No shit, Sherlock.
There’s a knot in my throat the size of a softball, and it’s getting bigger.
Me and my fucking brilliant ideas!
This is real-life shit that I’m just not prepared to handle. A book, even a movie, is one thing. This is another. If something bad happens, there are no do-overs.
This is for keeps, and we are royally fucked if it all goes to hell.
I just know the police chief is going to laugh us right out of his office with our bullshit story and we’re going to end up going to Bob’s mom’s house by ourselves with no plan and no means to protect ourselves whatsoever. OK, so Dickhead can box, but that sure as fuck isn’t going to help us if we’re up against an armed adversary intent on harming anyone who gets in his or her way.
“Stop tormenting yourself,” the all-seeing Dickhead orders, opening his door. “Stay put. I’ll leave the car idling so you don’t wilt from the heat. It’s best if I go in alone.”
“But … ” I stutter.
“No buts. I’ll take care of this.”
Good luck with that, buddy.
An Englishman in blink-and-you-miss-it smalltown Kentucky probably will get about as much help as a stranded motorist in New York City.
Perrysville is no exception, with its laughable city hall and police station jammed into a little box of a building that doesn’t look like it could hold more than five people comfortably. I only see a handful of mom-and-pop businesses, at that, including the proverbial general store advertising a post office within, full-service gas station and diner. There isn’t much else worth mentioning, not even a damn stop light.
I turn the ignition off, snatching the keys out of it and then practically jump out of the car in my zeal to get to Dickhead before he talks to the police chief and potentially ruins our crazy plan with that big, proper English mouth of his.
I reach him just in time.
Wow. I’m thankful looks alone can’t kill.
“Hello, darling, I thought you were going to wait in the car,” he greets me through clenched teeth, giving my elbow a warning squeeze.
“Oh, honey, it’s so terribly hot, and I was simply melting out there!” I reply loudly, my accent suddenly as Southern as sweet tea and moon pies. “Besides, I know how worried sick you are about Bob and how desperately you’ve been trying to reach him to make sure he’s all right.”
Those devil eyes of his narrow into onyx slivers, promising retribution later.
I shiver, and he releases me in time to come face to face with the police chief of Perrysville.
Turns out the he I was expecting is actually a SHE.
Well, well, well. Will wonders never cease?!
“Hi there, I’m Chief Maybelle Flowers,” an older lady who could pass for Flo’s twin sister on the old sitcom Alice from way back in the day greets us, sticking out her hand to shake both of ours. “How may I help y’all?”
We introduce ourselves, and I defer to Dickhead to explain away in my best Southern belle act without having to utter a word.
“I was hoping you’d be able to help us out by being so kind as to do a welfare check on a former employee of mine,” Dickhead begins his spiel smoothly, laying on his fake but urbane charm so thick, I want to barf. “His name is Bob Gallant, and I have reason to believe he is temporarily staying with his mum, Jane, here in Perrysville. I’ve been trying to reach him for some time now, but I’ve had no success in locating him to make sure he’s all right. He left my employment quite abruptly two months ago without his final paycheck, and I wanted to ensure he received it should he ever be in dire straits and need it.”
The police chief smiles coyly, fluffing — if you can call it that — her poofy but crunchy bright orange hairspray-ravaged bouffant hair with one hand while fluttering her eyelashes at him like a teenage girl gushing over her first crush.
Surely, she isn’t buying his bullshit story one bit.
I immediately decide to come clean at the risk of incurring Dickhead’s wrath, but before I can get a word out, she beats me to it.
“Well, if that isn’t the cutest accent I’ve ever heard!” she murmurs excitedly, fanning herself as if the room temperature suddenly shot up 100 degrees. “Why, I’d be delighted to help y’all!”
Yep, I’m gonna puke for sure now.
She turns to one of her officers, kindly requesting him to call Jane Gallant’s residence.
“We don’t get too many visitors in these parts,” she says, “but I’m sure Miss Jane won’t mind talking to y’all.”
The officer motions to Flowers as he hangs up the phone.
“Ma’am, there’s no answer.”
And I’m almost 100 percent certain she doesn’t have a cell phone, either. Like me. This is one of those times I grudgingly have to admit having one certainly can come in pretty handy.
