When I originally posted this story it wasn’t anything but a slim storyline I hoped had some potential. The positive feedback encouraged me to take a good look at it and I decided I liked it enough to put in the effort and I’m glad I did.
The reason this story gets more than one brief chapter is your feedback and I want to thank you for the positive words and the constant encouragement.
With that said I have the wrapped the story up and will be posting the remaining chapters between now and Sunday night. They’re written and I’ll be fine tuning and editing them between now and then.
Detective MacDonald looked directly into Amanda’s eye to gauge her reaction to his statement before he made it. For many investigators the process of getting information from people that were reluctant to give it to the Police or other Law Enforcement types or even getting people to confess to illegal activity was more art than science. This was even truer for interrogators who generally had more experience and were looking to elicit specific responses and construct a relationship with their interrogation subject. And while certain parts of Macdonald’s Police work was just average the one thing that he did better than 99% of the population was gauge people’s sincerity and truthfulness under less than ideal circumstances. His slow witted hound dog demeanor led many to assume he was just another mediocre mid-level cog in the process. That facade had lulled many a suspect into giving him the information that he needed to get them for this crime or another.
That rare and special talent had brought him to the attention of other Law Enforcement entities in the area. So over the years bigger departments had attempted numerous times to lure him away with offers of more money or a better pension and benefits package. But Detective MacDonald was a local boy born and raised. Everything and everyone he cared about was located within a 60 mile radius of where he sat right this minute. So the possible suspect and her attorney waited till he was good and ready to talk answer Bill’s question “We’ve confirmed that the FBI Home Invasion Task Force is sure that the men that broke into your home and killed your husband were responsible for at least 3 other similar home invasions over the past year. But some of the evidence we found has us, or should I say Detective Crager and I wondering what we don’t know that your client has neglected to mention to us. Like I mentioned the time-of-death might be off and we continue to look into that. One of the things we find interesting is that we found supplies and internet searches that indicate that Mrs. Fugg and her husband are or were at one-time survivalists. We also found a 5 gallon bucket jammed with survival stuff that had an old fingerprint that belonged to one of the men that died in that house on the night Mrs. Fugg’s husband died. In fact the fingerprint belonged to the man killed by Mrs. Fugg. Also I find it highly unusual that when Chester Fugg opened that front door that late at night she was conveniently sitting in the next room wearing a bulletproof vest and holding a loaded assault rifle. While the evidence collected so far doesn’t point to her killing her husband something isn’t tracking for me and we need better answers than the ones she is giving us. Those answers might allow us to drop her as a potential suspect and shift the focus of the investigation.”
Bill turned to Amanda but before he could get a word out Amanda was speaking. Her words while being her truth didn’t sound as condescending as they could have. After all, the Detective had just implied that she was a possible suspect in her husband’s death. In fact she sounded more like a helpful teacher correcting or enlightening a student than a woman subtly berating the ignorance and misconceptions of a Police Detective that suspected her of some type of crime that contributed to her husband’s death. Going head to head with a seasoned interrogator could be a very tricky endeavor indeed. But growing up Amanda’s grandmother had repeatedly told her when she was young that it’s not what you said but how you said it. So, whenever life spun her emotions up and she was angry or passionate she always tried to remember her grandmother’s words. “Just so you understand that I consider the use of the word Survivalist misleading. The term seems to have been used in the media and Hollywood has bastardized the concept to represent something that I am not. The media and Law Enforcement have let the public assume that if you’re a survivalist then you are running around in the woods playing soldier and plotting the overthrow of our Government which I feel to be the best system of government the world has ever seen. You should know that Chester and I hold or held no animosity or hate toward any religious or ethnic group that wasn’t like us. We also pay our fair share of taxes and don’t own a single illegal weapon. Detective I wouldn’t put too much stock in the fact I store some extra food and medicine or own guns and have plenty of ammunition for them. I take disaster preparedness seriously and refuse to be dependent on the power company to restore my power after an ice storm or having to call 911 to divert precious resources on something I might be able to handle myself. You referred to me as a survivalist and that is not what I am. I’m a woman that had a husband that agreed with me that the world around us had changed. We felt it was important to us to make sure we could take care of ourselves as much as we could under any conditions. My experience is testimony to what can happen and why it makes sense to be a little self-reliant instead of relying solely on 911 to solve any problem that crops up. I’ll admit we did or do keep a little more than the FEMA guidelines recommend. But it’s better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. Don’t you think?
Detective MacDonald still wasn’t getting the answers he was looking for so he continued. “You mentioned FEMA guidelines and I’ve seen the site but you have way more than what they recommend. Currently their philosophy is that 3 days of food and water is enough to store for emergencies. Of course that can vary slightly based on where you live and what event you might face. I did an internet search and apparently you’re stocking enough dehydrated food to last almost a year for two people along with enough bleach to disinfect water for half that. So I’d characterize you as stocking more than slightly more than FEMA recommends. Why stock that much extra food?”
Detective most of what we did was based on what FEMA advocated paired with common sense. For some time they have advocated having a minimum of 3 days of food/water and other supplies as a Basic Disaster Supplies Kit. 9-11 and Katrina should have taught us all that 3 days is simply not enough. What if something happened and your son’s friend from baseball was at your house? If you have 3 days of food and water and have unexpected guests during the crisis then you don’t have enough. If something bad happened I’d want to do what I could for my family and friends.” Amanda stopped to see where the Detective would go next.
Mrs. Fugg you mentioned that if my son had a friend over from baseball. How do you know I have a son and that he plays baseball?” A strange look passed across Detective MacDonald’s face. The look was part anger and part curiosity.
Amanda slid around in her chair before she answered. “I saw his picture on your wife’s social media page. It was the one from baseball. Handsome kid, he reminds me of you around the eyes.”
