Read A Bobwhite Killing Online

Authors: Jan Dunlap

Tags: #Murder, #Nature, #Warbler, #Crime, #Birding, #Birds

A Bobwhite Killing

A Bobwhite Killing




Jan Dunlap




Check out the other books in the Birder Murder series by Jan Dunlap!



The Boreal Owl Murder:


North Star Press

Barnes & Noble


Murder on Warbler Weekend


North Star Press

Barnes & Noble


A Bobwhite Killing


North Star Press

Barnes & Noble


Falcon Finale


North Star Press

Barnes & Noble


A Murder of Crows


North Star Press

Barnes & Noble


Copyright © 2010 Jan Dunlap


All rights reserved.


ISBN-13: 978-0-87839-454-8


This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are the products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or persons, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.


First Edition, June 1, 2010

Electronic Edition, June 1 2013


Printed in the United States of America


Published by

North Star Press of St. Cloud, Inc.

P.O. Box 451

St. Cloud, Minnesota 56302


For More Information:


North Star Press Website

North Star Press Facebook

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Chapter One


What do I love about birding weekend trips? The camaraderie. A bunch of birders together with the same objective for a short thirty-odd hours: see as many birds as possible in a specific area. Sometimes I know a few of the other people; sometimes I get to meet all new folks. Kind of like a group blind date: I never know who I’m going to end up with. Maybe I’ll get Cameron Diaz. Maybe I’ll get stuck with the class clown. But, unlike a blind date, when I go on a birding weekend, I can always count on one thing: everyone there will want to talk about birds. Birds they’ve seen. Birds they hope to see. Birds they thought they saw, but couldn’t confirm.

Okay, so maybe it’s not the most diverse range of topics in the world.

For a birder, though, it’s a slice of heaven.

So I go on these weekends, follow the trip leader around, do a lot of driving, walking, and talking, and see birds. Usually, the leader has already scouted the area, which gives everyone a head start on finding the birds the group is targeting. Even on the weekends that don’t produce all the birds I hope for, though, I still get to trade leads for hot new birding spots or try out other birders’ new scopes or cameras. As far as I’m concerned, birding weekends are always win-win situations.

Except, maybe, for those rare weekends when the leader turns out to be a dud.

Or dead.

Yeah, that definitely puts a damper on a birding weekend.



Going on the birding weekend trip to Fillmore County was one of those last-minute decisions I occasionally make when I’m desperate to get away. And believe me, I was desperate. If I had to listen one more time to my sister, Lily, gush about how wonderful her fiancé (a.k.a. the man formerly known as my best friend), Alan, was, I was either going to stuff a sock in her mouth or recount for her the lurid details about the droves of girls Alan used to “entertain” in our college dorm room.

Not that he actually did any of that, but Lily wouldn’t know.

However, since I also figured that would probably get me a vicious shin-kicking from my tiny, but older, and very mean (sometimes), sister, I decided the smartest alternative was just to get out of town—and out of Lily’s kicking range—for a few days.

Fillmore County, here I come.

Fortunately for me, there was room for one more person on the trip. With Luce, my girlfriend, booked to cook for an executive conference over the weekend, I was going to be flying solo anyway. I called up the BW—that’s Birding Weekend—leader, took the slot, threw a change of clothes into my duffel bag, grabbed my binoculars and tripod, and put the rubber on the road.

By eight in the evening, I was in Fillmore County, signing my name at the front desk of the Inn & Suites in Spring Valley, where the weekend group was staying. According to the hotel clerk, I was the last one to check in. The BW leader had left a packet of information for me at the desk, and I scanned the materials while the clerk ran my credit card through the hotel register. Ten people were signed up for the weekend, and I was happy to see that one of them was my longtime birding buddy Tom Hightower. So at least it wasn’t going to be a total blind date weekend. Worst case, if there was a class clown on the trip, I could always escape by grabbing Tom and taking off for birding on our own.

The clerk handed me a room key and I turned around, almost knocking over the woman who had come up behind me. I caught her shoulders to steady her and glanced down at her face.

And froze.

Only one person in the world had that particular shade of emerald in her eyes.

“Hello, Bob,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”

I waited for my ability to speak to kick back in. “Shana Lewis,” I finally managed to get out. “What are you doing here?”

She took a step towards me and stood on tiptoe to brush a kiss on my cheek. I caught a whiff of White Shoulders, the same scent she’d worn eighteen years ago, when I’d been crazy about her. I was sixteen and she was a junior in college; we bumped into each other looking for gulls at Black Dog Lake one Christmas. The following summer, we birded together regularly around the Twin Cities, and I fantasized about her falling in love with me.

Which she never did.

Instead, she graduated with honors from the University of Minnesota and took off immediately for California, where she earned a doctorate in the reconstruction of ecological communities. Last I’d heard, she was somewhere in South America working for the Nature Conservancy, which didn’t surprise me in the least. When Shana Lewis set her mind to something, nothing could shut her down.

I remembered that well from the birding we did together. Just like I never forgot those emerald eyes of hers, either.

“It’s Shana
, Bob. Jack and I got married five years ago.”

