Last Stand at Lighthouse Point

By George Duncan

Crime & mystery

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16 mins

Last Stand at Lighthouse Point

Table of Contents


“That’s what I thought too, but wanted to run it by you.”


Tiffany gulped but took two steps inside. She was not going to be one of those women who collapse at the sight of blood, even though the sight unnerved her. Her stomach churned. Juices flowed and she felt a bitter taste in her mouth. She swallowed and walked on. Her boots found clear spots on the floor to step on. It was irrational, she knew, but she didn’t want to step on Andrew’s blood, even dried blood. The black boots tiptoed around a large spot and found an off-yellow space where the paint had withered. She closed her eyes and sighed again. Her hand found the staircase railing.

“Interesting little county.”


“Amenable to unreason is more like it. I am not going to commit any criminal acts.”

She had 20/20 vision and her gaze fell upon a thin, ragged white object. At first she wondered if it was a piece of paper. Maneuvering around the red her black boots stepped down next to the item. She didn’t have to pick it up to know what it was.

“Some time ago, he defeated us. The repercussions of that defeat could last for years, if not decades. Because of that, our Lord Satan is taking a personal interest in this matter. It is time for our revenge. You will wreak vengeance on the human. It will be easier than we thought because soon he will fall into sin. You are the commander of this region. Put all needed forces at your disposal to accomplish the task.”

“Couldn’t do much with the information. It’s not illegal to have a basic, stripped down landing strip at your ranch. We couldn’t find other evidence to tie him to any illegal activity. Fortunately he did lose the election.”

“Isn’t it? Arnie stood and turned toward the door. “Oh, one more thing.”

He looked down to see Trixie at his feet, her tail thumping on the carpet. She stared at the last remaining bit of the sandwich.

The chair squeaked under Edlands’ weight. “I supposed I could find someone else.”

A jagged piece of Andrew Hollinsworth’s skin, ripped from the bone.

“But only if I get to see you naked.”

Plop. Plop.

Arnoldson stood up and shook his head. “Just don’t ask Johnny to do it. He’s incompetent and he’s careless. Besides, you’re panicking and there’s no reason for it. Just because an editor is asking questions doesn’t mean he will discover anything.”

“In the future I will have to make three, won’t I?” he said. He dropped the sandwich. Trixie snapped it up before the bread and bacon hit the floor.

“Not another dysfunctional family.”

“When’s your deadline?”

Finally, Hollinsworth came out of his petrified trance.

Tiffany groaned and turned away. She closed her eyes and swayed uneasily on weak legs. She wondered if she was going to faint. Violently shaking her head, she gritted her teeth then took a deep breath.

“No, heard there might be a body up at the Magnum Point Lighthouse.”

He poured a cup of coffee in a green mug inscribed with golf clubs and the words, “I’ll break par in my next round!” and returned to the window.

April stared at him, silently chewing the cinnamon bun then sipping some coffee. Sanders pointed to her.

Arnoldson turned around and left the office, slamming the door as he left. As he walked toward his car, he wondered why he had kept in contact with Edlands over the years. He realized he didn’t like Edlands. In fact, ‘dislike’ was a mild term for what he felt for his longtime acquaintance. He looked back toward the office.

“OK. We’ll work on that.”

The eerie recognition slowly dawned on her. It was akin to a revelation when reading scripture. You can read a Biblical passage a hundred times and then reading it the hundred and first time a deeper, truer understanding of the lines sink into your spirit. It’s like a bright light being turned on. But the tower knowledge was not in the realm of light. A dark revelation arose from the shadows in the room.

He shivered but not from the cold. The needle prick of guilt stabbed his conscious. He had to shake it off, he told himself. He had not violated the Christian code of morality since he became born again. Even though he enjoyed the night the nagging remorse still plagued him.

“And the -- wanted me to kill for him,” Arnoldson said.

“There’s something else here,” she said softly, almost to herself.

“Oh, died of the cold?”

Hollinsworth almost jumped at the second plop. He put his finger on the trigger of the Dynasty.

She sipped the orange juice and ignored him.

“Oh, come on,” he said aloud. “It’s not like I’m married and committing adultery. Or a minister. Or Sunday School teacher.”

“Don’t know. Going to check on it as soon as I write up this story. Think it may be something more than routine. Just saw the purple WRST van roll by. I wouldn’t be surprised if it’s heading up that way. Never underestimate beauty pageant winners or runner-ups as the case may be. They’re dogged and determined.”

