Dead As A Doornail
Book 5 in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series
Beauty is skin deep, but ugly goes clear to the bone. And doesn’t our Sheriff Kenni Lowry know that? Well, she knows a lot of things.
Lucy Lowell takes great pride in writing negative reviews in the local newspaper for anything that does not go her way. When Lucy is found dead, it appears to be from natural causes.
But Sheriff Kenni Lowry knows there is more to it because the ghost of her grandfather, the ex-sheriff, is standing over the body.
His presence can only mean one thing: Murder!
Since Kenni’s relationship with Deputy Finn Vincent has heated up, Kenni is having trouble conducting the investigation without Finn questioning her every move.
Can Kenni unravel the mystery on her own or will she have to tell Finn the real reason she knows it was murder—the ghost of her poppa?
It’s blowin’ up a storm and only Kenni knows how it’ll end.
Dead As A Doornail
Book 5 in the Kenni Lowry Mystery Series
Dead As A Doornail
“Hey, Tina.” Lucy Ellen Lowell greeted Tina Bowers, owner of Tiny Tina’s salon and spa, as she shimmied her robust chest in front of the pedicure chair where I was sitting.
Tina was crouched down by my feet, slathering on some sort of gritty lotion on my shins. “Hey, Kenni,” Lucy said in a breathy tone.
Lucy’s beady green eyes focused on Tina from underneath the wide-brimmed hat on top of her head. Tina’s brown eyes were flat as she looked up at me from underneath her brows. Not looking at Lucy Ellen at all. Slowly, Tina’s jaw moved from side-to-side with each chew of her gum.
“Tina, you have to do my nails. I have to have them done for the upcoming wedding.” Lucy paused between words. “I called to make an appointment but Cheree told me that you weren’t taking appointments and I have to get my nails done before Saturday and today is the only day I got open.” Lucy gave Cheree Rath, Tina’s employee, an ungrateful raised brow and scowl before she flung her fingers in the air. She was right. Her nails were chipped and in desperate need of painting. “Look here. These are awful.”
“You ain’t working, Kenni?” Lucy continued to show spirit hands, nail side out to Tina.
“I’m actually having a day off.” I forced a smile.
It was difficult to take a day off since I was sheriff of our small town of Cottonwood, Kentucky.
“Betty and Finn are holding down the fort,” I assured her when I saw in her contorted face that her brain was flipping through names like a Rolodex on who was at the sheriff’s department. Betty Murphy was the department dispatch operator and secretary. Finn Vincent was the only sheriff’s deputy in the department outside of my four-legged deputy, Duke, my hound dog.
“Finn gave her the gift card. They’re an item now.” Tina winked. “That’s why she’s getting extra special love.” She kneaded and massaged my calves with her thumbs.
“Sweet.” Lucy’s face pinched. “Now.” Her hands plunged in front of Tina’s face. “What about my nails?”
The bell over the salon door dinged.
Everyone in the salon stopped when Polly Parker and four of her friends, along with her mother, nearly fell over themselves as they pushed through the door, giggling and laughing.
“We’ll be right with you.” Cheree said over her shoulder with her fingers stuck in a customer’s shampooed hair in the black rising sink.
Polly’s friends were no doubt here for her wedding that was only five days away if you included today.
“Go on and pick out some colors if you want color,” Tina followed up, ignoring Lucy. “They are here for what’s called a preview party.”
I smiled and nodded, feeling a wee-bit sorry for Tina. Polly was high maintenance even outside of being a bride. I’d imagine she was a bridezilla. No less, her wedding to Mayor Ryland was the talk of the town. All the small boutiques in town were selling out of dresses and knick-knacks the happy couple registered for. It was actually an event I was looking forward to as well.
“Well?” Lucy Ellen pulled the towel off of the arm of my pedicure chair and wiped the dripping sweat from her brow. I looked between her and Tina.
“Well?” Lucy asked again and cocked her leg to the side, her curvy bottom following, almost smacking into Jolee Fischer, my best friend, who was sitting in the pedicure chair next to me.
Tina’s hands felt like a brill-o pad as she rapidly rubbed them up and down my legs.
Lucy pulled her diamond-encrusted gold watch up to her round face and checked out the time. “I’ve got time now. And. . . ” Her mouth formed an “O” as if she just remembered something very important. “Dr. Shively said you could do my toes, but don’t put them in the tub since I’ve been nursing that big bunion and all.”
