The Hawk Run Chronicles: Welcome Home

by Skippy


The usual...

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There is a looping, meandering road that runs through a corner of southern Ohio. It curls around the Appalachian foothills and it dips down into niches carved by an ancient river. It traverses a state forest where, in the springtime, dogwoods bloom and sunlight filters through them to dapple violets and trilliums beneath. Eventually, the road finds its end at the edge of Little Hawk Lake.

The lake is a large, clear, spring-fed body of water surrounded by the town of Hawk Run, Ohio. Houses, schools, and a hospital fan out from its shores. A number of farms trail off into the soft hills that huddle close to the town. There are art galleries offering paintings, ceramics, and textiles for sale. A community theater and a symphony orchestra thrive in Hawk Run. Up in the hills, at the edge of the state forest, there is a small liberal-arts college for women. Many of the town residents are on faculty there, and its students can find summer employment on the mile-long boardwalk that frames the eastern shore of Little Hawk Lake. This is not a place to hurry through; you want to linger.

On a cold and clear blue-sky morning in early spring, Maggie Conover awoke in the Half Moon Motor Court in the town of Hawk Run, Ohio. The motel was a relic straight out of the 1940's. It had no air conditioning (not that any was required before July), and televisions had never been installed. It was spotlessly clean, though, the beds were comfortable, and it sat less than 100 yards from Little Hawk Lake. The view alone would have been enough to make Maggie choose to stay there, but a rate of $25 a night for single occupancy could not be ignored. She didn't watch much TV anyway.

She was in town to apply for a job. Aside from that, the visit was a kind of homecoming for her. She had been born here, leaving at the age of six when her family relocated to another town in a different state. Good memories of Hawk Run had stayed with her, and they were a part of the reason for her return. She hoped to find a sense of belonging that seemed always to be lacking in her life.

She awoke at 5:30 am and she showered. She toweled herself dry. She raked her fingers through her short-cropped hair to give it a semblance of order. She studied her reflection in the mirror above the sink and saw a tall, good-looking, nicely muscular, 30-year old woman in the very best of health. She brushed her teeth until foam burbled out between her lips, then practiced her repertoire of smiles.

Still smiling, she toddled naked from the bathroom to the bedroom to dress. She put on stockings and a garter belt, a lacy bra, a slip, a skirt, a blouse and a blazer. She stepped into a pair of black leather pumps as she examined the effect in a full-length mirror that hung on the bathroom door. It was important to her that she look good for the job interview ahead of her. She nodded satisfaction, deciding she looked just fine. She shrugged into a trench coat before stepping out of the motel room and into the clear, cold morning.

The sound of a boat motor drifted in off the lake. She put on sunglasses as she watched the small craft putter across the silvery water. The lake was like a mirror in the morning sun; trees and buildings around it cast reflections that shimmered and undulated in the wake of the boat. Maggie smiled, breathing deeply of the crisp air. She went striding off down the street in search of breakfast.

In the business district of the town there were four restaurants. Two of them were not open for breakfast. The name of the third…Nona Bee's Kasa de Kaffeine…caused Maggie to snicker, so she passed it by. The fourth establishment was Dukie's Diner.

Housed in an old railroad depot on a side street at the top of the business district, the diner offered good food, low prices, and a bare minimum of décor. The floor was broad wooden planks worn smooth and almost white through years of foot traffic and vigorous scrubbing. Plain wooden tables and chairs provided lots of seating for the hungry patrons who crowded the place at every meal. The only noteworthy feature was a counter that ran 50 feet along one end of the building. It was a lovingly restored mahogany bar salvaged from a tavern in Columbus. Dukie Velker, the owner of the diner, had overseen its removal from the tavern, had herself driven the truck that transported it to Hawk Run, and had put in long hours helping with its restoration. Now, Dukie stood behind that bar, coffee pot in hand, asking if Maggie wanted to see a menu.

"Yes, ma'am, please," Maggie replied.

"I had to ask twice," Dukie grumbled. "Thought I might need to bring someone in to interpret for you in sign language." She slapped a menu down in front of her.

Maggie was not deaf she was mesmerized. She was wide-eyed with wonder. Dukie's hair was the color of cooked carrots.

"Do you want coffee?" Dukie inquired.

"Yes, ma'am."

"My name's Dukie. Don't call me ma'am. Are you a visitor? I've never seen you before."

"A visitor soon to become a resident," she smiled, liking the woman despite her grumpy demeanor. "My name is Maggie Conover."

"Well, Maggie Conover, do you or do you not want to order?"

"I haven't looked at the menu yet."

"Too busy admiring my hair. You check the menu. I'll come back in a year or two."

Blushing furiously, Maggie grabbed up the menu. She regained her composure by the time the curmudgeonly owner returned.

"Lemme have it," Dukie commanded, pulling a pencil from behind her ear.

"What kind of cereal do you have?"

"Oatmeal, Special K, Cheerios, and Raisin Bran."

"I'd like oatmeal. That first, then two eggs scrambled, white toast, orange juice, and a glass of milk. And the coffee."

Dukie grunted and nodded acknowledgment, then hurried off toward the kitchen. She returned with the oatmeal and some silverware. She refilled the coffee cup before again departing in haste. Just as Maggie was setting aside the empty cereal bowl, Dukie once again appeared to serve the rest of the order.

