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Diapers, Bookmarks, and Pipe Dreams
John Reeves heads back to his hometown to settle down. Horrific local suicides and a new job as a private investigator won't let that happen.
John Reeves moves back to his childhood home and takes an easy job as a Private Investigator with an old high school friend.
A grieving widow asks for help when the medical examiner unofficially labels her husband's bizarre death a suicide. John joins his brother Alan, a local police officer, to learn why the town's residents keep dying horrific deaths at a breakneck pace.
Chapter 1 from Wrath by Kirkus MacGowan
The Phone Call
“Can you start from the beginning again, Doug? I need to make sure nothing was missed.” Alan leafed through the pages of the report. Questioning a close friend like Douglas Fincham was never easy, one of the disadvantages of working as a small-town police officer.
Doug lifted his dusty cowboy hat and ran his fingers through his fringe of gray hair. “Again? How many times you boys need me to go over it? I already told them everything I remember.” Doug gestured to the other officers around the police department, typing away or chatting on the phone.
“I’m sure you did, but we need to make sure we don’t make any mistakes. You disappeared for over a week with no memory of it. Not an everyday occurrence. You’re a friend, Doug. Heck, you’re more than a friend. I’m doing everything I can to make sure something like this doesn’t happen again. Besides, you told them, not me.”
Doug sighed and replaced his hat. “Last thing I recollect is loading Johnny’s food in the back of the old Dodge.” Doug named his yellow lab after his brother, saying they were both too loud for their own good. “I remember, because my back was hurting real bad that day.”
“From when you fell off the barn?”
The broad shouldered man and his wife invited Alan over for dinner at least once a month. He’d been there the day Doug tumbled from the barn roof. An occasional sore back was lucky considering how far he’d fallen.
“That’s right. Always tightens up at the worst times.” Doug shifted in his seat. “Anyway, I’m throwing the dog food in the truck, and I get a real bad pain in my back. Worse than normal. Next thing I know, I’m lying in the ditch over by Hailey’s farm and getting rained on.” His face flushed. “I woke up bare as the day I was born, laying there on my side like I was sleeping.”
Calming Doug’s wife had been virtually impossible. The case was as crazy as any Alan had heard in his ten years on the Clarkbridge police force. He spent most of his time scheduling shifts or handing out speeding tickets and report and repairs. He’d moved back to his hometown to take it easy, live the life of a small-town officer. Clarkbridge wasn’t as small as it used to be, but it was much smaller than Detroit where he’d begun his career.
Alan looked at the stack of papers on his desk and adjusted his loosened tie. Cooper Forbes, a fellow officer, had written the report the previous day when they’d found Doug. “Do you remember the name of the woman who found you?”
“Of course I do. Doesn’t it say so in your report?” Doug pointed to the pile.
“It does. Just double checking.”
“Fine, fine. I’ll play along. Natasha Green. Leslie plays spades with her on Thursdays.” He laughed. “I’m not a shy man, Alan, but you should’ve seen the look on her face when I came up out of that ditch. She slammed on her brakes and almost hit me. You would have thought I was wiggling my willy when she climbed out. Her face was as red as a firehouse. Didn’t know a face could turn that red.”
Natasha was a regular at Doug and Leslie’s for dinner. To say she was reserved was an understatement. “I can only imagine.” Alan let out his own laugh.
Sergeant Shaw shushed him, and Gibbs just shook his head—two of the three officers assigned to the next shift.
Alan continued. “She brought you straight to the station?”
Alan hoped Doug’s disappearance wasn’t some kind of episode. He’d heard it happened on occasion with people getting on in years. The old farmer seemed to be made of tougher stuff than most, but one never knew.
“One last question, Doug. I don’t want you to get upset.”
“What’s that, Alan?” Doug leaned forward.
“Dr. Howard said he’ll get the tox report back to us tomorrow. Will we find anything you haven’t told us about?”
The other officers had been too nervous to ask the large man if he’d taken any drugs. They’d asked Alan to do it because of their friendship.
Alan adjusted his tie again and smoothed the front of his starched dark-brown shirt. “It’s short for toxicology report. That’s why we drew blood yesterday. It measures any chemicals you may have in your system, like alcohol or… drugs.”
Doug leaned back in his seat and lowered his bushy eyebrows. “Why would you even ask?” His voice took on a menacing tone. “You know I don’t do none of that stuff.” He crossed his arms and looked away.
I shouldn’t have let the chief talk me into taking this case. “I know you don’t do drugs. Could you have had a drink or two? It measures things like high levels of allergy meds or pain-killers, too.”
“Oh, well, why didn’t you say that? I wasn’t doing any drinking, but I take them horse pills Doc Howard gave me. Helps with the back pain. I only take them every few weeks or so, when the ache gets real bad. Like I told you, it was extra tight that day, so I’d taken a couple in the morning.”
“Do you remember the name of the horse pills?”
Doug drew his brows down, rubbing his fingers through his trimmed white beard. “Valium? No, not Valium. That was Leslie’s sister.” He stared at the floor a moment. “Vicotron… or Vitridun…”
“That’s the stuff. Doc knows how to prescribe them, doesn’t he? First time I took one, I slept fourteen hours.”
A grin grew on Alan’s face. “How many do you usually take?”
“Usually just one. Sometimes two if it gets real bad.”
Alan penned a note about the Vicodin into the report. “Well, that should be it unless you think of anything else.”
“I don’t think so. You boys have almost run me dry with all your questions.”
