The Castle Caper: A Cozy Mystery
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In book 14 in the series, strange lights, sounds in the night, cold drafty spaces, and moved and missing items, can only mean one thing to the locals who’ve lived in the isolated Scottish countryside for generations. But in spite of the assurance of the villagers that the other worldly pranksters will have their fun and then leave, the new owner of the Faulkner Castle hires Tony to come to Scotland and install a state-of-the-art security system. Tony doesn’t believe in ghosts and the job seems like a perfect opportunity to take some time away from White Eagle, so he talks to Tess, and they agree to make the trip. Fun is had by all until Tess spots her dad in a local pub and realizes that something more than they originally thought might actually be going on.
Release date: September 20, 2022
Publisher: Kathi Daley Books
Print pages: 200
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The Castle Caper: A Cozy Mystery
“Morning, Hap,” I said to Hap Hollister, owner of the only home and hardware store in the area. Hap had been a fixture in the small community of White Eagle, Montana, since I’d been a child, and he was one of my favorite people to visit with when I was in town.
“Tess, Tilly,” he said, including my dog, Tilly, in the greeting. “What a nice surprise. I wasn’t expecting to see you until you returned from your trip.”
“We leave for Scotland on Sunday, but Tony wanted to get a few repairs done before we head out. I guess you heard that Aspen will be staying at the house to watch the animals while we’re away.”
“I had heard that. I can’t say I’ve had the opportunity to get to know Aspen well, but she seems like a nice girl. How’s she working out at the shelter?”
Aspen Wood was the newest employee at the White Eagle Animal Shelter. Aspen had both wild and domestic animal experience and was exactly the type of person I’d hoped we’d find when the volunteer coordinator quit unexpectedly.
“She’s working out even better than we’d hoped. Truth be told, Aspen knows more about wild animal rehabilitation than either Brady or me.” I referred to White Eagle’s only veterinarian, Brady Baker. “Honestly, I’m not sure how we were lucky enough to be looking for someone at the exact time Aspen was considering her options, but I really think that she’s going to be instrumental in helping Brady and me expand in the manner we’d hoped.”
“I’m happy to hear that. You know how much I admire the work the two of you are doing. How’s the training going?”
I took a piece of hard candy from the jar on the counter and popped it into my mouth. “It’s going well. Tilly and I have been helping with the training the way we always have.” I paused. “Well, at least to a point. Tony and I have taken several trips this year, so that’s affected my ability to put in as much time as I’d planned, but Brady and I have recruited several volunteer trainers who are doing an excellent job, so I feel like we’ve made a huge step toward our goal.”
“And what about the search and rescue aspect of your enterprise?” Hap asked.
I tilted my head slightly. “That idea hasn’t panned out the way Brady and I envisioned. At least not yet. Brady and his dog, Tracker, are active on the Kalispell team, but Brady’s idea to put together a team here in White Eagle hasn’t come together. I think the problem is time. Brady sincerely wants to train a group of dogs and handlers and then create a team, but he’s a full-time veterinarian. Ever since Lilly left, he’s been on his own. I suspect that unless he can find another veterinarian to cover when he needs to be away, the search and rescue thing will fall to the wayside. Having said that,” I continued, “I’ve been working with Kody, and Brady has been grooming a couple pups for training, so it doesn’t seem as if he’s totally given up on the idea.”
“I guess there are times in life when choices are necessary.”
“That’s very true.”
He glanced at the list in my hand. “You said you needed supplies for repairs.”
I nodded. “The toilet in the guest bathroom has been temperamental, and the sink in the kitchen has developed a slow leak. Tony wanted to make these repairs as well as a few others before we left. Aspen is doing us a huge favor by taking care of our dogs and cats while we’re away, so we wanted everything to be perfect for her.”
“Did Tony write down what he needs?”
I nodded and handed Hap the list.
“I heard that Shaggy is going to Scotland with you,” he said, referring to Tony’s best friend and game developer, as he grabbed a shopping basket and began to gather the supplies Tony had requested. “Will he be dropping Buddy off at your house as well?” Hap asked about Shaggy’s dog.
“Yes, Buddy will be hanging out with our crew while we’re away.”
Hap glanced at Tilly. “Will your sidekick be staying behind as well?”
