Authors: Teresa Trent
Tags: #Literature & Fiction, #Mystery; Thriller & Suspense, #Mystery, #Cozy, #Women Sleuths
"So, maybe we should get your stomach settled down a bit before we go tromping into the world of science. Do you think we could hold off on that report for a little while?"
He grabbed the cloth from me and pressed it to his cheeks. "I guess, but I think that helped."
"Did he throw up?" I didn't realize Leo was now standing behind us.
"Yes, I think he'll be better now. He has to work on a biography for science.
"If it has to be about a scientist, I'll be glad to help him with that."
"Good. How is Tyler doing?"
"So far he's good."
Zach padded back down the hall to his room.
"As long as we're talking about Tyler, have you noticed his tone lately?" I asked.
"What tone?" Leo seemed genuinely surprised. Now I was starting to feel like I was on uncomfortable ground. Tyler wasn't speaking to his father the same way that he was to me. When Leo was around he acted differently around me. I suddenly worried if Leo would think I was making a big deal out of nothing. I hesitated before I went on.
"I don't know; I guess I really can't put my finger on it. It's just that sometimes when he speaks to me, it's almost as if he's making fun of me."
"Making fun, how?"
"Oh, never mind. I'm just being silly."
"Betsy, you probably aren't being silly, but you have to remember that Tyler is entering puberty and with that comes all of the moods of adolescence. I think we're in for it for years to come....Hey, your dinner is getting cold. Want me to reheat it in the microwave?"
"No, I think I'll pass this time."
That evening Leo pulled three of his suits out of the closet and placed them across the bed.
"So what do you think I should wear on camera?"
"I thought you knew all about being a TV weatherman. I mean with all that experience and everything." With his beautiful blue eyes and handsome face he wouldn't have to worry too much about what he wore. I just hoped somebody would actually be looking at the map behind him.
"I may have had experience, but it's been a long time, and I heard some of these Pecan Bayou people could be pretty picky about their weatherman. Stan's new administrative assistant said that I could go as casual as I wanted to, still somehow I feel like showing up in jeans and a T-shirt won't give me too much credibility with the Pecan Bayou audience."
"Hurricane Hal has set the standard pretty high for us you know. He's the ingenious one who came up with the car count of incoming evacuees scrolling on the bottom of the screen. Luther Jibbets saw it and moved the port-a-potty he rents for construction sites out on the main road and stood there with a coffee can. Those people ran out of their cars in the line, shoved a dollar in the can and used his stinky little bathroom. Ruby Green said he made at least a hundred dollars during Hurricane Ike,"
Leo held up his gray and his blue suit jacket for me to make a judgment call.
"I like the blue suit."
"Sounds good." He picked it up and hung it on the hook on the outer door of our shared closet.
"How long do you think you will be doing this?"
"Probably just a couple of days. Hal's a pretty healthy guy. How long can something like the flu take?"
"I guess we are about to find out with Zach. I just checked on him, and he's asleep. He drank about half of that ginger ale, and his fever seems to be under control for now. I just hope no one else gets it."
"What is Tyler doing?"
"He said he had to finish up some homework, and then he was turning in for the night. I guess I let him play video games a little too long. "
"Betsy, I was here too. You don't need to blame yourself for all the parenting mistakes in this house. I'm here to shoulder all the guilt you have with you. You know it's kind of a good thing that we both had our boys coming into this marriage. Raising a child can be difficult especially on nights like this. I'm just thankful there aren't three of them. We'd never get any sleep."
"So, we share the blame, huh? When you put it that way I think it was you that let him play video games too long tonight." Leo grabbed me and held me tight in his embrace. This had to be my favorite part of my new married life. As we sunk down onto the bed without even checking to see if the door was locked, I wrapped my arms around his neck. Just when things were starting to get very good the phone on the bedside table rang."
Leo reached for the phone and spoke into it clearing his throat. "Hello."
He pulled away from me and sat up on the bed. "No, Judd. He isn't here. Oh ... I see. Is there anything Betsy and I can do to help?"
I sat up and started re-buttoning my blouse. Leo quietly put the phone back.
"When was the last time you saw Rocky?"
"I saw him today. Why?"
"That was your dad. He was looking for Rocky. The Gazette caught fire. Prepare yourself Betsy. He says it's pretty bad. The fire department is there now, and they can't find Rocky." I jumped from the bed to the closet to find a pair of shoes.
I could only hope that Rocky had finally accepted one of those home-cooked dinners he was always turning down from the single ladies of Pecan Bayou.
It was one of the first times we had left the boys home alone, but Tyler promised to keep an eye on Zach. We drove downtown to the Pecan Bayou Gazette building. The familiar edges of the structure were now crumbling and the heat radiated towards us. The volunteer fire department was out in force and the stripes on their gear reflected from the headlights of the many cars now parked in the downtown area. The fire sprayed up from the roof; the flames licking at the pitch black of a chilly Texas night.
