Authors: Christina Thompson
Tags: #Romance, #Romantic Suspense, #Mystery & Suspense, #Suspense
This is a work of fiction. All of the characters, organizations, and events portrayed in this novel are either products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any similarity to actual events or people, living or dead, is entirely coincidental.
Chemical Attraction. Copyright
2012 by Christina Thompson.
Edited by Matthew Brennan. Cover by www.ravven.com.
All rights reserved including the right to manufacture in any format, sell, or distribute copies of this book or portions of this book. For information, visit: http://www.48fourteen.com
Their Rigid Rules
In loving memory of Kimberly Ann
THE BARN’S MERCURY LIGHT AND moonbeams streaming through the clouds outlined the lurking shadows. Huffing, the man lumbered along the edge of the cornfield. As he entered, damp leaves whacked his neck. In the humidity, his dress shirt and tan linen pants stuck to his girth as he loosened his tie. A spider web clung to his face. Picking at the nearly invisible threads, he heard a muffled noise and tried to calm his heavy breathing. The rustle of corn stalks closed in around him.
“Who’s there? Benny, is that you?”
Hearing snaps of the stalks at his right, he ran crossways through the crop. The mud suctioned his dress shoes. He slipped, landed on a row of corn, and struggled to push himself out of the thick muck. Looking up into the moonlight, he saw grotesque shapes surrounding him. The shadows emitted guttural cries. He had time for one short scream before sharp blows struck his body.
IN RURAL, WEST MICHIGAN, THE sleepy teens staggered off the bus and congregated under a huge oak tree. David Connor and Lloyd Landford watched from the broken-down porch of the farmhouse. The house and barns had lost their luster and now stood with peeling paint and cracked boards.
“You’ve got some new recruits,” Mr. Landford said. “I’ll give the instructions, and then you can take over.” He fixed his overall strap and shuffled toward the tree. “All right, for some of you, this is your first summer job. You are corn de-tasselers. David is not your friend today. He is your crew leader and will not tolerate corn or tassel fighting.”
In jeans, a gray t-shirt, and work boots, David could tell which of them had done this before. Like him, some didn’t care about getting wet, but most had dressed in rain gear or garbage-bag suits for the heavy morning dew and irrigation. All wore some type of baseball hat. The veterans wore light towels under their hats that protected their necks and ears from the burning sun.
Mr. Landford pointed to a young girl applying sunscreen to her arms. She wore flip-flops on her feet. “If you can’t come prepared in the right shoes, I don’t need you here.”
She rolled her eyes. “These are more comfortable than heavy work boots.”
As the teens walked toward the field, David waited for last minute orders. “Keep them together.” Mr. Landford nodded at the flip-flop girl. “She won’t last to the end of this row. The rest will be better prepared Monday, I’ll bet.”
“You got it.” David pushed his wavy brown hair behind his ears and readjusted the towel under his hat.
“I appreciate your help. The farm hasn’t been the same since Zita died.”
“I lost my grandparents to the flu last year, too.”
Mr. Landford sighed. “I think everyone here lost someone they loved.”
“Are you going to the charity banquet tonight? The money raised will go toward a memorial.”
“No, it’d be too hard. I miss her.”
“She made the best peanut butter cookies.”
Mr. Landford chuckled. “They were good, weren’t they?”
David monitored the group and pulled any missed tassels. He had started de-tasseling in middle school. As an upcoming senior, he was now promoted to crew leader. Many fields around Allenton were strictly for feed, but some hybrid fields had male and female rows. The teens de-tasseled the six female rows while the two male rows on each side pollinated them. The process increased the yields for any type of climate or soil condition.
For the extra spending money before school started, this tough job for teenagers lasted only three weeks, beginning the last week of July and ending the first week in August. The dawn-to-dusk work had to be completed within a limited amount of time, before the tassels were mature. Physically challenging, the work was only suited for those few, who could handle the stifling hot fields, the miles of walking, and the countless cuts from the leaves. Many had nightmares about unending rows of corn; but if you could get through a summer, you gained the respect of your peers.
“David,” Jon yelled, using his gloved hands to pull tassels while he walked, “isn’t your band playing at that big party tonight?”
