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Checkered Past

Part of the Laurel London Mystery

Laurel London is one tough cookie. . .Convict Willie Ray Bowman escapes from prison just days away from his date with “Old Sparky,” the Kentucky state federal prison electric chair. Laurel hasn’t seen Willie Ray since the day he left her picking up the pieces of her broken heart in Walnut Grove, Kentucky. Can Laurel put her bitter, angry, feelings aside and help Willie Ray prove his innocence before the FBI find him?

Checkered Past

Part of the Laurel London Mystery

Checkered Past

Excerpt

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Chapter One
When you have spent most of your life being a petty criminal, you know a bull-shitter when you see one. And I could tell Gilbert Pinskey was a bull-shitter before he opened his fancy mouth.

“Walnut Grove?” he asked as he looked at the sign I held up.  Gilbert Pinskey had contacted Drive Me, my driving app, to arrange his ride from the airport to my little town of Walnut Grove, Kentucky.

He wore a neatly pressed pair of khakis and pink cotton polo shirt that screamed of arrogance. I swore I could smell the finest leather from his tasseled loafers when he stepped closer. His brown hair was not too long and not too short. The ends of it slightly curled around his ears. His eyes were the exact same color of his hair and matched his olive skin perfectly. He was a normal, average, blend-in kind of guy and I wondered what business he had in my little town of twelve thousand people.

“Gilbert Pinskey?” I asked.

“The one and only.” He smiled and looked down at his luggage. Multiple bags of luggage. “Unless Walnut Grove, Kentucky is a happening place and others are dying to get there.”

“Right this way.” I turned, flipping my honey-blond hair behind my shoulder and headed out the sliding door of the Louisville airport. I looked back to make sure he was following me. He wasn’t. “Don’t those fancy shoes work?” I asked, tapping the toe of my cowboy boot.

“Aren’t you going to help me?” His feet stayed firmly on the ground. “You were late after all.”

“Fine.” I hurried back over and grabbed the small briefcase, leaving the heavier items to him. I had just gotten my nails done at Shear Illusions and I wasn’t about to mess them up. Especially the glittery nail on the ring finger. Kim Banta, owner of Shear Illusions and my stylist, said it was called a Diva nail. “Sorry about the time thing.”

Being on time had never been one of my strong suits. I probably should have left in plenty of time to make the half-hour drive—taking into consideration tractors or other farm equipment that might have taken the back roads, plus the time of day.

Lunchtime.

Many farmers got out early and went home for lunch. Unfortunately for Mr. Pinskey, I didn’t take that into consideration. It was how I rolled.

“What is that?” Gilbert asked. He put the luggage on the ground, his eyes staring at the car.

“My car.” I proudly smiled at the old yellow ’62 Plymouth Belvedere my best friend, Derek Smitherman, had refurbished for me when I was in between jobs and in a little bit of a pickle.

“No.” He raised his hand in the air, contorted his face, snarled and pointed. “That.”

“Henrietta?” I asked, looking at my fur baby curled up on the dashboard taking in the heat of the mid-afternoon sun. “My cat?”

“What kind of business is this?” he protested. An angry look on his face.

“You used my app, Drive Me, and paid to have me pick you up from the airport. Ta-da.” I flung my arms out to the side and wiggled my fingers. “I’m here. Just like the fine print said.”

A few months ago, a couple people had mistaken the Old Girl, the name I had given the Belvedere, as a taxi. I had been fired from Porty Morty’s, a port-a-let sales job, and figured Walnut Grove needed a taxi driver. I was right!

When word got around I was operating a taxi, I got all sorts of business from Walnut Grove’s senior citizens. Who knew when you got old you had to go to so many doctor appointments? Good for business though. In fact, Sharon Fasa was a regular. I took her somewhere almost every single day.

Not only was I good at driving, I was pretty good at all things electronic, mainly hacking.

Using my skills, I designed my own app. Anyone within a forty-mile radius who needed a safe ride could go on my app and sign up. They also paid online. No hassle with exchanging of money or tips. And I didn’t have to pay all the taxi fees and abide by the taxi laws. Plus I didn’t keep any money on me so there was no chance of me getting robbed. Not that Walnut Grove was a big car-jacking town or crime ridden, it wasn’t. If anyone tried to car-jack me, I’d know him or her. Or I would show them my little friend in the glove box. My little .22 Colt Defender was all I needed to scare the shit right out of anyone who wanted to mess with me.

“Well?” He tapped the trunk of the car. “Are you going to open the trunk?”

“Oops.” My face reddened. I still hadn’t gotten the hang of waiting on people down. It’s only ever been me, and me alone I had to worry about. And of course, Henrietta.

So being late probably wasn’t a good idea. I did cover the issue of Henrietta in the service contract of Drive Me, albeit in fine print, but it was there just the same. In case anyone was allergic and all, I had to cover my tracks.

