The Hawk Run Chronicles: Welcome Home

by Skippy


The usual...

Feedback: Skippy


THE POLICE STATION was situated at the southern end of the business district. To the north of it sat the building housing the Hawk Run Vindicator, which was the local newspaper; to the south was a wooded area sometimes referred to as Mookie's End. It was called that because Mookie Guitry had driven his pickup truck into a large oak tree there once upon a time, and had not survived the collision.

Behind the police station was Little Hawk Lake. In addition to the boathouse that was there, two wooden docks extended outward from the shore. Galen Miller sometimes fished from one of the docks, and he happened to be doing that very thing early the next evening when Vonnie Grant's vintage inboard came puttering across the lake.

Vonnie, of course, was driving the boat. With her as passengers were Demmie Masterson, Honoria Masterson, Lynne Curran, and Jesse McGuinn. She maneuvered the boat between the two docks, and smiled at Galen as she cut the engine.

"Now, Miss Vonnie," Galen laughed, "you know you ain't s'posed to tie up on this dock. This is police property."

"Don't be such a cop, Galen," she replied. "We aren't staying long. We simply want to see the duck."

"What duck?"

"The Looby Huckle duck," Lynne answered. "The 8-foot tall fiber glass advertising gimmick that Officer Conover arrested."

"Who, may I ask, is Looby Huckle?" Galen puzzled.

"One of our town's most prominent businessmen," said Demmie. "Owner of the Kasa de Kaffeine and the Zippy Mart."

"Oh, you mean Lawrence Huckabee."

"If you insist."

"Where is the duck staying?" Honoria inquired.

"It's in the police garage. Marguerite wanted to put it in a jail cell, but she couldn't figure out a way to get it through the door. It's way too tall, and being fiberglass, it don't bend so it ain't real easy to maneuver. That's why she put it in the garage."

Lynne tied the boat to the dock as Vonnie and the others disembarked. All of the women were wearing black slacks and black turtleneck sweaters.

"What are you girls dressed up for?" Galen laughed. "Are you all in training to become cat burglars?"

"I am 60 years old, Galen Miller," Demmie snapped. "Don't you dare call me a girl. How would you like it if I referred to you as a boy?"

"I see your point, Miss Demmie," he nodded. "I apologize."

"Apology accepted. May we see the duck?"

"Yeah, I guess," he sighed. "Don't see what harm it can do. Just don't fool around with any of the equipment in there."

"Oh, phooey," Jesse commented. "And I was planning to play with the power tools."

Demmie herded everyone off in the direction of the garage. Galen stood watching them for a few minutes, shaking his head and chuckling softly.

"Bunch of women with way too much time on their hands," he said. "Lunatics, every blessed one of 'em."

The very next night, a truck with the words 'Kluck's Poultry' and large, colorful chickens painted on the sides backed up to bay number 6 of the police garage. The driver, dressed all in black and wearing a black ski mask, hopped down from the cab and trotted to the rear of the truck to open the doors. Inside were a dozen similarly attired individuals who proceeded to slide a ramp out and position it for the loading of one eight-foot tall, green and pink fiberglass duck. When said waterfowl was secure within, the driver and all of the passengers departed the scene.

Honoria entered the Irish Rose and smiled when she spotted Lynne seated at the bar. Lynne was still wearing the ski mask, but had added a cowboy hat to the ensemble. She was eating a hamburger and drinking a glass of milk. Honoria sat down next to her.

"Howdy, Tex," she laughed. "You'll get ketchup on your mask."

"I'm being careful," Lynne replied. "What are you doing here?"

"Demmie asked me to deliver an invitation to dinner tomorrow. I thought I'd do it in person, since it's such a gorgeous night."

"I have plans for tomorrow night. Please give Demmie my regrets."

"Plans? To do what?"

"I'm having dinner with Maggie."

"Oh, really. How nice. That's what? Three dinners? Have you been to bed with her yet?"

