me what you have."

  "I walked through the woods to a clearing and there's an old family cemetery here. Then I noticed that one of the graves had been dug up, but rather than robbing it, I think they added somebody." She looked down. "And not very well, from the looks of it."

  "Just one?"

  "I think so. Do you know where I am?"

  "I know where Beryl's place is. My kids and I fished there with her brothers. Wow, that’s been a lot of years ago. But I didn’t know about the cemetery. How long do you think the body's been there?"

  It was Polly's turn to chuckle. "I have no idea. There was snow on it, but that's probably just from the last snowfall. Are you telling me I should take some criminal forensics classes?"

  "No, no, no," he said. "Please no. You bring me enough business as it is. Go on back and warm up. You have to be frozen by now."

  That was all it took for Polly to realize how cold her hands were. "Okay. We're at the shelter. You can find us there."

  "Give me time to get everyone together. Is the cemetery difficult to get to?"

  "Yeah. It won't be easy. I took a deer trail through the woods."

  He sighed. "We'll be right there. Go get warm."

  Polly took a few more photographs of the cemetery before heading back. It wasn't a long walk and this time as she looked up and around, she wondered about the trees. She'd read about orchards the early settlers had planted in Iowa as they domesticated the land. How much of this had been wide open prairie before settlers claimed it?

  Coming out of the trees on the other side, she only had a short walk to the shelter. She looked up and grinned. The truck was running and both Beryl and Rebecca were inside.

  "Where did you go?" Rebecca asked when Polly climbed up into the driver's seat.

  Polly turned around and smiled. "I went to find a body."

  "You did not," Beryl said.

  "Yes I did."

  Rebecca leaned forward and tapped Beryl's shoulder. "We should have guessed. She went off by herself, you know."

  "On my family's land?" Beryl asked. "How did you know it would be there?"

  Polly looked at her in surprise. "I didn't do it on purpose. I was bored and went for a walk. Did you realize there was an old cemetery back through those trees?"

  "A cemetery?" Beryl thought for a moment. "I guess I knew it was there, but I haven't thought about it since I was a kid. When we were little and had family reunions out here, all of us kids ran the entire breadth of this place. Wasn't there a fence around it?"

  Polly took her camera out and brought up the pictures she'd taken. "A lot of the fence has fallen down. I took pictures of the gravestones. Do you know who any of these people are?"

  Beryl put her hand out for the camera and scrolled through the pictures. "Jedidiah Carter. That's the big stone here. Over on the other side is his brother, Cyrus." She smiled. "Believe it or not, they were two of the founding fathers of Bellingwood."

  "That's really cool," Polly said. "These shouldn't be hidden away."

  "It's not all that exciting," Beryl said. "Jedidiah was a horse thief and a gambler. He's my great, great, great whatever." She handed the camera back to Polly. "I come from a long line of scoundrels."

  "I like you because you're a scoundrel." Both Rebecca and Polly mis-quoted Han Solo from Empire Strikes Back. They looked at each other and giggled.

  "I never thought I'd get to say that to anyone," Polly said. "Nobody uses that word anymore to describe themselves."

  "It described Jedidiah." Beryl smiled at them. "From everything I've been told, he was quite a character."

  "What about his brother?" Rebecca asked.

  Beryl turned in her seat. "Cyrus was a good man. He started the first bank in Bellingwood. He, Jedidiah, and another brother named Lester, came to Iowa from Chicago. Lester went on out west. He thought Iowa was too close to home and wanted to see what the wild west was all about. He ended up as a lawman in California, I think." She gave her head a quick shake. "I haven't thought about these old stories in years. My grandparents loved gathering all of us kids around when we got together. He was quite the story teller. Fifty years ago at the centennial, everybody in Bellingwood was interested in his stories. I should dig out those old centennial books and help myself remember. I was only a kid at the time. I'm sure I've forgotten most of what he told us."

  "Your ancestors founded Bellingwood," Polly said. "That's really something."

  "I don't think they did it so that we'd be impressed a hundred and fifty years later. They were just trying to put down roots. Well, and Jedidiah was trying to make some easy cash." Beryl raised her eyebrows. "He had a few descendants that thought that was the way to live. Must be in the blood. Probably a good thing I never had kids."

  "Don’t talk like that." Polly pushed her friend's arm off the console.

  "These qualities run deep, you know." Beryl pointed back the way Polly had come. "A new body is back there?"

  Polly nodded. "I called Aaron. He's on his way. Someone dug up one of the old graves and dropped a fresh body on top of it. They didn't bury it very deep because I was able to pull the dirt off the top. It was definitely not old bones."

  "That old cemetery is going to get more attention now, I guess. Maybe I should call my brothers and talk
to them about clearing a better path to it. We've never talked about doing anything out there. I think Melvin mows it once in a while." Beryl shuddered. "That's my favorite thing in the world."

  "What?" Polly asked.

  "Talking to my family. They're such a joy."

  "Are you going to tell them it's a crime scene?"

  Beryl cackled. "Oh, that will be a fun conversation. I can hardly wait." Then her face grew serious. "Crap. You don't suppose one of them could have killed someone. There aren't that many people who know where the cemetery is." Beryl's entire body drooped. "Oh, please say that it isn't true. They wouldn't. They couldn't. I don't like them very much, but they just couldn't."

  "We know nothing right now," Polly said. "Heck, maybe Aaron will even accuse you of being the murderer. But until we know who is buried there, don't do this to yourself."

  "When you're right, you're right," Beryl said, looking back up the lane. "So we're waiting for Aaron? I've never been around when they come in for one of your body-finds. This is exciting." She turned around to Rebecca. "Are you excited?"

  "It seems weird. Somebody died," Rebecca said.

  Beryl nodded. "You're right, honey. I'm sorry. That was insensitive."

  Rebecca tapped Beryl's shoulder. "I was just kidding you. It's too bad that someone died and I hope they find out what happened, but it's kinda cool to be here right now. I wish we could stay while they dig the person up and do all of that crime scene stuff."

  "You're raising a weird child," Beryl said to Polly. She turned around to Rebecca. "You're a weird child. What happened to those days when kids were supposed to be seen and not heard?"

  "Wasn't that when you were a little girl?" Rebecca asked. "Look how well that turned out."

  Polly chuckled and Beryl threw her head back in laughter. "This one is going to be a trip," Beryl said. "It will be fun to be part of her life."

  "Did you two get enough time in the out-of-doors today to satisfy your inner artists?" Polly asked.

  Rebecca pushed her sketchbook between the two women and waggled it. "I got a lot done. Beryl said that this is the perfect stuff to draw because there isn't any color. It's all about the shadows and light. She’s teaching me about the range of values and how…" Rebecca stopped and looked at Polly. "You don’t care about that." She drew her finger along a branch. "And there are so many interesting shapes in the trees. Have you ever looked at how cool branches are? They are bumpy and smooth and wavy and curly. It was awesome."

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