Read the opening of Mirror Lake by Juneau Black
Mirror Lake is out now!
It was mid-October in Shady Hollow, a glorious time of year that showed the small village to its best advantage. The many trees were gold, red, and yellow, blazing colours wherever a creature looked. It was also the time of the Harvest Festival, an annual event that most residents of Shady Hollow looked forward to all year. It took place at the town park by the river, and there were activities for everyone. There were apple bob- bing for the little ones (the apples, of course, were provided by Cold Clay Orchards) and a wide variety of booths with tasty foods of all kinds. Sun Li, the panda who owned the best restaurant in town, the Bamboo Patch, was proudly serving his renowned pumpkin soup. There were also tables laden with local cheeses, ciders, and pies.
Vera Vixen, local reporter by choice and local sleuth by accident, was one of the many Shady Hollow residents who looked forward to the festival. She and Orville Braun, the hard- working deputy of the town’s two-bear-strong police force, had planned to spend the day together at the event.
As Vera and Orville wandered among the display tables, they greeted their friends and neighbours. They nearly ran into Gladys Honeysuckle, Vera’s colleague at the Shady Hollow Herald. Gladys was darting in and out of the crowd, her wings beating so fast they became a blur in the air. All the while, Gladys chatted with folks and gleaned far more gossip and information than anyone else would have dreamed.
“Oh, Vera!” the hummingbird called. “There you are, and with Deputy Braun as well. My, my, my. You two are getting cozy, aren’t you?”
Suppressing a sigh, Vera said, “It’s not news that Orville and I have gone on a few dates.”
“No,” Gladys agreed with some deflation in her tone. “It’s not news. Unless you want to make some sort of . . . announcement?”
“Nothing comes to mind,” Orville replied. His expression was mild, even a little stupid. When she’d first met Orville, Vera had thought he wasn’t the brightest. She’d quickly come to learn that, while he had a very different approach to the world, Orville was much, much smarter than he looked. It was one of his best tools as an officer of the law. (His other tools were sheer size, four massive paws, and a jaw that could snap a pine sapling in half.)
Vera and Orville moved through the festival grounds and stopped at a table where two chipmunks were sitting. Geoffrey and Benjamin Eastwood ran the town’s bed-and-breakfast, which was located on a lovely cul-de-sac just off Main Street. Ben was offering cookies to passersby, and Vera smiled when he called her name.
“Miss Vixen, you’re a connoisseur of treats,” he said. “Try my maple cookies. I only bake them in fall and winter.”
He gave one each to Vera and Orville. Crunchy granules of maple sugar studded the cookie’s top, like a particularly delicious autumn frost. Vera nibbled the leaf-shaped treat with relish.
“Real good,” Orville said, licking the last of the sugar off his paw.
“Then have a second,” Geoffrey insisted, reaching past his husband to offer another cookie. “We’ve got seven dozen, after all!”
“That won’t be enough,” Vera predicted. The cookies would pair excellently with a cup of strong coffee, maybe one with a stick of cinnamon in it and a dollop of whipped cream . . .
Dreamily, Vera told the Eastwoods goodbye and walked off with Orville, delighted by the fine day, the blue sky, and the general bounty surrounding them.
Moments later, they waved to Howard Chitters, the director of the sawmill, Shady Hollow’s largest business. He was accompanied by what looked to be an invading horde of mice but was in fact just his immediate family.
Vera chatted with Mrs. Chitters and her young daughter Moira for a few minutes, exchanging pleasantries and guessing who would win the bread-baking competition this year. When Vera said goodbye to her friend, she turned her attention back to Orville. “Shall we go find the Nevermore table?” she asked. Shopping for books was perhaps the greatest treasure hunt there was.
But Orville didn’t reply, because his attention was elsewhere—he was staring at the cider tent, which was a very popular destination on this crisp, sunny day. Vera followed his gaze and spotted Theodore Meade, the Shady Hollow chief of police. More significantly, Meade was Orville’s boss. Meade clutched a mug of cider in one huge paw and was clapping Howard Chitters on the back with the other. This friendly gesture nearly sent the small mouse into the air.