Lynne turned to look at her. "You know better than to ask me such personal questions. The details of my life are private and personal."

"Even to your best friend?"

"Even to you. And if I didn't know better, I'd say you were jealous."

"Maybe I am," she shrugged.

"You'll get over it," Lynne laughed, turning her attention back to her hamburger.

"Do you like her, baby?"

"I wouldn't be going on dates with her if I didn't like her."

"She seems to be a nice person. And she certainly is good-looking."

"She is nice. Very nice. Also funny and smart and a good dancer."

"A bit tall for you, though, don't you think?"

"What a silly thing to say. Everyone is taller than I am, Norrie June. If I waited around for someone my own height, I'd die lonely."

"So you've been dancing with her?"

"The other night when we had dinner here, a favorite song of hers came on the jukebox, and we danced."

"What was the song? Or is that one of those personal and private details you mentioned?"

"The song was 'Moonglow'. "

"One of my favorites, too."

"I think I'm in love with her, Honoria," she said softly.

Honoria put her arms around her. "I can't imagine anything that would make me happier, angel mine. For you to be in love with someone worthy of you is what I've been wanting for you for 15 years. And despite my juvenile remarks, I think Maggie Conover just might be worthy of you."

"I think so too."

Honoria moved away from her and stood up. "I'll tell Demmie you have other plans. If she asks what they are, what should I tell her?"

"The truth," Lynne laughed. "You don't honestly think she hasn't heard about me and Maggie, do you?"

"Silly me. What was I thinking. Of course she knows. All news goes first to Miss Demmie." She leaned over and gave Lynne a gentle kiss on the lips. "Interesting," she said. "I've never kissed a masked marauder before."

"Good night, Norrie June."

"Good night, little love. See you tomorrow."

THE HUCKABEES lived in a new 15-room house on Four Mile Run Road. Patrice and Lawrence found it relatively easy to share that space without ever actually encountering one another. On those rare occasions when they did meet, they always were rather surprised. Such was the case one particular morning when Patrice entered the dining room and discovered Lawrence seated at the table eating toast and drinking tea.

"Not having breakfast at the restaurant?" she smiled at him, giving him a kiss on the cheek.

"Nona threatened to cook," he laughed. "Let Yancey deal with it by himself."

"She says the two of them are going to get married. Has she spoken to you about that?"

"No, but Bert did say something to me."

"That just can't happen, Lawrence. I find the entire matter objectionable. If Bert ever finds out about Nona's little secret…"

"Well, he won't find out. We took steps to prevent that very thing. And why would it be so bad if they did get married? My sister deserves a little happiness."

"And Bert Yancey is just the Prince Charming to provide it?" she snorted. "His two ex-wives both left him for the same reason, dear. Do you want him using your beloved sister for a punching bag?"

"If he ever harms Nona in that way, I will kill him."

"What do you imagine he would do if he found out that Nona once was Norman? Do you think he'd react in a good way?"

"As I said, dear, he can't find out. Not unless someone tells him. And you wouldn't do that." He smiled at her, and it was anything but a loving smile. "Would you."

"I wouldn't, no. But there are some secrets, darling, that are impossible to keep. Sooner or later, Bert will find out that Nona had surgery to correct one of nature's mistakes."

"If that day comes, I will deal with it."

Patrice spooned some strawberry jam onto a piece of toast. " What are your plans for the day?"

"The first thing on the agenda is to retrieve that damned duck from the impound garage," he grumbled. "If I don't return it, it will cost me $2500. Remind me to talk to Bert about getting rid of that Conover bitch. Why he ever hired her in the first place is beyond my comprehension. We gave him specific instructions about the kind of person we need on the police force. Does he ever follow orders, Treece?"

"Only when he can remember what the orders are. And he hired her because Mayor Lassiter gave him a list of candidates and told him to pick three from that list or lose his job. As much as we would like to have nothing but incompetents on the force, we are going to have to cope with the three officers Bert did hire."

"Might we arrange some kind of accident for Officer Conover?"

