Authors: Ava Mallory
I started to put the pieces together in my head. Rowdy may or may not have duped people out of their land, so that created enemies for him. Then, a developer wants to come into town and Rowdy refuses to sell, holding up the deal. That too would create enemies, but I still didn't get what that had to do with Pug or Jeb.
"I don't see where you're going with this? What am I missing?" I asked.
Charlie raked his hands through his hair, contemplating his answer. "Rowdy owed everyone some money. If he sold that property of his, the people he owed money to could collect the debt he owed them. That's my theory."
Money made people do crazy things. Not that I would know because I still drove a twenty year old car and had the furniture I bought when I got married, so I was no expert on what people with real money would do.
"Why are you asking me about the attorney? Did Rowdy owe him money too?" I asked.
"Not that I know of, but that doesn't mean anything right now. It's my understanding that Pug was instrumental in getting Rowdy released from the nursing home and keeping Betty there." Charlie explained.
Wait. What? Rowdy was a resident?
"About a year or so ago, Rowdy had gotten hurt. He was admitted to the nursing home for rehab while he recovered and Betty moved in with him. I really don't know much about what took place when they got there. All I know is that Rowdy went home and Betty didn't. There were rumors that she had dementia and became too difficult for Rowdy to care for alone, but I didn't know that for sure until Rowdy's death. I'd known her and Rowdy, my whole life and she's the last person I'd suspect of having dementia. She was always so active and so well put together." Charlie took a sip of his coffee, allowing the new information to sink in for me.
I took a bite of my biscuits and gravy as I tried to remember what it was I'd heard about Betty and her dementia. Then, it occurred to me. "Betty doesn't have dementia. I learned that yesterday. I can't say for sure because I haven't seen her chart since the day after Rowdy died, but someone told me yesterday that she doesn't have it."
We spent the next half an hour going over all of the information we'd gathered separately. Charlie believed that someone had killed Rowdy over money, but he didn't yet know who. There were a good number of people in town that had a reason to want him dead, but I didn't really see how that would do them any good and neither did Charlie.
After he finished his meal, Charlie asked, "When do you work again?"
I answered, "Tomorrow night. Why?"
"I would never tell you to conduct your own investigation or anything because that would be wrong, but hypothetically," he began, "if I were the kind of man that would ask you to do something like that, I'd ask you to find written proof that Betty doesn't have dementia and to find out how often Pug has visited Betty since Rowdy was released. Of course, that would be highly illegal, so if someone were to do that, they would make darn sure to cover their tracks."
Whoa! Did he just ask me to snoop around for him? Was this a setup? All I needed was to be charged with interfering with an investigation.
I thought for a moment, fighting with my instincts to stay clear of anything illegal, but my curiosity was piqued. I answered, "Hypothetically, I suppose one could do a little digging and may be able to find something that could be helpful to your investigation."
He smiled. I believe that was the first time I'd seen him genuinely smile at me. I hesitated to smile back, if we were being recorded. I didn't want to see my mug splashed across a television screen with the headline: Conspiring to Catch a Killer.
Charlie motioned for the waitress. She practically ran to the table. I rolled my eyes at her sudden eagerness to please.
"Ready?" Sissy asked.
"I think we're done here. Can you get me the check and we'll be on our way? This little lady needs to get her beauty sleep." Charlie said.
That would take a lifetime, but I was willing to give it a shot. Another hour and I'd be a walking zombie.
“I have to admit, I thought you were way off on this, but you've convinced me.” Hank patted me on the back. “Do you want us to go with you?”
With tears in my eyes, I answered, “No, I think I have to do this on my own.” I saw disappointment in Ruby's eyes. She was so loyal. She even wanted to be there when I risked everything to expose a murderer. I didn't have the heart to let her down, so I added, “But, you can wait outside for me.”
“Yes!” Ruby jumped up and hugged me. “Let's go nab a bad guy.” She looked at Hank and asked, “This is so exciting, isn't it? Our very own Mercy is a crime solver.”
I had to laugh. I was far from a true detective. What I did think I was, was a woman desperate to clear her name, save her reputation, and keep her job so she could feed her addiction to milk chocolate, hair dye, and vintage everything.
“You sure that you want to go in there alone, Mercy?” Hank asked again.
“I'm sure. Besides, I've already spoken to Charlie and he'll be there, of course.” Ruby and Hank exchanged knowing glances. They hadn't shared it with me, but I knew that they both believed that the Sheriff had a crush on me. I didn't believe it for a second, but arguing the point would only egg Ruby and her incessant need to get me hitched on.
