Authors: Annie Solomon
Tags: #FIC027110, #Fiction, #Romance, #Suspense, #Sheriffs, #General
Holt held the evidence baggie up to the light, stared at the thing inside. What did it have to do with Fred Lyle? Why was he clutching it in his hand? A kid’s toy, it looked like. Something out of a Cracker Jack box. But more sinister. The black angel. The devil’s angel.
He shook off an ominous feeling. Nodded to Sam. “Okay. Let’s get Mr. Lyle out of here.”
News of Fred Lyle’s death rocketed through Redbud and obliterated the party mood of a few days before. Edie felt the pall settle over Red’s. Heads were lower, voices more thoughtful. Business was sluggish. Even Lucy’s sharp tongue was curbed. She leaned against the end of the bar chewing ice from her empty glass.
Edie refilled it with Coke. “So… think it’s true about the black angel?” Lucy had been around a long time, and if Fred Lyle’s death was going to loosen tongues, might as well start with hers.
“That they found a black angel on Fred Lyle’s body?” Lucy snorted.
“About what it means.”
“It’s just nonsense. Men being gossipy fishwives.”
“I heard it had something to do with trouble at the plant.”
“Look, are you going to believe the bunch of old ladies here?”
“C’mon, Lucy, give.”
The older woman sighed. “Oh, all right. But don’t say I didn’t warn you.” She settled herself against the bar, sipping her drink. “Years and years ago, they say someone got in trouble over at Hammerbilt. Money trouble. Embezzling. Cooking the books. Something like that. Some said he was innocent, but most were sure he wasn’t. Then he proves them right by killing himself.”
No fun to hear her own history played back as if it belonged to a stranger. But she urged Lucy on. “And that ties in to the black angel—how?”
“The family—his wife, mother, who knows, they buy this angel for the grave. And overnight the thing turns black.”
Edie laughed. “Get out of here.”
“I told you it was nonsense.”
Red leaned in. “You can go out to the cemetery and see for yourself. Big old black angel, like a devil’s messenger standing over the grave.” He gestured her in closer. “They say it’ll turn white again when he’s proven innocent.”
Lucy rolled her eyes. “They also say only a virgin can survive its touch.”
“Guess that leaves you out,” Red said, and Lucy whacked him.
“Hey—Edie!” To her left, someone signaled an order. She hustled over to the other side of the bar and served a couple of beers to her regulars—Russ Elam and Howard Wayne.
“You heard about the black angel they found with Fred Lyle’s body?” Howard asked.
“Nothing but,” Edie said. “Not to mention a lot of stuff about a dead man’s grave.”
“Gives me the creeps,” Howard said. “Could be some kind of devil worship that backfired.”
“Shut up, Howie,” Russ said. “It’s too early for Halloween.”
“Yeah, but I’ve seen that grave,” Howard said. “And the black angel standing over it.”
“Well, keep swilling that beer, you’ll see a whole bunch of black angels,” Russ said, and everyone nearby laughed.
Edie twisted her mouth into a smile, but she wasn’t laughing. Fred Lyle got what he deserved, didn’t he? The ruckus his death provoked was only justice doing its work.
She scanned the bar, seeing who else she could pump for reaction. Someone new had arrived.
Holt Drennen. He wore his uniform, or what consisted of his uniform. Those sexy jeans and the black T-shirt with the chief’s star over his breast. About the closest thing to a uniform was the hip-length black jacket with the star on the sleeve and his name on the front. And if she was in doubt about who he was, there was always the handcuff case attached to his waist at the back. And the utility belt with whatever else a cop carried these days. Asp. Mace. Ammo. Holster.
“I’m here to collect that coffee you owe me,” he said to her when she sidled up to him at the bar.
She put a cup in front of him and poured it from the carafe Red kept hot. She put sugar and milk in front of him, but he sipped it black and eyed her over the rim of the cup.
Holt could see she was in her element—wiseass smile at the corners of her mouth and a wink for everyone. He’d seen her laughing with the guys from the plant. He liked the look of that grin on her face. Black hair falling into her eyes and over her shoulder. Half of it up, the other half wild and sleep-tossed.
But he hadn’t come for the look of her. Okay, not just for the look of her. He’d come to see what the town telegraph was saying about Fred Lyle’s death. He’d had hints of it all day. The dismissive look in Sam’s face when she came back from lunch. Scoffing at rumors but buying them, too. Hedging her bets on the afterlife and messages from beyond the grave. If feet-on-the-ground Sam was shaken he could only imagine what the rest of the town was saying. Red’s was the perfect place to find out.
“So what’s the big talk tonight?”
She washed a couple of glasses. “Fred Lyle. Black angels. Did you know there’s a angel over a grave somewhere, turned black overnight?”
“Yeah, I heard that.”
“Is it true?”
“Well there’s a black angel in the cemetery. But I have a feeling there’s a logical explanation.” He paused dramatically. “Oxidation. I hear it happens. Naturally.”
“You don’t believe in magic?”
“Not so much.” But he remembered finding the black angel in Fred Lyle’s hand. An uneasy shimmer ran through Holt.
“They’re talking devil worship, too.”
Holt frowned. That’s the kind of talk he was hoping to avoid. “Seriously?”
Eddie shrugged. “Just passing it on.” She grabbed a bar towel and began to dry the glasses she’d washed. “So what’s Lyle’s death going to do to the town?”
“Besides give everyone something to talk about for a while?”
“Lyle was heading up the ladder. Didn’t that put the plant on the map? What will happen to Hammerbilt without Fred Lyle to lobby for it?”
