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Murder in the Meadow
Sherri Derri-Wille
1.44M, Mac
booksXYZ price: $16.49
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BOOK SYNOPSIS

Rhonda Pohs sat at her desk. Outside the snow falling steadily reminded her winter was far from over. Being a detective, she no longer wore a uniform. Instead she chose a Kelly green pantsuit in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.  Since joining the county detective squad, she helped investigate a couple of murders, including a triple homicide at one of the local trailer parks, but hadn’t had a case of her own.  She felt as though the other detectives merely tolerated the only female member of their group. If she thought her first boss Chief Jack Franks was a male chauvinist, he couldn’t hold a candle to this group.  “Hey, Rhonda,” Phil Mason said as he entered her office. “We just got a call that’s perfect for you. It’s out in the country and I’m supposed to go with you, but you’re the primary. Some guy was killed with a pitchfork while spreading manure.”  “You’re kidding, right?”  “Not at all. We told you we give all the new detectives the shit work and it doesn’t get any shittier than this.”  “Very funny.” She reached under her desk and pulled out a pair of snow boots she kept at the office for emergencies. If she planned to go traipsing around in a snow and manure-covered field, she wanted to be prepared.  Phil drove as they went out into the countryside south of town. Rhonda knew these fields were some of the most fertile farmland in this part of the state.  Dispatch identified as George Adkins, the patriarch of one of the largest farming families in the county. To say the man didn’t have enemies would be considered a gross understatement. He’d stepped on a lot of toes in the seventy-plus years he’d been building on the farming empire his grandfather started in the mid-eighteen hundreds.  “How much do you know about farming?” Rhonda asked, as they drove past the farm with the sign “Adkins Homestead EST. 1884” in the front yard.  “I know they smell to high heaven in the summer, other than that, not much. I’m a city boy. How about you?”  “My grandparents farmed out here. Before they died, George bought the property from them and they moved into town. I know my grandpa used to spread manure, but I thought the modern day farmers all used slurystores.”  “Slury what?” Phil echoed.  Rhonda smiled. At last she had something over on Phil. “A slurystore is where they process the manure into liquid fertilizer.”  “You mean they make fertilizer out of cow shit?”  “Of course they do. It’s nature’s way of putting nutrients back into the ground. You’ve heard of Milorginite haven’t you?”  “Sure I have. That’s what I use on my lawn. What does my lawn treatment have to do with anything?”  “It’s made from a waste product, then sold to you. It’s a good fertilizer, and I bet you paid dearly for it. I should know, Mark and I put it on our lawn last year.”  “Well, I’ll be damned. I never knew it was made from shit. Guess this will be a learning experience for me.”   Ahead of them, Rhonda saw a squad car, ambulance, and fire truck. A lump formed in her throat when she realized the field where the murder happened once was the site of her grandparents’ farm. Instead of the well-kept farm buildings, fields covered the entire area, stretching across the countryside without a fence in sight.  After Phil parked the car, Rhonda got out and went up to her knees in the snow drifting into the ditch.  “The coroner should be here soon,” said the deputy, who was probably the first one on the scene. Rhonda noticed he stood with his back to the corpse to avoid the wind blowing the snow around.  Rhonda stepped around the deputy to get a better look at the body. He lay on the ground, a small drift of snow starting to cover him like a soft blanket. Protruding from his chest was a three-tined pitchfork. A horrific expression was frozen on his face. Thankfully, someone had taken the time to close his eyes so she didn’t have to look into his death stare.  She took her camera from the pocket of her parka and snapped pictures from various angles before they went up to the house to confront the grieving family. Of course, they remained in the snow-covered field until the coroner arrived and took the body back to the hospital to do the autopsy. With that done, Rhonda was glad to get out of the biting wind.  Trudging back across the field, Rhonda got back in the cold car. No matter how good the heater was she knew it would never warm up by the time they reached the farmhouse less than half a mile away.

BOOK EXCERPTS

Chapter 1

 

Rhonda Pohs sat at her desk. Outside the steadily falling snow reminded her winter was far from over. Being a detective, she no longer wore a uniform. Instead she had chosen a Kelly green pantsuit in honor of St. Patrick’s Day.

