Strange Days: Vol 1
By Charlotte Cross
Chapter 1: A Bad Thing
Early that morning Betty returned to her Grandfather's cabin, her bare feet trudging through through the fresh powder as the sun cast long shadows of frozen pine trees across the snowdrift. Inside, she changed into her clothes, put the kettle on to boil and watched through the kitchen window as a police cruiser pulled into the glade a hundred feet or so from the front door.
The cabin didn't get much in the way of visitors, just Leonard stopping by with groceries once a week, the ghostly snowprints of the occasional tracker or the less occasional wolf. Police could only mean a Bad Thing had happened. Betty was struck by one of those feelings right in the pit of the stomach, like watching a coffee mug fall to the floor, too early to know if it’ll break, too late to do anything about it.
The cop got out of the car and fixed his hat on his head. Betty recognised the man. His name was Tom Hubbard and they had been in high school together, not so long ago. She opened the cabin door and waited on the porch, thinking it wouldn't look so strange that her hands were shaking if she met him out in the cold.
"Mornin Betty,” Tom was a few years her senior with a pretty boy face that made him look too young for his patrolman uniform. “Mighty cold this morning.”
"It is,” said Betty, hugging her robe tight. “Don’t suppose Leonard sent you up with the potatoes he forgot to bring?”
"Mind if I come in,” Tom said, plain faced.
"What's it about, Tom?” her Grandfather had taught Betty never let a lawman into the house without first knowing why they want to come in.
Tom Hubbard fingered his police hat. "It's about Ben, Betty.”
"He ain't here, Tom.” Sun was rising now. Betty put one hand to her face to block out the light that kicked off the ice. “Ain't seen Ben Ford in months” she lied.
"Let's go inside and talk,” said Tom, gesturing with his hat.
"I got things to do, the water’s boiling, maybe I could come by later-”
“Betty, I just drove twenty miles down a dirt road in the dark, now why don't we go inside, have a cup of joe and talk.”
Betty sucked her lip but found herself stepping aside anyway.
"After you then, officer.”
The inside of the cabin was warm and spare. Betty went into the kitchen to make coffee for Tom. She didn't need the caffeine right now so she made tea for herself. When she came back out Tom was just standing there in the living room, snowflakes melting on his shoulders. Outside she heard the distant sound of a logging truck heading south towards Grand Teton
He did, sinking into the plush couch. He gestured towards the six string guitar resting upright by the coffee table.
“That the same one you had in school?”
"You still play much?”
“Barely touch it, wish I had the time.”
“I heard you came up here to write music.” Tom was hunting around with his eyes in that casual way police do. Looking like they’re not looking.
“Now who’d tell you a think like that?” Betty put the coffee down on the table in front of him. “ Black fine?”
“It’s a small town. You hear things. Yes, thank you.”
“Doreen well, the kids?”
“They’re fine,” he said, but Betty could tell right away that things weren't, and he wasn't going to talk about it. Tom took a sip of his coffee and then put it down.
“It’s bad news, Betty. When I found out I knew I had to be the one to tell you. Station got a call last night. Car come off the side of the road, ran into a tree. One deceased at the scene, no passengers. I’m sorry Betty, It was Ben.”
Betty looked down into the tea. She kept the leaves in, the way her grandma had taught her. “Ain’t no way Ben Fordman crash his car, Tom.”
“Might be a deer or something run across the road, maybe. Spooked him. Maybe the drink got him. Still waiting on toxicology. I come up to tell you, as a courtesy. I know how things are between your families. Better you find out before everyone else does.”
Betty wiped her eyes with the sleeve of her robe. “Well I appreciate the courtesy, but we both know you came up to ask questions Tom. So ask them.”
“Fine. Where were you last night?”
Tom looked behind Betty, saw the brown paper bags piled up on the counter.
“I did see Leonard this morning, in fact. Said he came by in the evening to drop off some stuff from the store. Said you weren’t here.”
“He has a key.”
“Where were you, Bets?”
“Went for a stroll.”
“This ain’t strolling weather.”
“Did Leonard tell you the car was here.”
“So how far you think I got on foot.”
“And you ain’t put none of that away, just left it out on the counter.”
“What can I tell you, Tom. I’m a musician.”
“So you didn't see Ben at all last night?”
“And what about Harriet, Ben’s Mother.”
Betty looked into her mug and shook her head.
“That a no, Betty?”
“Do you know where Harriet Ford-Geraux is, Betty?”
“No. Haven't seen her longer than I seen Ben.”
“You two still close?”
“We used to be.”
Tom drained the mug of coffee and then placed it down on the table.
“Suppose I better get going. You think of anything, like maybe where Ms Harriet is, you let me know.” He stopped at the door and fixed his hat on his head. “You want me to take any messages back for you?”
Betty slipped her phone out of her jacket pocket and waved it. “Phone works just fine Tom. Email too. You learn to use them might save yourself a journey next time.”
“Alright, alright.” Tom looked at her with concern. "Are you gonna be OK here all by yourself?"
"I can come by, after my shift, check up on ya."
Betty rubbed his shoulder. "And have Doreen miss out? I wouldn't dream of it. Leonard will come by tomorrow I reckon. So you can check up on me through him."
Betty watched from the porch as Tom got back into the patrol car and reversed out of the glade. She even gave a little wave as he disappeared up the road. Slowly, she put her cup of tea down on the window sill, then she rushed inside and grabbed her keys to warm up the car.