Mile of Cars Murders will be officially released June 20, 2014 on Amazon. You can get on board to insure I have a successful launch of my most ambitious project and what is being called a great crime thriller and movie worthy by the team taking it through final edit at this link http://www.gofundme.com/8a0d70
Pre-release print copies will be mailed the first week of June. Everyone ordering a pre-release copy will immediately receive the first six chapters in an electronic format, which can be read on any device.
Here’s an overview of the novel and the first three chapters.
Mile of Cars Murders by Joe Harwell
A historical fiction follow-up to the 2012 novel Payne County Weekly
Copyright 2014 by Joe Harwell Publishing
P.O. Box 54213, Tulsa, OK 74155-0213
No part of this material may be reproduced in any way without written permission of the author.
This is a work of fiction. Although historical events and the names of actual locations and historical figures are mentioned, all other characters are fictional and any resemblance to persons living or deceased is purely coincidental.
I owe grateful acknowledgement to many people who help my writing become better. They include, but are not limited to members of the writers groups Unbreakable Spines, Critical Ink, Ink Slingers and Write Away. Specifically for this project I want to thank Mary Frances Hodges, Elaine Hodges, Susie McCoy, Gary England, Terry Wiles, The Mont in Norman and Redrock Canyon Grill in Oklahoma City.
“A lot of people didn’t make it home after the Oklahoma City bombing, but not all of them went missing because of it.”
Chapter 1. April 19, 1995 a day like any other
“Hey honey, did you put the ice chest in the truck?” Pat Britton called to her husband J.P. at six fifteen.
“Already done it,” he replied from the bathroom where he was brushing his teeth. “You better check on Henry. He was draggin’ while ago.”
Pat went down the hall to the bedroom of her younger sons, eleven year old Henry and nine year old Thomas. Tom was dressed and watching TV, but Henry was sitting on the top bunk bed and still in his pajamas.
Smiling as she walked into their room, Pat said, “Hey guys, you gotta move. You’re riding the bus this morning, remember?”
“Aw, do we have to?” Henry complained.
“Yes, you have to. Dad and I are going to Oklahoma City this morning, so you boys need to get movin’. Your lunch boxes are packed and breakfast will be on the table in five minutes.”
“I just want cereal and orange juice,” Thomas said, without turning his attention from the TV.
Rubbing his head, she replied, “You’re a mind reader. That’s exactly what you’re getting, plus toast with jelly. Now scoot.”
“I don’t want the green jelly,” complained Henry. “It tastes funny ‘cause Dale’s dog pees on the mint plants.”
Pat chuckled, and said, “All right, you can have strawberry, but get moving. Your father and I need to be on the road by seven and I don’t want to be late because you’re not ready.”
“What are you bringing me from Oklahoma City?” asked Henry as he climbed off the bunk bed.
“Nothing if you make us late,” she said when he reached the floor.
He hugged her, and said, “I’ll miss you.”
Hugging him back, she said, “I’ll miss you too. We’ll be home around eight and Dale is getting pizza after school and taking you to church tonight.”
“Pizza,” he said enthusiastically, getting the clothes she hung on the doorknob for him last night.
Pat knew the boys would be all right with their older brothers in charge. She and J.P. hadn’t been on their own for a full day in years, and even though she loved her children more than her own life; Pat was really looking forward to a day away from the ranch with her husband.
Her oldest son Joe Paul already had cereal bowls and glasses of juice on the table for him and the other boys when Pat entered the kitchen. “I’ll pick up some bread,” he said while placing four slices in the toaster. Holding up the nearly empty package, he continued, “I thought we had another one.”
“Don’t worry about it. Your father and I are picking up groceries in the city before we come home.”
“And bringing it back in a new truck?” asked Dale as he entered the kitchen.
“Don’t get your hopes up,” Pat replied. “We’re just looking. Our credit is still tight even after Bo refinanced our note, so a new truck isn’t likely.”
“But a newer one, maybe, please,” Dale said, giving her a pleading look.
