Wednesday 28 – Friday 30 October 2015
The diner was close to full capacity. It always was for the Wednesday breakfast sitting when all-you-can-eat bacon, eggs, and pancakes were on the menu. Sheriff Rockwell, having gone back for a third helping of food, was scoffing a mouthful of scrambled eggs, and two rashers of bacon when Veronica Paulson appeared at his booth. He didn’t have to ask her why she was there or what she wanted because she’d been playing the same song since Lonnie Corwin was put away for the murder of his wife.
He swallowed hard, and then loaded his fork with more eggs as he spoke. ‘Get outta my face, Ronnie, or I’ll arrest you for harassment.’
‘You don’t scare me, Rockwell. You’re nothing but a corrupt cop, and sooner of later someone is gonna bring you down a peg or two. I’m only over here because Ralph told me to refill your coffee.’ She held up a coffee pot, smiled, and then poured the coffee. It took Rockwell some minutes before he realised that the hot feeling in his lap was the coffee that should have been flowing into his mug.
‘You bitch!’ He struggled to leap from the booth. His upper thighs hit the table, knocked the dregs of his coffee from the cup, and sent a portion of his third helping of breakfast from the plate that had been on the table in front of him. ‘I’m gonna arrest you for common assault, and I’ll make sure that you’re thrown in jail for it. Now put your hands behind your back.’
Rockwell’s screaming resulted in every head in the diner turning to stare at him.
‘What the hell are you pieces of filth looking at?’
‘Well golly, Sheriff Rockwell, that was a terrible accident. I honestly didn’t mean for that coffee to miss your cup. I do apologise.’ Sarcasm dripped from Veronica’s mouth as she feigned innocence. ‘Surely you’re not going to arrest a poor, lowly, barely paid waitress for a simple accident? Not with all these people here . . . as witnesses?’
A few of the more courageous men stood up, and stepped closer, surrounding Veronica and Rockwell, in the event that their favourite waitress needed assistance.
The sheriff looked around the room, gauged the level of potential threat and assessed whether he was capable of getting himself out of any sort of fracas that might happen if he pushed to arrest Veronica.
‘Back off, you oafs, or I’ll arrest the lot of you.’ He fumbled for his portable radio but dropped it on the booth’s bench seat. His handcuffs ended up nearby.
‘You know, Sheriff Rockwell, as a large group of townspeople, we’ve never really taken too kindly to your attitude. Up to this point, I don’t think we’ve ever had just cause to pull you up on it, but I’m sure I’m speaking on behalf of everyone here when I say you’d better be the one who backs off. Ronnie’s one of ours, and if you’re not quite sure what that means, I’ll let you in on it . . . it means that we take care of our own, and if you think you’re gonna arrest Ronnie because you’re being an asshole, you’re gonna have to do it after you deal with us.’ The imposing man stepped up to Rockwell and waited for a response.
* * * * *
It had taken a considerable amount of time and effort on his part, but Lonnie had tracked down Jack Rockwell Jr. to the deserted farmhouse. Confronting Rockwell Jr. wouldn’t go any way to clearing his name but he was confident that he’d have some sense of relief from it. Approaching Rockwell Jr.’s vehicle with the utmost caution, Lonnie sidled up to the car, and peered inside. Rockwell wasn’t hiding on either the front or back seats.
‘Keep your cool, Lonnie, keep your cool. Plenty more places for him to be hiding.’
He crept to the barn door. ‘Too much to expect it to be even slightly ajar . . .’ Lonnie reached out to grasp the door handle. He gently pulled, and the door creaked open announcing his presence. If Rockwell Jr. or any of his cronies happened to be inside, there was little point in continuing the quiet approach. Still, it was prudent to remain cautious. He crouched down not wanting to provide to obvious a target, and scarpered inside the barn.
Bart Price’s body was hanging from the rafters, and Rockwell Jr. was relaxing on a bale of hay, admiring his work. The sargeant hadn’t yet seen Lonnie, despite the creaking of the door hinges, but if he stayed out in the open any longer he’d be a sitting duck. A stack of hay bales caught his eye, and he slid behind it, knocking the bottom bale as he did so. The swaying stack caught Rockwell Jr.’s eye.
‘First the door, now the hay, if I were a suspicious kinda guy, Bart, I’d think that there might be someone else in here. Are you haunting me, Bart? Because if you are, it’s gonna take a hell of a lot more to scare me than your puny assed ghost.’ His voice echoed through the barn. ‘What would be nice though, was if my ol’ buddy Lonnie was here, ‘cause I could frame him for your murder, and then I could justify killing that son of a bitch.’
. . . To be continued . . .