Thursday, March 08, 2007

Chapter One

Lonnie and Bo Patterson ran through the forest chasing after the wild turkey they’d spotted. Both of them; seventeen-year-old Lonnie, and fourteen year old Bo knew better than to chase the bird, but youthful exuberance and the clear day caused them to abandon their hunt for the sheer joy of play.

Whooping and hollering, they ran through the forest, throwing pinecones at each other, and pegging black walnuts at the terrified turkey.

They ventured farther from home this morning than was their habit, but both boys knew every inch of the Ridge. Even with the encroachment of the lumber mills that began springing up since the war with Germany and Japan ended two years ago, little had changed on this side of the ridge.

Tiring of the chase, Lonnie turned to Bo, and punched him hard on the arm. Bo grinning, punched him back, and the two began to wrestle in the dead, frost covered grass. Finally, tired of the game the two boys headed toward a single black gum tree to rest.

“Gonna be a cold winter this year,” Lonnie said, absently.

Bo grinned, “Yep. Snow asshole deep to a tall Indian,”

“I’m telling Ma you’re cussin'.”

“No you won’t,” Bo replied, “or I’ll tell her ‘bout how you slipped out last night after we was all in bed.”

“How did you know ‘bout that?” Lonnie’s eyes narrowed.

“Seen you.” Bo stood his ground, his chin jutted defiantly.

“You little…” Lonnie started to hit Bo, and the younger boy ran off, laughing at his brother’s expression.

Lonnie followed and when Bo stopped dead in his tracks, Lonnie pulled up short. “Lonnie,” Bo’s voice was hushed. “Look, Lonnie.”

Lonnie followed his brother’s gaze, and gasped. Lying on the cold ground under the black gum tree was the nude body of a woman.

The two boys stood frozen, staring at the body. “Do you reckon she’s dead?” Bo asked, in a hushed whisper.

Lonnie swallowed convulsively, and nodded his head, “Yeah, I do.”

“We better go get Pa.” Bo began backing away, his eyes wide and fearful.

“Wait a minute. Let’s see if she’s dead for sure first.” Lonnie edged nearer, heart pounding in his chest. He stood over the young woman trying to keep his eyes from looking at her naked breasts. He’d never seen a naked woman before. Deliberately he kept his eyes averted from the woman’s body, and looked pointedly at her face.

“Who is it?” Bo asked from a safe distance.

“Don’t rightly know. Looks kind a like Molly Matthews, but I can’t tell for sure, too much blood and bruises.” Lonnie turned away from the body to face his brother.

“Is she dead?” Bo’s eyes were wide and frightened.

Lonnie turned back to the woman and taking a deep breath knelt beside her. With a shaking hand he reached out and placed his palm gently on the swell of the woman’s left breast. Instantly he jerked his hand away and jumped to his feet. “She’s still alive, Bo. Run get Pa.

“You comin’?” Bo asked him, turning to go.

“No, I’ll stay here with her. Maybe I can wake her up.”

“You better leave her be till Pa gets here, Lonnie. You don’t know nothin’ about doctorin'.”

“I won’t touch her, but I ain’t gonna leave her here alone. Now go, hurry, Bo.” Lonnie waved his hand at his brother who turned and sped off.

For several minutes Lonnie stood over the woman, and then knelt down beside her once again. He gently brushed the hair back from her face and looked into the blue eyes that were all but swollen shut. She sure looked like Molly Matthews. She had the same blonde hair and blue eyes, and she was very pretty, but it was too hard to tell for certain.

Her face was bruised and bloodied, as was the rest of her body. Several of her fingernails were broken off and there was what appeared to be skin and blood under the ones that were left. She had several deep wounds and cuts on her face, and there was a vicious slice across her throat.

Her blood had soaked into the ground beneath her, but the cold night air had coagulated it. He could see bite marks on her bare breasts. Someone had bitten her so hard that her right nipple was barely attached, hanging by a tiny piece of skin.

Averting his eyes, Lonnie settled down beside the woman to wait for his father.

After a time, he got to his feet and began to pace nervously, a frown creasing his brow. It seemed to him that Bo had been gone a very long time. He’d taken his jacket off earlier and draped it over the nude woman, so as to avoid seeing her. She hadn't moved, and Lonnie began to wonder if maybe he’d been mistaken and she was dead after all.

Lonnie walked around the young woman, his eyes raking the cold ground around her. There was nothing but a few footprints, more like indentations, in the dead, brown grass; nothing to give him or anyone else an idea of who had done this.

The cawing of a crow shattered the stillness and Lonnie jumped, and then chuckled nervously. Nothing here was going to hurt him, but he heaved a huge sigh of relief when he heard his father’s old truck rattling across the hard ground just over the rise.

Bo jumped from the back of the pickup before it came to a complete stop. In the cab were Lonnie’s mother and father. He hurried over to them as they got out of the truck.

“What ya got there, son?” Cletus Patterson asked.

“It’s a woman, Pa, looks like she’s been kilt,” Lonnie replied, leading the way over to the body.

“Ma, you stay over by the truck,” Cletus said over his shoulder.

“I will not, Cletus Patterson.” Marva, Lonnie’s mother hurried up alongside her husband and sons, “she might need me.”

As the four neared the body, they pulled up short. Cletus walked over and stared down at the woman for several seconds; then stooped down and felt for a pulse.

