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A CHURCHGOING WOMAN



ROXANA NASTASE













Scarlet Leaf

2017





© 2017 by ROXANA NASTASE

All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the publishers, with the exception of a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a newspaper, magazine or journal.


All characters in this book are fictive, and any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is coincidental.

Scarlet Leaf Publishing House has allowed this work to remain exactly as the author intended.



PUBLISHED BY SCARLET LEAF

Toronto, Canada















Dedication:

To Raluca and Vicentiu

For their constant support and friendship

















CHAPTER I – JUST ANOTHER DAY IN CHURCH



“Oh, not again,” Emily Logan muttered to herself and, irritated, brushed a strand of blond hair off her face.

She glanced at the minister. He was droning on and on about a sin or another. Ashamed, Emily admitted she’d lost track of the service.

Emily pushed hard on the armrests of her chair. She stood up and staggered for a moment, which made her wince. She had to go to the restroom, again, and fast. Well, as fast as she could. These days, it felt like the baby danced on her bladder with a vengeance.

Emily turned to move up the aisle and met Lorna Carter’s scornful eyes. Lorna smirked and then turned to the woman next to her, whispering and shaking her head.

Emily knew the rumors Lorna had spread about her for over half a year now, but she didn’t have the strength to deal with that right then.

Eight months ago, Emily was attacked on her way back home. She was struck from behind and lost consciousness. When she came to, she’d been dragged into an alley behind a closed shop. Her dress was in rags and a huge man loomed over her. She struggled, but he struck her savagely until she lost consciousness again. That night, Emily was raped. She’d just turned sixteen.

A police car found her in the wee hours of the morning and they drove Emily to the catholic hospital of the county. A rape kit was taken, yet it was lost soon afterwards and the police couldn’t make an arrest.

Her mother had requested an emergency contraception pill for Emily, but the doctors refused. They said they might find a hospital or a clinic willing to do that in one of the surrounding counties.

They went there when Emily was discharged, but it was already too late. A month later, they found out she was pregnant with her rapist’s child.

The news overwhelmed the young woman, and for over two months, her mother guarded her constantly, afraid that Emily would harm herself. After those two months, Emily returned to something close to normal.

When she finally stepped out of the house and went back to school, she heard the horrible rumors lurking around. People were saying she got what she’d asked for.

She’d been afraid people would look at her and see a victim. Now, she knew better: they looked at her and saw a whore.

Soon enough, she found out who was behind the ugly rumors: the churchgoing Lorna Carter. She belittled everyone and bullied at least three parts of the town. If Lorna decreed that someone was not to be talked to, most of the people complied because they feared her. Emily learnt to deal with that too. Anyway, some people still visited her and tried to support her.

Emily passed by Lorna’s pew and ignored her. That made Lorna’s blood boil. She wasn’t a person to be trifled with and she had to teach that little scamp a lesson.

Lorna followed Emily’s trip to the door with narrowed eyes. She turned to her old friend, Annaliese, to plot Emily’s total social demise. She still had a few cards left up her sleeve and she couldn’t wait for the day when she would crush that white trash under her heel.

Emily still had some way to the door. Lorna’s eyes bore holes in her back.

The young woman passed by John Rand, who smiled at her. Then he looked behind Emily at Lorna Carter. The hatred in his black hard eyes startled Lorna for a second. Then, an ugly smiled flourished on her thin lips.

John Rand had worked in the bakery on Main Street until Lorna bullied Jeremiah, the owner, and he’d fired Rand, with no reference. Rand couldn’t find another job in town or in the next, and he also had an old mother to support. Lorna didn’t care. He reaped what he sowed.

With indifference, her eyes moved back to Emily. Her gait reminded her of a duck. Lorna’s ugly smile widened.

Emily still had about twelve feet to the door. She stumbled, and Aileen Edwards grasped her arm and helped her recover her balance.

Aileen shook her head with sadness over the seventeen-year-old girl’s state. Then, her blue eyes threw darts to Lorna Carter. Lorna scowled back.

Aileen had also gotten what she merited. She’d dared to contradict Lorna before the church committee. Lorna couldn’t forget or forgive. She’d taken care of Aileen’s marriage.

Lorna’s eyes shone with disdain and then moved back to Emily’s back. Eight more feet to the door. Lorna wouldn’t have been sorry to see the teenager stumble again.