My father's squad car was next to the fire engine blocking off downtown traffic. He was in a deep discussion with Jim Rogers, the chief of the volunteer fire department. He looked up when we started walking towards him and nodded a goodbye and patted him on the back.
"You didn't have to come down here," he said.
"Did you find Rocky?"
"No, not yet, darlin'. I think I've made calls to every single lady over fifty in a three county radius. Nobody's seen him."
I felt a tightening in my throat. He couldn't be in there. That was all I could hope. I knew Rocky suffered from insomnia and would sometimes go down to the paper and work late into the night. The Gazette was the only woman he ever really loved. This is where Rocky would be.
I felt Leo's arm around my shoulders. He whispered to me, "We'll find him, Betsy. He probably left hours ago, and we'll find out he's off fishing somewhere."
The entire wait staff of the Pecan Bayou Diner stood out in the cold, shivering in their matching white uniforms. Birdie was on the phone to her mother.
"Yes Mama. I'm safe. They are trying to keep the fire to the Gazette....No. You don't need to come down here.... The fire department is putting up some kind of water barrier between the Gazette and the diner." She looked around, and then whispered behind her hand into the phone. "Yes, I took the money out of the register."
I looked at the side door of the Gazette. Had the firemen tried getting in by that door? It might be unlocked. I needed to check it out. I started toward it.
"Betsy," my father said. "You can't go any closer than this. It's not safe. Leave finding Rocky to the fire department. This is what they've been trained for."
"Dad, sometimes you know he takes a nap on that cot he has back by the copy machine. Maybe he's back there and has passed out from smoke inhalation. Let me a least go and tell Jim." He shook his head in exasperation at my babbling.
I walked over to Jim and tugged on his smoke stained sleeve like a small child. "You need to go in that side door. Have you looked there?"
"Miss Betsy you really can't see it from here, but the flames are much thicker inside the building. It's just not safe enough for us to send a man in there. The building is on the verge of collapsing. We couldn't get in there if we tried."
"What do you mean? You have to try. It's your job."
"I told you it's too dangerous now."
"Well if you won't go in there I will. Rocky might be in there."
I started walking toward the building, but then felt myself being pulled back. I heard Leo's voice in my ear. "Betsy stop. He's right. Losing Rocky would be awful, but it would be even worse if I lost you. You need to think about that before you go rushing off into the fire. Understand?"
As I listened to his words my eyes were riveted to the flames that were shooting out of the top level of the windows in the Pecan Bayou Gazette. I knew he was right, but I also knew Rocky would do everything he could to rescue me. If nothing else it was an excellent news story. Suddenly as the flames shot out of the windows, there was an immense cracking sound, and the bricks and mortar of the left-hand side started crashing to the ground. Smoke and debris filled the air as I heard Birdie screaming behind us.
Jim Rogers shouted and gestured broadly in the air so the entire crowd of onlookers and firemen could see him. "The side is starting to cave. Everybody back up."
We stepped back about five feet as the building started disintegrating and falling to the ground with a giant rumble. The side of the building with the antique store and the diner attached to it had remained intact. The fire hoses continued to be trained on the fire as it overtook the remaining parts of the structure. I could only hope Rocky hadn't been inside. The Pecan Bayou Gazette was no more.
Once we were sure that there was nothing more that we can do in the search for Rocky we headed for home. They had stabilized the fire, and now my dad and Jim Rogers were waiting for the fire marshal. Until they decided if it was arson or not it was still a crime scene. He was driving over from Dallas and would make a decision on whether the Gazette fire was an accident or arson. No words passed between us in the car until my cell phone rang.
"Betsy? Are you all right?" Aunt Maggie asked.
"Yes, we are fine, but we never found Rocky." I felt my voice catch on his name.
"Oh no. This isn't good. I'm so sorry, dear. Do you want me to come over?"
"That would be nice, but I'm exhausted. Could we wait to have this talk tomorrow morning?"
"Sure. Do they know how the fire started?"
"Not yet. The investigation is just beginning."
"If it does end up being a case of arson, there might be a long line of people who would want to set that paper on fire. Rocky sure has rubbed a lot of folks the wrong way for the sake of a good news story."
Even I had been the recipient of some of Rocky's snooping, but I still cared for the man.
"I know you're right, but this town loved Rocky." I stopped myself when I realized I had just spoken of him in the past tense.
"I mean they love Rocky. I can't see anybody trying to do him any harm. It was an old building. The wiring was probably shot. You know Rocky would never waste money on something like upkeep and repairs when he could spend it on running the paper."
"You're probably right, but you still have to wonder."
