The Last Hope

| February 24, 2017

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When the tides started move against you, there is little we can do about it. That’s what Jeremy Wright was thinking as he went home the night after it happened. His job as sheriff of Wells River, New Hampshire, seemed to get harder every year. Every year there were more burglaries and vandalism, and there were crimes that Wells River had never had before. And now the strangest thing of all had happened. At about three am the night before, a man who had called himself John Jones had been run over by a car. Had been out walking in the rain miles away from where he lived, and there was no rational way to explain why. That’s what made it hard on a cop. When there was no logical way to explain something. So Jeremy had a mysterious murder or accidental killing or whatever on his hands and didn’t know quite what to do about it. This John Jones had come to Wells River the past fall and gone to live alone in a cabin on Crawford’s Hill, having seemed to come out of nowhere bent on withdrawing himself from society. Jeremy had disliked him right from the start. Maybe it was that the kid was too much like what he’d been himself when he was young but had grown to have contempt for, the Jeremy Wright who’d wanted to be a painter, who’d had such a way with form and color. He’d even gone down to Boston to art school for a year when he was nineteen, but he’d had to come back after his father had died to work and help support the family, and it had ended there. He was past fifty now, so almost everybody in town had forgotten what he was like then, or was too young to know anything about it. There were a few women in town, though, who’d never forget the young man with the melancholy eyes who’d played so well the role of the solitary, alienated artist. Now almost everyone thought of him only as the stern but conscientious sheriff of Wells River, who had taken on the burden of raising his daughter alone and caring for his widowed mother without complaining. It was almost seven o’clock when Jeremy pulled into his driveway. Like most of the people in northern New Hampshire, Jeremy Wright didn’t make much money, and even though he took on extra jobs when he could get them, he struggled to get by. He lived in a cramped clapboard house with faded white paint and black shutters on the outside, and inside, rugs and furniture that were threadbare. His ex-wife, Ann, he hadn’t seen or heard from since shortly after Mandy was born, when she’d run off with a handsome and mysterious stranger who’d come to town with a theater troupe. Chalk up one more reason why Jeremy didn’t like outsiders like John Jones. Jeremy felt as if he’d been under the gun all day, what with trying to investigate the accident or murder or whatever it was, with trying to figure out what to do with the body, with talking to reporters from newspapers and radio stations and even the TV station from Manchester. It had become quite a story, and the catch phrase “The Mystery Man of Crawford’s Hill” had been coined for it by a reporter. Early in the afternoon he’d gone up to the cabin where John Jones had
lived to try to find some definite identification and to gather up his effects so that he could dispose of them properly. He was surprised and frustrated that he couldn’t find even one piece of identification, even though he’d turned the place inside out. That made the job of handling the case ten times as hard, and he wasn’t even sure how to proceed. It had never happened before, and it wasn’t supposed to happen ever. The only hope he had of making identification came from a pile of manuscript that he found in a desk drawer. It struck his curiosity the moment he laid eyes on it, and even though he muttered to himself that it would be a pain in the ass and probably a waste of time to read through it, another thankless chore of his underpaid job, it really did interest him. He began reading it in the cabin, and took it with him when he left…

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