Emily passed by a family of five and the children smiled at her. Lorna’s eyes narrowed to slits. The mother immediately called the children to order.

On the other side of the aisle, Matthew Jackson witnessed the look exchange and molted rage shone in his black eyes. He fixated on Lorna but she smirked at him and shrugged. He was just a bug, nothing important to worry about.

Her eyes went back to Emily. Now, she passed by Lorna’s son, Edward. With a sad smile, Edward tried to assist Emily, but she rejected him. Lorna’s face turned into a mask of fury. That stupid pup! He still sighed after that girl.

Dan Hanson opened the door for Emily and whispered something in her ear. She shook her head, but softened the rejection by stroking the old man’s arm. Hanson smiled at her lowered head and then closed the door behind her.

Then, he turned back to the altar. His eyes intersected Lorna’s. He growled. If eyes could kill, Lorna would have been murdered where she stood.





CHAPTER 2 – LIFE AND DEATH ON SUNDAY EVENING



When the piercing pain came, Emily dropped the basket with the tomatoes she’d just gathered and groaned. She doubled over when the stabbing pain in her back intensified. It brought tears to her eyes.

She’d been having pains now and then since noon. She’d thought the weight of the baby caused the sharp pains in her lower back and tried not to pay attention.

Suddenly, water pooled at her feet and her eyes widened in alarm. She was in labor. That scared her. Emily was alone at home. Her mother worked the afternoon shift at the factory in the next town and Emily knew she wouldn’t come back home before ten.

Emily knew she couldn’t call the hospital and that scared her more. The phone had been disconnected two days ago, and they hadn’t had the money to pay the bill yet. Her mother’s paycheck was due in three days.

Anyway, she couldn’t have called an ambulance. Her medical insurance barely covered the birth unless there weren’t any complications.

Emily looked in the distance but there wasn’t anyone in sight. They lived beyond the edge of town and the closest neighbor was a mile and a half down the road.

She didn’t even know if the neighbors were willing to help. They had avoided her lately, yet she couldn’t condemn them. They needed to take care of themselves and couldn’t cross Lorna Carter.

On the other hand, if I crossed the field behind the house, I’d reach the road to the hospital, she thought. There were only about three and a half miles to walk and maybe, a car would pass by and would give her a lift.

Once she made her decision, Emily went inside the house, and forgot about the tomatoes spread in the grass. The clock chimed. It was just nine o’clock.

She’d have liked to shower and change before going to the hospital, but she could barely stand. So, she picked up her bag with documents and left. She was ashamed to get to the hospital like that, but, if she’d tried to shower, she might not have been able to leave at all and she was too scared to remain in the house.

She wobbled out of the house and down the stairs at the back of the house. Her back ached but, with determination, she started to cross the field. It stretched far under her frightened eyes. What if I won’t make it?

Emily shook her head, I have to do it. She hung the strap of the handbag on one shoulder. Her right hand was clutched on her lower back. She trudged ahead.

Pain came and went, taking her breath away. She had to bend whenever her abdomen contracted. Every pain left her breathless for a minute or so and made her walk more difficult.

Twenty minutes later, a powerful pain seized her and she cried out. With the pain, the urge to push came. She fell on the ground with a terrified shout. She tried to stop pushing, but to no avail.

With shaking hands, she took off her underwear. The contractions were close now. They melted into a big one and Emily couldn’t catch her breath. She was panting and tears trailed down her cheeks. Her body took over and she felt the baby coming. She clenched her fists until her knuckles turned white.

Then, the aching wave stopped for a few seconds. She tried to breathe normally, but a new contraction seized her and with an inhuman cry, she pushed again and felt the baby sliding out on the ground.

It was 9:25 on November 6th, 2016, Sunday evening.


***


The Carters’ house was on the other end of town. That was the fashionable part, inhabited by rich people. They thought they were the pillars of community and looked down their nose to the mere mortals living beyond the border of a square including only five streets.

The commercial street separated the square from the unfashionable part of town. Here, in the square, houses were old, but kept with care. Lawns were perfectly manicured and drives sported the latest model in cars. Flowers bordered the front walls and flimsy curtains adorned the windows.

The Carters’ house was a two-story, red brick, erected on the corner of Orchids Street. Three tall oaks shadowed the windows on one side of the lawn. A statue of Madonna dominated a lush small garden on the other side of the lawn.

