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Linda French's
STEEPED IN MURDER
A Professor Teodora Morelli Mystery
 
First Chapter
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STEEPED IN MURDER
Chapter One
(Read or print)

Teddy Morelli extended her hand, waiting for the worst. Junior faculty--untenured junior faculty--did not get invited to fundraisers for heavy hitters without a reason.
Beside her stood Rainwater State University president Walter Rhodes-The Roadster, but not to his face. He turned to the two gleaming Californians across from Teddy and beamed. "Herb and Sally, I'd like you to meet Professor Teodora Morelli of our history department. Teodora is our Pacific Northwest specialist. And Dr. Morelli"-he cleared his throat-"I almost feel like I'm making history here. I'm very privileged to introduce my dear friends Herb and Sally Patchett."
"Sally Pickett-Patchett," corrected Sally.
"Sally Pickett-Patchett," he repeated, touching the small of her back. "Which is, of course, why we're out here this lovely Sunday evening." Rhodes gestured across the boat deck to the shimmering orange sea, the outsized snowy mountain chalked on purple sky. "We thought Sally needed to get out on the water and see things the way her ancestor did back then. Got around by boat, didn't they, Professor Morelli?"
So there it was: Teddy's job for the evening. She sighed with relief. All that would be required was a cozy chat in the saloon, telling this well-coiffed brunette Daughter of the Pioneers how courageously her nineteenth century ancestors had fished out all the salmon, cut down all the trees.
Teddy nabbed a goat cheese canape from a passing student waiter and turned back to Sally, smiling her company best. "Did your ancestors live out here in on the islands or back in Bellingham?"
Sally frowned, somehow offended by the question. Instantly President Rhodes picked up the ball. "Oh, you didn't catch that, did you, Professor Morelli?" He moved in close for effect. "What do you know about ... General George E. Pickett?"
"Well, my goodness." Teddy nodded deferentially to Sally. That Pickett. The Southern general who led the most disastrous charge in American history. The man who lost the Civil War. "Then you must be out here learning about his early service on the frontier."
Sally bowed her head modestly. "Actually, we know quite a bit about it already. My great-great-grandmother wrote some articles for McClure's Magazine in 1908. We have them in an album." Sally's succulent Virginiaese was rich enough to anchor television news back in Richmond. The Pickett-Patchetts' spiffy new nautical togs were the only thing from California, it appeared.
"McClure's." Teddy nodded. The 1908 articles by Pickett's widow had almost single-handedly created the myth of the heroic and doomed Confederacy-the Southern version of the war still in use today. "Well," Teddy said, "you mustn't be too hard on old George Pickett. He hasn't exactly been given the best press." Not to mention he was a borderline incompetent.
"Oh, I know better than to listen to all that." Sally's ts were tipped with treacle. "In fact, the man who wrote Pickett's Charge thinks that Grandpa George was the greatest man in American history."
"Well." Teddy bobbled her head, as if truly considering the thought. "I don't kn-"
"He says, right off the bat, since the Civil War was the greatest event in American history and Gettysburg was the climax of the war and"--she took a breath-- "Pickett's Charge was the climax of Gettysburg, Grandpa George is the most important man in American history."
Teddy kept nodding. "Interesting."
Handsome, blond Herb Patchett slipped an arm around his wife. "Don't get old Sal all stoked up about George Pickett. She can be a real fireball."
Teddy glanced up at the sun-kissed Californian. Herb Patchett had the most amazing head of hair for a middle aged man she had ever seen. Still blond as a beach boy's, the hair was wavy and gorgeous, gleaming with pale highlights in the champagne light of sunset. Herb had important hair, executive hair. No wonder tall, lanky President Rhodes was keeping his balding pate under a driving cap.
"Well," asked Teddy, "when we motored around San Juan Island, could you see any of Pickett's Camp from water level?"
"No." Sally pouted.
President Rhodes sniffed. "We were actually searching for you to help flesh out the story. Excuse me. I'm going to close that door."
They watched as he strode over to the saloon sliding door and got caught up with the mountain-climbing crowd, a new group of donors Rhodes was cultivating from his own contacts.
Realizing he'd be a while, Teddy said, "Sorry I wasn't around to help. I've been up in the observation lounge, and my department chairman just now told me to come down and introduce myself." With the door closed, the saloon immediately became stuffy. Teddy unzipped her red canvas jacket. "But don't worry. There're plenty of Pickett sites back in Bellingham. And with your credentials, you can probably even get the women who run the Pickett House to give you a private tour. Have you been to the house yet?" She stuffed her watch cap in her pocket. "It's where Pickett and his Indian wife lived before he went out to the islands. In fact, little Jimmie Pickett was born in the Pickett House."
"Who?" Sally's face blanched.
"Jimmie Pickett. He was Pickett's son by his Indian wife."
Herb Patchett choked on his ice. Sally's skin turned the color of low-fat milk.
"No," Sally said flatly. "Grandpa George never, ever had an Indian wife. That half-breed boy that lived with him was the son of a great chief The chief gave Grandpa that boy because he had so much respect for him. I can show you in Grandma Sally's McClure's articles."
Teddy kept her mouth firmly shut.
"Well." President Rhodes rejoined the group. Someone had playfully turned his driving cap backward. "I'm so glad you two are hitting it off. " He raised an eyebrow at Sally. "Have you sprung it on her yet?"
Teddy looked from face to face. "Sprung what?"
Sally Pickett-Patchett looked askance at Rhodes. "You ask her. It's too complicated."
President Rhodes scowled through the saloon windows at bottle green Lummi Island gathering secrets in the dusk. "I can't ask her," he said. "She'll feel compelled."
"Oh, that's right. You're like her boss, aren't you?"
Stiffness swept up Teddy's back. She waited, fighting panic. Everyone smiled awkwardly, and Sally finally began. "Well, you see, we were hoping you could help explain something for us."
"Sure."

STEEPED IN MURDER
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