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DescriptionWhen ordinary folks gather for a high school class reunion, they don’t expect to become murder targets.
In early spring, Jack Marston and his companion Lori Jacobs are still finding their way into their relationship, while Jack is learning more of the idiosyncrasies of his position at City College. A letter arrives with a fateful invitation. Classmates in the town of Riverview are organizing a major reunion of Lori’s high school graduating class.
Lori persuades Jack to accompany her on this summer journey into her past. The first evening is well under way when one of Lori’s classmates, is discovered brutally murdered in a field behind the very restaurant where the opening night festivities are going on.
In the ensuing investigation, Marston and Lori discover that the small community is not as placid as it appears. They become targets of a vicious group of insiders who will apparently stop at nothing to remain concealed. And meanwhile, who is killing the graduates?
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Thick fluid still slid down the long curved tines of the hay rake, congealing in the night air. I could see a small puddle that had formed on the thirsty ground. It was black in the moonlight, but I detected the hard-edged metallic smell of fresh blood as I went closer. The smell picked at the back of my throat and I snorted to clear the odor. A finger of breeze swayed the long grass around the rake and brought the fresh soft smell of new-mown hay from a nearby field. The harsh blood-smell remained.
The body hung suspended above the stubble, impaled on several upturned tines of an old rusty piece of farming equipment. The man was face down and not long dead. The white beam from the flashlight in the sheriff's hand played over the still form.
On the other side of the hay rake, a uniformed deputy sheriff squatted down and peered up at the face of the corpse. "God, one of the tines got him in the eye. Why is the damn rake upside down like this, anyway?"
Behind them a door to the restaurant party room opened and banged shut again. It brought a quick blast of noise and light. The Riverview Class of ‘89 was well into the first evening of its twentieth high school reunion.
I hoped Lori didn't notice my absence and come looking for me.
"It's Elroy Guteman," the deputy said softly. I heard a quaver in his voice. Cobb County deputies saw their share of bloody highway accidents in this rural county, but this was different, a lot different. Unless the man had jumped high enough to flip over and land face down on the tines of the old rake, he'd received some decidedly unfriendly help. Of course, he could have jumped off a building. Except there wasn't one, nor a tree, within twenty yards. I sighed. Cobb County and the town of Riverview were about to have a new scandal to chew over.
A little scandal and a lot of gossip had both been served up for the last two days, in the same healthy helpings as the meat and potatoes and gravy of nearly every lunch and dinner Lori Jacobs and I had encountered thus far during the weekend. Hadn't these people heard about high blood pressure and cholesterol? Each meal was a hungry farmhand's dream. I figured I must have gained five pounds in the two days we'd been in Riverview. The helpings were huge. Then there were the desserts.
"A piece of pie? Why surely you can eat more than that, Mr. Marston. Lori, you must do better by this young man. Now, we have apple, banana cream, blueberry, peach cobble, and of course, here's this marvelous lemon pie. I made it my very own self! Can't I interest you in just one more piece?"
Right now, even the memory of all that food seemed to weigh me down as I stared at the corpse. I hadn't known Elroy Guteman in this life, but I had an uneasy feeling I was going to know him better in death.
Old scandal and gossip out in smallsville were one thing, a new and brutal murder was quite another. I cleared my throat, sucked air into suddenly constricted lungs. "Sheriff Arnason?"
Not ten minutes ago we were Brad and Jack, having a sociable drink, watching Brad's classmates surge about the roadhouse banquet room, chattering and laughing. Then a deputy appeared and whispered in the sheriff's ear. I got the message in the sheriff's voice. He was only using my last name now.
"I think I'd better go back inside, Sheriff."
"You feelin' sick?"
"A little," I admitted. "Besides, Lori might come looking for me and I'm pretty sure you don't want that crowd out here."
"Good thinking. Don't say anything to anybody just yet. Okay?"
"Sure." I wasn't exactly feeling ill, but the combination of this very recent, particularly grisly death, the booze I'd ingested, and the dusty heat of the night were all contributing to a certain queasiness. I also knew this was about to cease being a fun weekend for Lori and her classmates. What I couldn't know then was how involved in the sturm und drang we were about to become.
I stumbled my way in slick leather-soled loafers over the uneven stubble toward the restaurant.
On my right just down the highway, the glow from the edge of town struggled to push back the night. I felt pressure from the night sky pushing down on me. Odd how that same sky had seemed so soft and soothing when Lori and I stood outside this same restaurant the night before, after a pleasant dinner. Now I started to wonder what other secrets the night concealed.
Hell of a way to run a reunion, I thought. A quote from Shakespeare's Timon of Athens, one of the bard's lesser performed plays, came to mind. It is one of the weakest plays as well. Th' ear, taste, touch, and smell, pleas'd from thy table rise; They only now come but to feast thine eyes…. Some people considered it one of my less-endearing traits, quoting Shakespeare at odd and sometimes inappropriate moments. Lori puts up with it. God, I thought, this murder will devastate her.
Inside, the noise of multiple conversations in the stuffy room drowned out the music from the jukebox in the bar. That was okay. Somebody had stuffed the jukebox with a lot of songs from their senior high school year. It was not a memorable one in the music industry. It didn't matter; members of the Riverview Class of 1989 were having a high old time. I went to the bar and got a weak scotch from the pretty little barmaid. She was working hard, barely keeping up with the drink orders. Tiny beads of sweat had formed at her hairline and her small nose had gotten shiny. Everyone there, I thought, was still blissfully unaware of the macabre scene on the other side of the fire exit door. Maybe not. Was somebody in that mob fully aware? Just waiting, smiling, drinking, wondering when it would come, the grisly moment of discovery.