“I saw nothing about a cat.” He stomped like a little two-year-old having a hissy fit right there in the airport pick-up line.

“There is a line about Henrietta in the disclaimer. Fine print.” I walked around the car. “You can either get in. Or pay a lot more money to get a cab. Either way, I’m outta here.”

Gilbert huffed and puffed, but eventually got in the car.

“Who reads the fine print? I’ve never seen a cat ride in a taxi.” Gilbert held his briefcase close to his chest with his arms wrapped around it, never taking his eyes off Henrietta, who didn’t pay him any mind. “You keep her up there.”

“Gilbert Pinksey, are you telling me a big guy like you is scared of a cat? A sleeping cat that doesn’t even know you’re in the car?” I asked.

I adjusted the rear-view mirror to get a better look at him. Gilbert Pinksey was fancy. There weren’t a lot of fancy people coming in and out of Walnut Grove, which made me suspicious of him.

There were times I should probably keep my mouth shut and this was probably one of those times since I needed Gilbert to give my app a review. Especially since he was my first client who wasn’t from Walnut Grove.

“I don’t like cats. I never have.” He white-knuckled the leather-bound case.

I wanted to change the subject because there was no way he was going to win with me. Henrietta had been with me since my crazy teenage days. Derek and I had gone down to the river to illegally throw back a few beers and there she was all curled up under a bush. Skinny. There was no way I was going to leave her there. Sneaking her into the orphanage, my home, was easy. Keeping her from meowing all night was not. Trixie Turner, the head mom at the Children’s Home, had a keen sense of hearing. Henrietta must’ve tugged at Trixie’s heartstrings because she let me keep her. She was the first thing with a beating heart who had ever truly loved me.

“I need to see Jax Jackson.” His body melted back into the seat. Clearly a little more relaxed now that we were on the road and he could see his presence didn’t phase Henrietta.

“Jax Jackson?” I asked and pulled out of the airport, veering the Old Girl west toward Walnut Grove. “Does he know you are coming?”

“Jax Jackson’s office please.” A loud sigh escaped Gilbert’s lips.

“I heard you the first time, but Jax isn’t at his office right now.” I looked at the Old Girl’s broken clock, hoping for a miracle it would somehow start working. Time was never on my side. Someday, I had great hopes we would become friends. “What time is it?”

Gilbert pulled his wrist up to his face and looked at his fancy gold watch.

“Eleven-thirty.” He huffed. “Where is he?”

“He had a meeting at eleven.”

“If you were on time, I probably would have caught him.” His eyes narrowed with annoyance. “How do you know where Jax is?”

“Everyone knows everyone in Walnut Grove.” I left out how Jax Jackson and I did cross paths. In fact, Jax Jackson was the second person to have mistaken the Belvedere as a cab.

A few months ago, after Jax’s business in Walnut Grove was over, he decided to stay and open up a private investigator’s business. With my history and time on my hands, he hired me to do some investigative work when he needed an extra hand. Gilbert Pinksey definitely had my curiosity up now.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much going on in Walnut Grove unless you considered stealing an apple pie out of Sharon Fasa’s kitchen window a hardened crime.

Not that I’m a hardened criminal, but growing up in a orphanage and finding out I’m the direct descendant of one of the most notorious mob bosses in the United States, explained a lot about my past and my behavior. Not to mention the huge inheritance I had gotten when I did find out whom I was related to.

Of course I could use the money and not worry with my Drive Me app, but there was something about how my grandfather got the money. Blood money. And I refused to use it. Somehow, someway that money was going to bite me in the ass.

For now, I was determined to use the street sense I had to make my living.

“Do you mind turning the radio on?” Gilbert gave me the not-so-subtle hint he no longer wanted to talk.

Bam! Bam!

Gilbert nearly jumped up front in the passenger seat when I smacked the dashboard to get the radio started. Henrietta gave him a look and he settled back in his seat, the two glaring at each other.

Mewl. Henrietta rolled and curled toward the hot sunspot before she closed her eyes.

“I’m not sure how she stands it in the hot sun.” I’d had all the windows rolled down even before Gilbert got in because the Old Belvedere didn’t have working air. Plus Walnut Grove was having a heat wave. It was so damn dry around here, the trees were begging the dogs to piss on them.

Gilbert didn’t respond. He rolled up his window once we got going. Beads of sweat were popping through his fancy shirt. He was hotter than blue blazes.

Instead of worrying about Gilbert and what his business with Jax was about, I happily drove the curvy road and took in the scenery.

The trees grew tall and out, meeting each other over top the hot pavement, creating a tunnel. The sun darted through the limbs. It was a beautiful day for the drive but a little bit humid.

“Do you know where The Windmill Hotel is?” Gilbert asked.

