Editor’s note: This is a continuing excerpt of Reclaimed Haven: Murder on First. If you’ve missed the previous installments, just hit the “Books” category to your right and enjoy! 🙂
It began as many days begin: with a whimper.
Mrs. Geena Larson was walking to the post office when she saw what she thought was a bloody golden lab. “It was wandering all over town… like it owned the place,” she told the post mistress, “and it looked like it was limping, too.”
Ike Moe spotted the second lab. “Bloody as hell. Musta been in one heck of a fight,” he said.
With bloody dogs traipsing around town, Sheila Knight called the sheriff. He sent a cruiser to investigate the situation.
Ashley Stone noted a large number of cars rolling up and down Main Street as she turned into the Crossroads Herald offices. She didn’t think much of it as she parked her vehicle and eased herself out of the car. She had other things to think about. A stab of pain pierced her abdomen.
“It’s gonna be a good day. It’s gotta be a good day,” she repeated, mostly to quell her nerves. Her boots ca-thunked their way to the entrance and she paused. It felt like a damn cold morning and a very bad time to start something new. “What if I can’t do this? What if I fail?” she wondered.
She didn’t ponder long. The door swung open and a large man grinning from ear to ear greeted her. His powder blue dress shirt peppered damp with what was apparently perspiration. A broad smile widened, stretching across his pudgy, pasty face. “I bet I know who you are,” he gushed, “You’re the new reporter. Welcome!” Ashley stood before him, stunned. He added, “Or maybe not…”
“Yes,” she said, “I’m the new reporter. Ashley Stone.” She extended her hand, “You sound like Mr. Lundquist.”
“Bart,” he said, “call me Bart.” Ashley stepped through the door and Bart pointed to Ned. “That’s Ned Stevens. He’s our photographer. The graphic designer’s out today. Name’s Maisy. She’s our receptionist, too. You’ll meet her later.” He pointed to a coat tree near the door, “Hang your parka there. Your desk is next to Ned’s. Unload and meet me in the conference room in.. say… ten minutes. Ned will tell you where it is.” Bart huffed dramatically, turned on his heel, and trotted to what was evidently his office. He slammed the door shut, leaving Ashley and Ned alone in the middle room of the building.
Ashley undid her coat. She sneaked a peek in Ned’s direction as she placed it on the only bare hook on the considerably large coat tree. Dust clung to the wrinkles of a number of out-of-season jackets. She tucked her coat tight, hoping to keep her brand new winter ensemble fairly clean. She turned and stepped towards her desk, glancing at Ned in the process.
He looked reasonably nice. His longish, dark hair gave him a native American vibe. He sat at his desk, feet perched on top, newspaper resting on his lap. If she’d felt remotely well, she would have found him attractive, with his broad shoulders, deep brown eyes, sly grin. However today she felt old, hungry, and terribly sore. She realized in her haste, she forgot to eat breakfast. “Just make it through today…” she thought.
She noticed him eye her as she stepped towards her desk. He nodded toward a door to his right. “That’s the conference room,” he said. “Bathroom’s there.” He nodded towards a door directly across from his desk. “Bart’s office is there,” he nodded to the left, “you probably already figured that out. And you’ve already found the front door. That’s about it.”
Ashley nodded. “Not too complicated.” She sat and examined what was evidently her desk. She decided to check it out.
She grasped the center drawer, giving it a light tug. Nothing. She pulled a bit harder. Nothing. It appeared completely stuck. Finally, a firm yank jerked it open. Paper clips and thumb tacks leaped onto her lap. She glanced towards Ned. His eyes danced as he suppressed a grin. She nonchalantly gathered the contents and tossed them back where they belonged. Then she struggled to close it again. She could have sworn she heard Ned snort a small chuckle as she jiggled the wide drawer. She ignored it.
Next she pillaged through the other drawers. Paper, carbons, and clippings littered each. An
ancient, shrunken apple sat in one corner, its dried ooze gluing more papers together. She tossed it in the trash. The rusty, sticky residue gummed her fingers. She vowed to sort through the mess that afternoon.
Ashley loved the ambiance of a small town newspaper office. The scent of crisp, dry toner filled the air. It felt dusty, old… newsy. A sticky film clung to everything, likely residue from melted bees wax that used to hold various newspaper components… ads, stories, announcements… on mock up boards. Today, all the layout was done electronically, but visceral memories of the old days clung to the interior of the office.
She leaned back in her chair, observing the mess that was her new desk. It looked ancient, a pale green cast covered the metallic finish. It must have weighed a ton. Cool to the touch, it felt solid, predictable, grimy. She’d have to give it a good cleaning before she allowed Betsy to sit on it.
Ashley had a Windows laptop for as long as she could remember. However, after the “Big Event” and her subsequent rough recovery, her not-so-faithful companion had suffered a terminal Windows cascading failure. Ashley recalled how, in horror, she watched one blue screen of death after another materialize on her screen.
“What am I going to do?” Ashley cried into the phone, hardly able to bear even one more bit of bad news.
Her mother listened in silence.
After Ashley accepted a writing position in this remote area of Minnesota, her mother presented her with a beautiful, new laptop. Betsy.
Unbeknownst to her mother, but known to Ashley, it was a Mac. “The geek told me this one won’t get that error,” her mother said.
“Nope,” Ashley replied, “It won’t get any Windows errors.
“That’s a good thing, right?”
Ashley hugged her mother, hopped into her tiny Smart car with every possession that meant anything, and drove away from her previous home with tears in her eyes.
Already, Betsy the little Mac, had become her faithful companion. The last few weeks, she managed to pour thousands of words into her interface… every one of them a flawless computing experience without errors, missed saves, or unexpected power-offs.
“Everything’ll be fine. Everything’ll be fine,” she breathed.
As she sat gazing at her grimy desk, Ashley realized her incision was in full complaint mode. She needed another pain killer. She leaned back in her chair and placed her hand over the wound. Her fingers trembled at the memories her gesture triggered. Breathing deep to control them she said, “Is there a place to get a glass of water in here?”
Ned didn’t say a word. Instead he nodded to his right.
“Conference room?” Ashley said.
She gingerly stood in as discrete a manner as she was able, unfolding her painful body, and made her way to the next room. Just then, Bart exploded into the center office. “Meeting time.”