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Authors: Phyllis Smallman

Jack Daniels and Tea

BOOK: Jack Daniels and Tea
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ALSO BY PHYLLIS SMALLMAN

Sherri Travis Mystery Series

Margarita Nights

Sex In A Sidecar

A Brewski For The Old man

Champagne For Buzzards

JACK DANIELS AND TEA

PHYLLIS
SMALLMAN

WWW.PHYLLISSMALLMAN.COM

Phyllis Smallman Publishing

THIS EDITION PUBLISHED IN CANADA IN 2011 BY
PHYLLIS SMALLMAN

www.phyllissmallman.com

Copyright © 2011 Phyllis Smallman
All rights reserved.

The use of any part of this publication reproduced, transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise stored in a retrieval system, without the expressed written consent of the publisher, is an infringement of the copyright law.

Library and Archives Canada Cataloguing in Publication

Smallman, Phyllis

Jack Daniels and Tea / Phyllis Smallman.

(A Sherri Travis Short Mystery)

ISBN 978-0-9878033-4-4 (electronic)

I. Title. II. Series: Smallman, Phyllis. Sherri Travis Mystery.

Cover and text design by Phyllis Smallman

eBook development by Wild Element
www.WildElement.ca

JACK DANIELS AND TEA

Do you think you can catch crazy? In Dutch's, where I mix martinis and pull drafts, some nights a madness swirls through the air like a virus, infecting everyone. The drinking quickens, the laughter grows louder and the feeling in the bar swirls into one huge out of control mood of insanity. That's how it was the night Dr. Yates was murdered.

Dutch's is a sort of falling down place nestled in between towers for the newly rich and beachside accommodation for vacationers. Once a working class hangout, the bar has kept its rough edge from the days it was full of fishermen and ranch hands. There's still a jukebox playing country songs, and tin advertisements from the fifties cover the walls, but now the bar is the hot place for tourists who want to believe they're experiencing the authentic Florida.

Besides locals and tourists, we also get the occasional hooker in Dutch's. The way to tell the working girls from the ladies is that the hookers are more polite and better tippers. It's all entertainment for me, every night a new show with a different cast of characters.

The night of the murder the bar was insanely busy and Mark Wilson was an hour late for his shift. I was running my tail off when he wandered in about six thirty, wasted yet again but full of charm and honey, and still the cutest thing in the whole damn county.

“Sorry, Babe,” he said.

No matter how many times he screwed up and let me down, I always forgave him. I just had a thing for that man.

Dr. Yates rattled the ice cubes in his glass and called, “Sherri.” Dr. Yates was a retired dentist down from Ohio. Square and solid, with wild and woolly caterpillars for eyebrows, he had wintered in Jacaranda for the past ten years, first with his wife but now alone. Every night, from November to May, he sat at the bar and drank a couple of Long Island Iced Teas, a mind-numbing combo of rum, gin, vodka, tequila, Cointreau, lime and cola. A mixture designed to knock you off your bar stool. That night even Doc was infected by the mood of the place and his shining eyes and crooked grin told a story.

“Staying for dinner, Doc?”

“Yup.” He drew in his chin and belched softly.

I picked up his empty glass. “Make this the last one.” I wasn't too worried about over serving him because he lived within walking distance.

“Don't worry ‘bout me.” He wagged a finger in my direction. “First thing they teach you in dental school is how to hold your liquor.”

“They may have changed the curriculum in the last forty years.” A roar of laughter went up from the raucous group at the center of the room. Six women had come in after work to celebrate Kelly Forester's birthday and several stray males and a pair of New York ladies had joined the chaos at their table.

Kelly, on her maiden voyage to Hangover Land, was drinking a disgusting mix of vodka and coke. Thank God you only turn twenty-one once.

I dropped off Doc's drink and had just picked up his twenty when the man at the top of my list for gator bait slithered in. Some women might find Jordan Parrish handsome but his big aggressive attitude, and his nasty habit of standing too close when he talked to you, turned me right off. Jordan started hitting on me in my first year of high school when he was already a senior at the University of Miami and way too sure of his own perfection. The mayor's son, he felt entitled. It was as if he was bestowing a favor by hitting on me. To him I was just poor white meat from off-island and now, ten years later, his mind-set hadn't changed.

