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Excerpt from Why Did Bernie Have to Die?




Bernie's heartbeat stuttered as his old pickup topped the gentle rise of land that marked the boundary of his grandparents' farm. The burned out remains of the old house slammed memories as hard as a fist into his gut as he braked to a stop.

The flames licked greedily up the brick chimney, consuming the tinder dry wood siding, and lighting up the night sky. Bernie bellowed in helpless rage, dunking himself in the water trough used for livestock before plunging into the flames and toward the bedroom his grandparents had shared since their marriage decades earlier.

Fury fueled his strength as he cradled his grandmother in his arms and carried her outside, then returned for his grandfather. He laid them side by side on the cool, damp grass, searching frantically for a pulse. But he knew it was futile. They were already dead.

Tallie laid her hand over Bernie's whitened knuckles. Through the sheen of his tears, he saw the mirror of his sadness in her eyes. He turned his hand over and clasped hers tightly.

Together, they would rebuild. A house. A family. A legacy this town would never forget.

~ * ~

Bernie pushed open the door to the general store and stepped inside, pausing to fill his lungs with the remembered smells of ripe cheese, pickles, cured meats, leather, and tobacco smoke that had permeated the building's walls since the store opened over a hundred years before.

Even the old pot-bellied stove remained in one corner, flanked by several wooden chairs that once invited pioneers to sit a spell and swap stories.

However, shelves once crowded with treasures that fascinated Bernie as a boy now held only a few sparse items.

"Well, Bernie O'Shea. I heard you were back in town." A white-haired old man with a curved back limped slowly toward him with the assistance of a knobby cane.

"Mr. Haroldson." Bernie walked across the plank flooring and stretched out his hand in greeting. "I need a few things to build a house on my grandparents' place."

"So it's true?"


"Took you long enough to come back, boy."

"I have a wife and two boys now. We plan to make our home here."

A slow smile curved the older man's mouth. "The hell you say."

"Think you could order some lumber, nails and roofing for the house?"

"Might need some plumbing supplies and paint too."

"That we might. I can give you the cash up front."

The old man grinned and clapped Bernie on the shoulder. "Welcome home, boy. Welcome home."

~ * ~

A satisfied feeling settled in Bernie's gut as he drove back to his grandparents' property. The feeling lasted until he topped the rise of land from where he could see the site of their future home--and a police car parked in the driveway.

Bernie pulled his shotgun out of its rack as he drove the pickup around the cruiser. He stopped beside Tallie and the boys, opening the door so it shielded her. When he stepped out of the pickup, the shotgun was pointed at Randall Weston's chest. "You're trespassing, Weston."

The chief of police eased back toward his cruiser. "Just checking out a report of squatters at your grandparents' property."

"My property. My wife. My kids. Get off and don't come back."

"Well, that's not very neighborly--"

The metallic ka-ching of Bernie cocking a shell into the barrel had Weston back-stepping quickly. He slid behind the wheel of the police cruiser and sped away.

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