At the sound of the shot-like noise, the women turned toward the trailer with wide eyes, gripping the arms of their lawn chairs. The door was flung open, banging against the side of the trailer, and the three men stumbled out. At first Punk bent over, hands on his knees, and PJ was afraid he was going to be sick. But he gasped, sucked in a big breath and stood up, looking at the other two men.
Fred seemed the least rattled and walked over to the ground underneath the furnace exhaust vent. He picked something up and held it up for the others to see.
“What is it?” Stan asked.
“A wasp nest—mud dauber, I guess. Blew out of your furnace vent. Have you got a CO detector in there?”
“I don’t think so. Haven’t seen one,” Punk said. “That’s what made the noise?”
“Sure did. I wouldn’t try using that furnace tonight then. There could be more nests in it. It’s not supposed to get down below 50 or so. I have a little space heater you can borrow. Or maybe you’ll just have to cuddle a little with the missus.” Fred winked and gave Punk an elbow in the side.
Punk looked dazed, walked over to the furnace vent, and shook his head. “I can’t believe this!”
PJ could tell he was losing control—a very rare occurrence. She put her face in her hands.
Doris patted her knee. “There, there—everyone’s okay.”
PJ shook her head. “You don’t understand. This was all my idea. I wanted to try camping, not Punk. I saw the ad for Happy Camper Heaven and insisted we go there. What a disaster! We could have taken a nice trip to Hawaii and several other places for what we paid for that camper.”
“I know,” Shirley said. “We felt the same way after we bought that trailer. Thought we’d never camp again, but my brother talked us into another try. Now we love it.”
PJ turned to Doris. “Did you say Conniver is staying in this campground?”
Doris nodded. “In the lower loop. Why?”
“Because tomorrow, I’m going to give him a piece of my mind. He can’t keep getting away with this.”
The next morning dawned a clear, crisp fall day. PJ slept well with the help of Fred’s little space heater and a couple of extra blankets. Punk was a late sleeper, so over coffee at the little dinette, she decided to go for a walk before breakfast. She studied a campground flyer showing several hiking trails, grabbed her new walking stick, and decided to take the shortest loop that ran along the top of one of the little canyons that the park was famous for.
The trailhead was well-marked at one end of the campground road. In the next half-hour, she ambled along the trail, peering over the edge at a lookout point and spotting a trickle of water that was probably a healthy waterfall in the spring. Woodpeckers provided rhythm to her walk and squirrels performed gymnastics in the trees for her entertainment. She returned to the camper buoyed up and eager to face the day, all of the frustrations of the day before vanished.
Punk was up and scowling into his coffee mug.
“How’d you sleep?” she asked.
“Not well,” he said. “I tossed and turned all night.”
“Really? I slept great. I’m so sorry you didn’t—maybe we need to buy a new mattress?”
Punk shook his head, still dejected. “I don’t think we want to invest any more money in this thing. I think we should take it back. We should have researched this more—talked to some people. We don’t know what we’re doing.”
She got out the toaster to fix him a bagel. “Punk, I know yesterday was awful, and Conniver didn’t prep this the way he was supposed to, but there’s nothing basically wrong with it.”
“That guy Stan said the roof leaks.”
PJ thought a moment.”We had rain the last two days and I didn’t notice any problems. Well, it’s too early in the day to make any decisions. And it’s a beautiful day out. We should enjoy it while we’re here. I went for a short hike but there’s a longer loop that goes down into the canyons. Would you go with me after you eat?”
Punk mumbled something that sounded like assent. He wasn’t a big morning person.
The trailhead for the canyon loop was at the opposite end of the campground from the one that PJ had taken earlier. Punk, too, felt his spirits lift as they followed the trail down to where it joined a rocky stream. As they walked upstream, shuffling through the fallen leaves, it led them into one of the canyons formed by the stream thousands of years before. The walls of the canyon presented colorful striations and rock formations.
Punk was craning his neck up at what appeared to be a small cave high in the wall of the canyon when PJ nudged him. She pointed ahead on the trail. Someone was kneeling on the trail with his head in the bushes along the side.
Punk hurried ahead. “Hey! Lose something, buddy?” There was no answer and the man didn’t move. When they reached him, they saw that his head was turned at an unnatural angle. It was Con Conniver and he was very dead.