Melanie Buford lay on the grass, her eyes closed.
The wind whipped through the branches of the old maple tree above her, dislodging several crimson leaves and sending them drifting toward the ground. Soon she had half a dozen leaves on her, yet she hadn't moved a muscle.
That was my first hint there might be something wrong. You see, I'd seen Melanie lying on the grass, staring up, before, but she generally got up when I came by on my daily jog around the block. And if she didn't, a word from me was enough to get her attention. This time, even the leaves falling on her didn't cause her to as much as twitch.
I knelt down and tapped her on the shoulder. No response, though I noticed she was breathing, albeit quite shallowly. I also observed quite a bump on the left side of her head. My guess was she'd been lying there, something or someone had hit her, and it knocked her out.
It was a good thing I'd come by when I did. I pulled my cell phone out of my pocket and called 911, then started my investigation. You see, I'm a private investigator...sort of. I mean, I'm the assistant (well, maybe the secretary), for John Willingston, P.I. - or I was. It was only ten or so years ago. I wasn't that rusty, anyway.
Resting my foot on a rock not far from Melanie's head, I scanned the area for any object that might point me toward the cause of Melanie's condition. Other than the autumn leaves and a few small branches, the area seemed devoid of clues.
I put on my thinking cap and started pondering the possibilities. Maybe some kid bopped her on the head with a baseball bat. That would certainly account for the lump, and if she'd been asleep, she may not have even had a chance to get up to defend herself. There was a baseball diamond just down the road, and some kids did occasionally walk past Melanie's house on their way to a game. I'd just jogged past the diamond, though, and there'd been no signs of activity.
It was about this time, before I had a chance to formulate a second theory, when my musings were interrupted by what sounded like quite a few leaves shifting about. Looking down, I saw Melanie open her eyes and begin to stir.
"What happened?" she mumbled, straining to rise.
Remembering my basic first aid, I told her to stay put and still, and that an ambulance was on the way.
"Thanks, Tina," she said groggily. "I was just lying here enjoying the weather, and the next thing I know I'm looking up at you with a headache to beat the band."
I told her about the bump on her head, and shared my theory.
"I dunno about that. I would have at least heard them coming, I'd think. They're usually not so quiet."
Then I went full-blast into detective mode. Mr. Willingston would have been proud.
"Do you remember anything unusual?" I asked. "Anything at all that might help us figure out how this happened?"
After pondering for a minute, Melanie actually came up with something.
"You know, I did hear a big truck approaching - sounded like a semi. They don't come down this road too often, you know. Sounded like it was going pretty fast, too."
I started theorizing aloud as we heard the ambulance approaching.
"Maybe the truck kicked up something and sent it flying toward you. It could have easily knocked you cold."
Melanie agreed that was plausible.
Looking down at her, I noticed something I'd missed: something that had been right there, in plain sight, since I arrived on the scene.
"You know, I'll bet it was this." I picked up the rock I'd been resting my foot on and showed it to her.
"Must have been," Melanie agreed.
As the EMT approached to tend to Melanie's wounds, I smiled. I wondered if I should call up old John Willingston and see if he had any job openings. I definitely hadn't lost my touch.
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