“Louie Pelfrey’s place. Of course I know where it is.” I kept my hands on the wheel and did a few finger taps to the country song piping through the speakers. I loved a good song where the woman gets even with the cheating man by burning up his clothes. “Are you staying there?”

“Yes,” he said. “I’ll just go there until I get in touch with Jax.”

“No. No you won’t.” I shook my head.

We passed the Walnut Grove city limits signs that boasted our big city population.

“Why not?” he asked. His tone angry.

“He is at his second job. If you would have read his fine print, it states that check-in is at 1 p.m.” I shrugged. “I’m going to The Cracked Egg to grab some lunch before my next appointment if you want to go there and wait. The BLT’s are to die for.” My mouthed watered just thinking about it.

“There can’t be many people staying at The Windmill.” His lips puckered in disgust and looked out the window.

The Kentucky River ran along the left side of the road. A few fishermen had their boats pulled up along the banks under some of the overhanging trees to catch tonight’s dinner.

“Is that the Kentucky River?” Gilbert shot up and took interest.

“It sure is. Do you like to fish?” I asked and took a right on I-25.

Gilbert and his loafers didn’t look like he had seen a hard day’s work in his life. Nor did his soft hands seem like he could hook a worm and unhook a fish. I rubbed the little scar on my finger where a fish had gilled me when I was being reckless once when taking it off the hook.

“I’ve been a time or two.” He rubbed his chin. “Maybe I’ll charter a boat and go while I’m here.”

“Charter?” I choked and turned left on Grove Street before taking the first right on Oak Street. “The only way you’re going to charter a boat would be to take Charlie Haskel a fifth of whiskey or a quart of moonshine.”

Charlie was the friendly town drinker. He spent his days on the river in his little silver metal boat.

“What do you do in this small town when there’s downtime?” he asked.

“Well,” I pointed out the window to Lucky Strikes Bowling Lanes. “We bowl. But not unless it’s league night. Which happens to be tomorrow night. And Jax Jackson bowls, so maybe he can take you.”

I left out the part about Jax and I being teammates for the team Here For the Beer. Gilbert Pinksey didn’t seem a bit interested in anything I had to say outside of Jax.

“Hmm.” Gilbert leaned back. He put his elbow on the windowsill and drummed his fingers in an annoying way. Thankfully, I was parking the car in the open parking space in front of The Cracked Egg. “It seems like Jax found his niche in this little town.”

“Hot damn!” I hollered and threw the gearshift in park. “Front row spots are rare at lunch. Niche? What niche?” I asked.

Gilbert jumped out, briefcase in a tight grip, ignoring my question. He was inside The Cracked Egg before I could take the keys out of the ignition.

“Come on.” I opened the glove box. My .22 caliber Colt Defender handgun fell out along with the pink crystal-encrusted cat leash. I reached down and quickly grabbed the gun and I looked around to make sure no one was looking in the car. I put it back in the glove box and slammed it shut. “Can’t be flinging that baby around all day.”

I snapped the leash on Henrietta and picked her up. I grabbed my hobo bag and we headed toward the diner.

“Mornin’.” Charlie Haskell stood outside of The Cracked Egg with a toothpick stuck between his lips. His skin was tan from being outside all the time. He wore a little black knit cap, barely covering the top of his head. His nose was wide, his smile was gummy, and his eyes squinted when he laughed. “It’s gonna be hotter than a two-dollar pistol out here today.”

“It sure is,” I said, stopping to let Charlie pet Henrietta.

“Who’s the man who thinks he’s shittin’ in high cotton?” Charlie referred to Gilbert.

“I don’t know.” I shrugged. I wasn’t going to say much about Gilbert because I didn’t know his business and it wasn’t my story to tell. “Dang,” I wiped my brow. “I hope this weather breaks.”

The humidity had gone up since we hit the county line. A little bead of sweat gathered on my lip. I used the back of my hand to wipe it away.

“You doing all right, Charlie?” I asked. He was busy looking between the legs of the painted mural of the dancing egg on The Cracked Egg’s front window.

“Yeah. Mrs. Picerilli gave me some day old hot dogs to use as bait.” He grinned. He leaned in. I held my breath. Charlie smelled like the last rose of summer. “Don’t tell her, but I ate one for myself.” He winked, did a little skip and was on his way.

I let a deep sigh to catch my breath and headed on in the diner. The smell of bacon was welcomed.

“Who’s Mr. Fancypants?” Gia Picerilli asked after I moseyed up to the counter to my spot.

She stuck a pen in her black curly hair. Her dark features let you know she was Italian through and through.

Gia was my long-time best friend and her family owned the greasy spoon diner which had the best food within one hundred miles. If you asked her, she’d say it was the best damn food in all of America. I hadn’t been around all of America, so I couldn’t say for sure, but it was good food.

