Karen waited until the next morning to file the story. She came in early and found the photographer she had seen roaming through the crowds the day before. She settled down at her desk and hit the first key at her computer just as her phone started to buzz around.
“This is Karen.” She had long ago mastered the art of multi-tasking when it came to filing her articles. Most of the story was sketched out in her notepad. She continued to type while holding the phone between her shoulder and her ear.
“Karen, this is Chief Scott.”
“Hey.” She stopped typing and took the phone in her hand. It was not normal for him to call her with such a formal tone. He usually kept that attitude for when they were around others. “What are you calling about so bright and early this morning? Are you worried about the quotes I plan to use?” She hoped that the call was about the election story.
Karen and Stephen had known each other before they even knew anything. Their parents had been friends. Their grandparents had been friends. She often wondered just how far up their trees the friendship ran. Few of her memories growing up did not involve Stephen.
“This is not about yesterday.” The tone of his voice carried a weight she could recognize and did not like. The last time he used that voice it had changed her world, and not in a good way. She knew whatever words came next were not going to make her happy. “I think you need to come out here.”
“Here?” She had no interest in coming to “here” if it meant meeting the information that caused him to hurt. She preferred to stay behind her desk and write the story that needed to be published even though the whole town already knew the news.
“We got a call just after sunrise from Matt Brian. He went out early to clear a culvert that has been flooding one of their side roads and he noticed a purse caught up in a puddle behind a line of shrubs. He managed to pull it out. It’s Margaret’s purse.”
She knew she wanted to avoid the words he had to say even if she did not know what they were. Instinct told her that the words from the Chief would not make her happy. But there they were. Matt Brian found Margaret’s purse in a ditch – and Margaret never went anywhere without her purse. She also never wore white shoes after Labor Day or sandals until after Easter. There were just some traditions Margaret thought necessary for the culture of the community to thrive.
“I’m here.” She had gotten lost in some moments with Margaret. Strange thoughts invaded a mind determined not to deal with the possibility of bad news. “I can be on my way as soon as I finish this article.”
“I have a deputy waiting outside your office right now. He’ll be driving you. Please remember that I called you out of courtesy for your friendship with Margaret. This is strictly unofficial at the moment.”
She finished her article with only a little struggle. It helped that it was already written to some extent. She met with Bert just long enough to let him know that something unofficially big might be up. She tried not to think beyond that.
The deputy opened the front passenger door for her to slide in the back of the patrol car. It made her smile to know she would not have to sit in back. The back of a police car was never a good place to find herself even under the best of circumstances. He closed the door once she was in, but he never spoke.
The ride out to the farm did not last long, but Karen still needed something to do to occupy her mind. She refused to let it chase down all of the indefinites that crowded her mind since the Chief first called.
She considered focusing on the election, and that lead her back to the men under the tree. Men in the shadows always made for a great distraction. She ran a few ideas through her mind and then thought better of it. There were enough ideas crammed in there at the moment. It seemed like a better idea to keep a written record of this particular group.
She took out her notepad to get her thoughts in line and made a title at the top.
NOTES AROUND THE ELECTION
Shadow Men: nice suits – not off the rack.
She chewed on her eraser for a moment and tried to picture the shadow men. Just the name she had given them made her smile a little. The habit of giving people labels was one of the many things she had picked up from Sara.
She had not been able to see them well. Sometimes that was a good thing. The smallest detail could end up making the biggest story. A small idea, when it was watched well, could blossom into the best picture. Karen stared out the window and took a moment to watch the men in her mind.
Man 1: very tall, and slender – not thin.
Man 2: shorter than the first – solid build.
Man 3: about the same height as Man 2.
Man 4: round.
She wondered for a moment if it would be okay to call someone “round.” She also worried that it might not be enough description for later. The more she tried to picture him the more the word seemed to fit.
Man 5: well built, healthy – probably works out – seemed out of place with the group.
It was not much, but it was more than nothing. Experience taught her that more than nothing was sometimes all that you needed to get the ball rolling.
The deputy pulled the car into a field at the southern corner of the Brian Farm. Dozens of other law enforcement and official vehicles were also lined up in front of the fence. Karen stepped out of the car and was immediately thankful that she had worn tennis shoes that morning. The grass remained wet from the rains that had passed through days before. Her foot sunk into the wet ground with each step and each step made a slight squishing sound. It would have been funny to her in any other situation.
She caught the eye of the Chief and he waved her over. The deputy stayed behind by the car and she wondered if he had been designated as her driver for the day. The troubles that she and Sara had brought to town had made Stephen take a little more caution with her from time to time.
“What do we have?” She needed to be the first one to speak. It helped her stay in control. She wanted to stay in control. Their code for “there is something more to this than I want to say” had become “this is unofficial at the moment.” She recognized she had reason to be concerned from those words, and all the cars around the field confirmed it.
“What have you heard recently about the activities of Margaret Swords?”
“That particular name didn’t come up much on my end last night.”
“What about before last night?”
“You know Margaret. She has always been into everything and everyone listens to what she has to say. What are you asking me?” It seemed easier to start from his points and work back.
“The whispers I have been hearing around town were that a major supporter for the Tanner side was making a change.”
Karen thought about that for a moment. She had heard that there had been a falling out, but she had not heard much else since that first bit of smoke; something that big would have resulted in flames. “And you think Margaret changed sides?”
“I have no idea. It was just a few whispers around town, but you know that a few whispers all saying the same thing usually adds up to something.”
She nodded. “Especially around here.” She thought again about what he was saying. “But, if Margaret did switch her support, how did Tanner pull out the win?”
He shook his head and leaned in closer to Karen. “I also heard that Margaret hadn’t been seen around for a few days.”
She nodded. It was not unusual for Margaret to take off on one adventure or another, but it seemed unlikely at this particular time because of the election. It had not dawned on Karen before, but Margaret had been very absent the last two days.
She shook her head now – not because of what she was thinking or what she was hearing. She had missed something and that ate at her. Karen knew that rumors could be the key to uncovering the seed of the story, any story in Big Springs, and she had missed it. Maybe her vacation to California had impaired all of her skills as a writer. It had left her off balance that was certain. For a moment she doubted everything.
Stephen continued to talk even though Karen’s thoughts had shifted miles away. “Her purse had to have washed up there from the rains the other night. The water in that little culvert comes from the overflow of the creek. If her purse was floating in the creek . . .” She knew what came next. It always seemed to come next for her. “Then it’s likely her body also floated up near here.”
It was still hard to hear, even if she had expected it. “Body?” Her breath caught in her chest. “Maybe her purse was stolen. Maybe she left it on the roof of her car and it fell off while she was driving off on her adventure. There are a lot of maybes that can explain all of this.”
Her words were interrupted by a call from some men up the creek. “Chief.”
Karen grabbed his arm and her eyes widened. Even though the maybes had been long shots, they were still shots before that one word pierced the air. Stephen patted her hand, but did not try to remove it. They walked up the grove together to where a gathering of searchers now huddled. Karen could just make out the heel of a shoe from under a bush. It was Margaret. She shook her head. This was not going to be the easy news day she had woken up expecting.
To Purchase Your Copy of WATCH by Kathryn C. Lang – CLICK HERE