© 2016 by Lynda McDaniel, author & book coach


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Forged in Fear: Who's Sneaking Round the Barn?

Updated: Aug 2, 2019




“I don’t believe I’ve ever seen jeans and a flannel shirt look quite so, well, tailored.”

Mr. Tate, owner of Tate’s Dry Goods on Highway 221, was admiring how good Nigel looked in his new duds. I had to agree. Those clothes of Alex’s didn’t fit him worth a damn, but when he got his proper size, you’d’ve sworn he’d had them made custom.

And he knew it. It didn’t take much convincing to get Nigel to model everything he was trying on. (I could tell he was enjoying the attention.) Seemed as though oncet he got over the blow of wearing flannel shirts and denim pants instead of silk suits and velvet waistcoats, he got into it.

While Nigel was hamming it up, making us double over laughin’ as he twirled and pointed one toe forward with his hands on his hips like some fashion model, I noticed one of the sales clerks taking an awful lot of notice. But how could you not with the show Nigel was putting on? I hadn’t never seen this guy round, but then again, I didn’t get out much anymore. I had a lot of furniture orders to get out—plus a family to spend time with.

That clerk was kinda weaselly and wore a thin mustache that I'd swear looked drawed on; his longish hair had Brylcreem running through it. He stood short and stocky—and looked strong. Not somebody I’d want to mess with. He kept looking even after Nigel quit joking round. Probably just bored with refolding shirts people messed up and left for him to tidy.

When Nigel’d bought all the clothes and underwears he needed, we headed toward home. Fiona was beside herself, excited to have a sorta fellow countryman over for tea. (The English and Irish, I’d come to hear a good bit about, have a troubled past, but she saw Nigel as closer to kin than anyone else close by. Besides, what wasn’t to love about him?)

And it was teatime. She’d laid out her best china from Ireland and shared some wheatmeal biscuits from the private stash her father sent now and again, which was a real honor, even if Nigel didn’t realize it. Conor got some from time to time, but I rarely got offered any, though I’d’ve probably told her to share ‘em with our boy, anyways.

As we drank our tea, we didn’t ask anything about why Nigel was down here. No need to know; he was our friend. And like Fiona’d said, we might never’ve got back together if he hadn’t prodded me to call her. I looked over at little Conor eating a biscuit, getting chocolate smeared all over on his face and shirt, and my heart filled up so much, I had trouble talking. At that moment, I reckoned I owed Nigel the world.

“Now if you need anything, anything at all, Nigel, just ask Abit.” Fiona was showing Nigel his guest “cottage” in the barn. (That was what Fiona called it even though it was just a nice room at one end of the barn. I figured calling it a cottage made her feel a little like she was back home.)

She was good at being hospitable (especially when she could send folks my way for anything they needed). And she’d put some nice things out there for him—an electric kettle, Irish tea, more biscuits, fresh bread, jam, this and that.

We’d bought a new mattress for the maple bedstead I’d made, and Fiona’d put a fine old quilted coverlet over it. (Conor and our dog, Mollie, started bouncing on the bed, and I had to get after them.) There was a small chest of drawers, a hotplate, and a little fridge I’d found at the dump that worked just fine. I’d placed a pretty little table and chairs I’d made just under the window. I’d always liked taking my meals near a window, and this one had a flower box outside it filled with red and gold flowers Fiona’d planted in late August. They still looked good even though we was well into October.

We didn’t really know how long Nigel wanted to stay, or like I’d said, why he was here. But I was excited about having my old friend close by. We’d worked it out so I’d be taking him in to the store four or five days a week, and I’d drive him round for any errands he needed to run. He’d never learned to drive, which some days sounded like a good idea to me.

Nigel got settled into his new home, and I got back to work. Those orders weren’t gonna make themselves. Things went along fine for a while. Then a few days later, as I was closing up for the evening, damned if I didn’t see that weaselly store clerk sneaking round our barn.

Look for Chapter Five in a couple of weeks.



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