Here we are to chapter 2 of Mercy’s Shore, the fourth book in The Spencer Valley Chronicles. If you’ve been here before you know how it works. This is a somewhat first draft so there might be typos and plot holes etc., which will be fixed before I finally publish it in ebook form later on.
Book three in the series is currently out on Amazon and will be out on other sites next week.
As always, let me know what you think of the latest chapters and where you think the story should go next in the comments.
The Spencer Valley Police Department wasn’t a rush of activity like police departments on television. It was three rooms, three desks, two chairs to each desk and one of the rooms was an office that Judi assumed must be Chief Reggie Stoddard’s office. At this time of day, before noon, there were only three people in the office — a secretary sitting at a small table in one corner, the chief leaning back in a creaky, black office chair with a cup of coffee resting on his belly, and Spencer Valley Police Officer Matt McGee.
Matt gestured to the chair across from his desk as he led Judi to his desk under a dim fluorescent light. “Sorry I was pulled away before I could get your statement last night. Unruly customer at the grill and they needed some backup.”
Judi pulled her straight blond hair off her shoulders and into a ponytail as she sat. “Not surprised. We get unruly customers there all the time.” She laid her purse on her lap and sat back in the chair, flinching as it creaked under her. “Is this thing going to break?”
Matt grinned. “Nah. It’s just old. You’ll be fine.” He pulled a notepad from the top desk drawer and laid it on the desk. “So, you started telling me about the accident last night. Let’s pick up from when you were at the stop sign.”
“I looked both ways and he came out of nowhere.” She raised her hands up in front of her. “It wasn’t my fault.”
“Did you stop at the stop sign?”
“Pretty much, yeah.”
Matt quirked an eyebrow. “You either did or didn’t, Judi. Did you come to a complete stop before pulling out?”
Judi sighed, tipping her head back and staring at the ceiling for a few seconds. “I stopped for like a few seconds, I guess.” She leaned forward toward the desk. “But I looked both ways. I didn’t see him so he must have really been flying.”
Matt scribbled a few notes. “So, he swerved to miss you and that’s when he hit the tree?”
“Yep. Then he got out, fell to the ground, got up again, and marched straight to my car and let me have it.”
“What does mmhmm mean?” Judi stretched her neck out to try to see the notepad on the desk in front of Matt. “Does that mean that you’re writing down it was my fault? It wasn’t my fault. I didn’t see him.”
Matt snapped the cover closed on the notepad and laid the pen on top of it, raising a hand. “Just calm down. If you didn’t come to a complete stop at the stop sign then technically it is your fault, but all that means is your insurance will cover the cost of repairs for Ben’s car.” He stood and walked across to the water cooler behind Judi, pouring water into a paper cup and handing it to her. “Accidents happen. This could result in a couple of points coming off your license but if you’re careful and don’t let anything like this happen again, you’ll get those points back.”
Judi made a face, taking the cup. “Points? What points? Is driving like football? We score points for driving well?”
Matt paused before sitting down, his eyebrows dipping as he studied her. “No. Well, sort of. I mean, you have six points on your license and certain driving offenses can result in you losing those points. If you lose all six, then you lose your license.” He sat back down, folding his hands in front of him on the desk. “No one has ever explained this to you?”
Judi tapped her index finger against her chin and pushed her bottom lip out. “I think Dad said something about it to me one time, but I wasn’t really listening.”
Matt laughed, pushing his hands back through his hair and letting his arm come to rest across the back of his chair. “Well, now you know.”
Judi could see why everyone in town liked Matt so much He was a genuinely nice guy, even if he was probably going to write down that she caused the accident. He’d been a good guy in high school too, so it was nice to see he hadn’t changed.
She slid her gaze over his forearms and up to his biceps as he pushed the notepad to the side and reached for his coffee mug.
He wasn’t too hard on the eyes either. Liz Cranmer was lucky to have him as her boyfriend. Or was it fiancé? Judi wasn’t sure what their status was at this point, other than they were an item and some of the women in town didn’t like that.
“So, what did Ben say?” she asked, tapping her fingernails against the side of her purse.
Matt took a sip from the mug. “Haven’t talked to him yet. He was out by the time I got to the hospital, as you know, and when I called this morning, they said he still hadn’t woken up yet. Hope he’s going to be okay. He took a huge hit on the head out there.”
Judi slipped a small jar of strawberry flavored lip balm from her purse and began applying it. “Tell me about it. He was dripping blood all over and all that yelling wasn’t helping any either.” She popped the lip palm back in the center pocket and stood, looping the strap over her shoulder. “I’m good to go then?”
“Yep.” Matt stood too. “If I have any more questions, I’ll give you a call. You have a shift at the grill this afternoon?”
Judi gestured toward her white t-shirt and black jeans. “However could you tell?” She rolled her eyes. “I wish Lonny didn’t have a dress code. This outfit is so boring and depressing. I need some color in my life, you know?”