Orville’s usually pleasant expression was missing; in its place was a mask of anger that Vera had seen only once or twice. Before she could ask him what the problem was, the police bear began muttering, “What is he doing here? He promised to take a solo shift at the station today. I never ask him for any- thing, and the one time I do . . .” Orville trailed off, sputtering. Before Vera could gather her thoughts and take in the situation, Orville was striding over to the park’s gazebo. A podium was set up for the mayor’s speech later in the afternoon. Orville
took the stairs in one leap and stood behind the podium. “Ladies and gentlemice, if I could have your attention,
please.” Orville’s voice boomed out over the crowd. “I have an important announcement to make.”
The crowd murmured and whispered. Vera caught a few words here and there. Then she heard Gladys’s distinctive loud tone. “Yes. I knew it! He’s going to propose to Vera!”
A sheep standing next to Gladys tried to shush her when they saw Vera staring. Could it be true? Vera wasn’t sure how she felt about it. She liked Orville very much, but they had not been dating all that long!
Vera’s musings were cut short when Orville began to speak again.
“As you know, there is an election coming up in a few short weeks. And while this may be a surprise to hear, I would like to announce my candidacy for police chief of Shady Hollow. I have served this community long and well, and it’s time for a change in the establishment. Please cast your vote for me, Orville Braun, for your police chief. Thank you for your attention.”
Orville gave a tip of his hat to the crowd and promptly left the stage. Creatures began to chatter excitedly and wished Orville well as he walked through the crowd to Vera. Vera closed her mouth when she realized that it was hanging open slightly. She was completely flabbergasted by this turn of events. She knew that Orville was unhappy with his boss, but she never thought that he would actually do anything about it. Least of all this!
Orville made his way back to where Vera was standing. By
the time he reached her, she had regained her composure. “Vera,” he began, “I’m sorry that I didn’t give you a heads-
up.” Orville paused and looked at the fox, trying to gauge her reaction. “It is something that I have been thinking about off and on. I planned to discuss it with you first, but then I saw Meade here at the festival when he promised me he would be at the station, and I just got so mad.”
Vera laughed at this, so Orville knew that everything between them was all right.
She said, “Your first mistake was actually believing that Meade would do what he said he would do. Have you ever known him to show up for work on a beautiful fall day like this?”
Orville still looked annoyed for a moment, and then he laughed, too. “You’re right, of course, Vera,” he replied. “I don’t know what I was thinking, imagining that I could count on him to do anything that I asked. Seriously, I was going to wait until he retired in a few years before I ran for police chief, but when I saw him drinking cider without a care in the world, I just lost it.”
“You’re going to win this election,” Vera said with conviction. “You are already doing the job anyway. You might as well have the title and the salary.”
Just then, she saw the figure of a skunk standing about twenty feet away. He was puffing on a cigar, and his gaze bored directly into Vera.
She murmured, “Oh, dear, BW wants a word.” BW Stone ran the newspaper, and though Vera liked him, he only talked business . . . and it was her day off.
“Skip it,” Orville suggested.
“No, he’ll just hound me until he says whatever’s on his mind. I won’t be a minute. Meet you in the music tent?”
“Sure. Oh, actually, I just remembered that I said I’d stop by and see Professor Heidegger today. He thinks someone snuck into his house and rearranged all his books.”
“What? Just rearranged? Not stole?” “That’s what he said.”
“Heidegger lives about forty feet off the ground,” she objected. Granted, plenty of creatures could access the owl’s lofty home if they really wanted, but it seemed unlikely that they could do so while Heidegger remained unaware of it. “Oh, well, I’ll want to hear all the details. Let’s say we’ll find each other in the music tent in an hour.”
With that, she left Orville and moved toward BW. He was a fast-talking, cigar-chomping skunk who loved a good headline. Vera did not always agree with him, though she respected him, and she enjoyed her job at the paper. But she suspected that this conversation was going to annoy her.
“Vera, how’s it going on this fine day? Some news about your special friend running for chief, huh?”
“It was an impulse,” she said, wondering if BW was sim- ply put out that Orville didn’t make his announcement via an interview with the paper. “He’s always toyed with the idea of running, but he made his decision right before he went onstage.”
“Not a moment too soon, if you want my opinion!” (BW Stone always assumed that everyone wanted his opinion.) “Meade’s a good bear all around, but he’s been police chief for approximately seventeen centuries, and it’s time for a change.” Privately, Vera concurred. Chief Meade was known more for his fishing skills than for his dedication to duty, and when things got sticky—such as when dead bodies showed up—it
was Orville whom the town relied on to solve the crimes. “Now listen up, Vixen. I’ve got an idea for coverage of the
Vera stood there and wished she had about five more of Ben’s maple cookies while her boss outlined his idea. She knew better than to try to respond until he was finished. There was no stopping Stone when he was on a roll.
