Chapter 1: Elmsville County - Welcome
A car pulled a small trailer behind it along a dusty, country road. The air was hot and dry. There was hardly any wind and not a single cloud in the sky to threaten the ground with rain. As Detective Thomas Noland drove further away from Toronto, Ontario, the city he’d always loved, he began to notice the absence of buildings and the bustling sounds of public life. All that surrounded him on both sides of the road was farmland as far as the eye could see. He busied himself with attempting to find a radio station that played something other than static. Thomas looked around for a radio tower as he continued down the road, but could only see telephone poles beside him.
After listening to static for far too long, he shut off his radio and picked up the map that sat beside him in the front seat. His eyes scanned the route he was taking that he marked in black Sharpie so he didn’t get lost, as he had little sense of direction on a good day. He was still going down the right road to get to the new town he was moving to: Elmsville. The Chief of Police in Toronto, and his ex-commander, had told him how small the town was before he left. Thomas understood the town to have only around 2,000 people in it, which would be a drastic change for him, since Toronto was so well-populated. It would also be a big transition from city life in general, especially with the rural countryside’s lack of cars and sirens. The first thing that Thomas noticed while he drove was how silent it got without the radio. Not even the wind dared blow on that commute.
Thomas had been driving around two hours through the country before he finally saw a singular sign on the side of the road that read:
“Elmsville County – Welcome.”
As he peered out his windshield, he spotted the town. It was as small as he imagined, which gave him a bitter taste in his mouth when he was reminded of how much it looked like his hometown. When he drove into Elmsville, he noticed how old and antique the buildings were. Some of them looked so dangerously close to falling down that he was nervous driving beside them. He saw three cars on the side of the road and few people walking around. The only thing that was missing from this scene was driven a man with a long beard and hat driving his horse and buggy, Thomas thought to himself. He snuck one last glance at the map to confirm that he was going the right way, but it turned out that he didn’t even need to look. He was on his way to the Elmsville police station and there was a sign right in front of him pointing in several directions, the most prominent one being the station. Thomas’s car kept trudging along the vacant street before he finally parked himself in the lot and got out.
Venturing inside the small, white police building, Thomas was immediately hit by the smell of coffee and old paper. It was loud and boisterous in the room as officers of every age talked loudly about how their shift went or what their plans were for the weekend. Thomas took in the old wooden desks with rotary phones and paperwork stacked in piles everywhere. He made a mental note that he would have to do his work at home if he were to get anywhere because he didn’t do messy.
Before Thomas had time to fully take in his surroundings, a jolly-looking man with a big belly and a beard came up to greet him.
“Detective Noland, I presume?” the man asked him.
“Yes, Thomas Noland,” Thomas confirmed, shaking hands with him.
“Greg Morrison, Chief of police,” the man, Greg, introduced himself with a smile. “Did you have a nice drive in from the big city?”
“Yes, I suppose you could say that,” Thomas fibbed. Morrison hit him on the shoulder.
“Eh, don’t worry, Tommy; you’ll get used to it in no time. We live simply here, so nothing is going to be too difficult to adapt to. Nothing is overly complicated – well, except the case.”
Finally, Thomas thought. He’d been waiting a week to get started on what he came to Elmsville for.
“Yes, about that; when can I start?” he asked promptly. Chief Morrison laughed loudly.
“Eager, are we?” he grinned. “We can start on it tomorrow. I want to give you the chance to unpack and get settled here before you dig into this.”
“I can start today, Chief,” Thomas insisted. “It’s really not a problem.”
“Believe me, Detective, you’ll want to be firmly grounded before you start this. We haven’t had a murder in Elmsville in a long time and the town is pretty riled up about it; uneasy, you know?”
“I can imagine,” Thomas said. Chief Morrison gave him a bushy-faced smile.
“Well, then, I’ll give you a tour and then you can get settled.”
The two men walked back out to Thomas’s car and got in. Thomas started it and turned out of the parking lot as the Chief looked around his town. “Keep driving down this street here; you’re going to go right into the market. It’s closed today, but most days you can’t get through to anywhere past it because it’s filled with venders.”
The car slowly worked its way down a long street filled with old shops and glass-paned windows. Thomas could just spot the vending carts inside the various buildings. Many people were re-stoking them and preparing for next morning’s rush.
“When you come to the end of this street, you’ll see a diner on the left hand side called Molly’s. Best cuppa Jo in the town by far – also not a bad place to go if you want to catch up on some gossip.” Morrison chuckled to himself. Thomas’s eyes came across the diner, the pink and blue sign being the only glowing thing he’d seen since he arrived in Elmsville. He turned left.
