Do you yearn for a life of freedom?
Minnie Crockwell is a free spirit. She travels the USA in her RV, with a very polite ghost named Ben in tow, exploring the country and, of course, solving crime. The life of a digital nomad has occasionally called to me, but I think I’m better off hearing about others’ adventures. To me it seems that the Will Travel for Trouble mysteries are the perfect confluence of living an adventurous life vicariously through literature.
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This week’s mystery author
Minnie Crockwell has traveled and lived in too many styles of RVs to remember. Without a land yacht at present, she lives in a sticks and bricks home in Virginia and wonders what her next RV purchase will be. She’s shopping!
Minnie also writes time travel romance novels as Bess McBride.
Learn more about Minnie/Bess and all her books at BessMcBride.com.
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Excerpt from Trouble at Happy Trails
I pulled into the campground slowly, never quite sure what dangers lurked in the form of poles, signs, small children, errant tree limbs and one-way roads.
I paused for a moment and surveyed what would be my new domain for the next week or so. The office was clearly visible several hundred feet away, and marked helpfully with a sign which read “Office.” Always a good start to a campground stay!
While no longer a complete novice driver of a 37-foot recreational vehicle, I didn’t allow myself to relax my vigilance either. I drew my eyebrows and surveyed the approach to the office. A hard sharp 30-degree angle turn came between me, my rig and the office.
I pulled the wheel hard to the right, made the turn and rolled to a stop in front of the small one-story, nondescript beige building. Turning off the engine and setting the brake, I made my way to the door on the passenger side of the RV and clambered down the steps with a groan. Driving for 8 hours straight from the Oregon coast with only two rest stops was not the ideal RV traveling day, but I had been determined to reach my reserved spot at the Happy Trails RV Park in Spokane, Washington, before darkness set in.
Maneuvering into a site, hauling out hoses and cords, and finding the appropriate hookups (and determining whether they were working or not) was not one of my favorite parts of living on the road in a tin can (albeit an expensive tin can). But one grew used to it, along with the perks of electricity and running water. It was not something I wanted to do in the dark…ever.
I approached the office and jumped back as a middle-aged man, dressed in a snug T-shirt and form-fitting jeans, burst out of the office.
“We’ll see about that,” he said. He saw me, muttered a “scuse me” and hurried off in the general direction of the RVs peacefully parked in uniform rows on a diagonal slant.
“Hmmm,” I muttered under my breath. That wasn’t promising. Would I have trouble at this park?
I pushed open the door with some hesitation. Was the staff member inside just as angry as the man who had left? What was that all about?
A short, plump woman stood behind the counter with her back to the door. From the looks of her shaking, hunched shoulders, she appeared to be crying. Apparently, she hadn’t heard me open the door.
I cleared my throat loudly. In the past three months of traveling full time in my RV I can’t say that I had come across this situation before—a blubbering campground office attendant. Certainly, I had encountered abrupt, hasty, harried, tired, bored, ignorant and withdrawn attendants, but never one in tears. To be fair, the majority of RV park and campground attendants and hosts were helpful, friendly, welcoming and knowledgeable. It remained to be seen whether the short-haired blonde woman in a bright pink flowered tunic would be one of those.
Who was the man? A disgruntled camper? Those were common. An unhappy husband? Those were just as common. Thank goodness I didn’t have one…or hadn’t had one for years.
I cleared my throat again, and this time, she looked over her right shoulder and jumped. She wiped at her face and smiled tremulously, her hot pink-lipsticked mouth puckering at the corners.
“Is everything all right?” I asked. What could I do? I couldn’t just ignore the fact that she’d been sobbing only a few seconds ago and probably still would be if I hadn’t walked in.
“Oh, sure,” she murmured, still dabbing at her face with the back of her hands. She approached the counter and looked up at me with reddened eyes which made her bright blue eyes that much brighter. She appeared to be in her early 60s.
“You know how it is with husbands,” she said.