At 9:20, on November 6, 2016, the house was almost dark. Only the kitchen window glimmered in the light of the ceiling lamp.

Silence surrounded the area. At 9:25, a brief cry erupted from the back of the Carters’ house. The sound of the war movie on TV from their neighbors’ living-room swallowed it.

In her once immaculate kitchen, Lorna Carter lay on the floor, stabbed five times in her chest and once in her abdomen in rapid succession. Her blood spilt on the well-scrubbed floor.

She’d cried out when her eyes fell on the knife pushed downward to her chest, but after the first hit in her chest, she could only gurgle. After the knife pierced her chest the third time, life abandoned her body and her eyes glazed over. Yet, the knife kept coming downward, stabbing her corpse.


***


At a quarter to ten, Dan Hanson knocked on the Logans’ door. He knew that Margaret Logan was supposed to come from work at around that time.

He’d come to bring them some apples and pears from his own garden. He nurtured several fruit-trees and was very generous with the fruit he gathered. He thought mostly of Emily. She reminded him of his own daughter and he couldn’t look at her without tenderness.

Dan knocked again but no one answered the door. He called, “Emily, Margaret? Are you there, in the back? It’s me, Dan.”

No answer came and he went around the house to the garden. He was sure he would find Emily there. The garden has become her oasis of peace for the last few months.

Dan suddenly stopped when he got into the garden. His eyes fell on the tomatoes scattered on the ground and the pool of water Emily had left behind.

It took him a moment, but understanding dawned on him soon enough. Yet, he still called once more, “Emily? Are you all right, girl?”

His question met with silence. He went to the back door, which was open, and peered inside. He noticed Emily’s handbag wasn’t where she used to leave it. He must have seen that bag on that corner table a hundred times.

Dan scratched his head, trying to bring light over the situation. He knew Margaret couldn’t have come in time to drive Emily to the hospital and Emily didn’t have a car. The Logans didn’t afford too many luxuries and a second car was definitely a luxury. He also knew their phone wasn’t working. He’d tried to call before coming to visit, but he was told the service was suspended.

He didn’t think Emily went to any of their neighbors. They hadn’t been in close relations lately and most of them, if not all, were afraid of that woman, Carter, and they wouldn’t help Emily.

Dan looked out of the back door suddenly. There was only one possibility left. Emily had decided to go to the hospital on foot. His best guess was that she’d probably thought of crossing the field to reach the road.

He didn’t waste time, but broke into a run. Despite his age, Dan was still agile and in good physical shape. He still farmed by himself and farming was hard work.

He ran down the stairs and then across the field. He didn’t stop until he’d heard the whimpering of a child.

Somewhat less worried, he looked for Emily. He found her lying on the ground, her eyes closed and strain lines in the corner of her mouth and eyes. She was drenched in sweat and his heart ached for her. He’d seen his wife giving birth and it had marked him for a long time.

He looked over her attentively. Apparently, Emily had wiped the child with her underwear and taken the baby in her arms. Of course, the baby still had the umbilical cord attached, and he didn’t know if that was good or bad.

The old man hunched near Emily and touched her face with his roughened hand. “Emily… Emily, wake up,” he insisted when it became clear she wasn’t aware of his presence.

Emily’s lashes fluttered and her tired eyes laid on him.

“Mr. Hanson,” she murmured when she recognized the blurry figure.

“Yes, muffin, it’s me,” he said, smiling at her. He brushed her blond drenched hair and explained to her, “I will take you up in my arms and carry you to my car. We have to go to the hospital, all right? Can you hold onto the baby?” he asked her, and then stroked the side of her face encouragingly.

She tried to answer, but couldn’t. Her mouth and throat were parched. Her lips felt dry and the skin was cracked in the corner of her mouth. When she realized that she couldn’t utter a sound, she just nodded.

Dan wheezed a little and staggered under her weight, but he managed to stand with her in his arms. Then, he started back to the car he’d left in the Logans’ drive. His stride was long, even though labored. He needed to take the two to the hospital and with maximum haste.


***


Gus Carter came home at 9:45. He got off his car and puffed like a whale. He didn’t move with the same agility he’d had a few decades ago. His protruding stomach hindered him most of the time, but he’d learnt to live with it. He wouldn’t have liked to give up his beer and steaks, and, unfortunately, that was what the doctor recommended. That, and some exercising. As if he’d start exercising so late in life when he hadn’t done it in his youth! Huh!

