by Lee Pulaski

Love endures, and when it’s the subject of an art exhibit, it can be a truly beautiful thing. When Anne Marie White Eagle achieves her dream of opening an art gallery in Gresham, she knows she needs a knockout exhibit to bring people out in droves. She crafts a show featuring Osgood and Muriel Reimer, known for their familial backgrounds in the beef jerky and cherry industries but even better known for a beautiful marriage lasting more than 56 years.

Anne Marie’s dream dissolves into a nightmare when the elderly lovebirds are found dead shortly after opening night, with indications their love might not have been so eternal.

Zachary Gagewood, eager to help his dear friend salvage what’s left of her ambitious gambit into the arts, looks into the deaths and discovers that there are others with plenty of reasons to off Shawano County’s most enduring couple—a granddaughter who feels oppressed and her nonconformist boyfriend, a store owner harboring a lifelong secret, or even jealous extended family members. Can Zachary figure out who would want to end the most beautiful love affair ever?

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Zachary looked in the mirror as he adjusted his red and white striped tie. It was almost time for the first opening reception of the White Eagle Art Gallery, and he wanted to look his best. Having a good friend opening up a new business, coupled with an exhibit that highlighted agriculture—a subject near and dear to Zachary’s heart—required attending in something other than casual attire.

Newell peaked his head in the bedroom, a black Stetson adorning the top of his noggin. “Ready to paint the town red?”

“I believe that would be an insult to the hostess and the artists, considering all the colors they used to create their brilliant pieces. However, I am ready to head into the village and check out the wonderful art. Can you grab my trench coat from the front hall closet while I put on my suit jacket?”

“Consider it done. We’d better hurry if we want to get there by seven.”

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Zachary strode into the bedroom and put on his suit jacket, buttoning it up and taking another look at himself in the bedroom mirror. He walked into the living room, where Toby was sitting by the couch and Midnight on the arm of Newell’s recliner. Both animals were looking at him with curious expressions on their faces.

“Hi, there. We’re off to see some pretty art. Don’t wait up for us.”

Newell handed Zachary his black trench coat before putting his own on. The two men walked briskly to Newell’s truck as the frigid night air left angry sensations on their faces. Fortunately, the heater in the truck worked like a dream when they climbed in.

“So are you excited to see the full exhibit, considering you’ve already gotten a sneak peek?”

“Absolutely. The Reimers have been big supporters of Gresham. They gave three thousand dollars when we were trying to raise funds to renovate the Lonesome Pine Ballroom. I think Anne Marie chose well to have a special tribute to all they’ve accomplished in the county and in life. I hope we can live long enough to celebrate fifty-six years of being together.”

Newell grinned at the suggestion. “So how did they get their nicknames, anyway?”

“Well, Osgood’s family has been involved in raising cattle and making beef jerky since the turn of the 20th century, so it was easy for Osgood to be referred to Beef Jerky. As for Muriel, she came from a prominent family in Door County known for raising cherries. When she brought a steady stream of cherries from the peninsula to Shawano County, people quickly started to refer to her as Cherries Jubilee. From what Anne Marie and others have told me, the two were polar opposites from what you would expect in a couple. Muriel was bubbly and cheerful to a fault, while Osgood was a cranky, old man long before he’d developed any wrinkles.”

“Yet they managed to build an amazing food processing empire right here in tiny Shawano County. Reimer Foods delivers to all the restaurants in town. I remember the night when Sigrid told us that the secret ingredient to what made her cherry pies so good was sweet cherries provided through Reimer.” Newell paused for a moment. “I wonder if any of their delights will be served at the reception.”

“I believe Sigrid was going to serve snack sausages and cheese, with cherry tarts for dessert.”

Newell whistled. “You might need to run to the feed store and get a forklift to haul me out of the reception if that’s the menu. It’ll be like I died and went back to Texas.”

Zachary chuckled. Even though Newell had made it clear a number of times he planned to spend the rest of his life in Wisconsin, there were moments when it was obvious he was a Texas country boy through and through.

Newell pulled the truck up to the curb next to The Literary Barn. The art gallery next door appeared abuzz with activity. Zachary was glad, as he really wanted to see Anne Marie succeed after all the work she put into it.

