Authors: Bridget Allison
Maid in the Shade
Copyright Graysea Publishing 2013
Facebook Post: I always wanted to be cremated, until I read about a coffin that got stuck as it was lowered into the earth. The funeral crew began to jump up and down on the casket as horrified mourners looked on. I want to go like THAT
hen the phone rang I was just dumping a bucket of bloody water down the sink and had to let the call go to voice mail. It rang again as I finished carting all my cleaning supplies off to my old Range Rover.
had pulled off my coveralls and stuffed them in a plastic bag in the back and hurriedly reached into my pocket to answer without looking at the screen. “Crisis Cleanup” I said in a somber tone. It doesn't do to sound too perky when someone with a personal disaster is on the other end of the line. Although I handle a pretty fair share of death by natural causes, it’s never routine for the person calling to request my service.
I peered at the screen. I
t was Anita Huston, a friend from a wildlife rehabilitation organization I had joined long ago. I sighed as I waited for her to respond while I went back to lock the Andersen's door. I tried to keep my tone patient as I asked, “What’s up?”
When the silence on the line continued, I realized we had been cut off. She would call back, and I would do
just about whatever she asked. Anita was largely responsible for launching me into my new life after my old one disintegrated. I appreciated that, even though that new life almost ended altogether rather recently.
As far as being a permitted wildlife rehabilitator
goes, I imagine it would be easier to leave the mob. There is no such thing as an ex-volunteer unless you die or move. Despite my inactive status, I was certain Anita was going to ask me to critter sit or take half a litter of opossums off her hands. Opossums have so many offspring at a time “litter splits” are a mundane request in our area.
Disconnecting, I squeezed int
o the driver's seat, pushing a bloodstained rug further over onto the passenger side. The rusty smell of blood was competing with the antique carpet’s musty odor and I let the windows down.
I left the rug off at the specialty cleaners the phone rang again and I pulled over to talk. When you clean up bloodstains and spattered gore for a living you gain a healthy respect for the tenuous quality of life.
?” It was Anita again, “I have an emergency.”
“Animal or criminal
?” I asked teasingly. When she didn’t answer for a moment I peered at the screen. Reception is lousy in the outer reaches of the county. Just as I was about to press “end call” I heard the hysteria begin to bubble up in her voice.
“Would you believe both? Not criminal, but wildlife and definitely death.”
, my goodness, what am I doing? Why would I put a wildlife call in first?”
I could have answered that
, but she wouldn’t have liked my response. Once I got the details which included all the information I really needed in the word “owl,” an address and established Anita wasn’t in danger, I phoned Jared Helder, a deputy who had, in fact given me the phone I was using. He also conveniently programmed it with his number as a “VIP” in my phone book.
“Hey Legs!” he answered.
“Stop calling me that,” I said in a tone that suggested routine weariness more than indignation. You can’t sustain outrage indefinitely when you’ve been teased about being rather tall over a lifetime. And when I was young the jokes and appellations had been much less flattering. “What if I started nicknaming you after some physical characteristic that set you apart?”
“I believe that people would think you had a very foul mouth.”
I laughed, “You know, Jared I’m beginning to think these rumors about you were started by you. My guess is that you are probably all hat and no horse.”
You should cut back on your time with Mona, she always gets clichés wrong. I believe the expression is “all hat and no cattle. And trust me; the hat is only the beginning.”
’ve got more than one or two of something down there? Sounds like you’re a medical oddity to me, not exactly my forte, but you can find all manner of women who are into the grotesque.”
He chuckled, “I was referring to a whole
herd of skills, want some references?”
snapped back to reality and reminded myself of my oath not to get involved with a man whose relationships could be counted up by hours or at most nights according to our small town rumor mill.
“Pass,” I said dryly, “I was looking for skills in law enforcement
. I don’t think there’s been a 911 call for Loganberry Street yet right?”
“Not so far.”
“Consider this the call then, would you? Anita Huston is there and someone of your ilk needs to be.”
“Of my ilk
?” He laughed, “Gretchen, I will be happy to prove to you anytime there is no one of my ilk.”
“Oh,” I said,
“Goin’ to have to take a rain check and you can expect a drought in the forecast. I’ve only been inoculated for rabies. I’m pretty sure I haven’t had enough shots to protect me from all your conquests.”
“Speaking of shots,
” he said “you still haven’t made proper amends for shooting me.”
! You were being such a baby about it. It was a tranquillizer gun not an automatic weapon.”
“Yeah, but one loaded for bear
. I didn’t have my wits about me that day. I should have negotiated a more satisfying apology.”
“Strange, I can’t say I’ve seen an improvement as far as
you having your wits about you at any point. You aren’t helping your case here, you ARE a deputy. So can we talk about the body?”
“Sure,” he said the
flirtatious tone instantly disappearing, “what’s goin’ on?”
“The best I could get out of
Anita was that there is a corpse in Mae’s house. It’s definitely Mae. Naturally Anita knows not to touch her. I’m heading over as quickly as I can.”
“Whoa now, I think you need to be hired first right? And there is that little matter of the scene being cleared. Does contamination of the scene
even ring a bell?”
’m not stupid. Anita’s my friend and I’m going to help her out with a wildlife emergency. Unless this woman was murdered and by a bird, Hitchcock style, I’m just going to pick up an owl if you don’t mind.”
“Heck no, hopefully I’ll see you there. We may find time to finish those other negotiations.”
