Fur Is Dead.
The letters were bleeding, drops of
bright red blood dripping down the white canvas like tears.
I came to a standstill at the edge of the crowd that had gathered
to watch the disturbance in front of Warrington's Department
Store, my eyes transfixed on the words.
The small silver-haired woman who
marched at the head of a line of orderly demonstrators held
her picket high, as if it were a standard. In her blue cardigan
that looked too heavy for the warm October day, she was a
dignified, neatly dressed matron who had taken to the street
on behalf of the animals.
Fifteen people had turned out to march
in front of the store's display window, newly decorated to
promote Warrington's first trunk show. The event was part
of a special "Shop Lakeville" week, designed to lure customers
with selections of designer dresses, pricey jewelry, and furs
brought in from New York.
Three reed-thin mannequins, wrapped
snugly in fur coats, stood on the leaf-strewn floor of the
window. Frozen in graceful poses and clutching beaded evening
bags in their lifeless hands, they advertised elegance and
But at what cost? Blood - or the best
prices of the season, depending on one's point of view.
The demonstration was cleverly timed
to coincide with the first day of the trunk show, and the
unseasonable seventy degrees might have been specially ordered
to suggest that fur was much too warm for comfort.
"But notice that leaves are falling
from the maple trees that line Grove Street," the mannequins
seemed to say. "Winter is coming. You'll need a fur coat then."
I looked in the display window again.
Long mink coats with full shawl collars, a matching hat, a
fox headband - they were hideous. The mere thought of wearing
the coat of a slaughtered animal made my arms feel itchy under
my cotton sleeves.
Fur Is Dead. I didn't need to be convinced.
The picketers were a restrained and
courteous group. No one attempted to stop a customer from
walking through Warrington's doors. They allowed their painted
slogans to speak for themselves: Real People Wear Fake Fur,
Protect the Fox (a sentiment unlikely to garner sympathy in
the heart of Michigan's fox hunting country), and over and
over again the acronym M.A.R.A. in bold black letters.
"M.A.R.A.?" I didn't realize I'd spoken
the word aloud.
"It stands for Militant Animal Rights
Activists. Those animal rights people again. They're everywhere."
The voice was loud, almost petulant.
The speaker, a willowy blonde woman next to me, glanced at
her watch. Over her pink turtleneck she wore a brown vest
trimmed with fur. "I don't have time for this. Someone ought
to call the police."
"They seem peaceful enough, and they're
not stopping people from entering," I said. "Just walk on
She didn't challenge my statement,
but she didn't move either. No one was moving, except for
I was going to Warrington's myself.
Maybe. Until five minutes ago, that had been my intent.
I had a strong affinity for the Animal
Rights Movement. The sight of a fur coat made me wish I had
a can of spray paint in my purse. But Saturday was the only
day of the week I had time to browse in the stores. Today
I planned to take advantage of Warrington's trunk show to
shop for a dress, something bright, classy, and unique. I
wouldn't go near the fur coats.
The blonde said, "The activists must
be following the trunk shows. Last month I saw them at Madeline's
down in Rochester. I like animals as well as the next person,
but these groups go too far. They're fanatic."
This sweeping indictment was met with
murmurs of agreement and assorted grumblings. A portly man,
who wore his Detroit baseball team's Tigers cap with the old
English D pulled down low on his forehead, shouted, "M.A.R.A.,
"We are home."
The woman who spoke these words was
tall, statuesque, and dressed in brown. Her long skirt swept
down to her ankles, and she wore a dark cowl-neck sweater.
A beige shawl provided sharp contrast for the mass of chestnut
hair that tumbled around her shoulders.
She detached herself from the middle
of the picket line and walked deliberately up to the man wearing
the Tigers cap. "Wherever animals are suffering or being exploited,
that is M.A.R.A's home."
Her voice was soft and melodious,
her tone arresting. Around her, sound seemed to cease, even
the footfalls of the picketers. I could hear the rustle of
a leaf as it drifted down to the pavement.
The Tigers cap man swore loudly into
the silence. "You're all a bunch of crazies. Get the hell
out of our town!"
But he was the one who crossed to
the other side of the street and walked away with never a
The chestnut-haired woman appeared
unshaken by the encounter. She walked over to the curb. The
small woman, the standard bearer, had stepped out of the line
and laid her sign down on the ground to retie her shoelace.
