The following is an excerpt from my upcoming novel, The Devil and the Dirt Road, to be released July 4th. Copyright 2014 Jessica MacIntyre. All rights reserved.
Attempting to steady her nerves and taking the last sip of morning coffee, Lucy Morgan’s hands shook. She wasn’t sure if it was the massive dose of caffeine she’d consumed since waking up at 6 a.m. from her nightmares, or if it had been the nightmares themselves. Since being asked over a week ago to visit the dying woman at Strait Richmond Hospital she’d been digging around in old newspaper articles, reading about and dissecting the poor unfortunate soul she was about to meet.
Alice Sutherland, ninety years old. No living family and dying in hospital…alone. Usually that would be enough to make people feel sorry for anyone who was kept there, but nobody felt sorry for Alice. Alice was not the sweet little grey haired old grandmother she visibly appeared to be. Simply put, she was a cold blooded killer. Alice had committed murder at the age of twenty nine and had been locked away ever since. Her family, her friends and indeed the entire community had turned their backs on her, and it was no different now that she was dying. Furthermore, from what Lucy could gather, only her most immediate needs were being met. Nobody stayed in the room or spoke to her in an effort to comfort her or help ease her transition into death. What Alice had done was so horrible, so unspeakable, that people across the board felt justified in ignoring her, hoping the cancer that was eating away at her insides would take her quickly so that she and her horrifying act could finally be forgotten.
Lucy thumbed through the file of newspaper clippings and old court records once more. The collection was thick but none of the items within it contained the answer she wanted, the one answer many people sought but never obtained. What made Alice Sutherland murder her own child?
Ben Sutherland was nine years old at the time of his death, and by all accounts, a pleasant and likeable boy. Neighbours of that time recalled seeing him out on the back road community of Oban, riding his bike and fishing. He always seemed to be with Jenny Fougere, also nine years old. The two of them had been neighbours and friends since birth. Firstly because their mothers were friends, and secondly because in such an isolated little place like Oban there weren’t many other children to play with. Tragically Jenny had died that summer too under mysterious circumstances. The death had been ruled an accident, but there were rumblings and rumors after Alice was arrested that she had killed Jenny too. Some were absolutely convinced that Alice, after murdering Jenny, had decided that Ben knew too much, knew what she’d done and had threatened to tell on her. She killed Jenny out of some kind of evil and sick impulse, but she had killed Ben to shut him up. That was the legend anyway, and as happens with local folklore, if spoken enough, the tale is true by common knowledge as far as folks are concerned.
Alice was never formally charged with Jenny’s death. Jenny had been found at the bottom of a well, reported by none other than Ben. There was no proof that Alice had killed the girl, but when she was found by her husband and a search party three days later, holding the small broken body of their only child, that was the only proof people seemed to need. At least a dozen witnesses had seen her, the small boy in her arms, looking down at him with cold and unfeeling eyes. Reports said that she hadn’t even cried. Not that day, not at trial, and at no time during her long incarceration did she ever express any kind of remorse to anyone.
“I don’t know if this is a good idea,” Robert said, interrupting her thoughts. Her fiancé was looking at her with his normally serene blue eyes narrowed, his brow drawn down in worry. He was standing there in his work clothes, overalls and steel toe boots, hard hat in one hand, silver lunch pail in the other. He put the items on the kitchen counter and ran his hands through his longish black hair before drawing her in for a hug. “That woman is evil. Anyone who murders her own kid…I don’t know. I think you’d be better off staying away from that story. It might not be good for you, Lucy. I don’t want you to… I mean I wish you’d reconsider. For your own sake.”
She knew what he was referring to without actually coming out and saying it. It filled her with anxiety that he would worry about her at this point. She had been fine for quite some time now, almost ten months. Her sister’s murder in Montreal had stunned them all, but not surprised them. With the lifestyle she had lived – drugs, prostitution and everything that goes with it – her death had not been a matter of if, simply a matter of when. They all knew it was bound to happen at some point, but it had been a shock nonetheless.
