Fat hen farm 01- Killer tracks, p.1
Kitty slammed the door of the upstairs apartment, balancing the last box on her hip. She tingled with excitement—or was it the cold wind? No, it was excitement. She barely felt the cold through her puffy red down jacket. After careful y squeezing the box into her pickup truck for the final trip to her newly renovated home at Fat Hen Farm in Wil ow Fal s, she slid in behind the steering wheel and backed out of the driveway. She wouldn’t miss this place or her job working the night shift at the potato chip factory. The first thing she did when she found out about her inheritance, was quit that job. It was a horrible job ful of unfriendly, unhappy people. She probably would have had to quit anyway or risk getting depressed.
That was al behind her now. She stil needed to pinch herself once in a while to be sure she wasn’t dreaming. Now her biggest worry would be what project to start with first? Wel , chickens would be first. She knew she had a market for al the free range eggs she could produce for the local bakery. After that, she wanted Michael to get started building the farm store for her fruits and veggies. Diversity was the key to success. Produce just enough to sel at the highest price possible and have lots of choices for her customers. She was hoping to sel a lot through her farm store and the extra would go to the local restaurant and the co-op grocery store. She knew she was lucky that so many people wanted to buy local y grown food. She had the customers, now she just needed to grow the product.
Kitty had been completely surprised when her grandmother, Frannie, died and left the whole farm to her. Frannie had raised Kitty after Kitty’s parents were kil ed in a car accident when she was thirteen. It hadn’t been easy for Frannie, managing a dairy herd and raising a sul en teenager. It hadn’t been easy for Kitty, either. Frannie was stubborn, opinionated and strict but she loved Kitty like a tough mama bear and managed to save and put her through col ege. Frannie wanted Kitty to be a nurse or secretary, something she felt was a respectable career for a woman with the added bonus of finding a successful husband. It didn’t go over wel when Kitty decided to major in horticulture and came home with lots of new ideas for the farm. She dreamed of helping her grandmother bring the farm into the twenty-first century but Frannie was stuck to the old ways and wouldn’t listen to any of Kitty’s ideas. She could stil hear Frannie tel her, I don’t like those newfangled college ideas you’ve got your head filled up with. My grandpa had dairy cows. My daddy had dairy cows and that’s what will be here until the day I die!
That’s not exactly what happened. Several years before Frannie died, she sold the development rights to the land and the cows went too. It al owed her to keep the farm but she stil refused to try anything new. The last straw was when Kitty came home after her senior year of col ege and told Frannie that she was going to marry Roger Wilson, her high school sweetheart. She couldn’t have been angrier if a big white faced hornet nest had fal en on her head. She never liked that good-for-nothing Roger Wilson, and thought his brother David wasn’t a speck better.
Kitty and Roger went to the Town Hal and got married anyway. Tina and David, Roger’s sister and brother, were the witnesses. They moved out of Wil ow Fal s and Kitty visited Grannie whenever she had a chance. Without Roger.
She missed her best friends, Tina and Michael. The three of them had been inseparable growing up in Wil ow Fal s. Roger hated that Kitty was so close to his sister, Tina, but there was nothing he could do about it. He was always jealous and suspicious of Michael too. He resented the time Kitty spent with her friends. He wasn’t sure moving back to Wil ow Fal s was a good idea. Roger didn’t have Kitty’s love for farming and gardening but he sure didn’t mind helping her spend Grannie Frannie’s money. And there was plenty to upgrade the old farmhouse, build a modern barn, get a pickup truck and the equipment Kitty would need. Kitty was determined to fol ow her dream of turning the farm into something profitable.
Kitty headed to Fat Hen Farm by herself. Roger had his insurance business and said he couldn’t take any time off to help her with the move. That was just fine with Kitty. Tina and Michael were meeting her to help unload and it never went wel if Roger was around the three of them.