The two women stood together talking
softly, while the line moved on without them. I was about
to go into the store when a squeal of tires and the roar of
a revving engine cut into the silence. A white car careened
down Grove Street, traveling dangerously close to the sidewalk.
When the driver was about nine yards from the women, he swerved
into the no parking zone in front of the store. Slowing to
a rolling stop, he leaned over in the passenger's seat and
shouted something through the half-open window. I couldn't
make out his words, but the heckling tone was unmistakable.
I had a fleeting glimpse of features
obscured by sunglasses and a white shirt open at the neck.
A gold medallion rested on his chest.
Apparently startled by the unexpected
barrage, the smaller woman started to turn around, but she
lost her balance on the curb and tumbled backward into the
street. She lay, stunned and unmoving, in the path of the
white car. It began to move forward.
In a blur of brown, the chestnut-haired
woman flew into the street. Holding out one hand to ward off
the oncoming car, she stooped down to pull her friend out
of the way.
The white car was picking up speed.
No, I cried silently. Stop! Stop .
I heard a sickening thud and an anguished
cry as the front of the car struck the tall woman. She fell
back beyond the curb where she lay in a tangle of brown and
beige. Like a veil, her chestnut hair covered her face.
The man in the white car drove over
her companion as if she were nothing more than a blue sweater
lost in the street. He accelerated and sped off, leaving his
victim lying on the pavement as broken as a delicate porcelain
doll that had been hurled to the pavement.
I'd seen what had happened, but the
reality of the situation hadn't reached me yet.
I created a different scene. She'd
only been stunned by the impact. That couldn't be real blood
gushing out from her chest and staining the bright blue color
of the sweater. I couldn't possibly be hearing the gurgling
sound it made as it left her body.
Somewhere behind me, a woman was screaming.
The sound went on and on, gaining in intensity, until the
tableau shattered into an explosion of noise and movement.
I was aware of a bitter taste in my
mouth and a sharp pain in my lower lip. I unclenched my fists.
The incident was real, and I was standing still, doing nothing,
while a woman lay in the street, her lifeblood draining out
Several of the onlookers rushed to
the aid of the woman who lay in the street, while two young
men helped the chestnut-haired woman to her feet. She stood
unsteadily between them, pushing her hair out of her face
and running her hand along her left hip and leg.
"No, I'm all right," she was saying.
"It's Sarah. Help her. Call 911!"
"I already did." The high, thin voice
was lost in the noisy crowd, but help was on the way. How
many minutes? Five? Ten?
One of the young men gave the woman
her shawl. She wrapped it tightly around her shoulders and
stared at the body in the street.
At the moment of impact, the picket
sign had sailed through the air, coming to a stop when it
hit the trunk of a maple tree. It had then bounced back into
the street a little way from its owner. It was easier to look
at the sign than the fallen woman. Around her head and chest,
the pool of red blood widened, quickly drenching the cardigan.
The woman in brown now knelt in the
street at Sarah's side. I watched her as she pulled off her
shawl and laid it over the still form of her friend, letting
the soft beige cover the darkened blue of the sweater and
the seeping red blood.
"Sarah! Oh, my God! Where is that
ambulance?" She said this without looking up, never taking
her eyes off the woman she called Sarah, who appeared to be
beyond hearing and help.
"You're going to be all right," I
heard her say. "Everything is going to be all right."
A bearded man dashed past me, almost
knocking me over into one of the maple trees. He ran across
the street and headed for a red truck. While I righted myself
and brushed leaves from my hair, he took off at a high speed,
no doubt in pursuit of the white car. It was a quick-thinking
gesture, but I didn't think he had a chance of overtaking
the driver who had a head start of several minutes.
Stunned by the enormity of what I
had witnessed, I looked around. The petulant blonde woman
who had been fretting about being detained by the animal activists
was nowhere in sight. Maybe she had slipped away, not wanting
to get involved, while I remained in place like one of those
ghoulish spectators who always appeared at accident scenes.
No, that wasn't right. I had been
here all along. At the moment I wasn't sure that I could move.
I had plenty of company. The crowd
was larger now. Clerks wearing nametags and customers, some
of them with shopping bags on their arms, streamed out of
Warrington's and the neighboring stores. The picket line dissolved,
as some of Sarah's companions flocked to her side, while others
found themselves trapped in the milling throng. A few more
people moved away from the curb toward the women in the street.
