© 2016 by Lynda McDaniel, author & book coach

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Forged in Fear: Della gets itchy fingers too

Updated: Oct 10, 2019






FORGED IN FEAR


CHAPTER NINE


DELLA


“Bloody hell, Della! I’m an artist," Nigel ranted as he paced awkwardly in the confines of the small backroom of the store. “I’m not an effing factory.”


“Hmm, would that be called a forge forge?” I asked.


“Oh, you think you’re hilarious, don’t you? Well, this is no laughing matter.”


I knew he was right, but it was one of those either laugh-or-cry situations. Nigel had been cranky all day in the store; even his doting customers were affronted. So when we finally had a lull, I pressed him to tell me exactly what was going on. I knew that slippery fedora fellow figured into it somehow, but I wanted particulars.


“I’ve never been treated like this in my life. Always with respect—even by the detective who arrested me.”


“Sounds like you’ve met your match with this Johnny Ray Lewis character.”


Nigel sat down heavily and slowly shook his head. “Oh, I’ve really done it this time. All because I got itchy fingers. Then I tried to put an end to it. Lewis came out to Abit’s and shouted and carried on. I kept saying I was done, but those blokes know when they’ve got a good thing. I’m their ticket to untold ill-gotten gains.”


I just listened as Nigel explained the scheme and where he fit into it. It sounded like a typical small-potatoes scam until he mentioned real estate and my ears perked up. I’d recently seen a story at the Mountain Weekly about just such a racket. Except it was in a reporter’s trash can.


I hadn’t told anyone I’d gone back to a bit of journalism. Like Nigel, I'd missed my former way of life, so when the managing editor asked if I’d do a column for the Wednesday food section, I said yes—with a couple of conditions. One, I’d have a pseudonym and two, I wouldn’t get edited to death. She agreed to both.


I wasn’t sure why I didn’t want anyone to know about the column—pride, I supposed, or put another way, journalistic snobbery. I’d worked hard to build my reputation with some of the best papers and magazines, so working for a small-town rag stung a little. I hadn’t even told Alex, who would have teased me unmercifully. I could hear the jokes about jello molds and tuna casseroles before he ever voiced them.


What I did like about the gig was having access to a real, albeit small, newsroom. The energy inside a newsroom is like no other, and again, just as Nigel needed a fix, I wanted to feel that camaraderie again. A couple of weeks earlier, I was filing one of my columns at the paper when I noticed a roughed-out story sticking out of Nadine Johnson’s trash can. A lot of newspapers had gone heavily digital, but many of us still printed out ideas and drafts in hard copy. The brain sees things differently in hard copy; it’s a great way to catch fuzzy thinking and story holes.


Something instinctual made me grab the trashed rough draft and hide it in my bag. I went to the restroom and read it. Then, sporting what I hoped was the face of innocence, I asked Nadine what was up with her latest story.


“I was making great headway with it—then J.D. made me stop,” she said with a resignation all too familiar to reporters. “He told me it was a dead end. But I know it’s not. I don’t know what’s going on, but he got this funny look on his face and told me to cover the fall festival up at the Hicks.* Nice enough assignment, but nothing I couldn’t do with my eyes shut. This other story got the juices flowing. Know what I mean?”


Did I ever. I couldn’t believe she’d left it at that, but then J.D. was a formidable editor-in-chief. And some people had more sense than I did.


When I got out to my car, I took a longer look at what I’d found. My pulse raced when I saw all the names and addresses I could follow up on. People in higher places than Nigel’s Johnny Ray.


That afternoon at the store, I told Nigel I’d discovered information about the nefarious goings-on in the county’s real estate. He blanched, then frowned. He finally spoke. “Oh Della, don’t get tangled up in this.”


“Don’t worry, Nigel. I’m coming from a different angle.” No time or need to explain about the newspaper. I didn’t want to get into more detail about the information I had—and how I planned to get more.


*Hickson School of American Studies, Abit’s alma mater.


Look for Chapter Ten in a couple of weeks.

LYNDA McDANIEL

APPALACHIAN MOUNTAIN MYSTERIES


"The most satisfying mystery I've read in ages." 
— Joan Nienhuis, book blogger