"I've thought about that, but I've got too many other things to deal with right now. I still haven't decided what to do about dear Bertram."

"You know he'll try to cut a deal with the cops, Treece. I warned you about him when we first brought him into the operation."

"Well, then, do we offer him cash and an escape route, or do we let your sister handle it?"

"Do we want to part with that kind of money? You know damn well he won't settle for less than seven figures. See if you can find a way to get Nona riled up. That has always proven effective in the past." He glanced at his watch. "I have a meeting with my attorney at 10, then I'm going to arrange to have that duck returned to the rental company. I'll be at the country club for lunch today, just in case you need to reach me."

"Okay," she nodded.

He tossed her a small leather key case. "The key to my desk at the office," he explained. "I keep a handgun in the bottom drawer."

"So why do I need to know that?"

"In case Nona needs to borrow that gun."

DARNELL LOOKED UP from the crossword puzzle she was working, and she smiled to see Demetria Masterson striding toward the desk. "Top o' the morning', Miss Demmie," she greeted her.

"And the rest of the day to you, Miss Dee," Demmie replied. She set a briefcase on the counter. "It's a beautiful morning for exchanging information. Are you terribly busy?"

"Why, yes. Can't you tell? This is a very important crossword puzzle I'm working on." She reached under the counter to buzz open the gate. "Come in. We can chat in the break room. Gracie just made a fresh pot of coffee."

Demmie followed Darnell to the break room. She took a seat at a table there as Darnell poured two cups of coffee. "How is Gracie these days?" she asked.

"She's fine. Missing Fritz something fierce, but she's muddling through."

"Just like the rest of us."

"You got that right." She sat down opposite her visitor. "So what's got the grapevine hummin' this day?"

"You no doubt remember that I did some investigating into backgrounds when the Huckabees first arrived in Hawk Run."

"Yes. Lawrence was born in Portsmouth, as I recall, and Patrice is from Cincinnati."

"Right. It was basic, unremarkable information. Nothing there that might jump out at a person, as they say." She opened her briefcase and took out a file folder. "I got an anonymous email this morning. The sender claims that Lawrence Huckabee comes from a family comprised of one mother, one father, and two sons."


"Yes. According to the email, Lawrence has a brother who is five years younger than he. The brother's name is Norman Bernard Huckabee."

Darnell's smile widened to a grin as she considered this information. "Well, my goodness gracious sakes alive, Demetria. Are you telling me that Miss Nona Bee once sported a tallywhacker?"

"That is exactly what I'm telling you."

"How very bizarre. Bert Yancey is dating a transsexual. Any ideas as to who this anonymous informant might be?"

"My initial reaction was that Patrice Huckabee sent me the email. It just seems to be the kind of control and manipulation that she would enjoy. I just wonder about her reasons for sharing, as they say."

"It certainly is interesting. Both the information and the reason it's been spewed. Maybe if I tell you what I know, we can come to some sort of conclusion regarding that reason."

"Well, then, fire away."

"I had dinner with my friend from Columbus last night. Bert is going to be arrested today. Two state police lieutenants are on their way here with a warrant in hand."

"Well, hallelujah," Demmie smiled.

And amen. I'm wondering if Patrice knows about the impending arrest of her partner in crime."

"I'd be inclined to say that she does, given the fact of this email I received."

"Which presumes that she sent it to you. I can find out, if you like."

"I like. What do you want in exchange?"

"I want to know who stole the duck."

"Do you want specific identities or a general response?"


"The Kazoo Band planned it and members of the Kazoo Band executed that plan. Those members included Vonnie Grant, Quinn Davis, Rae Curran, Lynne Curran, Dukie Velker, Jess McGuinn, Claudia Kipner, and me."

"And what do you plan to do with that duck, you hooligan?"

"Entertain the townsfolk."