She pulled a bottle of ketchup from the pocket of her apron. She held it up and pointed to it. "Yes or no, Maggie Conover?"

"No, thank you, Miz Dukie," Maggie smiled.

"Okay, then. Are you all set?"

"I'm set."

"Then I will leave you to enjoy your meal in peace. And welcome to Hawk Run."

The Hawk Run Police Department was in a red brick building that had felt many a brisk wind scour its surface. It was at the south end of the boardwalk, and behind it were a dock and a boathouse where two police inboards were kept. In front of the building was a brick sidewalk with three steps leading up to the entrance. Maggie paused there a moment and took a deep breath before trotting up the steps to open the heavy, glass door.

She marched along a wide corridor until she came to a high counter dividing hallway from office space. On a stool behind the counter sat a woman whose nametag identified he as D. Adkins. She sported a formidable beehive hairdo that had been teased, sprayed, and generally fussed over with the sort of attention to detail that defies explanation. She was humming softly while she stabbed an ornate hatpin into a cigar. She looked up and smiled as Maggie approached.

"Good morning," she warbled. "How may I be of assistance to you?" She asked this as she took a box from beneath the counter and placed the pinhole-infested cigar into it.

Maggie wondered briefly if she was in the right place. She moved tentatively closer to the counter. "I have an interview with Chief Yancey," she declared. "My name is Maggie Conover."

The woman extended a hand for shaking. "Darnell Adkins is my name. I'm the official admin assistant here."

Her hand was adorned with several large and very sparkly rings. She also had long, lethal-looking crimson fingernails. Maggie shook hands, regardless.

Darnell reached under the counter again, this time to press a buzzer. The gate at the end of the wooden barrier snicked open. "Come on in, Ms. Conover. The old wart hog is wallowing in his sty. Oh, I beg your pardon," she smiled. "I meant to say that Chief Yancey is waiting for you in his office."

Bert Yancey ushered Maggie to a red leather chair facing his desk. The desk was either an antique or a well-crafted reproduction. On the floor was a Persian-style rug. A grandfather clock graced one corner, and a Van Gogh print hung on the wall behind the desk. Atop a cherry wood filing cabinet sat a crystal vase filled with fresh flowers.

Maggie was dumbstruck; it was an office unique in her experience with bureaucratic-type space. She sat down slowly, taking everything in, and did her very best not to give way to an impending attack of the giggles. There was something not quite right, something slightly off kilter, with the whole scene. A sense of unreality had begun to tickle her brain the moment she spotted Darnell Adkins poking holes in a cigar. Chief Yancey's tastefully decorated office simply added to the mood.

"The job is yours if you want it, Miss Connors," Bert declared.

"Conover," Maggie responded.

Bert consulted a list before him. He frowned. "You aren't Margery Connors?"

"No, sir. My name is Marguerite Conover."

He snatched up the list and went stomping out of the office. Sounds of a heated discussion reached Maggie's ears as the chief interrogated the official admin assistant. Brief moments later, Bert returned clutching a new list of names and muttering something about being made to look foolish. He dropped down onto the desk chair with a loud sigh.

He smiled at Maggie. "Sorry about that. My secretary gave me the wrong list by mistake."

"No problem," she smiled in reply.

"Okay then. You're Marguerite Conover from the Columbus PD. Did we get it right this time?"

"Yes, sir."

"Good. That's good. Okay. Well, Miss Conover…"

Rapid-fire knocking interrupted the interview. Bert was further startled when the office door flew open and crashed against the wall.

"What the hell is wrong with you, Darnell?" he yipped as Ms. Adkins stepped into the room.

"I wondered if you might like some coffee," she smiled sweetly.

"Is that a reason to come crashing in here like a damn SWAT team? Jesus. You scared the crap outta me."

Darnell touched Maggie's shoulder. "Did I startle you, dear?" she inquired.

"A little," Maggie laughed.

"I apologize. Would you like some coffee? Our head dispatcher makes the coffee, and she has quite a knack for it. It isn't typical of the swill you find in most offices. Shall I bring you a cup?"

Thinking that coffee might somehow shift things in the direction of normal, Maggie nodded acceptance. "Yes, thank you. Coffee might help."

Darnell patted her shoulder. "That is so often true. Cream, sugar, both, or neither?"

"Neither. Just black, please."

Darnell fixed Bert with an oddly hostile gaze. "Coffee, Bert?" she growled.

"Gracie made it?" he asked.

"Yes, she did, as she does every morning."

"Then I'll have some."

"Cream and sugar?"

"No!" he yelped, flinching as though struck. "No. Please. Nothing. Don't put anything in it. Please, just plain, black coffee, Darnell. Thank you."

"As you wish." She gave Maggie's shoulder a final, gentle pat, then departed.

"Sorry about that," Bert smiled sheepishly. "There's been a problem between me and Darnell, a difference of opinion over a personal matter. It's something that happened a couple weeks ago. She's still sorta pissed off over it."

"I see," Maggie nodded. Whether she did or not seemed irrelevant.

Bert took a file folder from the in box on top of the desk. He donned reading glasses as he opened it. "You were born here in Hawk Run," he commented, glancing at her resume.

"Yes, sir. We moved to Kentucky when I was six."

