Even in a small town, stuff happens.
Jack and I rejoice in many good friends in Big Stone Gap, people who would feed us if we were hungry, mow the grass if we were incapacitated, take a bullet for us….
When our reliable Honda Hybrid developed a summer cold, gal pal Elizabeth lent me her green Subaru. She was working 12-hour shifts as the ER doc and, in her own words, “If I did want to go anywhere I couldn’t anyway.”
The evening before I needed it for an early morning meeting, E’s husband Mark parked the loaner at the end of our bookstore’s wheelchair ramp with the keys inside. (Ours is a small, safe town.)
About 11 p.m., as Jack read by bedside lamplight and I lay comatose, the book I’d been reading covering my face, a loud crack resounded–followed by every dog in the neighborhood going berserk.
As I stirred to awareness, Jack checked the bedside clock. “Drama’s running late tonight,” he said, and we thought no more of it. Our shop is across the street from the outdoor theatre that annually produces the Trail of the Lonesome Pine, a folk musical based on the novel of John Fox, Jr. –Big Stone’s most famous son. Every night about 10:30 gunfire signals the next-to-last scene.
The next day I blithely trotted down the ramp and hopped into the Subaru, whizzing off to my important college meetings, then back to the Food City parking lot a few blocks from our shop, again leaving the keys inside the vehicle without a moment’s worry.
That afternoon, the phone rang, and Elizabeth’s voice said without preamble, “Why is there a bullet hole in my car?”
It turns out the shot we’d heard had been an actual altercation, taking place at the house next door. A woman, two men, some alcohol, a loaded firearm . . . stuff happens. Police had been called to the scene, but hadn’t found the suspect (who’d fled) and hadn’t cordoned the area because, well, hey, it’s a small town. Who was gonna be out there before they returned and studied the scene in daylight?
Me, with the 7 a.m. breakfast meeting. I’d driven off in their evidence, while an officer was literally in his car on the other side of the gym, grabbing some crime scene tape to block off the Subaru. (Imagine how HE must have felt…)
The cops spent the morning trying to find Elizabeth–whose car they recognized, since this is a small town and she’s the ER doc and police see a lot of the ER–and figure out who had the car, when, and where. E, having worked the night before, was dead to the world with her cell phone off at home waaaaay out in the valley. And the police were, quite frankly, kinda scared to ask her because the usual driver of that car would be Elizabeth’s teen-aged son.
A comedy of errors, it was. E found the hole before the police found her, when Mark returned from his day’s ramblings and took her into town to fetch the Subaru. Meanwhile, the smart bookshop owner with a writer’s keen observational powers drove to Wise (about twenty minutes away) and back in a car with a bullet in the door. As for the police officer with the crime scene tape … well, no one’s seen him around lately.
All’s well as ends well. They caught the misbehaving lads, insurance fixed the bullet hole, and the only gunshots ringing through the nights now are once again in the penultimate scene of the outdoor drama.
But Elizabeth won’t let me ride in her new car, a sweet little powder blue Mini-Cooper. I have pointed out to her that lightning never strikes twice in the same place, but she just smiles and says, “Let’s not tempt fate.”