The Plattsford Sun, Special Edition


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Rural Sprawl:

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Rural Sprawl

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Something smells in the rural backwater of Plattsford, Ontario.... besides Gloria's septic bed. A local politician-turned-developer is found dead in his own future industrial park. As editor of Plattsford's local paper, Gloria's mission is to sort through a maze of local gossip, delve behind the polite facade of rural society, and discover the truth, preferably before her news deadline.

But it won't be easy if she's in jail...

"It is the first of the Gloria Trevisi mystery series--the others that follow should be a lot of fun also."

-- Wateena, Coffee Time Romance

It's a humid night. Arriving home late from work, and finding her old rented farmhouse too hot to sleep, Gloria has taken refuge in the back yard screen tent with her cat, Max, at her feet. The night sounds have had a soothing effect.

Seconds later she was awake. Max had tensed suddenly and was staring at the house, ears and whiskers forward. Gloria lay still, trying to sort out dreamland from reality. A soft crunch of coarse gravel; wasn't that the sound she always heard as she placed a foot on her wobbly back step?

Had she locked her door? Of course not. She had merely dragged her comforter outside and flopped onto it, never thinking the house required locking as long as it was occupied.

But it wasn't occupied. She was out here, and someone was on her veranda. Tony? No, she hadn't heard his car. Or had she? It purred, like the cat, didn't it? She raised her head and looked. A pen-light was visible near the side door, barely forty feet away, bobbing and swaying like a firefly. She heard the familiar soft creak of the door hinges, followed by a thud and a muttered curse as someone stumbled against the box of curtains she had dropped inside by the basement stairs. She froze, and prayed that Max would remain quiet. The cat, however, was creeping to the corner of the screen tent. She made a grab for him, but he slithered out from under her hands.

The time. The time? She flicked the Indiglo button on her watch, and quickly pushed it under the pillow. It glowed like a spotlight, and the tiny beep it made as the light switched off might as well have been an air-raid siren in her ears. It was 2.25 a.m., precisely, and she had been asleep for almost three hours. If it is Tony, she reasoned, he will find the bed empty, the comforter gone, and know where to find me. If it isn't... She looked for the cat, but he was gone; squeezed under the edge of the screen and loping across the lawn. Come back! she screamed inside her head. Don't go in there! The screen door creaked again, as Max quietly pawed it open, apparently with ease.

The night was dead silent now; no crickets. No frogs. And no cat. She waited, huddled in the corner of the screen tent with her pillow and comforter, indignant over the very idea that someone thought she had something worth stealing. But she did have one thing, and it was sitting on her dresser in plain sight. And what if he-or whoever-were to come out here? Was there any place to conceal herself?

The night was dark; the gibbous moon had already set. To hell with sitting still! Maybe I'll creep closer to the house.

In this get-up? She touched the hem of the filmy fabric. Well, why not? She inched cautiously toward the front of the tent, and pulled the zipper of the door; it howled as she drew it upward. She tried again, hands shaking and heart hammering as she made a three-foot opening. Crouching on hands and knees, feeling the satiny nightie bunching around her waist, she inched through the door of the tent. Once outside, she straightened up, and pulled the brief covering of the short nightgown over her thighs, and took a step toward the house.

A thud. A crash, and a curse. She dropped to the grass as the screen door burst open, and the penlight waved rapidly away down the driveway, its beam diminishing with the sound of hurried, heavy footsteps and quick, labored breathing.

Gloria quickly bounded forward, heart pounding. Had the intruder left? Would he return? She ran silently toward the house in her bare feet, and tried to pull her thoughts together.

First, don't touch anything, she told herself. How would she phone the police? The car phone. It was something Tony had insisted she have in case of an emergency, like this one. She sent him love and thanks, as she pulled the phone out from under the car seat, plugged it into the dashboard lighter, and dialed, her fingers automatically finding the number of the detachment office.

"Where are you now?" the desk sergeant asked her.

"Outside, sitting in my car." Her voice sounded surprisingly steady.

"Stay there, and lock the car doors. Someone may still be in your house," was the ominous warning. "An officer is on his way."

She dropped the phone with a sigh. The police were coming, a whole swat team, maybe. In the light of the car's dim interior lamp, she glanced down, at her barely-there nightie.

"Oh, hell."

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