Detective Crager and Bill watched to see what the big cop’s reaction would be. For them the adversarial process that guided our Legal System was about staying professional despite personal dislikes and feelings. The Police and the D.A.’s office were on one side and the possible suspect and their attorney on the other. Smart people in this business kept it about work and stayed away from the personal stuff when they could. Both sides of the adversarial fight understood that life happened and that poking fun at something someone experienced could come back and bit you in the ass. For serious full-time defense attorneys managing their clients rage and desire for revenge was a very counter-productive way to spend time so they did what they could to take the sting out of the battle. And one thing Bill would have never suggested or indicated was OK was to take an interest in the personal life of someone on the other side of the table. But Amanda’s situation wasn’t unique. The Police in order to do their jobs rummaged through people’s lives to find the answers to the questions that they needed. And most of that time that would mean that nothing was off-limits in someone’s personal life. The search for the full truth wasn’t just held in real life. Law Enforcement dug through bills, credit card statements, cell phone usage, mail and even computer to find the information they needed to do their job.
Detective MacDonald stood and left the quickly. As he stood his chair and tipped over and it sat there on the floor untouched. Detective Crager looked over at Bill and he shook his head up and down. Then both of them reached forward and turned their recorders off. And then they sat and waited in silence for the big Detective to return. It was obvious from watching Macdonald leave the room that he was not happy and Bill expected some yelling when he got back to the conference room. Bill hoped MacDonald’s outrage wouldn’t be directed at him since he had just started getting a mild headache at the top of his head. He knew from experience that the headache would continue to get worse the longer the interview went on. Stress was part and parcel of his job but today promised to be a difficult day. In the past Bill had defended miscreants that were criminals since they were children and had problems creep up and dealt with the set-backs just fine. But in this case he was trying to manage the defense of a woman that had seen her husband killed in our own home and the Police seemed to be accusing her of doing something wrong and were harassing her.
15 minutes after MacDonald walked out of the room he quietly came back in and righted his fallen or knocked over chair. Detective Crager’s and Bill’s eye met and without the nod they both reached for the digital recorders and turned them on. Crager stated the date, time, interviewee and case number and everyone sat and waited. This was clearly a time that MacDonald held the floor.
MacDonald looked up. “Mrs. Fugg I understand that you gained access to my families social media page by submitting a friend request that my wife honored. She has de-friended you and I’d suggest you speak with your lawyer to be sure that your actions in the future are within the law in regards to stalking and harassment. Moving on.” Macdonald paused briefly to look down at his notes. “So the abundance of food in your home is to insure you have supplies for others if the need arises is that correct?”
Amanda nodded. “Correct.”
MacDonald pressed on. “Well we live in the suburbs away from the main suburbs. Does that mean you would consider your home a bug-out location?”
Bill chimed in. “Detective I’m not sure where this is going but we seem to be off-track. My client has extra food in her house and owns some firearms all of which are legal. That’s what she and her husband felt was appropriate and she’s broken no law that I know of. I’m not sure I see how it’s germane to what happened there.”
MacDonald gave Bill a brief look that told Bill that he was asking the questions and that it was his job as a Sworn Police Officer to decide what was important. And as with many of MacDonald’s facial expressions other than distaste the look lit across his face and was gone microseconds later. “Counselor, I’m trying to determine if the suspects were of a like mind and that they knew each other through some type of Militia or something like that. So called Militias and Patriot organizations have been linked to a number of crimes across the country. The crimes run the gamut from low level drug sales to bank robbery and illegal weapon theft and sales. There were ties in the Timothy McVeigh Oklahoma City bombing case to the Militia Movement. That cowardly attack cost the lives of over 150 innocent people and injured another 500. The victim and his wife also had items in their residence and on their computer that make me think that they were interested in this militia or patriot movement stuff.”
Bill looked. “Detective I think that we need to move on. I’m not sure I know what a bug-out location is but that was and is the Fugg’s primary residence. The militia and patriot movement stuff as you put it doesn’t mean that they did anything wrong or that my client had anything to do with her husband’s death.”
MacDonald made some notes and continued without addressing what Bill had said about his questions. “And the fingerprint we found on the 5 gallon bucket?”
Amanda didn’t think she just reacted to the question. “Two things. First of all I told you that Chester knew these guys a few years ago and golfed and did drugs with them recreationally before going to rehab. As far as I knew he didn’t communicate with them since getting back from his stay in there. I take it that you can make an educated guess as to if he had contact with those men using e-mails, phone records, tracking credit card usage and going through our computers. Second of all I think the Glock Evan had on him had been stolen from my vehicle last month. When that weapon was on the ground I recognized a scratch on the slide and I’m pretty sure it was mine. When the weapon was stolen I filed a report with the Police so you can look that up to confirm that I’m being honest with you. So they might have been in our house two years ago or they might have been in it recently without my knowledge or consent. I’d like to believe that Chester had put that chapter of his life behind him. If they were anywhere near our life recently and I found out about it I would have not been happy. It definitely would have put a strain on our relationship. I would have never ever allowed them in my house after what happened two years ago.”
Detective MacDonald nodded. “Well I think that is it. Detective Crager to you have any questions?”
Detective Crager nodded. “Amanda you told us that you met the two of them 2 years ago. Is that correct?”
Amanda nodded and then spoke for the benefit of the two recorders that were recording each and every word said in the interview. “As I said during the previous interview I meet both men over two years ago when Chester knew them. We talked about them after he got back from rehab and agreed that they were bad for him and our family. Their names came up again when we talked about what my expectations for him were after I found out I was pregnant and we both agreed that drugs and people like that were not good for any of us. On the day after he got back from rehab he looked me in the eye and promised to have absolutely no contact with either of them. He was never a hard core drug addict; I viewed him more of a recreational user that allowed drugs to cause him to make some bad decisions on too short a timeframe. He didn’t squander all of our life’s saving or lie, cheat and steal to get drugs it was more casual than that. As far as I know he never saw them again after he got back from rehab.”