“No, not really,” I said. “I gave the marriage thing a running start when I was in my early 20s, but I couldn’t go the distance.” What a hokey analogy! There was only one man I would have considered marrying now, in fact, wanted to marry, but John didn’t seem willing to give me another chance…at marriage. I pushed thoughts of my ex-husband aside for the moment. I still loved that man!
“Well, Carl and I have been going the distance for about six years now, but he wants out.”
Six years? Somehow, I thought they must have been married longer, given their ages. Again, what could I say to such an intimate revelation from a stranger?
“I’m so sorry!” My immediate impression was that she was better off without him. However, I had learned over the years that my first impressions were almost always wrong. There was some comfort in being old enough to know that about myself. Turning 40 had been eye opening.
“Thank you,” she murmured. She sniffed and visibly straightened her shoulders. “I’m so sorry you found me like this. Now, do you have a reservation?”
“Yes, I do. Minerva Crockwell.”
“Oh, yes, here you are. What a great old-fashioned name!”
I smiled. I’d heard that before. “I was named after my grandmother, but I go by Minnie.”
“Like the mouse,” the attendant smiled. When not grieving, she seemed to be a sweet woman.
“Like Minerva,” I said with a grin. “I had enough teasing about Minnie Mouse when I was a kid.”
“My name is Sally Richardson,” she said. “That was my husband, Carl. He does the maintenance around here.”
She busied herself with paperwork, and I handed over my payment card at her request.
“So, do you and your husband live here all year, or….” I let the words hang, hoping she would fill in the blanks.
“No. The park is only open from April through the end of October. Winters get cold up here, not like on the west side of Washington State.”
“I know the west side pretty well,” I said. “I sold my house there about three months ago and hit the road full time in my RV.”
“Oh, that’s nice. Are you working on the road? Or retired? You look too young to be retired.”
I scrunched my nose. I always hated this question. I had retired young. People wondered if I was independently wealthy. Not a chance!
“I am retired actually…from federal service. Early retirement doesn’t pay much, but I managed to put some money away over the years. Mostly by not traveling. So, now I’m making up for it.”
Which explained why I hated the question “Are you retired?” It was a common question asked of most people who live and travel full time in their RVs. I felt some inexplicable need to over share and explain how I could afford to drive an oversized expensive rig around the country at a fairly young age when most other people were still slogging away in 9-5 jobs and dreaming of the life I now had. Plus I didn’t want anyone to think that federal service paid so well that everyone could afford to retire early. Hardly the case.
Nope! Twenty plus years of savings, an early retirement, the sale of my small house with a modest profit, a good deal on an RV, and a little bit of help from Ben, my hunky ghost companion, was all I needed.
As if she read my mind, Sally asked “Are you traveling alone?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Oh, come now, Minerva! Why do you keep denying me? Muster the courage and simply tell the good woman that you are accompanied by the ghost of a fellow traveler, albeit a man of the eighteenth century.
I ignored the voice of my constant companion. I had picked Ben up within the first month of my travels in the RV. Or rather, he had picked me up. I had gone to the nearby coast of western Washington to practice driving and living in the RV while waiting for my house to sell. One of my stops had been to the Lewis and Clark Interpretative Center at Cape Disappointment State Park, the western terminus for the Corps of Discovery’s mission to explore and map the American West.
When I returned to my RV at the campground, Ben had somehow joined me. I could describe the fear, terror, anxiety, self-doubt, angst, annoyance, and concern for my sanity that Ben’s disembodied voice elicited, but suffice it to say I felt all the emotions a woman would normally feel when she hears the voice of a man in her house…and knows she is alone behind locked doors. I checked the radio. It was off. I opened the door to try to locate the voice outside. Loud neighbors? A loudspeaker announcing a tsunami warning? Something easier to deal with than an intangible voice? No luck.
Madam, what is this conveyance and why have you brought me here?
Those had been Ben’s first words to me.
Peregrine Ebenezer Alvord.
In a pained voice, he said I could call him Ben when I tried out “Perry” as a nickname. His slightly British accent was the least peculiar thing about him, but perhaps the one thing that kept me from going over the edge into complete insanity. I do so love a British accent.