“Looks like we’re gonna pay Miss Jane a surprise visit, then,” Flowers says. “Y’all are welcome to ride along with me. I’d sure love the company.”
She states that last part with a blush and a smile in Dickhead’s direction.
He reaches for her hand, giving the top of it a, ahem, “gentlemanly” kiss.
“Thank you, Chief Flowers,” he says, cutting me a look as I mimic dry heaving behind Flowers as soon as her officer turns his attention back to the paperwork on his desk.
“Oh, please call me Maybelle,” she replies practically cooing at him, all giggly and schoolgirl-like.
I roll my eyes at both of them, wanting to vomit for real.
We load up in her police cruiser, the two of them in front with me sitting behind the bars in the backseat, much to Dickhead’s enjoyment and my increasing dismay.
I tune them both out as we begin our jaunt to Jane Gallant’s house, not wanting to listen to her salivating over Dickhead while he eats up the adoration. Just when I think we can’t possibly get any further away from civilization, Flowers turns down a dirt road some 10 minutes later, finally reaching our destination about a mile into what turns out to be a very long driveway.
At the end of it is a small, dilapidated old one-story house with white paint peeling from what looks to be rotting wood after years of taking beatings from the elements. An ancient rusted pickup truck sits on cinder blocks in a jungle of overgrown bluegrass also littered with various long-abandoned farming implements. Sitting beside Jane Gallant’s home is a leaning outhouse made of well-weathered gray wood.
Fantastic. The leaning tower of shit.
If she still farms, I see no signs of anything but grass and trees growing every which way. There’s no vehicle around other than the pickup, either. Perhaps she isn’t home, which means our whole trip has gone straight into the crapper.
“Miss Jane doesn’t drive anymore,” Flowers unknowingly answers my unasked question. “Her neighbor, Ethel Barnard, takes her to do her weekly shopping over in Owensboro every Monday morning.”
We exit the cruiser and walk up to the front door. Flowers knocks, but there’s no answer.
“Y’all wait here while I have a look around,” she says, already walking away to circle the pitiful little house.
“Do you think something happened to her?” I whisper to Dickhead, wanting to make sure his newest sucker of a conquest is out of earshot.
“Stop jumping to conclusions,” he says quietly. “Let Maybelle do her job. I’m sure everything is fine.”
He doesn’t look convinced, but I’m in no state to argue with him in this massive heat wave.
“Smart girl,” he approves, giving me a knowing smile. “Jealous?”
Of all the nerve!
I sputter, on the verge of vehemently denying his outrageous claim before abruptly changing tactics to knock him off-balance just this once.
“What if I am, hmmm?” I look into his shocked eyes, daringly placing both of my hands palms out onto his firm chest, his heart just as suddenly thudding as quickly as a Neil Peart drum solo. “What are you gonna do about it?”
He closes his eyes briefly, his breathing hitching in shaky gasps.
So this is what happens when you play with fire.
And just like that, it’s not a game to me anymore. I … I want this, whatever this turns out to be.
“Piccolo,” he grits out in a growl, opening his eyes as he encases my upturned face in his big, capable hands.
Just then, Flowers comes around the corner from the opposite side of the house, interrupting whatever Dickhead had been about to say, or do. We both drop our hands guiltily, like two teenagers busted by the cops for necking in a car on lovers’ lane.
But our broken moment and flushed, shaken faces escape her distracted notice.
“This isn’t like her to not answer the door,” Flowers says more to herself than to us, once again knocking on the front door. “She loves having company.”
She tries the doorknob, successfully turning it to open it.
“Miss Jane, it’s Maybelle,” she tries again. “I just want to check on you to make sure you’re all right, sweetie. Are you home? I just want to sit and visit with you for a spell.”
The house is pitch black. Not even a speck of sunlight seeps inside because all the curtains are drawn in the windows. Probably blackout curtains, which allegedly block noise while helping to keep the heat out in summer and the cold out in winter.
Flowers reaches along the wall just inside the door and finds a light switch. She flicks it on, the bright ceiling fixture temporarily blinding us as our eyes readjust from dark to light.
The room is covered in red.
In the middle of it is Jane Gallant. Or what’s left of her.
She’s covered in red, too.
I hear screams coming from far away. And then, blissfully, nothing at all.