Detective Crager made a few notes and looked back up from her pad. “But he did steal money from your saving account to buy drugs didn’t he?”
Amanda looked the Detective in the eye. “Chester took almost half of our savings and bought drugs or gambled it away. Since we were married you might argue that half the money in that account was his so saying he stole the money might be viewed as disingenuous or incorrect. Pine Meadows, the facility that Chester did his rehab at did an out-flow assessment that that indicated that while he had a casual addiction to drugs that he was in a sub-group of ex-users that would benefit greatly from their rehab experience and some out-patient talk therapy while attending support group meetings as needed. They estimated his chance of recovery was greater than 75%. They felt that the gambling was a part of his drug use and they thought that the compulsion to gamble was solely triggered by his drug use and shouldn’t be a problem. He attended a gamblers anonymous meeting occasionally and didn’t even participate in friendly basketball or football pools.”
Crager flipped the page of her pad and then began writing on it while staring at Amanda. Amanda had seen people do it before and she’d love to see how legible the writing was. “And how much did he take?”
Amanda replied. “$16, 000 and change.”
Detective Crager continued to write on her pad. “That’s a lot of money. Most women in that circumstance would have been very angry with him.” The Detective didn’t continue and just looked at her.
Bill broke the silence after 30 seconds. “I’m sorry Detective, did you have a question you wanted to ask or were you just criticizing the behavior of my client’s recently murdered husband?”
Crager looked down at her pad and looked back up at Bill. “I was saying that most spouses would be furious if that happened to them. I wanted to know if Amanda was upset by the drugs, gambling and her husband’s infidelity.”
Bill turned sideways to look at Amanda. Amanda looked at Crager still waiting for a question that was framed to be answered. “I’m still not aware that a question was asked. Do you have a question for me? Or was it your opinion that I should be mad at my husband because you feel that is the correct way to feel? What should I be addressing here?”
Detective Crager nodded her head. “Your husband did drugs, stole money and was unfaithful to you. I could understand that now that you both were parents that you’d be mad at him and want him dead. We found a letter signed by him from 2 years ago. In that letter he admits to the drug use, stealing the money, gambling and an infidelity of some type. What woman would not have been enraged? Tell us what really happened, I know it’ll make you feel better. It always does.”
Before Amanda knew what she should say to that comment Bill spoke. “Detectives, could I have 5 minutes with my client while you wait outside in the hall or get a cup of coffee?”
MacDonald nodded. “Take all the time you need. Just let me know if we need to get someone from the D.A.’s office over here to work something out.”
The two detectives stood up gathered their pads, pens and their digital recorder and moved out of the room.
Bill stopped his recorder and turned to her. “They are trying to imply that you were mad at your husband and had something to do with his death. Is there a letter or e-mails they might have found that could verify any of this?”
Amanda nodded yes. “Just one, before Chester left for rehab he wrote me letter and said that he had a drug problem, had gambled way the money and been unfaithful. We talked and cried a lot when he got back and I forgave him. I’d kill or die to protect either my son or my husband that is how fully I trusted him before the home invasion happened. Bill I didn’t have anything to do with those men or my husband’s death but I left out part of what happened that night. I didn’t know if I could trust you so I kept my mouth shut and if you’re angry I’d understand. I’ll start by saying that I was freaked the hell out after everything happened.”
In 30 minutes Amanda explained what she had done after her home had been invaded and her husband shot and killed in front of her. Within the first 5 minutes of telling the rest of the story she was crying softly. She hated that she was crying but powerless to stop it. Bill understood and while it complicated his job he understood that she had just seen her husband’s murder and might have made some bad choices. After that initial 30 minutes they took another 15 minutes to jot down some notes and work up a game plan. Bill stepped into the hall to ask the two Detectives to join them so that the interview could continue.
The Detectives did the reverse of what they had done before they left the room 45 minutes earlier. They set down their pens and pads and restarted the recorder and then stated the date, time and interview subject along with the case number for the benefit of the recorders.
After the recorders were back on and before the detectives could speak Bill began. “I think we have been cooperative in this matter and it seems you are implying that Amanda was involved in her husband’s death. Also you seem fixated on the fact that two years ago Chester withdrew a large amount of money from their joint saving account while using drugs on a recreational basis. The money Chester Fugg withdrew from their joint account was also his and saying he stole it doesn’t mean his wife felt that way about it. We strenuously object to that characterization of his actions. With these things in mind I want to say that Amanda has agreed to answer the last question you asked and then we are done. Amanda.”
Amanda face told anyone that looked at her that she had been crying. “The letter you found was the one Chester wrote to me before he went to rehab and when this is over I expect it back in the same condition you found it in. When I saw the letter I was shocked and disappointed at what he had done. But Chester and I talked when he returned from rehab and I’m sure that he was a changed man and sorry for the pain he caused everyone that cared about him. I forgave him then as I do now and we had a great marriage since he got back. As we all know infidelity happens all the time. Statistically it might have happened to someone else in this room other than me assuming everyone else in the room is now or has been married. I was never ever murderously angry with him; I was just sad and disappointed at what he had done. That’s all.”
Bill continued. “I’m sorry to say moving forward that we will not be cooperating with your office. You still seem to be implying that you think Amanda did something wrong or illegal in respects to these deaths or acted in a criminal manner. That is not the case and maybe you should be more careful of what you say or do. I know the press is still interested in this story and we will be making a statement to them in the next day or so. Amanda we should be going now. Detectives thank you so much for agreeing to meet us here. We are a little taken aback by the media coverage and avoiding your office was very helpful. If you need Amanda to come into your office please call me first and I will arrange it. Amanda assures me that she had nothing to do with those men breaking into her home and killing her husband and I believe her. So my advice is to go about your job responsibly so that the weight of the story doesn’t crush you if you make a mistake. Also at the risk of sounding foolish Amanda has indicated to me that if her name and reputation are smeared unfairly or that of her deceased husband she will pursue any and all recourse without regard to how it affects you or your reputation and the standing of your Department.”