He stepped onto the sidewalk and noticed the community quilt that Newell and others with the Gresham Community Association had been working on. It had a lump of clay starting to take form in the center, with a painter’s palette and brushes to the right and a bronze head to the left. The background was painted forest green with a yellow sun. Zachary stopped and admired it for a moment. His man had pulled out a beautiful work of art, and it made him excited to see what he and the GCA would come up with for his shop.

As Zachary and Newell stepped through the front door, the sounds of the Shawano County Symphony Orchestra spiraled into the bitter Gresham night. Inside, some of the county’s elite, mostly from Gresham, were standing inside—talking in small groups, admiring paintings, nibbling cheese cubes. Zachary grabbed two glasses of champagne and handed one to Newell.

“Looks like Anne Marie’s big opening is being well received,” Newell said after taking a sip.

“I know. It’s so exciting having something new and different in town. I realize Gresham has gone through a bit of ‘plastic surgery’ so to speak—me expanding The Literary Barn, Sigrid converting her diner into a supper club—but it can be good to move the status quo off center.”

Zachary felt a tap on his shoulder. He turned and saw Miles La Rouche, who owned the community grocery store, standing next to him. “Good evening, Zachary. It’s nice to see so many people out for this wondrous occasion.”

“I know. Let’s hope this kind of support for the gallery continues long after the champagne and caviar have been consumed.”

Miles looked confused for a moment, and then smiled and chuckled. “Oh, you mean for the gallery. I was talking about the tribute to Muriel and Osgood! I think Jasper Walters has outdone himself, don’t you?”

Zachary nodded. “It’s certainly some beautiful work. Who knew you could take something as simple as farm life and turn it into something so elegant?”

“Muriel really translates well into art, doesn’t she? She really is a magnificent woman, so vibrant and alive, and I think Jasper’s painting captures her spirit perfectly.”

Zachary looked at Miles for a few moments, unsure of how to respond. The way the elderly man was speaking seemed to indicate he was smitten with Muriel, but that couldn’t possibly be true. Could it?

“I take it you and the Reimers are old friends.”

Miles chuckled. “Fifty years ago, I was helping Osgood herd cattle in preparation for butchering and making into jerky. Long days out in the valleys of Shawano and Waupaca counties with the only sounds coming from birds singing and cows emitting lonesome moos as they wandered the terrain. I’ll tell you, though, it was always worth it, because Muriel would have a couple of her cherry pies waiting for us to have after dinner.”

“Sounds wonderful. You must be so happy for the couple. Maybe Jasper Walters could do a painting showing the lifelong friendship you and Osgood have had, something with the two of you out on the range herding the cattle.”

Miles’ face dropped. “Maybe after he does a brilliant portrait of Muriel in the kitchen, baking her cherry pies. She really is the heart of the marriage.”

Newell looked confused. “Are you saying that your lifelong friend doesn’t supply any love?”

Miles leaned in and whispered. “Let’s just say he knows how to handle cows better than people and leave it at that. Now, I’m off to find something to snack on. Good evening.”

As soon as Miles was out of earshot, Zachary turned to Newell. “What the hell do you suppose that was all about?”

Newell shrugged. “I think we ran into the token crazy person that has to be at every event, although I don’t remember him being so odd when we’ve gone grocery shopping.”

“Let’s just hope he’s the only one, and let’s just hope what he said can be blamed on too much champagne. I will admit he came up with one good idea, though. Point me to the finger food!”

“Finger food! When Sigrid caters, people do not have to settle for finger food!” Sigrid stood next to Zachary with a food tray. “Try the mini lasagnas. The taste of an entire meal in just a few bites!”

“Definitely not fingers.” Zachary smiled as he took two small plates and handed one to Newell. “So what happened to the snack sausages and cheeses you were going to serve?”

“They’re over at the food table in the corner, but I really wanted to serve something beyond the ordinary tonight.”

“Looks like the opening is good for your business.”

“Of all the exhibits Anne Marie could have come up with, I think this was the best. The Reimers are like the Shawano County counterpart to the Kennedys. So regal, yet so real.”

Zachary bit his lip, knowing full well how the Kennedy family had more than its fair share of untimely deaths. The same could be said for Gresham, too.

