First place winner in the cozy category!
By D. C. Thomas
"Kellie, are you busy? I'm off this afternoon and I really want to bike the towpath. You can borrow my sister's bike."
I glanced at the drawing in progress on the drafting table, and then at the window. The spring sun threw inviting fingers of light across the living room floor and a gentle breeze stirred the blinds. The temptation to play hooky was overwhelming.
"Sure, Bridget, sounds like fun. I'll be there in twenty minutes."
After parking beside the lock, we walked the bikes across a wooden foot bridge and set a leisurely touring pace, fast enough to keep ahead of the gnats but slow enough to enjoy the scenery. The Potomac River sparkled through the trees on our right, while the towpath sloped away to the old canal bed on our left.
About a half mile from our starting point, we passed a man with a bright red mountain bike stopped beside the towpath, taking a long drink out of a glass bottle.
Bridget grinned at me over her shoulder. "Hey, Kellie, he's a man after your own heart--did you notice what he was drinking?"
"Farley's Ginger Ale. That stuff's a bit potent for me. Expensive, too. I'll stick with Canada Dry, thank you."
Bridget had thoughtfully provided water bottles, and a short distance later we pulled off for a cool drink. The man on the red bike passed, a matching red rain poncho flapping from a rack behind the seat.
I didn't see a pack or basket on the bike. "I hope he didn't throw his bottle away in the weeds back there."
Bridget rolled her eyes. "He probably did. I can't believe how trashy people can be. Especially in a beautiful setting like this."
The man skimmed past a couple walking a black Labrador, the flapping poncho eliciting a startled bark from the dog. Bridget and I waited until the couple passed before starting on.
As I rode along through the green tunnel, serenaded by birds, I tried to imagine what it was like when the canal had water in it instead of trees and draft animals walked this same path towing barges.
Jerked out of my reverie by a voice calling, "On your left," I moved to the right to allow the faster biker to pass.
I shook my head at the disappearing figure of the woman hunched over her handlebars. "Why would anyone want to ride so fast? She's missing the view."
"She's probably training for a race. Maybe she's entering the Tour de France."
Houses appeared on our left, across a road that bordered the canal, and the trees in the old canal bed gave way to mowed lawn. The openness was startling after two miles of thick woods.
We stopped to watch the antics of a flock of geese on a pond across the road. The approaching buzz of tires caught my attention and I looked back to see another mountain bike approaching, this one a dusty blue with a tool bag hanging behind the seat.
I turned to Bridget and said, "What's wrong with that picture?"
She gazed after the retreating figure. "He didn't stop and introduce himself."
I heaved a mock sigh. "You're hopeless. He's got the wrong wheels. With that beefy build and the tattoo on his arm, he looks like he belongs on a Harley-Davidson motorcycle, not a mountain bike. Besides, he's not your type."
She turned to me with a wicked grin. "Yes, he is. He's male."
We rode back into the tunnel of trees, which opened up again at the Antietam Creek camping area. A short distance beyond the campsite, the towpath narrowed to cross an aqueduct built of massive limestone blocks. The aqueduct channeled the canal over Antietam Creek, which joined the Potomac on our right.
A little farther on, I saw something red in the bushes. "Hey, Bridget, look. That guy's poncho must have worked loose."
"You'd think he would have noticed. I wonder why he was in such a hurry?"
I shrugged, not an easy feat on a bicycle. "Who knows?"
We continued for another half mile or so before Bridget stopped at the side of the path for a drink. "We should probably turn back now. This is fun, but I need to run some errands before it gets late."
"Yeah, and I have a deadline to meet."
Bridget executed a graceful figure-eight while I got off and walked my bike around to head the other way. As we approached the red poncho again from the opposite direction, a flash of light caught my eye and I slowed for a closer look.
"Hold up, Bridget, there's something else here."
Parking my bike on the edge of the gravel, I lifted the corner of the poncho and peered under it.
"Kellie? What's wrong?" Bridget's voice sounded odd, like she was talking into a trash can. She touched my arm and froze, staring down at the body of the biker, sprawled in a tangle with the shiny red bike, his face covered with shiny red blood.
I pulled myself together enough to drop the poncho, covering the grisly scene. "We have to get help. Do you know where the Antietam ranger station is?"
Bridget nodded, her eyes wide with horror.
"I'll stay here with...him while you go get the ranger. Okay?"
She stared at the poncho a minute longer and then came to life. "Yeah, okay. Are you sure you'll be all right?"
"I'll manage. Get going."
I didn't see another soul until the ranger arrived half a lifetime later. He lifted the poncho, took a quick look and turned kindly eyes on us. "Would you ladies wait over by the aqueduct? I'll call for reinforcements and then you can tell me what you know about this."
As we sat on the stonework overlooking Antietam Creek, the peaceful flow of the water helped me reassemble my wits. "I keep trying to tell myself he lost control and hit a tree or something."
