When Joe and Lena walked into their house, it seemed like they had been away a lot longer than they had been. The atmosphere was still and a little eerie. A few things were out of place because the police had checked out everything. The attic door was still taped shut with the black and yellow tape that read: Police Line: Do Not Cross.
Joe knew that the first thing he needed to do was to inventory his gun collection and let the Chief know if anything was missing. Lena had to get ready for the Rising Voices concert she would be performing at that evening. Her cell phone rang.
“Have you managed to find any time at all to work on our duet for tonight?” asked Maureen on the other end of the cellular signal.
“Believe it or not, I have!” answered Lena. “With absolute ‘pandelerium’ running rampant in my life, I still managed to keep singing ‘Sentimental Journey’ quietly, under my breath, in preparation for our tribute to the 1940s tonight.”
“Good! I knew I could count on you!” Maureen said, with her pre-show energy giving her a boost of a few extra decibels.
Just then, Joe called out Lena’s name from the back room. She told Maureen she’d see her in an hour, and they hung up.
“What is it, Joe?” she called out, hurrying to see what was up.
“That attic-dwelling thief made off with three of my pistols, and ammunition to load them with!” Joe’s voice was a little strained. He felt like the final straw was just about to land on the back of the proverbial camel. Just then, the doorbell rang.
Lena took Joe by the hand and led him to his comfortable recliner. “You sit down right here, Sweetheart. I will answer the door, and then we will call Chief Middler.”
At the door stood Steve Stevenson, the number one marksman in Joe’s group of shooting enthusiast friends. He had brought his trusty .44 Magnum and a duffel bag loaded with a change of clothes and his toothbrush. “I’m here to guard you folks from any kind of threat that could possibly show up. Tonight is my turn, and several more of the guys will be taking their shifts until the police have caught the female varmint that shot our friend and scared his sweet wife,” he said, with just the tiniest touch of a drawl.
Lena threw her arms around him. “Oh, thank you! Thank you!” she gushed. “And you can also babysit Joe tonight while I go and sing with my friends at our semi-annual concert!”
The mood was instantly lightened. The two guys sat down in front of the television, Joe gave the Chief a call about the stolen artillery, and Lena went to her boudoir to put on her costume and her stage makeup.
Across the village, Jezebel Jones was just leaving the Village Thrift Shop where she had surreptitiously stashed a couple of sweatshirts into the tote bag she had also stolen. From there, she made her way to a convenience store where she
nonchalantly strolled up and down the aisles plucking Twinkies and beef jerky from the shelves and dropping them inside the bag. Last, she boldly stepped up to the dairy cooler and snatched a quart of milk, shoving it down her pants, then swiftly exiting the store without making eye contact with the lone clerk.
When she got to a place of concealment behind the gas station, she plopped down on a stack of abandoned tires and pulled the cold bottle of milk from her pants. “Score!” she chuckled. “Protein and sugar for supper tonight!”
She could see the Village McDonald’s from where she sat, but she hadn’t worked up enough courage to try to get a meal from a place that makes you pay before you get your food.
Gnawing on the jerky gave her plenty of time to mull over her plans for the evening. She’d tank up on this sumptuous supper, put on one of her newly-acquired sweatshirts, and go on a reconnaissance mission. She’d see if she could get a peek inside the jail, and if Ruston wasn’t there, she’d find the home of this woman that the newspaper had said was running with Norman and him. “That broad had better not have any designs on my man,” she thought. “That’d be a real risky thing for anybody to do.”
Inside the home of Missy Matson, as sunset was now in full and beautiful effect, Missy and her two trouble-prone houseguests were sprawled on the comfy couch and velveteen recliners, thoroughly engrossed in “Jeopardy.” Every time Missy correctly answered (in the form of a question) one of the “answers” in the game, both of the guys were impressed. Norman even managed to get a couple of things right, himself. Ruston just watched, and now and then would say, “Wow!” or “Man!”
The parking lot of the concert hall was packed at the Woodland Center. Inside, the audience was still milling around, chattering with friends and trying to locate the most ideal seats – those with both a clear view of the stage and a short distance to the restrooms.
Backstage, Maureen and Lena had just finished running through their duet. Audrey and Bette had poked their heads in, briefly, to wish them luck. Betty had offered them a spritz of Colloidal Silver Throat Spray for their voices, but they felt they were already in top form. Audrey had joked, “I would say, ‘Break a Leg,’ but that is something that we dancers never, ever say!”