Matt smiled. “Yes, I know. You’ll have to make up for it on the days you’re not working.”
Matt told her to have a good day and she thanked him with a tinge of sarcasm before heading to her car. Inside she slid the key into the ignition and pulled out to head to Lonny’s Bar and Grill two miles outside of town.
Her phone rang and she tapped accept button and the speaker button with the phone still on the front seat.
“Judeeee! I can’t believe you finally answered.”
She immediately wished she had checked the caller ID before accepting the call.
“Selina, hey. How are you?”
“Good, except I’m missing you. Where have you been?! I’ve been trying to call you for days! I thought you were run over by a tractor or something.”
Run over by a tractor? Really?
“I’m fine. Just been busy at work.”
Selina giggled. “I still can’t believe you’re a waitress. You always said that was beneath you.”
“Beggars can’t be choosers, Selina. We have to do what we have to do to make a living.”
“Come on, Jude. You aren’t really going to stay in that little dinky town, are you? You always said you hated it there. Come back to me. I’ve got tickets for Hamilton this weekend and reservations at La Grenouille. Everyone is going to be there.”
A chill shivered through Judi. “Everyone?”
“Well, not Jeff of course. You know that. I haven’t spoken to him since you told me about what he tried.”
“I just need a little more time,” Judi said. “I don’t know what I’m doing yet, but I don’t feel like I can just go back to the way things were right now.”
“What do you even do down there in Nowhereville? Are there any clubs?”
“Not locally, no. But there is one about an hour from here.” Judi knew she should tell her friend there was a reason she wasn’t visiting that club, but she didn’t have the mental energy for it right now. Plus, she was pulling into the parking lot of the grill, and she was already late.
“Hey, Sel, I’ve to get into the grill. I’ll call you back later, okay?”
She hung up and hurried into the grill, sliding the phone into her purse, which she tossed over a hook in the kitchen. Reaching for her apron she hooked it quickly, hoping Lonny wouldn’t notice her coming in.
“You’re late! Again!”
“Or I’m just early for tomorrow’s shift!” She called over her shoulder as she kept moving toward the dining room.
“Table four is waiting for you,” her co-worker Hannah Larkin said as Judi reached for a menu and an order pad.
Judi started for the table while looking down in her apron pocket for a pen. When she looked up her heart sank. She turned on her heel and walked back to Hannah. “You take him.”
Hannah shook her head. “Oh, no way. I’m not taking him. You’re the one he always asks for anyhow.”
Judi pushed the order pad toward Hannah. “You take him, and I’ll work two shifts for you next week.”
Hannah raised an eyebrow. “No chance. Way too handsy for me.”
Judi blew out a breath and turned back toward the table. “You can do this, Judi,” she mumbled under her breath as she walked. “It’s just a job.”
Just a job waiting on the table of the guy she’d made out with a few weeks before she hit rock bottom. The guy who later almost led to her sister’s death.
She stood next to the table, pen tip against the pad. “Okay, Brad. What is it today?”
Brad Tanner flashed her a toothy grin, one muscular arm draped over the back of the chair. “Hey. There’s my favorite girl. Fancy seeing you here.”
“Right.” Judi placed a hand on her hip and scowled. Her eyes flicked quickly over the black t-shirt pulled tight across his well-toned chest before settling back on his face. “Fancy seeing me here. Where I work. Every day. And where you come almost every day.” She tapped the pen on the pad. “Now what can I get you?”
Ben leaned forward, arms folded on the table. “The usual. With a root beer.”
She cocked an eyebrow. “What? No beer?”
“Nope.” He smirked. “I quit.”
Judi rolled her eyes. “And I’m Queen Elizabeth.”
Brad leaned back again in the chair, the smirk fading. “I did.” A somber expression softened his features. “I quit.”
Judi scribbled the words burger, fries, and root beer on the pad. “Okay. If you say so.”
Brad’s fingers encircled her wrist as she turned to leave, stopping her. “I did. Actually, that’s one reason I wanted you to wait on me today. You still going to those meetings?”
Judi pulled her hand away. Brad wasn’t known for being forthcoming. She wasn’t sure she was ready to believe him. Six months ago, she’d come back to the area to try to figure out her life. Brad had complicated her return first by taking her to clubs where she’d drowned her pain and memories in alcohol, and then almost killing her older sister.
“Who told you I was going to any meetings?” Judi asked, eying Brad suspiciously.
He shrugged. “Troy told me you turned him down for a party a few weeks ago. You never turn down a party. I knew something was up and followed you out of here one night. I saw you go into the meeting.”
She placed a hand on her hip. “Why didn’t you come in? You could use it too you know.”
He folded his arms across his chest, “Yeah, I do. That’s why I’m asking you now.”
She still wasn’t sure she believed him, but . . . “If you’re serious, we meet every Thursday at 7.”
She turned toward the kitchen to place his order before he could respond.
Did she really want Brad at the meeting, listening to her talk about how far she’d fallen? A small laugh came from her as she keyed the order in. It wasn’t like Brad didn’t know how far she’d fallen. They’d fallen together part of that time.
