It was an unusually hot afternoon in mid-July. Nebraska hot, with rising humidity that made the air feel thick. Maggie leaned against the front porch railing, cupping her hand against her forehead to shield her eyes from the glaring sun. Since she wasn’t expecting company, the fast-moving dust cloud on the dirt lane leading to the manor was a source of interest. She took a long drink of iced tea, hoping for a cool respite from the sweltering heat—and then turned her attention once again to the approaching vehicle.
The light blue Ford Fairlane rumbled past where she stood, whipped around the back corner of the house, and skidded sideways to a stop alongside the walkway that led to the wraparound front porch. Maggie walked slowly to the far end of the porch and arrived just in time to catch a glimpse of the driver’s side door swinging open. It creaked loudly. She wondered if, someday, the old car door might give way and fall to the ground as if to proclaim a triumphant end to its dismal role. Maggie wiped the perspiration from her hands onto her apron and moved with reluctance to greet her all too familiar, but unexpected house guest.
It was Fred. He always arrived in a dusty, abrupt fashion. No advance notice, just him and his little dog. Even though Maggie was averse to speaking it, she had certainly given it ample consideration—that Fred McRae had to be the most presumptuous person on the face of the earth, pleasant enough in conversation but entirely centered upon his overconfident self. Fred’s imposing height, daunting circumference, and replication of chins gave the initial impression of a force to be dealt with, but when he opened his mouth to speak, the notion soon evaporated. His puffed out chest and strange pompadour offered a profile resembling that of an arrogant cockatoo. A harmless but arrogant cockatoo.