“No kidding? I hadn’t heard.” I figured I should let go of her shoulders, but my hands and brain had spontaneously disconnected the moment I recognized her. I still couldn’t believe I was talking to Shana Lewis again after all these years. The idea that she was married to Jack O’Keefe—our BW trip leader—blew me away even more.

Not that Jack wasn’t a great guy. He was. I’d known him for about ten years, in fact, but our birding trails hadn’t crossed in a long time. Seeing Jack listed as the weekend’s leader was one of the other reasons I’d decided to sign up at the last minute besides escaping Lily’s gush fest. Jack was an extraordinary birder, and if he put a bird—even an uncommon one—on the list for a weekend, I could just about be guaranteed I’d see it. In fact, it was the uncommon one he’d listed that had tipped the scales for me in favor of joining the group, rather than taking off on my own bird chase.

Jack listed a Northern Bobwhite.

Which I’ve never seen in Fillmore County.

Let alone in the state of Minnesota. Especially since wild Northern Bobwhites were declared “extirpated”—locally extinct—back in 2004.

But if Jack O’Keefe said he’d find a Bobwhite, I believed him. And when he did locate the bird, I was going to be right there with him.

Along with his wife, the former Shana Lewis, my one-time summer love.

Talk about a surprise blind date.

“I’d ask you what you’ve been up to, but I read your posts on the MOU list serve all the time,” Shana laughed. “It’s nice to know your enthusiasm for birding hasn’t dimmed at all since you were sixteen.” She took a step back and looked me over from head to toe, and my hands finally responded to my brain’s signals and slid gently off her shoulders. “Though I think you’ve gotten taller, Bob.”

“Older, too,” I smiled. A sudden wave of memory took me back eighteen years. I’d tried to kiss the twenty-year-old Shana and she’d fended me off, saying I was too young for her.

Looking down into those bright green eyes now, I couldn’t help but think,
Not anymore

And then I gave myself a mental head slap. What was I thinking? I wasn’t some lovesick teenager. I didn’t want Shana Lewis. Or Shana O’Keefe. I was in love with Luce Nilsson. Hell, I’d even been on the verge of asking her to marry me before the Lily and Alan tsunami hit town. I was still going to propose, but now I wanted to wait till my sister was off center stage. Heaven forbid that Luce and I try to horn in on Lily’s wedding of the century extravaganza. I wouldn’t live to my wedding.

Suddenly seeing Shana again, though, was like I’d slipped into a time warp. Just hearing her voice was enough to send me back to that summer we spent together. I could still see her ponytail, her halter top over tight faded jeans filled out so perfectly behind. And regardless of my feelings for Luce, Shana’s signature White Shoulders and green eyes were still potent stuff eighteen years later.

“So, what’s it like to be married to Jack O’Keefe?” I asked her, deliberately focusing myself on the present. “I hear he’s the man to watch in this state. Between the family fortune and his political connections, he seems to be calling the shots right now when it comes to shaping new environmental legislation.” I stuck my room key in my pocket. “Not that I mind. I’m in Jack’s camp all the way when it comes to preserving outdoor spaces.”

“Hey, Bob!”

I looked past Shana to see Jack O’Keefe, tanned and fit, heading into the lobby. In three strides, he was across the room, extending his hand for me to shake.

“It’s been a while, Jack,” I said, taking his hand. His grip was firm, and he looked at least a decade younger than his fifty-eight years.

“And a lot of time out of the field, unfortunately. Taking care of business hasn’t been leaving me much time for birding,” Jack explained. “Even with Chuck minding the family store, I’m still spreading myself thin with developing these new eco-communities down here.”

Chuck was Jack’s son from his first marriage. I used to run into the pair of them on birding trips shortly after the first Mrs. O’Keefe passed away.

“Eco-communities?” I asked.

Jack planted a kiss on Shana’s cheek and draped his arm over her shoulders. “Tomorrow, Bob, I’ll tell you all about it while we’re birding. Drive with us, and we can catch up in between stops. For now, I’m bushed. I’ve been out scouting all day, and I promised Shana we’d make it an early night. See you in the morning.”

And that’s the last I ever heard from Jack O’Keefe.

I did, however, see him again.

It was early the next morning when our birding group arrived at the Green Hills youth camp to try to locate a Yellow-billed Cuckoo on the property. Jack wasn’t with us, leaving word with Shana that he’d headed out before dawn to draw a bead on the bird and would meet up with us at the camp. Spotting a small grove of trees that looked like it might be a good habitat for the Cuckoo, I walked down the slope from the gravel parking area and discovered an old covered wagon partially tucked into the grove.

Skirting around the rear end of the wagon, I found Jack sitting with his back to the buckboard. I noticed that he didn’t have his binoculars with him. He did have something else, though.

Judging from the blood soaking the front of his jacket, he had at least a couple of bullets in him.


Chapter Two


Do you see anything?” my buddy Tom Hightower asked as he rounded the corner of the old wagon, then stopped in his tracks. “Oh, my God.”

I looked up at him from where I was kneeling next to Jack, checking for a non-existent pulse. “Don’t let the rest of them come back here,” I told him, pointing with my chin towards the other side of the wagon, where I could hear more birders starting to approach. “They don’t want to see this.”

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