Kelly Williams wasn't just my grade eight teacher, she is-was-also the mother of John and Paul Williams: two cool teenaged boys, older than me to be sure, but whom I certainly would have liked to know outside of school. They were polite boys, and I knew that Dad liked them. With me being so young and a bookworm, of course they weren't interested in me, even though Dad said I was pretty and the boys were starting to look.
Officer Sam Ellis came by and threw a jacket over my shoulders. He was Uncle Gordon's assistant, about thirty years old, with blonde hair. He was a widower. I really liked him, and so did a lot of other girls in Vesey.
My mom gave me a look that signaled for me to focus. She was nearing the point where she had seen what she wanted, and would have something to say. She walked around the car once more.
"I noticed two things," she said in her clear, untroubled voice- she was a powerhouse when she talked, not as potent as Jessie, but still good. "The tires are inflated, and the car landed almost directly below, though slightly to the right, of the place where it left the embankment."
Uncle Gordon grunted, as he always did at Mom's remarks, and radioed up for a pressure valve. The car was slightly hoisted on broken branches, so a flat tire wasn't obvious. Sam came down with the valve a moment later, balancing his descent on winch-wires attached to the car, and passed it to Uncle Gordon.
"The husband and the mother are here," he said, rather grim-faced.
"Back up there you go, then," Uncle Gordon said gruffly. "Keep them at bay." He checked the pressure of the tires. "Right you are, Doctor. It wasn't a blowout."
I gathered the jacket around my shoulders. "Why did she turn sharply off the road, though?" Mom said. "Maybe someone drove on the wrong side of the road and forced her off the embankment."
"I'm working with a genius," Uncle Gordon said without smiling, slapping at a mosquito. He often teased mom that way.
"Look at the front tires," Mom said. She reached into the car through the large hole that had been smashed into the driver's side window. She tried to turn the steering wheel further to the right, but couldn't. "If you turn it this way, it's locked." Uncle Gordon checked for himself, then turned the steering wheel the other way. It worked.
"That doesn't mean anything, though," he said, and slapped another bug. He sprayed insect repellent on his hands then rubbed his arms and face, passing the can to my mom, who did likewise then passed it to me. "The light is going fast," he continued. "This is supposed to be an open-shut accident scene, five minutes tops. Is there anything else?"
"Look inside, here." Mom pointed to the headlight button. "Kelly's lights are on. I'll bet she was driving at night, not in the afternoon when she was alleged to be on the road. Also, after the impact, she was alive-she burned to death."
He grunted again. "I shouldn't have asked if there was anything else." He looked more closely at the console. "How do you know?"
"By the position of her arms. She tried to get out. In addition, there's no windshield damage where her head would have hit. The flip slowed the car. All those broken tree-branches prevented the roof from being crushed. Look inside." She pointed to the seat belt. "Do you see it?"
He reached in and pulled it outward from its housing with a gentle tug. "Not really."
"It wasn't done up at the time of the fire," she said, "yet she must have worn it at the time of the accident. If not, she'd have been thrown clear out of the car, or left some imprint." Uncle Gordon tried the driver's door, but it was jammed. He looked at Mom, but didn't let out a grunt. "Also, this fire wasn't from the gas tank," she continued. "The tank's still intact. It was a propane fire."