Mom had a lot of questions for me on Monday, mostly about why
and why Detective Parker had been waiting when she arrived to open the library. I told her in as vague a terms as I could that there had been a little misunderstanding at the Honky Tonk, but that everything was okay. She pursed her lips in that way only mother’s can and left it alone while we were in the library.
I spent the morning shelving, getting rid of the clutter that had accumulated over the weekend. Then, at around ten, Mom answered the phone.
“Betty... Hon, slow down. It’s okay, it’s okay, just slow down. Evan? It’s Betty. She wants to talk to you.”
Mom covered the phone and held it away from her mouth, “She sounds hysterical. You need to calm her down. And you tell me at once if if sounds like she needs an ambulance.”
I nodded and took the phone.
“Hey, good lookin. Don’t tell me you’re calling in sick on such a lovely Monday.”
My spine became a little straighter at the tone in Betty’s voice. Normally calm and collected, Betty spat the words out with such force I could almost feel her breath through the phone. I looked at Mom and my expression caused her to pale.
“Who’s coming, Betty?” I asked, “Are you in trouble? Do you need help?”
"Evan, you have to help. Come over now. He's coming, we tried... He's coming. Nothing can stop it. You have to know before... Oh, Evan before... He's coming."
“Okay, I can be right over. Do you want me to call an ambulance or the police?”
“No, no, no, no. Just come. Need to talk. Should have talked a long time ago.”
“Okay, I’ll be right there. Just hang on. I’ll be right there, okay?”
Her response was a dial tone. I hung up the phone and started for the door with Mom following me. I fished out my keys and headed toward the library van.
“Do you want to take my car?” Mom asked.
“No, just in case you have to leave. Mom, she didn’t sound right.”
“What do you think was the matter?”
“She said someone was coming. ‘He’s coming.’ Wouldn’t say anything else. You gonna be okay?” I said.
“Darling’ll be in about noon. I can hang on til then. Listen, you call when you get her sorted. Alright? Evan, alright?”
“Yes, of course. Now go back inside. I’m sure it’s nothing.”
The old panel van used by the library to haul book donations and other sorted materials sputtered, then let loose a growl with the second try. Belts whined and the transmission clunked as I put my rescue steed in gear. I waited until Mom was cleared then launched the beige monstrosity toward the street.
Betty did not live far, about eight minutes with little traffic. Her house sat at the bottom of Locke Hill, one of the older residential neighborhoods in Bannville. The breaks of the van whined as I pushed the petal almost to the floor, coasting to as stop in front of the little grey house with red trim that Betty called home.
I jogged up the front walk and knocked on the door. No answer. I called out her name and knocked again, this time also ringing the doorbell. Still, no answer.
I walked around the side of the house, looking into windows as I moved past her azalea bushes and small rose garden. The shades were drawn on every window and the lights inside appeared to be out.
The screen door on the back of the house lay on the grass. The heavy wooden door was kicked in, a shoe print still smeared across the red wood. Looking around for a weapon, I picked up a small lawn gnome by its pointed hat and walked inside.
The kitchen was empty. I moved from room to room, checking if anyone was there. I jumped at every noise, from the air conditioning turning on to the ticking of the clock on her nightstand. I found her in her sewing room.
The lawn gnome fell from my hand and shattered.
Swatches of cloth were scattered around the sewing room. As a quilter, Betty was always on the look out for new and interesting items. Draped across the sewing machine was her latest creation, a simple two color quilt of red and white she was making for Banned Books Week. Each number in order of hundreds of the Dewey Decimal System had a square, and each square had a circle with line through it. The 400 and 300 squares had just been completed.
Betty lay on the floor. She had been gardening, a favorite morning hobby. I knew because the t-shirt and jeans she wore still had soil on them.
A small trickle of blood fell from her mouth.
Her eyes stared at me, through me. The crow’s feet at the corners were smooth, no sense of the laughing disapproval I knew.
A knife was buried hilt deep into her side, just under the ribs.
I dropped to my knees by her side. I took her hand, once the texture and warmth of a book left out in the sun now waxy and lifeless. I put it in mine and a little peice of paper fell out. I picked it up.
“EVAN. 299.? Z” was scrawled in hurried blocked text.
I heard a noise behind me, but before I could turn I heard the hammer of a gun cocking.
“Don’t move, Banned,” Detective Parker said.
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