Tom burst into the kitchen saying, “New truck, new truck.”
Turning and giving him a stern look, Pat said, “Is your brother ready yet?”
“I’ll check on him,” Dale said, sensing his mother’s frustration.
Tom scooted a chair out and sat down as Pat poured cereal, then milk into his bowl. She sat beside him, leaned close and whispered, “Daddy may not get a new truck today, but I’ll bring you and Henry one if you keep it a secret.”
He smiled, reached out his arms to hug her, and said, “I won’t tell. I love you.”
Hugging him, she said, “I love you too, now eat. Your toast will be up in a minute.”
He pulled on her blouse, and whispered, “The green jelly you made don’t taste funny and it was Henry that peed on the mint plants.”
Laughing, she said, “I know.”
Pat & J.P. left their farm outside Perkins, OK a little before seven and honked when they drove by Bo Stark’s house a mile up the road where lights were already on. Wednesday is paper day and Bo would soon be on the road to southern Kansas where Payne County Weekly is printed.
Chapter 2. 9:02 A.M.
Falon Dodge and LaShelle Roland were in the office of Payne County Weekly in Stillwater preparing for distribution. Since Bo invested in the newspaper and began working there last year, almost everything about laying out the paper was computerized, but distribution still involved a lot of manual labor. LaShelle really looked forward to Wednesday because the publication was running smoothly and making money, relieving a lot of stress in her life.
As Falon checked the distribution list, LaShelle heard her say, “Did you feel that?”
“Something in the air or the ground, I’m not sure which,” Falon said.
Looking at Falon’s thick sole, Gothic boots, LaShelle wondered how she could have felt anything through them. Sitting still for a moment before answering, she said, “Didn’t feel a thing.” They kept working until the phone rang.
“Turn on the TV,” said Bo’s mother Phyllis Stark when LaShelle answered. “Something happened in Oklahoma City.”
Regular programming was interrupted with a tower camera view of downtown Oklahoma City showing a large plume of smoke rising into the air. Falon turned up the police scanner and they listened as chatter from it mixed with reporters talking on TV.
After watching for a minute, LaShelle said, “I’m going.”
“I’ll come help with distribution,” said Phyllis. “What about getting in touch with Bo?”
Looking at her watch, LaShelle said, “He’s probably just getting to the printer.”
“I’ll call him,” said Phyllis.
As she unplugged the company cell phone from the charger and handed it to LaShelle, Falon said, “Call when you know what’s going on.”
Pointing to the TV, LaShelle said, “What you felt was probably the explosion causing the fire. Find Avery Puckett and tell him to meet me in Oklahoma City.”
Word of the event in Oklahoma City was passed to members of the staff at Perkins Tyron Elementary, although students weren’t initially informed. At lunchtime, an unusually large number of parents signed in to have lunch with their children as word of the explosion at the Alfred P. Murrah building became known in Perkins.
Staff at the high school shared the news with students. Dale Britton wasn’t too worried about his parents because they didn’t shop in downtown Oklahoma City.
Joe Paul Britton, Debbie Stark and other students at Oklahoma State University saw news coverage of the explosion soon after it happened. All were stunned and many with family and friends who worked in downtown Oklahoma City went home. Joe Paul paged Debbie and they met in the student union at eleven.
“Falon said LaShelle went to Oklahoma City,” said Debbie when they met.
Joe Paul hugged her, and said, “Mom and dad are in the city, but I’m sure they’re OK, although things are probably crazy down there. The news said there might be more bombs and other buildings are being evacuated.”
“I heard about that. I think the airport is closed because they suspect terrorists set off a bomb. God, how could something like this happen in Oklahoma?”
Stopping and taking a deep breath, she said, “Grandma went to help Falon until dad gets back with the papers.”
“Can I help?”
Touching his arm, Debbie smiled, and said, “Do you know why I love you Joe Paul Britton?”
He grinned, and said, “Why?”
“Because you always care so much about other people.”