“I think it’s lovely,” Zachary said. “I just hope the allure extends beyond tonight’s event. People can be very fickle when it comes to art, and we’re in a slow part of the year.”

Sigrid nodded. “I know what you mean, but Anne Marie has a lot of support in the area. The Menominee Tribe in particular is quite supportive. I mean, take a look at how many tribal members are here tonight.”

Zachary scanned the room. He recognized Anne Marie’s brother, the tribal chairman, at least four members of the tribal council, a dozen elders, the director of the tribe’s cultural heritage center and at least twenty run-of-the-mill Menominee.

Newell took a bite of his lasagna and moaned with delight. “Sigrid, you definitely have a winner here. These would make good appetizers at your supper club.”

Sigrid blushed at the compliment and kissed Newell’s cheek before turning to Zachary and saying, “This man is definitely a better one than your previous ex-husband.”

Zachary shook his head. “Sigrid, I don’t know any other way to tell you this, but Kevin and I were never married, and we were certainly never lovers. We lived together but had separate lives. I wish you’d understand that Kevin has never been anything more than a friend.”

Sigrid smiled as she walked away with her food tray, like she didn’t believe Zachary’s protests. As nice as she was, this mistaken belief that Zachary and Kevin were once inseparable lovers was the only nagging thing that Zachary disliked about her.

COLLAPSE

About the Author

Lee Pulaski grew up in the dry heat of Arizona in a small town called Chino Valley. Lee has always enjoyed writing, although it took some time for him to develop the courage to get his work into the public eye.

Lee also has a love affair with the theatre, starting to write plays in high school before moving to full-length novels in recent years. In his junior year, one of those plays, Murder on the Boardwalk, was selected for production. Although it was never published, Lee received royalties for the play, which has kept him writing ever since.

Ironically, a dry spell in Lee's creative juices in 2006 prompted him to take a vacation in Wisconsin with family. Getting into a new environment and seeing the beauty of the fall colors is what inspired Lee to write his first novel, The Colors of Love and Autumn, which was first published as an e-book in September 2008 through Torquere Press.

Lee enjoys photography when he is not writing—and sometimes even while he is. He tries to get outdoors whenever he can to take photos. Having learned how to read at age 3 1/2, Lee also loves to read as often as possible, enjoying mysteries mostly, although he'll read any good story.



Other Books By Lee Pulaski

Stand-Alone Books

Book Cover: The Colors of Love and Autumn
The Colors of Love and Autumn
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Book Cover: The Second Season
The Second Season
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Book Cover: An Eagle River Christmas
An Eagle River Christmas
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Book Cover: Hex of the Dragon Fruit
Hex of the Dragon Fruit
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Book Cover: Songs of Seduction
Songs of Seduction
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Book Cover: Bittersweet in the Shadows
Bittersweet in the Shadows
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Book Cover: White Christmas in the Desert
White Christmas in the Desert
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Book Cover: Rural Roots and American Rainbows
Rural Roots and American Rainbows
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Book Cover: Night of the Hodag
Night of the Hodag
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Book Cover: Heartsong of the Lonesome Road
Heartsong of the Lonesome Road
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Series: A Cure For Hunger

Book Cover: A Cure For Hunger
A Cure For Hunger
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Book Cover: A Cure For Hunger II: Howl of the Wendigo
A Cure For Hunger II: Howl of the Wendigo
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Book Cover: A Cure For Hunger III: Darkling in Abeyance
A Cure For Hunger III: Darkling in Abeyance
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Series: Zachary Gagewood Mysteries

Book Cover: As American as Apple Pie
As American as Apple Pie
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Book Cover: Death by Order of the Queen
Death by Order of the Queen
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Book Cover: Murder at the Teddy Bears Picnic
Murder at the Teddy Bears Picnic
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Book Cover: Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles
Sleigh Bells and Slain Belles
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Book Cover: Creampuff of the County
Creampuff of the County
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Book Cover: A Murder Shatters Peaceful Valley
A Murder Shatters Peaceful Valley
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Book Cover: Murder at the Frybread Contest
Murder at the Frybread Contest
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Book Cover: Quoth the Raven
Quoth the Raven
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Book Cover: Dine Out and Die!
Dine Out and Die!
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Book Cover: The Tragic Tale of Tabby and Henny
The Tragic Tale of Tabby and Henny