Authors: Sarina Adem
Cozy Mystery Series: Book 1
orty-five minutes past closing time and Mick Lily’s mustard yellow jeep remained outside Folsom City Bank. Jolene Flannery had driven by occasionally throughout the afternoon to make sure he stayed there. Out of respect for the man she once called a friend, she never stopped. She could have gone in at any point, called him out in front of his employees, or rather, talked in his office. No need to embarrass him. He would be embarrassed enough when news hit the street in a small town like Folsom.
Evening came. Street lights came on. Jolene sat in her silver Dodge Charger parked in the same lot the Folsom City Bank shared with Smitty’s Grocery. She blended in, for the most part, despite the strip of emergency lights, currently off, on the Charger’s roof, and big, bright yellow letters outlined in brown on the Charger’s side that spelled SHERIFF.
After the last teller left the bank, Jolene twisted the key in the Charger’s ignition, put it in drive and pulled closer, parked beside Mick’s jeep and stepped out. The Glock 17 rested heavy on her hip, and a backup Smith & Wesson Model 36 was holstered in her boot. She wore a five-pointed golden star over her left breast.
Before being elected sheriff of Bluff County, she was simply Jolene Flannery, the belle of Folsom. Everyone in the county knew who she was, and not just because her daddy served as sheriff for twenty years. Jolene could be summed up simply as breathtaking. Strawberry blonde, cornflower blue eyes, swanlike, and long-limbed. A red-blooded down-home girl. Every boy in high school wanted to take her to prom. Of course, there was only ever one boy in high school for Jolene Flannery.
Her sweetheart, Mick Lily.
They dated each other starting their freshman year. All the way up to graduation. Not far into that summer before college, they broke up. She ended it. Mick was destined for college out of state. Jolene always knew what she wanted. She wanted Bluff County, for all its charms and faults. She wanted to follow in her daddy’s footsteps. Mick knew better than to try and change her mind, not that he wanted to.
Jolene and Mick both knew the end was coming. So he moved off and she stayed.
The third wheel to their high school sweetheart years was C.C. King. The girl who Jolene invited to her house for sleepovers from childhood. They watched movies, fixed each other’s hair. Played with dolls. Cussed together, rode bikes. Eventually, they practiced putting make-up on each other. Talked about boys. Double-dated when Mick finally grew the balls to ask Jolene out. C.C. King was Jolene Flannery’s best friend. Might as well have been her sister.
So when Mick moved back to Folsom with C.C. King wrapped around his arm, and a French pavé diamond engagement ring on C.C.’s finger, Jolene was floored. She never expected to rekindle her romance with Mick but never expected C.C. to start one either. However it happened, it happened. She attended the wedding, in uniform and just a deputy at that time, wished the Mr. and Mrs. Lily long and happy lives together, and from that moment on they were just faces she greeted in passing.
Until now. Despite her reason for standing outside the Folsom City Bank, Jolene surprised herself when she approached her own reflection in the glass door entrance and stopped to study it. Her hair pulled back in a tight ponytail. Wearing a little make-up, not that she needed any of it.
Sheriff of Bluff County.
What would Mick Lily say when he saw her walk in?
“My God,” is what Mick said, “even now, you don’t need that uniform to stop traffic. How are you, Jolene?”
Those cornflower blue eyes had acquired a steely glaze since entering law enforcement, but she couldn’t help but flutter her eyelashes a bit at his compliment. “I’m well, Mick. How are you?” She relaxed against the doorframe, hands on her belt.
Mick grinned, shoving papers in his briefcase. “Oh, I’m well, too. Just closing up shop for the day. I see Caroline forgot to lock the door behind her. Guess I’ll need to have a talk with her in the morning. Not that I don’t mind seeing you. You don’t stop by near enough, you know that?”
Jolene shrugged. “Can’t say I’ve ever been hit with the inclination to. How’s C.C.?”
“C.C.’s taking care of our boys. I’m sure she’s more exhausted than I am, staying home with a two and four-year-old all day. Lovely as ever, though.”
“I’m sure. How’s the job?”
“This job?” Mick chuckled. “Piece of cake, if the cake was a big pile of frosted shit. That’s all this job is, Jo. Shoveling people’s shit in and out, all day every day. How about you? Lady of the law. You like being sheriff?”
Jolene nodded. “I do.”
Mick just smiled, nodded, and held her gaze for a second. As if he were lost in time, seeing her in high school again. “I thought about you the other day,” Mick said, going back to shoving papers in his briefcase. “I was flipping channels, came across a Clint Eastwood marathon. Remember that? You used to love those old westerns.”
Jolene felt a smile tug at the memory. “Yeah, I still watch them when I can.”
