Alex slowed to 45 MPH as the warning sign suggested. The next sign was green with white block letters stating Clover Ridge Population 234.
“Again, with the small towns. I hate these stupid stories and these dumpy little towns.” He muttered under his breath. “I’ve lived in this state all my life and never heard of Clover Ridge until it came over the news blotter.”
Clover Ridge was only 100 miles from Spring Valley which was an actual city. With over 100,000 people it housed a daily newspaper that Alex worked for. They often grabbed stories from area towns.
Alex found main street without a problem and parked his Jeep. His head was still a little foggy and it throbbed. He knew he should have gone home earlier the night before, but the crowd at Rowley’s was amazing and he was having fun.
He usually didn’t drink the night before he was going on assignment. He needed to be sharp to get to the bottom of the story, but again the crowd was so fun.
He looked up from his phone and noticed two women standing in front of his vehicle. They were talking and pointing. When they noticed him look up, they quickly walked into the café.
He squinted against the sun as he peered out the windshield. An oversized white and green striped awning hung over the door with the name Clover Coffee Co. on it.
He smiled and shook his head. Here we go.
As he walked into the dimly lit restaurant, he spotted the two women who were outside is vehicle. He made is way to the short breakfast bar and sat on a stool that spun all the way around.
There were two others at the counter. He looked over noticed the man with the plaid lumber jack hat who was giving him a nasty side eye.
“Hello.” Alex said. The man just looked back at his coffee cup and didn’t respond.
The waitress touched his shoulder and said, “Hey, I’ll be right with you.”
He noticed her name tag which read, Jenny. He smiled as she bounced back behind the counter to grab a glass of water and a menu.
She took his order and as soon as it was ready, she set the plate down and sat next to him.
“So where are you in from?”
“Spring Valley.” He replied and picked up his burger.
“Hmph!” The gentleman in the hat slammed his coins on the counter and stormed out the door.
Alex looked up in surprise.
“Oh, don’t mind Big Louie. He’s always a grump. I guess if you live in a junk yard you have a personality to match.” Jenny said.
“Big Louie, huh? He owns the junk yard?”
“Yeah. He and his son Levi.”
“What’s their last name, if you don’t mind me asking?” He was hoping he wasn’t pressing his luck, but Jenny seemed really nice.
“Why would I mind you asking. I’ve got nothing to hide. It’s Whitehead.” She smiled and left to attend her other customers.
Alex pulled out his notebook and wrote the names in it.
It couldn’t be that hard to find a junk yard in a town this size. Although he knew it wouldn’t be easy to get in especially since his encounter with Big Louie.
Alex left the restaurant and felt much better after some great coffee and a good meal. He was pleasantly surprised at the flavor of their coffee. Most small-town cafés he had visited had coffee that was nothing more than colored water.
When the story came over about the explosion at the junk yard, Alex didn’t think it was that big of a deal. Apparently, it had rocked the entire city. As he looked up and down main street, he wasn’t surprised that a small explosion would do that.
He was kicking himself for telling Jim he would investigate it. He was the lead investigative reporter at the Herald, but lately he had been toeing the line and knew he was on a short leash at work.
Ever since the rising star Emma arrived at the paper, he realized he needed to shape up. He took every story that Jim threw his way. Truth be told he was a little worried about being knocked off the pedestal he created for himself.
Jim told him he had a source in town that told him there was more to this explosion. So now here he was in this God forsaken town digging up a mystery he didn’t even think existed. And from the reaction of some of the folks in town he knew it wouldn’t be easy, because he already knew they didn’t like mysterious figures in their town.
An unexpected bright spot was Jenny. She was carefree and had a smile that lit up a room. Alex liked her immediately and not just because she was the only one who didn’t give him a sideway dirty look when he walked through the door.
Alex decided to start by finding the junk yard and looking around. He drove up the street until he hit a residential area. At the end of the street he had a choice, left or right. The preverbal fork in the road. He turned left first. He drove past a school bus garage and what looked like the city garage with snowplows and road graders sitting outside. He took another left at the stop sign. Bingo! He saw the tall fence surrounding a property just ahead of his turn. There was a huge sign outside the fence that read Big Louie’s Salvage.
Alex drove slowly past the sign. He noticed there was a gate and quickly realized this was going to be much more difficult than he first thought.
He decided that striking up a conversation with some of the locals might be his best first bet. He took one more left and made the full circle around the entire town. He stopped at the grocery store to see if he could get some info from the cahiers.
