Balloon Man

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Chapter 22

Alma could not sleep. She waited all day and night for her sister to come home. She was thankful her toothache stopped later in the day and she’d wanted to go Leesville and eat crawfish at Mudbugs restaurant when Elaine came home from work. When Elaine did not come home, Alma tried to call Jo Bob, but no answer. She then called the police and told them her sister never came home from work the day before.

“I’m worried. This is unlike her and it doesn’t feel right to me.”

The police told Alma she would have to file a missing person report, so Alma drove to Leesville and did as requested. Once finished, she met with the police chief.

“Maybe Elaine wanted to be missing?” Chief Fox chuckled. “Or had a big date!”

Alma frowned at him. “You know, you need to take this seriously! What if your sister was the one missing? You wouldn’t take it so lightly then!”

“We’ll check into it, Ms. Alma. Have a good day,” Chief Fox said flatly.

Alma left the station in a huff. While driving, she kept thinking about the fact she was supposed to work yesterday. The last minute toothache caused her to miss work and go the dentist. Now, Elaine was missing and it could have been her.

“Where in the heck are you, Elaine? Did you go off somewhere to gamble? Meet someone?”

Alma shook the thought away. It was not like Elaine to not come home, even if she did meet someone. They shared the twin bond and were extremely close. Elaine would make sure Alma knew where she was going if she decided to leave.

She decided to go to Swarthmore and see if Jo Bob knew where Elaine might be.

While driving, Alma thought about Jo Bob. She didn’t know what Elaine saw in the old man. Alma didn’t really trust him. Thinking about Jo Bob made Alma’s stomach clench.

Alma didn’t feel right. Her neck itched all the way across. The itching was intense and she scratched and scratched until drawing blood. Glancing in the rear view mirror, Alma noticed a thick, red line across her throat. Her mouth felt like cotton and her hands felt numb like when they fell asleep.

“Now that is odd. Maybe the dentist’s Novocain did that to me?”

After arriving at Swarthmore, Alma walked up to the door and knocked. Alma smelled a rotten stench in the air.

“They must be skinning gators here or something, or maybe they have a pile of crawfish shells out back. There’s always something stinking up this place.”

Holding her nose, Alma pushed the door. It opened and the smell almost knocked her down. Stepping inside, Alma only made it a few steps when she saw Jo Bob’s dead body at the base of the stairs. Screaming, she ran back to her car and left.

She drove right back the police station in Leesville, screaming all the way there. Alma ran into the station sputtering and stumbling over her words.

The policeman at the front desk said, “All right ma’am, just sit down and relax. Take a minute to catch your breath. What is it you are trying to tell me?”

Alma shouted, “Swarthmore home, on the floor, Jo Bob, I seen him lying there! Oh my stars! Someone please help! Jo Bob’s dead, and I didn’t see any of the children, and I can’t find my sister. She might be in there too!”

“All right ma’am, we’ll check it out.”

Twenty minutes later, three police cars arrived at Swarthmore, Alma right behind them. They insisted she wait outside while they searched the place. Alma watched them enter the house. One came back outside in seconds and roped everything off with crime tape. Alma paced back and forth in front of her car, anxious find out about Elaine.

“Miss Alma?” said Chief Fox, his red cheeks quivering like Jell-O as he emerged from the front door. “You go on home. If we need you, we’ll call. We searched everywhere and your sister isn’t inside.”

Alma’s legs trembled from the news. “What about the boys? Are they okay?”

Chief Fox shook his head. “We’ve got our hands full, Miss Alma. Detective Parker Booth is on his way. He’ll head up the investigation as to just what in the Hell happened here. We’ll try to find your sister, but you have to let us do our job. If we need more information from you, one of us will come by your place tomorrow.”

Chief Fox walked back up the front porch puffing and out of breath. His thighs rubbed together, making an odd sound with each step. The tan khaki pants he wore made Alma think of bratwurst links.

Angry and worried, Alma watched him with disdain until he disappeared back inside. “You fat hog,” she whispered under her breath. Knowing there wasn’t anything else she could do, Alma left and went back home, praying Elaine was somewhere safe.

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