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Morgan County Midnight

Chapter One

(This is the first chapter of the sequel to Morgan County Morning.  It will be released late winter or early spring of 2015.)

GOD DIDN’T CREATE MAN TO DRIVE EAST EARLY in the morning into a blinding sun. Every bend in the empty, snakelike State Route 78 forced Connor Morgan to adjust and re-adjust the visor in his mini-Cooper; the deadly bright orb deliberately kept sneaking around the edges, to annoy him of course, when he was already stressed out beyond words. He had to hit I-77 North and then I-70 east to Pittsburgh to check on an oil and gas lease that he was positive was chasing a wily rabbit down a hole, dead-set not to be caught. Just because the Marcellus Shale geologic formation stretched from New York to West Virginia on the western side of the Appalachian Mountain range didn’t mean that it extended west to Ohio, especially as far as Morgan County. But, what did he know? This is what novices like Connor were for: to run down dubious leads as busy work, conjured up by the powers that be. Each of the 125 miles he drove—or was going to drive—wrenched his stomach into a tighter knot, distracting him from the business of driving with the more frustrating business of thinking. And, then, there was the wedding. He fought desperately to not think about the wedding.

On any other day, Connor would have been intense, focused on the job at hand. His dark eyes would have been riveted to the road ahead, his angular, clean-shaven face and strong jaw that was usually brightened by an easy smile (although not at the moment), all business. He had shoved his car seat back to the limit to give his long legs ample room, but today he still felt cramped. Frustrated would better describe his present mental state. He pounded his steering wheel. Why? What is wrong with me? Why am I such an idiot? I loved her—no, NO, I can’t think about it. She is his now, and I’m history.

But, images of the wedding bulldozed their way through his mind. Madison Markham was all about tradition. The Hammond 3C belted out The Wedding March, the 1842 music piece by Felix Mendelssohn, signalling the well-dressed crowd to rise. Connor joined them in fixing his eyes on the center door at the rear of the sanctuary where she entered on her father’s left side. Her 1970’s-influenced organza gown, modest, embellished with miniscule beads and a flowing, brocaded train, framed her natural beauty, evoking a perceptible intake of breath across the room. Her dark hair curled around the right side of her face and accented her delicate lips and nose, the features that captivated Connor from the moment he saw her in the first grade. He had never remembered her to be more beautiful. He had closed his eyes and thought “Why isn’t she walking down the aisle into my arms instead of Jeff Townsend’s?” The thought tortured his mind. It would not relent.

Had he not been so distracted, Connor might have noticed the black GMC Yukon Denali with tinted windows gaining on him, then swerving out into the passing lane inching into his blind spot. This stretch of Route 78 bends north and then east, with an embankment on the north side and tapers off into a wide drainage ditch on the south, with little room to wiggle in case of a close call. When the SUV pulled even with Connor, it began to ride close to the center line, and then crowded Connor’s vehicle to the right. Just then, as if on signal, a twin SUV barreled out of a driveway, into the path of the vehicle now driving parallel to Connor’s mini-Cooper. The oncoming Denali then cranked the wheel sharply into the lane Connor occupied. Hemmed in by the SUV beside him and blocked by the one in front, Connor slammed on his brakes. The velocity was too great for his brakes to hold. He had no choice but to take his chances in the ditch on the south side of the road. It was a preferable strategy to a head-on collision with an SUV three times its size, but still only the lesser of two evils. At sixty miles per hour, Connor’s Cooper flew down the slope, bouncing and fishtailing its way into the ditch, flipping upside down and coming to rest on its top. The two SUV’s roared away.

The sun disappeared and the bright blue sky went dark. Aside from a few angry killdeers circling in low flight and making their normal racket whenever they get disturbed, everything was quiet. Several minutes later, Connor slowly floated up from unconsciousness. A discharged airbag was pressing into his face and his ribs were on fire with acute pain. Sunlight blinded him, but in his dazed state, he wondered why the sun didn’t seem to be moving. Have I just been in an accident? He rocked his head side to side to see if his neck was broken and tried hard to recall what just happened. The picture started to develop, like negatives in a pre-digital darkroom. Two black SUV’s, one beside me, the second one in front of me. This had to be more than a coincidence. They ran me off the road! Why? He managed to thrust the thoughts about why he was in this ditch out of his mind and concentrated instead on getting himself out of the ditch. He maneuvered his arm out of the confines of the seat belt and forced it down into his pocket for his phone. When his hand touched his phone, he couldn’t understand why it was so slippery. Is there water in this ditch? He pulled his hand up and looked. It was dripping with blood. The sky went dark again.

The next face Connor saw was an Ohio State trooper who only came because a farmer drove by and dialed 911 after he saw the car in the ditch. “You’re lucky, son,” he said. Immediately, Connor offered a mental rebuttal, although he said nothing. No, sir. I have a praying mother!

Carted out on a stretcher, the EMTs took him to the closest emergency clinic in Caldwell, where nurses bandaged his ribs and stitched the cut in his side. Connor phoned his boss; the Pittsburgh trip would have to wait. Pops drove to get him. He called a tow truck to retrieve the mini, then took Connor back home. Struggling with pain, and determined not take pain-killers, he fought the pillow and mattress all night. He had a job to do. The future of forty-eight kids was at stake.



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Reader Comments (1)

Looking forward to reading this new book. Enjoyed Morgan County Morning and this preview has me interested.

September 18, 2015 | Unregistered CommenterJ. Mark Jordan

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