“Lucy, I don’t have time today.” Tina chomped her gum like a cow chewing the cud as she splashed water on my shins to get the gritty stuff off, not giving even a looksie toward Lucy Ellen.
Cheree put her client under one of those big umbrella hair dryers and plopped herself down in front of Jolee to finish up.
“We are booked solid.” Tina took my feet out of the water and patted them dry before picking up a bottle of natural colored nail polish that I’d picked out, giving the bottle a couple of good whacks against the palm of her hand.
“What do you mean, Tina? I even brought my own flip flops.” Lucy let an exhausted sigh and patted her purse that was slung over her shoulder. “I’ve been coming here for two years,” she cried out. “Today is the only day I’ve got open before the wedding.” Lucy looked over at Polly. Her eyes squinted and she nodded her head once the fake smile was across her lips. “You’ve always taken me when I come in.”
Lucy wasn’t letting up. She jerked the floppy hat off her head. Her black hair sprang out like coils. Tina choked back a laugh. I kept my eyes on her and didn’t dare look at Lucy.
“And my hair needs a treatment awfully bad. And only you can do it Tina. Only you.” Lucy made a desperate attempt to jam the hair back under the hat, but the hair wasn’t having it. With another failed attempt, the hair won and Lucy shoved the hat underneath her armpit.
“I’m the only one in town,” Tina muttered under her breath while she started painting my toes. “That’s why I’m her only one.” Tina made a good point.
“You can do my hair treatment and let it sit while you paint my toes and then shampoo the treatment out. My hair can air dry while you give me a manicure.” Lucy had it all figured out. “I’ve got cash.”
She reached in her purse and pulled out a fistful of cash.
“Today isn’t good. After Kenni and Jolee, we’re have Polly’s entire wedding party in for a preview look.” Tina took out my right foot from the bubbling hot water that’d made the pads of my toes shrivel up like prunes, but I wasn’t going to complain that the water was too hot and the jagged rocks hurt my feet.
Any time I’d ask her about the rocks, she’d swear up one end and down the next that she’d bought the rocks from a beauty supply shop. It was a known fact that Tina Bowers hadn’t bought the rocks because I’d received several phone calls from dispatch that Tina was down at the Kentucky River taking rocks off the side of the road when in fact it was against the law to pillage the limestone. Sure as shinola, the rocks under my piggies at the moment were jagged pieces of limestone.
“Preview look?” Lucy’s head jerked toward the front of the salon and stared at Polly. “What on earth is that?” Her nose curled. She didn’t give Polly a second to respond until she said, “I’m looking forward to seeing the Mayor. I’d not seen him in months.”
“Mmmhmmm.” Polly Parker’s chin lifted up and down with pride. Her lips parted into a smile that showed off her bright white veneers – a smile that reminded me of a horse’s mouth. “Tina is going to paint all my bridesmaids’ nails to make sure the color will match their dresses.” Polly’s shoulders lifted to her ears as her sweet southern voice escalated, “Each dress is a different color. Gone With The Wind style.” She lifted the back of her hand to her forehead as if she were going to faint. “I didn’t want any surprises when we come back for the real manicures and pedicures.”
Jolee and I looked at each other when Polly said Gone with the Wind and bit back our laughter.
“I’ve never heard of such a thing.” Lucy tsked. “This is taking too much of Tina’s time. Cheree, can’t you take Tina’s clients because I’ve got to get my hair and nails done.” Lucy stormed over to Cheree who was finishing up painting Jolee’s toenails.
“I’m sorry, Lucy. We are booked to the gills and we just can’t fit you in.” Cheree pushed back a stray strand of her long red hair that had found a way out of her low ponytail. Her red freckles deepened as the anger swelled up in her. She made it perfectly clear to Lucy, but Lucy just wasn’t having it.
“You can squeeze me into a wee-little spot.” Lucy continued to look around the shop. “I’ve been coming here for two years.” She held up two fingers in the air and flip-flopped them around saying it for a second time as if they didn’t hear her the first or they didn’t realize she’d been coming that long.
“And in those two years,” Cheree sounded as if she’d had enough, “you’ve cancelled at least a dozen times.” She looked up over the rim of her glasses from the stool in front of Jolee and stared at Lucy. She had a bottle of open polish in one hand and the nail brush in the other. “Did you ever think of the financial bind you put us in when you don’t show up? How are we gonna pay our bills? Did you ever think of that?”
