Inside the Warm Springs Village police station, Kay-Renee was able to secure a release on her own recognizance the following morning, pending a court date. Marla Jo was kind enough to give her a ride back to her apartment and dropped her off with a warning not to re-offend, or things would not go as well.

Kay-Renee feigned remorse and kept a humble demeanor until she reached the safety of her abode, at which time she let out a shriek and slammed her fist into the wall, just inside the front door.

Rehearsals would be starting very soon for the Rising Voices Variety Show and Kay-Renee needed a new costume. It really irked her that her free shopping spree had been taken away from her.

Ruston Wrigley had sat in the ugly beige chair beside his hospital bed for about an hour this morning, pondering what to do with his pitiful life. Oh, sure, he was worried about Jezebel, but somehow he had known ever since he was mauled by Lance and Leather that Jezebel would be staying with Lance of her own free will. Ruston had been deserted in his time of need.

Any way he could figure it, the only solution that kept returning to his mind was that he needed to get back to his brother. He would have to hang his head in shame and totally abandon any remaining shreds of pride, but he knew that only Norman would feel compelled to pull Ruston under his wings once again.

He was pretty sure that Missy would let him back in, too, but she wasn’t family, and she was nobody’s fool. With a track record like Ruston’s, he needed people to be fools.

At a big round table inside the Arkansas Club, Maureen Morgan was celebrating her birthday with a few of her closest friends. The usual bevy of ladies, along with about half of the members of Rising Voices were eating, laughing, and recounting anecdotes about their friendship with Maureen. Once the tummies were full and the laughter had settled down a little, an “information exchange” had broken out regarding all things related to the new spitfire in town, Kay-Renee. From there, the topic had drifted to the Jezebel and Ruston escapade. It didn’t take long before they were discussing the “betting odds” of Missy Masters ending up having to take that scalawag back into her home. Would she do it? Consensus was that she would.

Lance and Jezebel were continuing their honeymoon, which proved to be as stressful as it was romantic. Lance’s injuries from the motorcycle accident had been aching more than usual, and it seemed that Jezebel was moodier than a cat whose scratching post had been stolen. One minute she was fine, and the next, she was crying or berating Lance.

Lance only had one credit card left that wasn’t maxed out, and he could only make plans for himself and his bride one day at a time. Any sense of direction was beyond his grasp. He knew this, though – she wasn’t happy with the second-rate and third-rate lodging and food he was providing. He needed to do something soon to make things better.

What he did not know was that things were about to get a lot more complicated.

Jezebel was not a smart woman. This much was widely known. But she was a woman, and it didn’t take her very long to start gathering the evidence in her daily life as a woman and suspect that she “might not be alone.” There could be a tiny person that had recently arrived on the scene, minuscule and not yet visible, but already making his or her presence known. Yep, she needed to pick up one of those little test sticks that they sell at the drugstore.

Marla Jo had been busy all morning following the clues down various rabbit holes and coming up with links and records which connected Lance, Leather, Jezebel, Ruston, and Kay-Renee. Of course, Norman was tied in, too. And who did this motley parade of characters all have some sort of tenuous connection with? Why, Missy Masters, of course. It was kind of like Marla Jo was playing a game of “Six Degrees of Separation From Kevin Bacon,” and Missy was standing in the place of Kevin Bacon. Marla Jo decided it was time to have a sit-down with Missy and either warn her about the whirlwind that was blowing her way or ferret out whether there might be some secret that Missy had been hiding all this time.

After a hurried lunch of a chicken salad sandwich and a small bag of Cheetos, Marla Jo washed down the last bite with some flat Dr. Pepper and picked up the phone receiver to give Missy a call. Missy answered on the third ring.

After identifying herself, Marla Jo asked Missy if she could stop by the station for a chat or if it would be more convenient if Marla Jo just came to her house. Missy told her to come on over because she was doing some housecleaning and wasn’t really presentable to go out in public.

It didn’t take fifteen minutes for Marla Jo to pull into Missy’s driveway and get out of her patrol vehicle. She had a legal pad with her so she could take notes. Missy had put her vacuum cleaner away and made a pitcher of tea. Marla Jo knocked on the door, and Missy opened it, greeting her amicably, giving her one of the last smiles Missy would wear that day. She and Marla Jo sat down at the table where two glasses of iced tea awaited them.

Folded in Marla Jo’s pocket was a printed diagram with various notations and dates written in the margins, showing arrests, convictions, and other information on all six of the perpetrators of misdemeanors and felonies that Marla Jo had linked to Missy. She laid it on the table. She had drawn lines connecting the various characters with each other, and dotted lines with arrows all pointing to Missy. Missy sat in stunned silence as she took in the scope and magnitude of this web of spiders. She didn’t say anything for a while, but the wheels in her mind were turning, sometimes in fits and starts. She reached for her glass of tea and took a big gulp.

Marla Jo gave her a minute to ruminate, then she asked, “Do you want to tell me anything? Or ask me anything?”

“Yes,” replied Missy. “You got any chocolate?”

They both eked out a short giggle, then Marla Jo said. “You know, that would probably be really good about now. I’m sure we could use a few endorphins.”

“Where are Sara Lee or Little Debbie when you need them?” Missy asked, trying to free herself of some tension. “Do you mind if I make myself a copy of that diagram?”

“Sure, go ahead,” Marla Jo said. “One way or another, I think you need to familiarize yourself with all the players in this melodrama.”

“Indeed I do,” responded Missy. “Warm Springs Village needs to produce its own soap opera and make us all rich and famous. ‘The Days of Our Tangled Lives’ or ‘All My Wayward Children’ would be suitable names.”

Just as she spoke that last fictitious show title, she was struck with a sharp pain that seemed to take her breath away. Her brain seemed to glitch just a little as if someone had thrown a wrench into the inner workings of a complicated machine.

Wide-eyed, she looked at Marla Jo. “Now, if you don’t mind,” she said, “I think I need to lie down for a while.”

“Sure,” answered Marla Jo. “I’ll be going now. You just get a little rest, and let me know if you want to talk.”

Missy showed her out and closed the door behind her. Then she let out a long breath and staggered to the sofa. She flopped down and hugged a pillow to her chest. Her thoughts were racing in a choreographed ever-mutating circle. All she could whisper to herself was, “What if…?”

Stay tuned for more to come…