Blake and Shelby Gunner think they’re living the perfect life. He’s a hotshot homicide detective and she is doing what she loves best, small theatre acting. But after an arrest goes badly and Blake is shot and injured, they decide to leave the crime-ridden city for the quiet, quirky little hamlet where he grew up. Nestled along Lake Superior in the upper peninsula of Michigan, Port Scuttlebutt isn’t as calm and serene as they anticipated. Below an innocent Mayberry surface are secrets as dangerous as the great lake’s rip currents.
Staying at The Drunken Sailor Bed and Breakfast they learn that the proprietor’s wife was killed in an unsolved hit-and-run and there’s more to this mystery than meets the eye. The mayor, the librarian, a homeless man, and a rich old woman all have legitimate motives for murder. Can the Gunners figure it out before the killer’s next victim is lying dead in the road?
Roadkill is the first mystery in the Double Barrel series, but with Blake’s background as a homicide detective and Shelby’s ability to “act” like a detective, sleuthing comes naturally to these two and murder has nowhere to hide in Port Scuttlebutt.
Targeted Age Group:: teens to adults
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
My husband and I took a road trip to the Upper Peninsula. It was fall and the bold colorful forest leaves, the blues of the lake and sky, and the quaint little shops in every tiny town we drove through remained vivid in my mind. There are many interesting places, people, and things to see. I took a lot of pictures at the time. I thought it would make a great setting for a book one day, but didn’t really pursue it until about a year later. I woke up in the middle of the night with the names of my characters, the town, the bed and breakfast in the story, and other crazy details as clear in my mind as if I’d actually been to this place. Usually when I get an idea at night, if I don’t write it down that very minute I tend to forget about it. But the next morning, it was still nagging at me. So I wrote everything down I could remember and started doing online research. A few months ago, we took another trip to the area to fuel my writing. I still plan to go in the winter when the ice caves are open. I think that would be a great place for a body to turn up.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
Most of my characters are bits and pieces of real people I've met over the years in the many places I've lived. Everyone has quirks, habits, and mannerisms that maybe aren't so strange taken separately, but in a community full of odd, funny, kind-hearted, secretive, or vengeful characters, they bring each person to life and make them memorable. My Double Barrel characters are sort of a hybrid of Murder She Wrote, Hart to Hart, Downtown Abbey, and CSI Port Scuttlebutt. I’d call them a literary Frankenstein of wonder.
Shelby opened her eyes and yawned widely. She glanced at the time on her cell phone now plugged into the Bronco’s cigarette lighter. “Are we there yet?” she asked, sitting up straighter in her seat. Ash, spruce, and pine lined the two-lane highway on either side, a wall of green and brown growing thick and tall against a clear blue sky.
Blake reached out and brushed a strand of hair away from her face. “Almost. You were out for two hours. I can’t believe you can sleep in here with your head bobbing around. Driving on this road is like twelve holes of golf in a newly plowed cornfield.”
“I can sleep just about anywhere when I’m tired. Sid and the cast kept me at the party until after two a.m. You must have been in your rem cycle sleep when I climbed into bed last night. You didn’t even budge. By the way,” she said, a smile in her voice, “he’s still upset with you for taking me away from the city.”
“Why does everyone think it’s their business what we do with our future?”
She leaned over and kissed his cheek. “Because they love us.”
“There’s the sign,” he said, pointing. “Two miles to Port Scuttlebutt.”
“I love how the name rolls off your tongue.”
“It’s not just a name, babe. It’s a way of life. Gossip flows faster here than a Lake Superior riptide. You learn to guard your heart against it, or you’ll be pulled under and swept away.”
“Nice. Makes me want to move right in, and I haven’t even seen the place yet.”
“Just giving you fair warning.”
He turned off the highway onto a county road that brought them out of the trees and within sight of the great lake. The town sat above a rocky inlet and spread out into streets like fingers on a glove. Not far off shore, seagulls rode the breeze, skimming the surface of the water, trolling for fish left stirred up in the wake of skiffs and sailboats. A couple of kids sat on a rocky outcropping, fishing lines in the water and a tackle box open between them.
“It’s beautiful!” Shelby said, surprised and eager to see more. This quaint little village couldn’t be any more pleasant and welcoming if Andy Griffith stepped out of the corner drugstore with a sheriff’s badge pinned to his shirt. She grinned at the thought.
Blake slowed to a snail’s pace and turned onto Silver Street, an ancient roadbed made of brick, a little wavy and dippy in spots but still solid and pothole free. She could see a few rooftops here and there poking up between growths of pine trees further up the hill, but this block of buildings appeared to be the hub of the booming metropolis. On the first corner was a tiny post office with blue awnings and a bright red door that made it look festively patriotic. An elderly gentleman with a snowy beard got out of an ancient Pontiac and stepped up onto the sidewalk. He turned and stared at them as they drove past.
“Don’t look now, but I think we’ve been spotted,” she said in a stage whisper, watching the man from the side mirror as he continued to stare after their car.
“Get used to it. We’re outsiders, and as such, free entertainment for all.” He gave a slight nod of his chin toward a group of middle-aged women exiting a cute little café with lace valances edging square windows. Outside, olive green window boxes were planted with early petunias and daisies. “There’s the news chain now. Word of our arrival will be all across town within ten minutes.”
