Almost Heaven, West Virginia

WV

Morgantown, West Virginia, December 1, 2014

“Hiya, Darlin’.”

“Well, hiya, Jody!  I been thinkin’ ‘bout you, wonderin’ where ya been?”

“Oh, I been around, Karla.  Haven’t been feelin’ myself lately, y’know?  So I just been working, trying to keep the bills paid, keep my mind off things.”

“You ain’t still down in the dumps over Sharon Kay, I hope?  Big handsome guy like you, got his own business and all, the ladies gotta be clamorin’ over ya!  That gal’s got a screw loose, if y’ask me.”

“Heh, yeah, more’n a couple screws, I’d imagine.  How’s about a nice big slice of that rhubarb pie, Sweetie?”

“Comin’ right up, Jody.”

Karla adjusted her apron and dug the fresh baked rhubarb pie out of the revolving display case, cutting an extra large slice with surgical precision.  She placed it on a yellow ceramic plate bearing the gaudy logo of Ruby & Ketchy’s Diner and topped it off with a generous dollop of Reddi Whip.  Karla slid the pie across the counter to Jody, followed by a steaming mug of black coffee.  Ordering was usually just a formality at this place, the handful of local regulars rarely deviating from what they’d eaten every morning for the past several years.

“S’posed to be another cold one today, Karla.  You still got that little space heater in your trailer?”

“Yeah, Jody, and you know that thing don’t throw much heat, but I been back to knitting again and I made myself a couple of real warm sweaters that should keep me cozy.  They’re cute, too, got puppies and snowflakes on ‘em.  I’m gettin’ a lot better at workin’ them needles, that’s for sure.”

Karla had been harboring a secret crush on Jody Lee Hunt for a long time, but she was well aware of the shapely figure and Hollywood starlet beauty of Sharon Kay Berkshire, and was quite certain that a man with Jody’s tastes would never fall for a frumpy, overweight waitress like herself.  She had to be content with the few precious moments they had together each morning in the diner.  Just as she was hoping to settle down on the stool next to him, the bell above the front door alerted her to a couple entering the diner, obviously passing through from out of town judging by their rushed movements and big city attire.  Annoyed, Karla pulled the bite-pocked Ticonderoga pencil from behind her ear, flipped open her order book and approached the booth into which they had settled.

“Good mornin’, Sir.  Ma’am.  What can I get for ya?”

“Coffee,” the man mumbled without looking up from his laptop, a device Karla had seen some kids using at the public library but whose function eluded her.  The woman on the other side of the booth said nothing.

“And for you, Honey?  How about a slice of our famous apple pie?  Just got a batch of fresh apples in last night, nice n’ juicy.”

“Nothing for me, thanks,” she said distractedly.

Like most long-time residents of Morgantown, Karla viewed out-of-towners with suspicion, unable to grasp why they always seemed so darn serious and frequently, downright rude and vulgar.  After filling a large mug with coffee and delivering it to the man with forced hospitality, she returned to the counter and leaned in close to Jody.

“I don’t know ‘bout you, but I kinda feel sorry for those city folks.  They just seem so darn hostile, like they ain’t got no ‘preciation for nothin’.  I’ll take my nice little trailer out in Cheat Lake over some big ol’ penthouse any day.”

“Yeah, that’s the truth, Darlin’.  Lot of ‘em come by my shop needin’ a tow, and I give it to ‘em…business is business, you know?  But they never seem to want to say anything to me other than hagglin’ over the price.  Kinda sad, I agree.”

“I only been to the city once, out to Norfolk a few years back with the ladies’ choir.  It scared the daylights outta me!  All the noise and the shoutin’ and the cars…I couldn’t wait to get back home.  It’s safe here, that’s what I like.  You don’t never have to worry ‘bout gettin’ mugged or shot…’less you’re a deer, of course!”

Jody chuckled politely at Karla’s down home witticism, but she could tell there was something else on his mind.  She wished there was some way she could comfort him.

