Let me start by saying that a typical day in my current life bears no resemblance to what I was doing just a month ago, before I returned from being a reporter in Urban, Wisconsin, to being a daughter in my hometown of Sutherton, North Carolina.
Sutherton is situated on a lake tucked into the Blue Ridge Mountains and breathtakingly beautiful. So lovely, in fact, that we annually attract enough tourists to swell the population from a little less than a thousand to “a little more than bearable,” as my friend Sheree Pepper grouses. Although Sheree shouldn’t complain: She seems quite happy to welcome the rotating cast – and cash – of summer folk and winter skiers who routinely fill her inn’s thirteen rooms. Not to mention Jim, the man who sleeps above the inn’s dining room. And, I’ve heard, not always by himself, if you get my drift.
In addition to Sheree and her man-of-the-moment, the local year-round population includes my two mothers. Yes, two. For nearly as long as I can remember, I’ve called my birth-mother “Daisy” and her best friend, Phyllis Balisteri, the woman who helped raise me after my dad died, “Mama.”
Half the reason for that odd labeling is staring me in the face as I wait in my little Mitsubishi for a white SUV with Florida license plates inch backward from a lined angle-space on Main Street. Directly in front of the spot is “Mama Philomena’s” in two-foot-high letters above a red-and-white striped awning.
The original “Mama” had been Philomena Balisteri, Phyllis’s mom. When Philomena died, her daughter took over the restaurant, becoming “Mama” to a new generation of hungry locals and visitors.
Geez, was this guy ever going to vacate his parking space? Growing up in Sutherton, I’d been all too accustomed to the pace of life being dictated by the ebb and flow – not to mention frequent confusion – of the seasonal populations. But that was then, and this is now. And if patience ever truly had been a virtue of mine, four years of college up north and a job on the police beat in Wisconsin had wrung it out of me.
In my line of work, patience got you fired. That is, assuming you didn’t first take a leave of absence from the paper, prompted by your pseudo-mother calling to inform you that your real mother had siphoned an extra pint or two from the mayor’s mother during Sutherton’s annual blood drive. Mothers.
Believe me, when it comes to Main Street, there is no such thing as a normal day, so I’m not sure why I’m trying to report on one.
You see, bizarre things happen here with disturbing regularity. Just last winter there was the skier who choked on her gum halfway down Deer Slope, arriving at the bottom still standing, if not breathing. And this spring, the two fishermen were squashed like road-killed possums by a Toyota Land Cruiser against the front of Lucky’s (possibly time for a name-change) Bait Shop. And that didn’t even count the odd student from our nearby college drunk-diving into the lake or an “accidental tourist” wandering into our mountains, never to wander back out.
Still, as I nosed my Mitsubishi into the finally empty parking space, Daisy’s blood-letting of Mrs. Bradenham would have become legend, if two other catastrophes hadn’t followed so hard on its heels. A pair of drownings, in fact, though a bullet wound and a bashed-in head might beg to . . .
A shadow falls across my dashboard as I switch off the ignition and, glancing up, I see a tall man with sunstreaked, tousled hair and what I know to be blue eyes. He’s holding hands with a blonde woman, a teenage girl trailing behind them.
Slinking down behind the wheel, I watch Benjamin Rosewood and family turn into Mama’s. My heart is thumping. And not in a good way.
Ben is the district attorney of the Wisconsin county where I live and work. He and I have a history – a relationship I can’t excuse myself for starting and that he can’t seem to remember is over.
But what’s my married ex-lover doing in Sutherton, North Carolina? With both his wife and daughter in tow?
Unless . . . .
Follow AnnaLise Griggs home to the High Country in RUNNING ON EMPTY, the first in Sandra Balzo’s new “Main Street” Mysteries. To find out what’s up with AnnaLise and the DA, though, you’ll have to wait to tie up DEAD ENDS (Main Street #2) later this year.
Meet the author:
Sandra Balzo is an award-winning author of crime fiction, including eight books in two different mystery series–one set in the High Country of North Carolina and the other outside Milwaukee. TRIPLE SHOT, the seventh Maggy Thorsen Wisconsin coffeehouse mystery, was just released, and DEAD ENDS, the second High Country novel, will be out in 2012. Balzo’s books have garnered starred reviews from Kirkus and Booklist, while being recommended to readers of Janet Evanovich, Charlaine Harris, Harlan Coben, Joan Hess and Margaret Maron. A recent member of the National Board of Directors for the Mystery Writers of America, Sandy and her fiancé, fellow crimewriter Jeremiah Healy, split their time between South Florida and North Carolina. Visit Sandra at www.sandrabalzo.com.
Books are available at retail and online booksellers.