Authors: Jerilyn Dufresne
As I slowed to thirty miles an hour, George woke up, stretched, leaned over to kiss me, and asked where we were.
To say he exploded might be an understatement. And since George was usually such an easygoing guy with me, my eyebrows shot up and my mouth opened, but nothing came out.
Finally I was able to talk.
"I'm sorry. I didn't think you'd mind." I was used to saying "I'm sorry" to George because I messed up a lot. But things had gotten better since I started taking ADHD medication.
"Oh my, I just remembered what I forgot."
"What?" George asked in the middle of his anger.
"You're going to be mad," I promised him.
"Tell me now while I'm already mad."
"I forgot my meds for my impulsiveness. I am so, so sorry." My impulsivity and inattention have caused a lot of trouble for us, and make me unlikeable. Well, except to my family, including my dog and my George. But still, I knew I was hard to put up with.
George's handsome face was red, as was the top of his head where hair used to be.
"Honey," I said. "Please try to relax. I don't want you to have a stroke on our vacation." Even Clancy looked concerned.
"We can call Gus and have him send your meds."
I nodded, then yelled, "NO! I don't remember where they are, and I refuse to let Georgianne have an excuse to look through my house. I couldn't bear it." I touched his shoulder. "Please. Let's just see how I am. If it's not too bad, I can wait until I get home for the meds. If I'm so annoying you want to throttle me, I'll have Gus look for the bottle and overnight it. Or I can call my pharmacist to send the prescription to a place nearby. Okay?"
George was the sweetest guy in the universe. "Okay. But no more unplanned detours. We have to make it to the Grand Canyon."
Smiling, I pulled over to the first gas station I could find.
"Will you please pump the gas?" I asked. "I'll take Clancy for a little walk."
George didn't say anything, so I assumed assent.
"C'mon, Clance, wanna go potty?" Clancy quickly jumped out of the open back door and immediately sat so I could hook on her leash. I saw some grass between the gas station and a small restaurant, so I headed there.
Clancy began pulling me, which was unusual, but I realized it had been a long time since she had gotten a potty break. She peed immediately when we got to the grass, but continued pulling. I let her take the lead because I was now intrigued about what could be attracting her.
I thought it was probably some meat. Since I'm a vegetarian she doesn't get meat scraps at home, so when she's around any kind of meat, she goes bonkers. I knew I'd need to be careful she didn't get into any spoiled food, but I still let her have the lead.
Clancy stayed on the grass, moving to the part between the station and the blacktop road, and began digging. And digging. She surprised me with how intent and focused she was.
Finally she stopped digging, but kept her nose down in the hole she'd dug. It was obvious she had something, and she began pulling with great force. I found myself rooting for her to succeed. She hunkered down and used all her Lab/Chow strength to give one final jerk. She pulled so hard that when she succeeded she fell onto her butt, then rolled over. But she held on to her prize. A very long bone.
She didn't chew on it, which surprised me. She placed it at my feet as if it were a prize or a gift. Then it hit me.
"George, come here. Hurry."
He rushed over, probably because he thought I was in some sort of trouble. But this time was different.
"What does this look like?"
"Damn it. It's a human bone." He petted Clancy as he said it. "Good job, girl." But his face didn't say the same thing.
His face said, "There goes our vacation."
"My thoughts exactly," I said aloud, even though George hadn't. "There goes our vacation."
He looked at me and his face was squished in a quizzical look.
"How did you know what I was thinking? Never mind. Don't answer." He put up his hand in a stop sign, which is something he did quite often to me. I wasn't offended. It was a much more pleasant way for him to say "shut up."
"I'm going inside," he continued. "Please stay here with Clancy and don't let her dig anymore."
He strode off, and Clancy looked at me.
"I know, girl. He just doesn't know you as well as I do. I know you dug up the bone so we'd know it was there. You weren't just digging because you were a dog." She seemed placated.
George returned a moment later with two men. He introduced the first, a robust, middle-aged, African-American, as Chip Jepson, the manager of the station. I wondered why someone who was African-American would live in a place called Crackertown.
