Authors: Annie Solomon
Tags: #FIC027110, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Sheriffs, #General
Sam returned to the office, where Lodge was ensconced behind Holt’s desk. She hadn’t seen much of Holt since Lodge had installed himself, and she missed him. Missed the trust that used to exist between them. Damn that woman. She’d come to town and turned everybody’s life into a plate of slop. Messy, soggy, waterlogged.
But Sam was a sucker for sacrifice, and Edie had just offered to throw herself on her own sword. Sam looked over at Lodge, all official-looking and settled, proud of himself, she was sure, for having locked Edie up again. Well, they agreed on that, at least.
Maybe she wasn’t all bad, that Edie Swann. And the last thing Sam wanted was to give Lodge more ammo to use against Holt.
Huh. Wonder of wonders. Seems she and Edie had one thing in common after all.
Holt hightailed it to the state offices to drop off the blood and prints he’d collected from the pickup. The county had a coroner but no other forensic staff, so when necessary, he used the state facilities. He asked them to put a rush on it, and they promised, but they were big on promises and usually short on delivery. Who knew how long it would take to get any kind of ID? If an ID was even possible.
By the time he finished it was past noon. Which was when Sam called to tell him about Edie. He cursed under his breath, then told Sam to release her.
“I don’t think that’s a good idea, Chief.”
“I’m not asking for your opinion, Deputy.”
“What am I supposed to tell Lodge?”
“Nothing. Make yourself scarce. Go on patrol. Better yet, check out the site where the abandoned truck was found. Find me some trace evidence. Anything. I’ll take care of Lodge.”
“Or he’ll take care of you,” Sam grumbled and disconnected.
Edie leaped to her feet when Sam entered the cell room. “Did you tell him?”
“I told him,” Sam said.
She unlocked the door. “You’re free to go.”
“I heard you. How come?”
Sam frowned. “Friends in high places.”
Neither one had to specify which friend she meant. “He gonna get in trouble for this?” Edie asked.
“Not my place to say. I’m just supposed to let you go.”
“Not too happy about it, are you?”
“Not my place to say.” She tossed her head with a disapproving jerk, which said it all anyway. “Come on. Before Lodge gets back.”
“Don’t suppose you’d give me a lift out to my bike?”
“Don’t suppose I would,” Sam said. She escorted Edie into the office, tossed over her possessions. Saw her out the office and out the building. Sam got in her cruiser and took off south.
Well, well, well. Deputy Fish. Who’da thunk it?
Shaking her head at the vagaries of womankind, Edie headed in the opposite direction, toward Myer’s.
“Yo, Andy!” Edie peeked into the garage, looking for the mechanic. The place appeared deserted, but a disembodied voice answered.
“Who wants him?”
Edie walked further into the garage, then around the front of a Camaro, saw Burkett half-buried beneath. She bent down. “You get a tow call a few hours ago?”
Andy slid out on his pallet. Saw Edie. “That your bike out on Six?”
“You bring it in yet?”
“Nope. Had this to take care of first.” He nodded toward the Chevy. “Something wrong with your Harley?”
“A little police harassment,” she said, and then when Andy looked puzzled, “Never mind. Look, can I hitch a ride out there?”
“You don’t need a tow?”
“I need a ride. But far as I’m concerned you can still charge Lodge for your time.”
Andy thought about it. Wiped his hands on a grease rag. “Give me ten minutes.”
While she waited, she tried Amy again. If things continued the way they were going, dinner didn’t seem likely. Edie tried the house and the cell, but got no answer at either, so she left messages and apologies at both places.
It took Andy twice as long to finish, and by the time she got out to the bike it was close to three. She thanked him for the lift, then headed south. There was a Piggly Wiggly in Thompsonville. She figured it wasn’t too late to get dinner together, as long as it was just spaghetti and sauce in a jar. She bought a bag of salad stuff, too. A bottle of dressing. Some kind of premade garlic bread. She’d never been much of a cook. Hoped Amy would appreciate the gesture even if the food was store-bought.