“But why would they care? We could just be driving through on our way up the Peninsula, looking for a place to get lunch,” she said. A weathered storefront with a block letter sign caught her eye. NoneSuch: local art, antiques & bric-a-brac. She pointed. “Or shopping for antiques.”
“Yeah, right.” He pulled the car into a parking space in front of a Ben Franklin store and cut the engine. “I hate to burst your naïve bubble, hon, but we called ahead to stay at the B&B, remember?”
“Are you saying their phone is tapped?”
“I wouldn’t go that far, but summer tourism doesn’t kick off for another month or so, and even then I doubt Port Scuttlebutt got so much as an honorable mention in Michigan State’s vacation guide. So that means we’re the only show in town.”
“That’s too bad. A lot of people are missing out. It’s a really cute town. With a little bit of promotion, they could probably make a killing off tourists.”
“Shh, don’t say that too loud. Folks around here prefer their gossip local and their town quiet.”
They climbed out of the Bronco and while Shelby waited for Blake, she glanced down the street toward the café. The women had stopped their conversation and stared back, eyes slanted against the midday sun. The door behind the women opened, and Shelby heard a tinkling bell carried up the street on the breeze. A black man stepped out, dipping his head as he did, for he must have been seven foot tall and the doorway was not.
Blake clasped her arm, getting her attention, and turned her toward the store. She noticed he didn’t have his cane in hand. “Come on, babe. Don’t look ’em in the eye. You might turn into a pillar of salt.”
“What are we doing here?”
A razor thin man leaned over the register, his back to them. His red-checkered shirt was tucked neatly into blue jeans, held up over boney hips by means of a tightly cinched leather belt. He blew out a frustrated breath and straightened, pushing scraggly blonde hair back from his face. “Stupid piece of…”
Blake stepped quietly behind him and pushed a box of soap bars off the counter display. It hit the floor with a loud thump. The man jumped and swung around, his lanky frame weaving like a cardboard cutout. When he saw Blake, wide-eyed surprise turned instantly into a welcoming grin. “Achy Breaky!” He threw his arms around her husband and hugged him tight, then released him and stepped back to get a better look. “I can’t believe you’re really here. After all these years!”
Blake feinted left and landed a feather-light punch to the thin man’s cheek, his grin wide and boyish. “Told you I’d be back,” he said, his voice gruff with emotion.
Shelby waited for the buddy love-fest to end before clearing her throat. “So… are you going to introduce me to your friend?” she asked, reaching to pick up the soap her husband had playfully tossed to the floor. She set it back on the counter so he wouldn’t need to bend down to retrieve it. He was obviously not ready to discuss his injury with his old friend.
“This your wife?” The man gave a low whistle. “You still got it, Achy!”
Shelby looked at Blake, brows raised. “Achy Breaky?”
“He broke so many hearts here in town, he had to start dating girls from the next county.”
Blake put up a hand. “Stop with the tall tales. You haven’t even been officially introduced yet.” He drew her close to his side and put an arm around her. “This is my wife, Shelby. Shelby, this is Tucker Thompson, the worst running back this town has ever produced. But he’s a heck of a fisherman and a good friend.”
She put out a hand, but Tucker pulled her in close and gave her one of those crushing hugs he seemed to be fond of. She could feel his ribs through his shirt. The man was skin and bones. When he finally released her, she took a deep breath and smiled. “I’m very happy to meet you, Tucker. We’ll have a private conversation later, and you can tell me all about Blake’s salad days when he was green in judgment.”
Tucker leaned on the counter with one hand, his brow furrowed. “I’m not sure I…”
“My wife speaks Shakespeare as a second language.” Blake sounded slightly apologetic. “She means she wants to hear all the crazy things I did when I was young and stupid.”
“Well, that might take some time,” Tucker said, his face brightening. “How long you guys plan to stick around?”
Shelby laughed. “As long as it takes.”
“You’re staying at the B&B, right?”
“Do you really need to ask?” Blake crossed his arms. “Who told you we were coming?”
“I’d say a little bird, but it was more of an albatross. Remember Mrs. Davies? Our sixth-grade teacher? She’s even bigger now.”
“Everyone looks big to you, Tucker,” Blake said wryly. He tugged on Shelby’s arm and moved toward the door, managing to walk those few steps with only a slight limp. “We wanted to stop and say hello, but we should go check into our room and get some lunch. We’ll see you later, ok?”
“I know where to find you,” Tucker called out cheerfully as the door swung shut behind them.
The bright noon sun glared off a metal sign across the street, blinding her for a second. She slid her sunglasses back on. “Well, Achy Breaky, let’s see this bed and breakfast you’ve told me so much about.”
Barbara Ellen Brink is a multi-published author, wife of one long-suffering husband, mother to two adult children and their spouses, grandmother to a non-stop toddler, walker of one very spoiled mutt, lover of funny baby-goat videos, and a black licorice connoisseur. She grew up on a small fruit farm in Washington State, but now lives in the mean “burbs” of Minnesota. In her spare time – when she’s not reading – she likes to take her motorcycle for a spin, hang out with friends, or catch up on the latest movies.
She is the author of the best-selling Fredrickson Winery Novels; the Amish Bloodsuckers Trilogy (young adult); Second Chances series (inspirational romantic suspense); and the Double Barrel Mysteries. Her speculative/thriller, Split Sense, won the 2012 Grace Award, and her mystery, Much Ado About Murder, won the 2015 Grace Award.
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