“Actually, she’ll be going with us. With all our recent traveling, she’s been left behind a lot, and we hated leaving her again. Titan and Kody seem fine with staying home, but Tilly becomes depressed and often forgets to eat when we’re away. When I expressed my concern about leaving her alone again so soon after our last trip, Tony arranged for a private flight, allowing her to travel with us. I’m really going to miss all the animals. I always do when Tony and I travel, but I am happy that Tilly will be able to come along.”
“I’m sure she’ll enjoy some one-on-one time with you. It was just the two of you for a lot of years, but now there are other people and animals that demand a portion of your time.”
“That’s true. I try to be sensitive to Tilly’s needs, but we have a full house at this point, and when Buddy and Kody get together, things tend to get rowdy.”
“It’ll be fun for the two pups to have an extended play date. Is Shaggy helping Tony with the job at the castle?” I supposed it made sense that Hap would wonder why Shaggy was going along with us.
“No. I guess there’s a video game convention of some sort that Tony and Shaggy want to attend. Shaggy and Shanti plan to tag along with us, which will actually be nice for me since Tony will be working much of the time.”
Hap tossed a bag filled with different sized washers into the shopping basket. He looked at the list and then headed toward the copper pipe. “It might be a good idea to attend a video game convention given the fact that Tony and Shaggy have a new game coming out in a few months. The convention will give them the opportunity to build some hype.”
“That’s what Shaggy said. And Tony’s schedule will be flexible while we’re in Scotland, so it should work out okay.”
“What exactly is Tony heading over there to do?”
I followed behind Hap as he loaded the shopping basket with the items on Tony’s list. “A man he worked for on another project, Ritchie Alexander, purchased a real Scottish castle and is using it as an inn, which I guess is currently a popular use for the old castles that are scattered throughout the countryside. He’s updated the infrastructure and installed a state-of-the-art computer system. The problem is that there’s something odd going on with the new smart computer and security system. Ritchie wants Tony to figure out what’s causing all these little problems and then fix them so they won’t continue to occur.”
Hap picked up a couple plastic fittings and added them to the shopping basket. “What sort of little problems are we talking about?”
I shrugged. “I don’t know the specifics, but I think the lights have been flickering, strange noises have been heard, and the computer system has been experiencing glitches. A few weeks ago, the computer turned the heat up to high. Since it was a hot day, the castle had to be evacuated until they could get the glitch fixed.”
“I guess it would be a problem if the computer system was all wonky. I’ve heard a few stories about some of those smart homes going off on a tangent and making life miserable for the homeowner. Personally, I think I’d prefer my house to be dumb.” He chuckled. “To be honest, I’m surprised to hear that the guy who bought the castle would install a system such as that if he was going for an authentic old-world feel.”
“That’s what I thought, but Tony seemed to think that Ritchie was going for fantasy authentic rather than actualauthentic. Based on what Tony has shared, the place still has the feel of a castle with stone walls and floors, fireplaces in every room, and strategically yet sparingly placed windows. Tony assures me that the place feels like the real deal, and I guess in a way it is, but beneath the illusion of authentic old-world charm is a smart computer that runs everything.”
“So this guy is after the Disneyland effect where everything seems real, but nothing actually is.”
“Exactly.” I turned and glanced toward Hap’s front window. “As long as I’m here, I want to buy some of those spiders and fake cobwebs you used to decorate your window. We won’t be home until the twenty-seventh, so I want to decorate the house a bit before we go.”
“If you’re looking to brighten things up a bit, I have a special on those little orange lights.”
“I know Tony had some from last year, but it does seem as if he had to throw a few strings away at the end of the season. I’m not sure we’ll have time to hang them, but go ahead and give me a dozen boxes. I’d like to brighten the place up for Aspen. Since Halloween is just a few weeks away, I’m sure she’d appreciate the effort.”
“I have battery-operated spiders that climb up a web.”
“I do love a good spider illusion at Halloween.”
“I’ll grab a couple spiders and throw in a couple bats with glowing eyes as well.”
Hap confirmed that he’d included everything on Tony’s list along with the items I’d requested, rang everything up, and helped me load it into my car. Tony had an account at the store, and Hap invoiced him monthly, so it wasn’t necessary for me to use my credit card. Once my car was loaded, I said goodbye to Hap, crossed the street, and headed to Sisters’ Diner. I doubted I’d get back into town before we left on Sunday, so I wanted to say goodbye to Mom and Aunt Ruthie.