“Is she alive, Cletus?” Marva asked, coming to stand beside him.

“I think she is.” Cletus stood up, and turned to Bo. “Bo, go to the truck and get that quilt for me.” Bo nodded, and sped off. “Lonnie, help me pick her up.”

Lonnie took the woman’s feet as Cletus grabbed her under the arms and they gently lifted her off the cold ground.

Marva grabbed the quilt from Bo and wrapped it around the woman gently as they moved to the truck, placing the body in the bed.

“What do we do with her, Pa?” Lonnie asked, jumping into the back of the truck with Bo, “Take her to town?”

“No, we’ll take her over to our place for now,” Cletus said, getting into the truck.

When they reached the house, Cletus told Bo, “Run fetch Granny Ketchum.”

Bo nodded and turned to go, but pulled up short. “Pa, is she gonna be all right, you reckon?”

“I don’t know son. Don’t look good.” Cletus jumped up in the bed of the truck to help Lonnie with the woman, “Now run, and hurry.”

“Pa, I think this is Molly Matthews,” Lonnie said, as he and his father removed the woman from the truck bed. “Leastways, it looks like her.”

“Well whoever it is, she’s hurt real bad, and she needs doctoring,” Marva crossed the porch, and opened the door for the men. “Put her in the girls’ bed for now.”

Lonnie and Cletus gently deposited the woman on the bed and covered her with a quilt then walked out of the room.


Sheriff Amos Quimby sat at his desk, a stack of files in front of him. Although it was Saturday morning he was busily going through some of the unsolved crimes in Sayer County. As a rule he didn't come in to the office on the weekend. He had a deputy for that, but things were a bit tense at home right now and he much preferred the cold comfort of his office to the cold shoulder he would be getting at home.

With a sigh he shoved the files away from him and propped his elbows on the desk, his chin resting on his clasped hands. It seemed all Ethel and he did anymore was argue; stupid fights that were generally about nothing in particular.

The last time she acted like this had been the time she ran off to Knoxville with that salesman. She left Amos taking their two small children with her and he’d been both relieved that their farce of a marriage was over, and angry that she’d taken his children to live with a stranger.

Amos smiled at the memory of those two months. He almost had what he wanted most in the world then. Mary came to him and they’d finally done the one thing both of them wanted all through high school. They made love. It was everything Amos always thought it would be. There was no awkward silence afterward, just a warm softness that flooded through him and he was certain she felt the same way. But, he’d been mistaken.

The next day she called him; her voice choked with tears and told him good-bye once again. She was married, she loved her husband and she had to try to make her marriage work, thank you very much.

Getting up from his chair, Amos walked over and stood staring out the window. It was another cold day. The frost was thick on the ground, the sun too weak to burn it off even at ten in the morning.

He ran his hands through his thick, wavy, dark brown hair. It was streaked with silver. His dark blue eyes sparkled when he smiled, but those same laughing blue eyes could become as hard as gun metal when he was angry. Amos was a big man standing well over six feet, with broad shoulders. His back and forearms rippled with well defined muscles, gained from long hours spent swinging his huge axe as he cut down trees and spilt logs for firewood.

Amos was well liked in the county. His slow, easy manner made him a likable man, a trusted public official, whose fairness and level head brought well earned respect from the law abiding citizens of Sayer County, but step on the wrong side of the law and Amos could make you very sorry you took that step. He was never cruel or physically violent, there was no need. Whenever he was called to settle a dispute or break up a fight, all it took were the words “That’s enough” spoken firmly and clearly to give the combatants pause. There were very few occasions in which Amos felt the need to wear his gun. Folks in Sayer County knew well his reputation and those who kept to the law had a friend in Amos Quimby. Those who didn’t only made that mistake once.

He idly fingered the deep cleft in his chin and smiled. That cleft had been the bane of his existence since high school when folks began to tell him he looked like Kirk Douglas. Shaking his head, he returned to his desk and plopped down in the chair. John Wayne, maybe, he thought with a grin, eyeing the pristine white Stetson that was his trademark hanging on the hook beside the door, but not Kirk Douglas.

Being Sheriff had its advantages. He could come and go at home as he pleased. These days though he didn't really have to bother with an excuse to leave the house. Ethel didn't seem to care one way or the other, and he was just as glad.

His twenty-two year marriage had never been the joy he thought it should be and he supposed a great deal of that was his own doing. Ethel really did try to make a good marriage and good home for him. She tried to be a good wife, a loving wife; but Amos’ heart had another’s name seared on it and he just wasn’t able to love Ethel as deeply as she loved him.

He sighed. If only things had turned out differently. Well, it was over and done with and there was nothing he could do about it now. She was married and she had a child and there was no way Mary would ever leave her husband, so Amos might as well let the past lie.

He looked up at Dark Ridge and a chill, more a sense of foreboding washed over him and he shrugged his shoulders. There was never any trouble up on Dark Ridge. He had no reason to believe today would be any different.

1 comment:

Jeni said...

Hey! I read your book this week! Don't go selling yourself short when you "advise" people that they "might" find it interesting. Ok, there are a couple of spots were it kind of drags for a page or so but then it picks up again. By the time I got to the last 60-70 pages, I couldn't read and turn the pages fast enough to find out what was going to happen next. Very good piece, Linda!! Walk tall, be proud! You done good, Kid!