Say It Again, Samby Mary Mcbride
The strangest things are happening in Heart Lake, and Sheriff Sam Mendenhall is trying to keep the peace. The trouble really begins when his former sweetheart Beth Simon returns. Their undeniable attraction leads them to the little cabin in the woods where they fell in love years ago. Original. See more details below
The strangest things are happening in Heart Lake, and Sheriff Sam Mendenhall is trying to keep the peace. The trouble really begins when his former sweetheart Beth Simon returns. Their undeniable attraction leads them to the little cabin in the woods where they fell in love years ago. Original.
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Say it Again, Sam
By Mary McBride
Warner VisionCopyright © 2004 Mary Vogt Myers
All right reserved.
Chapter OneOn a map, the township of Shelbyville, Michigan, resembled a startled face. Blue Lake and Pretty Lake, each very nearly round, formed a pair of staring eyes, set wide by the dense woods between them. The pinched lobes of Little Glory Lake sufficed for a nose, and just below it, Heart Lake was carved out like an open, astonished mouth.
Or, if you didn't have much imagination, Shelbyville township looked like five lakes and a hell of a lot of trees just above the forty-third parallel and a few miles east of Mecklin, the county seat.
The population of Shelbyville was 1,245 souls, give or take a soul or two. In June, July, and August, though, that figure swelled, almost doubling with the influx of tourists, or what the townspeople called "the summer folks." And the summer folks tended to get in a lot more trouble than the residents.
It was summer now, and Constable Sam Mendenhall was responding to an early-morning call about more trouble. He walked into the post office carrying the coffee he'd picked up at the Gas Mart, wondering why the postmistress had summoned him instead of the feds.
"What's up, Thelma?" he asked the elderly postmistress.
"Somebody stole my flag."
Sam took a thoughtful sip of the steaming brew, hiding his exasperation behind the paper cup. From her urgent tone on the telephone, he'd been expecting an actual burglary. He thought her cash drawer had been cleaned out, or that someone had made off with her stamps.
"It was a brand-new one, too. I just got it a couple weeks ago." She slapped a liver-spotted hand on the countertop. "Damn it all. In over fifty years, I haven't missed a single day-not one!-of running my flag up the flagpole out there. A lot longer than you've been alive, Sam Mendenhall, I'll have you know." She shook a crooked finger in his face.
Obviously Thelma didn't think he was taking this seriously enough. The last thing he wanted to do was to insult her. He'd known Thelma Watt his entire life. She had been Shelbyville's postmistress for more than half a century, which meant she knew more about the local population than they knew about themselves.
Just by handling the mail, Thelma knew who was getting ahead, who was falling behind, who was simply holding on. She knew whose children wrote home once they'd left the nest, whose sweethearts abruptly quit their correspondence, whose hearts had been broken by lined paper and a ballpoint pen.
His, for instance.
Sam didn't doubt for a second that the old gal had read every postcard that passed through this building and held every interesting envelope up to the light. He wondered how many of those cards and letters had been his.
"Any idea who might have taken the flag?" he asked her now.
She glared across her counter, looking down her nose at him-a pretty amazing feat since he was six-two to her diminutive five one.
"Of course I know who took it," she snapped. "The same criminal who's been taking all the other things around town. Who else would it be?"
She was probably right, Sam decided. There'd been a lot of weird stuff going on lately. Things just went missing. Weird things. The curtains in Carol Dunlap's sun porch. Every single jar of peanut butter at the grocery store. A Detroit Tigers coffee mug that Jim Bickford had been sipping from one minute, then the next minute-pfft-it was gone. Last week, after graduation ceremonies at the high school, somebody noticed an empty space in the trophy case where the bronzed pigskin for the state football champs of 1968 should've been.
There was more. Sam had a list in the glove compartment of his Jeep.
Now he'd be adding Thelma's flag.
As crime waves went, this one seemed fairly innocuous. But still ... Plenty of people were spooked, and Thelma was downright mad.
"How did it happen?" he asked her. "Somebody break in, or did they take it down from the pole?"
"I never had time to get it up there. I took it outside at seven-fifteen, just like always, hooked it on to the lanyard, but then the phone rang before I could run it up the pole. When I got back outside, the durn thing was gone."
"Who was on the phone?" Sam asked.
"Nobody." The elderly woman blinked. "Are you thinking that call was some sort of diversion?"