“A beautiful flower for a beautiful girl,” he said, reaching out to tuck a red hibiscus behind my ear.

“I pass them every night on my way in,” I told him, backing away from his hand.

He scowled and tossed the hibiscus on the bar where it lay between us like a crimson stain. “Give me a Jack Daniels.”

When I slid the J.D. towards him with my fingertips he said, “You're the best looking thing in town. When are we going to get together?”

You couldn't discourage this guy for long but I was always willing to try. “When you get a note from your wife.”

He smirked and spread his arms wide. “This is your lucky night. Megan and I just separated.” He leaned across the bar and whispered, “Treat yourself to the best.”

If he was the best, I was changing sides.

A song started playing that had everyone on their feet screaming, “I love this bar.” Drinks were spilled, angry words were exchanged and then it all went back to laughter as the swirl of lunacy continued.

Charlie Lockhart, another regular, waved a lottery ticket at me. “Give me this week's numbers, will you, Sherri?”

I reached under the bar for the newspaper clipping of the winning Florida Lotto numbers. So many hopeful fingers had already handled the cutting it was barely readable. I dropped the piece of paper in front of Charlie and took an order from the man standing next to him.

When I came back with two dry martinis, Charlie was still standing with the clipping spread out between his fingers. His face was pale. Sweat glistened across his forehead. Heart attack! Had to be. But how old was Charlie? Forty? Forty-five? Wasn't that too young to die in a bar from a coronary?

“Charlie?”

His eyes refocused. “Yeah?”

“You alright?”

“Yeah.” He was saying it but he wasn't looking it. “Yeah,” he said again and wiped his hand across his mouth. “I'm alright now.”

“Are those mine?” The man waiting for the vodka martinis was almost drowned out by a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday.

An hour later I slid another J.D across the bar.

“I've got the top down,” Jordan informed me. “How ‘bout a little midnight swim out at South Beach?”

I bit back the caustic reply dancing on the tip of my tongue. Bartenders live on tips and for me financial disaster was never more than a few bad nights away. I grabbed my cigarettes from under the bar and motioned to Mark that I was taking a break.

On the way down the hall I saw the birthday girl wobbling ahead of me. I knew the look. Come to that I knew the feeling.

I caught up to her and wrapped an arm around her. “This way.” I bustled her past the door to the toilets. “More privacy.” I led her to the exit at the end of the hall and then a few steps up the alley to the parking lot. Under the floodlights mounted on the corner of the building, right where Jordan Parish always parked and taking up two places, sat a yellow Viper convertible. As promised, the top was down.

Beside me Kelly whimpered and clamped a hand over her mouth.

I leaned her well over the camel colored leather. “Okay, Hon.” And right on cue, she delivered.

“You'll feel better now.”

When her delicate frame finally stopped shuddering, she braced herself with both hands on the door of the car and took deep ragged breaths. “I just threw up in somebody's car.”

“This isn't a car, honey.” I took the leather bag off her shoulder. “It's a Viper owned by a snake.” I rummaged around and found her a tissue. “Want me to call you a cab?”

She nodded, pressing the tissue to her lips and fighting back a new wave of nausea.

Never one to leave well enough alone, when Kelly was safely off I decided to sign my masterpiece. I went to the far side of the parking lot to where a hedge of red hibiscus grew. That's when I spied the polished oxford sticking out of the bushes. I crept closer and parted the greenery. I saw a gold insignia ring on a liver spotted hand lay.

“Doc?” Crouching down beside him, I took his hand. “Sweet Jesus.” It was already cold.

After the interview with the police, the detective offered to have someone take me home but somehow it felt better to be back behind the bar.

Inside the party was over and the bar was almost empty. I went to clear the last of the tables.

I slid a tray of empty glasses onto the bar and then I reached down and picked up the crumpled lotto clipping from the floor. I glanced at the numbers before dropping the piece of newspaper in the trash

Charlie Reese hadn't had a heart attack, just a shock.

