Linda Mickey – Excerpts
The siren whined again, its wail like fingernails on a chalkboard. A thunderous horn blast followed. I flinched. It had come from somewhere directly behind me.
Wig-wagging red lights appeared in the rear view mirror. An ambulance. I wanted to get out of the way but there was nowhere to go. I was completely boxed in by westbound mini vans on my left, a school bus in front of me, and a dirty, rock-laden mound of melting snow on the right.
Heffner Golf Middle School and Burr Meadow Elementary were the only buildings at this end of the street. The ambulance must be headed to one of them.
Oh dear god in heaven. Please, please don’t let it be ...
Approaching the Dundee Road overpass, I had to decide: catch The Spur west to the Tri-State tollway or continue up Route 41. I opted for Route 41.
North of Lake Cook Road, the three-lane, controlled-access Edens Expressway morphs into two-lane Illinois Route 41, a limited access highway. It is bordered on both sides by residential or commercial buildings and lots of trees. Somewhat sheltered, Route 41 stays clear of snow longer than the Tri, which cuts through open terrain and gets slipperier faster.
Before I could make a choice, bright lights filled my rearview mirror, the Altima suddenly shuddered, and the car’s rear end slid to the left.
Instantly I heard my father’s voice. “Steer into a skid. Do not slam on the brake.”
Facing south, then north, then south again, the car spun like a teacup at Disney World. Headlights came directly at me.
I froze...the Altima didn’t.
Continuing to rotate, the car turned around once more before the tires bumped against the concrete lane dividers. Forward momentum slowed. The driver’s-side wheels came up. The car leaned.
“Come on, Miss Office Manager. We’re going to have a lunch meeting.” Dixie pushed the stool next to the desk, sat down and placed a sandwich in front of me.
I unwrapped my lunch. “What are we meeting about?”
“You are aware my husband, Frank, has been missing for several months.”
I nodded slowly and put down my sandwich.
“People say Frank ran off,” Dixie went on. “They think he didn’t like the life, or me, and wanted out. That’s not true. This stable is our dream. We talked about creating a horse haven from the day we met twenty-five years ago.” She paused, then said quietly, “Frank’s dead.”
Viana reached through the window, unlocked the car door and yanked it open. "Hey, you drunk! Wake up and get moving," he shouted. "You mess up my parking lot."
He tapped the man's shoulder firmly. There was no response. He pushed. With the second jolt, the body flopped over onto its right shoulder; the head lolled loosely. The eyes did not flutter open, but his suit jacket sure did.
We looked at each other, and then we looked at the red-brown stain that covered the unknown man's chest. Usually I’m not so slow to connect the dots. Perhaps it was the fact that my caffeine kick was inside my car instead of inside me, but it took a moment before it dawned on me that the stain was blood and the man was dead.
Firefighters slid down the ladders, their feet not touching the rungs. There was an anguished rumble inside the structure. Born in the basement, it lifted up through the first floor and passed to the second. I heard it agitate under the shingles. Then the roof slowly folded in two, collapsing into the second floor. Sparks whirled into the night sky, dancing a dervish before they blinked out above the treetops.