(A Lucy DelRose Mystery)
By Teresa Lynn
By Teresa Lynn
Downtown Bunge was eerie at night. Elongated shadows enveloped the town in mystery. The Blue Bird Bar & Grill stood out like a peacock with its feathers fanned for all to see its artificial glory. Cars were parked along the curb running north and south of Lincoln Street. Neon lights glowing blue seduced Junior and me inside out of the heat. Music spilled from its open door. The sounds of clinking glass, relaxed laughter, and dimmed lighting wrapped us in a cocoon of intimacy.
It felt like the most natural thing for Junior’s arm to drop casually about my shoulders while we scanned the room for an empty table. A waitress approached us and indicated a booth at the back. A square bar dominated the middle of the room, with chrome bar stools and tile counters. An overhead wine rack held wine glasses hung upside down and a wall mirror reflected the faces of the patrons as they slowly unwound from the day’s activities. Soft leather seats cushioned us as we slid into the booth decorated with the same tile-finish as the bar.
“What can I get you folks?” The waitress wore a tight nylon black mini-dress with a fitted blue vest buttoned under the roundness of her breasts. She was petite with a cloud of dark hair.
“Old Charter for me and peppermint Schnapps over ice for the lady,” Junior said, tapping the table with one of the complimentary breadsticks.
I was surprised Junior remembered one of my favorite drinks after all this time.
“You see the guy at the bar.” Junior indicated him with a jerk of his head. “He’s one of the guys I’d seen talking with Sue Ann at the feed store.” The guy was young, probably in his early twenties, light brown hair, long and straight. He reminded me of a hippie. He was talking earnestly to another guy with his back to us.
“Maybe he just wanted to know something about feed?” I suggested, not wanting to go on this witch hunt.
“No, Lucy, they talked for a long time, laughing and touching. If I didn’t have a customer at the time, I would’ve gone over and punched him in the nose.” Junior balled his hand into a fist and gave the table a whack.
Luckily the waitress came with our drinks. Junior paid her while I took a long pull on the Schnapps, tasting the sharp cool mint as it flowed over my tongue and gave me a wow feeling. The tight knots in my stomach began to relax. I didn’t feel nervous anymore.
We knew most of this crowd. I sold fish to a lot of them during the week. Junior sold feed and garden supplies to others. Recognition dawned on them as our eyes met, but they all knew Junior and I were old friends and gave us some space. I couldn’t imagine any of these people responsible for Sue Ann’s death.
“Junior, I think we’re on the wrong track here,” I said, elbowing him in the ribs to try and divert his attention from the guy at the bar.
“How can you say that? What about him?” He jerked a thumb at the hippie again. Suddenly, the man talking to the hippie turned around on his bar stool.
Good Lord, it was Sheriff Ware of Bunge County. He was a slim man with small features. The sheriff and I had some professional history and I respected the man. Tonight he was not in uniform. Ware’s bald head shone under the neon glow of advertisements along the back wall of the bar.
“Junior, let’s leave it alone for now. The guy sitting next to your man is our county sheriff,” I whispered to him.
Junior shook his head. “I’ve got to talk with this guy and see what he knew about Sue Ann.”
I knew I’d lost this round. Sheriff Ware walked away toward the men’s room. Without a word, Junior jumped up and walked over to the hippie. The guy didn’t look happy. I could tell he recognized Junior because he drew back as Junior approached the bar.
Junior slid onto the stool vacated by the sheriff and lean toward the hippie. The exchange started out calm, but as the hippie shook his head in answer to his questions, Junior became angry.
Sheriff Ware sat down next to me on the leather bench seat.
“Miss DelRose, good to see you,” he said and extended his hand.
I took it and felt his cool skin. I knew this wasn’t a coincidence.
“Nice to see you again, Sheriff.” I gave him a thin smile.
“Seems like you have involved yourself in another tragedy,” he said with a poker face.
I was astounded he could read the situation so quickly.
“I’m not sure I understand what you mean by involvement?” I hedged.
“Junior Dykes is trying to get information from a possible witness in his wife’s murder case. He is only hurting the investigation.” Sheriff Ware watched the two men at the bar.