“Then I’ll buy the Perfectly Posh.” Lucy picked up the bottle from Tina’s nail station.
“You know I don’t sell my polish to no one.” Tina sprayed down the foot tub and gave it a couple of scrubs to clean it out.
She stood up, tugged the scrunchie from her wrist and pulled her brown hair in a top-knot on her head. She stretched her neck into a slow roll and strolled over to Lucy. It was like she was gearing up for a confrontation or something.
“If you ain’t gonna do my nails for Polly’s wedding, then I’ll have someone else do them with your polish.” Lucy said through gritted teeth with the polish in her grips. “You are the only person who knows how to make your own polish that no one else has and I can’t have the same polish as the other girls from the Hunt Club at the wedding. I just can’t,” she cried and clutched the polish to her chest.
Tina plucked the bottle of homemade nail polish right out of Lucy’s hand.
“Get out of here,” Tina’s tone was one that meant business. Lucy slid her eyes past Tina’s shoulders and looked at me. I offered a pinched smile.
It was probably time for me to step in even though I wasn’t on duty. I went to stand up, but Jolee caught my attention. She shook her head for me to stay out of it.
She whispered, “This is the best part about coming to the beauty shop.” Jolee laughed. “All the crazy comes out of people.”
The tension crept up my back and into my shoulders. Wasn’t this supposed to be a relaxing experience? I thought and continued to look down.
“Well, I never. You’ll regret this Tina Bowers.” Lucy twirled her finger around the shop. “Tiny Tina’s will be no longer be in business once it gets out in all the gossip circles how you treated me here today.” Lucy brought her hands up to her chest. “I’m sending in a bad review to the Chronicle as soon as I get home.”
“And Lucy,” Cheree called after her before she left. “You might, oughta try a wet comb on that cowlick of yours.”
Lucy huffed and puffed before she turned on the balls of her feet and trotted out the door. Bouncy hair and all.
“Good riddance.” Tina snapped her fingers and pointed for me to move over to the nail station for my manicure. “She’s always sending bad reviews to the Chronicle.”
I walked on the heels of my feet, careful not to smear the fresh polish on my toes.
“Geez, I can’t believe the gall of that woman.” Tiny jerked my hand over the puffy brown pillow and adjusted the miniature light over my hand. “Scoot up,” she instructed me.
“If she had another wrinkle on that body, she’d be able to screw on that hat.” Cheree said under her breath as she finished up painting Jolee’s toenails and moved her to a manicure station next to me, sticking Jolee’s fingers in a bowl of water for her cuticles to soften.
She walked over to the client under the dryer and felt around her head before she started the dryer back up.
“Lucy’s an awful woman. She had the nerve to order from my food truck and bring the food back half eaten with a fly in it saying I cooked the fly in the food when I know good and well the fly flew into her food after she sat down at the picnic table because she’d spent the first few minutes batting them away.” Jolee curled her nose. “While stuffing her face the whole time.”
Cheree busied herself cleaning out the foot tub where Jolee had been and filled it right back up, motioning for Polly to come on over.
“My mama really wanted me to invite her to the wedding. I didn’t want to.” Polly gave her mom a sideways look. “I didn’t want to invite any of them hunting club women, but Mama insisted since I’m gonna be the first lady and all. Plus Chance is a member of the club. Not that he goes all that much, but it’s good for his position as Mayor.”
Polly fanned her face with her fingers.
“I sure hope the weather is good next weekend.” Polly looked over at her mother.
Paula Parker didn’t pay her daughter any attention. She just continued to sit in the plastic chair in the front of the shop flipping through the five-year-old beauty magazines.
“You obviously invited them.” Cheree turned the cold water on a little more after Polly sat down and stuck her big toe in and pulled it right back out.
“I told Tibbie Bell to go ahead and invite them all.” Polly referred to another friend of mine who was the only wedding planner in Cottonwood. “Chance told me not to worry my pretty little head because this week is their annual gun show, which means the men have taken off work the next couple of weeks to get their hunting cabins ready for the first week of hunting season.” Polly sucked in a deep breath and slowly let it out with a humming sound.
“Tibbie told me to breathe when I felt myself getting a little anxious over the wedding. Them women sure do make me anxious.” She took another deep breath.