The second guy, pale white, tall, and rangy with blond hair that covered half his face, was Bob Bob Smith, a guy who worked there part-time. I knew there was a story to be told about him, just from his name alone. And I wanted to hear it.
That would have to wait for later.
"The sheriff is on his way," George told me. "All we can do now is wait. As soon as we tell him what happened, we can take off and we won't have lost much time. Well, except for your detour."
He sounded convinced. I should've felt bad. But I didn't. Heck, Clancy dug up what looked like a human bone. This was exciting stuff.
We engaged in small talk while we waited.
"Hey, Bob Bob. Interesting name." I couldn't help myself. I had to know.
"Yeah," he said. And that was all. Darn it. I wanted more. But I'd have to wait.
A cop car arrived. On the side it said, Sheriff. The words under the emblem said, "Lost County."
"Lost County," I said aloud. "I've never heard of it. Is it even on the map?"
"Yeah, well, on some maps, and if you look real close," Chip said. "With a magnifying glass. Only one town in the county, and you're in it."
"Howdy," said the new arrival. "I'm Sheriff Taylor. Jeremiah Taylor." He tipped his hat at me. "Ma'am." And he shook George's hand.
"George Lansing," my sweetheart said. "And this is Sam Darling."
I reached out and shook his hand too. Sheriff Taylor was tall and muscular. Quite a bit older than us, I'd guess in his mid to late 60s. His smile covered the whole bottom of his face, and the wrinkles around his blue eyes showed that he was often in the sun and that he smiled a lot. And my mind raced to, I'm glad his first name isn't Andy.
"So tell me what happened," he said, looking expectantly at both George and me.
"Well," I said, and explained exactly what occurred. I included the information that my dog was astute and wonderful.
The sheriff nodded and wrote down what I said. Then he looked at George.
"That's it. She then called me over. As soon as I saw it looked like a human femur, I went inside and asked for the non-emergency number to call. Chip and Bob Bob came outside with me." George ended the sentence with such a statement of finality that there was no doubt he was done. "So unless you have more questions, we'll just be on our way."
"Not so fast, Detective Lansing," the sheriff said. At George's surprised look, he said, "I know you identified yourself as a police detective when you called us."
I could read George's mind again at that point, and what I saw wasn't nice.
A few more people had gathered by then. I assumed they were townspeople. But the murderer could have been there for all I knew. Or maybe the bones were ancient and a long-ago tragedy.
The sheriff pulled George aside for a private conversation. George was animated and turned red again, but I couldn't tell what they were talking about.
My interest returned to the small crowd gathered around Clancy's digging. I glanced from person to person. There were Chip and Bob Bob, then some more men who were dressed in jeans or coveralls. Next was a woman who stood out like Georgianne does when she stands next to my family. She had silver hair and wore a lovely sweater ensemble over an A-line skirt, with a single strand of pearls that didn't look out of place on her. She showed a wide smile with great teeth, and actually looked welcoming to me. She was looking at me instead of at the hole in the ground.
I smiled back and walked over to her.
"Hi. I'm Sam Darling and I..."
"You can't be!" she exclaimed. Then when she recovered from her brief shock, she added, "Are you from Quincy?"
"Yes," I was getting a little freaked out. "Do I know you?"
"No," she said as she grabbed me in a hug so fierce that I feared I was broken.
That hug reminded me of a hug I'd received recently.
"What's your name? Hurry, tell me. I can't bear it. Is there an 'anne' in it?"
"Yes. I'm Marianne Norman, and I..."
"You're related to Georgianne and Julieanne?"
"Yes," she practically broadcast her glee. "I'm the youngest of all the sisters." She hugged me again.
"If I'd read this in a book, I'd call it contrived. Coincidences like this just don't happen." I blurted. "This is too weird." I sat down on the ground. Clancy came next to me and put her head on my lap, knowing I needed comforting.
"What's wrong?" Marianne asked softly. "I thought you'd be happy to meet me. I've heard so many wonderful things about you from my sister."
"Nothing's really wrong, I guess. I was just surprised. Flabbergasted, actually. Honestly I am happy to meet you. How many sisters are there?"
