Hi! I’ve been working on some side projects, one of them being a new series. This one ties into the Olman County/Shadows series a bit, and those of you who followed that series will recognize the surname Kirchner. These folks are related to Detective Stacy Kirchner from Leroy. It’s her father’s family. Matt is her cousin, named after her father, David is her uncle (Matt’s dad,) and Henry is her grandfather.
The series itself is still in the early stages, but I thought you might get a kick out of seeing some of what I have so far. Too, I’m curious to see what you all think about it. I look forward to your feedback. I posted this here instead of over at the Alex Collins website because
I’m a horrible person who neglects that blog and this one gets more traffic. 😉
Matt Kirchner/Lost River Series – Book One Excerpt
Copyright 2018, T. L. Haddix
All Rights Reserved.
Everything was coming up roses, at least until the day Edna McCreary dug up a human leg out of her flower bed. Given that she was nearly blind with cataracts that she was too proud to have surgery for, she didn’t realize what it was. Thinking it was a stick, as she later admitted, she tossed it aside, heaved it in what she calculated to be the general direction of Bosco, the neighborhood dog she’d been waging war against for a number of years. She’d also admitted with somewhat sheepish irritation that she’d been hoping to “hit the knothead and kill him dead.”
Bosco, smart and wily dog that he was, ducked out of the way. Not one to waste an opportunity, he snagged the ragged, denim-and-dirt encased femur with all due haste, moving for once like a dog ten years younger than his actual age. Proud of his score, perhaps figuring he’d finally won the old lady in the wide-brimmed straw hat over to his perspective on gardening, he trotted two blocks down to the middle of town, passing various denizens and spectators to the event along the way.
Head held high, he waited as the traffic cleared on Main Street, his tail wagging the entire time if witnesses were to be believed. Once the crossing was safe, he dashed across the road, then made a beeline for city hall where a stunned city councilman held the door open to allow him entrance.
I wasn’t there to see Mr. Parker’s countenance, and I didn’t see the stunned shock and horror that by all accounts crossed the face of the chief of police when he realized what the “prize” was that the dog had brought him. I can imagine, however, that it came close to the look the chief had given his oldest daughter when he realized she’d used Easter egg dye to color not only her six-year-old brother’s hair, but their infant sister’s downy fuzz and her feet and hands as well. I know that look because I’m the once-dyed brother. The chief is my father. And this, dear reader, is the story of my town. One of them, anyhow.
Lynchville, Kentucky, is a tiny, struggling burg near the Tennessee border that most everyone has never heard of. Situated in the middle of rolling green hills covered with hardwood forests and farmland, it’s pastoral and quiet and mostly peaceful. In other words, boring on the surface, seething in the shadows.
The town was settled back in eighteen-something-or-other by either the Hardy family or the Norfleets. No one knows exactly, but descendants of both families argue and posture for top billing during the summer founder’s festival. The argument is as Southern and contentious as you can imagine, much like the town itself.
Lynchville is quirky and odd in a lot of ways. Named for Ezekiel Lynch, it was originally designated Lynch Valley. See, old Zeke thought he was settling his family and their kith and kin on a gently-sloping hill that sat a bit higher than most of the surrounding countryside, rolling pastorally down along creeks and streams into the valley below.
In actuality, he’d founded the town on the rim of a giant meteor crater, most of the basin weathered away by thousands of years of rain, snow, ice, and wind until only one long, tall hill remained.
Sometime after the great earthquakes hit in 1811 and 1812—the ones that made the Mississippi roll backward and created a goodly number of lakes that hadn’t existed there before in the territory that became Western Kentucky—Zeke packed up his wagons and moved down into Tennessee. Most everyone he’d brought with him had either already left the area or went with him when he pulled up roots. Thus the town was abandoned, and it stood that way for a few years.
Legend has it that when the first Hardys and Norfleets got here, the sign that was up announcing the town’s name, Lynch Valley, was so worn and faded by sunlight, they thought it said Lynchville. And that’s how we got our name.
Legend also has it that one of the main reasons old Zeke moved his family and friends away was because the town was too odd for their liking. Things happen here that just don’t happen everywhere else. The Hardy and Norfleet families, though, they didn’t care. They were scrappy and bold, tired of moving, tired of fighting outsiders, and they were more than happy to grab up the abandoned buildings, set up housekeeping, and continue fighting amongst themselves.
I’m here today to tell you that “being odd” is practically a town motto. We relish it, even embrace it. Well, some of us do. Not my father, though. He’s become the straightest of straight arrows, and not in a good way. We’ll get into that later. The why’s of that comprise a complicated story, and it’s one that doesn’t deserve the bum’s rush.