Bridget stared out at the creek. "Yeah, I know what you mean. I don't want to think someone did that on purpose."
A siren coming up the road across the canal announced the arrival of reinforcements, and a few minutes later the ranger joined us, took our names and addresses and said, "Tell me about it."
I pulled my eyes off the water and faced him. "We saw the man on the bike earlier, not far from the lock. He was drinking Farley's Ginger Ale." The ranger raised an eyebrow in question. "The only place I've seen Farley's is in the health food store near the college. It's got a distinctive bottle."
Bridget nodded. "He passed us a little later, and we noticed the poncho flapping behind his bike. I thought it might get caught in the spokes if he wasn't careful."
The ranger replied with a shake of his head. "No, he didn't wreck the bike. He was hit on the head with the proverbial blunt instrument. Who else did you see on the towpath today?" I named them--the couple with the dog, the woman in a hurry and the guy with the tattoo. "He looked like the other kind of biker, you know? Like he should have been wearing black leather and chains."
That got the ranger's interest. "You say he was built like a weight lifter?"
A smile flitted across Bridget's face. "Yeah. All the right muscles in all the right places."
I closed my eyes and tried to picture the biker again. "There was something about the tattoo." I opened my eyes again and hesitated. "It wasn't what I expected. You know, a snake wrapped around an anchor or an eagle or something like that."
"What was it, a heart that said 'Mother'?"
I caught the glint of humor in the ranger's eyes and smiled at his joke, grateful for the small release of tension. "Close. From where I stood, it looked like a teddy bear."
He raised both eyebrows at that, but he didn't say anything. Instead, he tucked his notebook in his pocket and turned to leave. Before he could move, a scream pierced the air from the direction of the path. The ranger broke into a run, and after a moment's shocked silence, we followed.
Another bike lay at a crazy angle across the path and the woman we'd seen earlier stood beside it screaming, "It was Teddy, I know it was. Teddy killed him!"
Bridget and I looked at each other and mouthed "Teddy?"
The ranger was sympathetic. "Yes, ma'am. Who's Teddy?"
"My ex-boyfriend. He's the jealous kind, and mean. I told him it was over between us, but he wouldn't believe me. He must have seen me with Will. I know he was following me. And now he's killed him!"
I'd just collected a bottle of Canada Dry from the cooler at Alfie's Deli on Saturday afternoon when Bridget came through the door, shoving her flaming hair out of her face. I opened my mouth to say, "Hi," and forgot to close it. The big, beefy guy from the towpath was right behind her. There was something different about him, though.
"Hi, Kellie. Remember Teddy?"
The murderer? How could I forget? "Uh...yeah. Hi."
Teddy smiled and nodded. "Find us a table, Bridget, while I order sandwiches."
Bridget took two colas out of the cooler and steered me toward a table in the corner.
When I found the rest of my voice, I said, "Okay, Bridget, what's going on?"
"You were right about Teddy, he does ride a motorcycle. He's a vice cop."
I took a gulp of ginger ale. "So he didn't murder the guy on the towpath?"
"No, silly, she did."
Teddy set three glasses of ice on the table and scooted one in my direction. "Laney was running a real smooth drug operation. I set myself up as her boyfriend in hopes she'd let something slip, but she was too smart for that. Then I found a Farley's Ginger Ale bottle in her car. She tried to shrug it off, but I knew she didn't drink the stuff, so I kept my eyes open."
"You saw the guy on the towpath drinking Farley's?"
"No, I saw Laney stop and pick up the bottle. I hid in the trees and watched her. Under the bottle was a flat packet. She looked inside it, threw it back down and took off."
I thought back to Thursday. "The dead guy--what did she call him? Will?--went past us first, while we were stopped for a drink. Then she flew by like she was running a race. I guess she was, huh?"
Bridget nodded. "She was trying to catch Will."
Teddy downed half his cola in one gulp. "I picked up the packet, which was empty, by the way, and put it in my bag. I had someone waiting to pick me up at Antietam Creek, so I took the evidence and got outta there."
I watched the bubbles rising in my glass. "So you never even saw Will's body?"
"That's right. I didn't know she'd killed him until she tried to pin it on me. Lucky for me, I had unimpeachable witnesses. I must have been leaving the park just about the time she was killing the guy. He shouldn't have double-crossed her."
Bridget watched me take another drink before speaking. "They found the weapon next to the body--a Farley's Ginger Ale bottle."
I shuddered at the thought of a cold-blooded murder taking place just ahead of us on that peaceful trail. When the chill had passed, I looked Teddy in the eye. "I just have one question. Where's your tattoo?"
He grinned and flexed his arm. "I washed it off. It wasn't real. Do I look like the sorta guy who'd want a tattoo of a teddy bear on my arm?"
Copyright © 2000 Over My Dead Body! All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of Over My Dead Body! is prohibited. OMDB! and OMDB! logos are trademarks of Over My Dead Body!
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