Hannah bumped her hip against her as she walked by. “When you get a break tell me what happened with the lawyer. Is he going to sue you, or what?”
Judi shook her head. “No. I don’t think so. He says he isn’t anyhow.”
“How’s his head?”
“Not sure,” Judi answered. “Haven’t talked to anyone about him today and he was out of it when I left last night.”
Hannah scooped up a tray and headed toward the dining room. “Fill me in on the rest later.”
Judi headed toward the kitchen, thinking about the night before. When the morphine had finally knocked Ben out in that hospital bed Judi had been relieved. She already had his reassurance he wasn’t going to sue her for the accident so there was no reason for her to wait around any more.
If she’d been like her older, sweeter, and more caring sister, Ellie, she would have stuck around to make sure his injuries weren’t serious.
Judi wasn’t Ellie, though, so she’d shrugged her shoulders and taken off for her apartment where she’d fallen asleep on the couch with a carton of moose tracks ice cream. It was a scene far removed from how she used to spend her nights in the city. The fact she was back in her tiny hometown of Spencer instead of still living in the city surprised even her.
When she’d first left Spencer shortly after high school, she’d vowed never to return.
Spencer was way too slow and way too backward for her. At least that’s how she’d felt until the town she’d once despised became her safe haven from a life turned upside down.
Her sister had been right, much to her embarrassment. She couldn’t keep going at the speed she’d been going in the city without eventually hitting a brick wall.
That brick wall had been in the form of Jeff Brock who’d tried to ignore her “no” to his “yes” one night in his apartment.
“Judi, these two go to table six, this one to table eight.” The voice of the cook cut into her thoughts.
She carried the plates to the tables and headed back to the kitchen for Brad’s lunch, placing it on his table quickly and then turning to wait on another customer. The less time she spent with Brad, the better. She wished she hadn’t spent any time with him at all in her past.
“Judi, hello.” The older gentleman sitting at the table with two other men smiled as she handed him a menu.
Her day didn’t seem to be getting any better. First Brad and now Ben’s dad. Maxwell Oliver, Bedford County’s District Attorney. She had no idea who his lunch guests were, and she didn’t want to know. They were most likely all lawyers and lawyers put her on edge.
“I never got the chance to ask you if you were okay last night,” Maxwell said.
Judi shrugged. “Oh, I was fine. I hit my brakes hard but didn’t get hurt in any way.” She should ask about Ben. She really didn’t want to be any more involved than she already was though. Still, she was trying to be a better person so . . .
“How’s Ben doing?”
“The ankle is broken, he has a fairly severe concussion but he should be okay in a couple of days.”
“That’s good to hear.” She tapped her pen on the pad. That was as much as she wanted or needed to know at this point. “So, what can I get everyone?”
She took the men’s orders, turned, and hoped, yet again, that she’d make it out of this accident situation without being sued. Of all the people’s cars she could have almost slammed into in this county and it had to be the car of the District Attorney’s son. The district attorney’s son and a well-known jerk from her high school.
After her shift, she leaned against the side of her car next to Hannah, who was lighting a cigarette.
“So, the lawyer is the son of the county DA?”
Judi nodded and sipped from her water bottle. Hannah offered her the cigarette, and she shook her head. “That’s one vice I never picked up. The other ones were bad enough.”
Hannah blew a puff of smoke out and grinned. “What I really want to know is if the lawyer is cute.”
Judi made a face. “Cute, yes, but he’s also a total jerk. I went to the same high school as him. He dumped his really nice girlfriend before he left for college so he could go out with this stuck-up girl who everyone knew was easy.”
Hannah winced. “Ouch. Sounds like a real piece of work.” She tossed the cigarette onto the ground and pushed it into the dirt with the tip of her sneaker. “But what’s he like now? Is he single?”
Judi rolled her eyes and laughed. “I have no idea, Hannah. I’m not interested anyhow. If you are you can find out. All I care about is keeping him from suing me.” She opened the door and tossed the empty water bottle into the passenger seat. “I have to go. I’m supposed to meet my sponsor for a coffee before I head home.”
“Alright, have a good night.” Hannah pushed off of the car and pushed her cellphone into her back pocket. “Judi.” She touched Judi’s arm and Judi turned to face her. “I’m proud of you, you know. We haven’t known each other very long, but I think it’s great that you’re working hard to get your life together. If you ever need anyone to talk to if you — you know, get tempted? Just let me know, okay?”
Judi hugged Hannah briefly. “Thank you, Hannah. That means a lot.”
And it did mean a lot, but as Judi slid behind the steering wheel she also felt the pressure of Hannah’s comments heavy on her shoulders. What if she couldn’t do it? What if she fell back into the trap of using alcohol as a crutch again? What if she went back to her flippant, selfish ways and disappointed not only her family but herself?
None of those scenarios were something she wanted to entertain as a possibility.