Authors: Deborah Malone
DEATH IN DAHLONEGA
BY DEBORAH MALONE
ISBN 10: 1-60039-190-7
ISBN 13: 978-1-60039-190-3
ebook ISBN: 978-1-60039-714-1
Copyright © 2011 Deborah Malone. All rights reserved.
Print and Electronic Format & Layout Copyright © 2011 by LAMP PoST Inc.
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Death in Dahlonega
a Trixie Montgomery cozy mystery
Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding.
I would like to thank the Lumpkin County Sheriff’s Department, the Dahlonega Gold Museum, and the City of Rome Police Department for their help with police procedure.
I would like to thank Zack Waters for critiquing my manuscript and special thanks goes to Dawn Hampton who helped me breathe life into Trixie and Dee Dee.
Last, but certainly not least, I owe a debt of gratitude to Ashley Ludwig, Beverly Nault and Candice Prentice, my editors extraordinaire.
”Death in Dahlonega” is dedicated to my family and friends who supported me during my writing journey.
Dahlonega, here we come!” I cheered, triumphant at the 10 miles to go sign. My knee ached from three hours in the car, my palms slick on the wheel from the harrowing twist of road.
“Here. Have some before I eat it all.” My passenger, and oldest friend, Dee Dee, shoved a bag of trail mix under my nose.
I dug through and, finding only nuts, pushed it back. “You ate all the chocolate pieces!”
She muffled an unapologetic sounding apology, then continued singing along as Alan shifted to Clint Black.
My Jeep Cherokee bumped over a rut in the road as a semi sped downhill a trifle too fast. With a tight grip on the vibrating steering wheel, I rounded another curve on the mountain road.
I single-handedly gripped the wheel and cooled a sweaty palm on the air vent, thinking how this trip would propel my career from probationary to full-fledged reporter. This was my big chance to prove to my editor that I, Trixie Montgomery, could write an article with substance and flair, despite the rather routine subject matter. Who says you can’t start a career after forty?
After all, “Gold Rush Days” in the North Georgia Mountains was hardly Pulitzer Prize material. Even the best had to start somewhere. Besides, what girl in her right mind could turn down an opportunity to take a little vacation while getting paid at the same time?
I reached over and squeezed my friend’s hand. “Thanks for coming, Dee Dee.” I couldn’t wait for a little antiquing, sightseeing, and plenty of good country cooking. What could possibly go wrong?
“Look!” Dee Dee pointed at something outside, misjudged, and slammed me hard in the nose. A spike of pain shot up through my eyes, to the top of my head.
“What?” I yelped, shooting a quick-glance to the rearview to see if it was bleeding. “You’ve broken my nose.”
Dee Dee slid toward me until I thought she was going to sit in my lap. She leaned over, pointing out the window. “Over there. Those beautiful yellow trees.”
“You almost broke my nose and scared the starch out of me to show me trees?”
“I’m sorry.” She handed me a wad of tissues. “But have you ever seen anything so beautiful as these mountains in the fall?”
“Wade and I vacationed all over the United States, and the North Georgia Mountains are on the top of my favorites list.” I longed to be in the passenger seat so I could study the view. But if you wanted to live while driving these roads you’d keep your eyes focused ahead, my ex-husband’s voice reminded me with gritting annoyance.
“It’s like God created a patchwork quilt with all the brightly colored leaves.” Dee Dee rolled down the window a bit. “Mm. Fresh mountain air. Nothing smells as good, either.” She stuck her head outside like a happy, oversized puppy.
“Careful there. I don’t want to lose you.”
She pulled her head back in. “I don’t think there’s any chance of me fitting through the window.” She laughed at her own joke. “Where are we staying again?”
“I made reservations at the Dahlonega Inn,” I said. “I got the last room, and only after I told the owner, Joyce, that I worked for
Georgia By the Way
. Turns out it’s her favorite magazine.”
Before we knew it, we arrived in Dahlonega. Hanging baskets full of geraniums hung from every light post. Second story porches adorned many of the clapboard structures. The shop-lined streets were filled with people milling about. A friendly driver waved us through the four-way stop.
