The man still looked like he was trying to swallow a sour pickle whole.
Carrie watched in silence as he jumped in the moving van, jerked it into gear, and began the winding climb toward the county road.
He hadn’t even smiled when she handed him the cashier’s check. About all he had done through the long afternoon was carry and sweat and swear. Actually, swearing was what she’d heard most from the three people in the moving crew–including the woman, who looked like she could lift a refrigerator by herself. The movers swore at the trees, the rocky, uneven Ozarks ground, the heat, and probably her too, when she was out of earshot.
She hadn’t complained about the swearing. They were, after all, carrying her possessions.
Carrie began turning slowly, looking up into treetops. She was, she decided, performing a symbolic ritual–turning away from Mrs. Amos Anderson McCrite, wife of a city lawyer. She was now Carrie Culpeper McCrite, a widow, independent woman, and Ozarks forest dweller.
She was alone in the remnants of a world that had shattered when a bullet ended every plan Amos had made for both of them. Moving to this land, the place Amos bought for their future, was all she could afford if she wanted to be independent.
She shook her head violently, but now the picture was back. Amos crumpled on the opposite hillside. The darkening blood . . . .
The judge had believed Evan’s story about a tragic hunting accident.
Oh stop, stop! It was time to move on, and this had felt right. A fresh start. She would be independent, her own person for the first time in her life.
Except, except, she wasn’t sure who that person might be.
The sun was heading toward treetops in the west and Carrie stood still as bird calls and cicada droning filled the air. Her new world was even noisier than the city had been, there was life all around her. So, why did she feel–for the first time since she’d decided to move here–so small and frightened? Why did she feel so very much alone?
The grunt of an engine being downshifted for a turn into her lane wiped out every other concern as she realized strangers were coming to this place, where all people would now be strangers.
She wasn’t ready. She needed more time. She needed to make up her bed, and. . .
It was inevitable. Strangers would come. She had to face that, so she might as well do it now. She lifted her chin and looked up the lane, standing firm as a battered grey truck bounced into view. The truck didn’t stop at the bottom of the lane. Carrie backed up, stumbled when her heel hit the front step, and sat down with a thump as the truck’s right front tire rolled to a stop beside her feet.
The driver’s door opened.
The first thing Carrie saw was shoe-polish black hair that frizzed every way but straight up. Then dark eyes in a dried apple doll face peered down at her over the truck’s hood, and a waxed-paper-wrapped sandwich sailed through the air, landing in her lap.
She’s very tall, thought Carrie, who felt frozen in place, incapable of getting up to greet her visitor.
The woman’s words rushed out. “You alone? Thought so, house didn’t look like it was being made ready for two, heard the movers leave, hope you like turkey, we can sit here on the step and eat, y’don’t have to ask me in.”
The stranger was dressed in a faded chambray shirt and jeans tucked into stove-pipe boots. She came around the truck, stepped over Carrie’s feet as if they were obstacles she faced every day, and opened the passenger door to take out two bottles of lemonade and a package of cookies.
The tumble of words began again while she was folding her long legs to sit beside Carrie on the step. “JoAnne Harrington, your nearest neighbor.” A bony finger pointed. “Live that way along the ridge, pleased to meet you, understand from the mail carrier your name is Carrie McSomething?”
The woman’s laugh was surprisingly girlish.
Carrie hadn’t the slightest idea what to say, but in a moment, she began laughing too.
Portrait to Die For is the eighth book in the To Die For mystery series, published by Oak Tree Press, May 2016.
Carrie discovers two versions of a supposedly original portrait in a loan exhibition at Crystal Bridges of American Art, where she does volunteer work. When the reporter who interviewed Carrie at the museum is abducted, Carrie must choose between honoring her promise to stop crime-solving–or work to find the woman who was her son’s college friend.
# # # # # # # # # # #
Meet the author
For more than twenty years, Radine Trees Nehring’s magazine features, essays, newspaper articles, and radio broadcasts have shared colorful stories about the people, places, events, and natural world near her Arkansas home.
In 2002, Radine’s first mystery novel, A Valley To Die For, was published and, in 2003 became a Macavity Award Nominee. Since that time, she has continued to earn writing awards as she enthralls her original fans and attracts new ones with her signature blend of down-home Arkansas sightseeing and cozy amateur sleuthing by active retirees Henry King and Carrie McCrite King. Connect with Radine at www.RadinesBooks.com, her blog, on Facebook, and on Twitter.
All comments are welcomed.