"Everybody gets dead, it was his turn." -John Wayne, as Hondo
There is a great spine that runs, like the back of a dinosaur, from Georgia to Maine. Across it's most inaccessible pinnacles, winds a small walking trail, officially known as "The Appalachian Trail". Plummeting down it's ravines and swales, around, over and across several mountain tops are thousands of small, rural communities - This is Appalachian country.
Folks who live near the trail rarely walk upon it. We have enough big rocks to climb over in our own backyard. We sure as hell don't need a trail to remind us of where we live. Besides, Appalachian folk prefer trails that cater to ATVs and snowmobiles. We don't want to hear a coyote howl unless we are chasing it down.
From stick-built cabins deep in woods to the brick-fronted buildings on Main Street, Appalachia is more than a place. The mountains and rural hills along the Eastern mountain spine are the epicenter of family, history, folklore, and friendship. We celebrate our lives with food, music, art, snowmobiles, atv's, guns, and blue dog politics. Diffle County sits comfortably in the upper Eastern spine of the Pennsylvania Appalachian mountains.
In the heart of Diffle County, nearly cut in two by the Appalachian Trail, sits The Old Grin, i.e. Grinold Township. The Townfship of Old Grinolde was founded in 1783 by Walter and Louis Grinolde, two wealthy brothers from Philadelphia in search of adventure. Soon after arriving, Louis was killed in an Indian attack (this fact is disputed by some in the Grinolde family).
Louis did not live long enough to meet his sister-in-law Lois Fletcher. Walter met Lois at a social in Easton and courted her for two years. They were married in Easton and honeymooned in a tent on the edge of a small lake in the Townfship of Grinolde. In honor of the love of his life, Walter Grinolde named the lake Fletcher's Pond.
Now there's a body floating in Fletcher's Pond and The Old Grin is about to be fished out.
Captain Johnathan Jenkins of the PA State Police was standing in the doorway to his office at the East Greenville barracks when the 911 call came in.
"Diffle County Control Center, What is the nature of your emergency?"
"Jill, it's Uncle Larry. Get the State Police on the horn, get me Captain John right away."
"Uncle Larry, I need to get the basic information first. I can transfer you after that."
"Jill, there's a dead girl floating in Fletcher's pond. I'm at the Grinold Township building, now patch me through to Captain John."
"Ok, transferring now. Say hi to Aunt Carol for me."
Within 40 minutes of receiving the phone call, Captain John Jenkins and Homicide Detective Ralph Gower were interviewing Bobby LaFleur about his discovery while two patrolmen carefully removed the girl's body from the lilly pads. Diffle County Coroner Jim Gehler stood at the water's edge, waiting to examine the body. An ambulance stood at the ready. The fire police were on the scene, directing traffic around the crime scene, which now occupied the shoulder and South-bound lane of old Route 39.
This was bad, real bad. The girl appeared to be in her twenties. Her hands had been duct-taped behind her back and more tape was across her mouth. There were signs of strangulation on her neck. A few minutes after the coroner declared her dead, the State Police Regional CSI unit arrived to secure the site and gather evidence. Captain John called in the Diffle County Search and Rescue to dive under in search for more evidence. Coroner Jim Gehler thought the girl looked "awful familiar" but there was no identification on her body.
Meanwhile, the telephone wires were burning up, first in Grinold Township, then all across Diffle County. A reporter and a photographer from the Diffle County Reporter arrived, skirted past the police tape, and snapped a couple pictures before a patrolman ushered them across the street. The crime scene was extended, closing Route 39. A detour route onto 2nd street and through the Township parking lot was quickly arranged.
One of the CSI unit investigators, Sgt. Becci Nillson, recognized the victim, and quickly took Captain John by the arm, deliberately walking him away from the scene and out of earshot of everyone there.
"Becci, what have you got?"
"Captain, we will need back-up, all the support we can find, public relations, top investigators, the best in the State. That girl is not just any girl, the girl is Linda Malone."
Captain John's mouth dropped wide open.
"The girl who killed her son then went on a 10-day cruise? The one who was found not guilty? But she was from Georgia. Oh shit. This will be a circus before tomorrow morning. Thanks Becci"
Captain John Jenkins called the entire team together.
"We have temporarily ID'ed the victim." announced Captain John Jenkins to the team "From this point forward, I would advise you to keep your mouth shut and do your job. Do not discuss this with anyone. Do not make any comments to the press, unless you want to find yourself answering to the District Attorney."
Captain John looked over at the reporter and photographer standing just outside the yellow tape.
