The Best Little Murder Town in Texas
Midmorning and under the heat of the sun, Mayor Stiles stomped across Main Street with the hard soles of his shoes clacking out his anguish on the hot concrete like Morse Code. Red faced and sweating, he marched into the confines of precinct clutching a rolled up newspaper in a white knuckled grip. Without a word to the few officers milling around the inside of the precinct or, Renee, the dispatcher, he marched down the hall and burst into the chief of police’s office. With an agonizing look on his face, Stiles flopped down in the vacant chair. “I’m doomed, Grady! DOOMED!” he howled.
“What are you talking about?”
Stiles tossed the paper onto the desk and the daily rag unfurled itself at the Captain’s elbows. The bold headlines read: PARADISE, THE BEST LITTLE MURDER TO W N IN TEXAS “National headlines,” the mayor groaned.
“You’re going to have to relax,” Grady replied, “before you blow a head gasket.”
The mayor sat up with a crazed look in his eyes, stared, and blinked. “We’ve got a dead body and attempted murder, and you want me to relax?“. Breanne, down at the Breeze Inn told me that people are already calling in and canceling their reservations for the fishing tournament.” He wadded a fist and slammed it down on the desk. ” Dammit, Grady, Uncertain depends on that tournament money. Without it, this place is going to become a ghost town.”
“What do you want me to do, Leonard?”
“Put Colton Bishop in lock up?”
“Aren’t you a hoot today,” the mayor cackled. “You damn well know what for.”
“These things didn’t start happening until he rolled into town.”
“You’re grabbing at straws,” Grady replied.
“We need to offer up something like Colton Bishop.”
“You make it sound like you want to offer him as a sacrifice on the altar to appease the gods.”
The mayor cracked a smile as though he liked the sound of the idea.
“Come on, Leonard, don’t be ridiculous.”
“Lock him up.”
“I can’t. He was acquitted of the crime. Even if Colton Bishop walked in here and signed a confession, there is nothing I could do about it. Besides, if you’ll recall we survived it twenty years ago.”
“Yeah, we had a suspect in lock up.” The mayor chuckled, but it was filled with agony and then he rubbed his forehead like he was trying to ward off a headache before turning his pain filled eyes on Grady. “Do you know what people are saying?”
The chief shook his head.
“Some are saying Lucia Gans is back from the grave. Others think it’s Colton’s doings.”
“People are going to say crazy stuff during times like these, they’re scared. That’s why you need to stay cool. People in this town are looking at us for assurance. If you and I start falling apart, this thing is all going to go to hell in a hand basket real quick. Got it?”
Instead of answering, the mayor’s gaze drifted to the window where he stared out a few seconds like he was thinking it over and then his eyes shifted back onto Grady. He nodded. “Yeah.”
“Why don’t you get out of town a few days, Leonard?”
The smile disintegrated. “Because a captain doesn’t desert a sinking ship,” the mayor shot back.
“We’re not sinking.”
“This is my town, my people. I’m not going anywhere.”
“That’s fine,” said Grady. “I know the townsfolk appreciate you.” He cocked an eyebrow. “And I know that you’ve got a lot riding on this, Leonard.”
“You’re damn straight I do. I talked Ken at the bank into giving me a double mortgage on my home so I could finance my business. I’ll go bust if the tournament and festival gets cancelled.”
“I’ve got Zorn and Kasick on the case. They’re the best.” He assured him with a quick smile. The mayor remained straight faced. Grady said, “Don’t worry. Go back to your office and keep your chin up.”
The mayor nodded, stood, and shook Grady’s hand.
Grady had hopes that the boost would last and the guy wouldn’t suffer a complete meltdown. But when the mayor walked toward the door with a hang dogged look on his face, the chief said, “Wait a minute, Leonard.”
The mayor stopped in his tracks and turned around.
“Maybe you should come back over here and sit down. I’ve got something to tell you.”
Leonard groaned, “I can’t take anymore bad news.”
“Who said it’s bad?”
The mayor trudged back to his chair and sank in it. “Okay, hit me.”
“The president is coming to town.”
The mayor’s jaw dropped and he gawked with a wide-eyed unblinking stare. Finally, he blinked and asked, “The president?
Disbelief registered in Leonard’s eyes “As in the president of the United States of America?” He pointed the tip of his finger toward the ground. “Here?”
Grady nodded again.
The smile on the mayor’s face quickly degraded into a frown. “Dammit, Grady, don’t be messing with me. I’m not in the mood for it.”
“I’m not messing with you.”
“Why would the president want to visit Podunk, Texas?”
“Remember his slogan when he was running for office?”
The mayor nodded, “Let’s make America great again.”
He’s coming here for the honey festival and fishing tournament to give a talk to the small business owners.” Instead of Leonard returning an elated grin like Grady had expected, the mayors expression soured.
“Why wasn’t I informed first,” barked Leonard. “I’m the mayor.”
“Relax, would you. You’re going to get the memo. The only reason I was the first one to find out is because the CIA came to my office to talk about security and get the layout of the Arthur. Maybe you’ve seen them cruising around in a black Mercedes.”
The mayor mulled it over for a moment. A spark came to his eyes. “Yeah, I did see two people at the down town Piggly Wiggly getting out of a Mercedes. One was a big galoot.
“That’s agent Zachery Cross.”
“And a blonde.
“Agent Chris Stillwell
“She’s a looker,” replied the mayor. He grinned mischievously.
“But you’ve got to promise not to breath a word of this to anyone until the time is right.”
“When will that be?”
“The national news media is going to release an article and do a television interview,” Grady said. “And I can guarantee that when that happens, all of the reports of murder is going to become back page news. People are going to flood Paradise, Texas.”
The mayor had a forlorn look on his face.
“What’s the matter?” asked Grady. “I thought you’d be excited.”
“I’m not so sure that will save our town.”
“Go back to your office,” said Grady, “and stop worrying.” He scowled as he clutched his belly.
“Are you all right?” The mayor looked concerned.
“Sure.” Grady tried to smile but it looked more like a grimace. Doc Palmer had told Grady that stress was a monster trying to eat its way out. “Nothing that retirement won’t fix.”
With the hopeless look still pasted on his face the mayor rose from the chair and thanked Grady for the good news.
The chief watched his friend shuffle across the room and slip out into the hall.
Grady settled back in his chair. He eyed the last sip of coffee. It was cold and his stomach churned up acid. He belched, but not before making a fist and butting it against his lips to muffle the burp. He used the fist to pat his belly. Earlier he’d dug into the top drawer of his desk for the roll of antacids. He’d chewed a handful, but the chalky tasting tablets did little to soothe the fire burning inside his belly. He reached for more.