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SunLit

SunLit Excerpt: A body at the mine, a politicking sheriff set the stage for mountain mystery

In "The Last Hurrah," dual authors introduce Phoebe Korneal, a mountain-town detective set to uncover what lies behind an unexplained death

Introduction

At over 10,000 feet in altitude, our fictional setting is Oresville, Green County, Colorado, with a population of approximately 2,000. The citizens of Oresville thrive in 2015 with a foothold in the mining spirit of the mid-1800s. Although several of our characters have moved to Oresville from other states, they feel the acceptance and camaraderie of our characters who were born and raised in this high mountain town.

Our main character, Deputy Sheriff and occasional detective, Phoebe Korneal, is a strong, independent woman, much like the historical women of Oresville who moved with or followed their families to settle the West, enduring hardship and struggles never anticipated in their civilized lives in the eastern United States.

Gold prospecting has always been and still is an interesting hobby in the central mountains of Colorado. In our story, the demise of Old Al Lewis, a lifetime prospector, is a curious event for someone as healthy as he appeared to be. Phoebe must work to solve the puzzle of Old Al’s death. Her sidekick, Carrie Jean, will happily share the news in her daily E-Blast! for the local newspaper.

This is the beauty of the small town of Oresville, Colorado. Anything that happens makes a difference to the whole town and its residents. The local newspaper reports everything and anything in the tradition of the role of newspapers in settling the western territories. Newspapers in the 1800s were part and parcel to the importance of community in mountain towns and today remain an integral part of all small-town communities.

UNDERWRITTEN BY

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.

Referencing the Colorado National Mining Hall of Fame and Museum helped us understand much about the area we were writing about in this fun story. The museum does a great job of documenting the history and challenges of life in the 1800s, as well as the many strong-minded and adventurous people attracted to mining. The history of the area supports the continuing independent culture of the state.

Colorado became the Centennial State in 1876, one hundred years after the signing of the Declaration of Independence. Today, Colorado is a state with residents who maintain this collective, independent culture of self-esteem, appreciation for the environment, and value of historical preservation. This is the perspective we bring to Oresville and our characters.

Join Phoebe and her crew of interesting and somewhat eccentric fellow Oresvillians to unravel the mystery of Old Al’s sudden demise. As autumn approaches in Oresville, and a cold wind begins to blow, this light murder mystery will keep you warm at night. Read on!

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

The Crime

Good morning, we’re having a great day at the Green County Sheriff’s Office. Rosalind Marie Boudreaux speaking.”

“Roz, I need to speak with the sheriff now.”

“Who’s calling, please?” The standard question for their recorded line.

“Roz, you know this is Augusta, and I need to talk with Joe right now.”

“What’s the problem now, Augusta?”

“I’m at the abandoned Sunshine mine, and Al is dead.”

“C’mon, Augusta. I thought we were done with this nonsense, and y’all didn’t even bother to marry this one.”

Roz and Augusta had been friends, or at least friendly, since Roz came to Oresville, and she felt comfortable giving Augusta a hard time. Even by Roz’s standards, Augusta’s five marriages seemed a bit much.

“Don’t let’s talk about the past now, Roz. Didn’t you hear me? Al is dead! I’m sitting at the Sunshine looking at the body of good ol’ Al. I’m not up for a chat. I just need Joe to get on out here. Is he there, or is he still at the Buns Up Bakery?”

“Geez Augusta, y’all know he really doesn’t open for business until about ten-ish. He doesn’t take kindly to interruptin’ his mornin’ campaignin’. But, a death? Maybe I should call him. Hold on a minute.”

TODAY’S UNDERWRITER

Switching to the other phone line, Roz called the sheriff’s cell phone. “Hey Joe, I’ve got Augusta on hold on the other line. She’s up at the Sunshine. She found Old Al dead there. Sorry to cut your politicking pastry time short, but I think she needs you up there ASAP.”

“Got it, Roz. Not a problem.” Joe tossed his napkin and a five-dollar bill onto the table and stood up to brush the bear claw crumbs from his uniform. “I’m walking back to the office right now. Just look out the window.”

Disconnecting Joe, Roz returned to Augusta. “Hold one minute, sugar. Joe’s headin’ into the county building right now.”

“Thank God. My cell battery’s low and the signal’s weak up here.” Augusta’s gaze mirrored the void of the mouth of the mine.

Through the window of her corner office in the county building, Roz scanned the street for Joe. There he was, walking under a brilliant sun that illuminated the gray flecks in his hair. At an altitude of over 10,000 feet, the sun was a bright and regular fixture that didn’t necessarily equate with warmth. Although it would likely hit the mid-sixties on that late August day, it already felt like they were into fall. The aspen leaves were starting their translucent fade. Nights were already too cool for the flowers to recover each morning. Late summer t-shirt clothed tourists were buying sweatshirts saying, “I got Higher in Oresville, Colorado.”

At such an altitude, the clouds wouldn’t hang around a full day. Mt. Massive, commonly called “The Massive” and peaking at nearly 14,500 feet, put up a jagged, rocky barrier that weak storm fronts usually couldn’t surmount and, with a whimper, imploded. The big fronts hit The Massive and created a hook to the south where the Collegiate Peaks shouldered better possibilities. When conditions were just right, some fronts hit with more of a slice northward creating bragging rights for the ski slopes at Vail. The Rocky Mountains certainly worked better at staving off storms than the Gulf of Mexico where Roz called home in the bayous of Louisiana. Enough with the Vitamin D report. What is Augusta gabbing about now?

“Is this an election year, again, already?” Augusta went on. “I’m about four years behind. Seems like Joe just got elected. No wonder he was at the Bunz—politicking again. Did I know this was an election year or is this another case of the news media inducing citizens’ memory loss? The next time I see Garcia at the Elks Club, I think I’ll deliver an impromptu verbal Letter to the Editor on the editor himself.”

“Actually, I think elected officials are always campaignin’,” said Roz, flexing her fingers to admire her freshly polished nails. “It’s always about the next election, so your news about Al is not going to be particularly welcomed, if ya get my drift. You know Joe is not big on drama or anything close to serious crime. As for talking with Garcia about your editorial statement, I wouldn’t recommend you ruin his limited leisure time at the Club—that is, if you can hold your thoughts. Wait, Augusta, Joe’s comin’ in the door now. Hold on, I’ll transfer you.”

Sheriff Joe Jackson picked up the call. “Augusta, what in the world is going on now? Last I heard you hadn’t found your sixth husband.” The sheriff always liked to tease Augusta about the number of husbands she was burning through, but this time there was no chuckle forthcoming.

“Better get up here quick, Joe. Al is dead. I’m at the Sunshine,” Augusta’s voice held strong.

Joe wanted to say, “Damn it, Augusta. I was having a pretty good day of it without this kind of situation. Now I’m probably going to miss lunch and afternoon break by the time I get up there.” Instead, in his professional sheriffing voice, he announced, “I’ll call my fav and only part-time detective, Deputy Phoebe Korneal, and we’ll be along shortly. Given the road to the Sunshine is a rugged ATV forest service trail, it may take us a bit. Stay where you are, and don’t touch anything, ya hear me?”


Judilee Butler, left, taught kindergarten and special education before shifting to marketing, where she had a 20-year career with IBM. 
Jean “GaGa” Gabardi worked in telecom, consulting, teaching and course development. Now retired, both authors live in the Colorado mountains.