Authors: Jana DeLeon
Drunks were known for running their mouths.
He eyed the crowd again, assessing his chances of entering the bar and making it back out again. Maybe there was a way to get the information he needed and avoid Dorie at the same time. His boss couldn't complain as long as the job got done. Right?
Besides, what's the worst they could do?
He grabbed the broken key chain and his wallet off the table and left the room to find out.
It was almost an hour's drive to the nearest "big" city, Lake Charles. Dorie pulled through the gates of Southern Retirement Living, parked her jeep and made her way into the building.
"Hi, Sherry," she said to the receptionist.
"Why, Dorie," the woman said, and gave her a surprised look. "Whatever are you doing here on a Sunday?"
"I have some business to discuss with the sheriff. Nothing major. Are they off on some activity right now?"
No. Just TV in the rec hall." Sherry narrowed her eyes at Dorie. "Are you sure there's nothing wrong? And don't lie to me. I changed your diapers."
Dorie smiled. Almost every woman over the age of fifty from the town of Gator Bait could use that line on her. "I promise, nothing is wrong. I just have a little police business I need an opinion on!
Sherry studied her for a moment more, obviously still not convinced, but nodded. "All right, then. You should find him down the hall. You know the way."
Dorie walked down the hallway to the large gathering room and poked her head through the doorway. Sunday was a big TV night, so the room was crowded. An elderly man close to the door noticed Dorie and nodded.
"Sheriff," he yelled across the room. "Your daughter's here to see ya."
Her dad looked up from his card game in the corner and smiled. Backing his wheelchair away from the table, he turned and headed in her direction. Dorie forced a smile on her face, trying to forget for a moment the reason she was here. When he reached her, she bent over and kissed his check.
"You're getting more silver," she said and fingered a lock of his salt-and-pepper hair.
"It's all the stress of being semi-retired," he joked.
"Hmmm. I thought it may be the stress of playing cards with those mad New York Italians. I thought you were supposed to be watching TV."
He waved one hand in the air. "Nothing worth a damn on there anyway. Dead people, prison shows, mafia crap. Who the hell cares?"
Dorie laughed, unable to disagree. "I've got a bit of a police problem I need to go over with you. Can we go to your room? I need a little privacy for this."
He nodded and they continued all the way to the end of the hall. Dorie opened the door and stepped aside for her dad to enter. No one locked their apartment doors at Southern Retirement.
Her dad continued past the entry and toward the cozy living room straight ahead, while Dorie made a quick stop in the kitchen, snagging a beer for her dad and a soda for herself. Then she joined him in the living room, flopping down on an overstuffed chair with a sigh, not wanting to be there at all. Not for this reason.
Her dad popped the top on his beer and took a swig. Then the bomb dropped. "What the hell were you thinking?" he asked her. "I've been getting calls all weekend long-people claiming the alligators have gone mad, some of them claiming you've gone mad right along with them. But did I get a visit? Shit, no. I didn't even get a phone call letting me know what was happening. So what in the name of God is going on?"
"I don't think God had anything to do with this one," she replied, already feeling six years old and three feet tall again. "We had a situation out at Maylene Thibodeaux's on Friday."
"Maylene Thibodeaux has been a situation since birth," her dad retorted. "Tell me something I don't already know."
Dorie grimaced and continued. "This problem was an alligator in Maylene's pool. He had a backpack hanging out of his mouth. I was a little surprised the gator allowed me to remove the pack so easily until I opened it and found a bunch of baggies full of heroin. He was high as a kite."
She looked at her dad, but he remained silent, his face stone-cold and his upper body tensed. "Go on," he finally said.
"There was also a bundle of cash in the backpack, and the real kicker is, I pulled a finger out of the gator's mouth. Joe and I ran the print and came up with nothing, although I had my doubts even then about the accuracy. Then today, a DEA agent from D.C. waltzes into town and claims he's taking over the investigation."
Dorie put both hands up in the air. "We've never had a problem with drugs in Gator Bait. I don't know what to make of this."
Her dad frowned in obvious concentration. "You're sure it was heroin?"
"Positive. That DEA agent didn't even try to deny it. I get the feeling he's been looking for this guy for a while, but he's not exactly handing out information."
"No, he probably wouldn't be."
"Oh, but there's no shortage of insults, believe me."
Her dad nodded and studied her for a moment. "You know, I can't tell you what you want to hear."
"What's that?" she asked, pretending ignorance.
Her dad laughed. "You want me to tell you that you're not obligated to help him. That the problem is obviously his and he should handle it and go away. I'm afraid I can't do that."
Dorie bit her lip to hold in the string of curse words on the tip of her tongue. "But, Dad, you didn't see this guy. He's impossible."
"Yeah, I would imagine so. Still, your help will probably allow him to finish and be gone a lot quicker. The townspeople aren't likely to talk to him unless you give the go-ahead."
"I know," Dorie said and rose from the chair, the point of her conversation over and shot to hell. "It's just that he rubbed me all wrong. Coming into town with his superior attitude, telling me I wasn't qualified to run a law enforcement facility. I'm having a hard time wanting to help him at all, but I guess if it gets rid of him sooner, then that's what I'll do."
Her dad cocked his head to one side and raised his eyebrows. "He called you unqualified and he's still walking around with all of his body parts?"
