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Authors: Jude Pittman

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BOOK: Deadly Secrets
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“Thanks, Gus. I’m dealing with the past a little easier now but it’s still raw. Maybe one of these days we can take on a couple of platters of ribs over at Angeles and sort of catch up on things.”

“Sounds good.” Gus smacked his lips. “I haven’t had a plate of those ribs since I left the city. My mouth is watering just thinking about them.”

Gus shifted back in his chair and the atmosphere changed. It was time to get down to business. “So, what can you tell me about that woman down there?” he asked and jerked his head toward the window.

“I can’t tell you a hell of a lot more than what I’ve already told your associates.” Kelly shook his head. “Have you been briefed?”

Gus nodded.

“Then you’ve already got everything I know. Once the Hideaway opens, there’ll be a bunch of the flea market crowd in for morning coffee. I’ll wander over and see if anybody knows anything.”

Gus lifted an eyebrow. “Don’t go forgetting you’re a civilian.”

Kelly grinned. “I won’t.”

“Okay.” Gus rose from the chair. “I’ll probably want to talk to you later but you might as well get some shuteye while we’re finishing up. I’ll have someone give you a holler when they get done down there.”

“Thanks, Gus. I’ll catch a few winks while I wait for the Hideaway to open. Nice seeing you again.”

“Yeah.” Gus headed for the door. “Been too damn long.”

Kelly went back to the couch. Hours later, a hard knock brought him to his feet. He glanced at the clock. Its hands sat on eight-thirty. He pulled open the door. Deputy Johnson stood on the porch.

“We’re about wrapped up,” Johnson said, his voice heavy with fatigue. “We’ve taped it off, so be sure you keep everyone away until we see if there’s anything more to be done down there.”

Kelly nodded. “I’ll post a notice and lock up the gates. Sunday’s a big day at the flea market but I reckon that’s Shorty’s problem. Thanks for letting me know.”

After the last patrol car pulled out of the lot, Kelly hiked down the hill, ducked under the police tape, checked the padlock and flipped the switch to kill the lights.

“Let’s go see what’s going on at the Hideaway,” he said. He signaled Jake and the two of them started up the hill.

On the bridge, Kelly stopped. Up the hill, the Hideaway’s parking lot was full. The Indian Creek grapevine worked fast and there’d be a barrage of questions when Kelly walked in the door. Leaning over the rail, he took a couple of deep breaths to let the tension seep out of his muscles.

The storm had settled the dust and plumped the air with a spicy tang. Kelly breathed deeply and exhaled slowly. Gus had been right. He was a city boy but the past five years had sucked the caffeine and adrenaline out of his bones. The burning anger left in the aftermath of Lynda’s death had dulled somewhat. It never went away—probably never would—but at least he’d learned to live with it.

But in the wake of last night’s tragedy, Kelly could feel the old impulses resurfacing. The knot was back in his gut and he wasn’t sure whether that was a bad thing or not.

 

 

 

Chapter Three

 

It was Sunday morning and Tarrant County had a law against serving liquor before noon, so the crowd in the Hideaway was strictly coffee and gossip.

On the front porch, Kelly took a deep breath and prepared for the onslaught. The thirst for blood and gore he found in ordinary people turned his stomach a bit. As a cop he’d gotten used to it but he’d been away from all that for a while. He’d have to reorient himself because there was nothing like feeding those appetites to get the tongues wagging.

Kelly gave the door a shove and the high, quavering voice of Doug Phillips caught him mid-stride.

“I heard it was Anna that got it down there. Is that who it was?”

Kelly cringed. He wasn’t about to let Phillips latch onto him. The cantankerous old bugger’s breath stank like a silo.

“Yeah, it was Anna,” Kelly growled.

Phillips grinned, showing a mouthful of rotten teeth. “See, I told ya’ll it was Anna,” he gloated to the old farts at his table. “Got herself strangled is what I heard. Isn’t that right, Kelly?”

Making no attempt to hide his distaste, Kelly snapped back. “I said it was Anna. Now I came in here for a cup of coffee, so let me get settled.”

Jake, who didn’t like Phillips, had hung back while the old man asked his questions. Now he edged around Kelly and padded over to the potbellied heater in the center of the room. There he sank down on the metal pad that protected the wood floor from errant sparks and proceeded to take a well-deserved nap.

Kelly grabbed a mug from the shelf, helped himself to the coffee pot and settled into a booth. Cam came out of the kitchen with a load of mugs and waved a hand. Kelly nodded back.

Conversation hummed at the round table and Kelly leaned back and let it buzz over his head. His cop’s ear would pick up anything relevant. The rest was just noise.

Cam
had set to work polishing the counter tops and Kelly watched the barman at his work. A husky, six-footer with broad shoulders and the beginning of a paunch, Cam could usually be counted on for a cheerful “howdy” and a welcoming smile but not today. Tension showed in the rigid set of his jaw and the quick snap of towel against vinyl.

Anna’s death had occurred at the flea market but she’d spent most of the night at the Hideaway. Cops weren’t good for the bar business and Cam would be worried about the backlash.

Kelly understood Cam’s feelings. The Hideaway was the barman’s pride and joy. Stepping inside was like taking a trip down memory lane. The décor—a tribute to the owner’s passion for country music and country living—was a potpourri of tools and implements from the turn of the century. In a glass case behind the bar Cam proudly displayed his collection of antique beer wagons—his piece-de-resistance a cherished replica of the Budweiser Clydesdales rigged out in full harness.

