“Blindsided,” Chapter 34

We spend the rest of the afternoon hashing out a meticulous plan that hopefully will ensnare Mrs. Abigail Wellington-Smith and Bob Gallant to get justice for the late Lester Smith and Jane Gallant.

The only hiccup is finding someone in law enforcement who is close to my uh, unique build, else we won’t be able to pass that person off as me at all. Bob knows precisely the kinds of clothes I wear when I’m out and about in our current oppressive steamy weather conditions, but he also is familiar with my body type since he always ogled certain aspects of it more than others whenever he thought he was catching me unawares.

I’m perpetually mindful every time people fixate on my, uh, upper torso, however, because their leers — whether moderately stealthy or outright flagrant — have been making me feel painfully self-conscious about it since I began developing at a very early age. As a result, I have this uncanny sixth sense, or whatever you want to call it, that never fails to alert me when someone is watching me or staring at me.

I haven’t broached the idea to Dickhead again for fear of him screaming the building down on my stubborn head, but the detectives will have no choice except to use me — assuming that they don’t laugh themselves silly over our proposal first — if they can’t find a female whose physique matches mine.

What my boss does have to recognize is I have a job to do and that Jackson cannot continue shouldering all of our shared responsibilities outside of the office while I’m forced to stay put. We need help, simple as that. I know Dickhead wants to keep me safe, but sitting around the newsroom all damn day isn’t what I get paid to do. He’s well aware of that, but he’s too obstinate to bend on the topic of allowing me to go out on assignment to relieve Jackson of half the workload. I just can’t have Jackson throwing up his hands and quitting on us like Bob did, save for night and day reasons altogether. That will be one hell of a skirmish when it comes to a head. And believe me, it’s imminent if he doesn’t hire someone soon.

Dickhead calls Briscoe to tell him we’ll be leaving the office shortly, to which the detective replies for him to wait so that he and Harpo can escort us home.

Once we arrive at Dickhead’s house, the two of us get down to the business of laying out our ambitious proposition for them at his kitchen table after I feed a howling Stinky her supper.

Afterward, Briscoe contacts his superiors to run the idea by them. They’re receptive, but none of his bosses are able to come up with a suitable impersonator close to my, ahem, measurements within the Bluegrass Police Department following an extensive debate of possible female candidates. Briscoe hangs up the landline telephone in Dickhead’s office in defeat, wondering aloud what they’re going to do next.

So I suggest contacting the Derby County Sheriff’s Department since they so graciously have been cooperating with the city PD by sending patrol units to do checks on Dickhead’s house every hour. I can practically envision the light-bulb moment the three of them are experiencing in their collective heads as Briscoe briskly calls his superiors with this newest suggestion of mine. They give him the thumbs-up to call Derby County Sheriff Eddy Roberts, who, as it turns out, has just the person in mind for our little setup: His daughter, Alexis, one of his most experienced and obviously trusted deputies.

I breathe an unequivocal sigh of relief.

I was about ready to offer up myself for our cause, knowing Dickhead most likely would have called on my dad for reinforcement as suitable payback for double-crossing him. But I’m relieved it doesn’t come to that because the last thing I need is for the two men I love most in this world ganging up on me when they’re beyond pissed off at me for doing something so foolish as unnecessarily risking my life. It most assuredly would be a macho bonding experience for them that I NEVER would live down, but the thought of those two palling around after their tense first meeting Friday brings an affectionate smile to my face that Dickhead observes with open puzzlement.

I purposely ignore his inquiring gaze as we await the arrival of Eddy and Alexis Roberts, getting up from the table to make a pot of coffee for something to do to help pass the time. They don’t keep us hanging for long, though, arriving within 20 minutes of Briscoe’s call since the sheriff’s department is just up the road from my place on Lexington and the Glasgow turnoff that leads to Dickhead’s Oaksville residence.

The four of us do double-takes when Dickhead opens the front door to come face to face with Deputy Alexis Roberts, who’s closely flanked by her father, Sheriff Eddy Roberts.