“It looks like Mom and Aunt Ruthie have been decorating,” I told Tilly. Not only was there a colorful fall wreath on the door, but Mom had set up a tiny fall village in the window. I was sure there would also be fall leaves draped over the counter. Mom and Aunt Ruthie, along with most of the merchants in White Eagle, tended to go all out with their fall decorations.
“Tess, I’m so glad you stopped by before you left on your trip.” Mom hugged me while Aunt Ruthie slipped Tilly a dog cookie after we walked in through the front door.
“I’ve always wanted to go to Scotland,” Aunt Ruthie said. “The mystery and romance of the place have captured my imagination since I was a young woman. In fact, Scotland was one of the places I was sure I was going to visit one day.”
“It’s not too late,” I said.
“Maybe not, but I guess if I’m ever going to do it, I’d better do it soon. I’m not getting any younger, you know.”
“You’re plenty young enough to go to Scotland. And if you go, you should stay in a castle like Tony and I will be doing.”
“That does sound romantic.”
“It really does,” I agreed. “I love everything about the idea. In some ways, I’m still trying to wrap my head around how old the place actually is. I’m really excited about the trip.”
“Will you be back in time for the Halloween Festival?” Mom asked.
I nodded. “We get back on the twenty-seventh, and the festival is the twenty-eighth through the thirty-first. We’ll likely be too jetlagged to do much of anything on the twenty-eighth, but I’m sure we’ll make it into town at some point over the weekend.”
“I’m afraid the festival won’t be nearly as well attended as it has been the past couple of years when you and Tony ran things,” Mom added. “Last year was exceptional, and the town made a lot of money. The new coordinator has decided to ditch the haunted house this year.”
“I heard that the committee decided against the haunted house,” I said. “I was sorry to hear that, but the pancake breakfast and kiddie carnival will be fun.”
“I guess that’s true, but everyone I’ve talked to has expressed their hope that you and Tony will be back at the helm next year.”
I wasn’t sure I wanted to commit to that, so I changed the subject and asked about the dinner and movie night Mom had mentioned hosting at one point. I knew Mike and Bree planned to take Baby Ella trick or treating on Monday, the thirty-first, but it seemed that Bree mentioned they’d be free for dinner Sunday. Tony and I would be arriving home late on Thursday, and we’d likely need Friday and Saturday to settle in, so Sunday would work the best for us.
“I thought I’d make a roast,” Mom said. “Mike and Tony both seem to enjoy a traditional Sunday meal.”
“Roast sounds good,” I agreed. “I love the potatoes and baby carrots, and your gravy is the best I’ve ever had.”
Mom smiled. “I thought I’d invite Sam. The two of us have been doing Sunday dinners together now that you kids are married and don’t come around as often.”
“I think inviting Sam is a wonderful idea. If you want Tony and me to bring anything, just text me and let me know what you need. Maybe a dessert.”
“I think Bree mentioned bringing a dessert, but I’ll check with her and let you know.”
Tilly and I still wanted to pop in and say hi to Mike at the police station and Bree at the bookstore, so we wrapped things up as quickly as we could and continued down the street. The police station was closest to the diner, so Tilly and I popped in there first.
“Tess, Tilly,” Mike’s deputy, Frank Hudson, greeted us as Mike’s dog, Leonard, came barreling down the hallway.
“Hi, Frank, Gage,” I included Mike’s newest recruit, Gage Wilson, in the greeting. “Is Mike in his office?”
“He is,” Frank answered.
“I just wanted to check in with him before Tony and I head out of town.” I bent down to greet Leonard. “I’ll leave Tilly here with you and Leonard if that’s okay.”
“That’s perfectly fine,” Frank said.
“Can Tilly have a dog cookie?” Gage asked.
“She can,” I answered as he opened his desk and took out a cookie for each dog.
I thanked Gage on Tilly’s behalf and then headed down the hallway.
Mike looked up when I walked into his office. “The way Leonard took off, I thought it might be you and Tilly.”
“I just wanted to stop in and say goodbye before Tony, Tilly, and I head out early on Sunday morning.”
“I guess you must be excited about the big trip.”
I grinned. “So much. You have no idea. I was just chatting with Mom and Aunt Ruthie about the mystery and romance of the whole thing, and it hit home just how excited I really am.”
“It sounds as if you’ll have a wonderful time.”