I mixed a couple of drinks, made change and wiped down the bar as the night faded away. And then, while Mark locked up, I slipped into the office to make a couple of calls.

“Charlie,” I said after he growled hello, “I'm going to need a piece of that ticket.”

There was silence at the other end. Too long a silence for me to believe his next words. “What ticket?”

“Don't kid a kidder, Charlie. Doc played the same Lotto numbers every week. His own special numbers…2-11: his birthday, 10-09: his wife's and 09-55: his anniversary. Easy to prove. Funny thing is, those numbers meant something to me as well. My birthday, my mom's birthday and the day a hurricane wiped out my grandma's house. Doc and I had a laugh over sharing those dates. You would have gotten away with it if I hadn't known Doc's numbers. I'm probably the only one who does.

“You're crazy.”

His outrage almost convinced me.

“You trying to tell me you haven't got the winning ticket, Charlie?”

Silence.

“You see the problem, Charlie? If you collect on that ticket you make my story. I can tie those numbers to Doc and someone is bound to have seen you talking to him. ‘Course you could just rip it up and waste thirteen million dollars. Wouldn't you just rather share it with me?”

It was almost morning. Part of the parking lot was still cordoned off but the police had left. I went to the emergency exit and checked the alley. All clear. I slid a block of wood between the door and the jamb so Charlie could get in. Then I put the Cotter key in the locking mechanism so the door couldn't lock behind him.

Praying this wouldn't turn out to be another of my not so good ideas, I went to wait for Charlie in the darkened bar. Only three pot-lights, above glass shelves of booze, relieved the eerie gloom. I wanted to turn on the lights but if Dutch's was lit up after closing time it would draw attention. Attention that I didn't want. So I waited in the dark while my courage melted away like the ice in a forgotten drink.

Somewhere between determination and bolting, I heard his heavy tread coming down the corridor from the back. I slid off the edge of the barstool.

Charlie stepped through the door. We stared at each other awhile. Finally he asked, “So, you think you've got it all figured out?”

“Doc always played the lottery. Every week. Always checked his ticket at the bar but not tonight. Tonight he forgot. He was a little unsteady from the extra ice tea so he gave you the ticket and you did it for him, didn't you?”

Charlie stalked towards me, eyes locked on mine. I eased away.

“Thirteen million.” My voice cracked. “Who could resist? Not me. I think we should just write my name across the ticket with yours. Then we'll cash it together. No one the wiser.”

“You stupid, bitch! Do you think I'm going to trust you?”

“Can you afford not to? Florida has the death penalty.”

“And you'll just keep quiet for part of the take?”

“If I collect on the ticket I'll be as guilty as you.”

Anger hissed out of him, “No dumb bitch is going to shake me down.”

He lunged for me but I've been ducking male hands since I was twelve. It's an art form with me.

Circling a table, synchronized as if tied by invisible bonds, we watched each other, waiting for a mistake.

“I've heard whispers that you were in trouble, trying to find new money for your company.”

He straightened. For a fraction of a second he was more intent on my words than he was on capturing me.

“Did you think no one noticed? ‘How's he doing it?' people been saying.'”

A muscle in his jaw jumped. He drove the table hard towards me but I was already gone.

“Did you tell Doc he had the winning ticket before you killed him?”

I had my back to the bar. There was a clear path to the hall. My eyes flicked to the door. A mistake.

Charlie lunged but something distracted him, slowing him down. I saw his eyes widen.

I looked over my shoulder at Markie, standing behind the bar and holding the nice snubby little pistol from Dutch's office.

“You took your sweet time.” I slipped away from Charlie and headed down the bar to join Markie. “I thought he was going to kill me too.”

“Stop.” Mark swung the gun to point at me.

“What?”

“Not part of the plan,” Mark waved the gun towards Charlie. “Get over there with him.”

“Are you crazy?” I screeched.

“You said it yourself, who can resist thirteen million?”

“Don't joke, Mark. This isn't funny.”

He shook his head. “Not joking. Sorry, Babe.”

“Mark, it isn't like you think. When I told you about Charlie… and the ticket… and you said we shouldn't call the cops…” Mark didn't let me finish.

BOOK: Jack Daniels and Tea
5.76Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
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