With that statement made the two of them stood up to leave. Bill gathered his notes and switched his recorder off and slipped it into his pocket. Within 20 seconds of Bill’s last sentence they were in the hall and walked toward the elevators to return to Amanda’s room.
Without slowing down Bill reached into his bag and pulled out 2 cell phones wrapped in their clear theft deterring plastic sleeve. “I got one for you and one for your mother. You’ll both need to limit the people you give the number to or the Police and the Press will bribe, threaten or coerce the number from them. I don’t know how seriously they will pursue you as a suspect but it’s critical you and your mother only discuss the incident under certain conditions and please don’t say anything over the phone that you don’t want made public. They might be able to convince a Judge to write a warrant to have your phones monitored. The key to keeping one step ahead of them is to switch hotels every few days and phones once a week. You need to realize that faulty Police work has sent a lot of innocent people to prison. Numerous programs have used DNA and other cutting edge technologies to exonerate men and women of crimes they never committed. But the process is painfully slow is and the backlog is staggering. While you wait to be freed from a crime you didn’t commit you sit in a cage till they get to you, if they get to you.”
I am so glad you are going to finish this eye opening story. We all tell lawyer jokes, but if I were ever in a position to be interviewed by the police, I wouldn't go without one.
If you are arrested they tell you that everything you say can and will be used against you in a court of law. What they don't tell you is that anything you say won't be used to help you in a court of law.
It just goes against the grain because if you are innocent you do want to cooperate, but it's probably not wise if they are looking at you. Great story.
Wow! Pretty tense. I think this is one I need to reread occasionally just to keep reminding myself of the way the world REALLY operates. I, too often, take things at face value but in a situation like this it is sure best to have someone on your side with a vested interest in your well being. Thanks so much for writing this story. Sure hope it never happened to anyone you know but is a figment of your imagination.
Last edited by kua; 06-10-2012 at 05:01 PM.
Reason: Finish my thought, hit the send key by accident.
1 Year, 2 months and three days after Chester’s Murder
Amanda stood on the front porch in the early morning light and looked out over the large front lawn of her new home waiting for everyone to show up. She was thinking about how different her life had become since last year and the incident in her home’s front hallway. To help her accept what had happened in her life she made it a habit to take a few minutes every once in a while to think about the positives things in her new life and she mentally made a list of a few of the changes as she waited.
The list of positives in her life ranged from vain and mundane to very gratifying and back again. Her jeans were a size smaller than they had been a year ago and she had lost 15 pounds, of which she had gained back 4 before her weight stabilized. But she was wise enough to take the 11 pound weight loss as a win and was ecstatic to shed the last of the weight she had gained and not lost after Justice was born. Her body was different now but that was what sometimes happened after giving birth and was a small price to pay for the privilege of being a mother and having a happy and healthy baby. Today she had finally moved away from the area that they had lived in as a family before, during and after the incident. That area had constantly reminded her every single day of the brief seconds that had so drastically altered her family’s future. Everyone that she cared about was healthy and hadn’t experienced anything more serious health wise than allergy symptoms or a cold. Shortly after the incident she had found a therapist to talk to about her loss and the lingering feelings about the life she had taken. Without taking any drugs therapy had decreased the number of nightmares she was having and she seldom thought about what happened that night and for that she was grateful. The therapist dealt with a lot of suffers of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and explained to her that she was suffering from that mental health condition. Amanda had accepted the diagnosis and was now doing well enough to see her just once a month. She had gained a new friend that she felt truly understood the person she was after the incident. She didn’t know if she was being sensitive or not but many of the people she knew before seemed uncomfortable around her. She had watched her husband’s violent death and killed a man all the span of mere seconds. After that experience and the resulting mental trauma having to watch people struggle to make small talk for fear of upsetting her wasn’t always worth it. The impact wound she had suffered that night had healed and there was no long-term disability as a result. The Police never figured out she had gone into the condo and didn’t ever know about the supplies she recovered or anything else she had taken that night. And today was sunny, clear and 75 degrees. It was a perfect day to begin the new life she and her family deserved.
Her thoughts reverted back to the beautiful open green space in front of her. Their new property was just over 20 acres of mostly wooded land that surrounded their home’s cleared site. The home was a modest by today’s standards 2400 square feet. The money that she had gotten from Chester’s life insurance policy had taken her from the outer suburbs to an area 15 miles past the far suburbs. The area was lacking in the restaurant and other neighborhood amenities department and didn’t have any big box stores. But what it did have was reasonably priced land, genuinely nice people, a bit of solitude and a very good school district. The living space in the house was supplemented by the 3 car garage with a hobby area and a mostly unfinished basement to handle the storage of Amanda’s growing prep supplies and anything else that she might need space for later on. The home boasted not one but two 6x8 foot safe areas as well as a 30 by 8 foot hidden space outfitted as a poor man’s or woman’s shelter complete with the ability to add NBC air handling equipment at 2 different air intakes. If that wasn’t enough space the zoning for the county was notoriously lax and she could easily add on more space to the home or construct an outbuilding later on.
She smiled and realized she truly felt not only at home but safe here. It was the first time since that fateful night she had truly felt that way. The remoteness of the property was supplemented as it might always be by the weight of the handgun resting on her hip and covered by her un-tucked shirt. In a small way carrying the gun out in the middle of nowhere seemed a bit much till Amanda thought about what could happen in the blink of an eye. With that in mind she felt she still had family that might someday need her absolute protection so the gun would stay part of who and what she was for the foreseeable future. She always believed that it was better to have it and not need it, than to need it and not have it. With that in mind she had even purchased a few additional weapons since the incident and taken some shooting classes from well respected firearms instructors. She also enjoyed attending some martial arts classes that covered the basics of personal defense and gave her a good workout.