Back to the town itself. She’s a pretty village, is Lynchville, much like an elderly Southern lady with good bones. A bit wrinkled here and there, but still able to put on a pretty dress and let her beauty shine through. There’s a main drag that’s starting to pick up quite a bit, especially on weekends, thanks to the city council having decided to try to cash in on the tourist trade a few years back. I’m pleased to say that foresight is starting to pay off.
Victorian-era buildings with fancy, restored facades line the main street, interspersed with the occasional early twentieth-century art deco structure. Most of the old buildings house small businesses of one sort or the other, and it’s good to see some of the town springing back to life.
Each end of the somewhat-winding Main Street is anchored by churches, four in total, a more than adequate number to serve the dwindling population. As you might expect, the Hardy family and their ilk attend the churches on one end while the Norfleet descendants patronize the congregations on the other. A few years back when Marianne Norfleet married Anderson Hardy, it nearly brought the town to its knees.
Those of us who couldn’t give a flying squirrel’s tail about antiquated feuds sat back and grabbed the popcorn. Not everyone was so amused. The town’s biddies and matrons still use that debacle as a cautionary tale for the young folk of what not to do when getting married, and some of the old-timers swear nothing has been the same since.
It might sound like I don’t much care for Lynchville, and I suppose if I’m being blunt, I have to admit my relationship with the place falls much more in line with love/hate than love/love. One could probably use “it’s Southern-fried complicated” to sum it up adequately enough. That pretty much says it all, doesn’t it?
The inhabitants vary from grumpy recluses to outgoing matrons and every option in between with nearly every person being more nosy than they ought to be, but in times of crisis they set aside differences and band together. People chip in without being asked and help those in need. They might bitch about it afterward, but when the time is upon them, you’ll find no better people.
Make no mistake, the lazy summer afternoon when Mrs. McCreary dug up the leg constituted a Crisis. Capital C. Only this time, there was no chipping in. There was just a lot of questioning, not a lot of answers, and phone lines lit up to a nuclear-level glow with gossip, innuendo, and suspicion.
In a larger town, the police might have had difficulty figuring out where the gruesome discovery originated. Since this is Lynchville, and since Bosco belongs to my father’s best friend, Dad had a good idea of where to start looking. With a sealed evidence bag in hand and a somewhat perplexed Bosco accompanying him, he headed at a walk for Cherry Street.
I ran into him on the corner of Cherry and Locust at what is commonly known as “the chief’s house” by the locals, and as “Grandma and Grandpa’s” by us kids.
“That’s a serious look. Ten to one trouble’s brewing,” Henry Kirchner, former chief of police and my grandfather, said. He nudged me with an elbow and nodded as my father approached. “David. What do you have there?”
My father lifted his chin in return. “Dad, Matt. Did you happen to see Bosco come through here a little earlier?”
Not in the least surprised by the non-answer, I scratched the panting dog’s ears, causing him to sit on my foot and lean against me with an ecstatic groan. “He was keeping Mrs. McCreary company a while ago when I came through. What’s up?”
“Bosco brought me this.” He handed over the bag. “I’m almost positive it’s human and not some weird kind of prank.”
A jolt of electricity ran through me as I touched the package, the sensation unpleasant and unexpected. Whispered words, snippets of thoughts, traced shivers on my brain. Images of dirt-caked work boots and the sounds of squishing steps in tall grass gone to seed flashed through my mind, while a ghost breathed the words “fishing witches” across my ear.
Within two seconds of having touched the evidence bag, I’d tossed it back to my father. Not punching him square in the face took every bit of self-control I could muster. With every hair on my body standing on end, I swore, cursing him. “What happened to giving a guy fair warning?”
He gave a casual shrug. “Just wanted to see if you’d pick anything up or not, Sparky.”
My grandfather spat, his eyes narrowing. “You’ve become an absolute prick, you know that, David?”
“Runs in the family. If you two will excuse me, I have a crime scene to locate. Keep this to yourselves.” With a salute that was pure mockery, he headed down the sidewalk toward Mrs. McCreary’s house, four doors down. Bosco got to his feet with a non-quiet fart and followed.
“Why on God’s earth that dog likes him, I’ll never know. Most animals do. I thought they were supposed to be good judges of character.” Grandpa shook his head. “You all right?”
My hand—the hand that had touched the bag—shook as I ran it over my ball cap. “Yeah. As to the animal question, it’s simple—the dog isn’t family.” I stared down the tree-lined street. “The remains are human. I picked up that much.”
Henry Kirchner’s hand came to rest lightly on my shoulder, then tightened into a firm squeeze. “I’m sorry, Matthew.”
I squinted at him. “Sorry about what?”
“Oh, too many things. Mostly I’m sorry about the heavy weight you carry.”
I wanted to ask him to which one he referred. Instead, I shrugged it off. “I’m getting used to it.” I wasn’t sure that was exactly true, but if thought and determination were the stepping stones to actuality, I figured those words were a good place to start.
He grunted and let me go, crossing his arms. “Did you get anything useful?”
