“Oh shit! I hope that’s not my new knife!” might not have been the best thought that ran through my head as I peeked out my window this morning…of course, I couldn’t quite see everything from my window so I opened the door…
Let me back up a little bit…
My name is Savannah Oakes Sullivan. Yep, my initials are S.O.S. I’m 45 years old and a recent widow. I’d be grieving much more if the love of my life, my soul mate, my best friend, my husband of 25 years hadn’t had the big one while he was astride Kimmie Sue Johnson. And by the big one I don’t mean the Big O. Although he might have had that, too. I mean the big heart attack. That’s right . . . my Cleve died screwing his secretary. I was more than grief stricken. I was angry.
No. I was mad as hell.
Of course some of that anger dissipated with the $250,000 life insurance policy. And I really didn’t need a big 2 story, 4 bedroom, 2 bath house in the ‘burbs. So I sold the house, the midlife-crisis corvette, the big Dodge Ram (yes..it has a hemi) and the little ‘tooling around to save gas convertible. I was even less angry when I had almost half a million in cash to play with.
I bought a cottage on a couple of acres with a little pond out back. Not too far off the beaten path, but enough to give me peace and quiet. Close enough for my friends to stop by on their way home or on their way out to wherever they go.
Oh, and the other thing I bought? A slamming brand new Charger. Just like Leroy Jethro Gibbs. And it was HAWT. I’m thinking about painting it glitter purple instead of black because me and Jethro? We shouldn’t have the exact same car….
I have twin boys, but they’re grown and on their own. At 23, they have both managed to finish college and are ekeing out a living without having to borrow egg money every week. They even live out of town. I think that is the only thing that saved them when the small town news hounds shared the intimate details (and I do mean intimate) details of Cleve’s death over at the Corner Grocery. This small town living in the NC mountains means everyone knows everything about everyone else. No secrets here. Funny how no one thought to tell me about Cleve and Kimmie Sue. Guess they thought that was information they could keep to themselves. But him dying mid-stride? Yep, that was fodder for the masses. Good thing the masses in Tater’s Ridge, NC only add up to 893 souls in the summer months and about 512 in winter.
Now that I don’t have to worry every day about money (since Cleve spent Every Single Dime he ever made on his stuff) to pay the bills, buy groceries or save for rainy days (and really, I think I’ve suffered through the worst rain), I was happy to piddle around with the jewelry I made and sold on Etsy and to a few craft stores in the big cities of Charlotte and Asheville. It was fun and I didn’t have to wonder if I’d sell enough earrings to finally make a profit or God-forbid, not break even.
So, back to that new knife.
I like to pretend I’m going to cook big, fancy dinners and entertain all my friends. I’ll even pretend the house will be clean, decorated and everything put in its place. I’ll look glamorous and put together in an outfit that wasn’t pulled out of my closet at the last minute and thrown in the dryer to ‘freshen up’. And that the outfit wasn’t bought on sale at Wal-Mart 3 seasons ago.
The truth is I can heat up some Brie, bring out some crackers and have a glass of wine with my two best friends, Reba Jenkins and Dee Dee Waters. And that’s just the way I want it. I’m in my jean skirt and a cute t-shirt I got the last time I went to Charlotte. It covers my bigger-than-I’d like butt. And it covers the girls. And just so you’ll know? I’m a big girl, not skinny by any way, shape or form. I can’t even be called sorta slim. And I’m just fine with that, too.
But I LOVE to have a party. So when my girlfriend that works at the bank called to ask if I’d have a Pampered Chef Party, I said, “Sure! Can I serve Wine?” Since I got a “Yes!” I told her we’d party and have a blast.
I invited all my girlfriends and told them to bring someone, too. The best part is I wouldn’t have to cook a thing. We all crowded into my little cottage and laughed, drank wine and ate the yummy stuff Abby cooked up for us. She made some delish chicken fajitas and we scraped the bowl clean. And I LOVED those knives they were selling, because I’ve always had this love affair with big, shiny things…..
I bought the big honkin’ Chef’s Knife and thought I might even cook some meat one day and my friends would be amazed. Or I might just put that big honkin’ knife in my drawer and be ready for the next time I needed to cut a watermelon, which was much more likely. I told everyone at the party that I was tossing my old knife because I had gotten it as a wedding present 25 years ago and I was pretty sure it had seen better days. I’ve since found out it’s bad luck to give knives as wedding presents, but since it lasted 25 years and so did my marriage, I thought that probably wasn’t quite true. Of course, I’ll never know if my dear Cleve was cheating on me for most of those 25 years and I refuse to even think about it. If he was, that knife would have come in handy for cutting other things if I’d ever found out. Lucky for him, I never did.
So, when I peeked out my window and looked on my front porch early that morning after hearing a ‘thud’, I could only see the knife handle from where I was standing. That looked really strange.