“Man,” Mick grinned, “I almost forgot about that drawl of yours. Nobody talks as sexy as you. You know that, Jo?”
“Not even your wife?”
“C.C.’s voice brings me solace, no doubt. It’s just nice to hear a voice from my past again. May I ask what brings you to my office, sheriff?”
Jolene took a casual step inside, away from the doorframe. Hands still on her belt. “Well, Mick, I have to say, I never thought I’d be standing here about to say . . . what I’m about to say.”
Mick laughed. “Oh, man, the suspense is killing me. You want me back? That’s it, isn’t it? Let me get C.C. on the phone and maybe we can broker some kind of visitation rights.” He winked. “You can have me on the weekends or something.”
“Exactly how much cocaine are you pushing through my county, Mick?”
He stopped shoving papers in his briefcase. That grin plastered on his face, dead, but somehow the muscles held it. His hollowed, gray-blue eyes filled up with nothing. “What are you talking about, Jo?”
“I can tell you how much. My men and I arrested your drivers this morning. I suspect that’s why you’re stuffing that briefcase full of important documents. Might be some things there you don’t want people finding out about until you’re far away.”
“Jolene,” Mick’s posture stiffened, “I honestly have no idea what you’re talking about. Can’t you see I’m about to leave the bank? Where I work? For honest money?”
“Sixty kilos in the back of that truck. You involved in anything else illegal?”
Mick’s gasp turned into a chuckle. “Now Jo, you know I’m not capable of anything like this.”
“I thought that at first. I would never have guessed it was you. Small town bank manager. Drug kingpin. Want to know how I made the connection?”
Mick glanced down and nonchalantly pulled open the desk drawer to his right. “Is this some kind of prank, Jo? It ain’t funny if it is.”
Jolene gripped her Glock 17 in its holster. “Don’t do it, Mick. You’ve got a wife and two kids waiting on you for dinner. Now I can’t let you go home to them, but I can promise I’ll let them come down to the station and eat with you. Undisturbed.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about that gun you’ve got in your desk. Don’t draw on me, Mick.”
“Or I’ll put you on the ground.”
Mick laughed audaciously. “I’ve read the names of men you’ve already put there in headlines. I don’t want to join them. So alright. Tell me. How’d you make the connection?”
“I wasn’t one hundred percent sure until right now. The driver’s cell phone had your number in it. Under most recent calls. He said he worked for you, but I figured I’d let you sweat it out all day, not hearing from your man. Does C.C. know about any of this?”
“God, no. You kidding?” Mick gulped. “Is this what it takes to get a visit from you, Jo?”
Jolene’s palm began to perspire. She only pulled her gun if she had to, and if she did, she did so with a dry palm. But she knew Mick, and the fact that he still hovered over that drawer made her nervous.
“Hey,” Mick said, “were you telling the truth about letting my family come down to the station and eat dinner with me?”
Jolene gave a slight nod. “You know I’ve been pursuing this pusher for a while. You can imagine how shocked I was – “
Mick reached in the drawer, quick as he could, but not quick enough. Jolene pulled the Glock and fired. Blood spurted against the wall in a narrow line as Mick collapsed into a row of metal file cabinets. Slid down, sucking at the air like a fish, holding his gut as his shirt flooded crimson.
Jolene sighed, lowered the Glock. She watched her high school sweetheart bleed out as she called for the coroner. It didn’t have to end this way.
What Jolene didn’t know was that nothing at all had ended.
olene woke up on the airplane. The De Soto skyline was just coming into view and the sun set over the river, casting orange and purple on the murky waves. She had stirred awake, wide-eyed, and nearly twisted out of her seat. Her friend, Briar, put a hand on her wrist to calm her.
“You had that dream again, didn’t you?”
Jolene calmed down. It was easier now. She had the same dream every night. Each time she relived shooting Mick Lily dead in his office. After two weeks, she didn’t feel better about it, but she learned to live with it quicker than she thought she would. Quicker than she was comfortable with.
After the shooting and closure of the case, Jolene took a leave of absence. Traveled up to New York City with her brother’s ex-wife, who incidentally had become her best friend, to let loose and forget about everything that happened in the past twenty years. Meeting Mick Lily. Watching her best friend, C.C., marry Mick Lily.
Killing Mick Lily.
She apologized to C.C. personally. Said she had no choice. C.C. couldn’t believe her husband was involved in such a thing. Drug trafficking. How could he? With two boys at home?
Jolene didn’t have the answers, but for the first time, she actually felt the bond between herself and C.C. again. It was the strangest thing. I’m sorry I killed your husband, but he gave me no choice. Remember prom? Prom was fun.
Whether or not C.C. hated Jolene now, she didn’t know. Oddly enough, she didn’t care. She spent three years tracking down whoever it was dealing snow in her county, a task she started even before being elected sheriff. Even though it turned out to be Mick, she had no remorse in putting a stop to it.