"You have a degree in sociology from Ohio State." He leaned back in his chair, smiling. "Did you play any sports there?"

"Varsity soccer, intramural flag football."

"I get to Columbus every chance I get in the fall. I like to go see the Buckeyes play football. I always wanted to play football there, but I just didn't have the size. Or the talent."

"Were you a student at Ohio State?"

"No. I graduated from Marietta. You were with Columbus PD for five years. How come you quit?"

"I wanted to live and work in a small town. Columbus has gotten so big in the last few years. I think it would be nice to actually know the names and the faces of some of the people I'm supposed to be serving."

"It says in this…"

Darnell once again came crashing into the office, interrupting the interview. She came bearing coffee this time, and she slammed the door upon exiting.

Bert's face flushed with anger. His lips actually moved as he counted to ten. When he finally picked up his coffee, he carefully examined the cup and its contents.

"Last week," he grumbled, "she put laxative in my coffee. And one day, she gave me a jelly donut filled with hot pepper sauce. I'm not real sure any more what it was, exactly, that I did to piss her off." He sighed heavily, and then gave Maggie another sheepish grin. "Well. This isn't getting you on our payroll. I'd best stick to the matter at hand. So, according to the file we got from Columbus, you were wounded in the line of duty. Did that influence your decision to find a job elsewhere?"

"I'd be a liar if I said otherwise," Maggie answered. "Getting shot scared the daylights out of me, and that's a fact. It took me about six months to recover, and I did a lot of thinking in that time. I came to the conclusion that I'd be happier…and maybe a bit safer…working in a place like Hawk Run."

"We had three burglaries in the last six months, Marguerite. Do you mind if I call you by your first name? Guess I should have asked to begin with," he smiled.

"No, sir, I don't mind."

"Okay, then. Three burglaries, like I said, plus two armed robberies, and a few innocent bystanders were wounded during one of those. We also had a couple arrests for possession of cocaine; also maybe five or six arrests for assault. We get out share of violent crime here, Marguerite."

"I was shot during a routine traffic stop. I stopped a motorist to inform him that his taillight was not working. He pulled a weapon before I so much as climbed off the motorcycle."

"Yeah, I read the file." He swallowed some coffee. "Do you want the job here?"

"Yes, sir, I do."

"How soon would you be able to start?"

"I'd need maybe a week, maybe two, to get moved from Columbus."

"If you need a place to live, check at Sunset Realty on Birdwell Street. There's a place on Main Lake, too. I usually steer people toward Sunset Realty, though. Got a lady friend runnin' the place," he grinned.

"I made arrangements yesterday, but thank you for the reference."

"You found a place already? What if we weren't interested in hiring you?"

"I have interviews with the state highway patrol and with campus security at Ohio University in Athens. Both jobs would be an easy commute from here. I want to live in Hawk Run regardless of where I work."

"Yeah, it's a nice spot. Well. We can take care of the paperwork today, and I think we can get you set with uniforms and such today, as well. Once you get moved in, we'll have you sworn in officially as a member of the Hawk Run PD."

"How long a period do you require for in-service training?"

"Training?" he frowned. "I guess I just assumed that a cop with five years on the job wouldn't need any training. I thought I read in your resume that you graduated from that state police academy."

"Yes, sir, I did. But I still need a training period to familiarize myself with local laws, and with the town in general."

"Oh. Right. I guess I didn't stop to think about such things. Well, I'll have to check into that." He closed the file folder.

"In-service training with Columbus PD lasted six weeks," Maggie explained. "It shouldn't take that long here. Basically, I need to become familiar with procedure and local laws."

"Yeah, you're right," he nodded. "I can see the logic in that." He put his hands behind his head and leaned back in his chair. "We never really bothered much with that kind of stuff with the cops I hired in the past. I've been the chief here for only three years, though, and I wasn't prepared for the job. I got a college degree in business administration, for godssake."

Maggie nodded, sipping her coffee and wondering if the pinky ring he wore was a real diamond.

Bert continued, "Mayor Franklin appointed me to the job after the previous chief died. Franklin isn't the mayor here now. He's serving a prison sentence, if you can believe that," he laughed. 'I guess he took bribes and extorted money, stuff like that. We've got a woman mayor now, and just between you and me that woman ain't quite right in the head."

He rocked forward in his chair to take another swallow of coffee. "I'm sorta prejudiced, though. It's my personal opinion that most women are plain, damn nuts. I've got two ex-wives that are candidates for the looney bin, both of 'em."

Maggie kept on nodding. She wondered if poking Bert in the eye would bring an abrupt end to her employment with the Hawk Run Police Department.

"Well, Marguerite," he smiled, getting to his feet. "Let's go get that paperwork started. Darnell will handle that. And let her know where you're gonna be living, so we can contact you about the date for your swearing in. And about that in-service training crap."

Captain Helen Burke, a veteran of the Hawk Run police force, sat down at a table in the break room to open a can of diet cola. Before she could raise the can to her mouth, however, Darnell interrupted her.

"The Big Boss Man wants to see you," Darnell announced, leaning against the doorjamb. "He needs the advice of a real cop."

"This is the first I've sat down all morning," Helen sighed. "Do you know what he wants?"

"He interviewed someone for one of three openings we have since his buddies got sent to prison. He wants to know what in-service training is."