“How are you going to guarantee that they'll all show up?” Ruby asked.
“Oh, well, Charlie has taken care of everything.” I said. As soon as the words left my mouth, I wished I hadn't sounded so chipper about it. I was only feeding the beast that was my best friend's wish to see me living happily-ever-after like she was. That just wasn't in the cards for me.
She and Hank exchanged glances again, smirking at each other.
When they looked back at me, I gave them the coldest look I could conjure up. “Are you done yet?”
Ruby pretended to be surprised by my reaction to them. “What? What did I do?”
I was thankful for the moment of laughter. My stomach was in knots and I needed an immediate release.
“I just want you to know that you are the kind of person that gives nurses a bad name.” Kathy was immediately in my ear before I even had a chance to walk into the room. Little did she know that the tables were about to be turned on her and everyone else in the room.
“Nice to see you again, too.” I quipped, refusing to engage in a heated exchange with her.
Charlie hadn't arrived yet, so I was left to face the others with no one to keep them from throwing another round of allegations at me. I opted not to sit down. I figured I had more leverage if I remained standing.
Randy gathered chairs from the room and brought enough together for all of the others to take a seat.
They all looked to be pretty proud of themselves. I'm sure they all believed that they were here to bear witness to my arrest and ultimate prosecution for a crime that at least a couple of them knew that I didn't do.
When Charlie arrived, our eyes met briefly. He nodded before turning his attention to the others in the room.
“Hello, everyone. I apologize for being late. Now, if you'll all follow me, we can get started.”
The group stood up, speaking lowly to each other. No one moved toward the door until after I'd walked through the doors. I guess, they figured that they'd be able to thwart any attempt I made to escape.
I took a seat at the end of the conference table because I wanted to have a clear view of their stunned faces when Charlie alerted them to what we'd uncovered.
I was so excited and nervous, I almost missed my seat entirely, but navigating ice and snow must have been good for me because I'd recovered quickly and saved myself from another fall.
Randy didn't wait for Charlie to explain why they'd been summoned. His anger was palpable as he spoke. “What are we waiting for? Arrest her. Why do we need the audience?” He nodded to the others around him.
Kathy chimed in, as if any of this had anything to do with her. “I, for one, am delighted that you asked me to witness her arrest. What she did to our quiet community is so appalling, I won't be able to rest until I see her carried away in handcuffs.”
I felt the heat rise in my body. She had some nerve.
“Now, settle down, everyone. Give me a minute. No one is arresting Mercy today.” I was thankful that he was sticking up for me, but I would rather had him not mention my name just yet.
Pug shot up out of his seat. “What do you mean that you're not arresting her? What are you doing, then? This has gone on for too long already.”
I had no words for him as he stared right at me, his nostrils flaring.
Charlie was careful not to look in my direction. His eyes were boring into Pug's. He'd expected outbursts. He'd warned me, but he thought they'd have sense enough to wait until he'd had his say.
Kathy slumped back in her chair. I could almost see the wheels in her head turning. She didn't know what to make of this impromptu meeting. I craved the opportunity to make her eat her words, but Charlie and I had agreed to let them dig bigger holes for themselves first. He said it would be important to his case.
A very loud discussion began between Randy and Pug. They spoke as if they were the only two in the room. I glanced over at Charlie, but he was just as mystified by their conversation as I was.
Their conversation ran the gamut between spelling out how I went about poisoning Rowdy to what I planned to do about Betty.
What they didn't know was that they were providing some much needed insight into the killer's motivations. My suspicions were proving to be right and, if I could have, I would have patted myself on the back.
When the sheriff had enough of their back and forth, he ordered them to sit down. Kathy jumped in her seat. She'd spent the last several minutes dumbfounded by what she was hearing. I was almost a little disappointed by her reaction. I think deep down I was hoping that she was just as guilty as the murderer was, but just like Charlie had told me, body language never lies. People lie. Like in the medical world, when someone has legitimate pain, facial expressions and body language will spell out exactly how that person feels. That explanation I understood well.
Finally, Charlie interrupted their discussion, ordering both of them to clam up and sit down for a spell. The vernacular around here made me chuckle or it was raw nerves getting the better of me, but I laughed out loud and for an extremely long time.