“I don’t know. Nothing that made sense to me anyhow, but that’s kind of how this ‘gift’ of mine works. I’ll write it down, let you give it to him if you want.”
“Or I can pass it on to whoever takes over. You know David isn’t set up to handle this kind of case. You write it down, and I’ll see that it gets to where it needs to go. Keenan will probably land it, but in the event that he doesn’t, it won’t hurt to have the information on hand.”
We exchanged a look. As many shortcomings as my father had, being a bad cop wasn’t amongst them. He’d call the Kentucky State Police in for help once he got some basic answers about the origins of the remains. The Keenan my grandfather referred to was my brother-in-law, a detective with the organization. He also happened to be my best friend, and once he learned that I’d touched the bag, he’d be over to see me.
“I’d best head out. I have three more deliveries to make.” I opened the door of my van and leaned inside to grab a small notebook. As I jotted the words “fishing witches” down, a shiver that felt like I’d walked through a spiderweb drifted across my face, and I swatted it away, even though I knew it was psychological in origin. I underlined the phrase, then after a moment’s hesitation, circled it for good measure. “I don’t know what this means, but it’s important.”
My grandfather read what I’d written. “‘Fishing witches?’ That’s… different.”
I chuckled. “Yeah, that it is. Tell Grandma to let me know if that’s enough mushrooms or if she needs more.”
“I’m quite certain Irene will pick the phone up and tell you herself without any prompting from me. That woman… She thinks I retired just so I’d have time to run after her.” He winked, his words tempered with a smile. “I think I’ll head down and check on Edna, stick my retired nose in where your father doesn’t want it. I’ll let you know what I find out.”
As I drove away, I thought not for the first time that retirement had been the best thing to ever happen to my grandparents and perhaps the worst thing for my father. When Grandpa had stepped down six years back as chief of police after a staggering thirty-two-year run with the department, Dad had been waiting in the wings to take over.
After all, David Kirchner had practically been raised in the office, had in fact been raised from the cradle with Grandpa wearing a uniform, first with the state police, then as a city constable on patrol in Lynchville. Dad had gone to the Kentucky Trooper Academy as soon as he’d been old enough, and he’d put in his twenty, retiring two months before Grandpa stepped down. It was practically a family tradition.
The day he’d been sworn in had marked the end of his marriage to my mother, though it had taken a few more years for things to fall completely apart to the point where Dani Kirchner couldn’t put them back together. Dad had gone from being a devoted husband and a caring if somewhat stern father to being a total and complete stranger to us all, obsessed with the job and focused on his duties as though they were his only responsibility.
Losing him like that had devastated my mother. She was used to being the wife of a law enforcement officer, and she’d expected some of the changes the job would bring.
What she hadn’t expected was that he’d change one hundred percent into a stranger more committed to soothing little old ladies who heard ghosts and helping drunks who needed a place to dry out than to caring for his own family.
Two years ago she’d sat us kids down, even though we were all grown by then, and told us she was divorcing him. “As soon as he placed his hand on that Bible and opened his mouth, the man I married ceased to exist. Nothing I’ve done has brought him back or made him care that we were being destroyed, and I’ve finally decided enough is enough. Our family stopped being important to him that day. I’m tired of waiting for him to see the light.”
Not one of us thought she was making the wrong decision. I think I can safely say, however, that we all hoped the drastic move would wake him up. It hadn’t.
I’d followed in Dad and Grandpa’s footsteps without hesitation, pinning on the KSP badge with pride and a sense of certainty that I was answering my calling. The plan was that I’d put my twenty in too, and when I was ready to retire, I’d step in and take over for Dad.
Getting hit—literally—by lightning out of a clear blue sky had changed that plan as effectively as a bullet to the head. Maybe that’s why I empathized so much with Mom. I understood what it meant to have a dream ripped from your hands and destroyed with no notice or warning whatsoever.
Three years on, I was finally coming to terms with the path I’d found myself walking, and I was even enjoying life again. I’d gotten mostly used to the weirdness that had become part and parcel of my life since I’d gotten fried, and I’d learned to work around the glitches that arose, the little surprises that cropped up now and again. Like touching an evidence bag and getting psychic flashes of something.
I’d almost gotten used to my father’s disdain for my new reality. At least, that’s what I told myself. I also tried to pretend I wasn’t curious as hell about the remains Bosco had brought him. I knew the time for curiosity would be later, not now while I needed to concentrate on my tasks for the day, like making the deliveries of fresh mushrooms in the back of the van to the restaurants and a New Age health store in Bowling Green.
“If you ever really start believing all these things you tell yourself, Matthew, you’ll be set for gold,” I muttered as I slowed the van down at the intersection that put me on the ramp for the interstate. Still, I couldn’t help but wonder as I finished my work just what can of worms had been opened up by a curious dog and a gardening little old lady.