They stood. Alan offered his hand. Alan was larger than most men, but Doug’s hand dwarfed his own when they shook.
“You have my number,” Alan said. “Call me if you think of anything, even if you don’t think it’s a big deal. It might give us a clue as to what happened.”
“Will do.” Doug pulled the faded tan jacket over his thick shoulders and turned to leave.
Alan sat in his swivel chair, wondering if he’d missed something. This doesn’t make sense. What were you doing in a ditch, Doug? Why don’t you remember anything?
Doug was almost to the front entrance when he stopped. He strode back to Alan’s desk.
Alan raised his chin. “Remember something?”
“Kind of. You said to tell you if there was anything else, even if it wasn’t a big deal.”
“Well… you mentioned the pain killers and it got me thinking. My back doesn’t hurt at all. To be honest, it feels better than it has in years. Like I could go out dancing.” He held his arms to the side and tapped his feet in a small jig.
“Really? You think you were kidnapped by a chiropractor?”
Doug let out a raucous laugh. “Wouldn’t that be a story to tell? Anyway, that’s it. My back feels right dandy.”
Alan’s phone rang. “I should get this.” He tossed the report on his desk and reached for the handset. “You stay out of trouble, Doug. Tell Leslie we’re still on for her lasagna this weekend.”
Doug waved and headed toward the door.
The man on the phone asked for Douglas Fincham. Alan placed his palm over the receiver. “Hey, Doug. It’s for you.” He held the phone out.
“For me? Only one knows I’m here is Leslie, and she knows I’ll be coming home when I’m done. Maybe she wants me to stop at the store. She’s always forgetting something.”
“It’s not Leslie. It’s a man. You want me to ask who it is?”
Doug shook his head, taking the phone. “This is Doug.” A short pause. “What was that?” The old man’s face went slack. He slowly lowered the phone to the desk.
“Is everything okay?” Alan put the phone to his ear. A busy signal. He sat the phone on the cradle.
Doug’s blank gaze lowered.
“Doug? What’s going on?”
The old farmer’s eyes met Alan’s. They peered through him, seeing something a hundred miles away. His skin paled further. He crumpled, sitting down right where he stood. Alan shot around the desk to catch his friend before he went the rest of the way down.
“Talk to me, Doug. What happened?”
No response. Bubbling white foam dribbled from Doug’s mouth. His face pinched into a snarl and his body shook, eyes bulging. He reached for his own neck with both hands.
“Shit. Somebody get Doc Howard on the phone.” Alan gave Doug’s shoulders a violent shake. God, don’t take Doug from me too, Alan prayed.
Cooper ran to their side and paused; his mouth moved, but no words came out. His buggy eyes flitted back and forth. Sergeant Shaw pounded the numbers on her phone.
Doug’s face slowly turned purple. Alan laid him back on the floor. He pried open the man’s mouth and peered down his throat, hoping to remove whatever choked him.
Even if Alan couldn’t see an obstruction, the old man gagged on something. Alan slid behind Doug and lifted his shoulders, wrapping his long arms around his stomach. They barely fit around the man’s girth. The Heimlich maneuver was near impossible.
“I got dispatch,” Shaw called “We got a bus on the way.”
“Call Doc Howard, Coop,” Alan groaned.
Cooper nodded and turned to use Alan’s phone. Sergeant Gibbs kneeled beside Alan, grabbing Doug’s shoulders to help sit him upright.
Doug’s body convulsed. He slapped at his arms as if they burned, grunting with each smack. Blood vessels popped in Doug’s eyes, turning them red. His skin was purple from the neck up.
“This isn’t working.” Alan clambered up. Doug’s leg jerked, knocking him from his feet. Sergeant Gibbs reached to catch him, but missed. Alan’s head banged on the corner of his desk. He rolled to his back and put his hand to his temple. Sticky blood covered his fingers. Cooper bent to help him up.
“Not me, Coop. Help Doug.” Alan pointed to his friend.
Cooper turned back to the old man. Red stained Doug’s tan coat sleeves as blood soaked through. “What the hell is happening?” Cooper took a step toward the man on the floor.
Alan held his hand tight over the gash on his brow. Doug flailed and then went stiff. He collapsed unmoving, releasing what little breath he had left in him.
Cooper put his trembling fingers to Doug’s neck. They came away bloody. “I can’t get a pulse, too much blood.”
“Try the wrist,” Alan said, as Gibb’s helped him to his feet.
Cooper slid Doug’s jacket sleeve to the elbow. Long gashes ran up his arm. Dark red lifeblood seeped from each cut. He put his fingers to the old man’s wrist. “He’s dead, Alan.”
Gibbs and Shaw watched in silence, their faces pale. The nightmare had taken less than a minute.
“No way he’s dead.” Alan let go of his own wound and scrambled onto the large man’s abdomen. He pumped with both hands. Red droplets cascaded to Doug’s chest with each pump. “Where is the damn ambulance?” He continued pumping, not waiting for an answer. He counted to thirty and tilted Doug’s head back. He tried to breathe life into him. A gurgling noise came from his friend.
“My God,” Cooper whispered.
Sergeant Shaw’s hand shot to her mouth. She turned away. Alan sat back. Frothy blood bubbled from Doug’s throat. Every ounce of air Alan forced in came back out through a gash running almost ear to ear across Doug’s neck, as if someone had slit his throat.
Alan trembled with his bloody hands held out before him. “There’s no way. I was right here with him the whole time. No way this just happened.”