"Seven. And one brother. Georgianne is the oldest, then Julieanne, the two you know. And I'm the baby. Well, except for Brother."
The baby indeed. She was well into her 50s, but had such joie de vivre that I should have recognized her as Julieanne's sister, although she didn't have the same loudness that characterized the second oldest. She had the look of Georgianne, appearing snooty, even if she might not be. Then it hit me--maybe I had been using the word "snooty" when they just had upturned noses. Of course, Georgianne really had been snooty when we first met, talking about people behind their backs and putting them down. Perhaps I would start using the word "judgmental" about her, because her sister Julieanne wasn't snooty. I'd played cards with her once a few months ago and she was a delight. Marianne appeared un-snooty as well, but that nose. That nose turned up just enough that I feared it might collect rainwater in a storm.
My thoughts returned to the present as I noticed George walking toward us. Before he could tell me why he was frowning, I quickly introduced him to Marianne Norman and he was as surprised as I was, but was sweet and gentlemanly with his comments. Then he turned his attention back to me.
"Sam," he said, taking both my hands in his, "I'm sorry. But right now, Sheriff Taylor is the only one available in Lost County. He has one deputy, but he's on his honeymoon in Las Vegas. He's asked if I could stay and help for a few days." He stopped talking and just looked into my eyes.
Of course I melted. How could I not? My handsome, balding, getting-a-middle-aged-spread love of my life felt bad that our vacation was interrupted.
"It's fine, George. My goal was to get away with you and Clancy. Of course my goal was to get away from murder too. So I hope this turns out to be nothing."
"I guarantee we will still have an awesome vacation," George said. "If we're here until the day after tomorrow then we'll still have time to drive to the Grand Canyon, stay one night, and come back."
"Maybe we could put off the Grand Canyon until the next time," I ventured the suggestion.
"NO!" He almost yelled it, the word was so vehement. "No," he said more quietly. "We have to go there."
I didn't understand his obsession with getting to the Grand Canyon on this trip, but I let it go. He had so few quirks compared to me, that it was easy for me to overlook them.
Sheriff Taylor approached.
"Marianne," he said, with a big grin. I couldn't help but notice his great teeth that seemed a matched set with hers. Made him even handsomer.
"Jeremiah," she responded, with a little nod, and an almost coy smile.
"Something going on here," I muttered under my breath. Clancy was the only one who heard me. She nodded too. It was almost like Jeremiah's and Marianne's happiness was contagious. I looked at my sweetheart and hoped he got infected too.
"Can you direct us to the nearest motel?" George asked the question of both of them.
They looked at each other before Marianne deferred the answer to Jeremiah, and he spoke.
"We only have one motel in town. It's right on the far side of the cafe here," he pointed, indicating the small building on the other side of the gas station.
"Okay," George said, and it looked like he tried to force a smile.
"Sorry," Jeremiah said and put out an arm to stop us.
"Are we being detained?" I asked, almost hoping it were so--an adventure I hadn't had before.
All three of them looked at me with the same confusion on their faces.
"No, of course not." Jeremiah continued. "It's just that the motel is full."
"Yes, we have a convention booked there," added Marianne. "It's our one and only claim to fame. Well, that and the fact we're not on some maps."
George and I looked at each other again and I couldn't suppress a laugh. "A convention? Really?"
Marianne didn't seem offended by my laughter.
"Yes, once a year we have a convention. It's the only time there's any real excitement around here."
"I'm sorry," Jeremiah echoed Marianne's early apology. "But I'm sure I could find somewhere for you to stay. I don't have an extra bedroom, but--"
"I do," Marianne interrupted. "I have more room than I know what to do with. Please stay with me. Please. My sisters will be thrilled when I tell them."
I started to say yes, when George took my arm, excused us, and walked me toward our car. I still had Clancy on the leash, so she accompanied us.
"I don't know about this, Sam," George said quietly.
"Me either. But if we have to stay here, at least we'd be with someone we can trust."
"Have you ever heard Georgianne talk about this sister?"