Yes, Miss Crockwell, I am British by birth but American by allegiance. I am an officer in the United States Army assigned to the Corps of Discovery mission under Captains Meriwether Lewis and William Clark.
That was then.
Now, I shrugged my shoulders and ignored Ben.
“Well, that’s brave of you.” Sally’s face puckered. “I don’t know what I’m going to do if Carl leaves me. I can’t drive our RV. It’s too big for me.”
I laid my hand on hers. “You’ll be fine. I know it seems scary to drive the big rigs, but if your husband does leave, you have choices. You can learn to drive it or sell it. But I can tell everything seems very hard right now.”
Sally smiled sadly. “It does. Thank you for the pep talk. I’m so sorry you caught me like this.”
I gathered up the park map and my receipt and put on my best reassuring smile.
“You’re welcome, Sally. See you later.”
Well done, Minerva! I believe your sympathy helped her.
I stepped outside into the sunshine and dragged in a breath of air.
“That’s hardly much help, is it, Ben? But there’s nothing I can do for her.”
No. Sadly, I think not. Her husband seemed quite angry when he left. Perhaps he will calm down.
“Maybe,” I said skeptically. “Let’s go find my site.”
From the map, I deduce you must turn to the left, and your site will be located approximately halfway down the road.
I climbed into the RV, still after all this time leaving the door open as if Ben physically followed me in. Of course, he didn’t, but I just couldn’t slam the door right behind me for fear of hitting him.
“How did you see the map? I kept it hidden just to tease you.”
Please, madam. I am a navigator and a cartographer. Of course, I saw a map—the one located on the wall behind the sad woman.
“Of course,” I said with a smile. I put the RV in gear and made the left turn, allowing Ben to guide me in. Not everyone had their own personal navigator, but I did. It was nice.
I negotiated the RV into my spot without difficulty and got out to hook up electric and water. Only about 20 feet separated me from my neighbors on either side, one a huge diesel pusher that looked to be about 40 some feet long. They seemed to have been at the park for a while since they had three folding chairs out in front of their RV over an indoor/outdoor carpet and decorative lights hanging from their awning. The other RV on my left was a smaller travel trailer that looked quick and light to pull.
I hadn’t yet gone so far as to advertise myself with bright twinkling lights though I did admire them from afar.
Do not forget the flamingos.
“Of course not,” I answered Ben. I hauled out my two pink plastic flamingos and positioned them prominently by the front door.
“Where are you from?” came the inevitable question. I turned around. An older man had come from around the front of the diesel pusher to my right. He paused.
“Oh, here and there. Washington lately. Yourself?” I asked. These sorts of conversations were unavoidable, and as antisocial as I could be at times, not always welcome. Today though I didn’t mind. Ben loved the conversations and often chatted with me about our neighbors. He, however, was able to see behind closed doors, though he didn’t often use that particular skill since eavesdropping and spying on people seemed to offend his sense of right and wrong. I usually had no compunction in asking him if he had seen anything interesting. In fact, I rather thought I might ask him to let me know what was going on behind the closed doors of Sally and Carl’s RV.
“We’re here from Minnesota. We were visiting my grandchildren in the area. The wife is inside resting.”
“That’s nice,” I said. I had yet to add Minnesota to my map of states I had camped in and could think of nothing at the moment to comment on.
“Nice birds,” he said with a toothy grin.
“Yes,” I responded. “I like them. I was admiring your hanging lights as I pulled in. Are those little palm trees?”
“Yeah, the wife picked them out. I think they’re kind of gaudy, but I’m not in charge.”
I smiled again, unwilling to pursue that line further.
“What are ya doing here in Spokane? Visiting family yourself?”
“No, I’m just traveling around, seeing the USA. You know…”
He scrunched his face. “No family here?”
I sighed. “No.” Sometimes, I wished I had more family, but my parents had passed. I did have one brother living in Arizona, but I hardly ever saw him. We weren’t very close. Maybe too much distance.
“Just traveling around, huh?” His expression told me he didn’t understand wandering the roads without a particular destination.
