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Saturday, September 20, 2014

Silver Strutter Dead Chapter One.



The women couldn’t get the horse to quit stomping on the man long enough to see if he was alive.
Realtor, Maria Sebastian, had an appointment to meet with her client, Donna Kelly and horse farm owner Dixon Whitmire. A never-ending season of foggy night time ice and stripping winds yellowed puddles, lakes and streams with pine pollen.  Everyone in north Georgia, depressed from constant sinus headaches, stretched tense hope for sunshine while winter teased. Its grip held with alternating cold nights, rainy days, five minutes of warm sunshine then back to the rain. During those five minutes some of the buds on the trees burst open. But those five minutes passed unnoticed when Maria and Donna heard the rampage going on inside the barn. Though Ms. Kelly owned Arabian horses, the Whitmire farm raised prize-winning Tennessee Walkers, and was the most beautiful farm in Forsyth County, Georgia. Also the most expensive.                                                      
Maria pulled up to the stud barn, expecting to find busy people brushing, working, and washing horses. However, no evidence of human life was found, only wild kicking, thrashing and whinnying instead.
Donna Kelly’s black F-10 pickup truck had parked beside Maria’s Jeep Cherokee.  Both out of their trucks, they looked at each other questioningly then hurried into the barn.
The horse that put Georgia on the TWA map this year, paused only a second when he saw them from his barred stall. A plaque over the door read, “Silver Strutter.”  Unconcerned with niceties the frightened animal aimed his big feet at a body lying in his stall, pulverized from the horse’s one-thousand pound stomps. Maria gagged and controlled a scream when she saw the bloody mass that used to be a person. The stallion in the neighboring stall was so upset by the odor of death and Strutter’s adrenaline rush that he also kicked the walls, bucked, reared, rolled his eyes and made the awful stench take second place to the horror.
Maria dialed Dixon Whitmire’s cell phone number, hoping he was not the dead man.  When a cell phone rang from somewhere in the barn, it set Strutter off again kicking the side of the stall, causing the next stall’s horse, Ambling Ambler, to do the same. 
“I think it’s my phone call that caused them to go off on another tirade. If this poor man is Dixon Whitmire, his phone is under him or somewhere else in the barn. If you’ll call 911,” Maria said, “I’ll see if I can find a way to divert the horses’ attention.” 
Donna immediately stepped back out of the barn to assure reception on her cell phone, and Maria searched for an oat bag to lure the wild horses into a lull. 
Maria checked the second stallion to see why he was following Strutter’s lead. The overpowering odor permeated the whole end of the barn where the stallions were kept.  Clean fresh straw bedding could not be smelled. The second stallion threw his head as if to get away from the stink. Maria gagged, then breathed through her mouth as she pawed through a grain storage room three stalls down. She poked her head into the storage room, flashed on hoof picks, various horseshoes, an ancient, ragged shoe puller nobody had ever cleaned, ropes, chains, leads, halters, bridles, dangling leather reins and two oatbags all hung on a dusty pegboard. She snatched the bags down, added oats from a fifty-pound bag lying on the floor and trotted back to the stalls thinking about mice probably nesting in the bag as well as the oats.
Donna, returned inside the barn, excused herself from the 911 operator, set the still live phone on a stall post and took one of the bags from Maria to swoosh enticing grain toward Ambler.
Strutter slowed his killing rage and perked up his ears at Maria’s offer of a treat, despite dripping sweat and blood from a hundred welts on his chest. He huffed at the oats, dived his head into the bag, snuffed twice and started chewing. Maria fastened the bag over his face and ears.
Amber had done the same with Donna’s offering. 
The women heard sirens in the distance, along with the sound of a tractor running somewhere nearby.
“I’m going to move the black out of this stall to that one over there.” Maria pointed across the barn.  First she slid the end doors closed and turned on the overhead lights.  Opening the stall door cautiously, she noticed Strutter’s shoulders had also been beaten pulpy, blood running down his legs to his heavily shod feet. He wore no halter. She patted his neck gently and fashioned a war bonnet over his head with a nearby rope. He cooperated while he still blew and munched while walking jittery down the barn’s center aisle to a clean, straw-bedded stall.
Now the women could check the man on the ground.
“Is he dead?” Donna asked
“I can’t tell, but he doesn’t seem to be breathing.” Blood ran out of his body in every direction.  Oh my God, there is no place to feel for a pulse.” It sounded like O by God, since she’d stopped using her nose to breathe. With nothing she could do to help the poor man, Maria backed away from the body.
*                                                                       *                                                        *
Sheriff Deputies swarmed the barn, stringing yellow tape as they cordoned off the body for the investigators. Emergency Medical Technicians carried a stretcher into the stall Maria pointed toward. Cameras flashed at the ghoulish center of attention.
A sheriff deputy stood with Maria at the outside door. His name badge read D Willis.  “Tell me why you’re here and everything that happened since you arrived.” Willis, with curly dark hair buzzed around his ears, wore green slacks and tie with a tan shirt. A fragrance Maria couldn’t place wafted from him but it didn’t help the odor in the barn.