She’s an ideal lookalike — we can easily pass for sisters — with a build and complexion similar to mine. Her wavy shoulder-length hair is close enough to my own carrot-orange color to pass muster, but her eyes are blue and her face is more of a diamond shape than heart. She has no dimples and no cleft in her chin, either, but no one will notice those minor distinctions from a distance. She’ll be wearing a baseball cap and sunglasses that will conceal most of her facial features and hair. But those things won’t be what people notice right away. Her ample bosom, on the other hand, WILL garner attention, which is what I’m banking on to catch Bob.

“You are absolutely perfect!” I declare.

The others nod in agreement.

For this to work, though, I need her to wear clothing Bob has seen that belongs to me, at the very least one of my University of Alabama shirts. And an Alabama baseball cap. I ask Briscoe about them and he tells me they did recover a few things of mine that were undamaged during the break-in to my apartment. They arrange to fetch the necessary items for her ‘makeover’ and to pick up my junker of a car from my apartment for her to drive.

“When can we start?” I eagerly ask them.

“Tomorrow is as good a day as any,” Alexis volunteers.

No one objects.

“Great,” I answer. “I’ll call some coaches now and set up some football tab interviews for tomorrow. Luckily for us, there are a couple of new head coaches who haven’t met me yet, so they won’t be any the wiser when you’re interviewing them. Of course, I’ll make sure you have my tape recorder on you and a notebook to scribble whatever you want on it so they don’t get suspicious. Plus, I’ll give you a list of questions to ask them.

“I’ll let you know when, where and to whom you’ll be talking in a few minutes.”

I grab my purse, digging around the bottom until I locate the forgotten Blackberry that Dickhead bought for me. I’m not sure how to work it, so Dickhead comes to my aid and gives me hell to the others’ amusement when he discovers it isn’t charged. He plugs it into a wall socket in the kitchen and gives me a crash course on how to store contacts so that all I have to do in the future is scroll up or down to press the name of the person I want to call. It seems like a lot of unnecessary work when I already have a hard-copy address book that contains all of my work and personal connections — I know them all by heart, to boot — but I make sure to pay attention to what he’s telling me so I don’t have to suffer through this very same lecture at a later date.

I manage to make two successful calls from the charging cell phone after a couple of fumbled attempts, setting up interviews with the new coaches at Ruffian and Man o’ War county high schools. Both are out in the middle of nowhere, which is ideal for what we have in store for Bob and Mrs. Smith. I relay all the pertinent details to Alexis and jot down a list of questions for her to ask each coach to make both of our jobs a lot easier.

The deputy will be wearing a wire and an unobtrusive bullet-proof vest that has been custom-made to fit her body like a glove underneath her clothing.

I dig out my trusty old handheld tape recorder, a reporter’s notebook and a pair of sunglasses from my purse to give Alexis before Briscoe volunteers Harpo to drive the sheriff and her to the city PD to acquire — with the blessing of their superiors — a few of the remaining pieces from my old wardrobe that still are intact. Dickhead hands Alexis the spare key to my car — Mandy Jo must have given it to him earlier today — and provides her with an unflattering description of it on their way out.

Once we’re alone with Briscoe, Dickhead swoops down on him like a bird of prey.

“You suspected Abigail Wellington-Smith and Bob Gallant from the start,” he says in that matter-of-fact manner of his to get Briscoe’s back up. “That’s why you were so agitated and curious when I informed you of our plan to catch your killers.”

Briscoe doesn’t bother to refute what Dickhead and I know to be true.

“You obviously withheld information from us,” he counters.

“Perhaps,” Dickhead retorts, noncommittal, “and perhaps not.”

Let the stare down begin.

“What else was on that piece of paper?” I interject with a question of my own. “The part that Shane Hardy said was covered in Coach Smith’s blood?”

Briscoe looks at me then, and I notice a hint of guilt in his eyes. He rubs his worn face repeatedly, deliberating whether to answer me at all.

Remarkably, he does.

“If only forensics had been able to decipher the rest of what Lester Smith had written on that piece of paper in time,” he laments. “But there was so much evidence to gather, so much ground to cover that we were too late by the time they were able to do their magic in the lab. That’s why Maybelle Flowers called me. Well, why she returned my call yesterday morning. And how I found out for certain you’d been to Perrysville before you told us yourself. It had Jane Gallant’s name and phone number on it. Not that it matters anymore.

“We were all too late to save her.”

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