Gus was furious and hankered for an argument. Lorna had told him his friend, the mayor, had called and asked that he would come to his home at once. When he arrived there, the housekeeper had informed him the mayor had already left with his family to have dinner at a restaurant. He’d cursed all the way home.

The mayor, Stewart Black, lived in a ranch outside the town line and the drive to his house had taken almost half an hour. The days when Gus drove fast for the sake of driving were long gone. Then, he could have made that trip in half the time. Now, he never crossed over 30-40 miles an hour. So, he drove half an hour one way and another half an hour back. That was how he’d lost an hour on a Sunday evening, when he could have watched the film on TV or, better yet, a football match, if that witch had allowed it. He’d wondered, more than once, who wore the trousers in the house. He’d never liked the answer.

He couldn’t wait to see Lorna and tell her to clean her ears. God knew who’d called and asked for him. Not that it mattered then, anyway. He wouldn’t go out again for nothing in the whole world. Monday was just around the corner and a man needed a day of rest. He slaved enough during the week.

Gus slammed the front door with fury and shouted, “Lorna, where the heck are you, woman? You sent me on a wild goose chase and I wasted my entire Sunday because of you. Come here, Lorna. I want to talk to you.” Damn your hide, woman.

Lorna didn’t answer and Gus muttered under his breath. Too bossy by half. And she thinks she can ignore me. Huh! Damn the old bat.

That woman drove him mad and he swore that one of these days, he would make her pay. Damn interfering woman! Blabbering all day long. She takes the joy out a man’s life, he mumbled to himself.

Life with Lorna had always been a trial. She’d tricked him good and he had to marry her.

He thought of his marital life as his penance for every sin he’d ever committed. Certainly, he would go to heavens when he died. The woman was mean and petty, and his life had gone from bad to worse during the last few years.

He stomped to the kitchen, his chest heaving. The light beaconed him and he was puffing under the steam of his anger. He’d worked himself into a leather.

“Lorna,” he shouted again when he entered the kitchen, but anything else he wanted to say froze in his throat.

Lorna’s body, soaked in blood, looked like a pincushion. Gus lost his dinner promptly, and then, he didn’t know how to get out of the kitchen faster and call the sheriff.






CHAPTER 3 – A DISPATCHER WITH A SPECIAL SENSE OF HUMOR



Norma Jean was just filing her fingernails, bored out of her mind, when the phone rang. She threw her fiery hair over her left shoulder and scowled. She glanced at her long fingernails and thought to let the phone ring. She wasn’t in the mood to take any calls that night and she didn’t care if half the county was out for a kill.

“Aren’t you going to take that?” Deputy Henderson asked from the door, dusting off his hat.

Norma Jean’s scowl deepened when she glanced to the tall figure looming in the door. She hadn’t heard the deputy coming back from his round, although he wasn’t such a small man. He was well over 6.2, in her opinion. Now, she had to answer the damn phone.

She waved her hand in the deputy’s direction to shut him up and picked up the receiver with a grim expression in her green eyes. The deputy pitied the person who thought to call at that hour.

“The Sherriff’s Office,” she mumbled and then listened to the frantic voice at the other end of the line. Muffled bits and pieces of words reached the deputy’s ear, but he couldn’t understand their meaning.

“And who did you say you were?” Norma Jean asked rudely, and the deputy shook his head in desperation.

He knew why Norma Jean worked there. It wasn’t because of her secretarial skills or polite phone attitude. She was the sheriff’s sister-in-law. That was how she’d landed the job.

Of course, no one else would have hired her. Before working for the Sheriff’s Office, she’d made the tour of all businesses in the county, or so people said.

It was common knowledge she couldn’t hold a job for more than a mere three days anywhere else. She’d been fired more often than some people changed their shirt.

There, in the sheriff’s office, her brother-in-law closed his eyes to her unorthodox manners and, no wonder he’d lost or misplaced all the complaints filed against Norma Jean. And there had been quite a few. Chris Henderson had even witnessed a few of the complaints.

A while back, the deputy had wondered why the sheriff didn’t worry about not being elected again. His behavior towards the constituents and his support for Norma Jean were telling.