After spending a few weeks living in hotels, motels and at her mother Ginger’s house Amanda had asked her mother Ginger if and how she could help her get through the crisis. Ginger being a good mother and excellent grandmother agreed to help out going so far as offering to take the early retirement package from her job and moving in with Amanda and Justice when they were re-settled. That night, the one she asked for her mother’s help and after Justice was down Amanda shared her future plans with her mother. It had been 3 weeks since the incident and assuming the Police didn’t falsely charge her for having something to do with Chester’s death she had worked out the details of how she intended living her life moving forward. She laid it all out and explained what she would be doing and why to her mother. She explained what prepping was and how she and Chester had thought it was a good idea for parents raising a child in a time of change.
To make her point Amanda used various examples of how the country had changed in the last few decades and that many people felt in their hearts that doing better than your parents did just wasn’t as feasible as it had been even a decade or two decade ago. She touched on the increasing threat of terrorism that might have the ability to knock down governments that helped protect the world from political and financial instability. The US might have transitioned to the point where it was so vulnerable economically that the continuing effects of the housing crisis could overwhelm any political or military advantage that it held. She explained that she and Chester speculated that the US economy was likely heading for a fall of staggering proportion. Any of these factors and then adding to that the balance of power was shifting in the world and the US was rapidly losing the ability to actually produce anything was disconcerting at the least and terrifying at the worst. Amanda speculated that a combination of any two or three of these factors might constitute a perfect storm and plunge the country into uncontrollable chaos. She and Chester had a plan and she intended to follow that plan even more aggressively now that he was gone. Chester’s tragic and devastating death would allow Amanda to pump additional resources into her quest to protect the people she truly cared about. Amanda must have done a good job explaining her world view and her concerns because Ginger sobbed as she agreed to follow and support her daughter on this long journey.
With Ginger firmly supporting her decisions and Amanda having explained what she planned on doing she got to work. All that research made it clear to Amanda the first thing any prepper should change if they were able was their location if they lived in or too near a population center. Even living near a well traveled route or obstacle like a highway or a bridge could funnel too many refugees too close to a bug-in/bug-out location. And while the far suburbs were better than living inside the city it still had enough challenges to make it a less than optimal choice. So Amanda looked further outside the city and past the pre housing crash expanded suburbs to an area that was mostly rural and had very little suburban appeal. The flurry of expansion during the pre-mortgage crisis helped form her views and she took that perspective to heart.
Now that housing had slowed to a crawl and foreclosed homes and property sat empty in any area someone wanted to live in Amanda felt that the time was right to leverage her money and find a deal on a house to live in now and some good land later. She wanted a smoking deal so she started with the area she knew the best and worked her way out.
With Chester’s death the insurance money could pay off their home but Amanda vowed to never live in that house again. Bill explained to her that the tragedy would mean that the house would sell for far less than it was worth and suggested selling it using a contract-for-deed which would make it more likely that she would get an amount that was comparable to its actual value. He explained that responsible Realtors would be forced to disclose the home’s recent history and for many buyers that was an unacceptable history. How do you build treasured memories in a home where 3 men died violently in the front hallway? Amanda understood his point and agreed with what he said so she waited while the Police continued their investigation. As soon as they released the house the professional crime scene clean-up people moved in and did an extensive cleaning. That team was quickly followed by the contractor hired by the insurance company that would repair the damage from the incident as well and restore the house to its condition prior to the gunfight in the front hallway. When the renovations were done she found a small property management company that agreed to show the house for her. The property manager explained the difficulty that Bill had already explained to her but agreed to take the job if she was paid more than her standard fee. Amanda agreed to the inflated price and the search for a new tenet/owner began.
In the mean time she used the money from one of the insurance policies to make a cash offer on the long vacant foreclosure across the street. The bank holding the paper on the house had dropped the asking price a week after news of the deaths across the street reached them. Amanda made a cash offer that was half of the pre-mortgage crisis value and they accepted greedily happy to be rid of the toxic asset. So Amanda, Justice and her mother had a house now. The next step was incredibly difficult for Amanda. That was packing up and moving from across the street and into the formerly foreclosed property that would serve as there temporary home till things were worked out and they had a new place to live.
She didn’t know how long it would take to find a buyer for their old house using the contract for deed method. But her idea was to move further outside the city and when she was ready to move she would make a few bucks on the house across the street she had purchased at a fire sale price. For Amanda driving or walking by the house or just seeing that house everyday was hard for her but she had a plan and she and Justice needed a place to live while she made the transition to having a serious prepper lifestyle and found some land to buy and then build on.
It took an agonizingly long 5 weeks for Detectives MacDonald and Crager to finally accept that Amanda was innocent of any involvement in her husband’s death. All the accumulated evidence including the autopsies, interviews, forensic reports, crime scene pictures, digital re-creations, data searches, background checks, ballistic reports and the report from the FBI convinced the two Detectives that their professional speculation had been incorrect in this circumstance. Bill and Amanda walked into the same conference room they had accused her of being involved with her husband’s death and waited to hear what they had to say. When the Detectives had called Bill he was just told they would like to see Amanda and nothing else. Bill and Amanda listened while the Detectives informed Amanda of the results of the prolonged investigation and apologized for mistaking her for a suspect. The Police Chief made an appearance and expressed his condolences for her loss and apologized for the confusion in the case. He said he admired the way she had handled the situation and left after assuring her that if she needed anything to feel free to call him. Bill and Amanda both knew that the offer was slightly insincere and that even getting a ticket fixed wasn’t likely to happen. But both were happy that the evidence had convinced them that Amanda was innocent. Waiting to be arrested for a crime you didn’t commit can be exhausting.
