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I’m writing another Melanie Hart Cozy Mystery. I’ve also decided to publish this book here as it is written. Feel free to share  your thoughts on the story, thank you.

Chapter 1

Melanie Hart usually writes up these adventures. She’s a reporter, and she does a righteous job of it. No complaints there. But I told her that this is my story, and I intended to tell it my way.

To which Melanie  replied, “Go ahead. Knock yourself out.”

Reporters can be so touchy about little things like bylines, but Melanie is a decent sort. I don’t think I ticked her off too much.

I’m Ginger Black, by the way, the owner/operator of the Cut & Curl in Cloverton, a tiny town nestled along the western edge of Illinois. It’s an area that once lacked four-lane highways and was dubbed Forgottonia. Fortunately a four-lane highway now reaches us, and the name Forgottonia has been scrapped. In my view that’s a good thing, Nothing kills business like negativity.

In addition to being one of the town’s wildly successful business owners, I’m also a player in Melanie’s forays into the criminal world. We’ve tracked down two killers so far, and if I have my way, we’re about to take on our third.

But I digress.

My story begins about a week ago when I was driving home from the shop. I’d stayed late to fill in for an employee who needed the night off. After the shop closed, I tacked another hour on to catch up with the books.

So when I stepped out of the shop a little after ten, the street was dark with just a sliver of a moon showing overhead. Stars twinkled, but they provided little useable light. Also the temperature by then had drifted into the low 30s and was expected to keep falling. Decaying leaves blown by a biting north wind  skittered across my path. I shivered, pulled my coat collar up, and took off for my car.

All I wanted was to get home to my comfy bed. I had started my day before sunrise. Now my feet hurt, my brain was dizzy from balancing receipts, and a headache was threatening to polish off my night.

But when I reached the stop sign at Pine and Hale streets, my complaints vanished like the insignificant nothings they were. In my rearview mirror I watched with horror as a vehicle speeded toward me. The headlights grow larger and brighter the nearer it came. I was about to be struck from behind my a vehicle only a few feet away,

I tightened my grip on the steering wheel and swallowed hard. The crazy driver had to be breaking the speed limit by at least 20 miles per hour.

Metal slammed into metal. My car flew forward.

I screamed.

Then a vehicle traveling east on Pine Street slammed into the side of my car. More metal crumpled. My leg flew off the brake. It banged against something hard and unyielding. I heard myself scream.

And then it ended, almost as quickly as it had begun. The airbag deflated. I sat there stunned. AlI could hear now was the sound of my sobs.

A short time later, someone knocked on my driver’s side window. An elderly gentleman gazed in at me. I had no idea where he’d come from. His wheezing voice drifted through the glass. “Are you okay?” He wore a long dark coat, and held a cane in his right hand. His hair was white, and his eyes were dark pinpricks centered in a wrinkled face.

“Please, help me,” I begged.

He nodded. “I’ve called for an ambulance. For you and for the other driver.” He pointed toward my passenger side door where the front of a dark car protruded half-way into mine. “Help should come soon.”

“How are the other drivers?”

“The other guy,” he pointed to the front of the car which had crashed into my side, “he’s okay. The SUV that slammed into you fled. So I guess that driver must be all right.:

“Fled?” The louse that started this whole mess had run away?

He nodded. “Shameful thing to do.”

I pulled in a lungful of air and silently agreed with him.

“Sorry,” he went on. “I don’t want to pull you from the car. The ambulance crew is trained for things like this. I’m not. Besides, I don’t have the strength I once did. I might drop you or do further damage. But the ambulance should arrive soon. We’re very close to the hospital.”

I nodded and thanked him and bit my lip to keep from screaming in pain.

The elderly man’s sentiments proved correct, and a short time later two young, good looking fellows, pulled me free of the wreck. They wrestled me onto a wheeled cot and rushed to the ambulance. The doors slammed closed behind me, and the ambulance’s siren shattered the night air. With a lunge, we were off.

At the hospital, I was poked and prodded while they immobilized my broken leg in a cast. Then, after what seemed like hours, I was wheeled into the privacy of a hospital room. My cousin, Shelly Walsh, turned up seconds later. She’s in her late thirties with mouse-brown hair and watery-blue eyes partially hidden behind thick glasses.

Shelly is listed on my hospital record as my next of kin. That’s a bit of a stretch. I have a brother in Cloverton, but we aren’t especially close. He’s a bit of a womanizer, and I tend to warn women I know off him. He resents that fact, and  I couldn’t see him being very helpful—not even if I was facing was death. Why call him to the hospital?

“Is there anything I can get you?” she now asked, draping her trench coat over the arm of a chair.

I pulled up a grateful smile. “Thanks yes, could you hand me the phone?” I nodded toward the bedside table, a hideous metal thing painted an ugly blue color.

My cousin’s eyes grew round. “You want to call someone… now? Do you realize how late it is?”

I shrugged, then groaned. Yikes, my left shoulder was sore. “I know,” I managed to get out, “but she is a dear buddy. She will want to know about this.”

Shelly passed me the phone.

I punched in Melanie Hart’s number.

“Hello,” Melanie’s sleepy voice responded when she came on the line.

“It’s me,” I announced.

“Ginger?”

“You go it.”

“What time is it?”

“Late.”

“Why are you calling me at this hour?”

“I wanted to give you a heads up.”

“About what?”

“Someone tried to kill me tonight.”

“What?” Melanie screeched, sounding wide awake now. “What happened? Where are you?”

“I’m in the hospital.”

“The hospital? How bad are you hurt?”