"Get that reporter at least a block away from here. Move the whole crime scene back. I'm calling in every off-duty patrolman to canvass this town and the lake. Ladies and Gentlemen, If Sgt. Nillson is correct, our victim is the infamous Linda Malone."
There was a moment of silence and then a collective gasp as the reality of the situation became clear. Six months ago, Linda Malone was acquitted of drowning her own 5-year old son in a case that captivated America. For months the media saturated the public with the story of a murderous drowning, a basement burial, and the 10-day Bahama cruise. Convicted in the general public by a bloodthirsty media, she was found not guilty by a jury of her peers.
The defense successfully argued that the crime scene was tainted by sloppy evidence gathering and an expert pathologist stated that the evidence pointed to an accidental drowning. Her lawyers insinuated that her ex-husband might be the true killer, that she could not have dug a grave in such hard ground. Finally, they argued that there simply was no hard evidence to convict.
The jury agreed but America disagreed. Death threats were sent across social media platforms like spam. After the verdict and her release from custody, Linda Malone climbed into a private Lear jet and disappeared into the night sky.
Rumor had it that she was living in seclusion somewhere along the East Coast, writing her 10 million dollar memoir, and travelling into a major city once a month for plastic surgery. In truth, the press and the general public hadn't seen her since she was released from prison.
Fletcher's Pond was the last place anyone expected to find her. The Old Grin bore a wicked smile.
Tim Cardin, recently college graduate with a degree in Journalism and now a poorly paid reporter, shook his head. He watched the police gather together as the crime scene expanded like a balloon filling with air.
"Something's up, Kerry. This is weird. I don't think this is a drunken boater who fell overboard."
Kerry Nordstrom, local photographer and occasional stringer, nodded in agreement. She scrolled back to look at the two pictures she snapped before being moved out of the crime scene. She whistled and then burst into a short laugh, beaming at Tim. "Are you ready for this?, her blue eyes were full of taunting mirth, "Better yet, do you think you can handle this? She readied her Cannon camera for HD video, checked her batteries, and started running back towards the crime scene.
"What are you doing? Wait a minute! You know who the victim is! Spill it, Nordstrom!" He followed behind her as she moved closer in preparation to film the body and crime scene. "Who is it? Tell me!" Tim Cardin caught up and grabbed Kerry's shoulder, slowing her down. She turned to him, her face bursting with excitement.
"Linda Malone! The dead girl is Linda Malone! Now come on. This is the story of our life. Call your Editor. Call CNN. Get your recorder out. Tonight, we are the national spotlight. And inside my camera is a million dollar photograph!" Kerry ran towards the yellow tape, camera in full record mode.
Back at the Grinold Township building, Big Don was about to kill the lights and close up shop when Captain John walked in. "Big Don, I'm going to need the Township building as a temporary base of operations. Mind if we commandeer the building""
Big don chuckled, "Sure can, Cap. There's a coffeemaker in my office and a fridge with sodas and a few heartier liquid refreshments. Help yourself. Just don't try to drive the trucks. I don't think you have a CDL license and we wouldn't want you getting a ticket."
Captain John laughed. "I won't drive the trucks. Listen Don, prepare yourself. The victim is famous or infamous, depending on who you talk to. This is going to be the biggest circus you've ever seen."
Big Don smiled at Captain John. "Well, let the circus come. No hotels within 25 miles, no cell phone reception, and only Fletcher's Pond Inn for food and drink. Folks travelling here aren't going to find it very comfortable. Now I gotta get going. Emma's made deer sausage soup for dinner. I'll check in on you later. Should I bring back some soup and fresh bread for you?"
"Thanks but no thanks. I'll grab dinner at the Inn." replied Captain John.
"Your loss", said Big Don as he walked to the front door. The Township phone rang and Big Don stopped to answer it. "Grinold Township. What? Who is this? ABC News? No, I don't know anything about that....yes, I've heard of her....( Big Don winked at Captain John).....no, sorry there isn't anyone here and I'm late for dinner...you too..Bye now."
Big Don hung up the phone and walked out, got into his Ford F-150 and drove home. Captain John checked his cell reception, then pulled a Township phone over to the meeting table. Before he could pick up the receiver to dial out the phone started ringing again.
This is a fictional story. All characters are fictional. Any resemblance to real-life folks is incidental, accidental, and completely unintentional. For directions to Diffle County, please use Google maps. Perhaps there is a street view of my house there. Written by Rick Fisher. Copyright 2011, All Rights Reserved.
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