Murder has been committed in Pleasant Grove, VA, a typical bedroom community, where middle class working Americans have fled to escape the problems and crime of city life. The victim - a young wife and mother of two. The only suspect - a homeless person seen fleeing the area. This is a story of what happens when two different worlds collide and there is Murder in Pleasant Grove.
Lulu.com, The Southern Appalachian Writers Guild (www.thesaws.org)
A novel by
J. Russell Rose
Pleasant Grove, like any one of a hundred or more small towns across this country, had been engulfed by suburban sprawl; where bedroom communities had sprung up in the middle of farm lands, forests, even swamps; where upper middle class professionals and management types and their families, who in their attempts to escape the woes and worries of the big city, had created cookie cutter existences for themselves in tract housing erected on treeless, characterless streets and cul-de-sacs with pretentious names such as Laurel Trail; Burning Woods Road; Dogwood Circle; and Laughing Water Lane.
The morning and afternoon parade of Suburbans, Cherokees, Durangos, and Explorers to and from these communities, with stops at the day care, the school, the supermarket and the local dance studio, would make any environmentalist shudder at the amount of pollutants being spewed into the air, while the gasoline merchants smile with delight.
Working mothers give each other only cursory nods as they try to maneuver unwieldy grocery carts bearing hungry uncooperative toddlers, or followed by whining preschoolers, down the aisles of the market, in search of some frozen, ready-to-make dish, which promises to “…taste just like homemade,” for the family dinner.
The scene is the same, no matter the name of the town, or whether it is in Texas, New York, or as in this case, Virginia. Dual income families have bought into the great American promise – “You can have it all.” While stressed out, sleep deprived, and sometimes pushed to the breaking point, these participants in this lifestyle circus go through the motions like automatons; hoping they will survive to the next long weekend, or marking off the days until the next vacation.
Today, however, the parade has stopped, if only briefly. Murder has been committed in Pleasant Grove. The residents of this psuedo-paradisiacal setting are stunned – shocked as the news is relayed from house to house, one street, one cul-de-sac, to the next. Murmurs and questions as to, who and why, have replaced the usual gossip and laughter. After all, they left the city to escape crime and carnage.
Above all else, though, one question, if unspoken, remains in everyone’s mind. “If you’re not safe in Pleasant Grove, for God’s sake, then where?”
Mary Jo and Bob Bradley, who married after dating during their last two years of college, moved to Pleasant Grove six years ago. Bob is a computer programmer for a regional insurance company; Mary Jo works as an accountant at a small bank.
Each has aspirations of being promoted to higher levels, bringing more money to the family budget, which is always strained, by one unexpected outlay or another; new tires for the Suburban; a valve job for Bob’s fifteen year old Volvo; braces for Kelley, the oldest of three.
“My God,” Bob complained. “Where does all the money go? Which credit card has enough room to pay for the work on my car?”
“Probably none of them,” Mary Jo responded flatly from the kitchen.
“Jesus, Jo. What the Hell am I supposed to do?”
“I guess you’ll have to ride with Stan till we can get the thing fixed.”
“God. You know how I feel about Stan. He’s an insufferable ass.”
“Who’s a ‘sufferable ass?” Four year-old Robbie, who had come into the room unseen, wanted to know.
“Nobody, sweetie. And don’t repeat what you hear your daddy say. It’s not a nice word.”
“Then why did Daddy say it?”
“Because, Daddy’s a little bit upset. Now go back and play with your brother till I get dinner ready.”
“But, I don’t wanna play with Billy. He’s no fun and he’s probably a ‘sufferable ass’, too.”
“Robbie. I told you, that’s not a nice thing to call someone. Now go play with Billy.”
“Oh, alright.” He whined leaving, dragging his bear behind him.
“Can’t we cut something out of our spending?”
“I’d like for you to show me what? Or how?”
“All I know is I make a good salary and yet we’re always broke. Where the Hell does it all go?”
Willing herself not to respond in anger at the implied accusation, she left the dinner preparation, walked in and sat down next to him.
“Bob. We both work hard. You know it takes a lot of money to just get by these days. Why not put this away for now; let’s feed the kids and get them to bed; then we’ll look at it together. Ok?”
Mary Jo flinched, shocked by his lightning quick reaction to what he considered her patronizing manner toward him. “You feed the kids. I need some fresh air.”
Without another word, he left the house, slamming the front door behind him.
“Where’s Daddy gone?” Robbie wanted to know.
“No where, Honey. Get your brother and sister, please? Dinner’s ready.”
Mary Jo wiped the tear from her cheek as she turned back to the kitchen, not wanting her inquisitive son to see her involuntary reaction to her husband’s anger.
She loved her husband, but his temper had been a problem from the beginning. She had chosen to overlook this flaw, thinking that, with age and a family, it would go away. Lately, if anything, she realized, it was worse than ever.