"No," the woman in brown said. "Stand
back please. Will someone call 911 again?"
Voices swirled around me in a cacophony
of confusion, melding into an unintelligible jumble, but there
were a few exceptions.
"Yeah, I'll do it."
"Where's the car that hit her?"
"Gone. Took off."
"She won't die, will she, Caroline?"
This last speaker, a pale young girl,
had chestnut hair and wore a brown dress styled like Caroline's.
"Everything will be all right as soon
as the ambulance gets here." Caroline's voice was steady and
I wished I could do something to help,
like the running man. I couldn't think of anything, though,
so I stood still, watching and listening to the voices until
a shrill siren obliterated all other sound. The ambulance
skidded to a stop, its lights flashing, the siren cut off
Everyone except Caroline backed up
to the sidewalk to give the paramedics space to work. The
crowd jostled me farther from the curb. Another blonde stood
next to me now, a girl in khaki shorts who chewed her gum
energetically and asked anyone who would listen, "What happened?
She must be dead, don't you think? Did anybody see the accident?"
"That was a hit and run," said a gruff
The Tigers cap man had returned. He
sounded excited, almost as if he were happy to be part of
an exciting event.
"He headed right for her. Serves her
right for meddling in other people's business."
"That's a vile thing to say," the
gum-chewing blonde girl said. "So you're saying she ought
to be run down in the street for demonstrating? That's just
The Tigers cap man glared at her.
"No one's talking to you, Blondie. Have a little respect for
"Why you dumb - "
Before she could finish her sentence,
a young man appeared at her side and took her arm. "Ignore
him, babe. Let's get out of here."
She went with him, protesting loudly;
but she went. Now that the situation was defused, the Tigers
cap man pushed his way closer to the curb.
Feeling queasy, I leaned against the
display window and replayed the accident scene. The images
came. A sunny, warm October afternoon, a day to savor. Two
women talking at the curb's edge. The sound of a car approaching,
shouted words, the tone hostile and insulting. The misstep,
the fall, the thwarted rescue attempt and - the end of it.
I closed my eyes. I didn't want to replay the end of it. With
one fatal misstep, a day to savor had turned into a day to
What I had seen was a deliberate hit
and run, but it didn't make sense. How could the driver know
that his words would have any effect on the women? How could
he have foreseen that Sarah would fall in the street and Caroline
would attempt to pull her back? Or had his plan been to steer
the car up on the sidewalk into the picket line, mowing down
any random activist or onlooker in his path?
Most important of all, what was his
motive? I'd gathered that the animal activists were unpopular,
but surely the deed hadn't been inspired solely by a hatred
A cruiser pulled into the space vacated
by the red truck. A lone patrolman of the Foxglove Corners
Police Department sat inside, no doubt calling for help from
the state troopers. The paramedics were lifting the woman
carefully into the ambulance, as if there were still a chance
she could be saved. Maybe she would live, but it didn't look
good. The pool of blood in the street had grown larger.
Again I noticed the sharp, bitter
taste in my mouth. I touched my lower lip and saw the blood
on my finger. Absently I reached for a tissue. As I dabbed
at my lip, the ambulance pulled away, sirens blaring again,
an eerie sense of finality in the sound.
Caroline stood staring down Grove
Street until the wail of the siren had died away. Then, carrying
her bloodstained shawl, she made her way back to her picketers
who waited in the shadow of the window mannequins. As she
rubbed her eyes with a clean corner of the shawl, the M.A.R.A.
people gathered around her, forming a tight circle.
I heard her say, "I'm not hurt. It's
just a scraped knee. But Sarah. . . "
The policeman was out of his patrol
car, at her side. "Your friend is being taken care of. You
need to get checked out in the hospital, ma'am," he said.
"No, I'm all right . . ."
Another cruiser arrived in a cloud
of dust, its siren drowning out Caroline's protests. Two husky
blue-clad officers plowed through the crowd that still lingered
in front of the store.
The air was thick with an acrid smell
that I couldn't identify. It reminded me of burning leaves.
This was strange because bonfires were banned in town. The
queasy feeling returned. I stood still, willing myself not
to be sick, as one of the newly arrived officers made his
way toward me.
"Excuse me, Miss."
He seemed like all the other policemen
I had encountered in my lifetime: Brusque, detached, and efficient.
Like the killer driver, he wore sunglasses.
