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DEAD IN SNELLVILLE
A Southern Mystery
Fourth in the Sheila Travis series
Author: Patricia Sprinkle
2014 Reissue Edition
5.5"x8.5" Trade Paperback
Retail: $14.95US; 242pp
ISBN 978-1-62268-090-0 ebook
DEAD IN SNELLVILLE
A Southern Mystery
Fourth in the Sheila Travis series
Author: Patricia Sprinkle
Gwinnett County, named
for one Georgia signer of the Declaration of Independence, is merely a
thin layer of red clay over Stone Mountain's granite roots. For two hundred
years Gwinnett dozed, growing cotton, corn, pine trees, and a smattering
of towns along the railroad track.
Then in the 1980s Atlanta crept northeast. The
nation followed at a gallop. Almost overnight, obscure Gwinnett became
the fastest-growing large county in the nation.
At a dizzying pace meandering gravel roads sprawled
into five-lane highways. Pastures sprouted subdivisions. Fast-food chains
competed for cornfields. Country families, beleaguered by developers,
found that red clay farms had turned to gold.
In one family, seeds of murder were planted.
Author's Note: These
characters are real only in the sense that any fiction is real. The family
is not based on any family I knowyet.
The First Week
you haven't heard a word I've said!"
Martha Sloan's voice crashed into Dudley's thoughts
like a falling bough. She was right of coursehe hadn't. Standing
by their bedroom window, he had been contemplating the Georgia spring
He felt a kinship with the hickory trees.
In the bright sunlight, dogwoods fluttered new
leaves and poplars towered in mature dress. One magnolia dowager stood
majestic in her glossy year-round wardrobe. She reminded him of Martha
Sloanlarge, confident, and careless about the mess she strewed
around her. Eye-level with the hickories, however, he could see tentative
buds only beginning to dot their stark branches. Dudley, too, had been
slow to bud. Now, at fifty-five, he had begun to fear he never would.
"What on earth are you thinking about?"
Seated at the mirror in her slip, Martha Sloan glared at his reflection
as she contorted her lips to smooth them with red gloss.
Dudley rubbed one hand across the top of his head.
Each time he did that lately he felt the scalp getting nearer. With a
sigh, he dropped his hand to adjust his tie over his large Adam's apple.
"Sorry, Martha Sloan." He crossed the
room and patted her still shapely shoulder. "I was daydreaming, I
"About what? Lately you're as moony as a
coon dog in mating season. What's going on?" She rose from the dressing
table and headed for her closet in a cloud of Chanel. "What on earth
am I going to wear? It's too hot for my beige suit, and too early for
my white dress. What else will match that damn red corsage Aunt Ruby is
sure to bring to church?"
Dudley had been married too long to think she
expected an answeror that he was reprieved. He padded across
the floor in bare feet, wishing as he always did that Martha Sloan hadn't
covered his mama's heart-pine floors with carpet as soon as Mama was safely
in her grave. That wasn't the only change Martha Sloan had made as she
modernized the old house he had grown up in, but it was the one Dudley
regretted most. He had always loved the hard, cool feel of wood beneath
his soles. He pulled on socks and slid his feet into black loafers while
he waited for her to continue.
Sure enough, as soon as she had pulled a pink
silk dress over her head (careful not to muss her hair), Martha Sloan
returned to the attack. "Tell me, Dudley, what you were thinking
about! Oh, Lord, I've got to change lipstick. This is too orange for the
dress." She again seated herself before the mirror, began to scrub
her lips with a tissue.
"Tell me," she commanded indistinctly.
Cornered, he clung to his private thoughts by
blurting what he never should have said. "Something happened Friday
at the county commission, but I can't really talk about it yet."
"Come on, Dudley, you can tell me.
I'll be silent as the grave. Is it something good?" Teasing him,
her large brown eyes glowed.
For an instant she looked like the girl who had
bewitched him into marriage thirty years before. These days, she wore
costly frosted curls instead of a bouffant bubble. Her soft pink mouth
had become a slick slash above her firmly controlled chin. Rosy nails
had been sculpted to talons, and her body had grown thicker in the waist
and hips. But her eyes were the same. They had charmed him years ago.
This morning they persuaded him to disclose more than he intended.
"It's Grandma Sims's farm. Developers want
to buy it for a mall."
Martha Sloan's mouth fell slack, lipstick forgotten.
"Are they crazy? Who'd go way out there to shop?"
He shrugged. "Most new construction in the
county is east of Lawrenceville. By the time a mall can be built, that
part of the county should be ready to support a mall as large as Gwinnett
Place up in Duluth."
Her eyes widened until her artificial lashes almost
caught on her bangs. Jumping up, she shook him in playful disbelief. "How
much will they pay? How much?"
He shrugged. "I don't really know, honey.
Somewhere in the neighborhood of a hundred thousand an acremaybe."