The founding fathers had seen fit to arrange the buildings of Dahlonega in a square. The mountains served as a beautiful multi-colored backdrop. In the center stood the old Dahlonega Gold Museum, where most of my research would be carried out. I glanced at my camera, itching to get started.
We pulled into the Dahlonega Inn’s gravel parking lot across from the town square. Brown-leafed Magnolias dotted the area.
Researching on-line, I’d learned the two-story clapboard house was originally built in 1895, and later turned into an inn in the early 1920’s. I half expected a trio of flappers to saunter out the door.
“Come on Dee Dee. Let’s head on in.” I opened my door and struggled to reach the cane I kept behind my seat.
“Trixie, does your knee hurt? Hold on.” Dee Dee reached behind the seat and shifted the cane where I could easily grab it, and I hobbled alongside her across the parking lot.
Anxious to get settled in, we entered the lobby of the Dahlonega Inn. The large room had been carefully decorated to resemble a homey replica of a Norman Rockwell parlor. A large stone fireplace adorned the wall across the room. Overhead, huge, hand-hewn beams supported a split cedar roof. Several comfy chairs perched in various corners of the room, and bright watercolor landscapes added a splash of color to the reception area. Visitors mingled while we maneuvered to the reception desk.
A smiling teenager stood behind the check-in counter, waiting to fill out the forms and hand us our keys. Dee Dee palmed them and was asking for the nearest facilities when the keys flew from her hand as a large man in an all-fired hurry plowed past, knocking her into me. Cane sailing from my hand, we smacked into the hardwood floor in a tangle of arms and legs.
“Get off me,” I moaned.
Dee Dee, a woman who had not seen the petite section of the dress store for several years, struggled to get up. I tried to help, pushing at her without much success.
“Can’t you see my friend uses a cane,” she yelled at the retreating giant. “Why don’t you watch where you’re going you feather-brained lummox!”
He kept walking.
“You could at least apologize,” Dee Dee shouted at his back. She helped me to my feet while several slacked-jawed onlookers stared. “Trix, are you all right? If I see him again…well I don’t know what I might do.”
A wide-eyed lady, with mouth agape, offered assistance. “Oh, I’m so sorry,” she said. “Are either of you hurt? Can I help you?” She stuck out a shaking hand. “I’m Joyce, by the way. I’m the owner of this inn.”
I realized she was the lady who had made our reservations. She was much older than her phone voice had led me to believe. A petite woman, she wore a bright red pantsuit. Her gray hair was cut in a stylish bob.
I took a quick physical assessment for any damage. “I think I’ll survive. How about you Dee Dee?”
She huffed and did a hasty check. Though her body parts remained intact, I sensed her dignity had taken quite a hit.
“Well, I guess I’ll live. That man was so rude. Maybe it was an accident, but he could have at least stopped to help.” She adjusted her elastic waistband back into position and turned to Joyce. “Did you see him? He kept right on going.” Dee Dee placed her hands on her ample hips.
I glanced at her bright orange pants and wondered how anyone could have missed her standing there. Her eyes still flashed with anger at the indignity that had been pressed upon us.
Joyce nodded. “Yes dear, I saw the whole thing. That’s John Tatum. His family owns most of the property in Dahlonega. He eats at the inn quite often.” Her words rushed out, then she paused, gazing after him. “He must have been upset about something, the way he kept going.”
She retrieved my cane and handed it to me. Ever since my fall from Grace, a palomino with a short fuse, I’d been struggling with a bum knee. Despite therapy, there had been little improvement during the past four years.
The girl behind the desk summoned Joyce. She offered her apologies and left to handle the situation.
“Come on, Trixie.” Dee Dee slung my purse on her shoulder while I steadied myself. “Let’s go find some lunch.”
“Sure, but don’t you want to eat at the inn’s buffet? I’ve heard it’s to die for.” Tasty smells filled the lobby. No wonder Mr. Tatum ate here often.
