When Lightning Strikes
Add a dash of Southern crazy with a pinch of odd characters and mix well with a dollop of mystery.
Her last nose job was botched.
Sabine Anne Metzke growled like a deranged animal at her email. The snarl was so loud it drowned out the late spring thunderstorm that was so pervasive in north central Georgia. Her Australian Shepherd lifted her head from her chew blanket, gave her owner the stink eye, and howled in return. It wasn’t that Sabine spoke fluent dog swearing. It was just that her Aussie always managed to have the last word.
“Sorry, Dingo.” Sabine’s hazel eyes darted to her blue merle and then to the rain outside her window. She refocused on the offending email. “I didn’t mean to disturb your nap.”
Unbelievable! She had just sent her last feature story for the month to her editor, and here was Helen Stanley already assigning her another story. She really couldn’t stand Helen! Working for Dixie Days, the “Everything Southern” magazine, kept her checking account barely solvent, but the last feature on a reclusive artist had her driving down a dirt road in the northwest Blue Ridge Mountains in rural Georgia. Her precious Dodge Challenger needed a new tire after that adventure. Helen had just shrugged her bony shoulders and told her to suck it up.
As you may know, Wendy Turner is still in the hospital since her last nose job was botched. Her last feature was on the region’s dying moonshine industry. Fortunately, she left her notes which I am forwarding to you. I need this story by the end of the weekend.
“Thanks, Helen,” Sabine grumbled. Why would she know that Wendy Turner had a botched nose job? She had never met the nasally challenged writer. Sabine was fuming. What made her angry wasn’t the fact that she was assigned a story on such short notice but that Helen just assumed that Sabine was free. True, Sabine did lack a social life, had just turned thirty, and was twenty pounds overweight, with no steady boyfriend, but it was irksome that Helen just assumed she was available.
When Sabine inherited her house from her great aunt in Greenleaf eight months ago, the first thing she noticed was the incredible dearth of eligible, non-criminal, straight men in the area. That’s something the Chamber of Commerce left off their website.
Mayor Omar Crumbee wanted to tout the quiet, bucolic life in Greenleaf and the rest of Jaemore County. The glossy brochure was designed to remind everyone that Greenleaf was a typical, small Southern town akin to Mayberry.
Everyone knew everyone and each other’s history. A new resident, such as Sabine, had her life dissected for two months before being accepted as a friend or at least a non-Yankee. Sabine had just finished the last of the frozen meals given to her by various nosy neighbors a few weeks ago as she entertained the parade of welcome wagons of a dozen or so people. “Where anybody can live and be someone” was the town motto. Sabine added “to be inspected like a side of beef” to the end. The speculation only grew worse if you accidentally wrote a thank you note to Louise Trotter for the wonderful hash brown casserole when Louise had offered her granny’s meatloaf plate.
Greenleaf had the expected town square with an imposing courthouse built in 1904 and facing south. The War Between the States was and still continued to be fought, although more so on a subconscious level. Across the street from the courthouse was a tiny strip mall built in the nineteen-thirties. At one end of the street was Palmer’s Drugstore. Mr. Palmer, the ancient druggist (his preferred title), would rat on you if you bought any contraceptives or even refuse to sell them to you. The weekly Greenleaf Journal known for its hot church gossip was housed in a tiny office next to Old Man Palmer. Sabine had occasionally freelanced with the Journal. It didn’t pay well, but she got to know everyone in town.
On the other side was the Bilbo Legal Office where all known child molesters, wife beaters, deadbeat parents, and other slimy examples of humanity went to for legal representation from equally slimy Hamilton Bilbo. Finally, on the other end was The Store, Greenleaf’s most popular restaurant. Main Street ran between the eating establishment and the strip mall and had the only true traffic light in Greenleaf. City Hall had high hopes for buying two more lights in the near future.
It wasn’t that Sabine actively hated living in Greenleaf. Point of fact was that it would be a great town to raise a family. Greenleaf was small-town Georgia at its' best and was one of the last of the dying breeds where children could still play in the streets and stay out all day without fear of abduction. But the biggest problem was acquiring said family before Sabine’s ovaries retired.
Maybe moonshine could wait. Hmm, the rain was slowing, and the sun was breaking through. Without much thought, she grabbed her cell phone to call her best friend, Mia Wallis. Mia was a hometown girl, so she was always good for sprouting off the details of a shoplifter’s life while waiting for the police. Greenleaf, Georgia, was not known as a dynamic social scene. No hip wineries featuring local merlot or an engaging pub with an up and coming rock band peppered the landscape. The best opportunity for action was a trip to Dupont’s Foods and Pharmacy with your best friend. If you were lucky, you would see a shoplifter there on a Friday night. Then maybe the Jaemore County Sheriff’s Office would send their new detective, hunky Newt Johansson, to investigate. In fact, Sabine met Mia during one such incident When Mia was not in nearby Athens at the mall shopping for designer clothes to drape her perfect body, she was always up for trip through Dupont’s.
