I awoke with a terrible need to use the bathroom. If I had still lived in my nice little house on the cull-de-sac, I would have gotten right up. Since I no longer lived there, and since the distance from my bed to the bathroom was about twenty-five feet of bone chilling cold floor, I lingered in the bed.
Coal stoves are pretty to watch and cheap to run, but they tend to leave a house cold as hell first thing in the morning. If I could make it as far as the bathroom, I would be all right. In the bathroom a very small, but efficient, electric heater ran to keep the pipes from freezing. It heated the room to only forty-five degrees but that was better than the thirty of the bedroom.
I knew it was thirty from the rather large thermometer on the wall. It had to be large if I was going to read the numbers without my glasses. I finally quit stalling. I made the mad rush to the bathroom. Along the way, I slowed down only to grab my pants, and wool shirt.
I lingered in the slightly warmer bathroom long enough to brush my teeth after I had answered nature's call. Showering could only be done in the afternoon. It took that long to build up enough heat inside the house to prevent the wet hair from freezing on top of my head.
When I returned to the one large room of the cabin, I shook the grate to dump the ashes into the bottom of the French coal stove. I added a few large lumps of coal to the stove, then slipped back into the bed with my clothes on. I couldn't sleep, but I could lie in a twilight state until the room heated.
Half an hour later, the area by the stove was at least warm enough for me to drag my sorry ass out of bed. The first thing I did was to reach under the sink to twist the long rod which led to a water valve buried underground. Without that valve and my draining of the sink pipe every night, I would have had burst pipes every morning.
With the water running, I filled an aluminum tea pot, then moved the pot to the coal fired stove. One thing about the old French coal stove, it had a rather large top surface. When the stove had been used in France, it had been both the cook stove and the heater for a French peasant family. My father had bought it before anyone thought to collect such things. He had bought it just to heat his fishing cabin.
His fishing cabin had been my permanent home for the last two years. When Anne threw me out, I had nowhere else to go. The house, where we lived, had been hers before we married. Even though I paid for a remodeling job, it stayed hers after the divorce. In exchange for my repairs to her house, she didn't challenge the ownership of my dad's cabin.
I probably got the better deal, since I got away from both Anne and her daughter. I made the move the next day. It was only on mornings when the temperature was well below zero that I regretted the move. Since I lived in North Carolina, there weren't too awfully many of them.
I noticed again the funky smell of the cabin. It happened more on damp days than cold ones, but it was there that morning. The cabin had started life as a tobacco barn. The logs had retained the sweet smell of every leaf of tobacco which had been cured in it.
I had seen other barns and knew mine was large as tobacco barns go. At twenty-four by twenty, it was more the size of a double garage. My dad had made only a few changes. He had filled the dirt floor with broken bricks from a deserted power station on the river, the bricks made for a nice looking, but cold floor. He also added the bathroom, which bulged from the side of the barn like a tumor.
"The small kitchen sink, in the corner, and the insulation in the ceiling had been added the year before. I wasn't convinced that the insulation had done much good. The barn seemed to disperse heat like a giant outdoor radiator. Not withstanding, it was a pretty comfortable existence. I hunted some in the winter, and fished some in the summer. It seemed to be a pretty good life for a retired man in good health.
I pulled the plug as a sergeant of homicide just one month after the divorce degree was final. I had never looked back. Thirty years as a cop was more than enough for anyone. My pension was fair, and my expenses were low. I did just fine without any of their crap. I did, on occasion, miss the job. Usually when one of our backwater Sheriff's cars passed on the main road with his siren blaring.
My thoughts were interrupted by the sound of the water boiling in my teapot with no whistling device. I had learned a neat trick, sense my exile to the wilderness. I knew how to brew a single cup of coffee. I poured the water into a heavy mug, then dipped a small cheese cloth bag filled with coffee grounds into it several times. After four or five minutes, it was a fairly strong cup of coffee. I would have made more than one cup at a time, had I not drank so much stale coffee over the last thirty years.