Gia shifted, one hand on her hip, the other had a coffee pot dangling from it. She wore the not-so-flattering black, one-piece, waitress skirt jumper that zipped up the back. The Cracked Egg mascot was embroidered on the front—compliments of Walnut Grove’s only seamstress, Norma Allen. It was a big egg with two skinny legs in heels with a small crack on the top along with two big yellow eyes.

“He’s in town to see Jax.” After I put Henrietta in the cage Gia provided for me at the end of the counter, I sat at the bar on my regular stool. I did a few spins for old time’s sake and looked down at the menu like I didn’t know I was already getting my favorite sandwich.

The answer must’ve satisfied Gia because after she put a cup of coffee in front of me, she made her way down the bar filling the drinks of the old timers, the regulars and Gilbert Pinskey.

I watched Gia flip Gilbert’s coffee cup, lean her hip against the counter, and slowly fill his cup. Her lips were flapping. She slid a piece of pie his way. I smiled when Gilbert smiled. Gia had a way of getting people to talk over food. Free food. Especially a piece of The Cracked Egg’s chess pie.

They talked for a few minutes. Gia nodded toward Louie Pelfrey who was delivering The Cracked Egg’s Krispy Kreme order and the reason why Louie wasn’t at The Windmill Hotel. Most people in Walnut Grove had to have two jobs to make ends meet.

The Great Recession had hit these parts hard. The Chamber of Commerce was meeting tonight about how the economy wasn’t in the best shape around here and how the new casino boat being built on the river by Porty Morty’s was our only hope of survival.

Since I was now a legitimate business owner with Drive Me, I was able to attend and give my two cents. Not that I had two cents to give, but I was good at listening and figuring out how to get out of sticky situations. Granted most of those situations had been illegal, but I have proven my past was in the past. I was good at keeping the past buried. Especially my own.

I pulled a notepad and pen out of my hobo bag. There were better things to do other than be nosy about Gilbert, like find out who my family really was.

As a baby, I was dropped off at the orphanage in Walnut Grove and raised by Trixie Turner. While I can say it really messed me up in the love department and my trust issues had played a part in my sunny disposition, overall I turned out all right. A little rough around the edges, but that gave me my I don’t give a shit attitude. Especially when it came to men.

Regardless, The Gorilla, the affectionate name the mob had given my grandfather, had put me in the orphanage to keep me safe. He believed I would be safe tucked away in the small town in Kentucky.

Anyway, I was on a mission to find out all I could about my family history. In between clients, I spent a lot of time at the library or on the Internet looking for any clues I could. I even had Donna Marple, the town librarian, doing some research.

“Works for the FBI. Catching up on old times,” Gia whispered after she made her way back over to me. She tapped her pen on the pad of paper like she was taking my order even though she knew darn well I was ordering the BLT. She spun my notebook around and took a look at it.

“I don’t buy it.” She slid her eyes down to Gilbert. He was devouring the pie. “He has shifty eyes. He might be with the FBI, but something is going down.” Her brows lifted. She pointed to my notebook. “What is all this about?”

“Nothing.” I shook my head and dragged it closer to me before slipping it back in my bag.

No one knew I was the granddaughter of The Gorilla. Well, two someones did. Trixie and Ben Bassman, the attorney for The Gorilla. I was advised to keep it a secret until Ben figured out if there were any mob families or relatives of mob families who might be seeking revenge for all my grandfather’s wrong doings. Again. . . blood money and I wasn’t touching it.

“I am not going to do it!” someone screamed from behind me.

I looked over my shoulder at the lunch crowd to see who was yelling. My attention focused on the bank duo, Pepper Spivy and Sally Bent.

“I’m not.” Pepper shook her dirty dishwater brown bob back and forth protesting whatever it was Sally asked her to do. Pepper brushed down the arms of her pantsuit jacket (her normal attire) and sat up a little straighter.

Ever since Sally got her job as a teller at Walnut Grove Savings Bank, she prettied herself up. She kept her long black hair slicked back into a bun that was perfectly secured on the back of her head and kept a weekly nail appointment at Shear Illusions.

“Is everything all right?” Louie Pelfrey asked. He made a quick stop at his sister’s table on his way out of the diner.

“Everything is fine.” Sally’s words were to the point. She gripped a copy of the Walnut Grove Journal in her fist. “I’m fine.” Her words softened.

Her eyes lowered and glided my way. Our eyes locked, sending chills up my freshly shaved legs.

“Willie Ray Bowman escaped,” she mouthed to me, stopping my heart.

I gripped the counter and sucked in some much needed air. I looked back over to Sally. Her brother Louie moseyed over to assess the situation. Her eyes darted over her shoulder. Her lips pursed.

“I wonder what’s going on over there.” Gia’s head craned over the lunch crowd who had taken interest in what was going on with the bank tellers.

I took notice of the journal Sally had put back on their table and watched her use her hand to flatten it out. The Hub was written in bold black ink at the top.