Since joining the county detective squad, she’d helped investigate a couple of murders, including a triple homicide at one of the local trailer parks, but hadn’t had a case of her own.

She felt as though the other detectives merely tolerated the only female member of their squad. If she thought her first boss, Chief Jack Franks, was a male chauvinist, he couldn’t hold a candle to this group.

“Hey, Rhonda,” Phil Mason said as he entered her office. “We just got a call that’s perfect for you. It’s out in the country and I’m supposed to go with you, but you’re the primary. Some guy was killed with a pitchfork while spreading manure.”

“You’re kidding, right?”

“Not at all. We told you we give all the new detectives the shit work and it doesn’t get any shittier than this.”

“Very funny.” She reached under her desk and pulled out a pair of snow boots she kept at the office for emergencies. If she planned to go traipsing around in a snow and manure-covered field, she wanted to be prepared.

Phil drove as they went out into the countryside south of town. Rhonda knew these fields were some of the most fertile farmland in this part of the state.

Dispatch had identified the victim as George Adkins, the patriarch of one of the largest farming families in the county. To say the man didn’t have enemies would be considered a gross understatement. He’d stepped on a lot of toes in the seventy-plus years he’d been building on the farming empire his grandfather started in the mid-eighteen hundreds.

“How much do you know about farming?” Rhonda asked, as they drove past the farm with the sign “Adkins Homestead EST. 1884” in the front yard.

“I know they smell to high heaven in the summer. Other than that, not much. I’m a city boy. How about you?”

“My grandparents farmed out here. Before they died, George bought the property from them and they moved into town. I know my grandpa used to spread manure, but I thought the modern day farmers all used slurry stores.”

“Slurry what?” Phil echoed.

Rhonda smiled. At last she had something over on Phil. “A slurry store is where they process the manure into liquid fertilizer.”

“You mean they make fertilizer out of cow shit?”

“Of course they do. It’s nature’s way of putting nutrients back into the ground. You’ve heard of Milorginite, haven’t you?”

“Sure I have. That’s what I use on my lawn. What does my lawn treatment have to do with anything?”

“It’s made from a waste product then sold to you. It’s a good fertilizer, and I bet you paid dearly for it. I should know. Mark and I put it on our lawn last year.”

“Well, I’ll be damned. I never knew it was made from shit. Guess this will be a learning experience for me.”

Ahead of them, Rhonda saw a squad car, ambulance and fire truck. A lump formed in her throat when she realized the field where the murder happened once was the site of her grandparents’ farm. Instead of the well-kept farm buildings, fields covered the entire area, stretching across the countryside without a fence in sight.

After Phil parked the car, Rhonda got out and went up to her knees in the snow drifting into the ditch.

“The coroner should be here soon,” said the deputy, who was probably the first one on the scene. Rhonda noticed he stood with his back to the corpse to avoid the wind blowing the snow around.

Rhonda stepped around the deputy to get a better look at the body. He lay on the ground, a small drift of snow starting to cover him like a soft blanket. Protruding from his chest was a three-tined pitchfork. A horrific expression was frozen on his face. Thankfully, someone had taken the time to close his eyes so she didn’t have to look into his death stare.

She took her camera from the pocket of her parka and snapped pictures from various angles before going up to the house to confront the grieving family. They remained in the snow-covered field until the coroner arrived and took the body back to the hospital to do the autopsy. With that done, Rhonda was glad to get out of the biting wind.

Trudging back across the field, Rhonda got back in the cold car. No matter how good the heater was she knew it would never warm up by the time they reached the farmhouse less than half a mile away.

 

~ * ~

 

A fire blazed in the fireplace of the family room of the Adkins home when Rhonda and Phil entered the room. As much as she wanted to go and stand in front of the grate to warm her hands, she knew it would be unprofessional.

“I’m Detective Rhonda Pohs,” she said, holding out her hand to George’s youngest son, David.

“I know who you are,” he growled, ignoring her gesture of professional greeting. “You’re Ray and Jenny’s granddaughter. You weren’t much more than a snot-nosed kid when Pa bought their place. Sure never expected you to become a cop.”

Rhonda ignored the obvious dig as she looked around the room. George’s widow, Margie, who was obviously much younger than he, sat closest to the fireplace crying. Rhonda could see through her. Even though the tears were real, Rhonda suspected they weren’t sincere. Being so many years George’s junior, it was entirely possible she could be set to get a large inheritance after his death.