I sat in the very old overstuffed chair for a long time, thinking about breakfast. To be honest I wasn't a very good cook, but I hated to spend the three bucks on somebody else's bad cooking. It was the only kind of cooking they did at the cafe. The cafe was about five miles down the road.
Since the room was heating up, and the outside was still as cold as a two dollar whore's kiss, I decided to cook on the coal stove. Breakfast was a couple of frozen sausage patties and toast. It wasn't fancy but the animal fat was filling.
After breakfast, I sat in my chair trying to work up the courage to leave the warm cabin. I had been meaning to do some hunting. I just hadn't been able to do it since the cold snap began. About the most I had been able to manage in the cold was a trip to the store house.
My dad had built a concrete block store house behind the cabin. He had used it mostly for tools and the like. I had cleaned it out, then installed a couple of dehydrators. It was filled with many large mayonnaise jars filled with dried fruits vegetables as well.
I bought the produce in the summer, when prices were low. There were also large white bags filled with dried meats of several different varieties. Most of it was game, I hadn't been able to eat all the meat at the time of the kill. The coal stove was ideal for cooking soups and stews, which comprised most of my dinners. Lunch was usually a piece of spicy jerky and a biscuit left over from the night before. Reconstituted fruit of one kind or another made up most of my deserts. I was probably healthier than I had ever been in my life.
I finally gave in to my one great vice. I turned on the radio to the, all news, station, then lit a very smelly cigar. A cup of fresh coffee, a cigar, and the radio seemed almost like heaven. I should have known that it wouldn't last.
A sharp rap on the door was followed by a female voice, "Anybody home in there?"
I moved across the quickly warming room to the door. I opened it to find a woman only a few years older than my fifty-five years standing under my porch cover. "Can I help you?" I asked.
"I think so, that is if I am in the right place. It is hard to know for sure. People around here don't give very good directions," the woman said.
"I guess that depends on where you are supposed to be?" I replied with a smile.
"Is this the Taft place?" she asked.
"It is," I replied.
"In that case could I come in from the cold?" she asked.
"If you aren't a bill collector or process server sure," I agreed.
She stepped through the door, then took a long look around her. While she did, I took a look at her. She seemed tall at first glance, but that was mostly because she was thin as a rail. If she ever had any hips or breasts, they had withered away. She did have nice silver hair, and a fairly wrinkle free face.
"Are you Edgar Taft?" she asked. "And do you really live here?"
"Yes to both questions," I answered guardedly.
"Frankly, I would have expected more. Do you mind if I have a seat?" she asked motioning to the straight wooden chair by the small table under the window.
"Not at all, and why would you have expected more?" I asked.
"I heard you were the sharpest homicide detective ever," she stated skeptically.
"Not anymore, now I am the most incompetent hunter ever," I replied with a smile.
"I doubt that, anyone who could live like this has to be pretty good at all the primitive arts," she said it sounding, for all the world, like a school teacher.
"So what can I do for you?" I asked. I almost hated to rush her into her story. I didn't get all that much company, especially women.
"Sergeant Everette suggested I come see you," she said.
"Donny Everette, do you mean to tell me some idiot, made another idiot a sergeant?" I asked with a smile.
"Donny is my cousin," she said indignantly.
"Does that make him less an idiot?" I asked. Since I didn't know why she came to see me, I didn't mind angering her.
"I guess not," she said with a gentle laugh.
"So why did Donny send you to see me?" I asked.
Her face slid from a smile to a look of great sorrow. "Mr. Taft six months ago my daughter was murdered by her husband. For some reason the police and district attorney have been unable to arrest him."
"All kidding aside, if Donny couldn't do it, then I sure as hell can't," I replied.
"My daughter lived in Greenpoint with her husband at the time of her death. Donny can't investigate over there. He also has been unable to determine, what if anything, the Greenpoint PD has done," she informed me.
"So exactly what is it you think I can do?" I asked.
.... There is more of this story ...