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Home > Books > Excerpts - Fiction > Goslyn County

Goslyn County

Submitted by: A.M. McKnight


 


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A mostly black community with its roots in farming, Goslyn, Virginia lay just south of the State’s Capital. The once small, close-knit county had grown rapidly in the past two decades and boasted a population of just over fifty thousand. But the county’s crime stats had grown as well, and the latest offenses included several break-ins and rumors of a meth lab. Time had brought many changes, and many of the longtime folks of Goslyn no longer recognized their community and longed for days gone by. 
 
Goslyn PD Detective Olivia "Ollie" Winston loves her family and friends and shows it through her sense of humor. Just like her neighbors, she too worries about the recent events, and it's her job to find out who's behind the crime spree. 
 
While investigating three burglaries, Olivia meets IRS Special Agent Maureen Jeffries who is pursuing a tax fraud suspect. Their cases are connected, and both soon discover they have much in common, personally and professionally.

Chapter One excerpt of Goslyn County

“Ollie, if you don’t stop banging on my TV, I’m gonna chase you out of here with my broom!”

Olivia Ann Winston looked at her grandma and shook her head. “Grandma, this used to be a TV. Now it’s just a heavy block of junk. Look at it. There’s no color, the picture won’t stop jumping, and the light on the converter box keeps blinking.” Olivia leaned against the huge floor model set and straightened the crooked antenna. The faux wooden side panels were peeling, and the cardboard backing had warped around the edges.

Grandma Rita May Jones didn’t mind. She loved her TV. It matched well with her old-school style of knee-high stockings and a closet full of pinstriped housedresses. She still used a pair of curling irons heated on top of a gas stove pilot to do her hair, and she swore she could bake a loaf of bread better than any brand found in a grocery store.  

“Dear child, it’s a black and white set,” Grandma Rita said, “and you have to turn the knob at the bottom to fix the picture. And as long as I keep getting my soap opera, I don’t care about a blinking light.”

“Where’s the flat screen I bought you?” Olivia asked.

“In the hall closet. Now please turn off my TV and scoot out of here with those mums and daffs!”

“Yes, ma’am.” Duly scolded, Olivia grabbed an armful of the potted yellows and whites and marched out the back door and into the community garden. Digging and planting was always on the weekend schedule at Grandma Rita’s house. And with the Sun beaming down on an early Spring Saturday, every neighbor within a four-block radius was expected to pitch in.

Olivia had to admit that gardening was a welcome relief from investigating burglaries and armed robberies. She often thanked her grandma--when she wasn’t complaining about the work--for starting the garden and for having it in her backyard. People were at their best when they had a common goal.  

A mostly black community with its roots in farming, Goslyn, Virginia lay just south of the State’s Capital. The once small, close-knit county had grown rapidly in the past two decades and boasted a population of just over fifty thousand. But the county’s crime stats had grown as well, and the latest offenses included several break-ins and rumors of a meth lab. Time had brought many changes, and many of the longtime folks of Goslyn no longer recognized their community and longed for days gone by.  

“All right, Grandma, I planted the mums and daffs,” Olivia said as she returned through the back screen door. “What’s next?”

“That was fast.”

“Well you’ve made me do this for years. I think I’ve got the hang of it by now.” Olivia raised her brow at her grandmother.

“Next are the sweet potatoes.” Grandma Rita ignored the sarcasm and pointed to a large tray of shoots sitting on the floor just to Olivia’s right. “Be careful pickin’ ‘em up. Just sow ‘em like I taught you in that row Harold already tilled up by the tool shed.”

“Hey! No fair, Grandma!” Olivia looked at her elder thumbing through a magazine at the kitchen table. “You’re in here chillin’ while I’m getting dirty.” She pointed to the grass and dirt stains on her old Levis and faded Lincoln High T-shirt. 

Now forty-one and standing five-eight with a slim, toned figure, Detective Winston always felt like a school kid, unsure and awkward, around the woman who helped raise her. Grandma Rita stood a slightly bent five-four, but her personality was straight and strong. Her confidence was earned in her early years as a southern black woman widowed by the Korean War. Now in her late eighties, Rita May Jones was still a strikingly beautiful, dark-skinned woman, just like Olivia’s mom and just like Olivia.  

“Hush, child,” Grandma said. I’m collecting ideas for the garden. Besides, I already picked a pot of string beans and planted a row of tomatoes all before you rolled out of bed this morning. Now get out of here with those shoots!”

Olivia groaned, pretended her feelings were hurt, and carefully lifted the tray and backed out the door. Just as she turned around, there stood Harold Brooks with a shovel in one hand and a head of cabbage in the other.

“Hey, Detective, Lady of the house givin’ orders again?”   

“Morning, Mr. Brooks. Yes, the gray-haired taskmaster is at it again.”

Long retired from the post office, the brown-skinned eighty-year-old Mr. Brooks stood six-foot-two and took pride in not looking a day over sixty. He wore a neatly cut mini-afro with a large, gray patch just off center.

“Let me guess. Sweet potatoes, right?” he asked as he nodded at the tray in Olivia’s hands.

“Yes. And let me guess. Coleslaw for Sunday dinner?” Olivia nodded at the cabbage head.

“Indeed. It’ll go perfect with your grandma’s famous roasted turkey.” Mr. Brooks looked past Olivia and tried to see through the screen door. 

Though she and Mr. Brooks were a generation apart, Olivia always sensed that he understood what it was like to be considered different by some. Just a guess on her part, but the detective thought maybe Mr. Brooks was gay. He never married despite many attempts by a few local widows. And he never spoke of any love interests despite Olivia’s occasional attempts to coax a name out of him.