"Jennet Greenway," I said.
"Address? Profession? Date of birth?"
His questions assailed me like a barrage
of bullets. I concentrated on giving him the answers he demanded
and felt the nausea slowly recede.
"Did you witness the accident, Miss
"Will you describe what you saw, please?"
Discovering that I wanted to talk
about it, I called up the images I'd stored in my memory and
summarized the incident.
"What was the make of the car?" the
"It was a Ford Taurus, and there was
rust around the door."
"Did you see the license plate number?"
"No. It happened too quickly, but
. . . "
A last image came to me. "A man went
after him. I'm pretty sure that's where he was going. He had
a brown beard and left in a red truck."
Obviously hearing something that he
considered important, the officer surveyed the crowd. "Did
he come back? Is he here?"
"I don't see him. Maybe he's still
trailing the driver."
"I'll look into it. Thank you, Miss
He was already moving away. I asked,
"Is she dead?"
"That I can't answer," he said. "Thank
Clearly he was through with me, already
descending on his next witness. Left alone, I looked for the
bearded man again, for the gum chewing blonde or even the
man in the Tigers cap. They were all gone, replaced by new
people. Passersby paused to ask questions of those who had
been there longer. They stared at the pool of blood in the
street and then went silently on their way. The crunching
of footfalls on leaves was louder than their hushed voices.
It was back to business as usual and
life goes on, although the atmosphere around Warrington's
had turned positively funereal. I'd been looking forward to
the trunk show all week, but now I regarded Warrington's with
a lack of enthusiasm.
The picket lay in the street, resting
in a bed of maple leaves as red as blood. Apparently the M.A.R.A.
people had forgotten about it.
Fur Is Dead. Sarah had carried the
sign proudly. Carefully I closed my hand around the thin wood
stake. I held it for a minute and then leaned it against one
of the maple trees.
With my attention riveted on the dead
sign, I'd failed to see the third patrol car pull up in the
no parking zone. Deputy Sheriff Crane Ferguson stood in the
street. With his silver-streaked blond hair and frosty gray
eyes, he was like a burst of light on a dark, chaotic scene.
Foxglove Corners' favorite lawman had come to restore order
in the county, and the sun was shining on his badge, turning
it to gold.
He was looking at the picket sign
I'd moved, and he wasn't smiling. "Were you part of this demonstration?"
This was not a time for the smile
that reached all the way up to his eyes and from there to
my heart. He was, after all, on duty, and this was a somber
I said, "No. Just a witness. It was
terrible. The driver ran over the woman intentionally."
"That's what they say."
Crane's gaze shifted to the sign again.
"The poor lady. What a senseless way to die. Was that the
picket she was carrying?"
"Yes." I knew that Crane would tell
me the truth. "She is dead, then?"
"She must have died instantly. Fur
Is Dead. Those proved to be prophetic words."
I blinked. Was more blood drizzling
down from the words?
"I moved the sign out of the street."
I didn't know why I was feeling guilty. Unless - I had tampered
with evidence. Yes, that was what I had done.
Crane reached over and took possession
of the sign.
"You're a long way from the byroads
of Foxglove Corners, aren't you, Crane?" I asked.
He smiled then. "I do get into Lakeville
sometimes, Jennet, like today. Did you come into town for
the trunk show?"
"Yes, but I don't feel much like it
now. I think I'll head on home."
"Good. Drive carefully. I'll see you
there sometime soon."
Taking the sign with him, he walked
over to talk to the officer who had interviewed me. Crane
was with others of his kind. In spite of the people who still
lingered on Grove Street, I felt alone.
It seemed colder. I wished I'd had
the foresight to take a sweater. The crowd had thinned to
a trickle, with only blood on the pavement to mark the day's
tragedy. Before long, someone would come to clean the street,
erasing the last trace of the woman who had died. The only
constant was Warrington's window display. The mannequins still
wore their fur coats. The trunk show must go on. As for the
hapless little fur bearers, they had lost a friend today.
They had better run for cover.
My shopping expedition seemed like
a frivolous waste of time. I had plenty of party dresses at
home. Having given my statement, I had no reason to linger.
Turning around, I retraced my steps to Willow Street, where
I had left my car. It felt good to know that I was going home
and that Crane would see me there sometime soon.
"...a brilliant novel and a great
mystery!" Read the full review, by
Beverly Forehand, at