“I care about you.”
Giving him a kiss, she said, “I appreciate your offer. When will your mom and dad be home?”
“Around eight, but they may come back early if there’s too much turmoil down there. They were really looking forward to spending all day in the city.”
“Let’s volunteer to keep Henry and Tom if their trip gets cut short so they can have another day out.”
Taking her hands, Joe Paul said, “Debbie Stark, do you know what I love about you?”
“Tell me,” she replied, almost whispering.
Pulling her close, he said, “Everything.”
Chapter 3. It gets personal
Thomas and Henry bolted off the school bus at three forty-five and raced up the driveway. Light rain was falling and they laughed as they ran, enjoying the cool rain hitting their faces. Dale stepped out on the porch, and thought, “Mom’s gonna kill me for lettin’ them get their clothes wet and shoes muddy. Oh well, I’ll hose ‘em off and they can change before we go to church.”
Running up the steps toward Dale, Tom tripped, dropping his lunchbox as his body hit the concrete steps. Henry raced past him, and crowed, “I beat you.”
“Get your shoes off before goin’ in the house,” Dale said, reaching down to help Tom get up. Grabbing his right arm, Tom began crying when Dale turned him over.
Henry stepped down the stairs, and said, “What’s wrong?”
Seeing Tom wincing in pain with an odd angle to his arm, Dale said, “I think his arm is broke. Stay with him while I call the ambulance.”
Henry knelt beside Tom in an effort to offer aide, but there was no consoling him. Dale rushed into the house and dialed the Sheriff’s number, which was prominently displayed on a calendar next to the phone.
Phyllis Stark answered the phone at Payne County Weekly two minutes after four o’clock. “Is my brother there?” the caller blurted before Phyllis said hello.
“Who is this?”
“Dale. I’m lookin’ for my brother and thought he might be there with Debbie.”
“Debbie’s here, but I haven’t seen Joe Paul. What’s wrong?”
“I think Tom broke his arm and the ambulance is coming. I need Joe Paul to meet us at the hospital.”
“Oh no. We’ll find him.”
“What’s wrong?” asked Debbie.
Phyllis heard Dale hang up as she turned, and said, “Dale thinks Thomas has a broken arm and he’s waiting on the ambulance. Where’s Joe Paul?”
“Oh God,” Debbie said, reaching for the phone.
“He hung up,” said Phyllis.
“Is Joe Paul still in class?” Bo asked.
Glancing at the clock, Debbie said, “His class was over at four. I’ll call and see if I can get a message to him.”
“I’ll call,” said Phyllis. “Head over there and find him.”
“Go to the hospital if you don’t see him,” said Bo. “I’ll meet you there in a little while.”
As she drove into the parking lot of the Veterinary Sciences building at Oklahoma State, Debbie received a message on her pager, which read, “Joe knows.”
She saw his truck coming toward her and he rolled down the window when their vehicles were side by side, and he said, “Your grandma called.”
“I’ll meet you at the hospital,” she replied.
Joe Paul, Henry, Debbie and Bo sat in the small emergency department waiting room, not saying much as a wall mounted TV broadcast continuous coverage of the Murrah Building explosion. Debbie turned to Bo, and said, “How could this happen here?”
“I don’t know. There are a lot of rumors and speculation, but the FBI will figure it out.”
Nervously looking at his watch, then at the door leading to the treatment rooms where Thomas and Dale were, Joe Paul said, “Mom and dad are gonna flip about this. Dale thinks they’ll blame him for Tom gettin’ hurt.”
“I know your folks pretty well,” said Bo. “They’ll understand it was an accident.”
Dale came through the door of the emergency section and walked toward them as they all stood. Joe Paul asked, “How is he?”
“His arm is fractured and they think he may have a concussion, but that ain’t the worst of it.”
“What do you mean?” asked Joe Paul.
“A woman from social services came in and said the doctor found a big bruise on his ribs and more on his legs and thinks someone in the family has been hitting him and maybe I beat him up and broke his arm. They also talked about when he was here a few months back with a bump on his head.”