I decided to open the door to see what I could see. At 45 and having lived here my entire life and knowing everyone as I did, I didn’t have any fears.
And that’s when I saw my old knife, the one I said I was tossing as soon as I’d gotten my new knife, planted squarely in the back of one Kimmie Sue Johnson. Did I mention that I told EVERYONE who would listen that was at the funeral of my dear Cleve that I wished I could KILL Kimmie Sue Johnson? And that I might have said that, oh…lots of times? Like, maybe hundreds? And I might have even said, “I’ll show her a back stabbing” when I was at the big 4th of July town picnic earlier this year. In front of lots of people.
And then I looked a little closer at Kimmie Sue Johnson. Yep, she was Dead. As a doornail. On my front porch. In a pretty little dress that fit her pretty little body just fine. That big honkin’ knife sticking out of her back did look just like mine did. And just in case I had any doubts about it being mine, I was able to see the inscription from where I was standing.
“To Cleve and Savannah. May you always cut through any problems you may have.”
My Aunt Frances sure had a way with words.
At least it wasn’t my new knife. Cause that would have just pissed me off.
Who ya gonna call when your dead husband’s mistress is lying dead on your porch? I didn’t take too long to decide on calling Sheriff Ben Deal rather than dialing 911. All I needed was Rosemary Hensley telling everyone I’d finally snapped and killed Kimmie Sue before the police could even get out to my place. I’m sure the 911 people thought it went without saying that if you’re a 911 operator, you really shouldn’t blab all over town about every call you got, but they didn’t figure on old Rosemary. She had a mouth bigger than Texas and wasn’t afraid to use it. I looked up Ben’s number (No! I did not know the Sheriff’s phone number by heart!) in my cell phone. (Ok, I did have it in my cell phone because this is a VERY small town-I’ve known Ben for years.)
Ben answered on the 2nd ring, sounding like he was right in the middle of a big doughnut or pastry over at Ruby’s Bakery. She opened early for the breakfast crowd and made the best, most fluffy pastries EVER. I blame her completely for my big butt, but she will tell you I’ve had a big butt as long as she’s known me and since that’s been about 40 years and WAAAY before she opened her bakery, I have to admit it’s not her fault.
I tried to sound calm, but I’m just not sure it came out the way I wanted it to….
“BEN! Come over here NOW. Kimmie Sue is DEAD on my porch!”
Ben kept his cool, probably because he didn’t want to choke on one of Ruby’s cream cheese Danish, not out of any sense of shielding the fine citizens of Tater’s Ridge.
“What did you say Savannah? Did you say what I THINK you said?”
I could just see the eyes turn toward Ben at Ruby’s. Ruby had 3 small café tables and 6 chairs and they were all really close together. So there’s no doubt in my mind that everyone there heard exactly what Ben said. And now they knew who he was talking to as well.
“Yes. You heard me. Please come over here now.”
“Savannah, I don’t know what you’ve done but just sit tight. I’ll be right there.”
Dammit. Why did everyone always assume the worst about me? I don’t ever set out to cause trouble, wreck havoc or say things out loud better left unsaid. No, I just open my mouth because I have a lot to say and I’m sure people want to hear it. My opinion may not match everyone else’s (or anyone else’s for that matter) but I still feel free to say it. Freedom of Speech and all that. And sometimes, I’ll have a few too many glasses of wine and say something that’s just begging to be said out loud and people sorta get pissed off at me. But really? I don’t mean to be mean. Nope, I just mean to be honest. Really.
But that doesn’t mean I murdered Kimmie Sue! And I’m pretty sure she was murdered. I mean I heard she was really flexible (you’d be amazed at what people will tell you after your husband dies in the middle of the big one), but sticking a big honkin’ knife in your own back seems kind of extreme. And stupid.
I decided to make some coffee and wait for Sheriff Deal to get to the house. It wouldn’t take 15 minutes to get here from Ruby’s, but if he hit the sirens and lights he could be here in 8. I’ve made it to Ruby’s in 7 minutes in my Charger that time she locked herself in the freezer with only her cell phone and an apron and I didn’t even have a siren and lights, so I figured he’d be here really soon. And yes….Ruby ONLY had a cell phone and an apron. She was having a little too much fun with that new delivery man from the restaurant supply store she bought those cute little tables from in Asheville. Ever since then she’s made it a point to keep extra clothes in the freezer. I think they’d be mighty cold when she put them on, but it sure beats being naked in there.
Sure enough, I heard the sirens before I saw Ben. He came sliding into the grass at the edge of my sidewalk and jumped out of the car before the engine died. I stepped out on the porch, no use waiting til he stepped over Kimmie and knocked on the door. It wasn’t like I was surprised to see him.