“This is where you’ll find we split off,” the Chief continued, pointing to the fork in the road. “To the left is where you go into the actual town: the library, hospital, mechanics, grocery shop, schools, the church and restaurants are located that way. We also have residential housing there for families wanting to be closer to the schools. To the right-,” he pointed to the other road. “-is where the farming community lives. The majority of the housing down that way is mainly farmhouses and barns. It takes a while to get from one farm to the next, so getting to know your neighbor is somewhat of a challenge out there.”
Thomas nodded to show he understood and drove down the left road towards the general population and shops.
“Is there anything I should know about this place before I get moved in?” Thomas asked him.
“Well, the most you need to know is we’re a quiet town. We keep to ourselves most of the time and nothing exciting really happens in Elmsville, unless you count the murder you’re here to solve,” Chief Morrison said, smirking as Thomas made his way to the house he’d be moving into.
“What about the people? Should I know anyone in particular if I need to ask a question?” the detective inquired as he followed the directions to his new house.
“Sure. Molly is the woman you want if you have questions about this place; her family has grown up on Elmsville soil for the past six generations. She’s the know-all and end-all of this place. Aside from her, there’s Father Whitman who’s the Priest of St. Joseph’s church down the road there-,” Morrison pointed. “Of course, there are my boys at the station – if you give them a call, they can point you in any direction you need. I’m always by a phone as well, so don’t hesitate to give me a holler if need be.”
“Thank you, Chief.”
“Oh, please son, just call me Greg,” Morrison told him.
“Alright,” Thomas nodded as his car pulled up to his new house. Thomas looked at the old shack-like building that was entirely made out of wood painted red and turned the ignition off. “I totally forgot; do you need a ride back to the station?”
Morrison waved him off, unbuckling himself. “No, no, I’ll be fine. The missus wants me to get my exercise. Besides, it’s not a long way.” He grinned at him as he got out of the car. “You require anything else? Want some help unpacking?”
“No, I’m okay, thank you. I’ll just work at it,” Thomas told him.
“Very well, then. I’ll see you tomorrow at twelve o’clock,” the chief said. He smiled at him. “Welcome to Elmsville, Mr. Noland.”
Thomas gave him a brief smile and a nod before Morrison shut the car door with a wave. Thomas watched him walk up the lane and disappear out of sight before getting out of his car and going up to the house. He unlocked and opened the door, which creaked on its hinges a little. It revealed a small living room area just off of a kitchen. Beside it was a bedroom, a bathroom and the basement door that was shut. Thomas noticed how musty it was and immediately caught sight of the layer of dust on every open surface in the house, so the first thing he did was take out his cleaning supplies. He dusted, mopped and vacuumed everything before disinfecting the washroom, the kitchen sink and the countertops. He stored the bleach and other supplies in the low cupboards before wandering into the living room. It had a few dark red cloth couches in it with a rug that laid over the hardwood floor by a fireplace. He walked through an archway to find the kitchen table on the other side of the room with four chairs around it. Thomas tilted his head, staring at the space for a moment before he began moving the furniture around. He wasn’t interested in re-decorating; rather, he was interested in the back wall. When he had moved the kitchen table and chairs beside the living area, he was left with a small room with a large back wall, which was exactly what he needed. He rubbed his hands off on his jeans before turning and starting a fire. He struck a match and it caught the old piece of rotting wood, flames licking up the walls of the fireplace as he watched. He warmed his hands by the fire as he stared around at his new home. The warmth from the flames spread around inside the house, chasing away the cold feeling that inhabited it. Thomas wasn’t one for superstition, but he had felt an uneasy shivering sensation ever since he entered the town. He managed to chalk it up to the lack of people he’d seen while he was here.
The silence of his house was oddly unnerving, but Thomas didn’t focus on that for too long. He wore off the uneasiness by unpacking his car and getting his house ready, mentally preparing himself for the days and weeks ahead. Preparing for a murder case had always given Thomas a rush, a sense of adrenaline. He felt wired, wide awake with curiosity, questions swirling around in his mind: was this case going to be difficult to solve? What kind of a murderer was he dealing with? How secretive were the townspeople, really?
The questions didn’t cease – they continued to nag at Thomas throughout the entire night, even following him into bed where he laid awake, pondering all of them equally. When he finally accepted that he couldn’t answer any of his own questions, Thomas fell fast asleep in his new house, his mind refreshing itself and starting brand new for the first day of his next case.