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Iâ€™m Jessica McHoney. I run a little newspaper business in Whispering Pines, Tennesseeâ€”the Southern Tribuneâ€”so I am alway
Iâ€™m Jessica McHoney. I run a little newspaper business in Whispering Pines, Tennesseeâ€”the Southern Tribuneâ€”so I am always soliciting news from loyal contributors. I love contributorsâ€”even my good friend Richard Hanoverâ€”so I agreed to let Richard run clues for a treasure hunt in my newspaper, even though I usually donâ€™t go for that type of articles. But as I say, Richard was a friend. . . . However, when I found out about his other ventureâ€”threatening to close the schools unless he is paid more moneyâ€”which would alter the lives of the whole community, including my young nieceâ€”I marched after him thinking I could just kill him for his insensitive behavior toward the people and the community I love dearly. I made it to his house, but never went inside. Instead, I returned to my shop. But someone else made it because Richard ended up dead. And since heâ€™d offended just about every one in the community, there was no end of suspects.
I knew the front door was locked, no need in trying it. However, I remembered Richard telling me one time about the back door being so messed up anyone with a firm grip could jimmy it open. Two minutes later, I gave the door my full strength. It moaned before yielding.
Sunset spilled in to a cemetery of filing cabinets and storage boxes but left in a whoosh when I closed the door behind me. The building had few windows, and the ones it did have were too high to bring in more than ceiling light. I felt along the wall until landing on a light switch, flipped it on and started maneuvering around piles of whatever Richard had discarded.
The office furniture was dim, misshapen structures that reminded me of cars suddenly caught in an ice storm on the freeway. I paused for a moment and forced myself to listen to the traffic rumbling down Main Street in a haze of exhaust and humidity. It was late afternoon, after all. Itâ€™s not like I was caught in a midnight rendezvous with a fog-cloaking-mass-murderer.
There was more than enough light to move down the hallway. I wanted to check out the front office first, just in case Betty Sue scurried there when she heard someone coming through the back of the building. I knew I was behaving like Jessica Fletcher, allowing myself to work with keen perception. Old buildings make noises; there was no reason why this one should be an exception. Perhaps the rats were plotting to overthrow me. I envisioned finding them in little tanks, and pushing cannons and they would march in a single line to kill the giant that had come to claim their territory.
A strange, squeaking noise came from behind one of the closed doors. The sound was loud, unmistakable. Not even in my wildest imagination could I envision rat troops large enough to make that screech. I paused again, and so did my breath, my feet frozen to the floor and my fingernails were cutting into my palms. Jessica Fletcher was better at this, I thought, as I held steady and gaped into the darkness shrouding the hall. She would prowl ahead, fearless in the face of danger. I, on the other hand, felt that turning tail and running was more acceptable for a woman my age, which planned to have more birthdays in the future, including that age referred to by the Social Security Administration as a senior citizen.
I tried to convince myself that I was not a coward, under certain circumstances. It was a late afternoon in Whispering Pines; the town hadnâ€™t yet pulled in the sidewalks. Farmers would be outside working in the cool of the evening in their gardens, and shop owners would be locking up and chatting on the sidewalk about the day theyâ€™d had. Hanover Realtors was not a den of lions and I was not about to be devoured by mouth-watering, flesh-eating teeth.
It took several minutes of mental pleading to get my feet to moving again. Squaring my shoulders, I eased the facing door open. I must confess there was a slight tremble in my hand, but I hadnâ€™t yet resumed breathing. My heart paused as a figure stood up behind the desk.
"Jessica, what are you doing here?" said Betty Sue.
"What do you think youâ€™re doing, hiding in the dark like this?" I demanded when I could trust my voice.
"Iâ€™m not. I just got caught up in work and didnâ€™t realize how late it was getting. For a moment, I thought I heard the back door opening. But, dismissed it as my mind playing tricks on me. Guess I was wrong."
"According to the grapevine, youâ€™re a missing person!" One of my hunches definitively paid off.
Her white teeth glinted in the semi-darkness. "I canâ€™t be too lost if you found me. And why would anyone think such a thing?"
"Would you please explain what youâ€™re doing here? Then, if itâ€™s not too much trouble, Iâ€™d like to ask you a few questions." I was rather proud of myself for the show of indignation, since my legs had turned to mush and my heart to an uncontrollable beating drum.
W.E. Filyaw is the author of numerous articles for Global Ranch Magazine, FellowScript Writer, East Tenn. Romance Writerâ€™s Group, and WriteKnowHow Newsletter. She serves as a Fiction-Writing Consultant, and is the founder and editor of WOMENâ€™S NEWSLINE and THE HONY MUSE. She lives in Signal Mountain, Tennessee.
Book Publisher: Wings e Press
No. of Pages: 199
Paper Weight (lb): 8.6
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