“So how’s your truck holdin’ up, Jody?” she asked, changing the subject.

“Oh, it’s doin’ good.  F-150, y’know, tough as nails.  Just gave it a tune up, ‘cause I’ll be doin’ some traveling soon.”

“Yeah?  Where to?”

“Wherever the road takes me, I guess.  Just fixin’ to get outta Dodge for a few days, clear my head, change of scenery and all that.”

“Well, I’ll sure miss ya, Darlin’.  Don’t stay gone too long!”

“I won’t, Karla.  You know I wouldn’t leave my favorite waitress all by her lonesome longer’n a few days.”

Karla knew full well that Jody was just being polite, but she still found it impossible not to blush at the flattery, all the same.

“Listen, Doll, speakin’ of that, I might just hit the road as soon as I’m done here.  I’ll call the shop and tell Billy to man the fort while I’m gone.  You think you can fetch me some sandwiches to go?  I like to take a little taste of home with me when I travel.”

“Comin’ right up, Sweetie!”

Karla walked back to the kitchen and started filling a large paper bag with sandwiches: egg salad, chicken salad, and a special pulled pork brisket on a hard roll.  She rolled the top of the bag down neatly, stapled it shut and brought it out to Jody.

“On the house, Jody,” she winked.

“You mean on you, dontcha?”

“Free is free, Darlin’, don’t question it.”

Jody laughed, swilled his last sip of coffee and stood up, approaching Karla behind the counter.  To her pleasant shock, he gathered her in his arms for a lingering embrace, gently stroking the back of her disheveled blonde hair.

“You take care of yourself, Karla.  Okay?”

“Well, of course, Jody.  You do the same.  I hope your trip helps you feel better.  I wanna see that big handsome smile of yours when you get back, okay?  Be careful of them city folk.”

“I will, Karla.  Thanks for everything.  Oh, I almost forgot.  Put out your hand.”

“How come?”

“Just put out your hand, I wanna give you somethin’.”  Karla smiled shyly and extended an open hand to Jody.  He dug in his coat pocket and produced a necklace with a gold heart-shaped locket dangling from the thin chain.  “From my heart to yours, Karla.  It’ll look prettier on you than–”.  He paused before finishing his sentence.  “It’ll look nice on ya, is all.”

“Thank you, Jody.  I’ll sure treasure this.”

Karla watched as Jody stepped out into the light morning snowfall and climbed behind the wheel of his black Ford pick-up.  Something told her that this may have been the last time she’d ever see him, though she had no idea why.

**************************

                Lieutenant Michael Baylous of the West Virginia State Police had shown up on Karla’s doorstep just as she had been readying herself to turn in for the night.  His insistent pounding on the metal door frame had startled her, and they spent a long time conversing through the narrow space afforded by the chain lock before she was convinced that he was who he said he was and finally let him in.  Now she felt as if she were on trial for some crime she didn’t commit.  The lieutenant’s questions were delivered with an uncalled-for aggression and obvious suspicion.  No, she had not seen Jody since this morning, she told him multiple times.  No, he did not say where he was going.  No, she did not personally know Sharon Kay Berkshire.

When the officer told her through the door that he needed to ask her a few questions about Jody Lee Hunt, she had instinctively unclasped the necklace he had given her this morning and slipped it surreptitiously into the pocket of her bathrobe.  She was sure that everything that followed was a dream from which she’d awaken soon enough, and it would be time to get ready for another day serving the congenial clientele of Ruby & Ketchy’s.  Lieutenant Baylous never disclosed exactly why he was conducting this interrogation about Jody, but Karla knew that he must be in some sort of trouble.  Whatever it was, she would not give the police any more information than might have been gleaned from her curt, non-committal answers to the questions being asked with calculated repetition.  After about 45 minutes of this, the Lieutenant thanked Karla for her time, tipped his broad-brimmed hat and walked back to his cruiser in the gravel driveway, the windshield having accumulated a thin dusting of snow.  Karla watched through the blinds as his taillights diminished into the dark moonless night.

