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Old 08-15-2010, 12:58 PM   #9
J. Strnad
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Here's an excerpt from early in the book. Evil has come to the small midwestern town of Anderson. The ripples are just beginning to be felt:


Madge Duffy had turned herself in around two o'clock, announcing to Sheriff Clark that she'd murdered her husband.

She'd actually done the deed an hour before. But whereas it had taken her only a moment to decide to open his neck with the filet knife, it took longer to figure out what to do next.

Madge did not want to be one of those people who blamed everything on the Negroes. She didn't want to concoct a black-skinned killer who fought with her husband and fled, though that was her first instinct. If they found her out later to be a murderess, she didn't want them heaping the name "racist" on her, too.

She worked on the problem as she picked things up and did a little dusting. The air seemed musty, so she opened a window. She knew that you weren't supposed to touch anything after a murder but she didn't want the place to be a total mess when strangers started tramping through gathering evidence and drawing outlines around things in chalk.

The sofa where John had fallen asleep, dead drunk, and the carpet in front of it were total losses because of all the blood so she didn't even bother with those.

She finished the dishes and left them in the drainer. By then she'd pretty well decided to make a clean breast of everything and just take her punishment. It was her first offense so maybe they'd go easy on her. She was barely forty so even if she got fifteen years and served, say, eight of them, she could return to society (if not to Anderson) and live out her remaining twenty or thirty years knowing she'd paid her debt.

What were eight years, anyway? She'd been married to John for twenty, and they'd just flown. It didn't seem so at the time but looking back, the years whizzed by in a gray blur with very few high points to mark their passing.

Surely women's prison wouldn't be any worse than being married to a man who argued with her over every little thing and took his fists to her when he was drunk. She imagined prison as a kind of church social where she'd meet women of a like mind. They'd sit at folding tables and talk about their lives. The only difference would be that they'd wear uniforms, and she imagined that most women in prison smoked. She might even take it up herself, just to fit in.

She put on a fresh dress, worked on her hair a little, and then phoned Sheriff Clark.

"I've murdered John," she said. "I expect you'll want me to come in."

The Sheriff had told her to just stay put and he'd come to her. He showed up a few minutes later. She met him at the door and escorted him to the scene of the crime.

The Sheriff's mood had been black that day, he didn't know why. Staring at John Duffy's body swarming now with flies, he felt strangely unmoved. He knew that Duffy beat his wife and that she never had and never would press charges for fear of reprisals. The law couldn't have held onto Duffy for long, and a restraining order wouldn't mean squat to him once he got some booze in his belly. If she'd run off, he'd have gone after her and that would've been unpleasant, too. It could easily have been Madge Duffy lying somewhere dead instead of John.

He also knew that Madge's mother had committed suicide when Madge was a teenager in order to escape an abusive domestic situation. Apparently Madge had decided not to follow her mother's example. Madge was a decent if limited woman who'd married wrong, and she'd dealt with the problem the only way she knew how. Too bad she had to pay such a stiff penalty for it.

"Are you sure you did this?" the Sheriff asked. "Are you sure it wasn't a prowler, maybe? Somebody John caught in the act of burglary?"

Madge shook her head "no."

"I did it. There's the knife. I expect my prints are all over it."

Well, what could you do with somebody like that? Sheriff Clark handcuffed her according to the rules and took her to the jail. From there he called Doc Milford and Jedediah Grimm.

Now the dark had settled in. Madge Duffy lay asleep in the cell. She'd been understanding when the Sheriff told her no, she couldn't have her knitting supplies. He'd loaned her a book but the type was small and the light in the cell was no good and so she'd gone to bed early. He'd made a special trip back to the house for an extra blanket and her special pillow, the one she slept on for her neck, and she seemed comfortable enough. She didn't cry, which struck Sheriff Clark as odd.

Odd, too, was the feeling in the air. The Sheriff couldn't give it a name but it gave him the shivers. Something was going to happen tonight, he was sure of it. He'd even sent his deputy out to patrol the streets despite his protests that it was a waste of manpower.

Which it probably was. Probably, nothing would happen. Even if something did happen, Deputy Haws probably couldn't cope with it. The deputy wasn't good for much, but the job paid poorly and the Sheriff hadn't been flooded with applicants. Haws was a uniform on the street, at least.

Sheriff Clark was pouring water into the coffee pot when he heard the siren in the distance. It was drawing closer. He went to the door and stepped out in time to see the Ganger boy's souped-up old Charger tear down the street, followed by Darren Coombs' Satellite, both cars honking and the boys yelling out the windows. Tom Culler came next, quiet but riding hard, practically laying the Honda down as he rounded the corner.

Deputy Haws was in hot pursuit, the lights flashing and siren blaring.

Sheriff Clark considered joining the chase but remembered Madge Duffy in the cell. Besides, he could see Clyde Dunwiddey staggering drunkenly toward the office. He went back inside to put sheets on the cot in the second cell and the old soup pot beside the bed in case Clyde had to vomit in the middle of the night.

As he made up the cot, he prayed fervently that Deputy Haws didn't do anything stupid.
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