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Chapter 1


I can tell you the story, the facts of the matter, that is. I guess technically, it is my story, since I was there and it happened to me. As to conclusions? You are on your own. I have mine and you can say yay or nay as suits you and form your own.

First, though, I want to be perfectly clear about one thing.

I did not kill those men.

Well, wait a minute. I was involved in the accident that killed one of them, but he caused it, I didn’t. 

Harold Osterbrook roared off Foster hill with a full load of newspapers and no brakes. He hit the intersection, leaned into the turn and hit my truck in the rear quarter panel.

That old car of his slid to the breakwater, smacked the seawall a good one, flipped over and went splat, right into the water. Harold never wore a seat belt, wouldn’t have even if he had one, and he bounced three or four times. One of those bounces broke his neck and he left this mortal coil, still clutching his pint of gin.

The thing is, I didn’t kill him. And damned if I’m gonna take the blame for a pure dee old accident. Shoot, Harold being on the road was an accident just looking for a place to park.

And the other guy? The other one I supposedly killed?

Who on God’s green earth would put a ten gallon can of tar on top of a fifteen-foot ladder and then move the foot of the ladder? While standing under it?

What did he think would happen?

I admit it was my house but the ladder, the tar, and the idiot were no kin to me. I wasn’t even there! I was at the grocery store.

By the time I got home and found him, it was too late. He was already gone.

And another thing.

That is not even a real paper, for crying out loud!

It’s a free, throw away coupon advertiser that Stanley’s mom pays to have printed so he can call himself an editor. Even old Harold wouldn’t deliver the thing, it came in the mail.

Stan Chan took a ribbing all through school and not all of it about his name. Some of it he set out to earn. He changed the spelling of his name to Stanleigh, thinking it made him sound British, flunked gym four years in a row, and managed to graduate on minimalist grades of D in homemaking and basic art.

He only wrote the front page, with it’s scandalous, inaccurate headlines, braced up with facts he received from Mars with an aluminum foil hat he made himself. I made that part up but it’s probably close to accurate.

There were, sadly, others in our small community who believed anything in the paper, even one as lowly as his, and took it upon themselves to visit the home of the ‘multiple murderer’.

They strolled past or into my front yard, armed with cameras, at all times of the day and night. I couldn’t water the front lawn without being asked for my autograph. Calls to the police only elicited advice, such as put up a fence or get a dog.

I had a dog.

Willie the Wiener had come to me via the local animal shelter two years ago. He had settled in and instantly made friends with the blue jay who hung out in the back yard. They took turns chasing one another and he was so welcoming, the mailman brought him biscuits. 

He was a treasure. I was not taking a chance on someone hurting the little guy. I knew he wouldn’t bite but I wasn’t sure about the class of people hounding me. 

After a few months of turning the hose on the curious, I gave up and sold my house. Let the new owners deal with it. I had enough.

My house sold the day after I listed it. 

Can you believe it? Alice, the realtor, called me at ten o’clock to tell me. The buyer didn’t even try to bargain, agreed to full price and was bringing a sizable down payment this very day.

The buyer also asked for a thirty-day escrow, which meant I needed a place to live. Conveniently, Alice also had listings for a few other homes, one of which she assured me, would meet my needs. That gal knew her business.

The next morning, she picked me up before nine and we set off to look at her other listings. She extolled their various virtues while she drove. Truthfully, I quit listening about the third one and just enjoyed the day. 

I nixed the first two and refused to even get out of the car at the third – a mobile home in a Senior Park, where there was about two feet of yard front and back, and the people next door would bless me if I sneezed.

We took a break for lunch, on her, and talked about what was wrong with the others, to give her a better idea of what I wanted. I didn’t think I was being difficult. I wanted two or three bedrooms, a decent kitchen and a yard for Willie the wiener.  I also wanted a little room between me and my neighbors. I had a pretty strong suspicion one of the current ones was guilty of fabricating a few stories for the inquisitive who stood on the sidewalk, taking pictures of the house and yard, even if I was present.