"If you really want to entertain them, have a television news crew at the Plaza Court around 1 pm. They can tape the arrest of Bert Yancey for the evening news." THE PLAZA COURT RESTAURANT offered a luncheon buffet every day from 11 until 2. Bert was a regular customer there for two reasons: He was a glutton and he didn't have to pay for the food he ate. He saw to it that the Plaza Court got police protection, and the owner of the restaurant saw to it that Bert got free meals…along with a monthly "insurance premium" that was paid in cash. Bert had similar arrangements with many of the merchants in Hawk Run; he was driving a brand-new Cadillac and living in a brand-new condominium thanks to them. When added to his cut of the take from robberies he helped plan, Bert was sitting on a very fat wallet. He was as happy as a pig in shit…as the old saying goes.

He filled a plate from the buffet for the fourth time and returned to his table. Tucking a napkin into his collar, he began shoveling pasta into his mouth. When a man and a woman pulled out chairs to sat down opposite him, he did not pause to swallow before inquiring, "Whaddya want?"

The man took a badge from the inside pocket of his suit coat and held it in front of Bert's face. "State police, Mr. Yancey," he smiled. "I am Lieutenant Ross and this is my partner, Lieutenant Davis."

Bert sat upright. He used his fork to gesture at his guests, scowling as he grumbled at them, "I talked to you guys already. More than once. I don't appreciate you hassling me repeatedly, and I sure as hell don't like you coming here interrupting my lunch. I'll be back in the office around 4 this afternoon. You come see me then." He picked up a glass of Chianti and slurped some down. When his visitors did not obey his command, he snarled at them. "I said beat it."

"We're here to escort you to Columbus, Mr. Yancey," Lieutenant Davis replied. "And I would suggest to you, sir, that you give your attorney a call before we leave. You're going to need the advice of counsel."

The color drained from Bert's face. His jaw dropped. "Huh?"

Lieutenant Ross leaned closer, still smiling pleasantly. "You are under arrest, Bert," he purred. "Lunchtime is over. Go call your lawyer."

"Arrest?" Bert gulped. "I'm under arrest? You can't arrest me. I'm the fucking chief of police, for crissakes!"

"Not for much longer."

"Don't you need a warrant? What are the charges?"

Lieutenant Davis produced a warrant. Bert grabbed it from her hand.

"This is bullshit," he laughed nervously. "I haven't done anything wrong."

"We have it on good authority that you have done many, many things wrong, Bert," Lieutenant Ross responded. "One of the most recent is your participation in the vandalism at the offices of Masterson Realty."

Bert gaped at the man. "Huh?" he gurgled.

"It seems Mrs. Masterson went and had a video surveillance system installed just a few days before you and your young friends trashed that office. You're on tape, pal, and now you'll have to face the consequences. Go call your attorney. Right now."

Bert took another swallow of wine, studying the faces of the two marshals. Then he wiped his mouth and went to call his lawyer.

PATRICE WAVED AND SMILED when she saw Maureen Stambaugh enter the dining room at the country club. Maureen came striding toward her looking worried and angry. She pulled out a chair at Patrice's corner table, ordered a glass of wine from the hovering waiter, then opened her briefcase and took out a large envelope. She tossed it onto the table.

"That's the deed and title for the property out on Bailey Road," she said. "I can't do anything with Cohasset Cove, Treece. You're shit outta luck there."

"Why?" Patrice frowned. "We haven't had a problem with any of the other transfers."

"I'm through. In case you haven't heard, Bert was arrested. He's on his way to Columbus, and I imagine he'll be telling them everything they want to hear. He'd do anything to save his own ass."

"He was arrested?"

"Yes. I was supposed to meet him after he had lunch at the Plaza Court. I got there just as the state cops were escorting him to their car. The fool still had his napkin tucked under his chin."

The waiter returned with Maureen's order. She grabbed the glass from him and shooed him away as she took a swallow of Chablis. "He's going to shoot off his big mouth, Treece, I just know it."

"What do you plan to do?" Patrice asked.

"I need to talk to my lawyer before I do anything. That's the least of my worries right now, though."

"What do you mean?"