“Hey, Gia.” I grabbed her before she made her way back down the counter with a full pitcher of tea in one hand and a fresh pot of coffee in the other.

“Yep?”

“Do you have a copy of today’s Journal?” I asked.

She flung her head back, gesturing to Sally and Pepper, only their table had been abandoned and the Journal was gone with them.

 

 

Chapter Two
I’ve had a hard-on for Sally Bent every since she got adopted by the Pelfrey’s. Not that I cared she was adopted—maybe a little envious—but someone had to pick up her chores of cleaning the bathrooms and that someone was me.

“Just some advice.” Gilbert slid his butt to the edge of the back seat after we had finished eating. He folded his elbows across the front seat, something dangling from his finger. He dropped it on my seat. “Clean your taxi.”

I pulled into The Windmill Hotel before I looked down to see what he was talking about.

Gilbert jumped out and tapped the trunk; only I didn’t hear it the first time. The trash he’d dropped wasn’t trash. It was a message sent in the form of a leather tobacco pouch belonging to one Willie Ray Bowman.

“Bags!” Gilbert pounded his fist on the trunk, getting my attention.

“Oh.” I waved my hand in the air. I grabbed my keys out of the ignition and got out. “Sorry.” I unlocked the trunk. “Say, why are you here to see Jax?”

“I don’t think that’s your business.” He heaved the heavy bag out of the back and rolled it up to the window where Big Louie had taken his spot for the day.

“You don’t have to tell me,” I muttered and watched him slip his credit card through the hole in the glass for Louie to take as payment. I slammed the trunk shut. “I have the evidence Willie Ray Bowman is back in town and I bet you are here to get him.”

I glanced both ways down the street before I hopped back into the car. Sally Bent knew something. And I was going to try to figure out what she knew or what she saw in the Journal.

I turned the cab down Main Street and turned right on Second Street where the Walnut Grove Savings Bank was located. I drove around the lot and saw Sally and Pepper in the drive through teller window working with customers.

I pulled the Old Girl into a spot, put the leather pouch under the seat and got out. Willie Ray was around here somewhere, but where? I scanned the parking lot and the surrounding areas to see if I could get a glimpse of him. Even if I did, I doubt he looked the same. Or maybe he’d be in the big orange jumpsuit the state penitentiary provided for him because I knew he wasn’t set to get out of the Castle on the Cumberland, the beloved nickname for Eddyville, Kentucky’s state penitentiary, ever.

“Here goes nothing.” I prepared myself before I stepped through the threshold of the bank lobby.

“Stay right there.” Pepper put her hand out and grabbed the phone. “You aren’t allowed to come in here. I’m calling the cops.”

“Derek? I have him on speed dial. I can call him for you.” I grabbed my phone out of my pocket and held it up. Pepper ducked behind the counter and a loud bell dinged all over the bank.

“Damn it!” I spat. “You sounded the alarm?” I stood with my hands in the air. “Where is Sally? I need to talk to Sally.”

“Shut up and wait for Derek,” Pepper warned.

Derek Smitherman would be here anytime. Yes. I was trespassing. Walnut Grove Savings Bank was one block from the police station.

No sooner did I think Derek could run over faster than jump in his police cruiser to get here did he run in the door with his elbows locked and gun pointed straight at me.

“Shit!” He surveyed the situation before he snapped his gun back in his holster. His steel-blue eyes looked annoyed behind his large black-rimmed glasses. His dark hair had that freshly shaved look. Even his face didn’t have the five o’clock shadow. “When I saw that car, I knew you were the one in here creating some sort of issue.”

“She is trespassing and I want her arrested!” Pepper Spivy screamed from behind the counter.

“I’m not.” I shook my head and put my hands down.

“You are!” she yelled back.

I turned toward Derek. “I’m not.” I continued to shake my head. I pointed to the threshold of the bank’s front doors. “Really, not by much. Maybe an inch.” I held my finger and thumb about an inch apart.

“Arrest her!”

“Shut up!” I screamed back and started toward the door.

“Hold it right there, London.” Derek was trying to pull some big Billy Bad Ass act on me.

“Oh come on.” My voice escalated. I slowly turned back around to face the bank lobby. The Walnut Grove Journal was sticking up out of the garbage can underneath the island in the middle of the bank where the extra deposit tickets and withdrawal slips were placed. I would put money on it that the tellers came back from their lunch and threw it away. I eased myself up to the island and stuck my elbows on top. Gently I rested my hands in my head. “I have to open an account somewhere now that I have my new company.”

Total lie. My money wasn’t going anywhere. It was my money. No way was I going to let nosy Pepper Spivy look into my business like she did every other person in Walnut Grove.

True fact.

Pepper Spivy hired me when I was in high school, on a favor from Trixie, to clean the bank. I hated cleaning, but I was good at it. Mind you I wasn’t as good as Sally Bent, but I could dust with the best of them. Anyway, Walnut Grove Savings Bank was such a small bank, when you came in to open an account; they had the machine to give you an automatic teller machine (ATM) card right there on the spot.