I rested one elbow on a sopping wet napkin at the edge of the bar. I was a stranger in a place that had suddenly grown a lot stranger. Then Lori Jacobs, whom I know quite intimately, appeared from the dark bar entrance, followed closely, too closely I thought, by Edgar Tomlinson. Tomlinson. I ticked through my mental rolodex of recent introductees. Yes. Big lawyer in town, prosperous, married to a classmate, Elaine? Right. A wheeler-dealer in this part of the state. He and Lori had dated in high school. Not exclusively, but almost, if I remembered correctly. Was he also a killer? He looked fit enough to be able to hoist the body of the dead man up onto the hay rake.
Lori looked a bit mussed, flustered even, I thought. Was it the heat? It was certainly hot and close. Lori saw me watching her, turned her head, and said something to Tomlinson. He leaned down, tall bugger that he was, then turned right and moved away without even a glance in my direction. Lori smiled at someone and came across the noisy room toward me, raising her hands to fix some errant strands of that gorgeous auburn hair. The action lifted her bosom. I inhaled. I saw a couple of glances directed at her. Envy? Recollection? She came up and leaned against me in that possessive manner she sometimes used, though not often in public.
"We making a little statement here?" I murmured under the din. I hoped my voice didn't quaver, didn't betray the turmoil raised by the scene I'd just witnessed outside.
"Well, sonny, you looked like you could use a statement. Or maybe a drink?"
"You see a tinge of the green jealousy? Or is it envy that's green? I can never remember."
"Never mind. Get me a drink, please, a weak scotch. Then come sit. I want to talk to you." She glided smoothly toward an empty table while I turned back to the bar for her drink. Weak was the only way they made them here. Like the coffee. Carrying the glasses, I slid into the chair beside her.
"I told you when we decided to come to this reunion it wouldn't be all fun and games. Small town stuff, petty jealousies, remembered passions, you know?"
"Hey," I said. "I'm eating too much and getting too little sleep, but if all this makes you happy, it makes me glad. Seriously, though, I have met some nice people, people I think I'd like to know better. I'm even having a nice time, at least some of the time." I detected a discordant note in my remark. I hoped Lori didn't notice and ask about it. Part of my mind still grappled with possible implications of Elroy Guteman's corpse impaled on the rusty tines of the old hay rake.
"Nice," echoed Lori. "I went out the front door for a quick breather when I found you'd gone missing. Eddie Tomlinson followed me. We had a little chat. It was pleasant, at least at first. His wife Elaine has become a drinker, apparently. Notice she's no longer here? After a few minutes, Eddie wanted to take up where we'd left off twenty years go." She paused and looked at her drink.
"And?" I prompted. Did she want me to punch him out, I wondered?
"And, I know recollections are mostly edited. We remember the good and forget the bad. I certainly didn't recall him being quite so…aggressive."
"You want me to punch him out?"
"No!" She put her hand on my arm, alarm on her face before she realized I wasn't serious. "I suppose I let him think one little kiss wouldn't hurt."
"Well, yes, I did think that, even if I didn't say it. But he went too fast, and too far."
I looked deep into her eyes, "And suppose he'd been gentler, less impatient, would it have made a difference?"
"Yes, of course, but not in the result. He wanted to kiss me, and I wanted him to kiss me. But even if he'd been a terrific kisser, that would have been it. One chaste kiss, pal. No baloney." She punched me lightly on the arm. She looked around. Then she looked back. "Hey."
"What?" Sensitive, my Lori.
"Are you all right? Is something else bothering you?"
I shook my head. "Tell me again about Elaine. Her maiden name is Flynn?"
"Right you are, soldier."
Lori and I were not married, but we live together in the Twin Cities. We have a good relationship, and keep it so by being straight and open with each other. At the moment I was concealing a horrible secret and even for the short while I knew it would be, it bothered me to keep it from her.
"Tell me," I tried on a smile, "about Elroy Guteman."
"Elroy. Well." Lori scanned the crowd. "First, I can't point him out ‘cause I don't see him. He and his wife, whom I don't know at all, probably left early. They have this big farm out south beyond Wilson's Crick…Creek. He'd have early morning chores, I suppose." She sipped her weak scotch. "Elroy was the one who went right by us on the street yesterday when we first got here, remember?"
"He started with his family's farm and just got bigger. The farm, I mean. Any particular reason you want to know about him?"
"Nope," I lied. "Anything peculiar in his past?"
"You mean in high school?" She looked at me for a long moment. I knew that look. She was wondering why I'd asked. She knew I almost never asked idle questions or indulged in idle gossip. My job in student counseling made me super cautious about any sort of casual personal chatter.
The fire door at the side of the building opposite the entrance to the bar opened and the sheriff appeared, hatless, dark circles of sweat under each arm. He wasn't on duty so he wasn't wearing his uniform. He stopped just inside the door and I heard the faint sound of a siren as the door swung closed. Arnason caught Richard Borken's eye across the room. Borken, senior class president, had had a big hand in organizing the reunion and was nominally in charge tonight.
Borken rose and made his way over to Arnason. They conferred briefly, then Borken turned around and raised his voice, shouting over the tumult.
"Folks, folks! Quiet please. Brad here has to say something." The noise died, heads turned toward the two men by the door. I sucked in a deep breath and gently took Lori's hand.
ReunionBy: Carl Brookins