I have gone over my familiarity and issues with the Bannville Police Department. Captain Robert Stein and I have a healthy relationship built on trust and a mutual wish that the public remain safe and informed. Detective Gerald Parker and I just plain hate each other. Such is life.
I turned to look at the two of them. They were in dress uniform, the blue dark and clean highlighted by the bright yellow ribbons and chevrons that denoted each man’s rank. They looked damn impressive. Stein had his head shaved bald, the lights overhead gleaming in his dark skin. Parker, a head shorter than the other man had his blonde hair cut with the usual buzz that made me want to touch it to see if it stuck out like that on its own. I held up my small plastic plate and offered each man a cookie.
“If we could just step outside for a moment, Mr. Banned?” Stein said.
Parker’s hands flexed as if he were interested in grabbing me and hauling me out right then. The short man had it in for me ever since the two murders earlier in the year, not to mention the time I got away from him while handcuffed. His muscles tensed.
“Can I ask what for?” I said, leaning in and lowering my voice, “Am I being arrested?”
Stein shook his head and looked around the room. We had not gathered much attention yet, just three civil servants looking at a small plate of cookies. But if we kept our voices low for too long, someone might decide they needed a piece of cake just to listen in for a minute.
I gestured toward the kitchen. We went through the door, now gathering a few stares as we walked through the crowded front room. I saw my mother out the corner of my eye. She lifted her chin a little, the same gesture she made on my first day of school when she could tell I did not want to go in the classroom by myself. But, just like then, I shook my head and walked on.
We almost toppled Bern again, this time with a tray of wine glasses, as we moved through the kitchen. I reached out and steadied the tray in the teenagers hand and plucked one of the glasses for myself. A nice red, maybe pinot noir, that warmed the spirit as I followed two police officers out the back door and into the trenches of the small white tent city.
“Look, we don’t want to cause you any stress. Sorry we had to pull you out like that,” Stein said.
“No trouble, sir,” I said, “I know you are only doing whatever you think is right. Plus, gives me an excuse to step out early. Like a late Christmas present.”
Parker’s face contracted in on itself, “Just shut up so we can get back in out of this cold, Banned.”
Stein put his hand on his detective’s shoulder, “Gerald, why don’t you go back inside if you are so cold?”
“I’m fine,” Parker said.
“Then please find Mr. Montgomery so we can tell him about what’s going on.”
Parker deflated but nodded. I was never sure how intelligent Parker was. At times, I thought he faked the goofy attitude to lull people into a false sense of security. Other times, like now when Stein had pretty much told him to get lost, I thought he would ask about the rabbits. People are strange.
When Parker was gone, Stein looked back at me, “I’ll put it out as plain as I can. Before we left the station to come here tonight, Parker got a call that Darling McCraw might be in town.”
My eyebrows raised at that. Ever since kicking the ever loving crap out of me and running into a rainstorm, no one had seen the evil bastard. And people looked, high and low. They tend to do that when you were wanted in the murder of two librarians. Reports had put him down in the panhandle of Florida hiding with some trailer park relative or another, but that’s about it.
“Would he be that dumb?” I asked.
Stein shrugged, “Can’t be certain. We still don’t know why he did it. Nothing in the apartment, his desk, hell, you know all that. Whole damn town knows it.”
“Exactly. We’d all notice him. Even the randoms out in the county know his face. Can’t imagine he’s got anyone in town that would help him. Never did seem to have many friends.”
“Well, we just thought you should know. Just in case. We’re gonna put a car out by the library and your house. Your mom’s, too. Everybody else is new, so we doubt he’ll target them, but we’ll keep an eye out just the same.”
“Appreciate that, sir.”
“Don’t mention it. Now about that other thing that Montgomery has planning? You up for that?”
“What other thing?”
“You haven’t talked to him?”
“Caleb? No, I’ve been on vacation. Had to be talked into coming here. Got all dressed up and everything. What other thing?”
“I think maybe I should let him tell you himself. Ask you, anyway. Just keep in mind that McCraw is still roaming out there when you think about it, okay?”
“So I should think about the murderer when my boss tells me whatever it is he’s thinking? Damn, mysterious, but okay.”
Stein laughed at that. I finished off the glass of wine and set it on the bannister of the porch. I offered him my hand and we shook.
“Have you told Mom yet?”
He shook his head.
“Mind if I?” I asked, “She’s been a bit... dodgy about the whole thing. What with Betty and all...”
“That’s a good idea. Tell if she needs anything, we’ll be around.”
I walked inside and passed Parker coming through the kitchen. I tried to manuver past him, but he grabbed my arm.
“You know where McCraw’s hiding?” he asked.
“Jesus, Parker, no. Get the hell off me.”
I shook his hand loose and went to move forward, but he blocked the door. He put one finger out, poking it into my chest as he looked up at me.
“You had something... You were the last one to see that piece of shit in this town, Banned. You were the one witness to everything. You don’t fool me.”
I felt my jaw tighten. A red hot surge of adreneline bloomed in my chest and I almost knocked him on his ass. Instead I took a deep breath and shouldered past him. I knew that if he wanted me to stay, I would never have been able to move him. He let me past. Probably thought he was giving me rope to hang myself or something.
In the front room, I saw my mother now standing by the piano talking to a man in a charcoal suit. I braced myself, stole another glass of wine as Bern passed by, and went to talk to my mother and my boss about a dangerous murderer loose in town.