The Twin Fork Bridge – Chapter 2


                                                CHAPTER 2

              Dan had explained to me at the same kitchen table how sorry he was.  He didn’t know what had made him fall in love with Lucy.  It had just happened, he’d said.  Maybe he and I had been too close from too early on. Maybe we fell in love at too young an age and had smothered each other and kept each other from experiencing the world.             We both cried.  I threw up.  He left and I threw my favorite cobalt-blue vase against the wall.  I couldn’t call anyone I was so devastated.  I managed to get into my car and drove to Miller’s for a pack of cigarettes and a bottle of gin.  I’d never smoked until that night, and to this day gin hasn’t touched these lips again.             The next day my family and friends came to my rescue and  they have never really quit trying to save me since.             Dan has been very generous.  I’m sure it’s purely out of guilt for breaking me in half.  We never got a lawyer.  He gave me almost all that we’d owned together.  He and Lucy both made more money than I would ever come close to.  The cottage was mine.  He paid off my car and bought a new set of tires for it.  All he took was the crappy Ford Escort that had the big dent from the deer I’d smacked into, and he drove off into the sunset with my life.  For almost two years he mailed me a check for no other reason than to soothe his own conscience.  I couldn’t touch that blood money.  It’s still sitting in a separate savings account collecting interest on pain.             I watered not only the red impatiens in the front yard, but also the small flower bed off the back deck that was full of black-eyed Suzannes and the remains of daisies.  I dead-headed the other potted plants on the deck and watered them too.  It was eighty-two degrees by the thermometer and there were just a few puffy clouds in the sky.             The deck above the boathouse looked inviting as always under the shade of the oak growing next to it, and the short pier of just three sections, with the bench built for two, looked bright, sunny, and scorching hot.   Being a Monday, the lake traffic was light.  The water was calm.             An artist at heart, I knew I had to begin writing while my mind was reeling and my adrenaline was flowing. The boathouse deck was the place to go.  Later I could clear off my desk, dust off my computer, start it up, and organize all of my writing paraphernalia.             It took a couple of trips up the steps to bring the necessities.  I had my big white plastic bag from Books For You and a glass of iced tea with lemon. That was more for effect than anything.  Next I grabbed my sunglasses, an ashtray, a lighter, a box of Triscuits, some cheddar cheese spread, my jack knife, and the little broom to sweep the cob webs that would start to come back as soon as I’d finish sweeping them away.             I chose one of the five new writing tablets and a pencil to begin.  I needed time to ponder, so I lit a cigarette and placed it in the ashtray on the smaller of the two wooden spool tables seated to the right of my lounge chair.                         I began to carve the perfect writing tip with my jackknife.  It’s a drawing ritual that I use, and it seemed to be the right thing to do.  Maybe Stephen King does the same.              I’d been in such a hurry after the initial scare of my loss of confidence at the turn of my car key that I hadn’t even bothered to change out of my work get up.  Too late, I thought.  Stay right where you are missy.   

                                                Here I go..................