"I didn't have my holster on. I was fishing."
Her dad began to laugh, knowing full well what Dorie's fishing entailed. "Guess that's a kind of welcome he ain't ever seen before."
Dorie leaned over and kissed him good-bye. "Well, I sure hope he enjoyed it because he's not seeing it again."
She could still hear his laughter as she strode down the hall.
Richard walked into the crowded bar and made a quick assessment from the doorway. Bunch of good ole boys. Hopefully, they wouldn't try to give the city boy any trouble. He really needed a drink.
He tried to sidle across the entry unnoticed, but his hopes were immediately dashed as a beefy bartender shouted to the room, "Look, everybody. It's Dick."
All conversation ceased, and everyone in the bar turned to stare. In unison they shouted, "Hello, Dick!" Then they turned back to whatever they had been doing before the choreographed greeting. Richard stared at the crowd in dismay, then made his way over to the bar. He noticed Joe seated at one end with a vacant stool next to him, so he crossed the bar to the empty stool and sat down.
"What the hell was that about?" Richard asked.
Joe shrugged. "Word musta got around about you giving Dorie a hard time."
Richard glared at him. "I don't suppose you have any idea how that ‘word' would have gotten around?"
Joe gave him a blank look. "Don't suppose I would."
Richard shook his head in disgust and moved to a stool at the other end of the bar. The bartender shuffled over and asked, "You want a drink?"
"Sure," Richard said. "What do you have?"
The bartender looked a bit surprised. "Beer."
Richard waited for a longer list, but none was forthcoming. "Just beer?"
"Yeah, just beer," the bartender said dryly. "Three different kinds for anyone who wants to get picky. Guess you're one of those picky ones. I'll have to get the menu."
Richard looked up expecting another joke, but the bartender had his back to the counter, pulling a sheet of laminated paper from under the cash register. He handed the sheet over to Richard. It read "Beer, Light Beer, Dry Beer."
Some selection. He tried not to smile.
"I'll have a light beer," he said and handed the sheet back to the bartender.
"Figures," the bartender said and popped the top on a longneck. He handed Richard the bottle, smirked and strolled to the other end of the counter.
Richard took a sip of the beer and noticed the man to his right had seven empty bottles in front of him. A good place to start his inquiry. "I'm Richard Starke," he said and stuck out his hand.
The man stared at him as if he were roadkill. "Who the fuck cares."
Okay. Maybe the seven bottles had only been this round. Richard picked up his beer and left the counter. He could still feel the man glaring at him as he walked away. He looked over at Joe, who waved and gave him a big smile. Assholes. Every last one of them.
He crossed the room and leaned against a wall, assessing his options. Maybe the first guy wasn't the best choice. In fact, maybe a man wasn't the best choice. He did all right with the ladies in D.C.. Maybe a woman would be a better pick. After all, the locals weren't likely to win them over with charm.
He scanned the bar, but all the women seemed to be with men. Finally, he saw one lone woman sitting at a table in the corner. Blowing out a breath, he headed that way. When he was only ten feet or so from her, someone stuck a leg out in front of him. He looked over to see Joe, shaking his head.
"Not a good idea," Joe said.
"And why not? She's sitting there alone."
Joe laughed and pointed to the corner of the room where two big, burly men were head-to-head, obviously about to throw down. "She's alone because her husband and her lover are about to get into a fight. You wanna get in the middle of that?"
Husband and lover? He stared at Joe, convinced the man was joking, but about that time, one of the big burlies threw the first punch.
"I told you about sleeping with my wife!" the husband yelled.
The lover staggered back for a second, then threw a right hook at the husband's jaw. "And I told you to do your job right, then the stupid bitch would stop calling me in to take care of your work."
Richard started to turn to Joe, wondering if he planned to break this up, when the sound of gunfire rang out right next to his ears. Deafened, he ducked and spun around, spotting Joe with his gun still in the air.
That's enough, gentlemen," Joe said and sat back down at the bar.
Richard looked at the two men again. They stared at Joe for a moment, then backed away from each other. The lover left the bar through a side exit. The husband grabbed his wife by the arm and hustled her out the front door.
"Guess I'm done here tonight," Joe said and threw some bills on the bar.
"Keep your money," the bartender said and shoved the bills back across the counter."This one's on me. Damn idiots. That wife has been having an affair with a woman from Lake Charles for over a year." The bartender shook his head. "It's a good thing you got those blanks, Joe. They sure do sound real enough, but it's certainly made a difference on the roof repairs."
Joe nodded and pocketed the money. He cast a final amused glance at Richard and strolled out of the bar. Deciding now might be a good time to give up the quest for information and tie one on instead, Richard sat down at the counter again and waved at the bartender for another beer.
The bartender took his time getting back over to him, but after he served the beer, he leaned against the counter and stared, obviously ready to talk now that the night's entertainment was over.
"Word has it you been giving Dorie a hard time," the bartender said. "Why would you want to do that?"
Richard sighed. "I'm not giving her a hard time. I'm just trying to do my job. A little cooperation might make it go faster, and I could leave town sooner."
The bartender considered this a minute. "That doesn't sound like a bad idea. What kind of cooperation was you looking for?"