THE WRITTEN WORD
by Mickey Minner
"I think that should do it," Dillon handed back what she thought was the last book in the reader's collection but Julie reached into the box at her feet and pulled out one more.
"This is my absolute favorite."
Dillon smiled, pleased at the compliment and thankful the book was the final one. She had been signing books for a half hour and she could tell by Melissa's body language that her wife was more than ready to leave the motel room. "Then I'll have to add a special note to this one," she said, ignoring her wife's dramatic rolling of her eyes.
Julie waited anxiously while Dillon wrote. "Oh, gosh," she said, reading the writer's comments as soon as she was handed the autographed book. "Thank you."
"Is that it?" Melissa asked standing up. "Can we go now?"
Dillon glared at her wife. "Melissa!"
Julie looked at the agitated woman standing just inside of the door. “Don't let me keep you if you have plans."
Melissa opened the door, waiting impatiently for Dillon to join her. "We do."
"Thank you," Dillon stood. "I do appreciate you buying my books and I'm very happy to hear how much you liked them." She joined her wife. "I hope you'll come by the shop before you leave town."
"Oh, I will," Julie said as the couple left the motel room. She watched them walk down to the creek, hop across the stepping stones and disappear over the top of the hillock before she closed the door.
"That was rude." Melissa remained silent as she led Dillon down the back side of the hill. "Why do you have to treat my fans like they're such an inconvenience?"
"Because some of them are. And she gives me the creeps."
"Julie is very nice."
"Maybe to you but I keep catching her looking at me like—"
"Like… I don't know. But it creeps me out." She had reached the side of the main road highway, and without checking for any non existent traffic, strode across the pavement.
"Damn it, Melissa. Talk to me."
Stopping on the center strip, she turned to face her wife. "Talk about what? Talk about how much happier you are when you have some adoring fan gushing all over you? Is that what you want to talk about?"
"Us. Can we talk about us?"
Melissa looked at her wife then glanced over her shoulder at the town’s business district. "I… um…" She turned and continued across the street. "I'm going over to the Bounty. I'll be home later."
Melissa heard the plea but did not let it stop her from continuing toward the town's only bar.
Dillon's eyes followed her wife knowing she might not see her again before morning. "Damn," she muttered as she walked across the street but in a direction that would take her home to an empty house.
Julie pulled the door shut then tested to make sure it was locked. She stood looking at the creek as she considered her options. Finally, her decision made, she stepped onto the grass and walked down to the creek. It took but a few seconds to cross the creek using the same stones Dillon and Melissa had use earlier then she climbed up the embankment. She stopped when she reached the top to take in the view of the town and lake below. The path, worn down to bare dirt from the heavy use by motel visitors walking to and from the lake, cut diagonally down the side of the hillock to where the highway met the shoreline road. From where she stood, she had an unobstructed view of the intersection, the docks, and the businesses that lined the beach front, including the curio shop. She also had a clear view of Dillon walking toward the hillside of houses at the opposite end of town and of Melissa crossing the parking lot of the bar.
“Little early for you, isn’t it?” The bartender pulled a bottle of beer out of the tub of ice behind the bar. A quick twist of his wrist freed the cap which was tossed into a basket sitting on the back counter while the chilled bottle was set down in front of his customer.
“I suppose.” Melissa picked up the bottle and lifted it to her lips, letting the cold liquid fill her mouth and roll down her throat. She grimaced when the strong taste registered in her brain.
“Why do you drink that stuff? Seems you could find something you liked a lot better.”
“Keeps me from drinking too much of it.”
Ted laughed. “Slim pickin’s tonight,” he said as she looked around the empty tables.
“You might think about going home.”
She took another drink, grimacing again at the bitter taste. “Give it a rest, Ted.”
He shrugged. “It’s your life.”
“You don’t need me to tell you you’re a fool,” he said as she finished off the beer. “Want another?”
Melissa looked at the empty bottle in her hand. Before she could make up her mind, the door to the bar opened and a burst of late afternoon sunlight spread across the normally dark room. “Yeah,” she said watching a woman enter. “Give me another one.”
Julie walked to a nearby table and sat down. Taking a napkin from the dispenser on the table, she wiped at the surface nervously.
Ted placed a fresh bottle of beer on the counter before walking around the bar to greet his new customer. “What can I get for you?”
“Do you serve any food?”