“The way I see it, you’ve got an inside track,” he was saying. “I want to hear all the info on Orville’s campaign. Who better than you? This is going to be a hotly contested election. Meade has run unopposed for years. We don’t want the Herald to miss out on the story. What do you think?”
“Oh, I don’t know, BW,” Vera said when she realised her boss was waiting for an answer. “I’m a reporter, and I’m supposed to be unbiased. Folks won’t trust my take on things anyway. They all know Orville and I have been seeing each other.”
“Why don’t you take the rest of the day off and think about it, Vera?” Stone urged. This was not as generous as it sounded since Vera already had the day off to attend the Har- vest Festival.
She strongly encouraged BW to go sample some of Cold Clay’s hard apple cider, secretly hoping the skunk would sample so much that he’d pass out and forget he’d ever asked her to cover Orville’s campaign.
With almost an hour before she was to rejoin Orville, Vera finally reached a table filled with books: the festival outpost of the local bookstore. A small head popped up between two tall stacks. “Morning, Miss Vixen!” a mouse squeaked.
“Hi there, Violet. Where’s Lenore?”
“She flew back to the shop to pull some more books. We’re really selling them today!” Violet turned then and greeted another customer who had just walked up.
Vera decided to run over to the bookshop to see if she could help Lenore. She didn’t think the raven had ever taken off a whole day in her life. Lenore tried to keep the store open as much as she could. There were always creatures coming in to browse and buy a few cards or paperbacks. Lenore hired a few locals to help out at the front counter on the busiest days, but she was the sole owner of the store and, for the most part, handled everything herself. Vera worried about her friend working too hard and never having an opportunity to take a vacation, but Lenore was in good health, and right now the bookshop was her life. It was also an important part of the community in Shady Hollow and provided a place for village folks to gather and talk about books. When Lenore was able to schedule author events and book signings, there was great rejoicing in the town.
In general, there was not a great deal for local creatures to do in the evenings, and attending a book signing was far prefer- able to enduring a concert at the church, which often featured the questionable vocal talents of Edith von Beaverpelt. Vera had made the mistake of attending one such event when she had first moved to Shady Hollow, and she did not think that she would ever fully recover. Madame von Beaverpelt possessed a squeaky soprano voice, and she was rarely in key. However, her belief in her own talent was prodigious, and Parson Conkers did not possess the backbone to turn down her regular offers to perform, especially because the von Beaverpelts had donated most of the funds to repair the church steeple after it was struck by lightning several years ago.
Walking past tables and through tents, Vera was surrounded by the chattering of cheerful creatures dressed in smart jackets and dapper hats or colourful dresses and f rocks, all enjoy- ing the sunny, cool day. She felt out of place and distracted by Orville’s unplanned announcement. She’d thought her biggest challenge today would be the sack race on the village green.
She had no doubt that Orville would make an excellent chief of police. It was an open secret that he did nearly all the actual work of the department’s daily operations while allow- ing Meade to take credit for the (mostly) smooth running of the town. Shady Hollow was a peaceful community with generally law-abiding and orderly citizens. Orville had never been a bear to disrupt the status quo. He’d been willing to wait until Chief Meade’s inevitable retirement to step up and put his name forth as the obvious successor.
Yet now he’d jumped right into the thornbush.
by Juneau Black
A MURDER TO SOLVE. A REPORTER ON THE TRAIL.
IS THIS A CASE OF MISTAKEN IDENTITY?
Welcome, dear reader! You have happened upon the delightful village of Shady Hollow, a place where rabbits and raptors, squirrels and snakes live together in civilised accord . . . with only the occasional murder to mar the peace of daily life.
Keen journalist Vera Vixen is recovering from the Harvest Festival (and its bounty of local cheeses, cider and pies) when the calm is shattered by a scream from one of the small town's grandest houses. Dorothy Springfield, a rat with a reputation for eccentricity, claims her husband - who is standing right next to her - has been murdered. Has Dorothy finally lost her grip on reality? Or is the rat who claims to be Edward an imposter? Vera's fox nose scents a story. And it's not long before the discovery of a body, minus the head, complicates things further . . .
Entertaining and perceptive, Mirror Lake is fast-paced and witty, with characters that jump off the page and a hugely satisfying mystery to solve. Once you've met the residents of ShadyHollow, you won't forget them.