“Now, now.” Paula Parker hurried over to Polly and drew her into her arms. “Don’t be going and getting yourself all worked up. I’m not mad.” They hugged for an uncomfortable few seconds.
With a pouty mouth, Polly picked up a bottle of nail polish and looked at the bottom before she set it down and picked up another one. She did the same thing bottle after bottle. All the women in the salon waited to hear what Polly was talking about. It’s just how it worked around our small town. Gossip was what not only bound us together but also tore us apart.
“Lucy called me about the food.” Jolee laughed and threw in her two cents worth of gossip.
“She did what?” Paula Parker’s voice escalated. “The nerve,” she gasped. “I’m paying you too much money if you ask me,” Paula muttered under her breath but loud enough for me to hear.
“Yeah. She wanted to know what we were serving to the guests so she could plan out if she needed to eat before the wedding in case she didn’t like the food.” Jolee shook her head.
“Maybe you should slip her a Mickey in her cocktail at the beginning of the wedding so she’ll be knocked out.” Polly shrugged, half-joking, half-serious.
“Maybe I should slip her more than a Mickey.” Jolee agreed. “She thinks she can go around and say what she wants with no consequences. She called the fire inspector on me one week, then the health inspector the next. Then she did that article in the newspaper giving my food truck a bad review.” Jolee huffed.
I’d thought she’d gotten over that incident, but apparently not.
“To this day, the Hunt Club won’t let me park in front of their meetings because of that woman. She’s hurting my livelihood.” Jolee’s foot was shaking up and down. A sure sign she was fired up. “I wish someone would put her in her place.”
“I for one am very excited you’re catering the wedding.” Polly’s chin lifted in the air and in a swift motion she brought it down to her right shoulder. “Right, Mama?”
“Yes, dear. Anything that comes out of your precious mouth is gold.” Paula Parker smiled with pride.
“Kenni,” Betty Murphy called over the walkie-talkie that I had in my purse. “Sheriff, are you there?”
I held up a wet fingernail to Tina to hold on and grabbed my purse to take out the walkie-talkie. I still kept my radio on me in case there was a dire emergency.
“I’m here, Betty,” I said after I hit the button on the side.
“I hate to bother you on your day off, but we got a complaint from Lucy Ellen Lowell.” Everyone’s head in the entire salon shot up in the air and looked my way. “She says that she was discriminated against and wants to file a complaint. I told her that Officer Vincent was out on a call and that I’d have him call her back, but she insisted I get in touch with him immediately or she was coming down here and I just don’t want to deal with Lucy Lowell this afternoon.”
“Did she tell you that I was at the salon when she came in?” I asked Betty.
“I knew something was up when I told her it was your day off and she muttered something about how she and Darnell had hosted your election fundraiser. I just let that drop. So what do you want me to do?” Betty asked.
“You tell her that you talked to me and that I’ll give her a call back.” I clicked off and stuck the walkie-talkie back into my purse.
“Maybe I should give her a hair treatment and let the scissors slip.” Tina dragged her finger across her neck.
“Duke,” I called from the kitchen when I got home from my so-called spa day at Tiny Tina’s. “Duke.”
I threw my keys on the kitchen counter and shut the kitchen door. I stood there for a second and let the quiet envelop me until a loud thud followed up by the sound of the pounding of the four large paws of my trusty deputy hound dog Duke.
All the yammering going on down at Tiny Tina’s wore me out. I didn’t understand how people gossiped day in and day out. All those stories started running together until I’d finally turned it off in my head.
“Hey, you big lug.” I bent down and was greeted with the best slobbery kisses. “You ready to go outside?”
He danced toward the kitchen door. I opened it and walked out with him. The fresh air might help clear my head. It was that strange time in between seasons in Kentucky when the weather was hot and humid one day and cold and chilly the next. This afternoon was turning out to be more on the light breezy side that was not quite sweatshirt weather, but not tank top weather either.
“Hey. I saw your Jeep in the driveway.” Finn Vincent peered over the gate that led into my back yard.
He let himself in. Before he could say anything else, I pulled him to me with a fist full of his brown deputy sheriff’s shirt and laid a big kiss on him.
“You must’ve missed me.” His eyes twinkled, sending my heart all aflutter.