Even the ceiling bore witness to Cam’s passion. Glossy black and white photos of Hank Williams, Patsy Cline, Faron Young and a whole slew of long-dead country favorites smiled down on the patrons.

An argument broke out at the round table and Phil Morley’s high soprano caught Kelly’s ear.

“I bet you they was after her money,” Phil squeaked. “I remember Frank saying she had half a million bucks stashed out here somewhere.”

“Aw, Frank’s full of shit,” Doug Phillips scoffed. “I heard that crap too but I figured it for another one of his fish tales.”

“I don’t know,” Jim Spencer broke in. “I heard the same story and it didn’t come from Frank either. Rumor has it she loaned Cam a pile of dough to keep this place going. There probably isn’t nothin’ like half a million but I bet there’s a good-sized stash.”

Doug twirled his hand at Cam for another round for the table. “Maybe so,” he turned back to the group, “but I’d have to see it to believe it. Anyway, even if Anna did have that kind of money, she sure as hell didn’t bury it in the ground. She may have been a drunk but she wasn’t stupid.”

Cam
leaned over the table and set down a tray loaded with steaming mugs and Doug grabbed one. “I wonder where the hell she came from?” He shook his head when nobody spoke up. “I don’t think even Bubba knows anything about her past.”

“It’s like I always said…” Jim paused with a mug held midair, “she was married to some rich dude and when she started hitting the bottle, he kicked her ass out.”

“Maybe we ought to go down to her cabin and take a look around,” Phil said.

“You got to be off your rocker!” Doug choked and spurted coffee across the table. “There’ll be cops all over that place.

You stick one foot inside her cabin and they’ll haul your ass off to jail and hang a murder rap on you. Them cops don’t give a shit who killed the old hag. They just want to get her off their books so they can go back to writing tickets.”

“Doug’s right.” Jim nodded. “We’d all better stay the hell away from Anna’s cabin. When the cops start askin’ questions, we don’t know nothin’. Cops got a nose for money and if they once get the idea Anna had something buried out here, we’ll never get ’em off our ass.”

A sharp cough brought Kelly’s head around. Cam stood beside the booth clutching a bar towel.

“Sorry, Cam, I didn’t notice you there.” Kelly pulled in his legs. “I guess the lack of sleep’s catching up with me.”

“No problem.” Cam smiled and swiped his towel across the table. “I was wondering if you could spare an hour or so? I’ve got some stuff I need to get off my chest.”

“Sure. I’ve plenty of time on my hands now the cops have locked up the flea market.”

“Thanks.” Cam gave the table a last flick of the towel. “We’ll go to my place as soon as Darlene shows up. I don’t want that bunch listening in.” He waved his arm toward the group at the round table.

Kelly nodded. “Gimme a yell when you’re ready. Meantime, I’ll grab another coffee.”

Jake, who’d apparently had enough of the stove, edged past Kelly when he got up to refill his cup and trotted down the wooden steps to the back lot. Kelly grinned. The lot was heaven for a dog. Mice, rabbits, squirrels and cats chased each other through the tangled roots and branches of honeysuckles and lilacs.

The outside door swung open and Bubba Tate stepped into the room.

“You okay?” Kelly crossed the floor and met him halfway.

“I can’t take it in, Kelly,” Bubba said. “Anna was with me ’n Leroy ’til somewhere around midnight and now she’s dead.”

“I know, Bubba.” Kelly put his arm around the little guy’s shoulders and led him over to the booth.

“You know we had a spat last night?” Bubba kept talking, his mind too overwhelmed to think of anything but Anna. “She stomped out of here mad as the devil but you know Anna. She’d done that lots of times. I just figured she’d gone to the house. Then this morning, they woke me up and told me somebody killed her. I shoulda been with her, Kelly. She’d still be alive if I hadn’t been such an asshole.”

“Hey!” Kelly squeezed Bubba’s shoulder. “There’s no point blaming yourself. Come on, let’s go sit down and talk a spell.”

Bubba slid into the booth. “You know what it was like before you left. We were sharing that Texas mickey of Jack Daniels Shorty’d given to Leroy and weren’t none of us feeling any pain.”

“That much I noticed.”

Bubba shook his head and looked sheepish. “Leroy and I’d both noticed how het up Anna was,” he said, “but we figured the whiskey’d tame her down. It didn’t seem to be working though. The more she drank, the meaner she got. When Cam told her to get her ass on home, she went nuts.”

Kelly frowned. “I thought that had all been settled before I left. They didn’t start in again, did they?”

“It was Leroy got it started. He was pretty tanked up and Anna musta said somethin’ to set him off. I was talkin’ to Doug Phillips at the time, so I didn’t hear what he said. But whatever it was, it started Anna right back in on Cam again.”

Kelly gave a disgusted shake of his head. “Trust Leroy to start his mouth going without stoppin’ to put his brain in gear.”

“Yep, that’s the home boy all right.” Bubba laughed and tugged at his cowboy hat. “You shoulda seen the look on Anna’s face. She yelled out somethin’ about screwin’ Cam and the horse he rode in on and that pulled my attention away from Doug in a hurry. I took one look and figured sure as hell she was gonna let loose again. That’s when I came back to the table and I guess I made kind of an ass of myself.”

Kelly raised his eyebrow and Bubba’s face flushed then he pulled the brim of his cowboy hat down and coughed a couple of times. “I could usually kid Anna out of one of her moods but not last night. I don’t know what was biting her but she sure wasn’t acting like herself. Even Leroy noticed it. She had something stuck in her craw and I don’t think it had a damn thing to do with Cam telling her to git on home.”

BOOK: Deadly Secrets
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