"And as we come to the end of hurricane season we can once again breathe a sigh of relief after another year of no destructive storms. This is Leo Fitzpatrick filling in for Hurricane Hal this week as he recovers from a nasty case of the flu. Oh... and Stan requests that all of the cards and flowers and casseroles you're sending his way be delivered directly to Hurricane Hal's home, and we here at the station would like to apologize about eating the delicious cinnamon rolls sent in by Mrs. Potter. Good night Weather Watchers."
"And were out." Stan the producer of the weather segment and the manager of NUTV approached Leo and shook his hand. "Fantastic job, Leo. You're a natural on camera."
"He sure is, and I'll just bet the citizens of Pecan Bayou and the surrounding area are tickled to have him on their television sets in the morning." Jeanette Burress, Stan's administrative assistant said. She pulled her gray wool jacket closer around her maroon frilly blouse that showed a generous amount of cleavage. Her gray pencil skirt hugged her hips and the whole outfit was accented by her silver stiletto heels.
"Thanks, but believe it or not when I trained to be a meteorologist I didn't really see myself on people's televisions. I don't mind doing this to fill-in, but I sure wouldn't want to do it on a regular basis. Besides that my name doesn't go well with any sort of weather pattern."
I laughed as I rose from the chair that Stan had given me during the filming. I was so glad Zach was feeling well enough to be home alone for a few hours this morning. I couldn't miss Leo's first on-air forecast. "We'll just have to come up with some sort of weather system that goes with the name Leo. Hmmm, how about Lake Effect Leo?"
"No, somehow that just doesn't have the same kind of ring to it like Hurricane Hal."
"You could always change your name to Stormy or maybe Rocky," Stan said, straightening his rust colored bow tie. A silence fell between us. "Sorry, there's only one Rocky in this town, I guess."
"That's for sure." I said.
"Have you heard anything new about the fire?" Jeanette said as she cleared up some copy off of the anchor desk.
"No, nothing this morning. They were going to try to investigate further once it cooled off. The fire marshal is supposed to be faxing over his official report."
"You know he called me the day of the fire about something, and I didn't have time to talk to him. We were doing a special on deer season. Rocky told me there was nothing like a hunting show in a state full of Texans with firearms to boost ratings. To tell you the truth, though, I'm not sure if that's what he wanted."
"Why do you say that?" I asked.
"He was talking about some tax guy here in town. Rocky was always doing investigative reporting even if there wasn't anything to investigate. Something about somebody cheating on taxes I think. It was going to be quite a big exposé. Maybe he was thinking about using some of my services to do some sort of undercover sting. "
"Did he give you the tax guy's name? "
"No, he didn't. Now I just wished I'd taken a little more time to talk to him. Who knows? Maybe this is the guy who set the fire at the Gazette."
"Now, they're not even sure that it's arson yet," Leo said.
"You're right, but we all can pretty freely admit that Rocky ruffled a lot of feathers in this town."
"Yes, and arson is the kind of thing that someone hot under the collar might do to cause significant damage to another person, but not hurt them," I said.
"Pecan Bayou is such a small town, that if there was some sort of a corrupt tax accountant, we could probably look them up in the incredibly thick half-inch of yellow pages," Jeanette said.
"Let me think," I said. "There's a little tax place down off of Main Street on Elm. I've never been inside, but a lot of people go there during tax time. You can see it from Main Street."
"Oh yeah, I forgot about that place. It's one of those taxes while you wait joints. I could never use a simple service like that. Running the station I have some pretty unusual tax considerations. My accountant, Bob is a wizard at tracking all those deductions I need," Stan said.
"Okay, so Rocky might have been on the wrong side of a 5 guy. Anybody else you know about? I mean, if it were to be ruled arson?" I asked.
"Not right offhand, but who knows." Jeanette glanced down at her nails for a minute, and then with a realization she looked up at me. "Hey, you had some trouble with Rocky a while back didn't you?"
"I guess so, but that's way in the past. That was when Charlie Loper's ghost kept appearing, and Rocky took my picture with ..."
Leo interrupted, "A man you were out to dinner with that wasn't me..."
"I went out with our district attorney to get information on a charge against my father..."
Jeanette looked at both us as a slight smile curled on the corner of her lips. "Okay," she said slowly as an awkward moment settled between us.
I walked over to a desk pushed up against the wall and picked up a local phone book. "Taxes ... tax preparation." I ran my finger along the page. "Have you ever heard of this West Agency?"
Stan shook his head no. "Maybe I need to give Mr. West a visit."
"Better yet, we could share this information with your father, and you could stay out of trouble," Leo said.
Stan laughed. "You know Betsy I think being married is going to be remarkably good for your health and safety."
As he spoke I felt my stomach lurch. That was funny, I usually had a cast iron digestive system. I didn't have time to come down with the flu.
Leo looped his arm around my waist and squeezed. "Safe and sound and body discovery free."