“You must’ve been waiting by your window waiting for me to pull in.” I teased because he lived a couple of houses down from me.
Though he was from the north and not a real southerner, his handsome charm hadn’t gone unnoticed by every single girl in Cottonwood when he first came to town. Over the past year, he’d really picked up on the fact that in the south, it’s much easier to catch flies with honey instead of vinegar and holding the door open for a woman can go a long way.
“I’m just so glad that you don’t like all the girly things because I just don’t know if I could go to Tiny Tina’s on a regular basis for nails, hair and spa days. They curl way more than hair there.” I rubbed my head. “My head hurts from all the gossip.”
Duke darted from the far corner of the back yard when he saw his ball-throwing buddy. He was always happy to see Finn.
I sat down in a chair on my back porch and enjoyed watching Finn throw the ball to Duke a few times until Duke decided he was going to sniff all the grass along the backside of the fence.
“That bad?” He turned around and looked at me with dipped eyes. “I thought you’d like the gift card.”
“I’m very appreciative of the gift card and it came at a great time since we have the wedding next weekend and I did need my nails done, but I’m amazed at how they can just go from one gossip story to another.” Goosebumps prickled my leg as he scooted his chair closer to mine.
“I get enough of their tales at Euchre. These girls do it day in and day out.” I left out the part of Lucy Ellen’s crazy tirade about getting her nails done and how she’d called dispatch since I took care of it. Plus, he’d probably be upset that Betty Murphy had called me on my first day off in months. “How was your day?”
“Made the usual rounds and I got a call from Bosco Frederick from the Hunt Club. He said something about having a deputy at their annual gun show in a couple of days at The Moose Lodge.” There was an amused look on his face.
These were the times that his northern roots stuck out. He didn’t understand that guns and knives strapped on the belts of Cottonwood citizens were accessories that completed the look of the locals. If you weren’t packing, then we knew you were an out-of-towner.
“The annual gun show,” I let out a deep sigh and extended my legs out in front of me. “Polly mentioned that today. I can’t believe we’re only a couple months off from the opening week of hunting season.” I crossed my forearms across my belly and let the cool breeze float around me. “The women married to the men of the Hunt Club host this annual show. The men all take the next couple of weeks off to clean and fix up their hunting cabins and deer stands so when the season opens, they’re ready to go.”
“Annual? How many more guns can people in this town own?” he joked.
“You can never have enough.” I winked. “Lucy Ellen and all the women in the Hunt Club are sitting together at the wedding since their husbands are occupied.”
“I just don’t get all that hunting business. Poor animals.” Finn had such a tender heart when it came to animals. He’d even taken in Cosmo, an orange tabby cat that belonged to one of the criminals we’d put behind bars.
“It’s just a way of life around here. Plus Lucy’s husband is the only person who does taxidermy here in Cottonwood, so she’s got to promote her lifestyle.” She could’ve done it a little less conspicuously, but she was harmless and had given Tina and the girls a lot to talk about and entertain me while I’d endured the Kentucky River limestones under my feet.
Duke darted along the fence line up to the gate on the side of the house and followed up with a little bit of barking, then the wagging tail, telling me whoever was walking up the sidewalk on the side of my house was someone he knew.
“There’s my grand-doggie.” Mama’s voice carried into the back yard and made Duke’s tail wag faster.
I stood up and walked over, grabbing Duke by the collar.
“Hey, Mama.” I stood up. My eyes slid over Mama’s shoulder.
She wasn’t alone. Polly and Paula Parker were with her. Polly had a hanger in her hand and the white dress bag flowed down with the bottom edges ending in her mama’s hand.
“Kenni, can you please chain up that mutt?” Polly’s perfectly pink lined lips snarled. “I can’t have him ruining this dress.” She didn’t take her eyes off Duke. He was dancing around in anticipation of the ladies coming in the yard.
I let go of his collar and snapped my fingers for him to lay down. He was a trained dog. Not that he was an official police dog, but I’d had him since he was given to me from my poppa, which was a whole ‘nother story all together.
“Polly, he won’t hurt you. He’s a sweetie.” Mama did love Duke.
When I looked at Mama, I saw exactly what I was going to look like later in life. She had shoulder length brown hair like me. We had the same olive skin tone and if it weren’t for a few wrinkles, she’d look my age. Both of us stood five foot, five inches and pretty much had the same body type, though her hips were a little bigger than mine. Only because she’d birthed me, her only child. Trust me when I say that I completely get the only child syndrome.
