Mistletoe and Sage
Why was she letting the new hire disturb her peace? Deputy Sage Dietz hurried inside the warm kitchen, shaking the snow from her hair, trying to shake the man’s image.
“Mama!” Little Tucker ran toward her, his arms lifted high. “Mama!”
She swept him up into a fierce hug. “How’s my guy?” For the millionth time she wished her late husband could be here. She kissed her son’s dark hair, enjoying the best moment in her day, ignoring the tug of grief. Or trying to.
Plus-sized “Ma” Havlecek stood at the stove, stirring what smelled like a pot of beef soup. Her dapper husband Bruno politely rose from his place at the round table to greet Sage.
“Was Tucker good today?” Sage asked the woman who had helped raise her, many others, and now her little son.
“He’s always good,” Bruno said. “Ma and I don’t know what we’d do without our little buddy.”
“Take off your coat.” Ma ordered. “You’re both staying for soup.”
Tucker struggled to be put down so Sage released him. He ran to the table and grabbed a paper and handed it to her.
“You finger painted today?” she asked.
Before he could answer, her phone rang. She lifted it out and touched the screen. The night dispatcher was calling. “Hi, what’s up?”
“Sorry to bother you, Sage, I know you’re off duty,” the dispatcher, an older woman, said. “But we’ve got a big fight at Flanagan’s and a bad multi-car accident on the highway and we just got a call from a property manager in that new development near Ma’s. Since he knew you’d be close, Rodd asked if you’d be willing to go there to assist the new guy with the crime scene. He’s just gone off duty too. But we’re stretched pretty thin.”
Assist the new guy—Garrett Connolly? The last thing Sage wanted to do. Not to mention she’d waited all day for these moments here in this warm kitchen with her little boy and people she loved and who loved her.
She swallowed a sigh. She had no choice. “Okay. What’s the address?” She jotted it down. “Got it. Is Connolly there yet?”
“He’s on his way.”
Sage touched the smartphone screen and then looked at Ma. “I’ve got to go help at that new subdivision down the road.”
“That fancy new place for folks puttin’ on airs?” Ma was clearly displeased. Tucker clutched Sage around the knees as if he understood she was leaving again. Bruno came over and lifted the little boy into his arms. “Your mom will be right back.”
Tucker wailed his displeasure.
His shrill tones prickling her nerves, Sage grabbed her parka, hurried outside again, and drove off into the November darkness. Snow still fell, but lazily. She drove up the county road to the new subdivision of nearly twenty houses, “Lone Lake Lodges.” Navigating the circuitous lanes, she noted by her SUV lights that some houses were still under construction and others were standing new and proud in the wooded area that ringed Lone Lake.
She parked in front of the address entered on her phone and got out. To loosen her tense neck and back, she tightened and then relaxed the muscles. She could not let on that the new deputy had made a definite impression on her.
A man in a faded jacket and tan work clothes waited in the drive. No doubt he’d been hired by one of the out of town owners to regularly check on the seasonal homes in this new area.
She walked up to him, triggering the motion-activated light that had just timed out. She didn’t like what she saw behind him—neon yellow-green paint had been sprayed on the three doors. The first said: WE, the second: DON’T WANT, and finally the third: YOU. She frowned. Some of the local residents didn’t like the new influx of more affluent residents. Nearby communities had a history of tourists and seasonal visitors and residents, the Steadfast area not so much.
“You the police?” he asked, ignoring her uniform.
“Yes.” She introduced herself. “I’m Deputy Dietz.”
“This is bad,” he said.
After living away for six years, she no longer knew practically everyone in the Steadfast-LaFollette area, so it didn’t bother her that she didn’t recognize this man. She’d come back at the beginning of spring while the new deputy Garrett Connolly had just come in late October.
“It’s certainly unfriendly,” she agreed wryly.
“Well, I guess we should have expected some— ”
Hearing the sound of another car, she held up a hand to stop the man from pouring out all he had to say about the vandalism. “I’m just here to assist.” She turned. “Here comes Deputy Connolly.”
And right behind him came a silver dually pickup with “Gallagher Development” blazoned in black on the side punctuated by a stylized cluster of fir trees around the last word.
Sage knew who the driver was, the new bigwig in town, Ron Gallagher. He hustled out of his truck, met the deputy, and walked him up the drive. The developer of Lone Lake Lodges, the man who was bringing in new people and new money to the county, was barrel-chested and had a lot of curly salt-and-pepper hair.
Deputy Connolly—just a head taller than she and very solid-looking—strode up to her. He had thick dark brown hair, close-cut. He looked at her with his very green eyes.
She had wondered why two deputies were needed for a simple case of vandalism. But one look at Gallagher’s red face gave her a hint. Two deputies showed that the local sheriff was taking this seriously. “Hi, I—” she began.
But Gallagher’s booming voice drowned hers out. “What a mess! Do you know how expensive those garage doors are? Their factory finish has been compromised.”
So she stepped back. She was off duty, after all.
Connolly nodded once in her direction and then turned to Gallagher. “This is a crime scene.” He held up his hands, stopping the man from going closer. “You can’t come any farther.”
“You know who I am?”
“From the writing on your truck, I’d say you’re Gallagher. I’m Deputy Connolly from the sheriff’s department.”"
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