The bell on the door rang announcing his arrival. A woman behind the counter looked up from her magazine and quickly looked back down. He wandered up and down the 3 isles and decided this might not be the best idea.
“Hey.” He said to the woman. “Lucy, right?” He looked at her name tag. It’s nice that everyone had name tags.
“Hi,” she replied reluctantly.
“I’m in town doing a story on the explosion that happened last week. Were you working when it happened?”
“No.” She said simply.
“Were you in town?”
“No.” She said again.
“Do you know anyone who was around that I could possibly talk to?” Alex prodded.
“No.” She said one last time.
“Well, thanks for your time!” Alex said and turned to walk out.
“You know you do well to mind your own business, mister.” She called after him.
“Have a nice day.”
That proved to be a painful experience. Alex walked toward his car and noticed the library and city offices were across the street.
He crossed the street and entered the large green building. He peeked into the office who’s door read City Office. He knocked and said, “Hi, is anyone here?”
“Hi, can I help you?” A voice returned his question.
“I’m Alex from the Spring Valley Herald. I’m here writing a story about the explosion in town last week. Do you think I could ask you a few questions?”
The voice was attached to a white haired woman in her 60’s. Her demeanor changed as soon as he mentioned he was a reporter.
“I’m sorry sir, but I can’t help you with that.”
“Were you here when it happened? I understand it shook the entire town. I would imagine this building shook a lot since it’s right up the street from the junk yard.” Alex prodded.
“I don’t know anything about it. If you will excuse me, I was just leaving.”
“Well maybe I could come back later. Is the mayor here?”
“The mayor doesn’t office here. He has an office at his house.” She sucked in her breath as she realized she had made a mistake.
“I don’t suppose you would tell me where that is?”
“I really have to go, so excuse me.” She literally pushed him out the door and locked it behind her.
“Thank you, Lois.” He said as he raised his hand to wave goodbye.
She spun around and narrowed her eyes.
“Your name plate is on your desk! I’ll stop by later to see you again.”
She hurried off and climbed into her car. He could see her out the window. He walked down the hall. He stopped at the community bulletin board. There were lots of yard sale posters and several business cards tacked to it. Then something caught his eye. It was a poster for a community fall carnival scheduled for the following day. He had really hoped that he could smash out this story and be on the road home tonight, but that was not going to happen.
He wandered down the hall to the library. It was a very big space for the size of the town. After reading the plaque outside the door he realized why. The space was donated by a local author and an endowment fund established. He smiled and it made him feel good to know that people, even those who became famous didn’t forget about their roots.
He found the check out desk and noticed a young man behind the desk.
“Hi there! Can I help you find something?” The young man asked.
“Yeah, I’m Alex. I’m writing a story for the Spring Valley Herald about the explosion last week. I’m afraid I’m not getting much cooperation from anyone else in town.”
“Oh, I bet your not!” He expressed. “No one in this town wants to talk to strangers. Especially strangers who are reporters.
“I get it. But why is this explosion so hush hush?”
“Well I don’t know for sure, but I have heard some rumors.”
“Do you care to share those rumors with me? Sometimes rumors turn out to be leads which turn out to solving the mystery.”
“I heard that Levi is trouble. I’ve heard lots of rumblings of that kid and none of it’s good.”
“Like what?” Alex prodded.
“He is a thief for sure. And I heard he is now into drugs.”
“Drugs? Like using?”
“No, like making and selling.” The young man said.
“Really. Wow. That’s extreme. I really appreciate your help. Thanks for talking to me. I will be staying the night and going to the carnival tomorrow. Maybe I can drum up some more information.”
“I wouldn’t count on it. No one will go against that family. They’re scary.”
“Why are you talking to me?”
“We don’t have any law enforcement here. The county cops only come through if something big is going on. Maybe if you print your story, we can get something done around here. I’m sick of them doing whatever they want. Some people take it into their own hands and have gone after them, but it usually doesn’t turn out so good for them.”
“Wow. That’s disturbing. Well, I will see you around later or tomorrow then. Thanks again! Hey what’s your name?”
“Peter. And yes, I will be at Lucky’s later tonight for a dart tournament and around tomorrow. See you later.”
Alex walked out of the library with more hope than he had on his way into the city building. After all the non-responses he got he was sure this story would go no where fast. But this turn of events was great!
Alex found the motel on the edge of town and got a room. He decided it would be best to get all the information he gathered into an outline. He set up his laptop and began writing. An hour later he had emailed Jim the outline and got the response he wanted.