Anyway, Chris found out why less than a year ago, when the rape kit related to Emily Logan’s case was misplaced. Of course, after being lost for a while, the kit became unusable, and the case was never solved. Then Henderson put two and two together: the private discussions the sheriff had with Lorna Carter and Sheriff Willow’s confidence in the future election. The young man had been agonizing over Logan’s case ever since. He’d wanted to do something but didn’t have a clue what he could do.

“Aha… aha… I’d say to ease down on the booze and go to bed,” Norma Jean’s voice boomed, followed by the receiver slamming in the hook.

Deputy Henderson winced and watched her with wide eyes. He’d seen and heard her doing a lot of things but, until then, she’d never treated someone with so much contempt.

“Who was on the phone?” Henderson asked and put the hat on the top of his desk.

Norma Jean just waved her hand as if she’d been sick and tired with the subject. Henderson insisted in a steely voice, though, “Who was on the darn phone?”

Norma Jean glanced at him as though she’d seen him for the first time. Her eyes swept over his thick, black and unruly hair, dark blue eyes, the expanse of his chest and his strong thighs, and her heart did a little tumble.

Henderson was a tall and strong man but he used to be an easy-going fellow. His present voice and demeanor was out of the ordinary and something stirred in Norma Jean’s heart or maybe somewhere else.

“Just a drunk,” she replied briefly and shrugged.

“Exactly who?” Henderson asked again and his sternness made Norma Jean shiver.

He’s like a damn terrier with a bone, she thought, now getting angry.

“Gus Carter,” she said through clenched teeth.

Her temper was raising. No one questioned her actions in the office. They all knew who she was and she knew how to use the law of the land to her advantage. Henderson might have been a hunk – all right, a sexy hunk, but that didn’t give him leeway to treat her that way. She would have to teach him a lesson or two.

“Gus Carter is not a drunk,” Henderson observed in the same steely voice and his eyes turned into slits.

“Everybody is a drunk,” the petite curvy woman responded nonchalantly. “Even you can get drunk,” she remarked and the light reflected in the green of her eyes when she smirked at him.

“Maybe, but that’s neither here nor there. The man doesn’t get drunk. Ever,” he stressed and cut the air with his palm. “Get it through your thick skull, Norma Jean. He never gets drunk. What did he say, Norma Jean?” he prodded again.

Henderson had a bad feeling. The hair on his forearms was standing up and something close to anxiety was playing havoc with his heart.

Norma Jean fluttered her hand again, and then, she admitted, “Something about Lorna being on the floor and blood everywhere. Clearly, the man is in his bottles,” she remarked. “After a good night of sleep, he’ll recover,” she observed in her usual indolent manner.

“Are you out of your mind?” Henderson shouted. “Someone announced a murder and you sent them to bed?” His voice raised more and more with every word and Norma Jean flinched at every higher sound.

“Don’t get your bowels in a knot, Deputy,” she tried to hold her own. “The man was drunk, no question about, I tell you. No one would touch Lorna, believe me. The man or woman who’d dare that isn’t born yet,” she said, nodding emphatically.

Chris Henderson just shook his head in disbelief. The woman had done a lot of things in that office but that took the prize.

It was one thing to tell Old Maggie to stuff it when she called about her neighbor’s dog, and another to dismiss a murder off-hand just because she wanted to. That was beyond mere negligence and laziness.

“Call the sheriff immediately,” he shouted at her with authority. “Tell him to come to the Carter’s. I’ll be there,” he added and plucked his hat off his desk. He stormed out of the sheriff’s office grumbling.

“Good riddance,” Norma Jean mumbled and picked up her nail filer to resume the grooming of her nails. She admired her long and rounded fingernails and started filing them diligently. She had to start the following week with flawless manicure.

Ten minutes later, to her dismay, the phone rang again. She glanced at it with a frown, but continued filing her nails. She imagined it would stop after a ten or so rings. Yet, it didn’t.

Annoyed, she snatched the receiver off the hook and shouted irately, “What?”

“Are you out of your mind?” the sheriff’s angry reply reached her ears. “Is that how you speak to people?” he bellowed his outrage. “I’ve just had Gus Carter on the phone. He said he called to announce Lorna was killed and you told him to ease off the booze and go to bed. Have you lost your damn senses?” the sheriff roared at the top of his lungs.

With a grimace, Norma Jean moved the receiver away from her ear. She just knew her hearing wouldn’t be the same after that conversation. She wondered what got into Kenneth’s bonnet.

“Kenneth, listen to me…” she began, trying to soothe him, but he interrupted her immediately in a shout.