*******************************

                On Monday, December 1, 2014, Jody Lee Hunt, owner of J&J Towing in Westover, WV, shot and killed Doug Brady at his place of business, Doug’s Towing, a rival outfit located less than a mile from his own.  Earlier that year, Hunt had complained to Monongalia County officials that he believed Brady and other local tow operators had been “poaching” his business.  Brady was shot twice in the head at close range.

                Hunt then drove to a residence in nearby Cheat Lake, where his ex-girlfriend Sharon Kay Berkshire and her current boyfriend Michael David Frum were living.  Frum was shot to death inside the rented domicile and Berkshire was found outside with two bullets in her head.  Hunt and Berkshire had dated for two years, until Berkshire broke off the relationship in October of 2014 when she began dating Frum.  Over the course of their involvement, Berkshire had filed two restraining orders against Hunt, withdrawing both shortly afterward.

                The last stop on Hunt’s rampage was the home of Jody Taylor, Hunt’s cousin and former business partner.  Hunt suspected Taylor of having had an affair with Berkshire while the two were still dating.  Taylor was also shot to death.

                After a twelve hour manhunt, Jody Lee Hunt was found dead of a self-inflicted gunshot wound in the cab of his pickup truck in the woods off of U.S. Route 119.

                Before taking his life, Mr. Hunt posted a long, rambling manifesto on his Facebook page detailing his various grudges against all four of the victims.  Hunt dwelt extensively on the injustices he felt he had suffered at the hand of Sharon Kay Berkshire, remarking that “Relationships are not a game.  One’s heart is not a game.  Life is short.  It’s not all games.  Don’t play a game with one’s heart.”

                Hunt had an extensive criminal record and was prohibited from owning a firearm.  Police do not know where he obtained the weapon used in the crimes.

                Police interviewed two employees of J&J Towing, Brian Nicholson and Billy Blosser.  Both expressed shock at the news, stating that they knew he had been depressed over the demise of his relationship with Berkshire, but did not believe Mr. Hunt was capable of such acts.  Nicholson opined, “He’s a good guy.  You never think he’d walk out and do something like that.  Why, he’d take the shirt off his back for you.”

                Mr. Hunt’s final Facebook post ended with a plea for understanding…and kindness to animals:  “I except (sic) my actions were wrong but in my eyes just.  So I will leave this world as others did.  May your saddened hearts be replaced with hate for me.  Please take care of my dogs.”

                Ruby & Ketchy’s Restaurant is located on Cheat Road in Morgantown, WV.  Lieutenant Michael T. Baylous is currently a Public Information Officer with the West Virginia State Police.  Karla is a fictional character.

9 thoughts on “Almost Heaven, West Virginia

  1. Very skillful piece: the dialogue feels authentic, and I could picture everything perfectly. I enjoyed reading it despite the subject matter we find at the end, because it adds depth and realism to a story as reported by the news. It also sparked several thoughts about the deeper issues lying behind.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Caroline! This was the other piece, along with “Karma”, I completed for that creative writing meet-up group I was in last year. The “writing challenge” that resulted in this was even more simplistic than the first one, which was simply, “write a story on the theme of Karma”. This one was “write a story using any 4 of the following words” followed by a list of very pedestrian words like “pencil” and “apple” and “mug”, all of which appear in the story. Though I feel I did the best I could with the 2 lame assignments I undertook, you can probably understand why I never returned to that group. They also found my writing “unnecessarily disturbing”.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. FANTASTIC! Be as unnecessarily disturbing as you want. I love it, and don’t you dare ever change. The people in that writing group clearly had never experienced real life. But you took their challenge and made it your bitch. Boom.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. You’ve certainly got a knack for fictionalising true stories, something made all the more impressive by the fact that a) from what I’ve seen you tend to approach very sensitive subjects, and b) despite said sensitivity you hold back nothing. I also love your ability to emphasise that “media villains” are still people, something that’s often forgotten in the heat of the lynch mob.

    Liked by 1 person

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