Never start a story with the weather. I’ve heard this many times over the years.
Even Elmore Leonard kicked off his “Don’t-do-it” list with a rule about the weather.
- Never open a book with the weather.
- Avoid prologues.
- Never use a verb other than “said” to carry dialogue.
- Never use an adverb to modify the verb “said.”
- Keep your exclamation points under control!
- Never use the words “suddenly” or “all hell broke loose.”
- Use regional dialect, patois, sparingly.
- Avoid detailed descriptions of characters.
- Same for places and things.
- Leave out the parts readers tend to skip.
Now, with that said and with an absolute clear understanding of the rules—NO Weather!—let’s get on with the show … today’s article. And it starts like this … with the weather.
It was a dark and stormy night in our county. A sideways rain driven by the type of wind gusts that TV weather reporters are often seen battling during live hurricane coverage of the really big ones, the storms that send trees toppling and waves crashing onto houses far from the shoreline.
I was hard at work that night, patrolling county roads and checking on businesses and homes, when my headlights reflected from something shiny a ways into in the woods. I stopped, backed up, and turned onto a narrow sloppy-wet dirt path that led me to a clearcut section along a power line, and eventually to the source of the reflection. It was a car parked approximately thirty yards off a dirt road next to a river. I used my spotlight to examine the vehicle and surrounding area.
The driver’s door was open and to my surprise the body of a woman was lying half-in and half-out, with the outside portion getting soaked by the deluge of water falling from the dark sky. I couldn’t tell if she was alive or not.
I turned the spotlight to scan the woods on both sides of the clearing. No sign of anything or anyone. It was one of those scenarios where every single hair on the bak of your neck and arms immediately leap to attention. Spooky, to say the least.
So, in spite of the downpour, thunder, lightning, and those hyper-vigilant hairs (the cop’s sixth sense was in full overdrive), I had to get out to investigate. So I did.
I again scanned the area carefully, again, using my Maglie, making certain this wasn’t an ambush. After another look around, I cautiously plowed forward while the winds drilled raindrops into my face and against my lemon-yellow vinyl raincoat, the one I kept in the trunk of my patrol car just for times like this one. The fury of those oversized drops of water was that of small stones striking at a pace equal to the rat-a-tat-tatty rounds fired from a Chicago typewriter.
The plastic rain protector I’d placed over my felt campaign hat worked well at keeping the hat dry, but the rain hitting it was the sensation of hundreds of tiny mallets hammering all at once, as if an all-xylophone symphony decided to perform a complex syncopated piece on the top of my head. At a time when I truly needed the ability to hear a single pin drop, well, it simple wasn’t happening.
It was a fight to walk headfirst into swirling, stinging winds that tugged and pulled and pushed against my rain coat, sending its tails fluttering and flapping, exposing my brown over tan deputy sheriff uniform. It—the uniform—was not waterproof. Not even close.
The ground surrounding the car was extremely muddy, and with each step my once shiny brown shoes collected gobs of thick, soggy soil until it felt as if gooey, slimy bricks were attached to the bottoms of my feet with large suction cups.
These, during a dark and sorry night, were the deplorable conditions in which I met the crying dead woman.
It was one-on-one—me and the victim.
Raindrops the size of gumdrops pelted the victim’s face, gathering and pooling at the corners of her eyes, eventually spilling out across her cheeks like tiny rivers that followed the contours of her flesh until they poured from her in miniature waterfalls.
Bottom half in,
Top half out.
Resting in mud,
Face aimed at the sky.
Youngest daughter—the seven-year-old,
Called them baby socks.
Her mother’s favorite,
Mingled with mud,
And sticks and leaves.
dim, gray eyes.
One to the head,
Two to the torso.
Each a kill shot.
Five empty casings,
In the mud.
Not a revolver.
“No, we don’t drink. Neither did she. Except on special occasions. Yep, it must have been something or somebody really special for her to drink that stuff.”
“Was there a somebody special?”
Eyes cast downward.
Blushes all around.
“Well … she did stay after Wednesday night preaching a few times. But they were meetings strictly about church business. After all, he is the Reverend. A good man.”
A stammer, or two.
A good man.
The rain comes harder,
Pouring across her cheeks.
Through her dark curls.
Droplets hammer hard
Against her open eyes.
Pouring in tiny rivers,
To the puddles below.
She doesn’t blink.
She’s a dead woman crying,
In the rain.
A second car.
A sly, stealthy approach?
The other, long strides.
Running away, possibly.
Zigzagging toward the woods.
Bullet lodged in spruce pine.
One round left to find.
Water inside my collar, down my back.
Cloth snagged on jagged tree branch.
in the rain?
The missing fifth round?
Maglite never fails, even in torrential rain.
Cop’s best friend.
Light catches shoe in underbrush.
Shoe attached to man.
Bullet in back.
The fifth round.
Coming together, nicely.
Special wine for special occasion …
A good man.
Sure he is.
Parks at curb.
Peering from window.
Waiting for Mama?
Scent of frying bacon in the air.
Door swings open.
“No, she didn’t come home after church. Called friends and family. Nobody knows.”
“Yes, I have ideas.
And I’m so sorry for your loss.”
Tire tracks match.
Hangs head in shame.
To profess love.
A second lover.
Murder’s the charge.
Single, unique plant seed,
Stuck to brake pedal.
Tied him to the scene.
A “good man”, a preacher, left the little girl’s mama to cry in the rain.
Today, well, raindrops squiggle and worm their way down the panes of my office windows.
And, as it often happens on days like today,
I think of the crying dead woman.
Of her kids,
Her loving husband and,