She stuffed her saddlebags with the groceries and headed back to town. Wondered how many smokestacks Lodge had blown when he found her gone. Hoped Holt was nowhere near when they exploded.
Her phone rang just as she approached the center of town. To her surprise, it was Ellen Garvey, asking her to stop by.
Edie thought about her dinner preparations; she didn’t want to disappoint Amy. “I could come later. After dinner. Or tomorrow.” Provided she wasn’t locked up again.
“Oh, dear.” She sounded upset. “It’s Terry—”
Edie’s pulse quickened. “Something wrong?”
“I’m afraid—” The elderly woman hesitated. Had Terry done something? Had he hurt her?
“I’ll be right there,” Edie said.
She raced her bike to Myrtle Street, up the long, winding drive to the back of the house, and parked it there. Knocked on the back door. Like the front, the back was deep with overgrown trees and shrubs. Would take a month and a machete to clear it.
It took Ellen a few minutes to come to the door, during which time Edie stamped impatiently, imagining all sorts of things. But when she opened the door, Ellen looked normal enough. Her lipstick was blotchy, but she wore another girlish dress, this one with wide padded shoulders. But no bruises.
She gave Edie a small frown of disappointment. “Oh, dear. You didn’t have to come to the back like a tradesman.”
Relieved to see the older woman whole and unhurt, Edie smiled. Plenty of people in Redbud thought a lot worse of her. “Didn’t want to leave my bike on the street.” She followed Ellen through a mud room and into the kitchen. Saw nothing out of the ordinary. Confused, Edie said, “Are you all right? Terry hasn’t hurt you, has he?”
“Oh, no. Nothing like that.” She beamed.
“Really? I thought—”
“I have something to show you.” Ellen took Edie’s hand and brought her past the dining room where they’d had lunch and into a small parlor.
The first thing she noticed was Terry asleep on the old-fashioned sofa, his hands clasped over his heart like a corpse. But before she could think too hard about that, her gaze skated off him, and caught on the spectacle in the middle of the room.
A round table was covered with a snowy cloth and a dainty tea set. Cups and saucers rimmed in gold. Pinkie-sized handles that looked as if they would shatter if you breathed on them. Flanking a matching teapot was a graceful creamer and a sugar bowl with miniature tongs to pick up individual cubes. A tiered platter held tiny cakes frosted prettily in pink, pale green, and yellow, and crustless sandwiches cut into hearts and stars.
It was a fairy tale setup, something from another time, another world. And sitting at the table dressed in some kind of gauzy blouse that might have once belonged to her great-grandmother was a wide-eyed Miranda.
an I have a pink one, now?” Miranda asked. She was squeezed in tight against the table, the heavy dining-room chair imprisoning her. “You said I could when she got here.”
“Hush, child,” Ellen said. And to Edie, “Do you like it?”
Edie blinked. Didn’t know what to say. What was Miranda doing there? And where was Terry? “It’s… it’s lovely.”
Ellen sighed happily. “It’s been so long since I entertained.”
“That’s a… a pretty blouse you have on, Miranda,” Edie said.
“Auntie Ellen gave it to me.” She squirmed, eyes darting between Edie and Ellen as if sensing undercurrents she didn’t understand.
“Auntie Ellen?” Edie didn’t think the Drennens were related to the Garveys or Holt would have surely said so.
“Lent it to you, dear,” Ellen said to Miranda. “For purposes of our party. You can’t go to a tea party in those dreadful short pants.”
Miranda looked cross and fidgeted again. “I’m hungry.”
“Patience,” Ellen said to her. “All ladies must learn patience. Lord knows I’ve had to.”
“How did you get here?” Edie asked Miranda.
Miranda looked over at Ellen. “Daddy was busy. I don’t know where Nannie and Pawpaw are. Auntie Ellen said we would have a party.”
