Dead Man Stalking
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by Cammie Eicher
Description: Life is good for Tessa McDonald, news reporter for WFRT in the tiny southern Ohio town of Fortuna, until she inherits an aged, three-legged, flatulent dog named Precious -- which brings the ghost of her first lover along -- and a dismembered body is discovered in an old warehouse. When his assignment sends Agent Carson Hayes of the Ohio Bureau of Investigation to Fortuna, he expects to solve the crime and go home. When he joins forces with Tessa to find the murderer, his orderly life rapidly becomes one of semi-organized chaos. As their instant attraction flames into something more, they find themselves confronted by an angry ex-boyfriend, shot at in the dark, and facing a pistol-wielding serial killer in a sleazy motel, which leads them to one big question -- will they survive long enough to decide whether what they feel is love or simply a wonderful case of lust?
eBook Publisher: Resplendence Publishing, LLC, 2010
eBookwise Release Date: October 2010
3 Reader Ratings:
Available eBook Formats: OEBFF Format (IMP) [284 KB]
Reading time: 180-252 min.
* * * *
"Hey there, Lois Lane."
The weather outside is frightful: ten degrees below freeze your butt, with wind-driven snow doing a Mexican hat dance on my cheeks. Yet Dwaine Portman, chief of police of Fortuna, Ohio, still feels the need to greet me with those four little words.
I've been the news reporter at WFRT, the town's one and only radio station, for three and a quarter years now, and he says the same thing every time we meet. Today, though, I'm chasing down a bigger mystery than Dwaine's limited vocabulary.
"Hey yourself, Chief."
If he doesn't have to be a brilliant conversationalist, neither do I.
"Know what you're looking at yet?" I ask.
He winks. "Big news. A chopped-up dead body."
Behind me, Bobby Couchot snickers.
"The man's a rocket scientist," he mutters. "You don't need a tin star to see that from here."
Telling Bobby to shut up and go away would be a waste of my frozen breath. Since Precious moved in with me, Bobby's been hanging around, despite the fact that he's supposedly taken up permanent residence at Gloryland Memorial Gardens.
Once upon a time, I thought it would be cool to see a ghost. Now I spend a lot of time in the bathroom and the car, the two places that make Bobby nervous. We've never gone into the why of it, but I have my suspicions. Alive, he was one of those guys who yelled at people to shut the bathroom door and give him some privacy. I guess that kind of stuff doesn't change once you're dead. And since Bobby died in his car, a cherry '65 Mustang he worked two jobs to support, he's probably bummed about wrapping it around a tree with him inside.
The chief's staring at me funny; I pretend Bobby's not there.
"Any clue as to who or why?" I ask in my best reporter voice.
Dwaine shrugs. "She's not from around here."
I try to peer around the blue tarp the firemen are holding as a shield against the curious. All I see is Billy Bob's big belly.
"Then you've made an identification?"
Dwaine leans closer, looking both ways to make sure no one else can hear.
"I know she's from somewhere else 'cause she's got her pussy shaved."
I choke on my next question. That is so unlike Dwaine, giving up any detail at a crime scene, especially one as titillating as that. Of course, the last murder in or near Fortuna was six years ago when Izee Hillman whacked her ex with a meat cleaver. Swore on the stand she didn't mean to. Said she'd been dressing out a deer, and the cleaver slipped. Fourteen times.
Yanking my stocking cap further down on my head and trying to pretend it's June instead of January, I pull a tape recorder from my bag and stick it in Dwaine's face.
"Can you tell me that for the record?" I ask.
"Shit, Tessa, put that thing away." Dwaine's face turns beet red, and it isn't from the cold.
"Then give me something I can use." I glance at my watch. "Seventeen minutes until I go on air. Four p.m. news, the last of the day."
Dwaine's response is a stony stare; I put the recorder back in my bag.
"I'll say the police have no leads, and people should lock their doors and keep their kids in."
With a single, explicit curse word, the chief grabs the recorder. Holding it close to his chapped lips, he snaps in clipped tones, "The Fortuna police department is investigating numerous leads and have asked for assistance from the Ohio Bureau of Investigation. There is no need for panic."
Once the recorder is off and back in my possession, I push a little.
"Is any of that true?" I ask. "Off the record, of course."
Dwaine gives me his best "how stupid are you" look.
"The part about calling the state boys, yeah." He glances around again, to make sure his officers aren't in hearing range. Still, he lowers his voice.
"Didn't have a choice. These guys I've got are lucky to find their peckers in the dark."
Behind me, Bobby laughs.
When I turn around with a "knock it off" glare, he's gone. I hate it when Bobby disappears like that. It makes me wonder if he's back at my house snooping through my underwear or something. Not, of course, in his present condition, that Bobby is able to paw through anyone's panties. It's the idea of it.
"That take care of things for you, Lois Lane?"
Although Dwaine is trying not to smile, the man can't keep a straight face when he's nervous. That's the first tip-off he knows more than he's telling.
The second is how his second-in-command, Luther Gross, is on the cell phone.
If the OBI boys have already been called in, why is Luther on the phone instead of taking crime scene photos? Calling for a pizza, maybe?
Inquiring minds want to know.
"Precious eats at five."
Damn. Bobby's back. I don't know which is worse, his popping in and out or the schedule he has set for Precious. In all fairness, I suppose his mother set the schedule since the damn dog was hers for the last fifteen years. Still would be if Bobby's mama hadn't gone one serving too far on wing night at the all-you-can-eat buffet and choked to death on a bone.