“Hi, Finn.” Polly greeted Finn as did Mrs. Parker.
“It’s so good to see you in regular clothes.” Mama smiled so big bringing her shoulders up to her ears as she reached out and grabbed my hand to get a gander at the manicure. “I heard you used your gift card from Finn.” Mama couldn’t stop the big smile when she looked at him.
It wasn’t a big secret that Mama had plans for my life other than being the sheriff. She’d planned on the biggest election of my life being voted Debutante of Cottonwood instead of being voted Sheriff of Cottonwood.
“You are going to be such a beautiful maid of honor.” She let out the biggest happiest sigh that I’d not heard since I let her take me prom dress shopping back in high school.
“Maid of honor?” My oh-shit meter went off real fast. I started to shake my head as fast as Duke’s tail had wagged when I could see what was happening. “I’m sorry.” I apologized. “I thought I heard you say maid of honor.”
“Oh, Kendrick Lowry.” Polly Parker’s chin length, perfectly blond (though it came from one of Tiny Tina’s bottles of dye) hair didn’t move as she bounced past Mama. She dragged that dress bag over to me. “I couldn’t think of anyone else in my time of need. After all, your job description on the Cottonwood Sheriff’s Department website says that the sheriff helps anyone in need.”
Polly jerked around and handed the hanger off to Mama as she started to unzip the big dress bag.
“My time of need is right now and is for a beer.” I looked back at Finn. His hand was over his mouth and his eyes were big.
He threw his hands up in the air and stood up.
“I think it’s time for me to go.” His lips tremored as he tried to not smile. “I’ll go grab us some supper from Kim’s Buffet and give you a little girl time.”
“Girl time!” Mama squealed.
“No.” I gasped and grabbed his hand. “You can’t leave me. What kind of boyfriend are you?”
“One that wants to stay your boyfriend. You’re gonna need some food.” He bent down and kissed my cheek.
“Tada!” Polly screamed and pulled the hanger in the air, letting the bag fall on the ground.
“I’m out.” Finn pointed his finger toward to the gate and walked away, leaving me there with my mouth gaped open.
“I knew you were going to love it.” Polly looked between me and the dress, with her big horse teeth sparkling. Her head bobbling in delight as she looked at the hunter green dress that looked like it’d come right off the curtain rods of an old plantation home.
Dr. Bev Houston, the local dentist, should’ve been arrested for giving Polly Parker those big veneers in that tiny mouth of hers.
“And we can’t forget your bonnet.” As if they’d rehearsed it, Paula produced a matching green bonnet (if they thought that was going on top of my head, they had another thing coming to them).
“My bonnet?” I took a few steps backward and wagged my finger in front of me.
“Of course, we’d have to get you back down to Tiny Tina’s to change out the polish you picked because we are doing Posh Pink.” Polly gave me instructions like I had no decision in this matter.
“I got Natural Nail.” I wiggled my fingers as if this was the worst issue going on here. I was already plum tuckered out and they’d only been here a few minutes. My hands were shaking. I was in a pickle and it wasn’t good. Polly Parker and I weren’t even friends. “Tina said Natural Nail goes with everything.”
“You’re right.” Polly’s eyes squinted as she looked lovingly at my mother as if I were a toddler holding on to my mama’s leg. “She doesn’t know wedding etiquette at all.”
They looked between each other as if they’d already been talking about me.
“I didn’t see any sort of dress code on your wedding invitation.” I brought my hand up to my head and rubbed my temples and forehead.
Jolee and I had a good laugh when the invitations to Polly’s wedding came and it looked exactly like something from Gone With The Wind. In fact, all the food Polly had contracted Jolee to cater was deep southern dishes. But I didn’t recall a dress code.
“What is wrong with you?” Mama asked. “I think them stones Tina put in your foot bath has done something to your head.”
Mama was so embarrassed by my behavior she turned all of the shades of red on one of the color wheels hanging up in the art room in the Cottonwood Elementary School.
“Maid of honor.” Polly shook the hanger.
It hit me as if I’d run smack dab into a brick wall. This was the dress Vivien Leigh’s character, Scarlett O’Hara, had made when she jerked the curtains off the windows of her beloved plantation, Tara. “You’re going to be a maid of honor now that my sorority sister from college can’t make it.” She turned to her mama. “Can you believe that she’s not coming because she just had a baby? The nerve of saying yes and then now she’s not coming.”