As Sabine pressed Mia’s speed dial number, she reread the email and the accompanying notes. Oh, crap…the contact was leaving for a trip late this evening. It seems moonshine could not wait. Edweener Bumpus was packing for a trip to the Biloxi casinos and slot machines in Mississippi, and before she left, Sabine needed some quotes about white lightning.
Local Writer Mauled by Hysterical Fowls and Pig.
“Take a right on Vondale Circle. Eighth driveway on right. About two miles down,” Sabine muttered. She continued listening to her new Elvis download. It was just after four, and the rain had finally cleared completely. Sabine rolled down her windows and cranked up speakers.
Elvis had finished crooning “Fools Rush In” and started belting out “Hunka, Hunka of Burning Love,” when Sabina noticed the condition of the houses progressively getting worse. After counting off the seventh one, she swung her Challenger onto a dirt driveway covered with ruts. She cursed the president, governor, and county officials for not paving roads as one particularly deep hole had her bouncing in her seat. The rain had turned the driveway into a mire of mud mixed with gravel. The bottom of the Challenger scraped the ground. Fortunately, the drive gave way to a clearing with three trailers with no addresses attached to them. Sabine parked on the edge of the gravel because she did not want to get stuck in the mud.
“Well, fudge.” Sabine frowned. “Okay, time for some scientific deduction. Eenie, meenie, minee, mo.” Mo turned out to be the first trailer. However, Mo also had a large pig rooting around the porch as well as several chickens milling about. Sabine got out, and the wind swept the scent of manure and ammonia to her. Immediately, her eyes started to water. Whether it was her pollen allergies or the smell didn’t matter. She sent a brief prayer thanking God for helping her not to forget to take out her rubber boots this week.
Knowing her luck, Sabine figured Edweener Bumpus had already left for the slot machines and endless buffet. Sabine climbed up the steps and knocked. And rapped again. Let’s go to the one of the others, she thought as she left her business card wedged in the door. When she strode toward the middle trailer, a sharp pain hit the back of her left knee.
“What the…?” Sabine looked down and saw angry, squawking chickens close on her heels. One of the largest was inches from making another peck at her. “Get away from me, you little monsters.” She tried to sprint, but her boots were sticking in the muddy Georgia clay. The pig eyed her as if she was its supper and then charged. She knew she would be featured on the Channel 7 news out of Atlanta. “Local Writer Mauled by Hysterical Fowls and Pig.” Helen would be smiling with glee as she announced how sorry she was that Sabine was in a deep coma and not expected to recover. However, Sabine was expected to continue writing until death or deadline--whichever came first.
She had no idea how she made it the trailer. Leaving the chickens to surround the porch, she knocked on the door. It swung open to reveal an abandoned home. When one particular nasty rooster jumped onto the porch, Sabine made an executive decision and leapt inside the trailer.
One whiff told Sabine that the malicious chickens had made their way into the trailer and had used it as their own personal toilet. The only light shone through the dirty and broken windows. Holes the size of car tires littered the living room floor and kitchen. The carpet was an indeterminate color. Sabine guessed it was brown, but that could be chicken manure. A lone tattered couch with no cushions leaned against a wall. Sabine noticed the back door through the kitchen was hanging open by one hinge. The birds were closing in on Sabine's location.
“Chickens can’t be that smart. I’ll go out the back. I’ll show those little bast…birds,” she amended.
A quick peek outside signaled the all clear. Lady Luck was with her for the next trailer sat close by with the front door facing the other side, away from the hostile chickens. There were no stairs, merely a two by four propped up to the door. She eyed it with distrust. She doubted it would hold her weight, but since she was here, she decided to chance it.
Like the second trailer, the door was ajar. This home was furnished in early thrift store. Sabine knocked and called out. No one answered. She muttered as she poked her head in further. “If I worked late for a wild goose chase, I’ll be royally pissed off.”
It was then she saw the unmoving hand. At least she thought it was a hand. It was draped across the back of a bar on the floor near the dirty kitchen. A dark brown colored arm was attached to it, but the rest of the body was hidden from view behind a grimy playpen. Sabine's stomach somersaulted at the sight of the motionless, slender hand. A cold shiver came over her. Playpen. The thought of a baby in this carnage of an interior mortified her.
Leaping back, Sabine jumped off the plank and plowed through the mud to her car. The chickens were forgotten and the pig was in hog heaven, rooting in the mud. She made it back to her car with no problem and fumbled around for her cell phone. It always seemed to disappear when she needed it most. Her thoughts swirled with a multitude of questions ranging from Edweener Bumpus’ current location to the owner of the unidentified hand, and wondering if Edweener have any children. Sabine flung fast food bags and French fry remnants across her back seat. She sent a prayer up as her hand curled around the phone.
“911 Emergency.” The dispatcher’s voice was full of static.
“This is Sabine Metzke. I’m at…Oh crap where am I?” Sabine found the notes under seat. “I’m at nine-thirty-one C Vondale Circle. There’s a body—I don’t know if it is dead or alive, man or woman or hermaphrodite—at the trailer. It could be Edweener. And there’s a playpen nearby. I don’t know about kids or Edweener.”