C. C. Harrison has won national recognition for her suspense novels. Her most recent book, “Death by G-String,” a Coyote Canyon Ladies Ukulele Club mystery, is set in the Rocky Mountains in a town inspired by Crested Butte. The book is a 2019 Colorado Independent Publishers Association EVVY Award finalist, an American Fiction Award finalist, and was shortlisted for the Mystery and Mayhem Award. Harrison is also a reviewer for the New York Journal of Books. A long-time resident of Colorado, she now lives in Arizona.
The following is an excerpt from “Death by G-String.”
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit
2019 Colorado Book Awards winner for Mystery
The following excerpt is from Chapter Six. Viva Winter has gone up the mountain to the Coyote Canyon Peace and Healing Center to meet with Center director Zoey Birch to discuss the ukulele club’s participation in a music therapy program. Here, the meeting has concluded, but Zoey has given Viva permission to tour the facility on her own:
Mountains everywhere had a sort of gravitational pull on lovable misfits, mavericks and outcasts, but Viva had never seen anything like this. Tents. Teepees. Lean-tos. It looked like a women’s camp with no sign of the pampering one might expect to see in a retreat. Then again, the place didn’t claim to be a spa.
Zoey’s point of view was spelled out in the Center’s brochure. She believed that individuals knew instinctively what was best for themselves, so each woman was allowed to proceed with healing at her own pace and in whichever way she chose with the guidance of counselors and classes. The level of accommodations they selected determined the level of rebirth they felt they required. A sort of do-it-yourself renaissance program.
Viva followed the dirt path into the cooling shade of a stand of old growth trees. Three women, all topless, were hanging laundry on a clothesline tied to the branches. One looked to be about sixty wearing briefs, the younger one, maybe forty, in a thong. The third, with a long red braid over her shoulder, looked to be somewhere in between. Smoke from a small fire pit in front of their teepee rose into the air.
Further on, a cluster of weathered one-room cabins came into view. Incense wafted out of an open door. Women of all ages sat alone or in groups of two or three on the steps of tiny porches, or in lawn chairs, or crossed-legged in meditation circles on the ground. Beyond the cabins, someone walked a labyrinth.
Pairs of eyes followed Viva’s progress as she passed. There were a few waves, some friendly smiles, and a scowl or two.
It was unconventional to say the least, but who was she to say? There was something appealing about this no-TV-no-phone-no-computer lifestyle. Maybe a few days of that was all it took to reboot yourself, and those people who spent thousands of dollars on psychiatrists were simply wasting their money.
A small wooden sign with an arrow directed Viva back to the lodge along a side path running parallel to a shallow stream. She’d only gone a few yards when movement caught her eye.
Standing at the water’s edge was a girl—tiny, gangly, looking like a hamburger would do her a lot of good. The girl was watching but not watching Viva with eyes dark and wounded, sunken in deep lilac hollows. Her head had not a trace of hair.
At her feet, she’d constructed a tower of carefully balanced flat-sided rocks, each stone settled on the one below it in an artful arrangement. A cairn, an ancient and universal marker of passage of the wayfarer, or a cache, something a passerby returns to. Some people called them monuments. Viva had seen similar stone markers dotting the mountains and the desert, placed there by hikers and mountain bikers.
Viva stopped and nodded a greeting.
“I shaved it,” the girl said, referring to what was so glaringly obvious. She looked like she was just out of high school, but then it was hard to tell ages these days.
“Okay,” Viva replied for lack of anything else to say.
“Do you want to know why?” The serrated edge of petulance in the girl’s tone dared Viva to say yes.
“Do you want to tell me?” Viva would have believed any explanation, but did not expect the one she heard.
“Because that’s how he dragged me around the house.”
Who? Husband? Lover? Father? Brother?
“It was the only way to make him stop.” Something flickered in the girl’s eyes, like a firefly in a jar.
“Well, I think you’re safe here,” Viva said. “With Shanti.”
The mention of Shanti seemed to animate the girl.
“Oh, yes. I take classes at the lodge. I don’t want to kill him anymore. Now I forgive him.” Then her gaze softened. “Why are you here?”
“I had a meeting with Shanti this morning. I’m on my way back to town now. Have you been here long?”
“No, not very. I’m Marisol. What’s your name?”
“Viva Winter. I’m editor of the Canyon Chronicle.”
Marisol’s shoulders hunched slightly and she shrunk into herself a little.
“Uh, huh. I sometimes sneak into the office and read it on the computer. Somebody was murdered.”
Marisol didn’t sound the least bit inquisitive about the crime. Rather, her face closed down, and she turned away. Squatting at the edge of the water, she took a small flat rock out of an Indian print tote bag, and added it to the pile on the ground.