“Yes,” I said with a bright smile.
“Well, that’s interesting,” he said in the tone of one who didn’t think it was.
“Well, I’d better get inside and get my air conditioning on.”
“We just leave our door and windows open. Hardly ever use the air conditioning.”
With one foot on the first step of my RV, I turned around and smiled beatifically. Ah! The minimalist sort of RVer. Not for me.
“I like my air,” I said in a defiant tone. “Have a nice day!”
I climbed into the RV, closed the door and turned around. Neighbor Right still stood there checking out the lines of my RV.
Minerva, if you found a purpose to your travels, you would not feel as awkward as you do when someone inquires into the particulars of your journey.
“I know, Ben. I know. I thought just traveling around seeing the good ole USA would be enough adventure, but half the folks traveling around seem to have something to do besides just drive to new places. You’re right. We talked about this before. I have to find something to do with myself.”
We shall put our heads together and plan. He chuckled, a warm deep laugh that made me smile.
Ben was all up in my business, so to speak. At first, I had resented it, and occasionally, I still did. But there were other days I appreciated his companionship. It saved me from talking to a large rabbit.
“Well, for now, I’m going to make some dinner. What shall I have?”
Let us have soup tonight, some of that nonsense in cans that you enjoy so much.
“It’s easy and convenient,” I said. “It’s not like you have to eat it.”
Ah! But I can taste it…through you.
I turned from the pantry and looked behind me as if Ben stood there.
“Really? Are you serious?”
Very serious! Through you, I can taste, smell, and feel tactile objects. Among other things.
“I didn’t know that. Why didn’t you tell me before?” I wondered what the “other things” were but hesitated to ask.
I was wary of revealing too much to you at once. Remember how terrified you were of my presence when I first manifested myself to you? An honorable man would not have inflicted such terror upon an innocent woman, but as you now know, I had no choice.
I could almost imagine that he shrugged.
“That’s still debatable, my friend. I think you just saw an easy target to latch onto—a single woman—and you hitched a ride out of Cape Disappointment.” I smiled to lessen the sting of my words though I probably didn’t need to. Ben usually knew what I was thinking.
Madam, I am mortified that you would consider me capable of such ignoble behavior. “Latch onto” indeed. You know full well that something occurred between us which keeps me bound to you.
I didn’t hear him chuckle. As usual, I became uncomfortable when Ben got too profound in his comments. I didn’t think it was something that he could help. My research into his era indicated that his flowery language was common amongst the well born and educated of the late eighteenth century.
I said nothing but opened the can of soup, poured it into my favorite soup cup and stuck it in the microwave. Ben fell silent as well. Sometimes, he disappeared for hours, and I’m not sure where he went in ghost terms.
I ate dinner, watched a little television and readied myself for bed. Ben and I had long ago agreed that he would give me privacy at certain times, especially when bathing and changing.
I had just slipped into my jammies when I heard a horrific scream from somewhere outside. My heart pounded and my mouth went dry.
“Ben! What is it? Can you tell?”
Ben didn’t answer. I ran to the door, unlocked it and peered out. Darkness had fallen, and the park was relatively silent except for a strong breeze that blew through a nearby oak tree.
“Ben?” I whispered. Where was he?
A high-pitched wailing began, sending a shiver up my back. What on earth was that? A cat? Was I the only one hearing all this racket?
Thankfully, porch lights popped on at several of the nearby RVs.
The wailing stopped. I lowered myself to the first step, fully aware that I was in my nightgown.
“Ben!” I whispered.
A figure emerged from the shadows just outside my RV.
The porch light reflected Sally Richardson staggering past my rig on her way to who knows where. Her pink tunic was wet, appearing dark red. She held her hands up in front of her like Lady MacBeth.
Ignoring my attire, I jumped down the last step and called out.
“Sally! Sally! Are you all right?” I ran toward her.
She turned to me, her mouth working but no sounds came out. She smelled heavily of copper and metal. The smell of blood! She had blood all over her hands and clothes!
Please take care, Minerva. I fear she may have murdered her husband.