"Oh, hell," she muttered, getting slowly to her feet. "Which nephew or cousin is he planning to hire?"

"He actually interviewed someone off the list that Mayor Lassiter gave him. Somebody must have put the Fear of God into the old pork chop."

"He doesn't want to lose his job, Darnell. Too many hidden benefits." She handed her the can of soda on her way by. "Guess I'd better see what he wants."

As Helen entered the office and took a seat opposite him, Bert removed the band from a cigar. He sliced off the tip with a penknife ad took a gold lighter from his pocket. "I interviewed a new cop this morning," he declared, clenching the cigar between his teeth.

Helen nodded. "Darnell mentioned that."

"Someone from the list the mayor gave me. I decided maybe she had a good idea for once. We need a couple honest cops on the force now that Don, Lenny, and Keith are in jail," he chuckled, shaking his head. He tried to light the cigar and puffed energetically on it, but to no avail. He frowned at it, examining it for the cause of its defiant behavior. The mystery was not solved. He tried again. "What the hell is wrong with this thing?" he grumbled when the second attempt failed.

Helen sighed and rubbed her temples. "Who did you interview, Chief?"

"Where did these cigars come from? Do you know?"

"I believe Lawrence Huckabee brought them in yesterday afternoon. I was at the front desk talking to Darnell when he came in."

He put the cigar down in an ashtray. "I did a couple favors for him," he said, frowning at the cigar, then at his lighter. He clicked the lighter a few times to satisfy himself that it was, in fact, working properly. He smiled at Helen. "Guess that's why he brought me a present."

"What kind of 'favors'?" she frowned.

"Pulled some traffic tickets, talked to some people about getting him a building permit. That kind of thing. Nothing wrong with doing a few favors for a friend, is there?"

"Well, sometimes there is. We need to be careful about such things, especially since the attorney general's office has been sniffing around."

"Oh, I don't think they're gonna bother with penny-ante crap like that. I didn't do anything every other bureaucrat alive hasn't done."

"Well…whatever. Tell me about the interview."

"She's got five years' experience with the Columbus PD. Her name is Connors, I think. Got a couple commendations from the department. Looks real good on paper."

"Darnell mentioned that you wanted to know about in-service training, Chief."

"Yeah," he nodded, leaning forward. "This Connors girl, she asked me how long the in-service training period would be. I got no idea what that is," he laughed.

"Training while the officer is working, basically. Someone new to Hawk Run needs to learn the local ordinances, laws, procedures…that kind of thing. Also, she would need to become familiar with the town itself, with street names and locations, basically."

"Oh. I guess that's just common sense to need that."

"Yes, it is."

"How long does that kind of thing take?"

"In a town this size, no more than a week or two. It also would depend on how bright the officer is."

"This Connors girl has a degree from Ohio State. She must be kinda smart, huh?"

"I imagine so. A degree in what, may I ask?"

"Sociology. She graduated cum laude, too. And she played varsity soccer. I always wanted to go to Ohio State, you know. Didn't have the grades. One reason I interviewed this Connors girl first is the degree from Ohio State. Shit like that impresses me."

" I know."

"Anyhow, could you maybe set up this in-service crap for her?"

"Do you mean map out a program or do you mean you want me to be her training officer?"

"Both, I guess," he smiled.

"I'll be happy to make a few suggestions regarding the training, but I feel that Lieutenant Miller would make an excellent training officer. He knows Hawk Run better than anyone on the force. He's patient, easygoing, and there isn't a citizen in town who has a bad word to say about Galen. He'd do a fantastic job as a training officer."

Bert nodded as he considered this. "Okay. That sounds right. We'll do it your way. Set things up with Miller, then."

"When is Officer Connors going to be joining us officially?"

"She said she needed maybe two weeks to get moved from Columbus. I think she talked to Darnell about that, and I know I told Darnell to schedule that swearing-in bullshit. Talk to her about it, would ya? I'm due at the Plaza Court for lunch in about 30 minutes. Just let me know when Connors will be sworn in."

"Yes, Chief. I will certainly do that." She left him still trying to light his cigar.

Helen found Darnell at her desk, watching data scroll up the screen of a computer. "What is he up to with this Conners woman?" she asked, pulling a chair over and sitting down.

"Well, first of all," Darnell replied, "her name isn't Connors, it's Conover. Maggie Conover. It so happens that she was born here in Hawk Run. She has two brothers and one sister, and Marguerite is the baby of the bunch. Her father was the manager over at the old A&P. There's a Dollar General store there now. The Conover family moved to Kentucky about 25 years ago. She's legit, Helen. Off of the list Morgan Lassiter drew up and demanded that Shit-for-Brains use to hire new cops. I've checked out every name on that list, and all of 'em are good, honest cops."

"He isn't putting one of his friends or relatives on the payroll, then?"

"Not this time. Not any time in the future, either. When the people from the state attorney general's office get done with him, he won't know what hit him. Five counts of extortion, so far."

"Who told you that?"

"My handy-dandy computer, kiddo. In about two months, Bertram Howard Yancey will be indicted on charges of extortion, fraud, receiving stolen property, and assault. And if you repeat one single syllable of that, I'll make your life a living hell. Never doubt I have the wherewithal to do it, too."

"Oh, I know what you're capable of, sweetie," Helen laughed, poking Darnell in the ribs. "And who, pray tell, would I repeat it to?"