Holt ran a finger around the rim of his coffee cup. Her question implied a deeper interest in the town than he thought she had. And a deeper understanding of the connections between Redbud’s various economic sectors. So maybe she was serious about putting down roots. Oddly, the thought depressed him. Like caging a wild bird. “There’d been talk of expansion and Redbud was ready for it. Lyle’s promotion might have put the town at the top of the list. Now, with the economy in the ditch, it’s anyone’s guess.”
“Seems like the town’s betting on it. I saw someone’s building a country club on the north side.”
“Why not? Golf course, pool. Even us hicks need our relaxation.”
She gave him an ironic smile. “You play golf?”
“I like a game with a bigger defense.”
“So what’s your poison? Football? Basketball?”
“Why—you going to challenge me?”
He laughed. Downed his cup and rose from the bar stool. “Thanks for the java.”
“Any time, Chief. Want to keep the law happy.”
“I’ll remember that.” He gave her a mock salute and sauntered out.
And Edie watched him go. All the way to the door and out into the night. Didn’t his back view look just fine.
wo days later, the town buried Fred Lyle, and in honor of the funeral, Red closed the bar. Edie used the day off to visit the Redbud Public Library.
All copies of the
had been stored, but issues before the turn of the new century were still on microfiche. The librarian led Edie to a back room, showed her how to search the shelves for the dates she wanted and how to use the microfiche machine. Edie thanked her, waited for her to go, then pulled out the box dated July 5, 1989.
She didn’t have to do much searching. The article was right there on the front page. Familiar words burst out at her. Charles Swansford, Accounting Manager, Hammerbilt. She skimmed them, searching for the unfamiliar. But it wasn’t until July 8 that she found it.
Arlen Mayborne, accounting assistant, was quoted as saying, “He was a nice man. Easygoing. I never would have suspected a thing.” And the comptroller, Alan Butene: “This is a tragedy on many levels. For me personally, I’ve lost a friend and a colleague.”
What did it all add up to? She could never get her mother to talk about the day her father died. Where had he gone? Who had he seen? And had any of it forced him to the edge of despair? What had happened between leaving the house that morning and throwing himself over the edge of the old quarry that afternoon?
If she could only figure that out, she would have the answer to the biggest question of her life: why? Why did he step off that ledge? Was he guilty of mismanaging plant funds, as everyone said? A coward? She didn’t want to believe that. Her mother never did. But what else could she conclude?
She was staring at the microfiche machine when she felt a presence in the room. A child stood in the doorway gazing at her. One of those beautiful kids, with perfect features and silky blonde hair cut bluntly at her chin.
“What’s that?” She pointed to Edie’s shoulder, and Edie looked down at the tattoo emblazoned there.
“Why do you have a swan there?”
“It’s my name. Edie Swann.”
The kid took that in, continued staring at her intently.
Edie never saw herself as the family type. Kids made her nervous with their innocence and trust. This one looked really young. Five? Six? Edie swallowed, not knowing what to say, and wished the kid would go away.
Instead, she walked in, right up to Edie’s chair. “Can I touch it?”
The little girl took that grunt for permission, and before Edie could stop her she’d climbed up on her lap. Tiny fingers traced the outline of the blue and gold wings. “How did you do that?”
At least this was easy. Informational. “It’s called a tattoo. You go to a special store and they use needles and ink.”
“Does it hurt?”
Truth or lie? Experience had taught Edie that kids were too sheltered by half. “Yeah,” she said. “It does.”
“So why’d you do it?” Her wide green eyes seemed to peer right into Edie demanding an answer.
“You ever do something you know might hurt but you do it anyway because it’s fun or because you want to see if you can take it?”
“I jumped off the swings in the park once.”
“You hurt yourself?”
She nodded solemnly, and Edie shrugged as if to say, “See what I mean?”
“What’s that?” The girl pointed to the pinup below the swan.
The kid giggled. “Betty Poop.”
“Very funny,” Edie said dryly. But couldn’t resist a smile.
“Miranda!” A small, compact woman with a head of short blonde curls, messy yet attractive, stood in the doorway where the kid had first stood. The mother? Edie took a closer look. Youthful, but not young.
“Good Lord, Miranda, what on earth are you doing? You know you’re not supposed to wander off.” The scolding seemed to roll right off the little girl. She didn’t budge. The woman turned to Edie. “I am so sorry she bothered you.”
“I didn’t, did I?” Miranda asked Edie.
“Uh… no.” What else was she going to say? And besides, Edie realized, it was true.
“Come on, now, get down.”
Miranda hopped down from Edie’s lap. “Can I have a swan on my shoulder, too?” Miranda asked the older woman.
“What?” The woman looked confused.
Edie pointed to her shoulder. “I think she means this.”
“A tattoo?” The woman laughed. “Miranda Drennen, you never cease to amaze me.”
The name caught Edie off guard. “Drennen?”
“Oh, yes, bless your heart. I’m sorry. I’m Mimsy Drennen. Miranda’s my granddaughter.” She extended a hand.
“Edie Swann.” Mimsy’s grip was firm and brief but not unfriendly. “Any relation to the chief?”
“That’s my daddy,” Miranda said.
“Your… daddy?” It never occurred to her that Holt might have a child. She gave the kid another look, trying not to stare. Holt’s green eyes looked back at her.
“Do you know my son?” Mimsy asked.
“He’s the chief of police, isn’t he? I’d guess most people know who he is.” Edie said it lightly and hoped Mimsy wouldn’t see the answer for the dodge it was. Interest in Holt was bad enough, but his mother and his kid? That had to be a full-fledged disaster. But before she could figure out a way of avoiding it, Miranda intervened.