“Does Job fear God for nothing?” Satan said. “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands so that his herds and flocks are spread throughout the land. But now stretch forth your hand and strike everything he has and he will surely curse you to your face.”

As she walked away, Sanders picked up a strip of bacon and offered it to Trixie. She gulped it down and looked his way again, expectantly.

She took two steps then stared upward. When nothing looked out of order she scanned the lighthouse’s walls.

After the meeting, Edlands had opened a drawer to his desk and pulled out a bottle of Scotch. He unzipped the cap and poured some into a glass. He didn’t think he was panicking. Unlike Arnoldson, he had confidence in the Coastal Breeze editor’s abilities.

He shook his head. Somehow he couldn’t shake the feeling that the guilt was more than just about a night spent with April. Something else bothered him. But there was nothing on the horizon. Just the cold blue sky over white ice.

“So they are.”

“Something else…,” she said again. “Even a natural, carnal person might sense it.” Her gloved hands touched a wall. Her fingers ran slowly over the rough concrete. She turned around and looked upward again.

When his phone buzzed, Sanders picked up the receiver.

“I wish you wouldn’t look at me that way. It makes me think I’m in therapy. I’m not the only Christian who has heard the voice of the Holy Spirit. The scriptures say, ‘My people know my voice and the voice of a stranger they will not follow.”

So he was worried.

Everything looked solid. He had taken the editor’s job with the Coastal Breeze, the 7,500 circulation six-day-a-week paper on the North Carolina coast on the hunch improvements could be made. After four months at the helm, circulation was now above 8,000 and the consensus in the beach community was that the quality of the paper had improved considerably. He hadn’t done anything dramatic. The previous editor – who liked to snort things through his nose - was the obstacle to quality. When he left, there was a 99 percent chance the Breeze would improve, no matter who took over. One lazy employee had quit, after he read the writing on the wall and his replacement – a young man named Arnold Bierstom – was first class. Aggressive, accurate and a go-getter. Sanders also freed up his copy editors and design editors from the restraints placed on them by the previous idiot-in-chief.

The creature smiled. “It will be done.”

"OK, you want to play? Come on down!"

“You’re still here too, aren’t you?”

He fired. The roar of the gun exploded in the enclosed space of the lighthouse.

Now, with the paper running smoothly, he could focus on the novel.

“Drake. Ed Macintosh here.”

“Three months from now.”

“No, you only get one piece. It’s bad for you.”

A rustling came from the top of the tower. The sound of large, hairy spiders scooting over dead leaves. Coming for her. Something even darker, more evil. Yet intelligent. Whatever it was hated her. Waves of yellow malice washed over her. The rushing evil knocked her back against the wall.

If nothing went wrong….

“Does this voice give you stock tips?”

Suddenly her courage failed and she rushed for the door. She hit it with her shoulder and plunged out, sprawling into the snow. She stood up and weakly shook the snow off. Tibbetts stood three-feet away.

But nothing should go wrong. Well, besides that little sin thing last night. He would take care of that. He planned to propose.

There was a brass railing along the length of the stairs. He tapped the railing with the barrel of the gun. Echoes ran through the lighthouse. "Think you can scare me? Come on. I have a surprise for you. I will shoot your -

“I told you that you didn’t want to see it.”

There was also the e-mail. The mysterious e-mail. It hinted of darker things.

She stumbled toward the van. “No, I think I did. I really think I did.”

After being summoned KuMosh, the creature from the lighthouse, approached the Ruler of Darkness and bowed.

She opened the van’s door and eased into the seat. Emerson climbed in the driver’s side.

He shrugged. Then again, it was probably sent by a random nutcase. You see a lot of those in journalism. He took a gulp of the strong coffee.

Sanders lowered his tone. “It might if I had stocks, which I don’t.”


“Where to now?” he said.

What could go wrong? he thought.


April eagerly read some lines, scrolling down as she scanned the paragraphs.

She picked up her cell phone. “Nowhere. We’re staying right here for a while. This is a great place to broadcast from. First, I have to make a few calls.”

April finished chewing and wiped her mouth with the napkin. She hopped off the stool. “I need to take a shower, then I have to go.”

“We may need to kill the editor of the Breeze, Drake Sanders.”

Fortunately, she knew Carl Knudson’s number. Then she wanted very much to talk to her pastor…and also ask Drake Sanders a question.