"To Ms. Jesse McGuinn, perhaps?" she grinned, wiggling her eyebrows ala Groucho Marx.

"I won't even ask how you latched onto that information," Helen frowned. "But keep it to yourself. Yancey is still prowling around, even if you say he's headed for trouble."

"Have I ever repeated the really important tidbits I find, Helen?"

"You don't consider this business with Bert to be important? This extortion and fraud and all?"

"No, I don't. Nothing that affects that swine bastard is of any importance. What affects my friends or my family is of primary importance, though, and since I consider you my friend, I will do whatever I can to protect your privacy."

Helen patted her shoulder. "I consider you my friend, too, Darnell. I promise that I will not repeat what you told me." She stood up to leave. "By the way…Bert was trying to light one of those cigars he got from Lawrence Huckabee. I don't suppose you know why he couldn't get it going?"

"I know exactly why."

"Care to share?"

"I poked all of 'em full of holes. I went to the flea market over in Nelsonville and bought a hat pin especially for the job."

Helen studied her in silence for a moment or two. "You're nuts. You do know that, don't you?"

"Yes. I have never been one to deny my faults."

"What has poor, old Bertie ever done to deserve such practical jokery from you, Ms. Adkins?"

"The list is endless, kiddo. Drop by the Lakeview Tavern some evening, and I'll tell you all about it over a beer or two."

"I might take you up on that."

"Bring Miz Jesse along. The Lakeview is an equal-opportunity beer garden, you know.""

Helen gave her a playful swat. "I'm out of here," she laughed. "When Galen comes in, tell him I need to speak to him, and I'll meet him at Dukie's."

"No problem, but it'll cost ya."

"Name it."

"Bring me a cheeseburger and fries. You are going there for lunch, aren't you?"

"Yeah. Anything on the cheeseburger?"

"Lettuce, tomato, mayo. And pickle. And add a strawberry shake to that. I'll give you the money when you get back."

Dukie relaxed at a table near a window in the diner, savoring the lull between breakfast and lunch. She tapped a pencil against the newspaper in front of her as she tried to decipher one of the Jumble words. A waitress worked at a table nearby, filling the napkin holder and the salt and pepper shakers. The usually noticeable clatter-clank-crash sounds from the kitchen were subdued. With a sigh of contentment, Dukie sipped a cup of tea and decided that life was pretty good.

"I need to talk to you."

The words resounded across the restaurant. Dukie knew the voice without seeing the speaker. She scowled, grumbled one of her very favorite obscenities, and set aside the newspaper just as her sister arrived at her side.

Honoria Davis Masterson, Dukie's sister (she had six of them; Honoria was smack in the middle), yanked a chair out and sat down. She crossed her silk-stocking clad legs and began drumming her fingers against the tabletop.

"Go away," Dukie growled. "I have to get ready for the lunch crowd."

Honoria lurched forward, planting a forearm on the table and poking an index finger in the direction of Dukie's nose.

"I want the name of that hoodlum you used to date," she snapped.

"I have never dated any hoodlums," Dukie huffed. "What the hell are you ranting about?"

"She's gone too far this time, and I am going to have her assassinated. I want to hire that hoodlum boyfriend of yours to do it."

Dukie rubbed her eyes and sighed heavily. "I shoulda known. This is about Lynnie. What has she done to you now, Norrie June? Did she have another truckload of sheep manure delivered to you?"

A young and pretty waitress came smiling to the table. "Would you care to order, Mrs. Masterson?" She batted her eyes, believing it to be an effective flirtation technique.

The petulant frown vanished from Honoria's face. She favored the young woman with a white-toothed, dimple-adorned grin. She touched a hand to her forearm and very gently squeezed.

"I would love a cup of coffee, Tina," she replied. "Your name is Tina, isn't it?"

"Yes. Tina Schildcrout." She smiled excessively. "You remembered."

"Of course."

"I'll be right back with your coffee." She scurried away toward the source of hot coffee.

Honoria watched her scurry, admiring the retreat of gluteus maximus beneath a tight little waitress skirt. With a happy sigh, she turned her attention back to Dukie.

Dukie just looked at her and shook her head. "You are some piece of work."

Honoria simply stuck her tongue out at her. She took a business card from the pocket of her jacket. Snatching up the pencil Dukie had been using, she scrawled a phone number across the back of the card. When Tina returned with the coffee, Honoria pressed the card into her hand. "Call me," she smiled. "This afternoon."

Blushing prettily, Tina departed.

"Are you going to tell me why you're here, Honoria?" Dukie inquired.

"Last night," she began, as she stirred sugar and cream into the coffee, "around 3am…I guess that would make it this morning, wouldn't it?"

"Oh, just get on with it," Dukie muttered.

"I was awakened by a truly hellacious noise coming from the front yard, right outside the bedroom window, in fact. I crawled…"

"Your bedroom is at the rear of the house," Dukie interrupted. "And on the second floor."

"I was staying with a friend. I heard this horrible noise and went to investigate. There were six of them, Dukie, all of them in black evening gowns. They were singing 'I'm a Little Teapot' for crissakes. One of them was trying to play the song on a saxophone. One of them was tap dancing on the sidewalk. They had two or three goats with them." She paused to swallow some coffee. "I think it's possible that the goats were from Lou Dean Guitry's place, though. They get loose on a regular basis. I actually can't blame the goats on Lynnie."