“I’m sure we will, but it’s a big trip, and for some reason, I’m beginning to feel anxious.”
I shrugged. “I guess the knot in my stomach is just excitement, all wrapped up with impatience to get the travel portion of the trip behind us. It’s going to be such a long flight.”
“It will be a long flight, but maybe you’ll be able to sleep at least part of the way.”
“I hope so. Listen, one of the reasons I stopped by was to ask you if you could check in with Aspen a few times while we’re away. She’s going to be staying at the house so she can take care of the animals. I’m sure everything will be fine, but I told her that she should call you if anything came up, and she was unable to get ahold of Tony or me.”
“Yeah, I’ll look in on her. How’s she doing with the new job?”
“So well,” I smiled. “Aspen is very knowledgeable, and her personality allows her to get along with everyone.”
“And Brady? Is he happy with the situation as well?”
I nodded. “He is. Aspen has a lot of really great ideas, and I know that Aspen and Brady have spent a lot of time together making plans.”
“Are you okay with that?”
I understood why Mike was asking me this since it had initially been Brady and me who’d been huddled up making plans.
“I am. Aspen is really nice, and she has the time to commit to the project. Tony and I have discussed the idea of extensive travel in the next year or so. We want to experience as much as possible before we settle in and have children.”
Mike chuckled. “Now, that’s a good idea. I knew that having a child would limit the options available to Bree and me, but I guess I never knew how much we’d have to give up.”
“Maybe Tony and I can watch Ella for a week or two so you and Bree can go somewhere nice. Just the two of you. Maybe Hawaii. Or Bora Bora. I hear that Bora Bora is gorgeous, and the beaches aren’t as crowded as those in Hawaii. Of course, Bora Bora is much harder to get to, and I understand the lodging can get pricy, so perhaps Hawaii would be the better choice.”
Mike laughed. “I’m sure either would be nice. To be honest, anywhere away from jobs, child, and community responsibilities would be wonderful. It’s been a while since we’ve really had time to relax. Bree is already talking about a second child. It might be a good idea to try to take a trip before we start trying.”
“I definitely think you should take some time to relax before even considering baby number two.” I paused. “I’m somewhat surprised that Bree is already talking about a second child.”
“She wants to have three children, all close in age. When she first brought up the idea of going off birth control, I thought she was nuts, but then she pointed out that even if we got pregnant right away, Ella would already be two by the time the baby was born.”
Wow. Time really did fly. “If Bree is thinking baby, then I definitely think you should plan to travel sooner rather than later. Tony and I don’t have plans once we get back from Scotland, at least not until after the first of the year. Why don’t you talk to Bree about it, and we can come up with some dates that will work for both of us.”
Mike nodded, “I will. And thanks, Tess.”
After I left the police station, I headed down the street toward the Book Boutique. Bree was finishing up with a customer, so Tilly and I browsed while we waited. I noticed Bree had a new display featuring books with a Halloween feel. There were several that I was tempted to buy, although I really doubted I’d get around to enjoying any of them. I tended to be one of those book buyers who bought on a whim but never really got around to doing much reading.
Once the customer left, Bree turned the open sign to closed and came over to greet me.
“You didn’t have to close on my behalf,” I said.
“I didn’t. The babysitter has to leave early today, so I’d planned to close in time to relieve her. Will you be in town long?”
“No. I had to pick up some supplies for Tony, so I decided to stop and say goodbye before we leave, but I can’t stay long.”
Bree’s eyes widened. “That’s right, you’re leaving this Sunday. I totally lost track of the date. I guess I won’t see you again before you leave for your trip.”
“I guess not. I talked to Mom, and she said she’s still planning to do the dinner and movie thing on the thirtieth. Tony and I come home on the twenty-seventh, so I guess I’ll see you then.”
“Okay. Take a bunch of pictures. I’m afraid the only traveling Mike and I will be doing in the near future will be vicarious.”
“Ella is getting older. You should consider leaving her with Tony and me for a week or two.”
A wishful look softened her face. “That would be nice.”
“I mentioned it to Mike when I saw him, and he liked the idea too. The two of you should sit down and make some plans.”
Bree hugged me. “Thanks, Tess. Some time away might be just the sort of thing we need.”