Two weeks before, when he had heard the line, Nathan Arnoldson gave what he thought the appropriate reply, “Aaron, are you out of your mind?”

“So the real name of singer Donna Fargo was Evonne Vaughn. Who would do that to a child?”

The sound was much closer now. It should not upset him - he had the rifle - but it did. The noise sent ripples of fear down his spine.

Since he had heard the sentence, he had not been able to get it out of his mind, no matter how much he tried.

“A human in your region is your new assignment. It is the highest priority,” the Dark Ruler said.

Sanders showed a condescending smile to the paper’s police beat reporter Arnold Bierstom. Arnie was immensely likeable and extremely competent. Short-cropped black hair stood above an average face with a slightly large nose but small mouth. At first glance, the features looked odd. Arnie was a Type-A personality and had trouble sitting still. He crossed and uncrossed his legs, wiggled in his chair and picked up his pen before dropping it again in his shirt pocket. In addition to constant movement, he had the tendency to throw out random bits of information that no one really cared about.

Despite his question, he knew Aaron Edlands was not crazy. Edlands had full control of his mental faculties. That was a fact that scared Arnoldson more than if the owner of Top Quality Construction had actually been medically approved for large amounts of Thorazine. He shook his head as he went over the conversation yet again in his mind.

“The real name of Mel Tillis is Mel Tillis,” Sanders said.

Nearer now. More intense.

“He is asking questions that could lead him to a matter we don’t want known, much less published in a newspaper,” Edlands had said.

At the door of the kitchen she turned around and walked back. She slid her hands along the lapels of his robe. For a moment, she appeared shy and awkward.

Arnie shrugged and showed an apologetic smile. “My girlfriend is a country music fan.”

“That doesn’t mean we kill somebody. Even if your suggestion had a modicum of common sense – which it doesn’t – if an editor suddenly turns up dead and a bullet has caused his demise, police naturally ask if he was working on a story and ask what type of story. Which leads…follow me on this, Aaron…which leads to those questions being asked in an official, law enforcement capacity. We got a new district attorney two years ago. This one is not alcohol dependent and has a different character than Sam Sullivan, which you know after your son spent a year in the county jail.”

Sanders walked cautiously to the door and opened it, peering out.

“Do you have any information that is news related, or shall we continue to discuss the names of singers?”

“John should have received a fine and a judicial reprimand. Ames would not listen to reason.”

Sanders leaned back in his black office chair. The Coastal Breeze was a small newspaper, but the Ridgeview chain – 12 daily newspapers, 24 weeklies - did provide a very impressive editor’s office. The brown walnut desk set on two inches of wine red carpet. A floor to ceiling bookshelf stood behind Sander’s chair. Two other chairs that looked more like green recliners than office furniture faced his desk. Arnie sat in one, grinding down the cushion as he swerved from side to side. He lifted a reporter’s notebook from the inside of his jacket and held it up.

“Am I going to see you again?”
“You’re seeing me now.”

“Sullivan would have let him off, but Sullivan isn’t in office anymore. Dusty Ames wasn’t about to give out any free judicial passes, and since you tried to lean on Ames he would love to see your butt in a cell, too. Johnny still got off light. He didn’t have any priors because Sullivan always dropped the cases. You need to tell that boy to control his temper. He better not run anyone else off the road. He could have killed the other driver. But I can see why he goes off half-cocked. He gets it from his father.”

Whatever making it should be turning on the stairway and in a few minutes would be in the light. He raised the gun, making sure whatever emerged out of the darkness would be in his crosshairs.

“This is news related. A three-sleazeball story with a feminine twist. Sleazeball number one is a 46-year-old father named Barry Wessman. Sleazeball two and three are his sons Jacob and Johnny. Wessman’s wife is Joanne, who is an outstanding citizen. Works for Shores Insurance and does billing. So two deputies come and knock at their door the other evening. The officers politely ask Joanne if they can come in. She says ‘yes.’ They ask if her sons are in. She says ‘yes.’ One says, ‘Joanne, we need to search their rooms.’ She says ‘fine….’”

Edlands bristled with indignation. At first he wanted to defend his son, and himself. Then he took a deep breath and decided to ignore the remark.

“It’s touching the trust some mothers have in their sons,” Sanders said.

The creature nodded.

“If Sanders uncovers what I’m afraid he might, it would destroy us all. If you recall, sixteen years ago, we were involved in a crime and a man died. We got away with that, and we can get away with another incident.”