It was just like Polly Parker to find fault with a new, precious baby. I’d bet my bottom dollar that friend had gotten a gander at this dress and bailed, leaving me in the lurch. Too bad I didn’t have a good excuse like a baby.
“I’m. . .um. . .I’m . . .” I couldn’t take my eyes off the ugly dress. “I’m not even good friends with you. And I didn’t do the website. Betty Murphy does.”
I clearly wasn’t sure what she wrote on the website. But I would definitely be making some changes.
I snapped my fingers. “What about Toots Buford? She’s your best friend and I don’t think she’s in your wedding party.”
“Toots Buford works at Dixon’s Foodtown and doesn’t have enough money to rub two dimes together, much less buy this three-hundred-dollar dress.” She brushed the dress side-to-side letting the crinoline crunch to a dramatic halt. “Your mama has not only paid me for your dress, she’s even hosting the bridal party luncheon on Friday that as maid of honor you’re supposed to give.”
“Well that ain’t gonna happen.” The words fell out of mouth. “I’ve got to work.”
“Kendrick Lowry!” Mama cried out and buried her head in her hands. “You sure do know how to embarrass your mama and your family in someone else’s time of need. I raised you better than this.” She took her face out of her hands and looked at Polly and Paula. “I raised her better than this. It’s living here on Free Row that’s done it to her.”
Mama’s head nodded as she referred to my neighborhood that was known as Free Row. Free Row was technically Broadway Street, but most of my neighbors were on commodity cheese, food stamps and any other free things they could get from the government. Not that it was an issue, but they also had broken down furniture on their front porches and beat up cars hoisted up on cinder blocks. Not Mama’s ideal living arrangements for her one and only child.
Still, it was my poppa’s home and he left it to me in his will. I loved it as a young child and I love it as my home now. Especially now that Finn was just a couple of doors down.
“I’m not using bad manners. I’m just saying that years from now you want to look back at your photos with fond memories of each person in your wedding.” I thought my reasoning sounded good and I was proud of how I just plucked that logic right out of my you-know-what. “Not the memory that I’d accused you of killing someone a year ago.”
It was true. Polly Parker was a suspect in a local murder and I was relentless in proving it. Luckily, I was wrong. I should’ve known better because the victim wasn’t dressed in fancy clothes and Polly Parker would never put her manicure in danger with manual labor like murder.
I watched in horror as Polly’s chest started to pop up and down, followed by a turned down mouth, watering eyes and a full out crying hissy fit. And it wasn’t pretty. She was not a pretty crier.
“Look what you’ve done.” Paula spouted to me through her gritted teeth. “Just you wait until the election. I don’t care if you’re opposed. I’ll write someone in instead of voting for you.”
And that did it for me.
“Fine. I love the color.” I grabbed the dress out from Polly’s dainty fingers and held it up to my body. “I loooove the dress.” I couldn’t stress it enough. “Perfect Posh,” I wiggled my fingers like spirit hands, “here I come.”
Ever since I agreed to be Polly’s maid of honor, I’d regretted it. Not only was the dress awful, it didn’t fit me. I was a solid size eight, sometimes a ten, and it was a four. There was no way I was going to stop going to Ben’s Diner for my morning dose of coffee, gravy biscuits and bacon to fit into the dress, as Polly had suggested with a look of horror on her face when she saw me stuffed into the dress like a summer sausage.
After the wedding brigade left, I wasn’t much company. Finn had come back with all of my favorite dishes from Kim’s Buffet but I was in no mood to eat. All the pushing and tugging Mama did to my body to even get me in the dress left me exhausted and mentally drained. Finn went home and I decided to go to bed, maybe sleeping it off was what I needed.
“Sherriff! Sherriff,” the urgent caller’s voice jolted me awake at four o’clock the next morning
“Get over here right away. My wife is dead!” The desperate sound of the man woke me up but the words my wife is dead popped me straight out of bed.
Duke leapt off the bed. It wasn’t unusual for a small-town sheriff like me to give out their phone number or be listed in the phone book. Small town, small ways.
“Who is this?” I asked, with the phone stuck in between my ear and shoulder.