“I like your decorations,” I said, changing the subject. I’d noticed a look that had flashed across Bree’s face that seemed to indicate that she and Mike might be having problems. Again. Usually, I’d ask about it, but Mike and Bree’s relationship often mirrored a tiny boat in choppy water, and I really didn’t have time to listen to a long-drawn-out story about what the fiery couple was fighting about this time.
“Thanks. I really enjoyed putting everything out this year. I brought Ella in with me the other day, and she sat in her stroller and watched as I hung lights and garland and set out the little buildings I’ve been collecting.”
“I bet she loved the lights.”
“She did. Her favorite was the carousel that not only goes around and around but plays music as well.”
The carousel featured ghosts, monsters, and colorful pumpkins rather than horses, but it played a pleasant tune, and I was sure that any baby would be enchanted by it.
I chatted with Bree for a few more minutes and then hugged her goodbye. Tilly and I then headed back to my car. The trip up the mountain was a pleasant one in the fall, so I decided to slow things down and simply enjoy the yellow and orange leaves that dusted the countryside. There were parts of the road leading up toward the lake with so many yellow leaves scattered across its surface that it looked like someone had carpeted the road. I really did love this time of year. I was excited about the trip overseas, but part of me was just a bit sad that I wouldn’t be home in White Eagle, Montana, during my favorite time of the year.
Titan and Kody came up to greet the car when I pulled into the drive, which most likely meant Tony was outside. I opened the tailgate and allowed Tilly to jump out. She greeted the other dogs, and then all three headed toward the back. I took my packages inside, set them on the counter, and headed to the back deck.
“You’re home,” Tony, who’d been working in his raised herb beds, greeted.
“I am, and I got everything you asked for along with a few things you didn’t ask for.”
He gave me a curious look.
I held up a box of orange lights.
“You know, I was just thinking about stringing some lights. I have a box with lights from last year up in the attic. I’ll grab that, and we’ll see how much we can get done before the sun goes down.”
“Which gives us less than two hours.”
“We’ll start with the back deck area and the front entrance. Even if that’s as far as we get, it will be enough to provide atmosphere.”
“I wanted to get some pumpkins from the pumpkin patch for the front porch, but I imagine they’ll be picked over by the time we get home.”
“Maybe you can go and get a few while I fix the plumbing tomorrow.”
“I might do that. I still need to pack, but that won’t take long. I think I’ll tie those scarecrows we used last year to the support beams for the patio roof.”
“I’m pretty sure I saw them next to the box with the lights.”
Tony and I worked side by side until the sun set, and then Tony made a dish featuring pasta, olive oil, olives, and gorgonzola cheese while I buttered some bread and heated it under the broiler. Once we’d served up plates of food and poured the wine, we settled on the deck under our orange lights and watched the world go dark. I loved these peaceful and relaxing moments when it was just Tony and me. I thought about Mike and Bree and the hectic lives they led and wondered if I’d ever be ready to disrupt what Tony and I had to make room for a child. Then I thought of Ella, who really was the cutest baby in the entire world, and realized that once our baby arrived and we held him or her in our arms, the things we’d had to give up would likely seem a whole lot less important than they seemed to me at this moment.
“A penny for your thoughts,” Tony said as he divided the last of the wine between us.
“I stopped by and talked to Mike today. Did you know Mike and Bree are already talking about a second baby?”
Tony raised a brow. “Really? It seems soon.”
“That was my thought as well, but then Mike pointed out that Bree wants three children close in age, and even if they got pregnant right away, Ella would already be two when the baby was born.”
Tony took a sip of his wine. “I guess she would. I never really stopped to think about it that way.”
“I offered to babysit Ella if Mike and Bree want to go on a trip before Bree gets pregnant. Mike thought that was a wonderful idea. I suggested somewhere tropical, but he seemed to think anywhere would be nice as long as it was just him and Bree.”
“It’d be fun to have Ella for a week or two. Did Mike say when they might want to do this?”
“No. Just that it would be soon. Mike was going to talk to Bree about it. I told him we didn’t have any plans after we returned from this trip. We don’t have plans, do we?”
“Nothing that’s more important than spending time with the little nugget.” Tony began gathering the dishes. “I guess we should think about having an early night. The next few days are going to be exhausting.”
Maybe, but, as Mike suggested I should, I did hope to sleep on the plane. I wasn’t always able to do so, but it was going to be a really long flight, and I was afraid the trip would be stressful if I wasn’t able to sleep at least part of the way.
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