PJ scooped the leaves apart to get at the scrap of white.
“Rats!” she said to Punk. “Just a torn piece of paper plate.”
“What are you looking for?”
She sighed. “I thought there might be another piece of that note that I found down below. Maybe with the killer’s signature.”
“That would be too easy.” He bent over for a closer look. “Huh. Looks like a tire track under those leaves. The rangers must come through here with a utility vehicle or something.”
He straightened. “How much farther to the point?”
“Just around that curve, I think. Look through those trees—looks like maybe some crime scene tape.”
They continued around the corner. Garish yellow tape warned casual onlookers away from the point.
“I can see how someone could fall off,” Punk said, eying the unprotected ledge that appeared to be jutting into space.
“Or be pushed.”
A couple of small plastic flags on wire staffs had been placed at random locations in the ground. PJ strained over the tape.
“Can you tell what those flags are marking?”
Punk shifted along the tape for a better view. “Not the one on the right, but the one on the left has some round dents by it.”
“Must be the marks that sheriff thinks were made by my walking stick. I’m pretty sure I didn’t get that close to the edge.”
They both started at the sound of footsteps coming along the trail. The man looked familiar but PJ couldn’t quite place him. Middle-aged, average height and weight, his most distinguishing feature was a thick shock of light brown hair that defied obvious attempts at styling. He wore baggy faded jeans with a yellow bandana hanging out of the pocket and an Illinois sweatshirt.
“Oh, hi,” he said. “I didn’t expect to find anyone out here.”
“Nobody said we couldn’t be here,” Punk said.
“No,” he held up his hands, “I just meant I was startled.” He smiled and his eyes crinkled. “Didn’t expect to run into anyone, that’s all.”
A silence and then Punk said, “Well, PJ, we should be getting back.”
“Yeah.” They both nodded at the man as they passed him on the path.
When they got out of earshot, PJ said, “Awkward. What do you suppose he’s doing out here?”
“He’s probably wondering the same thing about us.”
A clabber of excited voices increased as they neared the campground. The crowd around the judges had grown and the woman judge raised her voice to make herself heard.
“Second Prize goes to Site #36!”
A young woman and two kids in the crowd bounced up and down, pumping their fists in the air.
“And the grand prize this year,” the judge continued, “Site #47!” She pointed at the intricate pile of branches with the skeleton. After the requisite screaming subsided, the judge held up her hand again.
“Thank you all for participating. Don’t forget, Trick-or-Treat starts in,” she looked at her watch, “two hours, and after that the Haunted Hayride!”
The judges headed back toward the campground entrance amid more cheers. PJ was somewhat surprised at the festive air in the face of the death earlier.
When she and Punk reached their own campsite, the noise changed to angry swearing and tinny crashes, coming from the other side of Gigi’s motorhome. They proceeded around the front of the motorhome with caution.
Gigi picked up a folded lawn chair and slammed it back down with as much force as she could muster, muttering as she did so.
“Hey, hey,” Punk said. “Can we help?”
She stopped and spun around, her face contorted and her teeth clenched. But when she saw them, she sagged and dissolved in tears. She slumped onto the picnic bench.
“The sheriff was just here—that SOB.”
“The sheriff?” PJ said.
“No, my piece of crap ex-husband. Because he made my life so miserable when he was alive, now I’m a suspect in his death!”
PJ didn’t want to stare at Gigi’s tear-stained face so looked down while she tried to think of a response.
“You don’t have shoes on,” she observed.
“Because the sheriff took them—as evidence,” Gigi spat out the words.
“Evidence of what?” Punk said.
Now she started to cry again. “He thinks the heels on my boots might match some round marks they found where Con was pushed over.”
PJ sat beside her and put a hand on her shoulder.
“He took my walking stick, too, for the same reason.”
Gigi wiped her nose on the sleeve of her orange sweater, causing PJ to shudder a little.
“No kidding?” She brightened up a little. “He told me I should get a lawyer, but I can’t afford that.”
“Maybe we can get group rates,” PJ said.