“That’s ridiculous!” exclaimed Joe Paul. “He was here in September because the little dumb ass jumped on one of the calves and it threw him. The bruise on his ribs is from wrecking his bike last week.”
“That’s what I told them and Tom said that’s how it was too, but they called grandma and grandpa Smedley and won’t let him go home until they investigate.”
“No one is hitting him,” said Joe Paul. “He’s a kid and does stupid stuff.”
“I’ll talk to them,” said Bo. “No one could think that’s the case. Where is this social worker anyway?”
“Right here.” Bo turned to see Arlene Wagner, a classmate from Perkins High School. He started to speak, when she placed her hand on his arm, and said, “Can we talk privately?”
As Arlene led him away, Debbie said, “Don’t let her do this Dad.”
Bo turned to her and said, “Stay calm. I’ll be right back.”
Arlene said, “Debbie’s a good writer. I’ve been following her columns in the paper.”
“She’ll like that, but what’s going on with Thomas?”
Opening the door of her office, she said, “Let’s sit and talk.”
When they were seated, he said, “You can’t really believe Tom is being abused by his family.”
“I don’t, but it’s my job to investigate when the medical staff raises concerns. The other complication is the drug case Pat was involved in last year. Even though she avoided prosecution because of her cooperation, she’s on probation for three years. I worked for DHS before I took this job and we investigated any exposure the children had to what she was doing. Although we found the kids were never exposed to anything, it’s a black mark on her record that’ll come up when anything happens involving the authorities.”
“OK, I get it. What’s next?”
“Dale said J.P. and Pat will be back this evening. I called Wanda and Chris Smedley, but didn’t tell them about investigating the incident. They’re listed to authorize medical treatment when Pat and J.P. aren’t available.”
“But, you have tell them, right?”
“Yes, but I didn’t want to do it over the phone. Look Bo, I’m on their side, but this has to be done by the book. I took this job last year because I’ve had my fill of child abuse cases, and believe me, it happens in this county more than you think. I’ll walk Pat through this and it will be OK. I know the DHS investigators and I’m sure they won’t find anything to cause Tom or the other kids to be taken away.”
“How do you know about Chris and Wanda being medical proxy?”
“From the DHS investigation. The kids came close to being taken away over Pat’s involvement in the drug case until District Attorney Dent and OSBI (Oklahoma State Bureau of Investigation) investigator Zeke Rawlings stepped in on her behalf. They knew the crooked bankers financing the drug dealers were threatening to foreclose on their farm unless she transported chemicals.”
“OK. What’s next?”
“You really have turned into a reporter,” Arlene said with a smile. “I hope you and LaShelle never stop asking questions. You did a good job exposing the drug corruption, but there’s still a lot of crooked stuff going on in Payne County. As for what’s next, the faster we get Pat and J.P. together with DHS, the quicker this will be resolved. Looks like Tom will be fine, other than a headache and having a cast on his arm, which he’s actually looking forward to.”
“I bet he is.”
“Dale said he left a note for his parents before the ambulance arrived. Poor kid, he feels so bad about what happened.”
“He’s a good boy and I’m sure he feels responsible.”
Both were silent for a moment, when Arlene said, “I’m sure you’ve been following the news. What do you think happened?”
“I don’t know. All kinds of rumors are going around, but LaShelle is down there and she called in Avery. The police are being tight lipped, but they’ll get to the bottom of it pretty soon. With federal offices in the building, the FBI will have all their resources on it.”
“Is there any chance Pat and J.P. were in the vicinity?”
“Joe Paul doesn’t think so. He said they were just going to have a day together and do some shopping.”
“I hope that’s the case. Let’s go talk to Joe Paul and Dale. They’ll have to be interviewed by DHS, but I promise they’ll make it as easy as possible for them.”
“These kids have been through enough. They don’t need this.”
Here’s the order link again. http://www.gofundme.com/8a0d70