                                Her mangled body was found under the thick brush about a mile from the Twin Fork Bridge.  Those were the exact words her mother heard while pumping gas at the Amoco Station, not realizing whose body they were speaking of at the time.           When the sheriff appeared at her door the next afternoon to inform her that her sweet baby, Madeline Jane Ebcott, age twenty-two, was that very body, she fainted on the spot.            It took another two days before her mother was able to speak again.           Madeline was the third victim of the same type of senseless brutal murders in the last six months within a sixty mile radius of a medium sized mid-western city in central Wisconsin, Riverdale.           The first victim, Virginia “Ginny” Smithers, age twenty-three, was an honor student and sorority sister, working part time at St. Mary’s Hospital for the summer, picking up extra credits and making a little bit of money at the same time.           She was found face down at the bottom of a nearby creek by a young father and his five year old son out fishing on July sixth.  She was badly bruised and cut over most of her naked torso and her face was unrecognizable.           It was two months later, on September 6th that Carolee Johanson, of Johanson Motors, age twenty-one, living in St. Marion with her family and commuting to the same college, was found on the 4th level of the municipal parking ramp. Her bare foot was spotted peeking out from under the green dumpster in the corner of the lot.           Per the coroner’s records, none of the three had been raped.  All had been beaten with a small, heavy object, possibly a chunk of oak or maple, and they had all been carved and then stabbed repeatedly with what appeared to be a standard kitchen knife.           This latest tragedy had been attending Riverdale U as well.  On Wednesday, November 6th, her body was found about a mile from the Twin Fork Bridge, which was only five miles away from Oakwood, the city she’d grown up in.  It appeared as though she could have been on her way home. But if she was, she hadn’t called ahead and she hadn’t made it there.            My iced tea had no ice left and my glass was dripping with condensation.  It slipped out of my hand spilled all over me.             I realized I’d written myself into a web worse than the ones forming on the deck.  A break was in order.  This is a fine murder mystery I thought, especially since not a soul knows who murdered those girls. Not even the author.  Author, now that had a ring to it.             I pulled a white tank top over my head and slipped on my most comfortable pair of worn out blue jean shorts.             I threw my skirt and slip, along with my bra, into the overflowing wicker hamper, and walked into the bathroom, where I filled the sink with cool, sudsy water to soak my tea-stained peasant top.  In the kitchen I cracked open a Miller Lite and checked the flashing answering machine.             “You have two new messages”, said the mechanical voice.  “Message one, Monday August twenty second at two thirty p.m.” Beep.  “Hey ya Freak, you there? Just wondering what you’re up to. The meeting was really annoying today. You should have been there.  But don’t panic. I’ve got the minutes saved for you.  The good news is you are a team player and you are on my team with five other happy team mates, including Sherrie.  By the way, we’re all stopping at O’Reilly’s for happy hour on Wednesday.  Come on over, if you’re back from Timbuktu, that is.”             “Message two, August twenty second at three sixteen p.m.”  Beep.  “Hi Jade.”  It was my sister Sally.  “Can you come over some night this week? Dave’s out of town again and Patrick is giving me heartburn to put it mildly.  T-Ball and pitching machine are over for the summer and he doesn’t know what to do with himself.  At least come and have supper.  Let me know what night.  Love ya.”  Beep.             The house was way too quiet. I popped in my favorite Leo Koettke CD and cranked it to drown out the buzz of the jet skis that were starting to emerge out on the lake.               I was feeling light and full of glee and I danced around with a bottle of Windex and a few paper towels.  Late summer afternoons show the dust on my glass topped coffee table worse than any other time of the year.  Thinking how much it would upset my friend, Dot, I poured the last two swallows of my beer into the sink, got a fresh, new, cold one out of the fridge and returned to my new mysterious life on the boathouse deck.             “No,” answered Mrs. Ebcott, sitting at her kitchen table with swollen eyes, still wearing her well worn, white-yellowed, terry cloth bathrobe.  She was shakily drinking a cup of strong, black coffee.  “We had no idea that Maddie was planning to pay us a visit that night. She rarely comes home mid-week unless there’s a break from school. Maybe she was having some kind of a problem, I sure don’t know. I spoke with her last on Monday, the third, about seven o’clock.  She was on her way to the Bench, with some friends to celebrate somebody’s birthday. She seemed fine. She said that her classes were going well, and her job at McNeil’s Dance Studio, where she teaches “The Tiny Ballerinas” was great.  She sounded very happy.”           A tape recorder was sitting on the Formica-topped kitchen table, surrounded by Joan and Bill Ebcott, Sergeant Tim McCartney and Detective Isabelle St. Claire.           “We know this is an extremely difficult time for you Mr. and Mrs. Ebcott. Please bear with us. Any detail, no matter how small, could be helpful,” said Detective St. Claire. She was in her mid-thirties, was dark-haired, with steel, blue eyes and smooth skin. “Please call Sergeant McCartney or myself with anything that you might think of. Here are our cards. Call anytime, day or night. It’s that important. We will be contacting the list of her friends you’ve given us in the near future. I’m sure you are feeling overwhelmed at the moment, so we’ll give you some space now. But we’ll be in touch.”           At that, Tim and Isabelle gave their condolences once more, said their goodbyes, and walked out the Ebcott front door.             The sun was starting to set. The boats passing by had their starboard, port, and stern lights on. Mosquitoes were beginning to gather around my head and my ankles. I packed up my heavy bag and my exhausted brain and went inside for the night.             I was hungry and I was tired. I turned the TV on for company and pre-heated the oven to 450 degrees. A small veggie pizza would do the trick, with some extra Swiss and Parmesan cheese added to the thin crust.             I opened a third beer and poured it into a frosty mug that I’d stashed in the freezer. It was a creamy dark one this time, full of taste, body and foam.             I changed into a long t-shirt and a new pair of big mamas as Sal and I call our white cotton briefs. I sat on the somewhat faded (because no one ever draws the blinds) navy blue, corduroy sofa, ate my gourmet pizza and washed it down with the gourmet beer.             For me, this is the worst time to be alone. I tried to keep my mind from drifting back to the countless dinners with Dan, Lucy and Lucy’s boyfriend, Gene. I never saw it coming. Or did I, and just not admit it to myself? They always did laugh at the same jokes and they would often leave Gene and me sitting on the outside of their conversations. They were very comfortable with each other, very. I might have even suffered from some under-lying pangs of jealousy way back then. But hey, they just worked together.             I think the worst part of the whole nightmare is that I know he was right. We had smothered each other in more ways than one. Maybe if he hadn’t broken my heart, I would have eventually broken his. That, I’ll never know. At the time he changed his feelings about me, I, unfortunately, was completely in love with him and my feelings hadn’t changed a bit.             It was ten-thirty. The news was over. I went to bed.             That night my dreams were full of so many characters that it was hard to tell who was real and who was imaginary. There was Dan, Madeline and a sheriff whose name I can’t recall.  There was a murdered, mangled body and a murderer without a face. There was Betty, Lucy, and even that good-looking guy with the voice, the speckled eyes and the nice you-know-what from the diner. They were all twisted in a tale without a beginning, middle, end, or even a point.              When I woke at eight o’clock the next morning to that obnoxiously loud, intrusive buzzing, that had been buzzing apparently for a very long time, I yanked the cord to silence it.             Not having my coffee pre-made the night before, due to an oversight on my part, was an annoying experience.  I learned of my mistake as I went to pour that first cup. I always have it ready to go. As I pulled apart the filters and scooped six full spoons of dark roast into one, I was trying to remember what in the hell I was doing home.             Anxiety hit me as I filled the glass pot with water. I wondered how Sharon took the news that I had just decided to take a week off. It wasn’t exactly pre-planned and I hadn’t even talked to her directly. I pushed the button, and went to take a shower.             The warm water and suds slowly rinsed away my fuzziness. No makeup or goo in the hair today. There would be a swim coming up and I’d be damned if I was going to do all of that jazz twice.  Once is bad enough.             Next to my bed on the floor lay my shorts and tank top from last night.  They were hardly worn and never seen by the public; they were good as new. All I needed was a fresh pair of undies.             It was a little cloudier than yesterday. The yellow and blue patches were muted and across the tiled floor.             The hunter green notebook was sitting on the counter, sticking out of the bag I’d carried down from the boathouse deck last night.             Together, my coffee, who truly is my best friend in the morning, and I read the previous day’s adventure.             I was surprised. It did pull me in. Not that it would be a best seller or anything like that, but I certainly wanted to know who was killing those girls.             After eating a toasted bagel with garden vegetable cream cheese smeared on it, I went back atop the boathouse. No ice tea this time. A carafe of the dark roast, the notebook, a pencil and the world were all mine.             There was a haze starting to fill the air. It was the kind you can feel on your skin. The cobwebs that I’d swept off of my lounge chair yesterday were back and heavy with humidity. It was warm and sticky and it wasn’t even ten a.m. yet.  My time was short up on the boathouse, even in the shade.


