I come to sometime later in the back of what I’m guessing is Flowers’ cruiser, Dickhead worriedly kneeling over me in the open door with a damp cloth of some kind over my forehead.
I sit up slowly, removing the cloth to fully face my favorite adversary.
Yep, I fainted, much as I hate admitting it. But after all the shit I’ve endured in the past not quite yet 48 hours, I’m not at all surprised. I’m usually made of stronger stuff than that, having seen some pretty damn gruesome sports injuries way too up close and personal, but a human being can only handle so much gore and intrigue before losing his or her shit.
Seeing a practically decapitated head will do that.
I still can’t get the image of Jane Gallant’s lifeless body out of my mind, all of that blood — her blood — everywhere.
That poor woman!
I can’t stop the tears from hurtling out of my eyes and stampeding down my face in a blurry, jumbled mess of a tidal wave. I seem to be a helpless, useless, emotional heap of shit these days.
But, oh, that poor, poor woman!
Dickhead pulls me to my feet, holding me tight until my crying jag subsides and we hear sirens in the distance. He reluctantly releases me from his embrace just in time for us to watch the first of what surely will become a caravan of vehicles speeding down the long, lonely driveway to this house of horrors on this sultry August Saturday.
It’s almost evening now, but the persistent sun will be glaring down on us for hours yet, even through the trees towering over Jane Gallant’s property and well beyond.
I see Flowers talking wildly through her shoulder mic, her frantic voice coming clear over the police radio in her cruiser, but I can’t make out what she’s saying. Her panicked pleas for help are almost completely muted as the ear-piercing sirens draw ever nearer.
Help that’s coming much too late for Jane Gallant.
“People make poor choices and do bad things all the time, but nobody deserves to die like that — NOBODY!” I rant more to myself than to Dickhead, wishing for all the world that I had never concocted this dumbass plan to come here because I just couldn’t leave well enough alone and let the cops eventually — hopefully — connect the dots without me running interference due to my foolhardy nosiness. “Why?! WHY?! What kind of monster would do such a thing?! She was just a little old lady minding her own business.
“It’s like a scene out of a horror movie in there. I’m scared. Really and truly scared. What if whomever did this finds out we’re snooping around and decides to come after us, if he hasn’t already been following us? What he did in that house, what happened in there is evil. Pure evil. I’m sorry! I’m so sorry I dragged you into all of this! I wish we had just gone back to your place like you wanted instead of coming here. They’re going to think we had something to do with this, I just know it!”
Dickhead wordlessly tugs me back into his arms, awkwardly petting my frizzy hair in an attempt to calm my rising hysteria.
“This won’t do,” he finally says for my ears only, seemingly unruffled by the events of the past two days, although I know better than to ever think him unfeeling again. “This won’t do at all. It’s not your fault, Piccolo. I agreed to come here, remember? You didn’t hold a gun to my head. I came of my own accord. And if anyone is in any trouble, it will be me. Not you. Because if they ask me to produce Bob’s final paycheck to prove that I really am here under genuine circumstances, I’ll have to tell them the, er, truth — that I don’t have it with me, that I made mention of it just in case they refused to accompany us out here. As for requesting the welfare check on Bob, well, they will have a hard time proving whether my concern is fact or fiction.
“The only thing that matters is that we went through the proper channels by going to the police department first, so we have nothing to worry about. Even if they have any suspicions, it’s all circumstantial. And no, I won’t hang your father out to dry if it ever comes down to him or me because I know what it would do to you if I did.”
I pull back from him just enough to stand on tiptoe and shyly give him a quick peck on the lips before we move apart. It’s the first time I’ve initiated intimate, albeit chaste, contact of any kind with him other than touching. He appears momentarily shell-shocked before shuttering the expression on his face, but I chalk it up to Mrs. Gallant’s murder. Who wouldn’t be traumatized after what we’ve seen?
Well, certainly not the murderer.
Law enforcement and various emergency vehicles swarm the place in their rush to aid poor Chief Flowers, who probably has no clue how to go about securing a murder scene. I don’t, either, for that matter, so I’m not about to criticize her methods, or lack thereof. I’m just sorry she had to see someone she knew under such brutal circumstances. I’m sorry we all did.
The Racer County Sheriff’s Department, Perrysville Police Department and Kentucky State Police are here, as well as the Racer County coroner, fire department and even an ambulance from Racer County General Hospital.
After being waved off from the house, the paramedics approach us to ensure we’re all right.
“She fainted,” Dickhead says, nodding toward me, “but she’s all right. We’re all in shock, understandably, but we’re OK physically. Emotionally, dear God in heaven, it was horrible! There’s no unseeing that horror. Ever.“
The paramedics give us both sympathetic pats on our backs before walking back to the ambulance. Soon after, a KSP trooper and Racer County sheriff’s deputy accompany Flowers to where we’ve been standing beside the chief’s cruiser.
Sure enough, they interrogate him about the welfare check, the circumstances under which Bob unexpectedly left the newspaper and even ask Dickhead to produce Bob’s paycheck. When he can’t and admits as much, he tells them exactly what he secretly promised me he would do earlier. He explains away each question they fire at him, standing his ground while keeping a calm demeanor as they closely gauge his answers, facial expressions and body language for any signs of deception.