“What are you doing?” asked Viva.
Marisol didn’t answer. Instead, engrossed, she took another stone out of her bag and placed it with the others, balancing it with painstaking prudence. Viva watched for a few more minutes, but Marisol ignored her. Clearly the conversation was over.
Here’s more about mysterious Marisol, an excerpt from Chapter 21:
Winifred Yates had left early that morning, hoping to catch whoever it was that had been ignoring the “keep out” signs posted around her property. She carried her Mossberg 535 Turkey Pump Action rifle. Not that she was going to shoot anyone, but she figured the sight of a cammowearing woman carrying such a weapon would frighten away even the most determined intruder.
She knew they were out there, usually kids from the vacation home families, testing their boundaries, smoking a little pot, partying, making out. Hikers looking for a wilderness experience. One time, she discovered the beginnings of a homeless enclave. Sheriff ran them off.
She’d heard all kinds of noises out there, someone sawing and pounding, music, talking. And she’d seen signs. Gouges in dried mud, disturbed leaves, the unnatural lay of wild grass, a twig out of place, disarranged brush. She’d learned it from her Navajo tracker grandfather. Her dogs had been trained to alert to strangers and had been alerting off and on for some time. Actually, quite some time. Couple of years, maybe.
She’d left the dogs penned up back at the house, but now they were setting up a racket. She could hear their agitated barking in the distance, barking the way they did when a stranger or a wild critter came around. So she’d turned around and tramped back through the brush heading for home, her Mossberg cradled in her arm.
That’s when she saw the bald-headed woman.
She was standing outside the gate, crying and shaking. She must have fallen. Her skirt was muddy and torn, her face and hands scraped. Long, bloody scratches on her arms. No shoes. Her eyes were wild with fright.
The woman didn’t run when she saw Winifred approach, but she stiffened, and Winifred could see she was thinking about taking off. Yet she stood there.
Winifred eyed her warily. “Are you in trouble?” She took a small step closer. Not a woman. A girl.
The girl nodded, her eyes madly darting from Winifred to the barking dogs and back again.
Winifred hollered for the dogs to shut up, then gave a hand signal that sent them to the storage shed where they sat at attention, waiting for the next command.
She had never seen this girl before. Didn’t know who she was or where she’d come from. She didn’t like visitors, didn’t like anyone coming around, not even people she knew. Not that they ever did. Everyone in town thought she had set up a survivalist compound. She let them think that, though in truth, she’d only rigged up alarms on the cabin and some of the fence, and booby trapped the marijuana grow, but other than that it was a work in progress.
“Where do you live?” Winifred asked her. “I’ll take you home.”
At that, the girl’s eyes widened in alarm, and tears washed streaks down her cheeks. She began keening, a sound somewhere between a screech and a whine that rose in volume as it increased in intensity.
Winifred lifted a hand. “Calm down. Shhh. Quiet.”
The girl’s wailing stopped abruptly, and she stood there, sniffing.
“What’s your name?”
“Marisol,” the girl whispered, speaking for the first time.
“What do you want?”
Marisol scrunched up her face and held out her hands, spreading her fingers, beseeching.
So against her better judgment, Winifred took her to the cabin.
That was a week ago, and Marisol was still there.
Though Winifred liked to call it a cabin, most people would call it a house. A small back-to-basics house to be sure, but still a house. A square, two level, energy efficient, south facing structure with a metal roof, and a concrete floor, meagerly furnished with a well-worn couch, easy chair recliner, and a couple of floor lamps.
The kitchen was small, but serviceable with a folding card table, shelves of food, and a pegboard hung with pots and pans on the main level. The rest was open space with a mudroom, gun racks and a reloading table. Before he died, her husband had purposely built the house to look like a barn so it would appear from the air as if no one lived there. Survivalists were like Boy Scouts. Always prepared.
She let Marisol take possession of the quilt-covered bunk along one wall of the main room while Winifred herself slept in the loft above.
The girl didn’t talk much, and a tightness crept into her face if Winifred asked questions, but she had managed to find out a little about Marisol. A man beat her, but no details and just as well. It seemed someone was after her, but Winifred didn’t know who or why. Again, just as well. Once you got into someone else’s specifics, you risked getting involved.
Winifred figured Marisol to be a little bit crazy, but harmless. She was good to the dogs and she cooked and made tea. She knew how to chop firewood, which was good because Winifred hadn’t been feeling up to it. Flu coming on or something.
She was getting used to having Marisol there, was even beginning to feel protective of her, though every time she left, she expected Marisol to be gone when she returned. Today, when she got back from playing in the concert at the Peace and Healing Center, Marisol was standing on the porch holding the Mossberg. That’s when Winifred thought Marisol might be more than a little bit crazy.