Sitting on the couch were George’s twin grandsons, Roscoe and Norton. She remembered them from high school. They had teased her unmercifully about everything from her freckles to her good grades.

Seated on the leather loveseat were George’s daughter, Virginia and her husband, Fred Crawford. Since they lived on one of the family farms, it was no wonder they had been able to get there so quickly.

“I need to know what happened here today.” She took out a pad from her purse to take notes.

“Ain’t it clear to you? Pa was murdered,” David snapped.

Rhonda took a deep breath. She’d never had a good rapport with this family, so doing this investigation was going to be far from a walk in the park.

“I saw a slurry store system out by the barn when we pulled in,” Rhonda continued. “Why was George out spreading manure, especially in this snowstorm?”

Before any one of them could answer, Rhonda’s mind formulated an explanation. Knowing George, it was entirely possible his family thought if he went out in the blizzard, he might contract pneumonia and die. The money the old man would be leaving in his estate would give any one of the people in this room a motive for murder.

“Pa liked to do things the old fashioned way,” David commented, breaking into Rhonda’s thoughts. “He even insisted on buying a new spreader. I always keep a pile of manure for him to spread. It makes...ah...made him feel useful. ’Course the boys were always on me to put that shit in the slurry store, but I did my damnedest to ignore them. He was an old man. It didn’t hurt to humor him. He was ninety-two, you know.”

Rhonda nodded. Ninety-two sounded about right. David had to be pushing seventy and Virginia was possibly in her sixties. Since David hadn’t married until late in life, the twins were only in their early thirties. From what she’d heard, neither of them had any marriage prospects in the future. It was no wonder, since just thinking about them from when they went to high school made her nose wrinkle. They always smelled like the very manure George had been spreading when he died.

“Was there any problem before George went out to the field?”

“We...We had an argument,” Margie offered. “I told him it was too cold for him to be out there. He told me he’d lived through the winter of ’thirty-six and this was mild in comparison.”

Rhonda shivered as she made her notes. She’d just about frozen to death out in the field, and the thought of working in such conditions was chilling. She certainly couldn’t imagine anything worse.

“Who could have wanted him dead?” Margie sobbed. “Everybody respected him.”

“Respected him? Hell, half the people in this county hated that old bastard’s guts,” Norton declared.

“Most of them had good reason, too,” Roscoe agreed.

“What do you mean?” Rhonda asked.

Both men became strangely silent. David finally replied. “I think hate is a pretty strong word. Pa always seemed to be in the right place at the right time. With this economy, a lot of the neighbors are losing their farms. Pa bought them out just like he did your grandparents, Rhonda. A lot of people thought he cheated them, but that’s all water over the dam. They’d gotten a lot less out of the property if the bank went through with the foreclosures.”

Rhonda knew all about the money George paid for his neighbors’ farms. Land once worth up to a thousand dollars an acre sold for five hundred dollars or less, depending on the circumstances. On her note pad she wrote: former neighbors and family. Right now they were her prime suspects.

 

~ * ~

 

“Well, that was certainly interesting,” Phil commented once they left the farm. “With a family like that, it’s a wonder he made it to the age of ninety-two.”

“I tend to agree with you. David and Virginia weren’t too broken up. Virginia didn’t say a single word and neither did her hubby. As for David’s wife, she had about as much emotion as those logs by the fireplace. Of course, the twins were always weird. The only one crying was Margie, but she didn’t seem sincere. From what I’ve heard, they got married over twenty-five years ago. Some people say it was a love match, but I have my doubts. At his age, I doubt he could have been much of a husband to her.”

“Do you think she has someone on the side?”

“It’s possible. She can’t be much older than sixty. It’s possible she thought he’d die before this and leave her with a hefty inheritance. After the funeral, we’ll call her in for questioning along with the rest of the family.”

Phil made no comment, giving Rhonda time to think about the people she’d just left.

Even though she didn’t like most of them, she saw no clear-cut motive for murder.


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MORE BOOK INFO
ISBN(13-digit): 9781935048800
Copyright: 2011
Book Publisher: Class Act Books
No. of Pages: 217



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