It was fully dark outside, now, and Jezebel was not enjoying her trek down Hernando DeSoto Avenue. She had found a helpful man at the gas station who said he knew the story of Missy, Norman, and Ruston. “Why, certainly,” he had said. “Missy is a fine lady. And you are looking for her house, why?” he had asked.
“She said I could come to work for her, cleaning house,” answered Jezebel. “But I can’t remember how to get to her house, and my car is broken down. Can you help me?”
So, the helpful man had sent one of the guys who worked there to take her to the intersection of Hernando DeSoto and Spanish Castle Avenue. “I know it is only a block or so from there,” he said. “You will find it easily.”
But she didn’t. And she was getting really tired of walking. Up ahead, she could see a parking lot jam-packed with cars, and a brightly-lit building with folks going in and out, dressed up nicely, and talking excitedly.
“What’s this?” Jezebel said, talking to herself as if she expected an answer.
Sneaking closer, Jezebel stayed out of sight and made her way to the back. At the top of a short ramp was a door marked, “Stage Door.”
“Well, surely the door doesn’t open directly to the stage,” she thought. “But, to the dressing rooms. And what is in dressing rooms while performers are on stage? Well, their purses, of course! And wallets! And their street clothes! A veritable gold mine!”
Easing the door quietly open, looking around, and listening carefully, she slipped inside. It was dark and warm. Long black curtains hung at intervals, blocking the view from the stage. On both sides of where Jezebel stood, there were doors that stood slightly ajar. Light came from the space between the door and the jamb. She tiptoed over to the door on the left and peeked inside. No one there. Plainly visible on various chairs and vanity tables were wallets and keys. “Good grief, these singing folks are trusting, aren’t they?”
Padding quietly and quickly into the room, she hurriedly grabbed up leather wallets of brown, black, and gray. A couple of dark green ones, too, with Velcro closures. Not surprisingly, the leather ones felt the heaviest. Making her way down the next row, she had just bent down to snatch up a five-dollar bill that somebody had clumsily let fall from his pants pocket. Just then, a deep Bass voice boomed out a terrifying question, not ten feet away from her. “What are you doing in here?!”
It was Jim Calais, one of Rising Voices’ best Bass singers, and he did not look happy.
Jezebel clutched the bag of wallets to her chest and tried to bolt for the door, but the six-foot-four Bass singer quickly situated himself between her and the door. “Stop!” he bellowed, loudly enough for every other singer who had just filed onto the stage, to quickly do an about-face and come stampeding to the dressing room from whence came the deep foghorn-like alarm sounded by a true Bass.
Jezebel stopped for a second, frozen in terror. Then, the realization hit her. Three guns! She was carrying three guns! One in the tote bag, the little one in her pants pocket, and the third was down the back of her waistband. Easiest to reach was the one in the tote bag, underneath the small collection of items she had recently tossed in. Quickly and smoothly, she slid her hand inside the bag and came up with a .45 caliber gun that looked big as a cannon to Jim Calais, and very quickly, to the horde of startled Rising Voices singers that were pouring into the room, which was becoming very crowded, very quickly.
“I’ll shoot!” Jezebel screamed. “I will shoot him first, then the first half-dozen of you that I come to!”
If there was one thing that the director of Rising Voices, Marcus Breen had taught this group, it was how to act in precise unison. They all froze in their tracks like they had just played a round of “Swing a Statue” and then nobody took a breath or batted an eyelash.
Jezebel kept the tote bag grasped tightly in her left hand, and the pistol just as tightly in her right hand, as she made her way through the stunned crowd and fled out the same door that she had entered through. Seeing nobody around, she sprinted between the rows of parked cars and disappeared into the woods.
Stay Tuned For More To Come…
Chapter 1 – Click here.
Chapter 2 – Click here.
Chapter 3 – Click here.
Chapter 4 – Click here.
Chapter 5 – Click here.
Chapter 6 – Click here.
Chapter 7 – Click here.
Chapter 8 – Click here.
Chapter 9 – Click here.
Chapter 10 – Click here.
Chapter 11 – Click here.
Chapter 12 – Click here.
Chapter 13 – Click here.
Chapter 14 – Click here.
Chapter 15 – Click here.
Chapter 16 – Click here.
Chapter 17 – Click here.
Chapter 18 – Click here.
Author Nancy Carlton
Nancy Carlton and her husband, Steve, have lived in the village for five and a half years. They have three children and three grandchildren. Nancy has been writing for many years, and loves to vary her projects between songwriting, authoring novels, and “cozy murder mysteries” and political commentary. Even poetry and the occasional short story are produced. She also sings with several groups in the village.
This chance to do a serial story in the Hot Springs Village Gazette is a fun and exciting new adventure!