“Listen… listen…” he sputtered, unable to find his words for a few moments. “Do you want me to listen to you? You’re a crazy broad, Norma Jean, do you know that? You listen here. If Lorna’s dead, your job is gone. I don’t care what your sister says. You’re history,” he shouted in an increased volume.

Norma Jean pouted but didn’t give up. “You’ll see she’s not dead,” she reassured him and her voice reeked with confidence.

“That’s what you say,” he argued back. “But Gus says differently, and he knows what he’s talking about,” Kenneth replied with contempt. “Where’s Henderson?” he asked.

“He went to the Carters’,” she replied in a small voice. Now she was afraid.

“At least one of you has their head well screwed,” he replied. “I’m off to the Carters’ as well. From now on, try to answer politely if anyone calls. Your days in the office are numbered, do you hear me?” he yelled again and disconnected the call.

Norma Jean’s feeling of well-being faded. She glanced at her hands but couldn’t find joy in her shiny fingernails either.

She knew Kenneth well. He was a stuffy prick, and if his position was threatened, he would feed her to the wolves.






CHAPTER 4 – GUS CARTER IS DAUNTINGLY SOBER



Chris Henderson drove to the Carters’ as fast as he could, without the lights on. He didn’t have confirmation of an emergency and couldn’t put the lights and siren on just on a hunch.

He still reeled over Norma Jean’s snide behavior. The young woman had a pretty face that went well with her curvy and luscious body, but her shrewd nature had always driven him away, and he avoided her whenever he could.

When he turned into the Carter’s drive, his headlights passed over Gus Carter’s overflowing body. The man was hunched on the front steps, his head in his hands, lost in God knew what thoughts.

When the lights brushed over him, Gus lifted his head and glanced at the deputy’s car. For a moment, he seemed not to understand why the car was in his drive. He brushed his fingers through his messy hair and stood up like a drunk man.

Henderson caught Gus’s wobbling movement and his eyes turned to slits. He hoped to high heaven that Norma Jean hadn’t been right about Gus’s state. He knew he wouldn’t hear the end of that, otherwise, and the last thing he wanted was to give more ammunition to that woman.

Gus started down the stairs with hesitant steps. He kept wiping his hands off on his pants. His palms were clammy. His legs felt like jelly and each step demanded more and more strength from him.

He met the deputy at the bottom of the imposing staircase, lined with geraniums in clay pots, and he tried to smile. The grimace on his lips reminded Chris Henderson of a gargoyle he’d once seen in a horror movie.

Henderson shook Gus’s hand and regretted it instantly. Disgusted, he tried to wipe it off discreetly but it was hard not to be obvious.

“Good evening, Gus,” he greeted the older man in a gentle voice. “What’s going on? I understand you called the Sheriff’s Office,” he hinted to the conversation he’d heard earlier. Well, at least, he’d heard Norma Jean’s side of the discussion.

“That woman…” Gus started to say and choked. He cleared his throat noisily, and tried again, “That woman….” He couldn’t push the words past his lips, although his throat was working hard.

“What woman, Gus?” Chris Henderson asked and thought of helping the man sit back down on the steps.

Gus’s legs were shaking violently now, and Chris was afraid the man would collapse. He eyed Gus warily. He wasn’t sure he’d be strong enough to support Gus’s mass if it came to that. Henderson wasn’t a small man, but Gus was built like an ox.

Gus sat carefully on the bottom step. He seemed somewhat older and new wrinkles lined his grey face. Taking in all the visible signs, Chris was convinced something out of ordinary had happened in the Carters’ house. Besides, the deputy hadn’t sniffed any kind of spirits on the older man.

Gus braced his elbows on his raised knees and glanced up at Chris with weary eyes. His thick lips quivered and he licked the bottom one nervously.

“That woman, the one in the Sheriff’s Office, she told me I was drunk,” Gus finally said, and his eyes flushed with just indignation.

Chris didn’t reply. He understood Gus’s outrage but he didn’t dare speak badly of Norma. He might have lost his position with the sheriff’s office. He liked his job, even though he didn’t get to do what he’d once dreamed. And, besides that, there weren’t many available jobs going around. Unemployment held no attraction for Chris.

“So, you spoke to Norma,” Chris said softly. “I know that, Gus. I was in the office when the call came. Why did you call? What happened?”

