The Murder in Skoghall, chapter 1

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This is the book as it is being written. I'll post a chapter every Sunday. Let me know what you think of the characters and the action of the story. I'll use helpful feedback to create a better second draft and published book!

The Murder in Skoghall

by Alida Winternheimer

Chapter 1: A Fresh Start

Jessica Vernon ran away from her life when she was thirty-one years old. Ran away sounded childish to her, so she revised the thought. Jessica Vernon abandoned her life. That seemed to vilify her. Escaped? That word victimized her. Jessica Vernon began her life anew when she was thirty-five years old. Much better. Began anew implied choice and agency. If anything, Jess was determined to be her own free agent and to make all of her own choices going forward. “Never again” had become her mantra during the divorce. Never again would she marry a liar. Marry? Try date. Never again would she date a liar or a cheater. Never again would she compromise herself to keep a leaky tub of a relationship afloat. Never again would she sacrifice years of her life to some ridiculous ideal of marital sanctity. There is no sanctity when one of you has an addiction….

Jess took a deep breath, filling her lungs from the bottom up, the way her yoga teacher had taught her. That yoga class did more for her over the last nine months than her counselor had, and at a fraction of the cost. Jess relaxed the grip on her steering wheel and glanced over her shoulder into the back seat. A Golden Retriever, harnessed to the seatbelt, slept in a tight ball with her nose under a paw. She was only twelve-weeks-old and Jess had named her Shakti, a Sanskrit word for peace. As soon as Jess filed for divorce, she sent a deposit to a breeder and requested a girl. Jess got word her divorce was final the same day she drove to St. Cloud to pick up her new best friend. Her ex-husband didn’t like dogs, and the timing could not have been more significant to Jess. She named the little ball of fluff Shakti because more than anything, Jess wanted peace in her life from this point forward.

“Oh, sure, you’re cute now,” she said to the puppy.

Shakti snorted and twitched her little tail in response to Jess’s voice, but didn’t wake. Had Jess been smarter, or less eager, she would have put the move before the puppy. The last month had been difficult with house hunting, giving notice at work, organizing the move, and saying her good-byes to Minneapolis. Shakti had made the difficult torturous with house training in a second-floor apartment, needing to get up every two to three hours throughout the night, and she was a chewer. The corners and flaps of several moving boxes had been gnawed to pulp and Shakti had consumed as much newspaper as she shredded. When frustrated, Jess called Shakti the Dingo. The Dingo would have room to run at their new home, and that, Jess reminded herself, would make everything better—it had better make everything better!

Jess was lucky to escape her marriage with as much as she did. She kept her student loans and a small slice of their credit card debt. Mitch got the rest of it, which was fair, since his gambling was the source of their financial problems. And a few other problems, too. They sold their house and split the proceeds. And that was the boon that allowed Jess to start over.

Instead of downsizing and carrying on in the city, Jess spent evenings scouring the internet for semi-rural properties. She spent weekends taking long drives, visiting one old homestead after another. Jess found herself weighing size and setting against remodels and proximity to amenities. She ultimately chose an old farmhouse, white, two stories, big front porch. The kitchen was out-of-date and the closets were small, but there were plenty of rooms and an old red barn. The entire property was in a state just shy of disrepair, but the bones were good and the price was right. She’d have enough money left over from her settlement to make some improvements. The barn, she told herself, would come in handy some day. She liked the idea of keeping a few goats, or turning it into an artists’ studio and renting out space to local artists or holding workshops in the big red barn. Jess was all about possibility right now.

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