Meanwhile, a woman deputy took Donna Kelly outside to question her.
Maria said, “I’m a realtor with Garrison Realty. She spelled her name for him as he wrote in a small notebook. “I had an appointment to meet my client Donna Kelly and Dixon Whitmire, the owner of this farm to discuss details for sale. Something looked wrong from the minute she and I pulled up.”
“How is that?”
“Nobody is here. The horses were rampaging in their stalls.”
“Ms. Kelly rode with you in your vehicle?” he asked.
“No, we arrived at almost the same time—both our trucks are parked outside the barn beside the emergency vehicles.”
Suddenly weak, Maria’s knees threatened to buckle, so she threw her arm over the top rail of a neighboring stall. She was about to lose her breakfast when the deputy moved them further from Strutter’s stall.
“We heard a faint cell phone ring from inside the barn. Every time it rang back, off the horses would go again, kicking, rearing, screaming.”
“You looked in the stall where the body was found?”
“Yes, to see what would cause the horses to go nuts. We saw the body. We couldn’t tell if he was breathing, so we managed to get the horse in the same stall settled down enough to move him down the way to see if the victim was alive.” She pointed toward Strutter. “But we couldn’t tell anything.”
“It’s too bad you messed up the crime scene.” His blank cop eyes looked at her.
“The horse wasn’t going to let us in to see if the guy was still alive.”
“Did you touch him?”
Maria gagged. “There was nowhere to touch that wasn’t covered in blood and...”
“Okay, I got it. Is the victim the man you came here to meet?”
“I don’t know. I never met him, only talked with him on the phone.”
“Did you go to the house?” he asked.“See if anybody was up there?”
“No.  I called the number I have but nobody answered.”
“Can you think of anything else you can tell me?
“Only that I heard a tractor running way off across the property. I don’t know if it was part of this farm or not.”
“You seem to know a lot about horses.”
“I was raised with horses. I sell horsefarms.”
“Why do you think the horse would kill a man?” The deputy tapped his notebook with his pen.
“I think the guy was beating the horse with a quirt. If that’s true then the horse did not accept the beating. You can see the horse’s chest and shoulders are striped and bloody.” 
“So you think the horse retaliated? Just turned into a killer, like a lion or bear sometimes does?”
e askH
“No, I don’t think so. Horses react to how they’re treated. If Strutter killed the guy in the stall, he was probably trying to avoid being killed himself. I hope your photographer gets pictures of Strutter’s open wounds.”
“Do you think somebody or something else could have killed him?”
“It’s just that the coroner needs to know that every horse’s shoes and feet are different from each other. Four different wounds, four different hooves.”
“Why were you showing a property when you hadn’t met the owner?”
“It’s not my listing. I represent the buyer only. Mr. Whitmire was expecting us.”
“You have the listing broker’s name?”
“Yes.  Her name is Rita Conyers with Blackman Realty.” Maria reached in her jeans pocket for her business card and took the other realtor’s card from her jacket pocket.  She looked up Rita’s phone number on her cell phone address book and wrote it on the card. “Here are my contact numbers and Rita’s phone number.”
“Why isn’t Ms. Conyers here today?” The deputy asked.
“She told me she had an appointment near Chattanooga she couldn’t break.”
“If you think of anything else, please call me at this number.” David Willis handed her his business card.
“I think I want this farm,’ Donna Kelly said as she and Maria waited for the emergency crews to move their equipment so they could get their trucks out. “But I realize that it’s going to be a problem if Mr. Whitmire is dead.”
“Yes.  It will probably be tied up in probate for awhile. And of course we have no idea if the heirs will want to sell it. I’ll call you as soon as I learn what the plans will be. I’m so sorry about this whole mess.”
“Pretty horrible,” Donna said. “I’ll want to see the farm again without the disaster.”
“As soon as I can set that up.”
*                                                                      *                                                                 *
The image of the dead man replayed over and over in Maria’s mind as she drove back to the city. She wasn’t likely to forget it. Ever.
The one phone conversation she’d had with Whitmire didn’t qualify as a relationship. She had never seen him. And now he may be the man with the pulverized face.
A few dark clouds still clustered on the east side of the lake moved on a new burst of wind Maria hadn’t noticed at the horse farm. The sky looked like a dirty pond. April had started in February and, like an annoying visitor, had stayed. Some day May would show up, hopefully dressed for spring. Maria dodged fat wet drops as she hurried into her office at Garrison Realty. “Michaela, I need to talk to you” she said as she passed through the front door. 
Michaela lived at the front reception counter. “Sure.  Meet me in the conference room.” She stopped typing and started her printer. Garrison’s office manager wore her red hair fluffed down over her shoulders in a retro style. Her long colorful skirt swirled around cream colored knee boots as she hustled into the meeting room and closed the door. The conference room had soft gold wallpaper with faux crown molding and deep gold carpeting. She turned to her friend. They sat down across the mahogany conference table from each other. “So. What have you been up to now?”

“I think you should know what happened today.”