          Between Madeline’s extended family and friends, there were over three hundred mourners at the ceremony.  It was eye opening to everyone there seeing how many people she had touched in her short life.           Mr. and Mrs. Ebcott and Maddie’s younger brother, Zach were busy receiving a long line of bereaving friends that went out the door, down the street and around the corner.  Also attending were Sergeant Tim McCartney and Detective Isabelle St. Claire. This was their third such event in the last six months.           There were many familiar faces to them in the crowd. Maddie apparently knew many students and had made an impression on all of them.           The wake led right into the service. No one left. The procession to Living Oaks Cemetery didn’t lose a customer either and held up traffic for blocks.           Madeline’s roommate, Kelly Jasper, sat with the family and threw the last red rose on the coffin before returning to the church.           A luncheon was served in the basement of the Catholic Church. The volunteer women were perspiring profusely even though it was mid-November. It had been awhile since they’d served so many. You could always count on half of the visitors to disappear between the cemetery and the luncheon. Not this time. Back-up salads, casseroles, relishes and desserts were being called in.           Tim and Isabelle stood outside looking at every wet eye that left.           “Counting that last one in the black leather pants, we have ten kids that have been at all three funerals,” said Tim.           The people came from all kinds of backgrounds. They ranged from Goth types to skateboarders, to sorority sisters, to clean cut marching band members to football players, to wake and bakers to a few professors and even the coffee shop waitress and the homeless street guy. Who didn’t love Madeline Marie Ebcott?           Forty-five year old Sergeant Tim McCartney was short and stocky.  His hair was a crew cut, and, for the funeral, he was dressed in a black tailored suit.  He called out to a puffy-eyed cheerleader, as she walked past him and out the door into the cold November air, “Hey, Kelly.”           “Yes?” replied Kelly Jasper, turning around.  Even under the ill-fitting dark pantsuit, Tim could see that she had a body that wouldn’t quit.           “I’m Sergeant Tim McCartney,” he said as he flashed his badge. “Could I have a moment with you please?”           “Right now? Here?”           “Yes.”           “Um, I guess so.” He directed her to a nearby picnic table in a sunny spot, on the brisk day.            Man, it was getting hot out. I left the deck, walked to the end of the pier and jumped in. The water was clear and cool for this late in the year. I swam around and around, wondering what in holy hell Tim McCartney was going to ask that girl.              I read a sign last week that said, The answer is Jesus. What‘s your question? It occurred to me that you could come up with a lot more questions that Jesus wouldn’t be an appropriate answer to than questions that would be. like, which way is New Jersey? Jesus. How much did that rutabaga cost you? Jesus. Who killed Madeline Ebcott? Jesus. Grinning and feeling sac religious, I dried myself off as best I could on the patio. I’d never taken the time to change into a swim suit, and my clothes were really heavy and dripping wet.  


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