“What the Hell, Savannah. Is that really Kimmie Sue?”
“Oh yeah, that’s her alright.” I answered in my best, calm, I-don’t-have-a-clue-what-happened voice.
He came over to the porch, climbed the 2 steps and bent down to have a look for himself. Guess he couldn’t tell that died blonde hair and false eyelashes from all the way in the yard. Oops…that might have sounded a bit bitchy. Oh well.
“Kimmie Sue Johnson. Dead on your porch.” he said in his best I’m-in-charge-here voice. “Don’t guess you’d want to tell me what happened here, would you?”
I looked at Ben Deal for a good 30 seconds before I answered. I wanted to make sure I thought about what I said before I opened my mouth. I also was thinking about how long I’ve known Ben, through the years we’ve run into each often and laughed about one thing or another. There was a rash of trash cans being stolen one year and I was the phone call that finally helped him catch the kids doing the stealing. We’d laughed at the Trash Can bandits and me being the Trash Can Mom that caught them. Although, I’m not really sure I like the “Trash Can Mom” title all that much.
Fact is, we’ve known each other for almost 15 years. Ben is 32 and had moved here with his family when he was a teen. I knew his Mom and knew his wife. He married a girl from the next county and they had the cutest little blonde haired girl and were expecting a baby boy in 3 months. When he got the scholarship to NC State I was thrilled for him and his family and then just as happy when he decided to come home and join the Sheriff’s department for the county. And then when he ran for sheriff I was in full support of a hometown boy from Tater’s Ridge getting the big job of top dog law enforcement. So that should have given me an a little something extra in the ‘innocent until proven guilty’ thought process. Or at least I thought so.
Not a chance. Ben Deal was the Real Deal (a slogan plastered all over the county when he was running for Sheriff). He didn’t give any favors and didn’t cut corners.
When I started to tell Ben what I knew, I wanted to make sure he heard the right words just because I have been known to say a lot more than needed at times. So I made sure I only answered what he asked, at least for now.
“I was inside getting ready to make coffee and heard a thud on the front porch. I thought it was one of Carl’s hunting dogs looking for something, you know they are always getting out. Anyway, I peeked out the window cause I didn’t want that dog inside and that’s when I saw the knife handle. When I opened the door, I got the full view of Kimmie Sue. And I called you.” Maybe that wasn’t exactly the precise, concise statement but I felt pretty good about it. And Carl’s dogs WERE always getting out.
Ben went to the car and picked up his radio. He was calling for the deputy and the ME, I was sure. That meant my quiet time was about to be over.
“Hey Ben” I hollered, “can I call Ruby and Dee Dee? Is it ok to let them know my life is about to be turned upside down?”
He nodded so I headed back inside to get dressed in real clothes. No use in anyone else seeing my sweat pants and ratty old t-shirt. I even put on a bra.
Dee Dee, Ruby and I were sitting in my living room drinking our 3rd cup of coffee. Ruby had brought several Danishes, doughnuts, and some banana nut bread, mainly for us, but for the guys ‘working the scene’, too. She had called her niece, Tammy, to watch the store when I called and said it was an emergency. Dee Dee was right on her heels.
Dee Dee runs the local antique shop when she’s not traveling the broken down back roads of the mountains to find junk to put in the shop. At 30, she’s younger than Ruby and me but she fits right in. She and her husband Bill run the shop that brings folks in from the interstate. Bill had rather run the shop and tinker with what Dee Dee brings home than ever leave and go junkin’. Suits them both just fine and I think that’s what keeps them together. He stays at home and she hits the road, at least once a week. Something to be said for knowing what works in a marriage.
They’ve been trying to have that 1st baby for about 5 years now, but just can’t seem to make it happen. Dee Dee has decided to stop talking about it but every now and then, you’ll see her get a little misty eyed when she sees a baby. Maybe that’s another reason she stays on the road.
“What really happened Savannah?” Ruby whispered to me when we were finally alone in my living room. We had not even mentioned Kimmie Sue since they got here, with all the people in and out of the place and Kimmie Sue’s body being hauled away. I think we were waiting for someone to say, “Joke! Gotcha!” but that just didn’t work.
“Honest to God Ruby! I told you exactly what happened. I was getting ready to make coffee, heard a thud on the porch, looked out and saw Kimmie Sue, already gone to that big old bed in the sky. And my knife sticking right out of her back like some beacon calling my name. You don’t really think I would do anything to her, do you? I mean, I know I’ve said that out loud LOTS of times, but really? Do you Really think I could do that?”
Dee Dee spoke up with, perhaps, the one thing we weren’t saying out loud, “Well, if you’d have killed her, you sure as hell wouldn’t have left her on your own front porch. You are lots of things, but stupid ain’t one of them.”
