In the Lion's Den
After Officer Joe dropped Colton off in the church parking lot, a black car made a slow pass. The driver was male, big and wore dark shades, and the female in the passenger seat was a blonde. They both stared as they cruised past. After the car was out of sight, Colton shrugged it off and strode to the building’s massive doors. He grabbed a handle and gave it a tug. Locked. He remembered that Officer Joe had told Spangler to call the M Es office. Colton strolled back to his Harley and made the ride back into town.
Along the sidewalk, Colton stopped at the coin operated, newspaper, vending machine next to Dexter’s Pharmacy and noticed the headline. He knew that it wouldn’t belong before the news spread like a wildfire through neighboring counties and that it could make national news. Zorn was going to have to pull a rabbit out of that hat he liked to talk to if he were going to stop it. Colton knew Zorn talked to it because the night he chased the ambulance to Galveston hospital after his old man was stabbed, he wanted to talk to Zorn and found him sitting in his car mumbling something to it. When Zorn noticed him looking, he grew red-faced and shut up. He left the vending machine to bake under the sun and entered the store. As he did, a rush of cool air hit him instantly cooling the sweat on his face.
The long bar in front of the soda fountain was still there. The sleepy looking man behind the counter pushed a damp cloth across the Formica top leaving watery trail of beads. The soda jerk acknowledged the newcomer with blood shot eyes and half smile. As Colton walked by, he nodded, certain that it was the same guy that manned the soda fountain years back, but now the man’s hair was thinner, whiter, and his cheeks plumper. Colton nodded in return and kept going.
Dexter’s was one of those places that sold a little bit of everything from rows of metal shelves that were six high and ran from the front of the store to the back. The young woman behind the register paid little attention to him as he breezed past her. She was busy tapping her finger on the screen of her smart phone. Texting no doubt. There were other people through out the store. A few heads topped the shelves and he heard a woman carrying on what sounded like a one sided conversation. Unlike the cashier, the woman used her phone for conversation. She had to be older. Sure enough when he turned the corner, he almost bumped into the silver haired shopper.
As soon as their eyes met, her expression hardened. Without taking her eyes off him, she said something like I’ll have to call you back later into her phone and shoved it down into her purse.
Like Medusa’s stare turned her victims into stone, the woman’s froze Colton in place. It felt like he’d swallowed a chunk of ice. The chill escaped the pit of his stomach and was now running the length of his spine.
After what seemed a lengthy amount of time scrutinizing him with her dark eyes to the point where he began to feel uncomfortable, she finally said, “You don’t remember me, do you?”
How could he forget it, her face was etched into his nightmares. Her name was Dottie Horton, the mother of the boy still missing. She’d stared him down during the trial, much like she was doing now. He nodded.
“I can’t believe that you had the gall to come back here.”
The years of hardship had been unkind. No. It’s was more like cruel. The soft lines that he’d remembered around her eyes were now deep crags that had spread to other areas of her face making her look a lot older than she was.
With her face twisted in anger, she blurted out. “Where is he, you son of a bitch? Where’s my little boy? Where’s my Johnny?”
Her pupils were holes of fathomless depths that Colton could only guess were long, dark corridors that led to a place of pain where she kept her demons locked away. He knew about those kind of things. All that he could manage to get out of his mouth was a weak, “I’m sorry.”
“Your sorry.” She spit on his face.
The anger and volume in her voice drew the curious from the store’s populace. Soon, they were surrounded by onlookers.
A wiry framed woman holding a box cutter in one hand and a look of concern on her face pushed through the crowd. The nametag pinned to her chest had DORIS etched into the white plate with the title of manager above it. “What’s going on here?” she asked.
Dottie narrowed her eyes and jabbed a fingertip into Colton’s chest. “This son of a bitch killed my boy!
Immediately, the concerned look on Doris face washed away. With fear brimming in her eyes, she took a step back. “What?” The grip she had on the box cutter turned into a white-knuckle clench.
“And he’s walking around like he hasn’t a care in the world.”
Colton quickly tried to explain the situation, but it was quickly becoming a botched job.
“This is a family store,” Doris interrupted him. “Maybe you should just do your shopping someplace else.”
Why argue, it would only create more drama and draw more unwanted attention to himself. He took the cue by spinning around on his heels and quickly heading toward the door with Dottie still spewing obscenities at him. She chased him out onto the sidewalk and screamed at the top of her lungs, “Murderer! You’re a cold blooded killer!” As he walked away, her voice grew soft and the accusations she’d slung at him transmuted into pleading. “Tell me where my Johnny is. Please.”
At one point the sound of her trailing heels stopped and Colton could hear her sobbing, but he didn’t turn around. He didn’t want to see the pain in her eyes, the pain she’d been harboring for the last twenty years. He climbed on his Harley, the engine roared to life and he sped away.
Colton didn’t stop until slow down until he was met by a green rectangular sign with bold, white letters welcoming him to Beaumont or Boremont as he like to call it when he was a kid. He set a course for Old Town Beaumont.
Colton followed the two-lane road to where it made a sharp turn. He thought if this place were a movie it would be titled, The Town That Time Forgot. It was nothing more that a main street lined on both sides with brick buildings with a veranda over the sidewalk where a handful of pedestrians strolled the sidewalks window browsing. That seemed to be a lost art. People mostly browsed the internet nowadays, purchased with a push of a button, and had it delivered. Across the street stood the movie theater. The title on the marquee announced The Blob starring Steve McQueen in black letters. A couple of classic cars were parked at the front curb and a few were characters dressed in fifties period clothes loitering around the vehicles. As Colton cruised by, the other side marquee sign proclaimed it to be 50s Night.
He found a vacant parking slot across the street from a feed slash hardware store and parked his bike. Feeling positive that no one here would recognize him, he strolled across the hot pavement.
He walked inside the store expecting to see an older, white-haired, gentleman wearing a T-shirt beneath a pair of heavy duty overalls while peering at him through the lenses of a black frame pair spectacles. Instead a young Mexican/American man stood behind a cash register atop a glass counter filled with an assortment of knives. The kid had a simple look on his face. Not like a simpleton, but someone that had never experienced any harshness in his life. Colton envied that look.
Colton looked the place over in hopes that the store had what he was searching for. The organic smell of sorghum and oats filled the place.
The kid offered Colton a genuine smile before uttering a greeting, and then he said, “Can I help you find something?”
“Do you have shovels?”
The kid’s smile broadened. “You’ve come to the right place.” He popped out from behind the register and lead Colton down the paint aisle to the back of the store to a rack of assorted shovels.
Colton grabbed a small collapsible shovel painted drab green. Army issue, no doubt.
“Got those when one of the G.I. Surplus stores went out of business,” the kid explained.
Colton nodded as he unfolded the blade and inspected the edge of blade with his finger.
“Going fishing?” the kid asked nodding his head at the garden implement.
Colton answered the question with a perplexed look.
“Most guys that buy those use then to dig worms for bait,” he elaborated. “Easy to carry.”
Colton nodded his head and lied. “Yeah, to dig worms.”
The kid had maintained his smile and asked, “Anything else?”
“No,” replied Colton.
“I’ll ring you up,” said the kid and he lead Colton back to the register.
Fifteen minutes later Colton walked out of the store with his single purchase. The kid like to do what his old man called jaw-jackin’. The kid had asked too many questions, it became like prying. After he left, he thought he could still feel the kid’s eyes on him as he crossed the street. He felt sure that if he were to suddenly turn around he would catch the kid staring at him through the plate glass window. Maybe the days events had left him on edge and it was nothing at all. Colton continued on a straight forward path to his bike, climbed on, and headed back.