"Tay Lassiter had a birthday party last night out at Lanterman's," Dukie laughed. "Formal evening attire was specified on the invitations. Lynnie wanted to rent a tux, but couldn't find one that fit her nicely enough."

"She had a ridiculous hat on her stupid head," Honoria grumbled. "One of those Viking hats. The kind you see cartoon opera singers wearing. Know what I mean?"

"'…Kill the wabbit…'", Dukie warbled, grinning broadly.

"Yes. Exactly. I swear that she's insane, Dukie."

"Maybe so, but I can't think of one single person, neither adult nor child, who has more fun than Lynne Curran."

The moonlight serenader in question, Lynne Curran, was at that moment entering the dry cleaner's shop. Somewhere out of sight, a radio was tuned to WGCU, the college station, and its Morning Memories program. The Del-Vikings were singing "Come, Go With Me" and soon Lynne was singing along. By the time a clerk appeared to wait on her, she had added a few dance steps.

"Good morning, Lynnie," the woman smiled. "How was the birthday party last night?"

"I had a wonderful time, Mrs. Chapman," she replied. She set a black dress on the counter. "I got salsa on this, plus a bit of mud around the hem. I was going to throw it into the washing machine, but I've been told that would ruin it."

Mrs. Chapman inspected the dress. "Oh, my, yes. You don't want to put this type of fabric into a washer, sweetie. It would make all these pretty jet beads come off, for one thing, and it would damage the fabric. This is exactly the kind of garment you wanna have handled by a professional." She scribbled on a claim ticket. "I see by the tag that you got this dress from Paul's shop. He does beautiful work, doesn't he?"

Yes, ma'am. Will my dress be ready this week?"

"It sure will. You can pick it up by noon on Wednesday. Are you planning to go to the concert over at Masterson Auditorium on Friday?"

"Yes, ma'am."

"Going with anyone special?"

"I'm going with a few friends. I understand that your daughter Ada will be playing a solo on Friday."

"Yes, she will. She plays the clarinet, you know. Actually, she plays all those whatchacallit woodwinds. Clarinet, saxophone, flute…all those instruments. She played in the band they had for Taylor Lassiter's party last night."

"Yes, ma'am, I know. She's very good."

"I think so." She beamed as she handed the claim ticket to her.

"Thank you," Lynne smiled. "And I guess I'll see you on Wednesday."

"You have a real fine day for yourself, angel."

Little bells over the door jangled as Lynne exited the shop. She paused there for a moment to move her sunglasses from atop her head and back onto her nose. A gentle breeze came dancing in off the lake, and she tilted her head back to let it kiss her neck. Smiling at the touch of the breeze, and at the beauty of the day, she headed toward her car.

The car was parked at the curb in front of the drugstore a block away. She fished the keys from her pocket and walked around to the driver's side. As she unlocked the door she saw a tall, good-looking woman go striding by. It was Maggie, out for a little stroll around town.

"Hubba hubba," Lynne said softly. "Bless my eyes." She pushed the sunglasses to the end of her nose so her view was unobstructed. She might have done something bold if she had not been distracted.

A car horn was the distraction in question. The owner of the horn and of the car to which it was attached yelled, "Get your ass out of the middle of the road,"

Lynne turned to see Lawrence Huckabee drive by. She waved and smiled and raised her middle finger in salute. "Good morning to you, too, Lawrence. Take that horn and blow it out your ear."

When she turned back to her own car once more, she discovered Helen Burke observing from the sidewalk, standing with her hands on her hips and doing a very good imitation of an authority figure.

"Morning, Helen," Lynne laughed.

"Got a minute?" Helen inquired.

"For you, yes, I do." She joined Helen on the sidewalk. "What can I do for you?"

"I had maybe a dozen complaints this morning from residents demanding that I arrest you and your band of merry musicians."

"Oh? Why?"

"Something about saxophones and vocalists on front lawns in the wee, small hours of the morning." "Sounds entertaining, but I'm afraid I was not involved in any such activities. I was with a friend until about half an hour ago."

"And what is this friend's name?"

"Now, Helen, you of all people should know that I never divulge that sort of information."

"Make an exception, just this once."

"I'm sorry, but no, I won't. It just is not proper etiquette. If you are bound and determined to arrest me, go ahead and do so. I would rather be dragged off to jail than to have you bothering my friend."

"I didn't say I was going to arrest you. I said lots of folks asked me to arrest you. What I will do, though, is to remind you that it is a bad idea to drink and drive. And don't tell me you didn't drink at that party last night, because I know better. I was there."

"I saw you dancing with Jesse," Lynne smiled, giving Helen a poke in the ribs. "The two of you look so good together."

"You just never mind," she laughed. "Please refrain from late-night serenades for a few months, at least until this crap about Bert and his criminal activities dies down, okay?"

"Okay. Think he'll get away with it?"

"It wouldn't surprise me." She glanced at her watch. "I have to get back to the station. Please behave for a while, Lynnie? As a favor to me?"

"For you, yes. I give you my word."