The orphans complained day in and day out about the old stale bread Trixie got from the Wonder Bread Outlet on the outskirts of Louisville and I got tired of hearing about it. One night, while I was cleaning, I got a hankering for pizza. Not the kind of pizza Trixie made by slapping some generic pasta sauce on a piece of bread and a slice of commodity cheese before she broiled it in the toaster oven. I mean a real slice of pizza from Pizza Hut.

The more I scrubbed the toilets in the bank bathrooms, the more my mouth watered thinking about the hot slice of dripping cheese. I even imagined the string clinging on to my chin.

I tried and tried to put the pizza in the back of my head, and then the ATM encoder was staring me in the face. I ran the duster over it a couple of times. I hoped by knocking the dust off, it would knock the idea right out of my mind. It didn’t.

It really wasn’t hard. I got into the bank computer system and looked up different accounts, Porty Morty’s being one of them. I called in a delivery of pizzas to the orphanage, and used the various accounts to pay for five-hundred dollars worth of the delicious pizza.

Needless to say, a few days later I did get caught. But it was worth it! The orphans loved it.

“Laurel London, haven’t you learned your lesson?” Sheriff Jimbo Warren asked.

“You might be good at hacking stuff, but you ain’t good at being a criminal. You get caught every time.” Trixie pleaded with me to stop pulling the shenanigans even though every single crime I did commit was for the orphans. “You have a heart of gold. But you have got to stop.”

Ahem. Derek cleared his throat bringing me out of my stroll down memory lane.

“Most of the citizens of Walnut Grove have forgiven me!” I shouted and flailed about before I bent down and picked up the paper out of the trash. I tucked the paper under my arm. “Why can’t you?”

In a huff, I stormed out the bank building hoping to make a clean getaway. Just as I got my hand on the handle of the Old Girl, Derek yelled my name.

“Not so fast.”

I snapped my fingers, my face contorted. “Damn.” I looked at him. My childhood best friend and fellow orphan had gone and grown up on me. “And to think that I almost got away this one time.”

“And to think you are still acting like a teenager.” He kicked a small pebble with the toe of his cop shoe. We both watched it until it hit the curb. “I’m supposed to arrest you for trespassing.”

The reflection from the sun darted off his glasses, blinding me momentarily. When I looked back up, his jaw tensed making his dimples deepen.

“You aren’t laughing.” I snickered hoping to get some sort of response out of him. “And you aren’t cuffing me.” I put my wrists out in front of me and tapped them together.

“This isn’t funny. You know I have taken over for Sheriff Warren since he retired and I can’t be doing any favors.” Derek was in a predicament and I could see it written all over that cute face of his.

“Well,” I said, and for a brief moment thought I could cut and run. Only the big gun on his hip along with the uniform intimidated me a tad bit. “I guess we can come up with something. I was only in there to. . .”

“To what, Laurel?” He ran his fingers through his short brown hair. His biceps were much larger than I had remembered them being.

As a matter of fact, Derek had grown from a scrawny kid with zits to a hunk with muscles.

“I was . . .” I stalled for more time. “Going to open an account.”

I couldn’t bring myself to tell him the real reason I was there. It wasn’t like it was police business. It was small town gossip and I was ashamed to admit I had nothing better to do. And I would’ve sworn on my life that she mouthed Willie Ray Bowman when she was in The Cracked Egg. Her eyes haunted me. Willie Ray Bowman haunted me.

The honking horn and screeching wheels of Clyde Yap’s old Chevy came around the building. Trixie hung out the window like a pet dog. Even her eyes were bugged out. The truck came to an abrupt halt.

“I heard on the police scanner that Laurel was down here robbin’ the bank.” Trixie jumped out like a grasshopper.

Trixie Turner was short in stature but tall on attitude. Her long grey hair was pulled up so tight into a high ponytail she looked as though she’d had a facelift. Her shirt had a big ninety printed on the front and the ends of it looked like a paper shredder had gotten ahold of it. She had on cropped acid-washed jeans and an old pair of red Converse high-tops that looked entirely too big.

“You don’t need the money.” She grabbed my arm. Her nails dug into the flabby part of my arm. I bent down in pain. She whispered, “You have got plenty of money.”

“You don’t need to dress like that.” I jerked away from her and inspected my arm. “You know I’m not spending any of that money. So get it out of your head.”

There were four red lines where her nails dragged and then dug. I rubbed out the pain, but the scratches still remained.

“Don’t worry, Trixie.” Derek gave her a big hug. All because of Trixie, Derek turned out the way he did. “Laurel was only trying to open an account.”

She gave me the stink eye. No one was going to pull a fast one over on Trixie Turner, not even me.

“Is that right, Laurel?” Clyde Yap asked as if he was my daddy.