“Sure. Let me grab a menu. You want anything to drink?”
“A glass of water, please.”
Melissa listened to the exchange. “You always go to a bar to order water?” she asked after taking a swig of her beer. “Café is just down the street.”
“Is there a reason I can’t eat here?”
Ted returned with the requested glass of water. “Absolutely not. Food here is just as good as the café,” he smiled as he handed her a menu. “Take a look and I’ll be back to get your order.” He glared at Melissa as he returned to the bar. “Haven’t got too many customers this time of year, so don’t go scaring off the ones I do get,” he told her keeping his voice low.
Melissa swiveled back around on the bar stool to face the bar. Her shoulders hunched as she rolled the beer bottle between her hands. She heard Ted return to take Julie’s order and then walk into the kitchen to prepare it. Lifting the bottle to her lips, she emptied it in a few gulps. Placing the bottle on the bar, she stood and pulled her wallet out of her pant’s pocket. After placing a bill next to the empty bottle, she turned and walked to the door.
The sun was just about to disappear behind the mountains encircling the lake when Melissa walked out of the bar. She stood in the parking lot a few minutes while she debated whether to go home and face her wife or to find something else to keep her occupied a few more hours. Flashing lights caught her attention and she looked toward the shoreline. “Oh, shit,” she muttered seeing the sheriff’s car parked next to her pickup.
“I was just coming to look for you,” Sheriff Scott McGraw told her as she trotted up to him. “Figured I’d find you in the Bounty.”
“You’re not planning on writing me up for parking here? Heck, Scooter, except for your cruiser, mine is the only car in town tonight.”
“Nope, but you are parked in front of a No Parking sign.”
Melissa pulled her keys out of her pocket. “I’ll move it.”
“Might want to take a look at this first.” The sheriff pointed at the hood of the truck.
“What did a seagull poop on it or something?”
“What the fa…?” Melissa groaned when she saw the word ‘slut’ scratched across the hood in the crude lettering of an angry hand.
“Who’d you pissed off this time?”
“What are you talking about?” She ran her hand over the word. “Damn, they went down to the metal. Do you know how much this is gonna cost to get fixed?”
“A pretty penny, I bet. So let’s have some names.”
Melissa gazed up at the sheriff, a puzzled look on her face.
“Don’t play that game with me,” Scott told her. “I know where you spend your nights. Now either you give me some names or I’ll go ask Conrad who he’s rented rooms to lately.”
“Dammit, Scooter. I don’t know their names.”
“You sleep with them but don’t know their names?”
“I never ask.”
“What is wrong with you? Ever since you and Dillon came back here you’ve been acting like a tomcat on speed,” the sheriff said, shaking his head disgustedly. “At least, give me a description of the ones from the last few days.”
“Damn, I’m not out bedding a new one every night. There’s only been one. Last night, I picked her up at the Bounty. She was here with her husband. He came to do some fishing.”
“They bring a boat?”
“It was one of those lake cruises, about twenty-five, twenty-six feet. A Campion, I think.”
“White with blue trim. But you won’t find it at the docks. I saw them pulling it out this morning.”
Scott made a final notation on his report pad then snapped it shut. “Listen, Melissa, I haven’t wanted to bring this up but you need to deal with whatever is going on in your head.”
“Leave it alone, Scooter.”
“I can’t. The town council took too many complaints about you last summer. It’s not just your one night stands with the wives of the tourists,” he said before Melissa could protest again. “It’s also your speeding around town and on Lakeshore Drive. And you swearing at the tourists you don’t like and telling some of them to leave town. You’re getting to be bad for business.”
“Tough,” she grumbled.
“I’m asking you, as your cousin and friend, to get control of whatever is driving you.” He placed a hand on her shoulder, “Please, Mel.”
She shrugged the hand off. “Our family started this town.”
“That was a long time ago.”
“It should still mean something.”
“It does. But it isn’t enough to keep the council turning a blind eye. They’re talking of banning you from town.”
Melissa walked around the sheriff and yanked open the truck door. “Fine. I’ll think about it.”
“Where are you going?”
“I don’t need a baby-sitting, Scooter.”
“No, but you do have a wife that needs you.” The pickup’s engine roaring to life was his only response. He blew out a long breath. “What demon has got a hold of you, Mel?” he asked after she backed away from the front of the Beachcomber and drove away.
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