“I hope if I get murdered you aren’t assigned to the case,” I said, my voice dripping with acid. “If there is a woman nearby you’ll get distracted and never solve the crime.”
Considering the last few months, my being called to your murder scene is more likely than I want to imagine,” he answered seriously. “But what is my reputation as a deputy?”
As far as I know it’s good,” I answered reluctantly.
?” He laughed, “Try stellar. Just like my performance in other areas,” he said slyly. “But you really owe it to yourself to verify that personally. Besides, you can’t pretend you don’t distract men plenty.”
The truth is I do distract
people sometimes, but it isn’t a beauty thing, it’s a “tall and blonde thing.” It’s actually a little annoying; like being mistaken for a celebrity or addressed by the wrong name so often you begin to respond to it. But if I was distracting any men, few had ever followed up.
alling you was pointless,” I said brusquely, and hung up. I had been trying to rebuild my parameters when it came to Jared. My decision to report the death to him rather than 911 was something I didn’t really want him to ponder. It was only natural, I reassured myself. It’s a small town approach to think of calling on a person rather than a department. I had to concede, in a relatively short space of time, the small town culture of Bridle Springs was affecting me.
Jared had been careless. He is definitely a complication I didn’t need so soon after turning my life upside down on my own. When you’ve had a year packed with trauma, drama and change, you have to learn to take care of yourself a bit better before taking on someone else. Besides, I not only had a new business to nurture, I had lost a lot of time ducking photographers and declining media interviews from my last escapade.
I found the best thing to do in that regard was nothing; the media dug up quite a picture on their own
. I refused to read the accounts of the abduction and capture, but my friend Lucy Cornwall read them avidly and gave me the highlights; Duke grad, top firm, mysterious dismissal from said firm, to farm hand and crime scene cleaner to serial murderer catcher, or escapee, or near-victim, or all of the above. It all depended on who was giving the interview and reporting it.
ence of events leading up to that apprehension and this “mysterious girl” responsible for the arrest held certain logic if you knew my whole story: For reporters it was like being thrown puzzle pieces from assorted sets.
only one video clip of me, which had been run frequently. I had been outside with my dog Mosey, having fielded and declined a number of interviews on the phone, when a news truck from Charlotte pulled all the way up into the grass. I stood there, hands on hips, when the young reporter bounced out and approached, mike in hand, camera already recording.
“You drove up in my yard like you’re pulling
up to a Dairy Queen,” I reprimanded him. “Now that is just rude.”
He glanced around at the yard, startled, but he recovered quickly.
“Miss Gallen,” he had asked, “can you explain your refusal to talk about the serial killings?”
I looked at him mildly
, “I’m grateful to be alive and I’d like to keep that life to myself, thanks. I am not a Kardashian,”
I said, before turning my back on him and heading briskly inside with Mosey. According to Lucy, that little moment had garnered me a lot of respect from the public, but I knew very well that if I had spilled my guts, as it were, they would have happily watched that too.
had finally faded away; although I heard that an episode about it was going on “Real TV” with an emphasis on the serial killing spree rather than my role in the capture. This was because I was deemed “uncooperative”. I was happy just to starve the media beast and the sheriff’s department was thrilled to take the credit. Except for one deputy and that was Jared of course. It seemed he was determined to have the whole nation see me as a heroine while steadfastly refusing to divulge anything else about me.
didn’t seem to get that this largesse created more complications as reporters scurried around in vain to try to piece my life into one clean cohesive story line. The only other people willing to talk to them knew little about me, which just made the whole situation more outlandish
At 26, going from urban financial
wunderkind to manual laborer, from addiction to recovery and adding a recent brush with a murderer in the mix, and you’ve had a plateful.
Jared was definitely a dessert I wasn’t ready for at this stage. And if Jared was dessert I also had Ben, who was the Tiramisu on the past
ry cart. A smooth melding together of unexpected ingredients, yet predictably wonderful always, I had no interest in seeing him disappear from the menu.
gave a mental shrug, the better bet would be to take care of the tasks at hand and stay out of the restaurant altogether.
Now that I had placed
the call to Jared, I figured Anita would have him or another deputy there in minutes. I swerved back to my little cabin. A quick shower and a cup of coffee before I set off couldn’t hurt.
When I pulled into my gravel driveway I wasn
’t completely shocked to find Lucy Cornwall, my neighbor and landlord on the porch. Lucy, an elfin, ginger-haired firebrand with a vocabulary that could blister paint was seated in one of my rocking chairs. I noted as I climbed out and grinned at her that she was incapable of even rocking at a slow pace. I grabbed the bag with my jumpsuit and trudged up the flagstone walkway.
?” She asked, raising one of my mugs to me. Lucy and I take coffee the same way; constantly.
“Genius,” I s
miled, grateful no matter how many liberties she took in my house. Her mother, Leslie Nesbit, had bequeathed a leasehold from her estate to me from Lucy’s portion of the will. My home was rent free for three years while I cared for the animals she left behind, with a stipend of $800 a month for the livestock maintenance. The extra perk is that Lucy takes Mosey out every time she happens to pass by, and Lucy is on the go continuously.
The parcel re
verts back to Lucy earlier if I find the “direction in life” Leslie had wanted so badly for me. The free rent and monthly stipend wasn’t much for the old Gretchen; I had once paid more than that stipend for a pair of shoes. But things were much simpler here in the village of Bridle Springs. There was no need to dress to impress; generally I dressed for duress.