Wednesday, 11:14 p.m.
Ginger began to regain consciousness. She was lying on her back and could feel her head throbbing, but otherwise, her senses were dull. She felt like she’d been asleep for three days, then awakened in the middle of the night. The room was completely black. Her body shivered. Why was the house so cold?
Her hands began to regain their sense of touch, but instead of feeling the smooth, warm sheets of her bed, she felt the cold, damp . . . grass? Ginger wiggled her toes and realized she was wearing shoes. She began to touch herself all over. She was fully dressed and wearing an apron.
Where was she, and how the heck did she get there?
Ginger located her cell phone in her apron pocket, took it out, woke it up, and held it over her face. It was eleven-fourteen p.m. She turned on her flashlight app and projected the beam in one direction and then another. She saw trees and bushes. Gravestones.
She was in the cemetery. Why in the world was she sleeping in the cemetery? Nothing made sense.
Memories flashed by like headlights on a busy freeway. She concentrated to try to slow them down, but they were disjointed, sketchy, and out of order. It was like trying to recall an old, half-forgotten dream. She remembered a man talking to her about a reverse mortgage. No, wait—that was a TV commercial.
Ginger tried to sit up, got dizzy, and quickly turned to the side and vomited. She eased herself back into her original position, flat on her back, to let her stomach settle.
She called 9-1-1.
“Ginger? What’s the matter, sugarplum?”
“Sherry, I’m in the cemetery, and I don’t know how I got here.” Ginger was heartened to realize that at least she’d remembered Sherry’s name.
“Old Coreyville Cemetery, behind your house? So, you got yourself all disoriented and went wandering around out there in the dark, not knowing why you were there?”
“No, it’s not like that, Sherry. I’m on the ground. I just woke up and I can’t remember much, but my head is throbbing like crazy. I think somebody attacked me. I need an ambulance.”
“Okay, sugarplum. Just stay put, and I’ll get you some help right away. And don’t hang up.”
“I won’t.” Ginger could hear Sherry radioing the paramedics.
Sherry came back to the phone. “So, did you have anything to drink tonight, or maybe take some pain pills?”
“Now, you know I don’t drink,” Ginger said. “Do I? I’m pretty sure I don’t. My memories are all jumbled up.”
“Well, I’ve never seen you take a drink, but honey, working this job, you learn that a lot of folks do their drinking in private. Lord, you’d be shocked to know how many times I get calls from them people. One night, a certain somebody—I can’t say who—was having some fun with her new margarita machine and got falling-down drunk—literally. She fell off her back porch and landed in the dang flowerbed, face first. Nearly suffocated. She like to have never got all that crap out of her nose. Her yard people had just added new mulch, and you know how godawful it smells.”
Ginger suddenly realized that she couldn’t smell anything—not the grass, not the honeysuckle, not even the vomit she’d spewed onto the ground right beside her.
She smelled NOTHING.
She licked her arm and tasted NOTHING.
“Ginger? Are you still there?”
Under her breath, she said, “I can’t smell or taste anything.”
“Wait—I just remembered something. I was in my kitchen, working on a cake recipe, and somebody called me on the phone—Susanna Clampford, I think—but after that, it’s fuzzy.”
Ginger saw a powerful light approaching her.
“They’re here, Sherry. I’m hanging up now. Thanks so much.”
“Any time, sugarplum.”
The man behind the flashlight had a gravelly sounding voice. “Ginger?”
It was Boot Hornamer, the eighty-something-year-old Justice of the Peace. He must have been driving around and heard the call for the ambulance on his radio.
“Boot, what are you doing out and about this time of night?” But she already knew the answer. He was nocturnal to hear him tell it, sleeping maybe two to three hours a day, usually in the afternoon.
He was chomping on a big wad of chewing tobacco, as usual. “Paramedics will be here shortly, Ginger. How bad are you hurting?”
“My head’s killing me, but otherwise, I think I’m okay.”
“What are you doing out here at this time of night, girl?” He spit tobacco juice into a bush.
“I don’t know. I’m having trouble remembering.”
He leaned down with his powerful flashlight, blinding her. “Looks like you’re bleeding.”
“Yeah, you’ve got blood on your hands.” He inspected each hand. “But I don’t see any cuts.”
“Really?” She held her hands up to her eyes. In the bright light from Boot’s flashlight, she could see the dried blood.
“You said you’ve got a headache. Maybe the blood’s from your head.” He knelt beside her and inspected her head, digging into her scalp with his fingers. “Does this hurt?”
“Ow! You’re pulling my hair!”
“Sorry. Your head ain’t bleeding, as far as I can tell.”
“Well, that’s good to know. Thanks.”
“You feel like trying to get up?”
“No. I think I’d better wait for the paramedics.”
“Yeah, that’s probably a good idea.” He stood up. “You know, when I was walking up, I heard you telling Sherry that somebody called you on the phone and that’s why you came out here.”
“Yeah, I think that’s what happened. I mean, I must have had some reason to come out here at night. I think Susanna Clampford called me from the cemetery, and I came out her to meet her for some reason. I can’t remember exactly why, though.”
“Wait. You just said something new.”
“Yeah. You said she called you from the cemetery.”
“Yeah, I did say that, but I’m not sure if it really happened.”
“Susanna Clampford’s the one who owns that big bakery in Marshall, right? Your number-one enemy?”
“I don’t have any enemies, Boot. Not really.”
He spit to the side.
“If my head’s not bleeding,” she held up her hands, “then where did this blood come from?”
“Good question.” He inspected the area. “There’s a Shovel over here. Looks like blood on the handle. Hey, this is your shovel, Ginger.”
“What? No, it couldn’t be mine.”
“It’s got your name on it.”
“Well, I can’t imagine why I would have been walking around out here at night with a shovel. It doesn’t make any sense.”
The paramedics arrived and began to check her out.
Boot continued to nose around with his flashlight for a while and then came back to Ginger. “There’s a body over there.”
“A body?” Ginger’s mind raced as she tried to jog her memory.
“Just a few yards up the trail. It’s a woman. Looks like somebody bashed her head in.”
“Oh, God. She’s dead? Did you recognize her?”
“Well, her face has got blood all over it, so I’m not sure, but it looks like it might be Susanna Clampford.”
“I didn’t really know her, but I’ve seen her around.”
“And, uh, it looks like the murder weapon is your shovel.”
“Oh, no. I don’t understand what happened, Boot.”
The paramedics transferred Ginger to a stretcher.
Boot said, “I gotta call the chief, Ginger, so don’t be surprised when he shows up at the hospital asking all kinds of questions.”
“But, you don’t think that I—”
“It don’t matter what I think. Somebody killed that poor woman, and I gotta do my job.” He took out his phone.
The paramedics picked up the stretcher and carried her out of the cemetery.
Ginger tried to focus all her brain power on remembering what had happened. She pictured Susanna standing over her with a shovel and swinging it at her. Then she got up and fought with Susanna.
Did that really happen?
And did she then grab the shovel away from Susanna and start beating her with it?
She couldn’t imagine herself doing that, but if Susanna attacked her with a shovel, maybe Ginger’s old hatred for the woman had come flooding back and caused her to go after Susanna with a blind vengeance.
She prayed that wasn’t true.
Next Chapter —>