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SPIDER WEB
by Earlene Fowler

Genre: Mystery, Amateur Sleuth, Mystery/Suspense/Thriller

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When the music from the ranch house abruptly stopped, jarring me from my thoughts, other sounds reasserted themselves; the distinct tip-tip of a downy woodpecker, the sucking noise of Trixie’s hooves on the soggy March soil, the chatter of crickets. A sharp, cold wind circled around us, swooping over the hills from the Pacific Ocean. I shivered inside my denim jacket. Like Scout, I lifted my head and sniffed the briny air. Rain was coming.

I studied the gray sedan parked in the driveway. It had been there when I crested the rise. How long? The vehicle’s make was nondescript, at least to me. If it wasn’t a truck, they all looked the same. Was the person who owned the car buying the land? Did they plan on living there? Alone or with a family? This person was walking through the original ranch house. Had he or she already inspected the newer one where Wade, Sandra and their children had lived with Jack’s widowed mother? It was more attractive and definitely bigger, but I always felt it had less history, less soul.

The thought of another family living in what had been my and Jack’s first home made me anxious, a little angry. For some reason that bothered me more than when it was rumored that both houses might be razed and wine grapes planted. I could watch them be destroyed, but I didn’t want anyone else to live in what had been my first home as a married woman. Unreasonable, but it was how I felt. I selfishly didn’t want someone else’s memories supplanting my own.

A rumble came from Scout’s throat. I glanced down at his square, tense body. In that second, the front door of the ranch house opened and someone stepped out. Tall, thin, wearing blue jeans, a dark knit watch cap, sunglasses and a heavy jacket. From my distance, it wasn’t apparent if the person was male or female. If I’d only remembered to bring binoculars. The person carried a radio or tape player, the source of the music. I watched the vehicle move away, braking occasionally on the rough gravel driveway. One red taillight was burned out. I watched the gray car until it turned the corner and headed for the highway. An uneasy feeling pressed down on my chest; the air seemed to grow heavy, like the drop in barometric pressure before a storm.

I was tempted to ride down to see if this person left any physical evidence, but I wanted to beat the rain home. I turned Trixie around, clicking softly. It was probably nothing.

“Let’s go,” I called to Scout. “We’ve got chores to do.”