When Tina had first introduced her to Roger, she fel in love at first sight. He was so charming and handsome and she couldn’t stand to be away from him. Lately, she liked being around Roger less and less. She didn’t like his control ing, suspicious behavior. She thought he felt threatened by her independence now that she had inherited the farm and the money. Maybe he would come around. She certainly wasn’t going to let him interfere with her plans.
Driving up the windy driveway lined with stately oak trees felt like coming home to Kitty. She had always loved this farm and knew every trail, woodland and stream covering the one hundred acres. She missed Grannie and wished she had been able to accept Kitty’s decision to marry Roger. Maybe Grannie had been right. Too late for those thoughts. At least she had come around in the end and Kitty was thankful that she left this special place to Kitty. She was determined to turn this farm into a showplace.
Pul ing up to the house, Kitty honked to let Tina know she had arrived. Jumping from the car, Kitty shouted, “What do you think? Didn’t Michael do a fantastic job with al the renovations? Isn’t it al beautiful?”
“It’s perfect Kitty. And it looks like he left a gift for you inside. Come in and take a look before we do the unpacking. It’s nice and warm out of this cold wind. Close your eyes. I’l lead you . . . Okay. One, two, three. You can look now!” She opened her eyes to see her friends, Michael and Martha welcoming her into her new home. “You guys!” Kitty was beside herself with gratefulness to her friends. Michael gave her a big bear hug.
Martha, who had a second hand clothes store in town, handed Kitty a box. “Here’s a housewarming gift for you.” They al heard a tiny mew coming from inside the box. “I know you couldn’t have a cat in your apartment, and I thought this little guy might make a good companion for you.
Every farm needs at least one cat. I found him on the doorstep of Second Chance Clothes this morning on top of a pile of used clothes.” Looking inside, Kitty saw the tiniest, coal black kitten looking up at her. “Oh Martha, how did you know? It’s just what I’ve been thinking this farm needs first. He looks like a piece of licorice. That’l be his name. I’m so lucky to have al of you for friends. I don’t know how I can thank you for al the help and support you’ve given me.”
“How about free coffee and your delicious cinnabuns once you get your farm store opened?” Michael suggested with a smile.
“That’s a deal,” Kitty exclaimed, only too happy to repay her friends for their support.
Tina took charge. “Let’s get Kitty’s truck unloaded and finish unpacking so she has a place to sleep tonight.”
Kitty woke up with the sun streaming into the bedroom.
“Roger, what do you think? Isn’t this amazing?”
“What the hel are you talking about Kitty? It’s seven in the morning. I barely slept with this stupid kitten walking on me al night. And now the sun is too bright too early. You better get some curtains up today. I’m not getting up ‘til eight. Have coffee ready for me.” Roger rol ed over and went back to sleep.
Kitty wasn’t going to let Roger upset her. Not today—the first day of her dream. Climbing out of bed, she picked up Licorice, walked out of the bedroom, quietly closed the door and went downstairs to enjoy the morning.
“So, Licorice, what do you think?”
Licorice looked up at Kitty and mewed. Her heart melted.
“Thanks. That’s just what I needed.”
Kitty got the coffee pot going and made some pancake batter. She loved to cook and had taken some coo
The wonderful smel of coffee fil ed the kitchen as she started to unpack her kitchen boxes and put everything away in the beautiful maple cabinets and drawers that Michael had made for her. The kitchen was completely new. Michael had gutted the old kitchen and instal ed the maple cabinets, granite counters and tiled floor. It was by far the best room in the house with French doors opening to a stunning view of the hil sloping down to the river. It was open, bright and big enough to be the gathering place when she had company. Michael made planters for her herbs in the big south-facing windows.
Licorice was busy exploring his new home. He cautiously peeked around corners before venturing into a new space. Kitty laughed as she watched him. It was nice to have a home that she could fil with plants and animals instead of the smal cramped apartment they’d just left.
She heard Roger moving around upstairs. He came into the kitchen in a foul mood.