Ellen pulled a chair out for Edie. “Please, dear, do sit down.”
But Edie sensed something wrong in the room. Ellen’s eyes were bright enough to be tubercular, and Miranda… why was Holt’s daughter here?
“On the phone you mentioned Terry.”
Ellen sighed. “Yes, my poor nephew was beginning to be a problem. I understand he found some papers and turned them over to the police. He was drawing too much attention to us, you see.” Ellen smiled. “And he does love sweets. Tends to overindulge. I think something he ate disagreed with him.”
Edie swallowed. Why did that sound… ominous? Whatever was going on, she had a bad feeling about it. “This is really nice of you, Miss Ellen. But it’s time for Miranda to go. She’ll spoil her dinner.”
She headed for the little girl, but Ellen got there first and blocked Edie’s way. The older woman hovered over the child’s chair and pursed her lips in a small frown. “But I’ve gone to so much trouble. And they’re such small cakes. I’m sure one or two won’t hurt. Well, perhaps a little,” she added slyly. “But she really does want one, don’t you, dear?”
Miranda nodded emphatically. “A pink one.” She reached for the tier of pretty cake.
“Don’t!” Edie cried, not sure why, but doing it anyway.
Miranda froze, and Ellen pressed the outstretched arm down. “Very wise,” she said to Miranda. “Guests first.” And looked sharply to the chair she’d pulled out for Edie.
Edie hesitated, unable to process what was happening. Was kindly, fragile Ellen Garvey threatening Miranda?
“Sit,” she ordered, her voice neither kindly nor fragile.
Uneasiness threaded up Edie’s spine, but she took the chair. She was probably misconstruing everything and besides, she didn’t want to frighten Miranda.
“Now,” Ellen said brightly. “Tea?” She picked up the pot and poured the hot brown liquid into the delicate cups. Held silver tongs over the dainty sugar bowl. “One lump or two?” Ellen watched intently as Edie made no move to pick up her cup. “You know, Dennis took three lumps in his tea. He always was a little self-indulgent. Even as a boy. Did you know we went to school together? All those pretty children he married, when there were perfectly decent women his own age. Did I tell you I had a beau? Alvin wanted to marry me, but I couldn’t leave mother, could I?”
At the mention of Dennis Runkle’s name, Edie’s gaze snapped from the teacup to Ellen. The older woman’s eyes glittered with malevolence.
“Dennis? Dennis Runkle? You served him tea? When?”
“Oh, when he came to talk about the house.” Ellen gazed around with loathing. “I can’t wait to get out of this musty old awful place. Dennis promised a brand new condo. Wouldn’t that be fine? We had a lovely tea, and I fixed some wonderful lemon cookies. Dennis had four, can you imagine? Of course, I made sure to grind the peanuts up nice and fine. If you didn’t know they were there you would hardly notice.” She sighed happily. “He said they were delicious.”
Edie chilled. Her stomach spun. She could hardly take in what the other woman was saying. It had to be impossible. Had to.
And yet, if Ellen was responsible for Runkle’s death…
Unexpectedly, a path parted behind Edie’s eyes. An endless road with bright blue skies and a way out of the terrible mess she was in. If the older woman was telling the truth, that is, and not spinning a schizophrenic tale. The way things were going it was probably the ramblings of a deranged mind, but Edie had to make sure. “You…” She licked her lips. Why were they so dry? “Did you… fix something for the reverend, too?”
Ellen smiled, a bizarre glitter in her eyes. “Oh, I didn’t have to. There he was, the fat fool, trying to unplug the drain himself. It was like God talking to me. Giving me the opportunity, the idea. Has God ever spoken to you? It isn’t pleasant, not like a tea party. It’s filled with awe and… and might.” Her voice dropped. A visible shudder ran through her. “Like a man touching me in all my secret places. Powerful. And exciting. And the church kitchen was only a few steps away. The waffle iron was right there. I didn’t even have to hunt for it.”