I can honestly say I’ve never been more awed by his unwavering conviction, even though I’m the only one who knows he isn’t telling the entire truth, or what we think may be the truth. I swear, that man is sphinx-like. He gives away nothing. Unless he wants to divulge a scant few of his many secrets, that is. It makes me a little uneasy knowing some of those secrets of his, knowing that I never really knew him at all until yesterday.
Finally, after what seems like days instead of nearly two hours of questioning, they end the interview, obviously satisfied with his steadfast responses.
They then turn their attentions to me, pointedly asking me why I’m traveling with my boss, now that they know we both work for the Daily Herald. Good. Honesty, I can do, so I tell them about Bob’s strained relationship with Dickhead and that I’m simply there as a buffer since my relationship with my former co-worker is amicable. I add that Dickhead suggested having a welfare check done since we haven’t heard from Bob in two months, nor had he left a forwarding address to send his last paycheck.
My earnest candor mollifies them, but that’s only because I really am telling the truth. I cannot tell a lie, as I’ve said before. It’s just not in my makeup.
“We’ll take y’all back to y’alls car now,” Flowers says afterward. “Do we have permission to search y’alls vehicle?”
The ever-accommodating Dickhead gives them his blessing. Of course, I’m certain we’ll have to explain our clothes when they happen upon them. That’ll be interesting.
Sure enough, they find the shopping bags from our earlier excursion at the mall, along with our multiple changes of clothes and his gym bag. I can see all three sets of eyebrows raising, waiting for us to explain ourselves out of this one.
I already know my face is beet red without having to look into a mirror. But seeing Mr. Cool, Calm and Collected here blushing right alongside me is positively astonishing, and endearing.
“I accompanied Miss Granger to Tideville, Alabama, yesterday to visit with her parents,” he says in his most formal manner, regaining his composure instantaneously. “Being one of our sports writers, she was understandably upset about the murder of Lester Smith, the head football coach at Bluegrass High School, as I’m sure you’ve heard by now. Her mum, er, mother was briefly acquainted with him many years ago, before Piccolo was born. We both were exhausted after dinner and fell asleep on the couch whilst watching the telly, er, television with her parents. We were in the car for an utterly long time today, so we changed into comfortable clothes until reaching a mall in Tennessee, where I purchased her suitable attire to wear for our planned trip here and I donned a spare casual suit I always keep in the boot, er, trunk of my car.”
There, that should put them in their places.
“But I heard y’all call each other endearments when y’all came into my office,” Flowers reminds us. “Darlin’ and honey, I believe.”
Maybelle Flowers is sharper than she lets on, it appears.
I remain mum, waiting for Dickhead to wiggle his way out of this one.
“I must remind you that I’m her boss and such fraternization with a subordinate is generally frowned upon, especially in our profession,” he says, carefully choosing his words, “but I care deeply for Miss Granger despite our often antagonistic working relationship in the past. We’re getting to know one another on a personal level outside of the newsroom, and this trip was simply an excuse for me to spend some one-on-one time with her with the hope that she will begin to see me in a new light — as a man instead of her boss.”
If he’s lying, he’s damn good. If he’s not, I’m a goner.
Flowers manages a bittersweet smile for Dickhead as the other two walk back to their respective vehicles, more than likely to head back out to the Gallant property. I instinctively hug the older woman before getting into Dickhead’s Honda Accord and rolling the window all the way down to listen as they continue talking between his car and hers.
“I hate to think how long Miss Jane would have been there had y’all not asked me to do that welfare check on Bob,” she says wearily. “She was killed today, but I can’t give y’all any more information than that. I wish y’all didn’t have to see that. I’ve never seen anything like it, myself. In all of my 60 years, we’ve never had a murder here in Perrysville. In fact, we’ve only had one missing person that I can recall, and that was Miss Jane’s husband, Jack, about 25 years or so ago. No one’s heard a peep out of him since. I suppose y’all will be wanting to do a write-up about this for y’alls paper because she’s Bob’s mama. Not to worry, we’ll know more in the coming days.”
She grabs a business card out of her front shirt pocket and hands it to Dickhead, who puts it into the wallet he keeps in his back pocket.
“Y’know, now that I think of it, there were rumors a long time ago that Miss Jane was stepping out on Jack with some young man named Smith something or other, if y’all get my meaning,” she adds, almost as an afterthought. “I never put much stock into that hogwash, mind y’all, but y’all know how it is in a small town. All the gossips know y’alls business better than y’all do.”
She holds out her hand to shake his, but he kisses the top of it instead.
“Take care, Maybelle,” he says before gently letting it go.
“You sly devil, you,” she laughs as he opens the door to her cruiser, waiting until she’s seated before closing it. “Y’all take good care of each other, y’hear me? For most of us, love only comes around once in a lifetime, if we’re lucky enough.”
They exchange smiles as she turns the ignition and drives off.
He gets in beside me, starting the car, and soon, we’re on the road once more.
“Would you like to stay in a hotel in Owensboro, or do you want me to drive us straight home?” he asks as we each light up a much-needed smoke.
“Home, please. Let’s go home.”