“Yeah! I think we got picked because we played standard rock for our audition. My dad calls them the
“I heard everyone will be there. It’s like an adult prom,” Stan yelled from his row. “My mom’s going with a date she actually likes.”
“Your uncle?” Jon laughed.
“Don’t throw that tassel, Stan.” David continued, “My mom said BennTech is sponsoring the memorial banquet and will be donating flu vaccines this year. People are already panicking after last year’s epidemic.” He grabbed a missed tassel then crisscrossed a few rows over. Tall like his dad, he could easily reach above the stalks.
“I can’t believe twenty-three people from our little shit town died. Holland only lost five and that city is way bigger than we are,” Jeremy said.
Stan stuck another tassel behind his ear giving him a camouflaged-look in the middle of the corn field. “I heard they all got flu shots. Didn’t do them much good.”
“Who’s still back there? Where’s Tiffany?” David asked as the guys finished their rows. “Take a break until she catches up.”
“Ten bucks says she won’t make it past lunch,” Jon said as more teens came out of the field.
“Come on, guys. Help me out,” Tiffany whined from her row.
“No way,” David yelled. “Everyone does their own work.”
Tiffany walked out of the field covered in mud from her bare feet to her knees. She wore her flip-flops on her forearms. Her blond hair clung to her back, neck, and face. The seniors chuckled as they lined up for their next row.
“Don’t I get to rest?” she asked.
David shook his head as he assigned the rows. “Stop complaining or you’ll never live this down,” he whispered.
She limped to her row. “What do you mean?”
“Last summer, Cindy Sherman thought she could get the guys to help her because she was ‘popular’. She started the school year realizing that nobody wanted to be associated with a whiny brat.”
“I don’t know her.”
“Exactly. Get going. You’re already behind.” He readjusted his towel and hat over his damp curls and followed the group back toward the farmhouse.
While the group sprawled out under the shade of a tree, waiting for Tiffany, they heard a loud shriek. She ran out of the field, falling to her knees. Covered in sticky yellow goo, she threw up. The group stood as David walked over to her.
“Too hot?” he asked, holding his nose against a putrid smell.
“Oh God, don’t make me go back.” She hurled again.
“Get some water and cool off.” Her retching made him want to barf. “Stay put, you guys. I’ll finish her row and be back in a minute.” He walked into the field. A moment later, he ran out again, as white as Tiffany. “Junior, is everybody accounted for?”
“Yeah, all twenty.”
“Get them on the bus, now!” he said, whipping out his cell phone.
Eva Connor showered while her husband shaved through the mist on the mirror. With the bathroom door open, the steam filtered into their bedroom. She rinsed her long auburn hair as Matt stepped into the tub next to her. She smiled with her eyes closed.
“Do you want me to wash you next?” she asked.
“That sounds like a great idea.” He chuckled and reached for her soapy skin.
She kissed his dark-haired chest as he rested his chin on the top of her head. Her petite figure fit perfectly against him. Nine years ago, she had met Matt and eight-year-old David at the hospital. She had been in a car accident and Matt had been shot in the leg. It was love at first sight for both of them. She had married Matt two months later and adopted David a month after that. She’s been crazy about her guys ever since.
He leaned down to kiss her as the bedroom phone rang. Ignoring it, he pulled her closer while the shower sprayed them. A minute later, he heard his cell.
She laughed. “I told you they’d need you today.”
He groaned. “I just asked for one weekend off.” After kissing her once more, he stepped out of the shower. He grabbed a towel and rubbed it over his crew cut. “What?” He listened. “Yeah, okay.” Hanging up, he turned back to her. “I’m sorry, honey. I gotta go. There’s a problem at Landford’s farm.”
She froze. “David’s out there.”
“The sheriff made sure to tell me he’s okay. They found something in the field and want me to check it out,” he said, drying off. “You shouldn’t expect me any time soon, though. I’ll meet you at the banquet.”
She wrapped her hair in the other towel. “I’ll be setting up most of the afternoon. Don’t be late. You’re giving the opening speech.”