Dee Dee smoothed her clothes. “I need some fresh air.”
We walked over to the town square. Dahlonega had done an excellent job of preserving its downtown and leaving its natural beauty unspoiled. The storefronts remained untouched by what some people would call progress. Old wood-front buildings displayed images of horses being tethered to a hitching post in front of the stores. In the distance, the Appalachian foothills faded away in a purple haze.
We found the cutest restaurant located on the second story, offering dining on an outside porch overlooking the town.
“After we finish eating, I need to head on over to the gold museum,” I mentioned. “You know that ole’ saying, ‘work before fun.’ Want to come with me?”
“Why don’t you go ahead? I think I’ll browse for a while. I don’t plan on going home empty-handed. I promised Sarah I’d find some goodies for the store.” Dee Dee owned an antique store, “Antiques Galore,” in Vans Valley, and her octogenarian assistant, Sarah, would be thrilled.
I knew my friend; she’d keep her word. Eclectic boutiques, artisan stands, and even an old-fashioned candy shop lined the square, and they were calling her name. Cash registers rang as people bustled in and out of busy stores with full shopping bags. Before we parted ways, we agreed on a meeting place between four and five o’clock.
Dee Dee walked with me as far as the Dahlonega Gold Museum so she could carry my bag loaded with my laptop, camera and tape recorder. I ascended stairs to the grassy knoll where the museum stood like a sentinel watching over the town.
Inside the door, a middle-aged woman, dressed in crisp khaki pants and matching shirt, eyeballed visitors. She stood ramrod straight with her hands behind her back.
“Teresa Duncan,” I said out loud as I read her name tag, and scrunched a smirk at the term “Ranger,” lettered below her name.
“How may I help you?”
I explained I was researching an article for
Georgia By the Way
She displayed her first smile and told me Harv had called ahead, and that she’d be glad to help in any way she could.
Teresa spoke into a walkie-talkie, and within minutes a couple of young people appeared. They were dressed just like Teresa. “Trixie, let me introduce you to Tony Bowen and Rebecca Smith. They’re rangers, too.”
We shook hands, and I asked them a few questions.
“How about I take you on a tour?” Teresa asked.
“Do you mind if I take pictures while we talk?” I reached to get my all-important digital camera.
“Feel free to take as many as you want. This here’s our mining exhibit. It explains three of the earliest methods of mining.” She gestured in the direction of the room.
“Wow, look at all of these old tools on the wall.” I snapped pictures of pickaxes, rock hammers, and old lanterns in rapid succession. As we walked through the building, I photographed dozens of dioramas, all devoted to gold mining.
“This was originally the courthouse for Lumpkin County,” Teresa said. “It was built in 1836 and is the oldest courthouse in Georgia. It became a branch of the United States Mint in 1838. It remained so until 1861, after the Gold Rush.” She pointed to a glass showcase housing original memorandums of gold bullion deposits and original deeds to property won in the land lottery.
I wrote as fast as I could. I also recorded our conversation so I wouldn’t miss anything. Harv was a stickler when it came to details, and Teresa was a living, breathing, history book.
After the tour, Teresa excused herself to help other visitors while I walked outside and shot more photos of the building and surrounding area. The late afternoon sun arced as tourists mingled on the grassy lawn. A family of four posed for their picture under the Gold Rush Days sign, while a group of school children skipped toward a long yellow bus. These would make great shots to show the popularity of Gold Rush Days. One thing I’d learned about photography: a person usually had to take many shots to produce one good picture.
Back inside, Teresa offered to show me a film explaining the history of mining. Though I had researched a little online I didn’t have enough material for my article. This would be a great opportunity to learn more about the mining process.
I checked my watch and saw it was closing in on a quarter ‘til five. “My friend should be here any minute.” I scanned the room to see if I could spot Dee Dee. “Could we wait for her?”
“Sure. We close at five o’clock, but I planned to stay late anyway, so y’all can watch the movie while I finish up my work.”
“Thanks. I appreciate it.” I placed my camera back in its case.