“Clyde, what business, if any, is this of yours?” I put my hands on my hips and tapped my boot.

“None I suppose. But Trixie called me down at the Gas-N-Go to get her right away.” Clyde dug his hands in his overalls. “I had to leave work and I’m not getting paid.”

Clyde worked on the other end of town, not far from where the orphanage used to be, at the Gas-N-Go. Baxter Thacker was the owner of the only gas station in town and I was sure he was making a racket charging high prices for gas.

Baxter was a bastard. No one crossed him. Not even in my rowdy days did I ever think about knocking off the gas station.

“No. It’s not true. I was trying to open an account just like Derek said.” I gave one good nod of the head. “Now, can we leave?”

“Not until we settle a little matter of trespassing.” Derek just wasn’t going to let it go. “Besides, Pepper Spivy wouldn’t let it drop for nothing.”

Pepper and Sally’s noses were plastered to the glass doors. The one shoving the other to get a better view of what was happening.

I flipped them the bird. And just because I felt like a two-for-one deal, I flipped them the other one.

“That’s not going to help.” Derek rolled his eyes and took out his little notebook. “I’m going to ticket you for trespassing; the fee is five hundred dollars.”

I gasped.

He put up his hand to shush me.

“I know five hundred dollars is steep and it’s going to hurt your pockets, but you have got to learn.” He ripped the piece of paper off the pad and handed it to me. “I also will recommend giving you community service.”

“Community service?” I freaked.

The five hundred dollars wasn’t going to be easy to get with my Drive Me app. There was no way I was going to dip into the blood money to pay the fine. Ben Bassman had talked me into keeping a hundred thousand dollars at hand. I couldn’t stand the thought of it, so I pulled up one of the hardwood planks in Trixie’s old office at the orphanage and stuck it under there. I nailed it down and I couldn’t tell you which plank the cash was under.

“That’s fair.” Trixie put her hands on her hips and tapped her foot.

“No it’s not if you want to remodel the rooms in the orphanage.” I cocked a brow, giving her a glare.

Trixie had taken real good care of me and “retired” on my eighteenth, though she was barely at retirement age. That was the deal she had made with The Gorilla. When I became of legal age and moved out of the orphanage, she was to close it down. Fortunately for us, my grandfather left the orphanage and land to me and in my name. Recently Trixie and I moved back in and were trying to make it our home.  I’d used a little of the blood money for some furniture.

“Yeah, community service is perfect.” He used his pen to jab the bottom of the paper. “There are the instructions. Be there.”

Derek put his hat back on his head and moseyed on back to his police cruiser. It took everything in my power not to flip him the two-for-one special.

 

 

Chapter Three
Trixie didn’t bother getting back into Clyde’s truck. She hopped right in the front seat of the Old Girl in her normal lecturing position with her arms crossed, which told me I was about to get a talking to.

I was right. The whole way home Trixie pitched a fit about how I had been fired from Porty Morty’s and it was a good job—not to mention she’d stuck her neck out for me. And if I kept going around actin’ all high-falutin, people would wonder where the money was coming from and my heritage had to be kept a secret. Apparently, my grandfather had pissed off a lot of people, not to mention killed a lot, and if anyone found out who I was .  . .I’d be a goner.

“He was losing money.” I reminded her why Morty had to let me go. “Let’s face it. There aren’t enough funerals, weddings, graduations, and family gatherings that are in dire need for port-a-potties. Besides, I have my Drive Me app now.”

I had taken River Road to avoid Main Street. Not that it was heavy with traffic, it would be heavy with people walking around and Trixie would be hooting and hollering out the window greeting them. I’d have to stop to let her chat and there was no time for that. I wanted to see what The Hub had to say and go see Jax.

“Driving strangers around all day isn’t my idea of a good job.” Trixie huffed so hard her shoulders and arms jerked up. “Little Missy, you aren’t fooling me none with any of that ‘I want to open an account’ bull malarkey.”

“The Gorilla left me a lot of money.” I wasn’t planning on using it, but it kept Trixie happy to think I was. I turned the car right down Fifth Street. “I can’t hide all the cash in the floorboards much longer. What if we had a fire?”

“No. Let Ben Bassman deal with it. I’ll give him a call and he can take the cash to his place. Keep it in some safe or something.” Trixie’s head almost twirled off her shoulders when we passed Shear Illusions. She stuck her hands on the dash in front of her. “Stop!”

Kim Banta was standing in front of her shop holding a big bunch of flowers. Curly Dean was standing next to her. There was an airbus attached to Curly’s husband’s 1972 Ford wood-paneled station wagon. Bo Dean recently passed and his funeral was in a couple days. They lived in the country and had the best land to garden.

Many times I had snuck over to their farm and dug up a few raw vegetables to eat. On Sundays at the Friendship Baptist church service, I’d overhear Bo and Curly telling everyone how their garden was being ravaged by bunnies. Little did they know, it was me. I stopped because Bo was a kind man who always gave me a lollipop when I walked into church.

