When a man's mail is returned marked "temporarily away," the local sheriff investigates; he finds the man dead, but the death first attributed to "natural causes" looks as unlikely as "temporarily away."
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When a fellow writer's mail is returned marked "temporarily away" and she is unable to reach him, Henrietta Harcourt asks the local sheriff to investigate, and the man's mummified remains are discovered in his remote cabin on the edge of a national forest. After his death is dismissed as natural causes, a suspicious Henrietta prods the sheriff to look at someone with motive, means, and opportunity. When he does, "natural causes" begins to look as unlikely as "temporarily away."
Deputy Crowley didn’t like it. Nothing definite that he could put his finger on, but more of a feeling that nagged him; something was wrong. He decided to check in, to alert the dispatcher to his last whereabouts and the condition of the area—just in case.
Instead of bounding from his cruiser as was his habit, always eager to get on with the job at hand, this time he hesitated, instead once more looking around before slowly lifting the door latch and stepping out of the cruiser.
He stood beside the vehicle, listening, his eyes scanning the perimeter of the property. Nothing. Instinctively he drew his Glock and held it close to and slightly behind his body as he walked uneasily up the stone path to the front door. He knocked, softly at first, to avoid raising a needless alarm. No sound emanated from inside. Now he knocked louder and called out, “Mr. Mercer? Sheriff’s department. Open the door please.” Still nothing. He peered through the bay window beside the door to see if he could make out anything inside.
Seeing nothing from the front of the house, he followed the walk to the rear door and squinted through the kitchen window. He could see a table sitting in the middle of the room; a box lay on top, one that looked like it might have contained food. Through the sunlight that flooded the room, he could make out several dead mice on the table beside the box.
Deputy Crowley stepped back and considered the situation. Should he force his way in? Call for back up? Investigate further? He once more strained to see what he could through the smeary glass. This time he saw the floor of the kitchen and traced it to a doorway to the next room. There was no mistaking what lay on the floor blocking the way. Two legs were visible up to the knees; they were not moving.