“I’ve got pancake batter al ready. Do you want some?” Kitty asked.
“No. Just coffee. I’l drink it on the way to work.” Roger grabbed the coffee mug and went out to his car without even saying good bye.
“Wel , Licorice, it’s you and me. I’m going to make myself some blueberry pancakes with real maple syrup. Hey, that’s an idea. Maybe I’l add making syrup to my list of projects! I know there’s a big sugar maple stand here. That’s something that I could start already this spring.” After cleaning up the kitchen, Kitty told Licorice, “I have to run out and get a kitty litter box and some kitty food for you. I think you’l be nice and cozy here in the kitchen on this fleece blanket. See you in a little while.” Kitty grabbed her keys and bag and headed out the door to get her errands done.
First were the supplies for Licorice. Next was something she was not looking forward to but she wanted to get it out of the way. Kitty headed to Jimmie’s Autos where her brother-in-law, David, worked as a salesman. Kitty had bought her truck from him but it wasn’t running right and she wanted David to either fix it or trade it for something else. She thought it was a lemon but she knew she probably had a fight on her hands with David.
Pul ing into the car lot, Kitty stretched to her ful height of five foot five, straightened her shoulders, shook her brown curls and marched into David’s office.
“Hi Kitty, what can I do for you?” David said in his silky smooth used-car salesman voice.
“I think you know why I’m here David. I’ve cal ed you over and over about the problems with this truck you sold me. You either need to fix it or get me something else. It hasn’t run right since I bought it two weeks ago. I need a truck that’s reliable and this has been nothing but a big nightmare leaving me stranded I don’t know how many times.”
“Kitty, you bought a used vehicle and we can’t be responsible for it once you leave the lot.”
“That’s not true David, and you know it! Do I need to go to the owner? I wil if you don’t fix this today!”
“Okay, okay. Quiet down. You don’t need to shout about it. I’l have the mechanic take a look at it but there are no openings today,” David said as he closed his door to keep the conversation away from everyone else in the building.
“That’s not good enough David. I need my truck. Or are you going to give me a loaner while you get it fixed?”
“I can’t do that. We only give loaners to customers who bought a new vehicle.” Kitty turned, opened the door and crashed into Jimmie Garcia, the owner.
“Excuse me Ms. Wilson. Is everything alright in here?”
“Oh, Mr. Garcia, I was just coming to find you. I’m trying to get my truck problems resolved and David and I can’t seem to come to an agreement,” Kitty explained as she glared at David.
Jimmie Garcia looked at David, trying to assess the situation. “David? What seems to be the problem?”
“Ah, wel , Kitty . . . er. . . Ms. Wilson has been having some problems but I explained that we don’t give loaners to customers who bought used vehicles.”
“We could make an exception this time I think. Ms. Wilson has been very generous to give access for the new River Trail construction to go through her farm. How about we transfer your things to a loaner until we get your truck fixed? Would that be acceptable Ms. Wilson?”
“Thank you, yes. That would be perfect!”
“It wil just take about 15 minutes to get a car setup for you. We’l have your truck fixed as soon as possible and give you a cal when it’s ready to be picked up. David, can you type up the paperwork please? And Ms. Wilson, there wil be no charge. We pride ourselves on having happy customers.”
“Thank you, Mr. Garcia. I was starting to lose faith in your service but this sounds like a good compromise.” Kitty sat back down in David’s cluttered office waiting for the paperwork. Looking around while she waited, she noticed how disorganized everything was. Piles of folders, empty soda cans and old takeout food containers were piled everywhere. She wondered how he could keep track of anything in this mess. He busied himself but said nothing to Kitty. She could tel he was fuming about what had just happened. She regretted buying the truck from him but Roger wanted her to give David her business. Roger had borrowed money from David over the years when they were having trouble making the rent. It certainly had been a sore point between them.