“Not too bad. A broken leg. A possible concussion.”

“Ginger!”

“Don’t worry. I’ll be fine.”

”How did this happen?”

“Some jerk tried to kill me.”

“KIll you?”

“Yeah, someone slammed their car into the back end of mine and shoved me into the middle the intersection. Then another car rammed into the side of my car. I’m not a pretty sight, but you should see my car. It’s a mess.”

“Ginger, that’s awful. I’m so sorry you’ve been hurt. But being in an accident is not the same thing as someone trying to kill you.”

“Trust me, this was no accident. The guilty party plowed their car into mine and fled. That good-for-nothing lowlife left me there in the intersection battered, bruised, and scared half to death.”

“People who drive off from an accident scene are louses. Still, it doesn’t mean someone is out to kill you. Accidents happen.”

I blew a stray hair off my forehead. “Not to me, they don’t.”

“Ginger, I know this might shatter your perception of life and your role in it,  but you are just as susceptible to fate as the rest of us.”

I harrumphed. “Don’t cast what happened as an accident. This was the work of some jerk who sent my car careening the intersection. I am certain of this. I feel it right down to my toes. The attack was personal. It was carefully timed. If the car that broadsided me had been traveling any faster, I might have died.”

Melanie’s sigh came down through the phone line. “Look, I’ll check with Oberton when I cover police beat in the morning. I’ll see  if he has any leads on  who your hit-and-run driver might be.  I think you’re over reacting, but I will check on it for you.”

Andy Oberton was our local police chief. If anyone had answers for what happened, it should be him.

“Thank you,” I said and meant it. It was convenient that as a reporter Melanie met with him daily.

“You’re welcome. Do you know when you’ll be released from the hospital?”

“Sometime tomorrow morning. I think they only kept me in because of the possible concussion. I guess they didn’t want me to croak overnight.”

“Okay, call me when you’re sprung. I’ll stop by your house after work. I’ll even bring dinner.”

“Sounds good,” I replied, batting back tears. I had friends. I even had people who liked me. Not everyone wanted to kill me.

Melanie wished me a good night and rang off.

I pulled in a shuddering breath as I turned to Shelly and handed her the phone. She smiled and returned it to the nightstand

“Okay,” Shelly said, “you need to get some sleep. I’ll be back in the morning. And don’t think tomorrow will be a picnic. You’ll be stiff.”

Stiff I could take. The bigger question in my mind was whether someone really wanted me dead?

 

***

 

Shelly turned up at the hospital as promised the next day, and by ten I was making my shaky way on crutches through the living room of my home. Implements of torture, crutches are. Although I was grateful to be moving about at all.

Shelly hovered near, looking even more worried than I felt.

“Do you want to settle on the living room couch or go straight to the bedroom?” Shelly asked.

“Let’s head for the den,” I replied. “I have toys there. Distractions that will keep my mind off this mess.”

I had struggled with the idea of immobility all morning. I was a doer. I always had been. The thought of my shop humming along without me today was nearly as painful as my broken leg.

Finally, I made it to the couch, where Shelly held me steady as I lowered myself down. Then I shifted slideways and hefted my broken leg up onto the cushions. I grunted. Together, the cast and my leg had to weigh at least fifty pounds.

“Oh,” I muttered, “this is gonna get old fast.”

“Nah, “Shelly responded. “Give it a day of two and you’ll be tooling around on those crutches like a pro.”

“If you say so, but I wouldn’t bet on it.”

“Tea or coffee,” Shelly countered cheerfully. She had informed me earlier that she was mine for the day.

“Tea, thank you,” I answered with a grateful nod. “A cup of tea sounds perfect, thanks.”

As Shelly scurried from the room, I closed my eyes, only too glad l to be home. I hadn’t slept much  last night. The mattress was hard, the room chilly. Plus, every time I closed my eyes I saw headlights behind me rushing at me at a high rate of speed. The sight had driven sleep from me even though I knew I was safe in a hospital bed.

Now I wanted to recall every detail from last night’s crash. It would be my first step in tracking this would-be murderer down. I dredged up the headlight image again. The lights appeared to be shining from a large vehicle. That told me I could scratch small cars like compacts and sports cars from my list. That left me what? SUVs, Hummers, Jeeps. and pickup trucks A wave of doubt passed over me about the Hummer. I couldn’t remember ever seeing a Hummer within Cloverton city limits. But Jeeps and pickups and SUVs were plentiful enough.

Opening my eyes, I studied the ceiling. The monster had pushed me into that intersection like my car weighed no more than a cardboard box.

I pulled up the image again. I pictured the looming headlights, struggled to see if I could make out the color of the vehicle.

I shook my head. It was useless. The night was dark. The streetlights were a good distance away. I could see nothing beyond the glare of the headlights.

Shelly hustled back into the room carrying a tray loaded with teapot, cups, and a mountain of cookies piled on a plate. “Here’s your tea. and I brought chocolate chip cookies with me. They’re homemade. I brought chicken salad for lunch. You need to eat. Build up your strength.”

I blinked. “The accident was only yesterday. I think my strength is fine.”

“Don’t bet on that,” Shelly repled. “Recovery will take more out of you than you think. Your body’s going to be working hard to re-knit a broken bone. It doesn’t happen by itself, you know.”

Suddenly images popped into my mind of little strands of calcium growing out of the end of one bone and joining up with another strand from the other bone and wrapping themselves around each other.

Yuck. Wounded and weakened? My fingers positively itched to wrap themselves around the neck of whoever did this to me—if I could just figure out who that was.

Thanks for reading.

Anna Drake

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