With those suspicions lifted it meant that it was time to find some land to build a home and not just a house on. That same week she was talking to Realtors that specialized in more rural property and scanning listing looking for that piece of land that was just right for what she intended to do. You would think that in a poor economic environment finding land wouldn’t be too difficult for buyers that had access to money. But while residential housing had struggled and the prices had dropped dramatically the raw land in the area Amanda wanted to live in had stayed stable or appreciated slightly showing little sign of being affected by the mortgage crisis and the resulting housing slow down. Still fringe areas that were assumed to be on the cusp of being attached to the suburbs by residential development had seen a drop in their value since many developers and builders had been driven out of business by the mortgage crisis.
Early in her search she found a piece of property that just felt right so after extensively walking the property and researching it she made an offer on the 20 acre lot. That parcel of land had been a hard sell in a torrid market a few years earlier because of the high asking price and the fact it wasn’t very close to the expanded suburbs. It also had a few features that discouraged many people from taking enough interest in the land to consider it seriously. A natural spring was located in a bad place to develop the property and most people were uncomfortable with the possibility of having to rely on a septic system instead of sewer lines like they had in civilization.
The owners passed on the first offer and countered at what was 7% under their listing price. Amanda walked away without comment and kept looking. Over a month later she offered $15,000 less than the first time and was countered with an offer 10.5% off the asking price. Again she walked away and kept looking. The Realtor for the sellers that had shown her the property was almost apoplectic at her unwillingness to negotiate any further and the fact that her counter-offer was going down and not up. But under the circumstances Amanda felt justified in the reduced offer. Part of the price the owners had started with still had the gleam of the housing bubble on it and the market for even rural land was very different from just a few years earlier.
The Realtor wasn’t very hopeful but continued to call her weekly to see if she wanted to take another ride out and look at the property again. She didn’t have a buyer’s agent that the Listing Realtor would have to split a commission with so the listing agent had visions of earning a full commission in his head. After 8 weeks of being stalked and after having found a piece of property that was maybe what she wanted she agreed to another trip out to look at the property.
When Amanda showed up at the property the listing agent was all crocodile smiles. They walked the property from 5 different angles over the course of an hour and a half. During that time the agent confided that the sellers had agreed to take her last offer assuming that she could close quickly enough. Amanda had been down this road and true to her previous dealing with the agent and the property owners she explained that she found another property that she was interested in and offered $25,000 less than her first offer. The caveat was that she wanted an agreed upon surveyor to stake and mark the property. If the land estimate was correct or over she’d pay her offered price. If the property was short it would be prorated and she could void the offer if the estimate was off by more than 10%. Amanda knew the owners lived out of town and didn’t have any ties to the community so backlash from the seemingly offensive offer weren’t an issue as far as she was concerned. If the owners had been locals she might not have been willing to run the risk of alienating locals that might end up being her neighbors.
After hearing Amanda’s terms the Realtor looked crestfallen assuming that the owners couldn’t or wouldn’t accept the offer and that he’d not see commission on the listing till after the market got improved. That of course assumed that he’d still have the listing from the out-of-towners and that the market would improve. Those were two things that he wasn’t sure of at all. And like most if not all Realtors both full-time and part-time alike the last few years had been a nightmare for him filled with too many disappointments and too few sales and listings.
Amanda received a phone call the same night and to the Realtor’s surprise the owner’s had agreed to the twice reduced offer. It was now a matter of agreeing to a surveyor that both parties trusted to do a good job of surveying the parcel. That was done the next day by writing the names of 20 surveyors that did this kind of work on index cards. The cards were shuffled by the Realtor and Amanda closed her eyes and pointed to an index card and that was the land surveyor that they used. The chosen surveyor determined that the parcel was actually 20.6 acres so the deal was OK’d by both parties and consummated shortly afterwards.
The events of that terrible night had made a very distinct impression on Amanda and that and her extensive prepper research meant she had a very good idea of what she wanted and needed to feel safe and secure. She approached the house’s construction like a prepper and instantly threw away any type of conformity that didn’t make sense from a practical or financial standpoint. The first thing to be re-evaluated and discarded was construction material and the standard practice of using wood and or metal framing wasn’t even considered.
Extensive research and interviews with architects and cutting edge builders across the country convinced her that concrete was clearly the right material for her particular needs and concerns. The primary traits of concrete that appealed to Amanda were its heating and cooling efficiency, it’s resistance to weather events, its long life-cycle and its high level of security from crime. Of course like many things there were some drawbacks. Concrete was more expensive, took longer to build and wasn’t as aesthetically pleasing as other materials. But for Amanda the serious prepper the material’s advantages outweighed its shortcomings.
She then decided that while Insulated Concrete Forms or ICF had advantages that she wanted the energy efficiency and protection of an earth sheltered home. Having made that decisions the search for an experienced earth sheltered architect and a good builder began. Finding people that believed in the material and the method proved challenging. In her area of the country most mainstream architects and builders had been watching with interest to see if the advances in the alternative building methods field justified the time, energy and effort to get up to speed in the wide range of unconventional building methods. While green building seemed to be a catchy industry watchword in reality not many potential buyers were prepared to pay the premium that using these methods often cost. For many builders and developers simply putting in additional insulation, creating less waste, installing higher efficiency HVAC equipment and using more efficient windows was there foray into the world of energy efficiency and green building. With that slim effort they felt comfortable touting their green building philosophy on cards, brochures and websites. In reality they were riding on the back of guidelines and practices that had been popular for quite some time.
With the deal on the land closing so quickly she was relieved when an earth sheltered builder she had heard good things about told her that they did all their design work in-house and if she roughed out her idea of her new house they would do the drawings and could get the design stamped by their in-house engineer. With newer construction methods it is vitally important for the architect and the engineer to support the application and answer any questions that the zoning board and the various inspectors would have. So she signed with that builder and began planning their new home fully integrating features that were important to her. If she was lucky she would live in this home till the day she died and she wanted it just so.