Curly. She was not so nice. She snarled at the orphans as Trixie marched us right up to the front pew in our dumpster-rescued outfits. I guess Trixie never forgot it and she and Curly hadn’t been friends since.

Curly was the same in my teen years. She was the secretary at Walnut Grove High and she was just as nasty to us then.

Bo had the best spot to sell his vegetables and ferns at the Farmer’s Market that was held every Sunday in the parking lot between Lucky Strikes and Food Town on the far side of town.

I did what Trixie asked. It was either pull over or listen to her gripe about why I had really gone into the bank. She jumped out of the Old Girl quicker than a jackrabbit.

Kim squinted watching Trixie with a close eye. She was a tall woman with frizzy, bleached-blond hair. Every time I saw her she had different colored hair. No wonder it was so fried. I’m not sure why everyone in town still kept her in business. It was closer than heading to Louisville. Even I found myself in her chair with her fingers in my hair.

“What’s all this about?” Trixie stood between Curly and Kim. She pointed to Curly’s big silver airbus, Dean’s Florist written across it in green spray paint.

“Advertising.” Curly took the dangling cigarette out of her mouth, threw it next to her foot and snuffed it out. She pushed back her stray brown hair that had lost its way out of the low ponytail she always wore, exposing her tan, wrinkly skin—from years of working on a farm, gardening, and not using a bit of sunscreen.

“Advertising what?” Trixie eyed the flat-butted cigarette.

Inwardly I smiled knowing it was killing Trixie not to pick it up or tell Curly to.

Many times throughout my childhood, Trixie had me and the other orphans pick up trash every time we walked to town. We each carried our own trash bags and she made sure they were filled to the gills before we got home. If they weren’t, she’d send us back out until they were.

She’d say, “Walnut Grove was gracious enough to let us have our home here. We need to do our part in keeping it clean.”

“Curly here has opened up her own florist. Dean’s Florist.” Kim’s painted-on brows lifted. Her smile was lopsided as she held the vase of wildflowers close to her. “She gave me these to put in the shop to help advertise. Isn’t that nice of her, Trixie?”

Trixie harrumphed and glared at Curly with one cocked brow, judgment dripping all over her face. “Bo Dean was the nicest man in this town and his corpse ain’t even cold.”

“Now, Trixie.” Kim stepped in, the flowers smacking Trixie in the face. Trixie stepped back, spitting at the ground. “Curly has to keep making a living.”

“Don’t you go around judging me, Trixie Turner.” Curly planted her fists on her hip and slowly slid her eyes toward me making me feel like I was sitting in the front pew again.

I sat up straighter, elongating my entire five-foot-eight-inch frame. Was she referring to me about something? Gingerly, I tucked the edges of my short-sleeved button-up plaid shirt into my skinny jeans and ran my hands through my hair.

“Ladies.” Kim used her free hand to push up the side of her frizz. “I think it’s wonderful you bought the Phone Store and I wish you nothing but luck. Isn’t that right, Trixie?”

Trixie waved her hand dismissively at Kim and got back in the car.

“Well?” Trixie eyed me like I could read her mind. “What are you waiting for?”

“Bye.” I smiled the polite southern smile and got back in the car.

I threw the gearshift in drive, turned left on Main Street and headed out to the country toward the old orphanage Trixie and I were fixing up as our home.

Trixie stewed about Curly’s news. I was happy because it took the heat off of me.

“I can’t believe she is out and about acting as though Bo meant nothing to her.” Trixie wasn’t good at hiding her disgust, nor did she try. “And if she don’t watch it, the Good Lord is going to take her from smoking all them cigarettes. Or take her for littering.” She turned to me. “Enough about them. Let’s get back to you and why you were really at the bank?”

“I wanted to talk to Sally Bent about account options.” I kept my eyes forward and held the curve of the road out to our house.

“Damn it, Laurel!” Trixie snapped. “I know you better than that. You are telling me a lie.”

“It’s not a lie.” I gulped down the words. They felt like I was swallowing thistles. “Like I said, I’m not so sure we should keep that much money at the house. I know Ben Bassman has a lot of it and is in charge of the larger sums. But we have at least a hundred thousand under the floor board.”

“What are you saying? Is someone trying to question you about how we are fixing up the house?” Trixie questioned me. “Do you think the aliens will find it?”

“No, no, and no.” I let out a sigh. “There is no such thing as aliens. You have to stop watching the SyFy channel.”

Technically, I wasn’t telling a full lie. If Willie Ray Bowman had broken out of jail and he was in Walnut Grove, he just might try to get money out of me and Trixie. Or even worse. . .keep us hostage.

end of excerpt

Checkered Past

is available in the following formats:

Sep 9, 2014

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