She slapped her hands on his jaws. “Drake!”


“Neither one,” said Mildred.

Make some coffee.

“So what happened?”


“We don’t know yet.”

April’s hand dipped into the pocket of the robe and clasped her glasses. The brown frames matched her hair. As she pushed them on her nose, she asked, "Think I should get contacts?"

“Who was it?”

No one wants to face Armageddon half-awake.

“Somebody you might know, or at least know of.”

“If I’m going to stay overnight I need clothes. And shoes. And books. Can I share your desk?”

Tiffany paused for a moment. The excitement in her voice subdued. “Really? Who?”

Even his red-hot, passionate thoughts of garroting Stan Needles -- one of the high school's geeks -- didn't stop Andrew Hollinsworth from shivering in the drafty, rundown lighthouse. Outside, snow fell while the wind blew ocean spray onto the beach and swayed the trees surrounding the isolated structure. The swift, icy breeze swirled noisily up the circular, dusty stairs. It reached a crescendo at the top, sounding like an animal shrieking in pain, or in fear. From inside the decrepit, yet historic building, Hollinsworth heard the waves breaking and flowing onto the frozen sand.

“You remember a student named Andrew Hollinsworth?”

Even if the Four Riders of Imminent Doom were riding toward the house, he was an expert shot and could knock them off their speeding stallions before they got to the porch. He tended to be optimistic and positive in outlook. He had the capacity to roll with the punches. He came up smiling even when he was dodging bullets fired in his direction. Thankfully all the shooters had, so far, missed.

“Yes. He’s a jackass. Bullies other students and strong-arms his way around school. His father is always there to help him out of a jam. I had to drag my daddy to the father-daughter dance at the First Baptist Church. Hollinsworth’s father was always helping him.”

"Nah, the glasses look cute on you."

“He can’t help him anymore. He was the student who was killed.”

“Oh, sure.”

Tiffany didn’t reply, She moved the phone in front of her and looked at it as if it were an alien object. She tapped the speaker button as she sat back in the seat.

He lifted back the sheet and blanket and gently edged over the sleeping girl. Twenty-one-year-old future psychiatrist April Langston, a brunette pre-med student with a sly smile and an IQ hovering near one-hundred-sixty, dozed next to him. April had twisted under the covers during the night so that most of her bare back lay exposed as she sprawled on the bed. Her face was turned away from Sanders. She slept peacefully, her breath causing small waves to ripple in the orange pillow case. He also negotiated around Trixie, his sixty-pound Golden Retriever, who was not used to sharing what she considered her bed with two humans.

“Andrew is dead?”

She fingered the collar of one of his blue office shirts. “Who does your laundry?”

“Yes. Group of boys went up there yesterday. Hey, is this off the record? There’s no official release yet.”

There had been state and federal plans to renovate the Magnum Point Lighthouse, but the proposals were never translated into action. Renovation was needed because state officials were close to slapping a yellow condemned sticker on the creaky structure. The pale tower stood like a diseased finger pointing toward the heavens. Time had peeled away paint the way leprosy peeled away healthy skin, leaving it rotten and putrid.

“Ah, let me use it as background. I won’t use your name.”

Any other thirty-three-year-old man might have taken a few seconds to congratulate himself for masculine virtues, danced across the cold floor, or at least strutted a few steps flexing fatuous pride. Or, perhaps if a bit more mature, he might have been thankful for his good weekend fortune. Other men might have figured life owed them a favor, a big favor, or at least a five-seven, auburn-haired attractive favor with slender, stylist brown legs and an incredibly sweet smile.

“Please don’t, honey. Not yet.”

“I do.”

“OK. You have my promise. So what happened?”

She flicked the novel closed. “I will have to read the rest later. You know I’ve written a couple of short stories.”

“We’re trying to piece that together. There may have been some type of bet and it involved Hollinsworth spending a night at the lighthouse. The kids go up Sunday around noon to pick him up. They go into the lighthouse and don’t find Andrew. What they see is blood and bits and pieces of a human being. We have pictures you wouldn’t believe, and I don’t think you want to see.”

Sanders, though, was a born-again Christian.

“Yes, I do,” Tiffany said. “Save them for me.”

“That explains it.”

“Tiffany, you really don’t. You’ve never seen anything like this before in your life. I’ve seen the photos. They will give you nightmares.”