After lunch we looked at two more, neither of which interested me. I apologized numerous times. We talked some more about what I wanted and agreed to try again the next day.

I made a lot more off the sale than I expected so I wasn’t hurting for funds, only time. If necessary, I could even rent a place for a few months, until I found a place I wanted to live, for hopefully, many years to come.

Which wasn’t on the agenda evidently. 

We spent the next two weeks looking and exhausted her listings, and a lot of her patience, I think. Seemed to me she was getting a little testy when I refused to even get out of the car at the last two. For the record, both were mobile homes, read trailers, setting on bare ground along dirt roads.

Alice, bless her heart, threw both hands in the air and shook her head. “Well, that’s it, Abigail. I hate to say this but I have nothing else to show you.”

“That’s it? There’s nothing else?” I hadn’t hit the panic stage, yet, but I was running out of time. Surely, there was somewhere we hadn’t looked.

She sighed, and I think she rolled her eyes. “I have others, Abigail, of course. Just nothing in your range. Wait, that sounded snarky. That’s not what I intended. I have larger places, several, and I would love to show them to you if you think you want to go larger.”

“Define larger.”

“Well, you know, three and four bedrooms, family room, pool, that sort of thing. I even have one with a barn, a real, working barn, if you want to take up the farm life. Room for horses, cows and a large garden. The price is, of course, more expensive. The more amenities you add, the higher the price.”

I did understand, and had no desire to herd cows.

“And I don’t want to go smaller. I could do three bedrooms if the price was right. I could make a little office of one and still have a guest room for family.” In my mind I could see it, a little desk, a comfortable chair for reading, a few bookshelves for those books.

“Tell you what,” she said, pulling out the file folder she had jammed beside her seat. “Let me double check, see if I missed anything.” She looked at her watch. “How about a Coke?”

“Sounds good.” I hadn’t the heart to say I was getting desperate. I mean, after all, she is not the only realtor in town, she’s just the first one I called. And she did sell my house. I hoped she would sell me another. One with a foundation.

We went over to the diner and both ordered Cokes. While I sipped mine, she went over the papers in the file folder. I was a little surprised at how many were pictured. It didn’t seem like we had looked at that many. Maybe I had made a serious mistake.

She paused in the pages, selected one and set it on top. “Okay,” she smiled, “here we go. And this one is on a quick sale.”

“I’m ready,” I said and sucked up the last of my Coke.

We drove out of town on a two-lane road that quickly lost the center line and became a narrow, paved road. We drove over a bridge, an actual creek with water. A small white frame house sat beside the road just past the creek and we turned there, onto another narrow, paved road.

Signs posted on the corner warned “Not a Through Street”. 

They meant it.  A little further down the road a huge wooden barricade blocked the end of the street. Wide and tall, painted a bright yellow, black lettering proclaimed “CLOSED”. Thick groves of trees and brush spread off to each side.

I had been so focused on that sign I didn’t look to my right until Alice turned into another driveway.

I looked up and fell in love.

The house was perfect.

It was another wood frame house, larger than the one back at the corner, with a wide porch across the front. White painted rockers sat on each side of the steps leading to the front door.

Two stories, the roof over the porch formed a balcony, with lacy wooden railings. I could see the tops of a pair of French doors that must open onto that balcony.

Shaded by several great oak trees whose branches almost joined over the house, it looked like a Norman Rockwell painting.

Delicate woodwork scrolled across the front, framing the porch and behind that tall windows looked back at us, two on each side of the door.

I opened the car door and stepped outside, trying not to step on my bottom lip. Trees everywhere, bird song, and in the background, I could hear running water, real running water gurgled and splashed along.

“I’ll take it,” I said, having not even been inside. I opened the gate in the picket fence and walked right on up, taking the porch steps two at a time.

Alice laughed and followed me, pulling keys from her bag. “You haven’t even seen inside, Abigail. Really. It is older,” she said, pulling open the screen door and fitting a key in the lock. “It may be a little musty, hasn’t been shown in a while.”