“She’s right inside,” Olivia said as she stepped around him and headed to the garden.

“By the way, thanks again for coming to the neighborhood watch meeting.” Mr. Brooks turned slightly and looked over his shoulder.

“No problem, Mr. Brooks. Thanks for inviting me,” Olivia said as she turned to face him.

“Oh, and I heard you met Maureen.” Mr. Brooks winked as the name rolled off his lips. He didn’t bother waiting for a response as he quickly disappeared behind the screen door.

Maureen? Olivia’s eyes widened. How in the world does he know…

***

Olivia grumbled to herself as she knelt down in the dirt, “This is starting to feel like a second job.” She hoped Grandma Rita didn’t have anything else she wanted done. 

It was almost noon and many of the neighbors were present and hard at work. Mrs. Thompson was tending to sprouting potatoes. Mr. Allen and his six kids were pulling weeds from around the red peppers. Mrs. Allen--pregnant again--was watching and giving instructions. Mr. Jackson was across the yard spreading mulch around the azaleas, and members of the “biz wiz” club had started sowing new rows for melon seeds.

Olivia finally planted the last shoot. 

“Good morning, Professor Winston,” said a sleepy-eyed twenty-year-old girl who had walked up to Olivia.

“Good morning, Nicki.” From the bags under the girl’s eyes, last night must have been rough. “Long night again?”

“Yes, ma’am. He’s still not sleeping through the night,” the single mother said.

“And imagine, only eighteen more years to go,” Olivia joked. 

“Sorry for turning my assignment in late, Professor. My internal clock is all messed up.”

“Don’t worry about it. You did a good job.”

“So where can I start?” Nicki asked as she looked around the garden. 

“How about by saying hello to my grandma first? Then we’ll put you to work.” That got a big smile. 

Off went the young mother who, Olivia knew, would hear some words of wisdom from Mrs. Jones and, perhaps, a bit of gossip from Mr. Brooks.

Olivia, with her lieutenant’s permission, spent every other Wednesday night in Richmond teaching basic math through trigonometry to young adults at a community college. She thought the class was a good way of helping many students who didn’t get the attention they deserved while in middle and high school. It was also a way of showing her mom that her degree in mathematics wasn’t wasted. She could still see the look on Selma Ann’s face when she told her she wanted to be a police officer. It was that look that said, “Lord, will this child ever do what I want her to?” Mama Winston’s plan was to have her daughter one day head the math department at a distinguished, historically black college or university. 

But Olivia didn’t have the same passion as her mom did when it came to teaching. Instead, an ordinary field trip to the local police department over twenty years ago set Olivia on a path she knew she wanted to follow. She entered the Police Academy straight out of college. After ten years in uniform, she made Detective.

Olivia’s cell phone rang. The lady’s always on time, she thought. She wiped her hands on her jeans and pulled her phone off her belt. “This is Detective Olivia Ann Winston of Goslyn PD, Crimes Against Property and Persons Division. How may I help you?”

“If you weren’t my child, I swear …,” said the warm voice of Mrs. Winston. 

They both laughed.

“Good morning, Mama. How are you?”

“Just fine, thank you. What are you planting this morning?”

“Sweet potatoes. What poor child are you punishing with the multiplication table this morning?”

“Hey, I don’t punish. I empower, young lady. Look at how you turned out!” She had Olivia there. 

For the last two months, Olivia had been house-sitting for her mom who was in Haiti with several other retired teachers. They were helping to re-open the schools that had been devastated by the latest round of bad weather. Mrs. Winston, now in her sixties, was a lifelong educator who believed knowledge not only gave you power, it also obligated you to lend a hand to those in need.  

“So anything new going on?” Mama asked.

“Not a thing. I replanted your rose bushes as you requested, and Mr. Johnson repainted the front porch columns.”

“What about the floors?”

“Mr. Johnson gave them a good sand and polish. Everything looks brand new. Anything else, Boss Lady?”

“Ollie, you know how much I love that house.”

The whole world knew how much Selma Ann Winston loved her home. Second to Olivia, it was the best gift she had received from her husband, John. It was a beautiful three-bedroom brick rancher built from the ground up by the late Mr. Winston. Rose bushes and shrubs surrounded the house. A gorgeous red cedar swing was on the back deck porch, and the backyard view extended for a clear half-acre, giving a perfect view right into Grandma Rita’s backyard garden--because Mr. Winston knew mother and daughter liked to stay close.  

“How was your week?”                                      

“Nothing exciting, just the same old police work.”

“Do I want to know the details, Ollie?”

“Oh, Mama. No one has shot at me, and I haven’t had to shoot anybody.” Olivia tried to put her at ease.

“Okay. By the way, thanks for the photos you finally sent. The kids think you’re beautiful, and the girls really like your hair. That style is called ‘twisties,’ right?”

“Yeah, Pat talked me in to getting them.”

“That reminds me. I hear you have a special friend named Maureen.”

“Where did you hear that?!”

“Never mind where I heard it, just fill me in.”

“Sorry, Mrs. Winston, but we have a bad connection. I think I’m losing you.” Olivia held the phone away from her ear.

“Very funny. Okay, be that way. I’ll let it go, for now. Tell your grandma I’ll call her tomorrow night. I love you.”

“I love you too, Mama.” Olivia flipped the phone shut and laughed out loud. It’s good to be loved.

* * * * *

A.M. McKnight is a lawyer by day and a writer and reader of lesbian fiction by night with an occasional aspiration to be a poet. Please visit her site at the link below.

A.M. McKnight

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