He shrugged. In fact, he was thinking it was probably just a wrong number, or that the octogenarian postmistress moved so slowly that the caller had hung up before Thelma reached the phone.
"I'll see what I can find out," he told her.
"You do that."
He was already on his way to the door when she called him back.
"Wait a minute, Sam. Mercy. I was so upset about my flag that I almost forgot to tell you. Beth Simon's coming back from California. Her mail's already being forwarded here."
It was all he could think of to say. His mind was suddenly a complete blank. His heart had given one hard kick, then seemed to quit beating entirely. He felt like an idiot and probably looked like one, too.
Thelma's head was cocked to one side, and there was an expectant expression on her face. Sam couldn't decide if the slant of her mouth was sympathetic or snide. What was it she wanted him to say?
Oh, goodie. That's great. Glad to hear it. Good old Beth. I can't wait to see the woman who dumped me sixteen years ago.
He drained the rest of his coffee, crumpled the paper cup in his fist, then lobbed it into the tall trash can against the far wall.
"I'll let you know what I find out about the flag, Thelma," he said, then turned and walked out the door before the woman could say another word.
Poor Sam. Thelma had meant to warn him a bit more gently, perhaps even accompany the warning with some sage advice; but she'd been so discombobulated by the stolen flag that she'd simply blurted out the news about Beth, and the fellow had just stood there, looking like she'd punched him in the gut.
Not that she would have expected any other reaction, considering the history of those two.
She reached beneath the counter for the rubber-banded packet of mail that had arrived yesterday from San Francisco, CA 94117. There was a MasterCard statement as thick as a ham sandwich, a bill from San Francisco General Hospital, and a subscription renewal to Victorian Times. After more than half a century in the post office, Thelma could tell an awful lot from a few pieces of mail.
Obviously things hadn't worked out for little Beth Simon in California. She was broke, or at least heavily in debt. That no-good boyfriend of hers, the one she'd gone to California with, had undoubtedly hit her again, this time hard enough to send her to the emergency room. She was headed back here, to her family's big old Victorian house on Heart Lake.
On second thought, it was probably good that Thelma hadn't fully apprised Sam. After all, the U.S. mail was privileged information, not meant for passing on to third parties.
He'd find out for himself soon enough.
And for mercy's sake, she hoped he also found out who made off with her flag.
Sam sat in his jeep, staring at the little spiral notebook and its growing list of oddities. There didn't seem to be a pattern. At least none that he could discern. The only thing that seemed to make any sense was that it was some kind of scavenger hunt. The culprits were likely to be some of the summer kids with too little supervision and too much time on their hands. Still, a bit of petty theft was preferable to drugs, booze, drag racing, or any other crazy stunts that kids could pull.
He wasn't going to lose sleep over it. With any luck, he'd catch one of the young perps in the act, give him or her a stern talking to, then turn the little bastard over to Thelma for whatever punishment she deemed appropriate.
Thelma. He'd managed to block out what she'd told him for a full five minutes, but now her words hit him again like a slap across the face.
Beth Simon's coming back from California.
The woman might just as well have said a giant asteroid was going to hit Shelbyville, its date and time still to be determined. If she'd meant to inflict damage on him, the old crone could've just reached for the ancient revolver she kept illegally beneath her counter and put a bullet right between his eyes. Her words had had just about the same effect.
He didn't want to think about Beth. It seemed as if he'd spent the first half of his life thinking of nothing and no one else, then spent the second half of his life trying to forget her. Not that he'd had much success.
Returning his attention to the list of missing objects, Sam tried to forget her again by concentrating on the mysterious thief. What sort of idiot would steal the curtains right off their rods in a person's house? They weren't even good ones, Carol Dunlap had said, but water-stained and bleached out by the sun. Crappy had been her exact description, and she was glad for an excuse to replace them, even as she was mystified by their disappearance.
The missing football trophy and the flag at least made sense. Especially the flag. Sam could understand a kid playing a prank on the postmistress. She could be terrifying. Sam had been a pretty fearless kid, but Thelma Watt had made him stutter once or twice. He remembered one time when he and Beth ...
No. He didn't want to remember.
Sam turned his head toward the sidewalk to meet the steady gaze of a little boy who was maybe seven or eight years old. "I'm not the sheriff," he said. "I'm the constable."