Lieutenant Galen Miller sat at a table in Dukie's Diner eating his lunch while he read the newspaper. Galen was a ten-year veteran of the police force; his uncle Charley had been the chief prior to Bert Yancey. He was tall and lanky with thinning hair and an affable smile. His relaxed, easy-going demeanor, coupled with a distinctly southeastern Ohio accent, gave a false impression of his intelligence, and some people thought he was just an ignorant hillbilly. Galen did little to disavow them of the misconception.

He finished his food and set the dishes aside. He folded his newspaper and looked up just as Helen Burke came striding into the diner. She waved and smiled at him as she approached.

"Got a minute?" she asked.

"Got about 20 of 'em," he smiled in reply. "Have a seat."

She pulled out a chair and sat down. "Did Yancey talk to you about handling in-service training for the new officer he hired?"

"I'm supposed to meet with him after lunch about it."

"I talked to Darnell, and I snooped into the files to check out the woman. By some remarkable twist of fate, the old gas bag went and hired a competent, qualified, and apparently honest cop."

"Yeah," Galen laughed. "Darnell told me as I was leaving the office. I think Bert is a little bit nervous, what with his three pals on their way to Marysville. He's got reason to be."

"Hell, yes," she nodded. "But until they cart him off in handcuffs, I won't believe he has any reason to fear incarceration. He'll get away with it, Galen. I'll bet you a steak dinner at Lanterman's Old Mill Restaurant that they don't even question him regarding his involvement. He's way too clever to get caught."

"Maybe so."

"No maybe about it, sweetie. He's a piss-poor cop, but he's a very shrewd crook." She looked up as a waitress approached. "Cheeseburger with lettuce, tomato, pickle, and mayo; an order of fries; and a strawberry milkshake to go, please," she ordered.

"Off your diet again?" Galen teased.

"It's for Darnell," Helen pouted. "And I'll have you know I lost 15 pounds."

"It shows. Mind if I ask where you found your motivation?"

"None of your business."

"Bert never comes in here. His spies are in jail. You're among friends, is what I'm tellin' you, Helen. You can't think that I would go trottin' to the chief to confirm his suspicions."

"Until the sonofabitch is no longer the chief of police, I will not come out. He has threatened to demote me from captain, Galen, and you know that. He fired John Shufflebottom; he can fire me and every other gay member of the force. I worked too hard to get this job to lose it over his ignorance and his bigotry."

"He fired John because he's gay and African-American."

"And what am I? Huh?"

"I get the point," he sighed. "Just answer one question so I can stop wondering, okay?"

"One and only one."

"Jesse McGuinn?"


"Bert thinks homosexuality goes against God."

"Bert thinks he is God," she snorted.

"He told me right out that if he caught me dating Missy, he'd fix it so I'd never work in law enforcement anywhere in the known universe, just because she's black. You aren't the only one trying to deal with the man's cruelty, Helen, is what I'm telling you."

Helen clasped her hands together and leaned closer. Lowering her voice, she said, "Someone put three bullets through his bedroom window a few nights ago. He called me to investigate. I dug a bullet out of the wall behind his bed. He gave me explicit orders not to file any reports and not to send the bullet to the state lab for analysis. Someone is after him in a very serious way, Galen. I think that may be another reason why he's hired Maggie Conover. He wants competent people around him so he won't get murdered some dark and stormy night."

"Conover? Is that her name?"

"Yes. Marguerite Renee Conover. She's 30 years old. Graduated from Ohio State."

"If it's the same family I'm remembering, she was born here in Hawk Run," he smiled. "They lived over on Chalmers. There was Garrett, Dewey, Myra, and Maggie. I think she was probably only six or so when they moved to Kentucky. Real strict folks, the parents were, and real religious. Summer vacations to them meant yard work and Bible school. They thought it was indulgent to hug those kids or cuddle 'em. It was perfectly okay with them, though, to take a belt to any child who misbehaved."

"You have an amazing memory."

"My family lived on Chalmers, across the street from the Conovers. I can remember seeing Mr. Conover chasing after one of the boys with a belt. Something like that sorta sticks with you," he sighed.

The waitress returned with the take-out order. Helen stood up. "Do you mind that I told Bert to make you the training officer?" she asked Galen.

"Nope." He also stood, tossing two dollar bills onto the table. "I think I'll probably enjoy it. It surely can't be any worse than night patrol out in district five. I swear he stuck me there just so I can't go out with Melissa," he sighed.

"Of course he did. Can't have no white boy datin' no colored girl, ol' son," she frowned. "Don't you know the gospel according to Saint Bertram?"

"It ain't none of his damn business."

"No, it isn't. But if we don't play by his rules, he'll make life miserable for us."

They stopped at the cash register to pay their tabs, and then exited the restaurant. "Any idea who fired those three shots at Bert?" Galen asked.

"It could be any one of the 4,280 citizens in Hawk Run, I believe," Helen grinned. "If the day comes when someone shoots and hits the target, I think we should give that person a medal."

"Or have a statue erected over in Muni Park." He glanced at his watch and sighed. "Got to hit the road," he declared. "I surely do not want to get myself scolded by Chief Yancey for neglectin' my sworn duty, now, do I?" He climbed into his patrol car.

"Have a safe one, Galen," Helen smiled. "Better days are coming."

Maggie stood half a dozen steps from the edge of the lake, smiling at the green and white cottage she had rented. It had two bedrooms, a living room, a large kitchen, and a bath. A fireplace, a screened in porch, and an unobstructed view of Little Hawk Lake were the amenities.