Martha Sloan calculated on her long red nails.
"One hundred acres times a hundred thousand dollars . . ." Her
jaw dropped in amazement. "Dudley! That's a million dollars!"
She hugged herself, jigging in stockinged feet like a child.
He smiled indulgently. Seldom these days did he
give her this much pleasure in anything. "It's ten million, Martha
She stood stock-still, eyes wide, mouth wider.
"Really?" she asked in a hushed voice. "Ten million
"It's your grandmother's, not ours,"
he reminded her. With the caution common to all attorneys, he was compelled
to add, "If the deal goes through, of course."
That moved her. She grabbed his arm, shook it
fiercely. "What do you mean 'if? You make it go throughyou
"I can't 'make it go through,' Martha Sloan.
I can't even vote on the issue, since it's your family's farm. It will
be weeks before they are ready to vote, anyway. This is just a preliminary
She chewed her lower lip, eyes narrowed in thought.
"You've got to get Grandma Sims's power of attorney, Dudley. She's
not able to make a decision on anything this big, and heaven help us if
Aunt Ruby and Uncle Cline get their fat hands on the deal."
She returned to her mirror. He said nothing. The
only sound in the room was a fly buzzing near the open window.
He was shaken by that fleeting memory of Martha
Sloan as she had once beena vivacious, pretty girl waiting
for the right man to shape her into the twin mysteries of "wife"
and "mother." For a brief, humble moment he regretted not having
been a better man, one who could have brought out the best in her. When,
he wondered, did we get so caught up in getting that we forgot about giving?
Her next remark shattered his reverie, made him wince.
"You've got to get it, Dudley. Her power
of attorney, I mean. Tomorrow, if you can." When he did not answer,
she coaxed, "You got us Mama's."
"That was different, honey. Your mother is
. . . special. Grandma Sims is perfectly able to transact business. I'm
not even the executor of her will. Bubba is."
"Bubba!" Her voice was rich with disgust.
"When is he ever sober enough to execute anything? I'd like to execute
him!" With that pronouncement of sisterly love, she slid one more
coating of pink across her mouth.
Dudley's eye fell on the clock Glad to end the
conversation, he hurried to pull a gray jacket from its hanger. "We're
going to have to hurry if we're going to get to church before the first
hymn's over. Cline said they're bringing Grandma Sims, since it's Mother's
Day. Remember, now, honeynot a word of this to the family
at dinner." He joined her at the mirror to run a brush over what
remained of his hair.
Thin, tall, and faded, he thought with a silent
sigh as he considered his own reflection. Behind his round glasses, his
eyes were a faded blue. His hair was a faded brown. Even his skin looked
too white. "I'm glad we're going to Nassau in June." He needed
the sun like a hummingbird needs nectar. His bones longed to feel warm
again. His soul yearned for . . . He sighed aloud.
"Me, too." She absently touched her
hair, inspected the chic finished product that was her face. "Next
yearwho knows? Maybe we can afford the Orient! If we can
figure out a way to get a chunk of our inheritance by then."
"You don't have an inheritance yet,"
he reminded her.
She shrugged. Reality never got in the way of
Martha Sloan's plans.
She picked up her purse from the dresser and looked
through it. "Comb, Kleenex, wallet, diet pills to keep me from eating
too much and Valium for when my headache starts. That ought to get me
through church and dinner at Aunt Ruby's. Oh, Dudley!" She jumped
up and gave him the biggest hug he'd had in years. "Honey, you can
do it. I just know you can!"
Downstairs he collected his oboe, followed her
to the carport, and helped her into the passenger seat of her yellow Cadillac.
As he circled to the driver's seat, he noticed her fading bumper sticker:
EVERYBODY IS SOMEBODY IN SNELLVILLE.
Smellville, SnailvilleMartha Sloan
had not grown up, as Dudley did, with the jokes. He could still remember
when Snellville was a crossroads, a few stores, and large tracts of vacant
land. Some days he wondered whether it was progress or something else
entirely that had dotted the countryside with subdivisions and lined Highway
78 with businesses. He regretted the loss of space to tramp through fields
and woods for hours and seldom meet a soul. Martha Sloan, on the other
hand, minded most that other Gwinnett towns were centered on charming
stores and oak-lined squares, while Snellville did little more than straggle
along the Atlanta-Athens highway in an endless chain of national franchises.
She often fumed at the post office for zoning the old Tait homestead into
Snellville instead of Lawrenceville. But since she was stuck in Snellville,
Martha Sloan defended its image with zeal.
One word stuck in Dudley's mind as he started
the engine: Somebody. "Somebody loves me, I wonder who?"
"It's a tough job, but somebody's got to do it." He was uncertain
what "it" was that Martha Sloan thought he could do, but whatever
it was, he was the somebody who would probably have to do it.
©2014 Patricia Houck Sprinkle