Hollinsworth was not a superstitious man. He had no interest in theological matters nor was he curious about the supernatural, but listening to the eerie banshee cry of the wind, he understood why the North Carolina Outer Bank was replete with ghost stories.

“Save them for me,” Tiffany said, the dedication rising in her voice. “As Tiffany Summersby, I would pass. But as a reporter, I definitely want to see them.”

That complicated the situation.

“There was talk of opening the lighthouse up as a tourist attraction. That’s not going to happen until it’s scrubbed clean. There’s blood on the walls and floors.”

Sanders took another bite from his sandwich. “You know, a few minutes ago you were wondering if you’d see me again. Now you’re moving in.”

“Who’s up there now? Any deputy?”

“You mentioned that. You will be a psychiatrist and a writer.”

“Roy Tibbetts, I think,” Mildred said. “He’s there to keep everyone else out.”

She smiled and patted his face. “It’s a fast-paced world, sweetie. Can’t waste time. Which means I need to go. But when I get back, we will have the whole weekend to ourselves.”

“Roy. I know him. He’s a nice guy,” Tiffany said.

Although greatly appreciative of his good fortune, a nagging thorn of guilt pricked his side. He realized that, even with a loose interpretation of scripture, last night qualified as sin with a capital "S". Depending on your religious views, the "I" and "N" might need to be capitalized, too. It was true that sins of the flesh were less serious than spiritual sins but … that didn't let him off the theological hook.


Emerson turned his attention to the road from his hot colleague. He was a burly, curly-haired man but had a pleasant personality and excelled as a cameraman. His addictions included cigarettes and a compulsion to play the state lottery every week. He had played every option offered and, he guessed, spent hundreds of dollars hoping for the big win. Alas, to date, he had won eight dollars on state-backed gambling. Barely enough to buy him a pack of cigarettes.

-Some Time Later

He looked toward Tiffany who still held the cell phone to her ear.

Sanders slowly munched on a bacon and egg sandwich. He was still hungry so made half of a second sandwich then walked back to the bedroom and watched April slip into her shoes. She grabbed her red coat and tied the belt around her, then slid open the closet door. She slid his shirts and pants to one side and then gave a hum of approval.

For a lady who possessed both beauty and brains, she was not rude or stuck-up. There was a natural sweetness about his colleague. Perhaps that explained something that puzzled him. While any attractive woman gathered his attention, there was no raw sexuality oozing from Tiffany. After meeting some women, his first thought was sleeping with them. They exuded an aroma that went right to the gonads. Tiffany didn’t fit in that category.

When Drake Sanders woke up he realized the Apocalypse was around the corner. He could almost hear the hoofbeats of the Four Horsemen. This didn't cause him to frown, but it did cause him to wonder what was the most appropriate response to impending doom.

Perhaps it was because she was a born-again Christian and a devout one at that. That was another reason Emerson knew he would not make any moves on her. He had been turned down by plenty of woman who were not religious and didn’t believe in celibacy before marriage. One who did believe in it wasn’t about to say yes to him. Besides, he didn’t want anything to disturb the working relationship they had. He both liked and needed the job. He wanted no complications.

“No, she’s well-trained. Retrievers are remarkably intelligent, and loyal for that matter.”

An instrumental version of “Amazing Grace,” flowed from Tiffany’s cell phone. She snatched it from her purse. “Hope that’s Mildred calling back,” she said.

He looked at her. “And that means…”

Emerson drove carefully. No snow was falling, but the roads remained slick. At least the storm had not deposited any ice on the highways. Once tires begin sliding on ice, it was difficult to bring a vehicle back under control.

Then it hit him.

Wild Duck County had a mainland section where, until recently, most of the stores and malls were located, and an ocean section. The Capricat Sound cut between the two parcels. Only at the top of the county did the two land masses meet. Then drivers had to turn left and make the mile run to Highway 350 that stretched across the Virginia border. The Magnum Point Lighthouse was about a mile south of the turn, and there was no asphalt leading up to it, just a sandy trail. On snow days the traveling was harder. But, as Tiffany noted, the van should have little trouble in making the trip.

“It means I have room to put my stuff here.” She tapped the closet with a fist. “Ample room.”

“I’m doing fine and I’m on a story,” Tiffany said into her cell. She broke into a big smile. “I sure do want to know about the dead body. Accident? Or did the guy freeze to death?”


“Oh, oh. When a vice president of the company calls you it’s usually bad news. Tell me that’s not true today,” Sanders said.

