Author Biography: Virginia Lanier lives with her husband, Hoss, on the edge of the Okefenokee Swamp in Echols County, Georgia.
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"A cold and windy day"
January 3, Tuesday, 4:00 p.m.
Hank Cribbs was sprawled on the couch with his shoes off, reading the Dunston County Daily Times and making an occasional comment. I was staring out the office window at the bleak view. Dull dormant grass almost blanketed with reddish-brown pine straw, a goodly amount of fallen pine cones, and wintering robins in equal proportions with clumps of gray Spanish moss scattered here and there by the wind. The sky was the color of slate. A brown and gray day which had gotten steadily colder since daybreak.
I was debating whether to brave the cold and help feed the animals, take a nap, or just sit there. I decided to sit. I turned my gaze on the Honorable Sheriff of Dunston County, Hank Cribbs, whose long lean frame was prone on my sofa. Being sheriff, he could dress as he pleased, but he always wore the full dress uniform, warm dark brown gabardine tailored to perfection. With black hair and dark hawk-like eyes, he looked good against the contrasting background of the oatmeal-colored, rough-textured fabric of the couch. I jerked my eyes up to the area of his head, now hidden by the newspaper.
"Don't you have something to do?"
I sounded grumpy. Eyeing his bod was disconcerting. I wasn't about to start that again.
He lowered the paper.
"I don't see you bustling around taking care of business. Am I keeping you from some important chores?"
"I'm bored," I admitted.
"Bored? You with nothing to do? I'm amazed."
"I have plenty to do, I just don't feel like doing anything. The weather is depressing. Do you know the radio said the low would be eighteendegrees in the morning?"
"Which means a lot of frozen well pumps and busted water pipes tomorrow. Some people prepare for light freezes and think they can survive the hard freezes by ignoring them."
I didn't bother to agree with such an obvious statement. He watched me for a few moments, sat up straight, then neatly folded the paper and laid it aside.
"Say pretty please with sugar on it, and I'll tell you an interesting tale."
"If it's about who's doing who, and which partner caught them, I'm not interested."
"You are in a foul mood if you don't want to hear some juicy gossip. How about a double murder? Does that sound more attractive?"
"Here?" I scoffed.
I felt a flicker of interest.
"Nope, it happened thirty years ago this month."
I groaned. "You've been reading old closed files, again. Don't you have enough to do with current cases? Maybe we only need a part-time sheriff if solving crime around here doesn't fill your days. I'll bring it up at the next county commissioners' meeting."
"I looked up the old file this morning, but only because I met the murderer for the first time yesterday afternoon."
He sat there looking smug.
"Aha!" I drawled in my best peach-dripping accent and smiled back at him, acknowledging that he had hooked me fair and square. I sat up straighter, turned my chair, and leaned my elbows on the desk. I was now all ears. "Is the story long and involved? Was it truly a double murder?" I sighed, and spoke before he had a chance to answer. "Wife and lover. Same ol' same ol', right?"
"Nope. Both were murdered, but he was only charged with second degree in the maid's death. They figured he shoved her when she tried to stop him. Hit her head on the concrete edge of the pool. Should have been felony manslaughter, but his lawyer didn't fight to get the charge reduced. It wouldn't have made any difference in his sentence, and he was probably sickened by the crime like everyone else. He didn't fight too hard, period. It happened during the commission of a double kidnapping. That's federal. In my estimation Samuel Debbs should have got the death penalty. He was lucky to have received life without parole."
"So why is he walking around breathing free air?"
"Medical parole. When the parole board is sure they're dying, they kick 'em loose. Heart condition. He looks like death warmed over. I bet he doesn't last a month."
"When you mentioned a maid, I smelled money. Which old family around here had all these exciting things happening thirty years ago and why haven't I ever heard any mention of these crimes?"
"Well, you were two, and I was seven. All the principals moved away soon after the trial and there wasn't any extended family. With no one around here to jog the memory, I guess everyone forgot."