Matt sighed. “Maybe this will take a really long time.” She kissed him again and smiled. “Fine, I’ll make the speech, and then we’ll finish this,” he replied.
A mile outside town, Matt turned onto Landford’s dirt driveway and its deep potholes. He gritted his teeth as the car bounced toward the two county cars parked by the school bus.
Leaning out his car window, he yelled at a deputy. “Kevin, what the hell’s going on?”
“Hey, Chief Connor, the sheriff wants to talk to you.” Deputy Doveski pointed to the yellow tape to the right of the house and vehicles.
He hurried toward Sheriff James Benton, whose belt painfully cut his large gut in half. “Jim, did the de-tasselers get overzealous with the corn wars?”
“The crew found something you need to see. Watch the vomit.”
He looked around. “Where’s David?”
“The bus got too hot, so he moved them to the other side of the house under the oak. Here it is.”
Matt saw a large decayed lump on the ground. It seemed to be a bald man in a tan suit coat with a muddy hole in his abdomen. Maggots squirmed on what was left of his face.
“A girl tripped into the body. Her hand sank into the abdomen, letting out the fermented gas. She got a face full of stink.” The sheriff wiped his blotchy face with a handkerchief.
“None, but we did find these.” Benton handed him two plastic bags containing feathers.
“Birds pecking at a corpse?”
“Whatever bird these belong to might have killed him. The M.E. said the peck marks could have caused the injuries.”
“I’ll take a bag and ask around. Maybe the vet knows. Anything else?”
“I’ll want you there for the autopsy. Dr. Ellis wants to do it sometime Tuesday,” the sheriff said.
Matt turned toward the farmhouse. “Are you done with the kids?”
“Yeah, we already have a list of names.”
As Matt came around the corner of the house, he heard David. “Tiffany, nobody’s going to make fun of the puking.” Still crying, she walked away toward the other girls.
“How you doing, David?”
“I may not sleep good for a while.”
“I’m proud of you for taking charge of the situation. You can tell the kids they can go. You want me to drop you off somewhere?”
“No, I’ve got mom’s car and the band’s got to set up.”
“Let her know you’re okay. Hey, have you ever seen this type of feather before?”
“Those feathers are huge,” he said, shaking his head. “Um, dad, on the other side of the field we got a whiff of some funky odors coming from the woods. We were thinking maybe a meth lab.”
“We’ll check it out. I’ll see you tonight.”
Matt and four of his officers slowly approached the abandoned shack in the woods near the cornfield. The smell of cat urine lingered, a definite sign of meth production. With guns drawn, they quietly approached the open door. Someone had cleared out quickly. Looking up at the redheaded giant next to him, he holstered his gun. Officer Bobby Callahan had been his right hand since Matt became Chief of Police.
“Bobby, call the State Police Response Team. Let them know there’s toxic waste. The rest of you check the area. Nobody goes inside until the team arrives.”
“You got it, chief,” Bobby replied.
Breathing the fumes was dangerous, and the threat of an explosion increased from the cooking of the materials. He dialed the sheriff on his cell. Michigan had created a drug task force in the effort to fight the production of narcotics. Local law enforcement worked with county, state, and federal agencies in a joint effort.
Allenton County had the highest rate of methamphetamine addiction and production in Michigan. Area farms had the ingredients for making the substance and acres of state forest and fields to hide their labs. The crime rate had increased because of the theft of anhydrous ammonia from farmers who used it for their crops and because of the theft of Sudephed and other brands of pseudoephedrine from drug stores.
When the response team arrived, Matt informed them of the body found in the field. In full Haz-Mat gear, they processed the biohazards and area soil, keeping a close eye on any other evidence pertaining to the body.
“Madeline Allison Pierce, put on your shoes and get going,” Madeline told herself out loud in her second floor loft apartment in downtown Allenton.
With a sigh, she walked the first block to warm up. She hated every aspect of running. She fought that internal voice every single morning not to do it. It’s too hot, too cold, too rainy, too tired, early meetings. She had vast excuses in her Rolodex. But every morning she won the health battle and ran her set path around the outskirts of town. Three agonizing miles. She had been running that course for the last year and she still despised it.