The De Soto lights called to her like a beacon. Time to return to Bluff County. Mick Lily was just one threat that poisoned Folsom. Jolene intended to eradicate as much more of it as she could until she had to put the badge down.
Briar’s phone beeped and brought Jolene back to the present. Thank God. “Who is that keeps texting you?”
Briar grinned. “It’s Johnny Soldati. That man I met in New York. He’s so sweet.”
“I didn’t like him.”
“I know you didn’t. You don’t like anybody.”
“He’s shady, Briar.”
“You would know.”
“Yes, I would know. And it seems you’re attracted to a certain type.”
“You talking about your brother?” Briar spoke as she typed her response to Johnny. “I was married to him for ten years. I think I can spot shady, too.”
Jolene decided to be empathetic. “Of course, you can.”
Briar stopped typing. “What’s that supposed to mean?”
Jolene shushed her. “Landings make me sick. Shut up for a second.”
Once they were back on solid ground they made their way into the terminal to retrieve their luggage. Briar glued to her phone, Jolene leading the way. When they got back to the car, Jolene slipped her guns on.
“Thanks for going with me,” Jolene said on the way back to Folsom. She drove. “You’re a good friend.”
Briar yawned. “Well, you can thank your brother for knocking me up. Twice.”
“Think the boys will be asleep when we get there?”
“With your parents watching them? I doubt it. I bet they’re jacked up on caffeine and chocolate.”
Jolene agreed. She never had kids of her own, but she had nephews. She loved them. Dylan and James. About the only two things her deadbeat brother ever got right in this world.
Edgar Flannery, or Eddie, or to his associates, “Easy Eddie”, was sitting in the Bluff County jailhouse where Jolene left him. Public intoxication, and siphoning gas out of vehicles. And attacking a man with a cue ball at Lovecraft’s Pub. And taking a piss on Jolene’s squad car right before she arrested him. Not to mention some outstanding warrants from two other counties.
While Jolene grew up and became sheriff, Eddie took the complete opposite path in life, consorting with all the vermin his sister stood against.
Halfway back to Folsom, Briar Fisher Flannery passed out. Jolene plugged her phone into the radio and listened to the White Buffalo for the rest of the ride. Shook Briar awake after pulling into her driveway.
“Get out,” Jolene said. She got out too, though. Went inside, said hello to her parents, Jacob and Cate. Kissed the boys on their foreheads. Surprisingly, they were asleep. Went back to her car and headed across town. Back to the home where she lived alone.
Her thoughts sped up in the quiet car. Was she ever going to have kids of her own? Was she too old to have kids? Hell, thirty-five isn’t too old to have kids. The important question was would she ever find a man worth having kids with?
Her cell rang and she answered it.
“Deputy Gully,” she said. “It’s late.”
“Oh, I’m doing just fine, thanks for asking,” Deputy Buck Gully responded on the other end. “Just checking in on you. Guess you made it back to town?”
“You guess right.”
“How was New York?”
“Still feels like I haven’t been there.”
“Couldn’t get your mind off the shooting, huh? Well, I never had to shoot a friend before. I can’t imagine.”
“We used to be friends,” Jolene corrected him. “There at the end, he was someone else. I’m sure C.C. hates me.”
“Well, well, the man drew on you. What you did was right.”
As he said that, Jolene passed by the Folsom City Bank. Lights off and parking lot empty in the dead of night. Her mind flashed back to his office, watching Mick Lily pull the gun in slow motion. Something about it now, something didn’t right.
Something about it seemed too easy.
“Jolene? Jolene, you still there?”
“I’m here, deputy.”
“I’m just checking in on you, making sure everything was alright. You got back safe and all. You coming in tomorrow?”
“As long as there are taxes to pay, you know where I’ll be, deputy.”
“Alright then. Good night.”
Jolene hung up. Now she was outside Folsom, out in the boondocks. Out in God’s Country. Her home sat in isolation. Hugged by the woods, on a horn with a manmade pond in front. Long driveway. It was a blessing to see again.
She stepped out of the car and stretched her legs. Gazed up at the starry expanse before her. No amount of money or big city living could ever make up for moments like this. Seeing all of it, right here, like she was hanging from the roof looking down at an ocean of candles.
Jolene pulled her suitcase out of the trunk and set it down. Pulled the handle and began to wheel it toward her house. The sidewalk wound through the front yard to the peach orange door of her log cabin. Even in the darkness, with the pale glow of a crescent moon, she determined that grass needed mowing.
Then her cell phone rang. A number she didn’t recognize.
An unfamiliar male voice on the other end said, “Good evening, sheriff. And welcome home.”