Poisoned Pairings by Lesley A. Diehl

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Murder again stalks the breweries of the Butternut Valley and with it, something potentially more explosive—hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a gas exploration technique that could destroy the air, water, and serenity of the region and pit neighbor against neighbor; and this time Hear must pursue the killer alone as well as find some way to bring an end to the fracking controversy before it tears apart her once peaceful community.


Rafe Oxley, my closest brewing friend, and I sat next to each other in a darkened room in the county office building. My fellow microbrewers in the Butternut Valley and other interested members of the county gathered to watch a video portraying gas exploration using hydraulic fracturing or fracking, a horizontal drilling technique injecting water, sand and chemicals under pressure to shatter underground shale and release the gas trapped inside.

Some individuals in our valley desperate for the income had already signed gas leases. Others worried the drilling would change the valley forever, destroying roads, polluting the air, poisoning our water.

The image on the screen was that of a drilling rig juxtaposed against the verdant background of virgin forest. To its left, a Caterpillar tore a trench through a nearby meadow leaving a gash which ran straight through grass and wildflowers into the scrubby pines behind the site. The camera panned to a fracking pond where the water and chemicals used to force the gas to the surface collected in a landscaping tarp to prevent leakage back into the ground.

The scene shifted to water tumbling over rocks in a small stream. A voice from off-camera said, “Let’s see if we can light this.”

A hand flicked a butane lighter and touched the flame to the water. With a whoosh, the stream caught fire. The unexpected explosion startled me. I jumped and reached for Rafe’s hand.

“Mrs. Attenby down the road had her well explode on Christmas Eve last year,” said the man who had lit the water.

“The state has stopped the drilling, right?” asked the reporter covering the story.

“Right, but now the water around here is undrinkable. The companies are trucking in safe drinking water to the people who signed drilling leases. ‘Course, since there’s no more gas being taken, the people don’t get their monthly checks.”

Rafe and I glanced at one another, knowing what the other was thinking. Water was the lifeblood of micro brewing. We bought our malt, yeast and hops, shipped them in from other places. Some hops came from as far away as New Zealand. But the main ingredient in our beer, water, came from our wells.

Rafe leaned toward me and whispered what all of us must have been thinking.

“Our wells are connected. We saw that this summer. When one dried up, so did the others. If one well is contaminated, all of them will be. We have to stop this madness.”

Rafe and I turned to look at Teddy Buser, the largest brewer in the valley. He was scowling and shaking his head, the only one of the Butternut brewers who thought making money from natural gas seemed like a good thing. Teddy could afford to buy water, but what of the rest of us? Rafe and I scowled back at him.

My cell phone vibrated on my belt. I looked at the identity of the incoming caller.

“I’ll be right back,” I said to Rafe. “I’ve got to take this call.”

I hurried outside and flipped open the cell.


“Dr. Hurley. What’s wrong?”

“Sally asked me to call you to let you know I’m admitting her to the hospital. It’s too early for the baby, but she’s spotting, and her blood pressure is low. I want to keep an eye on her for a few days. I know her mother and you are serving as her labor coaches.”

“I’ll be right there.”

“No, you stay put. She needs rest. You can see her tomorrow. Call her mother, would you?”

“Whatever you say, Doc.”

“I’ll talk with you then.” He disconnected.

My best friend, Sally Granger, ran a bakery, tea room and catering service in our village, but of late, her pregnancy had forced her to slow down. Yesterday she had seemed more exhausted than usual.

I returned to the meeting. The film was ending as I slid into my seat.

“What did I miss?”

Rafe leaned close to whisper in my ear. “More footage on the destruction around Dimock, Pennsylvania, an area that used to look much like this valley. Their roads are all torn up. Country lanes were not meant to be used by earth moving equipment and trucks hauling drilling rigs.”

  • Published by: Lesley A. Diehl

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