“Thanks…I think” came my reply.
We lapsed back into silence as Ben came in and told me I’d have to come down to the Sheriff’s department to give a statement.
“Ben, do I really have to go? Can’t you just talk to me here?” I sorta sounded like I was begging, or pleading. And maybe I was. I really didn’t need to be seen as the suspect in this little murder. It was going to be bad enough that she was found on my front porch.
“Savannah, this is just routine. You know that. I have to find out who killed Kimmie Sue and all I want to do is rule you out as a suspect.”
Sure you do, Ben. Sure you do.
He did let me drive my own car (I think he really wanted to ride in my car but just couldn’t think of a good reason for that one) and even let Ruby come with me. Dee Dee had to get back to the store since Bill was in Charlotte picking up his mother from the airport. We hugged and I told her to hang in there, his mom would only be here for a week.
When Ruby and I got to the Sheriff’s Department, we parked and climbed out of the Charger. I touched her hood and thought how much I loved this car. I had named her Kate. Just cause I have always liked the name and I thought Kate was the perfect name for a sleek, fast, glittery purple hot rod for a 45-year-old widow. I really hoped I’d be able to drive her home. Very soon.
Kevin Stiles was sitting at the only other desk and Ben was already back in his office. Kevin held down the fort at the Satellite office when Ben was at one of the other offices or at the main Sheriff’s office in Newport. (It wasn’t New and there wasn’t a Port but it was our Newport.) Newport was the county seat and Sheriff Ben Deal had 40 deputies he had to account for in the county, but since he lived in Tater’s Ridge he spent at least two days a week in our office. Suited us just fine to have extra protection, but being so secluded meant most of us had our own brand of protection, yours truly included. I just never thought to include a kitchen knife in that arsenal.
Ben came out of his office and asked me to come into their conference room. If this were a big city police department, they’d probably say this was ‘interrogation’, but we knew it was the conference room where town meetings were held and an occasional baby or wedding shower if the happy person-to-be didn’t have a church they could use. But Ben made sure I knew this was all business. Just in case I had my doubts, one look at Ben’s face told me all I needed to know.
“Ruby, you just sit tight out here til we get done. Shouldn’t be too long.” Ben was nice enough to let Ruby in on a secret: I was going home tonight.
“Now Savannah, you know this is all just routine. Why don’t we get it all on record exactly what happened out at your place this morning so we can be all nice and official. I wouldn’t want anyone saying I was playing favorites. I’ll hit record and you tell me what happened.”
I began slowly, thinking I should know the story by now, I’d told it at least 10 times since this morning, which, by the way, seemed like at least 2 days ago.
“Well, just like I told you already…..I was just getting ready to make coffee, when I heard a thud on the front porch. I thought it’s was Carl’s dogs, cause they get out All the Time. I peeked out the window and saw the top of the knife. When I opened the door, I saw Kimmie Sue. Then I called you.”
Then Ben did something I didn’t think a whole lot about at the time, simply because so much had happened and my brain was starting to feel very tired, very over caffeinated and very ready to go home.
Ben turned the recorder off and stood to leave. But before he walked out the door, he said, “Savannah, I know you didn’t do this. And I’m pretty sure anyone who knows you knows you didn’t do this. But somebody sure wants everyone else to think you did. I have to investigate and the investigation will lead me to the killer. Just make sure that lead doesn’t come knocking on your door. Be careful. And let me do the investigating. I don’t need you, Ruby and Dee Dee up in the middle of this thing.”
He motioned for me to get up and head out of the room, too. Ruby was on her 50th cup of coffee by then and she was feeling a little jittery herself.
We hit the parking lot without a backward glance and Ruby slid into the Charger and buckled up before I could hardly get the keys in the ignition. I know she was DYING to find out what happened, but we both wanted to make absolutely sure no one could hear what we said. Without even looking at each other for confirmation, we headed to Ruby’s Bakery so we could grab a bite to eat. Ruby keeps Real Food in the cooler in case she gets tired of all those delicious pastries, cakes, pies and brownies. But really…who could ever get tired of the 4 major food groups?
Over a Chicken Salad Sandwich, Ruby listened as I told her what Ben had warned me about. I felt like he said more between the words he said than with the actual words.
“I think he wants us to figure it out” Ruby offered after popping a tiny apple tart in her mouth. “Otherwise, why would he tell you he knows you didn’t do it?”
“Of course he doesn’t want us to figure it out. That would make him look bad!” But I was thinking….and I knew that Ruby, Dee Dee and I would be doing our own little investigating and since we had 3 brains working on this thing Full Time and knew EVERYONE in Tater’s Ridge, we’d have a much better shot at finding out exactly who was trying to frame me for murder.
But right now? Right now, I just wanted three (ok four) of those little apple tarts and my pillow.