Kitty signed the papers for the loaner, got the keys and headed home. She stil had a lot of unpacking to do before meeting Roger for dinner at the Wil ow Fal s Diner.
Kitty saw Roger’s car in the parking lot of the diner. She drove slowly looking for a parking spot in the crowded lot. She was starving after al the running around she’d done and was looking forward to a nice, simple meal with Roger. She hoped he was in a better mood from the last time she’d seen him that morning. She was always optimistic about their relationship getting back to what it used to be.
Waving to Roger when she walked inside, she headed to sit with him at the booth. The diner had been in Wil ow Fal s for as long as she could remember and she recognized most of the people as she slid into the seat across from Roger.
“How was your day?” Kitty asked, hoping it would be the start to easy conversation.
“It sucked!” Roger said without even looking up to greet Kitty. “You’re late. I already ordered for you.” Kitty was having trouble being patient with his lousy attitude. “What did you order for me? I was looking forward to the seafood platter.”
“I got you a cheeseburger and fries. If you don’t like it, don’t eat it.” Kitty was trying not to let the tears overflow down her cheeks. She didn’t know why Roger was always so angry with her and she was trying hard not to let it dampen her excitement of moving to the farm.
David and his girlfriend, Candy, walked over to the booth where Kitty and Roger were sitting. Kitty didn’t notice until she heard David yel ing at her.
“You got me fired. I hope you’re happy now! Come on Candy, I don’t want to spend one more second in here!” Candy smirked at Kitty and fol owed David out the door. The diner was suddenly deathly quiet. Kitty saw Roger looking at her.
“What the hel was al that about? What did you do to get my brother fired?” Roger asked with venom in his voice.
“I didn’t get him fired. I was just trying to get my truck fixed and he wasn’t helping me. Jimmie came into David’s office and gave me a free loaner.”
“I told you I would take care of it. You always ruin everything Kitty.” Roger glared at her, got up and walked out.
Kitty looked around. Everyone was pretending they hadn’t heard the argument. Her friend Gloria came over and sat down next to Kitty.
Gloria put her hand on Kitty’s arm and quietly said, “Don’t let him treat you like that Kitty. He’s always blaming other people for his problems.
Hey, here’s your food. Y
“You’re a life saver Gloria. I don’t think I can eat much, I’m too upset. I’m happy to send it home to your beautiful black lab. Keep an eye open for a dog like that for me. Martha gave me a stray kitten and it would be great to have a dog at the farm too. I’d love to adopt one from your shelter.
Here, take al this. I’m heading home to see if I can straighten this out with Roger.”
“Kitty, you don’t have to put up with that, you know.”
“I know, Gloria.”
Kitty found her keys for the loaner and headed home. It wasn’t far. The farm was just on the north edge of town. There was a light dusting of snow on the driveway. She fol owed the tracks from Roger’s car to the house. His car was parked out front. The headlights were on. The driver door was open. She saw footprints going to the barn.
This didn’t make any sense.
Kitty pul ed her car next to Roger’s, got out and cal ed his name. “Roger? Roger? Are you in the barn?” Silence. The silence that accompanies snow gently fal ing, muffling al other sounds. Spine tingling silence when something doesn’t feel right.
Kitty walked toward her beautiful new barn, stepping in the footprints so snow didn’t get in her shoes. Her heart raced faster and faster the closer she got to the open barn door.
Peering into the blackness of the barn, she couldn’t see anything. Her eyes needed time to adjust to the darkness inside. A shape was on the floor. “Roger?”
She ran to the body. Roger was face down on the new floor. Dead. She didn’t need to touch him to know. Her scream was carried away by the wind and the deathly silence returned. In shock, she backed out of the barn, closing the door quietly and retracing her steps. Like a sleepwalker, she got in her car trying to think. Time seemed to be frozen like the air outside. This was her home now. Leaving the car, she went into the house.
This cold, scary nightmare surrounded her like a fog.