That was 9 months ago and the weather had cooperated so here she was waiting for the moving trucks to arrive from their home across the street from the site of the carnage of that bloody and terrible night. The moving trucks would bring all their belongs to their new home and a much needed fresh start. As an added bonus Ginger was going to be living in a guest house connected to their home by a 20 foot long tunnel that connected both garages. The tunnel was partially below ground and didn’t need anything other than lights and good doors. It would allow easy access yet offer both homes a sense of privacy when it was needed or desired.
Ginger was back at the house and handling the other side of the move to insure it moved along as smoothly as possible. So Amanda waited, Justice was asleep in the backseat of the minivan that was parked in the garage with the windows rolled partway down and the doors locked. He had grown over the last year and Amanda found that she dreaded each and every time she needed to pick him up he was that heavy. He was fully awake 45 minutes ago when she had left the house but the drive had lulled him back into a sound sleep and he smiled and snickered as he slept. Luckily for her a friend would be by shortly to watch Justice so that Amanda could keep an eye on the movers and supervise the set-up of the new homes.
Amanda heard before she heard the truck on her gravel driveway heading toward the house. Hollis’s Dark Grey extended cab pick-up was a newer but plain looking Toyota equipped with a huge brush guard and aftermarket rims sporting tires that were one size bigger than the factory ones. Looking at the truck the effect was that it was cool and had some 4 wheeling potential but the closest it had ever gotten to being off-road was Amanda’s gravel drive and the rough roads that led to Amanda’s new home.
Hollis pulled up in the grass next to the drive to allow the movers good access to the front of the house and got out. Hollis had decided 6 months ago to get a professional make over and had found a good stylist to trim her long red hair and it now hung just below her shoulders. That combined with losing 10 or 15 pounds had made her look years younger and today she was radiant and her cheeks glowed from the excitement. Her enthusiasm about Amanda and Justice’s new house made her seem as if she had been looking forward to helping with the move for weeks now. Amanda thought that if a friend was excited about helping a friend move then they were either a hell of a friend or mentally unstable. Amanda was betting on her being a good friend.
Hollis slid out of the pick-up in a graceful move that made it look like she had been sliding out of the pick-up all her life and began talking as she walked toward the front porch. “What a perfect day to start your new life. How is my favorite midget doing?”
Amanda left the porch and the two women embraced in a heartfelt hug. “He’s sleeping and unless you want the PC Police to kick down your door in the middle of the night you better quit using the word midget. It might be offensive to people of less than normal stature.”
The woman both chuckled and broke their hug. Hollis stood there looking slightly defiant. “As far as I’m concerned he’s a midget and if they want to boycott or fine me I can accept that.’ The playful tone of Hollis’s voice changed. “When did you say the truck is due to be here?”
Amanda pulled her phone out and dialed her mother Ginger as she held up a finger to indicate that she was going to get that information. Ginger answered the phone and the two quickly conversed and Amanda had the answer to Hollis’s question. “Mom says that the first truck is on its way and the other truck is 30 or 40 minutes from finishing up.” Amanda quit talking and looked toward the truck. “So… did you bring doughnuts like I asked you to or do we need to raid Justice’s snack stash? I’m starving and if my blood sugar gets any lower I might beat a mover senseless if he scratches my just stuccoed walls. Italian style stucco isn’t cheap, trust me.”
Hollis smiled at an inside joke that only she and Amanda understood. “The donuts are in the truck along with milk and OJ to wash them down with. I’ll get them for us.” She turned and walked back to her truck and hopped in and came out holding a white box with writing on it. “You requested the best and here they are. I brought enough to supply the movers with a few on their break and two each for the rest of us. I even found a healthy one with pretty sprinkles for Justice.”
Amanda eyed the box with desire and as soon as Hollis was beside her she ripped into the box almost knocking it out of Hollis’s hands. “Hollis thank you so much for bringing these for us. I was running late this morning and was worried I’d have to dig through the kitchen boxes to find something to snack on. The good news if that the moving company sent two crews and two trucks like I had asked. They think they might have the move done by noon or early afternoon. And I might have offered them a $20.00 per man tip if they’re all done by 1:00pm on top of $20.00 if they didn’t break anything or scratch my walls. I moved some personal stuff over in the truck this morning so everything important is already here.’ Amanda paused and looked at her friend just now realizing something she had said. “And since when do they make healthy doughnuts that are worth eating?”
Hollis set the doughnut box down on one of two wicker chairs on the front porch. She then pulled a handful of small cartons milk and Orange Juice from the bag on her shoulder and placed the cartons on the chair and then removed a doughnut from the box. “Well maybe I misspoke when I used the term healthy. I might have meant cute. Let’s face it a baby eating a doughnut with sprinkles is cute. Don’t you think? Moving on, I wanted to let you know that I have been waiting to eat a doughnut for 30 minutes.” She used her off-hand to pick-up a carton of milk and awkwardly opened it and took a drink. She then took a bite of the chocolate covered doughnut and audibly sighed. A look of contentment spread across her face and she plopped her body down into the other wicker chair and smiled. “These are the best doughnuts in the world. Try one.”
Amanda smiled and did the same with a carton of OJ and a simple glazed doughnut. She looked while chewing having heard the moving truck enter the gravel drive. She began walking toward the truck as it came up the drive. With a doughnut in one hand and the OJ in the other she spoke to the driver of the large moving truck and directed him how he she wanted the trucks arranged in the yard in front of the front doors.
The driver nodded that he understood what she wanted and agreed that backing the trucks up to the front door was the easiest and quickest way to get the job done. Then he began the simple task of setting the truck into a good position and backing it up so that other truck could also be unloaded at the same time. Amanda and Hollis watched the activity from the front porch while eating their second doughnut in the last 4 minutes. After Amanda propped open the two front doors the symphony of men and movement began in earnest. All the boxes were marked with where they needed to go so the movers didn’t need her. So Amanda just sat in the wicker chair and talked to Hollis while Hollis held the ever growing Justice in her arms while he slept the sleep of the young.