I hopped around on one foot while trying to shove one leg and then the other in my sheriff’s pants.
“Oh my God,” the man’s voice cried. “Luuuuucccccccyyyyy.” The sobs from the man dragged out. “Lucy baby, Lucy baby. Lucy baby, wake up.”
“Lucy? Sir, I’m gonna need you to calm down. Tell me where you live.” The only Lucy I knew was Lucy Ellen Lowell and she looked perfectly heathy to me at Tiny Tina’s yesterday.
“It’s Darnell Lowell. I just got home from huntin’ and she’s. . . .she’s. . .not waking up.”
“Lowell, don’t move her. I’ll be right there.” I clicked off my phone and immediately dialed EMT services to get an ambulance over there (which was what Lowell should’ve done before he called me). But sometimes things were done ass-backward around these parts.
“Let’s go Duke!” I yelled down the hall.
It was too early in the morning to call Mrs. Brown, my next door neighbor, to take care of him. I shoved some of his kibble in my pants pocket, grabbed a to-go coffee mug and ignored the fact I was pouring in it what was left from yesterday morning’s coffee pot and heated it in the microwave. While the coffee warmed, I strapped on my holster around my waist and attached the walkie-talkie on my shoulder.
The last thing I grabbed as I ran out of my house was my bag with all the tools I needed for a police scene and my Jeep Wagoneer keys. I opened the door to let Duke jump in and tugged the kibble out of my pocket, throwing it on the seat for him to gobble up since I didn’t know how long I was going to be at the Lowell house. I stuck my mug in the bean bag coffee holder that laid across the hump in the floorboard and jabbed my keys in the ignition.
In a fluid motion, I grabbed the old police siren from underneath my seat and licked the suction cup. With my free hand, I manually cranked down the driver’s window and stuck the siren up on the roof, skimming the side of it with the pad of my finger to turn on the flashing red light and siren.
With the pedal to the floor, and Duke hanging out the passenger window, the Wagoneer rattled down Broadway and without stopping, took a right at the end on Main Street. The Lowells lived out in a subdivision off the by-pass and the quickest way to get there was to drive south on Main Street until the flashing light to turn right on the by-pass going toward Harrodsburg, another city near Cottonwood.
The houses were ranch style and had been built back in the seventies. Each house had a fairly good amount of property. Just enough to have neighbors, but far away enough to feel like you were in the country with a horse or two or even a nice big garden.
Darnell was pacing back and forth when I pulled up. There were a set of headlights barreling down the drive practically as soon as I got the Jeep in park. It was Finn in his Dodge Charger.
“Kenni,” Darnell’s face was as white as the inside of a freshly cut turnip. His thick black curly hair sat on top his head like a Brill-o pad. “What am I gonna do?” His eyes searched mine as he rung his hands together. “I swear she’s dead. I know how to feel for a pulse. I’m a hunter.”
“Hold on. The ambulance will be here shortly.” I wanted to offer him some hope. The chill in the night air put a stiffness in my bones as if it knew and was telling me something. “Where is she?”
“Right on in there.” His chin fell to his chest as he shook his head. He still had on his camouflage hunting overhauls with a lime green Henley shirt.
The members of the Hunt Club had a rule that they had to wear something neon so they wouldn’t mistake one another for a deer or whatever it happened to be they were hunting.
Finn walked up with his uniform shirt partially buttoned and his white tee underneath.
“I heard your siren going off, so I jumped up and followed you.” Finn was a great deputy. A grateful smile floated across my lips. “What’s going on?”
“Darnell, why don’t you wait right here while Deputy Vincent and I go in and see what’s going on.” I nodded and put my hand on his forearm to give him some sort of empathy.
Finn and I walked through the front door. There was a small foyer with what looked like an office to the right. The foyer led into a hallway that if you looked clear down it, you’d see the refrigerator. Before you reached the kitchen, there was a step-down family room. And that’s where I saw her.
“Lucy Ellen Lowell.” I pointed when I saw her feet sticking out from the around the corner of the couch.
“Is she dead?” Finn asked as we hurried to her side.
I bent down. Her eyes were glazed over and her skin had already turned blue. I felt for a pulse that clearly wasn’t there on her neck and then on her wrist.
“Dead as a doornail.” My Poppa’s ghost stood in the dark corner of the room with his eyes focused on the lifeless body of Lucy Ellen Lowell.