By the time I'd finished, a sea of furrowed eyebrows and cold stares were staring back at me. I may as well have grown another head. Their bewilderment was a bit off kilter if you asked me, but I chose not to press the issue. I mean, how did they expect me to react after all they'd put me through? They couldn't have really expected me to be calm, cool and collected. They probably weren't aware of it, but calmness was not one of strong suits. I tended to lend more for the dramatics. The kind of stuff that got your blood pumping and your heart racing.
The corners of Charlie's mouth quirked up into a grin as he waited for me to catch my breath and wipe the tears from my face. Hysteria wasn't a good look for me. I could only imagine what he was thinking about my fit of ill-timed laughter.
“Miss Mares,” he began. Apparently, we were back to formalities.
“Yes?” I asked, sounding breathless as I continued to try to regain my composure.
“I'm going to turn the floor to you.” He reminded me.
The looks on the faces of those around me hardened. I could practically taste their disdain and loathing in the air between us.
I swallowed my fear and proceeded in exactly the way Charlie had advised me to. “You've been called here so that we may solve this unfortunate event.” That wasn't the best choice of words, but we were in a pinch and neither of us could find a suitable replacement for what I was planning to convey. I continued, watching each of them shift uncomfortably in their seats. “I... We...” I looked at Charlie, continuing, “believe we have solved the case.”
There was a collective gasp around the room. Kathy leaned forward, intrigued by what she'd heard. I looked over at Charlie again. He nodded, encouraging me to keep speaking.
I cleared my throat. The next part would be difficult to say. I didn't know how they would react.
“I know that everyone believes I had something to do with Rowdy's murder.” They nodded.
“You see, I have no motive. I'd only just met him and hadn't been in town long enough to know anything about anyone here.” I explained.
Kathy rolled her eyes. Randy and Pug remained stone faced. This information wasn't sitting well with them.
Charlie spoke. “Go on, Miss Mares.”
I sat down on my hands to keep them from shaking as I continued to relay what we'd learned. “Charlie... I mean, Sheriff Wagner and I have put our heads together and have eliminated a number of factors concerning this mystery because they weren't prudent to the investigation.”
Randy stood up, yelling, “Wait a minute. You had a suspect investigating my father's murder? What has gotten into you, Wagner? Have you lost your mind?”
“Sit down, Randy. Let her finish.” Charlie ordered him.
Reluctantly, after a few choice words and pounding his fists on the conference table, Randy sat down, his nostrils flared as he looked up at me with anger fuming from him. His emotions were real and palpable in the room. I wished that Charlie would not have required that he be present for any of this, but it wasn't my decision to make.
My whole body began to shake. I had to move or the table would shake with me. I stood up and moved as far away from Randy and the others as I could in the small conference room. Every step I took felt like a step closer to my final breath. Surely, Randy had no intention of letting me walk away from any of this. In his mind, I was guilty and nothing anyone said or did would change that. He'd been tainted by the stories and assumptions made by people I'd never met or ever so much as had a conversation with.
Charlie slid his chair back, blocking me. “Go on. Tell them what you found out.”
What I found out? Now, he was putting this all on me?
Pug started snickering. He tried to hide it with a cough, but it was too late. We'd all heard it.
“Is something funny, Kale?” Charlie asked him.
“This whole thing. It's ridiculous, if you ask me.” Pug laughed again.
“No one is asking you.” Charlie reminded him. To me, he said, “Keep going.”
My mouth went dry. I'd never done anything like this before in my life. I wasn't even sure how one did something like this. I'd seen it in movies, but I was no movie star and this was reality, unfortunately.
Just then, there was a knock on the door. I'd never been so relieved to have an interruption. I just hoped it wasn't deputies waiting to arrest me.
Charlie tried to camouflage a smile by beginning his own coughing bout. I took that to mean that I would come out of this meeting relatively unscathed, for a change, but I still didn't have a clue as to who or what was on the other side of the door.
He stepped outside for a moment, leaving me in uncomfortable silence with the town's welcome committee triplets.
That's a name Ruby and I came up with overnight. It fits.
When the door opened again, we were all surprised to see Carol, the administrator, walk in, followed by Tina, Stacy, and Betty. I looked at Charlie. He winked before contorting his face back into the no nonsense look he'd had just a few minutes earlier.
Betty nodded in my direction, mouthing the words, “Hi, dear.”
I could feel Randy's eyes boring into me when he saw his mother's friendly gesture. I decided it best not to look at him just yet.