For a good six months Lucy had not been able to do much other than lay on the couch or stay in bed. The loss was so deep and so sharp, much more agonizing than she had ever expected, that it knocked her out of the game for a while. Unbeknownst to Robert she had even considered suicide. It took a lot of time and a lot of Prozac but she was finally on the mend. In the last three months she had even gone back to work. Up until now she had just been given small assignments. Political rallies, community center dedications, business openings. All well and good for a reporter in a small tri county area, but Lucy didn’t want to be a small time reporter forever. Her colleagues seemed content with their jobs at the paper, but Lucy was not. In some ways she felt like she had to be a big success to make up for the failings of her sister. Natalie had been so smart and so much of her potential had been lost that she refused to lose even a tiny shred of hers. Lucy wanted to make a name for herself in a big way, and this just might be the story that would help her do that.
“I know you’re worried, Robert,” she said pushing her shoulder length blonde hair out of her face so she could look directly at him. She was quite a bit shorter and had to extend her head almost all the way back to look into his eyes. His expression grew darker still, even though she was trying to reassure him. “Really, I’m ok with this. I know you think it’s too similar to what happened with Natalie, being that its murder and all, but covering murder is part of being a journalist and I need to learn to suck it up and deal with it. I’ll never get anywhere if I don’t.”
His face softened after a few moments. “I know what you’re saying. I still don’t like it though.” His expression changed to his usual slanted smile. “Are you sure I can’t convince you to be my little house mouse? We own this place outright thanks to my parents and our bills aren’t high. I make enough to support us both. You don’t have to work at all, Lucy.”
Robert’s parents had given them the family home in their will. It was larger than necessary for just two people. They planned to have a family but that was still a way off. “You know that’s not going to happen. I’m not that kind of girl,” she winked.
Robert sighed, letting her go with a kiss and picking up his hard hat and lunch pail once more. “I know. That’s what made me love you in the first place. But now I’m greedy. I just want you all to myself.”
“Aww. Well maybe someday I’ll make enough money for you to quit your job and stay home.”
Robert huffed. “And there’s the other reason I fell in love with you,” he said. “Your sense of humor.”
Lucy gave him a playful swat as he brushed past her on his way out the door. “It’s just a matter of time,” she said.
“I know it is. That’s what scares me. Hey, take it easy today ok? I’ll see you when I get home.”
The door closed behind him and she listened as the engine to his truck turned over in the driveway. Quickly she began to gather up her things and head out. She could never bring herself to tell Robert that she felt uneasy by herself in the old place. It was a gifted house and beggars couldn’t be choosers. She had hoped he would suggest building a house of their own someday but the more she lived here the more she came to realize that this was his childhood home and not only did he never want to leave it, but he hoped to raise his own children here.
The old two story, four bedroom was in good shape, but deathly cold in the winter. They spent a good chunk of money on heating oil and were also using a wood stove. The place needed to be reinsulated and was scheduled for that construction in the coming weeks. Right now Nova Scotia was in the midst of an uncharacteristically beautiful Indian summer, but in a few weeks they’d be freezing again if it wasn’t done. It had been put off by Robert and his parents before him, but now Lucy had put her foot down. She told Robert she refused to stay here even one more winter if it didn’t happen now, and Robert, who had proven time and again that he’d do anything for her, finally relented.
Lucy threw her bag into the front seat of the little red Honda and headed out. The unseasonable warmth had come with somewhat of a drought and the dust on the dirt road kicked up behind the car as she drove, receiving a good thick coating of it before she reached the paved highway that would take her to the hospital. Living in the tiny place where Ben Sutherland, and possibly Jenny Fougere, had been murdered had never weirded her out before. Now, suddenly, she felt the ghoulish tickle of icy fingers crawling down the back of her neck, marking a trail all the way to the bottom of her spine. Lucy shuddered. She had never been so happy to leave Oban behind.