I didn't make it to the funeral. First of all, it was on a Wednesday, when the boss springs for doughnuts at our over-the-hump-day meeting. Second, I'd met Bobby's mother exactly once, a week after my senior prom. He'd taken her to the grocery store to buy whipped cream and bananas. I was there to pick up a pound of cheese for my mother.
Who could imagine I'd make such an impression on the woman that she'd remember me in her will? Granted, the document was scribbled on a napkin grabbed from the table dispenser as her last conscious act on this earth, but I was still surprised.
Especially since Bobby's mama met her maker six weeks ago, and it has been ten years since that chance encounter in the deli department.
Trust me, I wish I'd left my inheritance unclaimed. Bobby says his mama willed Precious to me because in those few minutes together, she could see what a caring, loving person I was. Myself, I think she found out what Bobby and I did in the back seat of his Mustang for three weeks straight, and leaving Precious to me was her way of making me atone for my sins.
Bobby and I may seem to have nothing in common, but we did once. Call it teen lust, call it hormones, but that something made me ditch my steady at the prom after two straight years of wearing his yarn-wrapped ring around my finger.
You want details? Let's step into the old time machine and head back ten years, to when I was the virginal, pre-engaged girlfriend of Sherman Oakes.
Yeah, that really is his name. His mother wasn't trying to be cute; she had the misfortune to be born without a sense of humor. Although, in fairness to her, somebody should have told her the book she consulted was a zip code directory and not a list of baby names. He's lucky he didn't wind up as Cleveland Business District.
But I digress.
I was seventeen, horny and slightly ashamed of it. Not too ashamed, because my best friend Holly had been "doing it" for months. Sometimes I envied her. Her complexion cleared up, and she got the condom on her banana the first time in sex ed class.
Lord knows, I tried to bring Sherman to the dark side, but to no avail. He'd taken a chastity pledge at summer church camp, and not even the red lace thong I bought with my first paycheck from Burger Barn could entice him to break it. Nice girls wear white cotton, he told me primly. And nice boys didn't look at nice girls' panties, no matter how much said girl tempted one to go beyond a simple good night kiss.
I've never been able to resist a challenge. I made up my mind then and there to get laid by the end of senior year or die trying. I convinced my mother every other girl intended to wear a strapless dress that showed off her boobage and was barely long enough to cover her oh-yeah. I remember mine well--red and covered with sequins that made me itch when I sat down.
When Sherman pulled me close for the obligatory first dance, the effect I had on him was hard to miss. My hopes soared until I saw that damned pledge card in his shirt pocket. That's when I knew my mom had blown two hundred dollars of saved-up grocery money on a lost cause.
About that time, fate sent Bobby walking in, twenty years old and a fellow graduate, thanks to home-study courses. Rumor was he spent the whole last year in the county lock-up, with the prison tattoos to prove it. As he lingered at the refreshment table, the other kids saw a punk in a leather jacket, ruffled blue tux shirt, and brand-new black Chuck Taylors.
I saw a guy who'd take advantage of my dress. And me.
That was then, and this is now, and I've got less than nine minutes to get behind the mike. Traffic's as heavy today as it gets in a town with two traffic lights and three four-way stop signs. I'm lucky and catch both lights on green. Still it's hard on four o'clock when I hit my desk and start typing. Marc, the station manager, paces back and forth, nervous as hell.
"Two minutes," he reminds, a finger tapping his watch. "Don't make me fire you today."
Marc is always threatening to fire everyone at WFRT, and we always pretend to take him seriously. We know, as does he, that we're the best he can get for the pittance he pays. His threats are an ego thing.
With Marc, everything is an ego thing.
"Watch out," I suggest, brushing past. "I'm on air in thirty seconds."
I hit the sound booth precisely as the pre-recorded chatter ends. Pulling the mike toward me, I start to talk.
"This is Tessa McDonald with your four o'clock News to Know. This afternoon, we have breaking news as police investigate a bizarre murder in a warehouse on Center Street."
I don't have to give any details on the where of it. There are exactly two warehouses in Fortuna, the old, unused one on Center and the new, barely-occupied one on Forest Street. The few other businesses in town store their stuff in their basements or in one of those cute storage buildings they sell for four hundred plus change out on the highway.
I hit the recorder, and Dwaine's voice goes out across the airwaves, bringing a thumbs-up from Marc. Hands jammed in his pockets, he paces on the other side of the broadcast booth's glass window. I know he's hoping this is the story that will get him out of WFRT and into a station in Columbus, Cleveland, or any place that's not Fortuna.
I see him giving me the sign to stretch. That means he's willing to sacrifice the afternoon list of obituaries if I have juicy details for our listeners. I am so tempted to make something up, just to see if Dwaine listens to my reports like he says. Alas, I'm your basic good girl, and I cannot tell a lie. Not when it's being recorded, anyway.
With a shrug of apology, I take my eyes off Marc and start reading the obits. They're short today, which is good. Precious is waiting at home for her supper, after all.
As soon as I inform those who care that Mr. Elmer Holcomb is being buried at four the next afternoon, I slip out of the booth. I yank on my jacket, wiggle my fingers in farewell at the receptionist, and head out of the building before Marc can catch me. Firing up the pick-up, I swing a left, away from beautiful downtown Fortuna and toward home.