Gus looked at him as if horns had sprouted on his forehead and his eyes betrayed his disbelief. Gus had thought the deputy knew what happened. He’d come there, after all.

“Lorna’s dead,” he replied drily, too tired to go into details again.

“Dead?” the deputy repeated.

“Deader than a door knob,” Gus nodded and licked his lips again.

He needed to drink something. Probably water, but he wouldn’t have refused a generous glass of bourbon. He shook his head with regret. I should have thought about it earlier. With this kid here, I can’t touch my stash. What if he asks for some?

Unconsciously, he wiped off his palms on his knees again. Sweat beaded his forehead as well.

“Where is she?” Chris asked, bending one knee to see Gus’s eyes better.

Gus pointed his head toward the house, “There, in the kitchen. She’s on the floor…” His lips trembled and he shook his head. “There’s so much blood…” A new wave of nausea raised in his throat and he pushed it back.

“All right,” Chris replied. “Stay here and I’ll go look. The sheriff should arrive soon. I told Norma to call him,” he threw over his shoulder before starting up the stairs.

Gus fluttered his hand and said, “I called him. Just before you came. I wouldn’t let that Norma Jean thwart me like that. I’m better than that,” he nodded confidently.

Some of Gus’s usual countenance was back. Now, Chris had before his eyes the man aware of his importance in society. Norma Jean had overstepped her boundaries and he didn’t think Gus would let that matter die. The deputy didn’t care one way or another. Norma Jean made her bed. She should lie in it now.

He climbed the stairs and let himself into the house. Gus had left the door wide open in his rush out. Chris could see the bloody footprints Gus had left in the hall leading to the kitchen.

The deputy took care not to mess with the footprints running the length of the hall. He avoided them and went into the kitchen.

On his way, he stole a glance here and there. He wasn’t curious to see the interior of the Carters’ house, even if he’d never been invited in their house before. He wanted only to make sure no one else hid inside and to see what possible clues lay in full sight.

The crude light coming from the ceiling fell on Lorna’s body, sprawled in a pool of almost coagulated blood. The woman had dropped on one side of the kitchen table, one leg slightly bent and one hand clutched to her chest. She was on her back and the light fell squarely on her face, revealing every single line and flaw. Her expression had frozen in a mask of utter disbelief. Chris reasoned that the killer must have come as a surprise to the woman.

Chris knew he didn’t need to check for a pulse. Gus had been accurate in his evaluation. Lorna was, indeed, deader than a door knob.

His eyes fell on what was left of Gus’s dinner and he closed his eyes. He left the kitchen, slightly nauseated as well.

He’d never seen a murder before and he couldn’t recall any murder in the county during his entire life. They dealt with drunken behavior, domestic arguments and the occasional theft. Nothing in his career had prepared him for that scene and he doubted the sheriff was better suited to investigate a murder.

The deputy reached the front door right after he heard the screech of the sheriff’s car, braking in the drive. Gus, who was in the same position he’d left him, suddenly looked up, just in time to witness the sheriff coming out of his car.

“Henderson, you’re here,” the sheriff said, and braced his hands on his hips. “That’s good. Have you found anything?” he asked and a quiver of hope penetrated his voice.

Henderson guessed the sheriff would have liked to put the Norma Jean matter to rest but he couldn’t oblige him. Now, you’ll get it, you, big ass bully. Yet, he kept his satisfaction hidden and reported in an indifferent voice.

“Yes, Sheriff, I did. Lorna Carter lies on the floor in the kitchen. She’s been stabbed multiple times. I didn’t approach the body, so I can’t tell you how many times exactly.”

A shadow crossed the sheriff’s face and he bowed his head with a sigh. He felt defeated. He didn’t have too much love for Norma Jean. To be truthful, he had none. She might have been a very beautiful broad, but she was rude and smug.

Anyway, Norma Jean’s fate was sealed now, as well as his. He knew he was going to endure a hell of a marital life from that moment on. His wife had a strong family sense and would have his head for not protecting her little sister.

“What are you going to do about that ne’er do good Norma?” Gus jumped off the stairs, gathering steam with every step he took. “She treated me like the scum of the earth,” he bellowed, waving a tight fist under the sheriff’s nose.

Chris assessed the man with interest, but he kept his own counsel. Gus seemed more concerned with retribution than in his wife’s murder. It hadn’t been too much love spilled between the two of them.


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