"Nice," she said, nodding her approval. "I like it." She turned slowly to gaze out at the lake.

She was heading back to Columbus to make arrangements to move to her new home, and she stopped at Cohasset Cove to take another look at the cottage. It was a quiet, shady, and thoroughly pleasant section of town, located at the top end of the lake near the confluence of the Cohasset River. There were 30 one-story, wood frame cottages there, built during the early 1950's and originally intended for use as summer rentals. They had been remodeled and renovated recently and offered as year-round residences for citizens of the town.

"This is a private beach."

Startled by the unexpected remark, Maggie whirled around to find the speaker glaring at her from the middle of Trillium Lane, the gravel road in front of her cottage. The woman, wearing a white cashmere coat and a singularly unpleasant scowl, had a clipboard and a tape measure in her hands.

"If you want to fish," the woman continued, "go to Municipal Pier. These are private cottages, and the docks here are not for public use."

"I live here," Maggie replied, not inclined in the direction of polite explanations.

"No, you do not. I know the residents here. You are not one of them."

"As of 11:30 am yesterday morning, I am an official tenant of cottage number six. Who are you?"

"Who rented a cottage to you?" the woman grumbled, advancing slowly toward Maggie. "Maureen didn't mention new tenants to me."

"I don't know who Maureen is, but I rented the cottage from Masterson Realty."

The woman stopped ten paces from the boat dock where Maggie stood. "Masterson Realty?"

"Yes, and once again I inquire, who are you?"

"I'm Mrs. Lawrence Huckabee, Jr. I'm buying this property. There weren't supposed to be any more rentals. I have plans to tear down the cottages to build a strip plaza here. I suggest you look around for somewhere else to live."

"Mr. Lassiter said nothing to me about this property being sold for development," Maggie frowned.

"Mr. Lassiter doesn't know yet. The deal isn't final. Take my advice, dear. Look for another place to live."

"No, I don't think so; but I certainly will go have a talk with the folks at Masterson, see what they can tell me about sale of the property. I can't imagine they'd rent to me if I was going to be evicted soon."

"As I said, they don't know about the deal yet. It won't do you any good to talk to them, because they don't know about it."

"Why would you want to tear the cottages down to build a strip plaza? With all the little shops and restaurants in town, there's no real need for a strip plaza."

"It's more convenient to have all the stores in one place. People prefer the convenience of plazas and malls."

"The shops on Main Lake Road are all in one place. You park your car, you get out and walk up and down that particular three block stretch of the business district. How could a plaza be more convenient?"

"I'm not going to stand here in this wind and argue with you," the woman snapped. "Do what you want. You'll be looking for a new home before Christmas, I guarantee it."

When Maggie arrived at Masterson Real Estate, she found Honoria Masterson seated at the reception desk. She had the telephone receiver clutched between her ear and shoulder, and she was scribbling something on a notepad. She looked up and smiled as Maggie approached, holding up a finger to indicate that she would be only a minute longer.

True to her word, she quickly hung up the phone and turned her full attention on Maggie. "Hi," she beamed. "What can I do for you?"

"I would like to speak to Mr. Lassiter, please. It concerns the cottage I rented from him yesterday."

"I'm sorry, but Mr. Lassiter isn't in right now. He's showing a property to some clients. I'm Honoria Masterson and I own the agency. Is there something I can help you with?"

"Maybe it's best that I talk to you about this." Maggie extended her hand. "I'm Maggie Conover."

Honoria shook hands, then led the way to her office. She offered coffee, which Maggie declined. "Is there a problem with the rental?" she asked.

"That's what I'm here to find out. I stopped at Cohasset Cove this morning on my way out of town. I'm returning to Columbus to make arrangements to move," she explained. "I wanted to take another look at the cottage before leaving. While I was there, a woman by the name of Huckabee introduced herself and told me that she was going to buy the property to build a strip plaza there. If that's so, Ms. Masterson, I really think Mr. Lassiter should have told me about it."

"I own the property at Cohasset Cove, Ms. Conover, and I know for a fact that it is not for sale. My father built the cottages there; my sister did the renovations on them a few years ago. Outside of the fact that I earn a nice chunk of change renting those cottages, they have a sentimental value to me. I will never sell them."

"Mrs. Huckabee seemed quite sure of herself."

"Oh, I don't doubt that. She's one of the most arrogant people I've ever met. She also is less than ethical when it comes to business transactions, so if you tell me that she plans to buy Cohasset Cove, I will have to take steps to prevent that from happening."

"I don't understand how a person could buy something that isn't for sale."

"Basically, a person breaks the law." She leaned back in her chair. "You said you were moving here to Hawk Run?"

"Yes. Within two weeks."

"And you currently live in Columbus?"


"I seem to remember a family by the name of Conover living here."

"That would be my family," Maggie smiled. "We moved when I was six years old."

"Where did you live?"

"On Chalmers Avenue, which I understand no longer exists." She glanced at her watch. "I have to get going. I wanted to be back in Columbus by noon. Not much chance of that happening now."

"Then maybe I could convince you to stay and have lunch with me."

"I'm sorry, but I can't. I really do have to be on my way." "Maybe some time in the future, then."


"I'll look forward to it."

Continued in Part 2.

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