Actually he was more like a rent-a-cop. His salary, such as it was, was paid partly by the Heart Lake Residents' Association and partly by the Shelbyville Chamber of Commerce. He didn't wear a uniform. He didn't carry a weapon. His powers of arrest were comparable to those of any citizen. By and large his duties entailed patrolling vacant summer cottages, annoying teenagers, and making sure that all the drunks at the Penalty Box got safely home without killing themselves or anybody else. Now he was apparently in charge of errant curtains, coffee cups, and flags.
"My dad says you're not so tough," the kid said, his little freckled face twisting in belligerence.
"Oh, yeah? Who's your dad?"
Well, that explained it. Sam pictured the freckle-faced boy he'd gone to school with. Joe Dolan was built like a fireplug and had even less personality, if that was possible. He was a lazy, flat-footed wrestler, a face-mask-grabbing defensive end, and an avid bully. Like all those of that ilk, he picked on the kids who were smaller, lighter, less apt to defend themselves. From kindergarten through their senior year, Joe had steered clear of Sam. Apparently he was still steering clear of him because in the year or so that Sam had been back, he hadn't seen Joe Dolan once.
"What's your dad up to these days?" he asked as if he truly cared.
"Nothin'," the boy said. "He's got a bad back."
It probably matched his bad attitude, Sam thought.
"My dad says you were a Green Beret."
"Something like that," Sam replied.
"He says that's no big deal."
Sam shrugged. He wasn't going to argue with an elf in a striped T-shirt and red canvas Keds.
The elf sneered. "I bet you don't even wear a gun."
"Don't need one," Sam said in a voice faintly reminiscent of Gary Cooper in High Noon.
"How tall are you?" Joe's offspring demanded.
"Six-two. How tall are you?"
The boy lifted his shoulders, then let them drop. He probably didn't even know how tall he was, or maybe he figured it wasn't cool to proclaim he was all of four-foot-two or -three. "What do you weigh?"
"Depends," Sam said.
"Oh, yeah? On what?"
"On whether or not I've eaten a little boy for breakfast."
The kid's eyes bulged like little green crabapples, and it was all Sam could do not to laugh.
Just then a fire engine red Miata sped past him, doing at least sixty down Shelbyville's main drag, where the posted speed limit was a stodgy twenty-five. Sam turned the key in the ignition, reached under the seat for his red light, and slapped it on the hood of the Jeep.
"See ya, kid," he said, and took off in pursuit.
It took about two minutes-and two miles down the road-for Sam to feel less like Gary Cooper and more like one of the Keystone Kops.
His ancient, Army surplus jeep could barely keep up with the speeding Miata. The red light he'd slapped on the hood broke loose when he hit a pothole in the road. Little wonder since the rinky-dink, battery-powered implement was only attached by a flimsy rubber suction cup. And for lack of a siren, Constable Sam Mendenhall was forced to honk his horn like some maniac.
Meanwhile the guy behind the wheel of the Miata wasn't slowing down a bit. When Sam was able to pull up close enough, he could see the baseball cap on the guy's head, and he was pretty sure that the son of a bitch gave him the finger just before turning off onto Eighteen Mile Road. Man, he couldn't wait to run this asshole to the ground.
That happened thirty seconds later when the little red sports car's right rear tire blew, sending the car veering into the oncoming lane for a couple hundred feet before the driver was able to get control and maneuver off the blacktop onto the weedy shoulder of the road.
Sam pulled over and killed his engine. He hoped it was Joe Dolan in the Miata. He was going to pull him through the driver's window by his earlobes and dropkick him all the way back to town.
"You could've killed somebody, asshole," he shouted, striding toward the red car, slapping its rear fender before he reached the driver's door.
"I know. Oh, God."
The female voice floated through the open window. Well, it wasn't Joe Dolan unless he'd had a sex change operation. Sam's anger ratcheted down a notch. Maybe he was a sexist pig, but he didn't treat women the way he treated men. Never had. Never would. Not in this life.
"Are you okay?" he asked.
"Just a little shaky," she said. "That was really stupid of me. I'm sorry."
As she spoke, she took one hand off the wheel and reached up to pull the baseball cap from her head. Blond curls-a torrent of them-cascaded onto her shoulders. And then she turned and blinked up at him with those perfect-day-in-June blue eyes.
Jesus. He couldn't breathe.
Excerpted from Say it Again, Sam by Mary McBride Copyright © 2004 by Mary Vogt Myers. Excerpted by permission.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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