The Dark Ruler frowned. He did not like the breezy confidence of his underling. The creature had never faced such a challenge before. He should not take it lightly.

Even though clothes covered almost every inch of her, including hands encased in the sleek brown gloves and feet in shiny black boots, there was no disputing that his colleague was major league hot, Bruce Emerson thought. Not just Triple-A, but Major League.

“Not true today, Drake. I’m going to be down there tomorrow. Just wondered if you’ll be in.”

Hollinsworth paid no attention to the ringing in his ears. He dropped the gun, turned and ran. His fingers almost touched the door before something grabbed his legs and pulled him back over the dirty floor.

The boots were a rare concession to the wintry, windy day. Tiffany Summersby, newswoman and second place contestant in the Miss Wild Duck Pageant, liked to go barefoot or at least preferred open-toed shoes. She did not like encasing her feet in shoes or boots. It was close to a phobia with her. Until today, Emerson didn’t know she owned a pair of boots.

“Yes, I should be here.”

“Trixie, want to go out?” Sanders said as he pointed to the snowy ground.

“Good. See you then.”

Even so, she was hot.

Trixie woofed.

Summersby used her gloved hand to sip black coffee from the white Styrofoam cup. She settled into the passenger seat of the station’s purple van that had the large WRST letters in gold. “It’s distinctive,” the station manager had said of the van. “People will remember it.”

After Sanders replaced the receiver Arnie said. “A vice president? Something serious?”

Hollinsworth screamed in terror. He wanted to call for his daddy. Then he realized even his father couldn't help him. Not this time.

At five-three, she had plenty of leg room. A blonde with blue eyes, Summersby wanted to be a television anchor and her first step was the correspondent’s job. The company that owned WRST wanted to expand coverage into Wild Duck County. She definitely had the looks for the job, but she also had the intelligence. She was second in her senior class at Wild Duck High School with a 5.4 average. The valedictorian, a student who planned to enter medicine, had a 5.5 average. Summersby did not like the fact that she was coming in second in contests, but at least the grades were tabulated honestly, a fact she doubted about the pageant ratings.

“Don’t think so. Ed travels around to the different papers about once every six months. We’ve been expecting him for a while.”

The Golden Retriever raced out the door and bounded into the snow, leaving tracks all around the yard. She raced twenty yards to the empty smaller house – a shack really – on the property, then spun around and raced back to the larger house. After galloping to the edge of the still-snow covered road, she edged back and started walking again toward the shack.

“We’re going to the Magnum Point Lighthouse,” she said.

“Well, I’m off.”

“Don’t blame me. That’s what the doctors say.”

“That’s gonna be some hard driving.”

Sanders waved him goodbye. “Tell me if you find anything when you check out the lighthouse.”

If anyone had been walking by the lighthouse on the moonless, snowy night, he would have heard a bloodcurdling, savage howl. It hung like fog for a few seconds then gradually dissipated.

“The van can make it,” she said.

“Don’t underestimate him. He defeated us before. Make sure he doesn’t this time. If you fail, the consequences will be severe. A Messenger will be sent to help you. He is wise in the affairs of men. When he arrives, you will kill or destroy the man named Drake Sanders.”

He started the engine and backed the van out of the Coastal Breeze’s parking lot. WRST had a small office on the south side of the Breeze building. There were no computers as yet. Just two desks, a few chairs, a bathroom and a coffee machine that was usually broken. However, in the spirit of media cooperation, the Breeze had a spare desk and computer that Tiffany often used.

He looked at Trixie’s sad face then picked up another strip.

“What’s up at the lighthouse?” he asked.

“A dead body. A possible dead body.”

“She won’t run away?” April asked.

Summersby set the cup down in a holder and grabbed her cell phone out of her pocketbook. There was one advantage in living in a small county all of your life. You knew almost everyone, and one of the everyones was Mildred Dubanks, the office manager – and unofficial public relations staffer - at the Wild Duck Sheriff Department. Mildred seemed to know everything that was going on long before it was written in an official report.

Emerson turned right onto the four-lane U.S. Highway 87 that ran directly up into Virginia. The wet asphalt sparkled in the morning sun, but all the snow had been pushed to the side of the road. The black-spotted slush stood as dirty mini-guards as he pressed the gas pedal.

“OK, but this is the last one.”

“Come on, Mildred, where are you?” Tiffany said.



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