Plain Jeopardy

By: Alison Stone

Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid.

—John 14:27





To my eldest daughter, Kelsey, as you get ready for your next adventure. I’m very proud of you. May all your dreams come true. Love and kisses.

To Scott and the rest of the gang, love you guys, always and forever.






ONE

The traction-control light lit up on the dashboard, and Grace Miller clutched the steering wheel tighter. The tires quickly gained purchase on the snowy country road. Phew. Not as icy as she’d feared. All she needed to do was leave a little extra distance between her car and the car in front of hers, which wasn’t too hard to do on the deserted streets of Quail Hollow, New York. Not a lot of cars—or wagons—out after dark. Most people were hunkered down at home doing sane things like watching TV or reading a book, not chasing leads on a story on a snowy night in the Amish community.

Grace reached across and touched the crumpled handwritten note she had tossed onto the passenger seat.

I have info about drinking party. Meet at gas station. Main and Lapp. 8 p.m. Get gas while your there.

She could forgive the writer’s misuse of the word your if it meant she had a new lead on a story that had, so far, produced nothing more than what had already been published in regional papers or played on the local TV stations out of Buffalo.

Grace had been surprised to find the handwritten note taped to the front door of her sister’s bed & breakfast. She wondered why they hadn’t knocked. She had been home alone most of the day, except for the window of time when Eli Stoltz, her sister’s Amish neighbor, stopped by to care for the horses.

That would have been too easy. Instead, the author of the note had insisted on a clandestine meeting at a random location on a freezing night. Making her get out in the cold and pump gas, no less.

Already she didn’t like the person. They better not waste her time.

Since she had zero leads, she didn’t have much of a choice. The bishop had turned her away, and the sheriff’s department had only given her the most basic of information regarding the party and the fatal accident that night. Even the few teenagers she’d tracked down had shut her out. However, Grace was not easily deterred. She had spent her days since graduating with her journalism degree traveling the world, writing in-depth articles featuring people or events that needed highlighting. The tagline under her online bio read Giving a Voice to the Voiceless.

Grace turned her car onto Main Street and was mildly cheered by the trees covered in twinkling white lights, even though Christmas had passed a few weeks ago. She supposed no one could fault the residents of Quail Hollow for looking for something to brighten up the long months of January and February in the great white north, where the days were short and the snow was deep.

It had been a long time since she had spent a winter up north. Her job afforded her the luxury of traveling the world, and when she had a choice, she chose warm, mild weather, certainly not polar-bear cold.

Before Grace’s emergency appendectomy, she had finished a story in Florida about a young mother who had lost her job after she missed work due to cancer treatments. Grace’s story led to a huge community outpouring of support and the promise of another job when the woman felt well enough.

That was why Grace did what she did.

But life’s twists and turns—including a surprise appendectomy, infection and prolonged recovery—put her right in the middle of an exciting story while holed up at her sister’s bed & breakfast in Quail Hollow.

Grace slowed and turned into the snowy parking lot of the gas station. The back of her car fishtailed, then she regained control. Prickles of anxiety swept across her skin. Boy, she hated driving in the snow. It didn’t help that her sister’s car probably needed new tires.

Grace pulled under the overhang meant to protect customers from the elements while they filled their tanks. The snow swirled violently, touching down in mini tornadoes. No overhang would protect the customers from those gusts. She shuddered, despite the warm air pumping from the heating vents. In the rearview mirror, she saw an Amish man with his collar flipped up, hunkered down in his wagon. He flicked the horse’s reins and continued to trot down the street in a steady rhythm.

Suck it up, buttercup, she thought. At least she wasn’t exposed to the elements like the Amish man in his open wagon. How did they deal with the harsh winter? It reminded her of a story she had written about the homeless in Arizona. One man claimed he moved down there from Minnesota because if life had dealt him the unfair hand of being homeless, he would choose to live in the desert.

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