“Witness? So Junior was right in assuming this guy might know something?” I took another sip of Schnapps.
“Miss DelRose, your friend needs to let the law handle this case. Mr. Dykes has a lawyer who he can get all the information he needs through discovery of evidence,” Ware reasoned.
“Yes, but there’s no law that says a man can’t try and protect himself,” I argued.
“Is he in danger?” the sheriff countered.
“Yes, of being charged with his wife’s murder.”
“He has emotional ties to the victim. It’s never wise to go off on a personal vendetta to find the killer. Before you know it, he accuses the wrong person and someone gets hurt.” The sheriff stressed each word with a finger striking the table.
Suddenly Junior was on his feet. He had the hippie by the shirt collar. He shook the guy hard.
“Tell me, you creep,” Junior said in a loud, angry voice.
Sheriff Ware jumped to his feet and signal to the bartender. Suddenly two bouncers had Junior by his arms. The sheriff said something to Junior in a hushed tone. The next thing I knew, the bouncers were escorting Junior out the front door. The sheriff patted the hippie on the back and shook his hand. The guy kept shaking his head while the sheriff talked. Finally, Sheriff Ware walked out the front door of the bar. The hippie walked over to a pay phone along the back wall.
I quickly grabbed my purse and strolled to the phone next to his. I dropped a quarter into the slot and called the number for the weather report. The hippie had the phone cradled on his shoulder and I had to strain to hear him.
“Damn straight. You said you had it under control.” The hippie wasn’t happy with the person at the other end of the line. “Well you tell Bubba I ain’t takin’ any more guff.” He slammed down the receiver and stomped to the men’s room.
Shit. Why did the first clue have to be a guy named Bubba? There must be thousands of Bubbas in the area.
Junior was standing next to his truck with Sheriff Ware, licking his pride. The two bouncers must have gone back into the bar.
“Mr. Dykes, I understand you want to get to the bottom of this, but Sheriff Umbridge did ask for my department’s help in questioning witnesses in my county.” Sheriff Ware leaned against Junior’s Ford F-250 truck.
“I’ve been going nuts over this.” Junior pounded his fists against the hood of his truck.
“If it were my wife, I’d be nuts too. Please go home, plan your wife’s funeral. Let us work this case.” The sheriff gave Junior’s arm a squeeze and a reassuring pat on the back. He tipped his head to me and then headed back inside the Blue Bird Bar & Grill.
“Get in.” Junior pointed to the truck. He cranked the motor and we were off. He gunned the diesel engine and took a route that headed to the riverfront landing. The river was black as ink in the night.
“What’s up?” I looked at him with the help of the dash-lights. His expression was tense.
“That creep back there said something about Sue Ann meeting some guy down at the riverfront on the weekends,” he mumbled through clenched teeth.
Now I understood what Sheriff Ware meant when he said Junior could hurt someone by being too close to the victim. Junior wanted revenge for what Sue Ann had put him through the past few weeks. He was looking for all the men in her life leading up to her death.
“Who was that hippie?” I said sharply.
“A wiseass who delivered farm supplies at our store. He said Sue Ann asked him for drugs, but he told her he didn’t do that stuff. What a lot of horseshit. I’ve seen him and another driver smoking a joint back of our loading dock. I figure that’s how Sue Ann got her stuff.” Junior slowed down as we neared the entrance to the riverfront.
He drove between the wide brick walls to the riverfront landing, where boats could off-load into the river. Trucks were parked along the brick wall built to hold back rising flood waters. The place was deserted. Water lapped against the concrete landing, creating white foam and tossing debris about.
Junior shifted the truck into park and then cradled his head against the steering wheel.
“Why did she do this to me? I gave her a beautiful home, wonderful kids…. I treated her good. I just don’t understand.” Junior’s shoulders shook. He was crying.
I went numb. I had never seen Junior cry. I wrapped my arms around him and hung on.
“Don’t blame yourself, Junior. Sue Ann wasn’t a bad person. A little confused maybe, but that’s all,” I reassured him.
“Why was it so wrong being a housewife?” he cried out.
So, like a fool, I told him about Bubba. I had to give him hope that we had made progress in tracking down Sue Ann’s killer. And that’s when I put my life in jeopardy.
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