After an hour the other truck pulled up the gravel drive and Amanda again walked toward the truck to tell the driver what she wanted done and where the truck needed to be parked.
By the time the workers began to unload the second truck 5 minutes later Ginger pulled up to her new home and headed for the box of doughnuts sitting on a moving box near the wicker chairs. Amanda had walked the guys that just showed up through her new home and each box was marked so for them it was simply a matter of picking a box up and setting it in the room that was marked on the box. While Amanda talked to the second group of movers Justice had woken up and needed to go in the house to use the restroom so his grandmother Ginger walked Justice to the house to use the bathroom and try to find a Sippy cup for his milk.
As Amanda stepped into the front hallway after giving instructions Justice saw his mother and ran toward her with a huge smile on his face. His short legs were pumping as fast as they could so that he could cover the 10 feet in the shortest possible time and he had that funny gat that children have when they are very young and not great or even good walkers yet. When Justice got to his mother he jumped into her waiting arms as she squatted down and she tried to not tumble back onto her butt. Watching the reunion one might not realize that Justice had been asleep and away from his mother for only 90 minutes.
The movers took a few breaks to have doughnuts and drink coffee or milk but other than the snack and restroom breaks they were almost constantly in motion and by 1:30 the trucks sat empty in front of the house. Ginger’s worldly processions had been put in her new home just down a hallway from Amanda’s and arranged just like she had requested so that she could quickly and efficiently unpacked to get the place set-up. The movers were sweaty and looked tired but smiled as Amanda gave each and every one of them 2 crisp brand new $20.00 bills. “Guys thank you for the job you did today. I haven’t even seen a scuffed wall and I’ll give the family that bought my other house your number so they can use you also.”
‘Thank you ma’am’ was heard all around and the 6 men headed back to their big dark blue moving vans with their companies name on the side. A few minutes later the vans were started and began moving back down the gravel drive. The gravel was being flung up and bouncing off the underside of the truck. Amanda, Justice, Ginger and Hollis stood on the front porch and watched the trucks move around the bend and disappear.
Amanda’s phone rang and she answered it. Her replies were short and concise. “I’m here and waiting.” She ended the call and turned to everyone else standing with her. “The safe will be here in 45 minutes. Anyone want to try to get a pizza delivered?
Everyone knows that pizza always seems to be a crowd pleaser when someone is moving and the guests put in their order. While they waited for the delivery of the pizza and the safe they played with and tried to amuse Justice who was growing increasingly bored without his big box of toys to amuse him. Luckily for them all Amanda had packed a box of his favorite toys in her truck and she retrieved them much to Justice’s amusement. Amanda decided that unpacking boxes could wait till after the safe was delivered and Hollis had left so she just lived in the moment and enjoyed the process.
The pizza delivery was followed by the delivery from the safe and security company that Amanda had found that specialized in higher risk clients. They had installed the alarm in the new home as well as the wiring for the intercom and camera system. They also agreed to order the safes Amanda wanted and deliver them. The cost that she paid by ordering through a third party instead of directly from an internet site was off-set by the convenience of having them deliver the heavy piece of gun enthusiast furniture. After Amanda and Hollis had spent some time together Amanda learned that Hollis was a full-time Private Detective and Bill Stone’s niece on his brother’s side. Hollis had been involved in the insurance industry working for a large claims office when her ex-cop dad who ran a Private Detective Agency was diagnosed with a form a slow acting cancer. Hollis quit her job to help her dad and by the time he passed two years later she was State licensed and running the Agency on her own. Her dad willed the business to Hollis and she followed in his footsteps. He had been a popular sub-contractor and the business thrived under Hollis who brought a great insurance background to the Agency. That Private Detective experience also meant that Hollis understood the quantum leap of technology that drove the surveillance and CCTV marketplace. She was not as good with electronic alarm systems so Hollis recommended a company and offered to give Amanda her pricing for the camera and intercom equipment she recommended. Hollis then hired her installer to do the work as a house warming gift so the wiring was done by the alarm company and connected by Hollis’s installer.
The four men that showed up in the lift gate truck were the type you expected to see moving heavy objects like safes and pianos. They were the type of manly men that spend time working out and challenging their bodies while debating the merits of various protein shakes and supplements. All had belts on to reduce the chance of groin injuries and wore shirts that emphasized their slavishness to fitness in the form of powerfully built upper bodies. Not surprisingly like any group of the type that like to show off their ‘guns’ when they can one had the strand of barbed wire tattoo that encircled his upper arm. When the group of large men was out of earshot the assembled woman speculated that if they stripped the men down naked that at least one of the movers would have either a Chinese symbol (that might or might not mean what the tattooist told them it meant) or some type of tribal ink. The three women chuckled at the comment made by Hollis about the Chinese symbol tattoo on her ankle not meaning what she thought it did. Luckily for Hollis the tattoo was 2 inches square and done in a vibrant pink so it wasn’t very noticeable.
As Amanda watched the 4 Hulk-like men maneuvered the heavy safe down the wide stairway on a huge dolly and across the smallish finished area in basement like they had been working together all their life. She thought that if the world ended today right now this was the place she wanted to be. And upstairs sitting on her front porch were three of the 6 people in the world she would want with her. Satisfied the safe moving crew understood exactly where the safe was to be placed she stepped back into the room that housed the HVAC equipment and water heater as tears leaked from her eyes. She was again emotional for a few minutes at the memory of what had happened to her husband and her life. She really did miss Chester, that big goofball.
When Amanda went back upstairs with the safe movers and Hollis saw her Hollis could tell that Amanda had been crying. She hadn’t cried much but it was enough to redden her eyes slightly. Hollis to her credit was a very good friend despite their only having known each other for around a year and didn’t mention it. Sometimes that’s what friends did; they felt your pain yet let you work through it in your own time. And Amanda felt with time she would partially recover from what had happened to her and her family. Having a safe and happy place to live out her life would help.
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