“Great job!” Jim wrote. “Keep following the leads and get me that story!”
Alex realized he was hungry again. When he ate at the café it was already midday and hadn’t eaten again. He hoped that Jenny was still working, so he headed to main street again.
He pulled up to the restaurant and saw that it was completely dark. He looked at his watch which said it was 5:00pm. He rolled his eyes and decided to drive around the other side of town and find the bar that Peter had told him about.
He got back on the main highway and it didn’t take long to find Lucky’s. It was in a great location and surely attracted traffic off the highway. He pulled in and entered the building. It was a supper club style place and Alex really liked it.
He walked to the bar and asked for a menu. He turned to look around and see if Peter was there yet. He saw the area where the dart boards were set up and started to walk over there. Before too many steps forward he noticed that smile. It was Jenny. His smile grew and he kept walking.
“Hey guys!” He said as he approached the table.
“Hi Alex. You’re still here.” Jenny said.
“I am. I got a couple of leads this afternoon and I want to follow up tomorrow.”
Just then Peter walked up behind him. “Hey man, good to see you.” He said and slapped Alex on the back.
“I was just telling Jenny about what I told you this afternoon.”
“Yeah, I got the outline of my story done and got approval to keep going, so I’ll be here at least through tomorrow. I’m hoping that I can get more statements at the carnival tomorrow.”
Jenny raised her eyebrows at Peter and tilted her head toward Alex.
“Tell him.” She said.
“Ok so you’re not going to find anything out at the carnival. No one is going to talk to you and the proof you need is at the junk yard.” Peter blurted out.
“I get that, but I am not going to get anywhere near that place in broad daylight.”
“Exactly.” Both Jenny and Peter said simultaneously.
“Let’s go tonight. We’ve lived here all our lives. We know how to get in without being seen. We used to sneak into the junk yard all the time when we were kids.”
“That is not a good idea. It could be dangerous. I couldn’t ask you guys to do that for me.”
“You didn’t ask.” Jenny said plainly. “We’re offering!”
“We have nothing else to do tonight and nothing exciting ever happens here. Let’s make some excitement.” Peter said.
“I thought you had a dart tournament?” Alex questioned still a little apprehensive about this whole thing.
“Are you kidding? We have a dart tournament here every night. We won’t be missing much.” Peter laughed.
“All right then I guess we can go. I need to eat first and maybe have a beer.”
They agreed to meet at Alex’s hotel room at 10pm. The three set out to see what they could uncover at the junk yard. Alex hadn’t done this kind of investigating for awhile and he was having fun. This was the reason he got into reporting. He was always adamant about getting to the truth and solving the mysteries.
They parked in front of Jenny’s friends house and walked the rest of the way. Alex followed Jenny and Peter to a path in the back of the property behind the city garage.
They walked through the maze of crushed cars and old washing machines. “The original story said they were crushing a washer and it had a propane tank in it. I didn’t even know they crushed those, but I guess it makes sense.”
“I don’t think that’s what happened. I think that’s what they wanted people to think happened. Here let’s go this way.”
The trio walked up behind one of the buildings. “Someone’s in there. I hear music.” Peter said.
They crept up to window and peered in. The scene before them was unbelievable. They all crouched down and started to whisper. “What should we do?” Jenny asked.
“I’m going to take some pictures and we’re going to get out of here. This is all I’ll need. We can call the cops when we get back to the hotel room.”
“What’s that? Did you hear that? Oh my God someone’s coming. This way.” Peter said.
They ran around the other side of the building and hid behind an old truck.
“I saw someone out there, I know I did.” The trio heard a voice say.
“You go that way and check it out. It’s probably some stupid kids playing around in here, but I don’t need any trouble with this.” Another voice ordered.
The three sat behind the truck and didn’t move until there was no more movement in the lot. Peter was the first to stand up and look around. It was pitch black out, because of the clouds. That was to their advantage. “Ok come this way.” He whispered.
They kept close to the tree line as the exited the same way they entered. They ran back to Alex’s car before anyone said anything.
“Sorry Alex. You didn’t get your picture or your story.” Jenny said breathlessly.
Alex smiled as he stood bent over with his hands on his knees trying to catch his breath. “Actually, I did.” He said as he held up his phone for the others to see.
The story Alex wrote turned out to be an award winning one. He was proud of the job he did and he made new friends in the process. After the story printed the town which was terrorized by a horrible family was given some justice.