"I think I'm pregnant."

Patrice studied her in frowning silence. "Bert is the father, I assume."

"You got it."

"Would you consider leaving Hawk Run, Maureen? Going somewhere far away to start over?"

"It was the first thing that occurred to me. I don't have the resources for something like that, though."

"If it will guarantee your silence, I'll pick up the tab for everything."

Maureen considered this for a moment or two. "How big a tab are we talking about?"

"Nice round numbers, dear," she smiled. "Seven of them."

"A million?"

"Why, yes. That is the figure I had in mind. Would that convince you to depart Hawk Run as soon as possible?"

"It certainly would."

"I'll make the arrangements, then, and stop by your place tomorrow morning."


"Have you phoned your lawyer?"

"Not yet. I wanted to talk to you first."

"Good girl, " she nodded. "Very good. Where would you like to go?"

"Oregon. Maybe Portland."

"It's a lovely state. I hope you'll be very happy there." Standing at the front desk, Galen watched with interest as Lawrence come huffing and puffing toward him. Lawrence was a good 80 pounds over his best weight; he never moved hastily for any reason, but his pace on this occasion had to be termed 'ambitious.'

"Afternoon, Lawrence," Galen greeted him. "What can we do for ya?"

"You can tell me how an eight-foot tall fiberglass duck gets stolen right out from under your noses, " Lawrence glowered. "I just had to pay $2500 to the Hippity-Hop Rental Company because I could not return the duck to them. And I could not return the duck to them because someone stole the fucking thing from the police impound garage!"

"There's no need to shout at me."

"Like hell there isn't. How the fuck could such a thing happen? Explain that to me, Jethro, because I truly am eager to hear all about how it was done."

"As near as we can figure, someone took that duck without permission, Lawrence. Officer Ben Tolliver, who was assigned to the impound garage, closed everything up around midnight. When he came on duty this morning, the duck was gone."

"What does the surveillance video show?"

"Well, sir, it seems as though the camera was rendered null and void so it don't show us nothin' more than what the TV repair people refer to as 'snow'. I had an officer go ahead and investigate for fingerprints and whatnot, but it don't look promising, clue-wise."

Lawrence glared at him. "You think this is pretty funny, do you?"

"Yessir, I gotta admit that I do."

"Well, let's hear you laugh it off when my attorney comes in to talk to you. Now go get Bert for me. I want to talk to him."

"That's something I can't do, Lawrence."

"Why the hell not?"

"Because the state police arrested Bert as he was eating lunch. He's most likely in Columbus by now."

"Excuse me? Did you say that Bert has been arrested?"

"Yep. That is what I just now told you."

"On what charges?"

"Well, sir, that I can't tell you, because I don't know what the specific charges were. I imagine all that information will be in the newspaper this evening, though."

"So who's running things with Bert in jail?"

"I imagine that Mayor Lassiter will name Captain Burke as our new chief" he beamed. "You can bet there will be some major changes made around here when we have an honest cop running the show."

Lawrence did not reply. He simply turned on his heel and departed the police station as quickly as he possibly could.

COMFORTABLY SITUATED in her favorite booth at the Lamplighter Lounge on Bailey Road, Patrice sighed with contentment and sipped her third martini of the afternoon. Contentment abruptly became annoyance when she saw her sister-in-law come through the door. "Oh, phooey," she mumbled.

Nona scooted into the booth and planted her arms on the table. "Bert's been arrested," she declared.

"Yes, I heard," Patrice replied. She took another sip of her drink. "Who told you about it?"

"My brother. I guess he went to the police department to get that advertising duck back, and that's when he found out that Bert had been arrested. He told me. And he also told me that someone stole that duck." A waitress appeared. "A Grasshopper," Nona ordered. "And bring me a bowl of that snack mix."

The waitress hurried away. Patrice sipped her martini, watching Nona over the rim of the glass.

"You don't seem terribly distressed that your beloved is in jail," she remarked.

"No big deal," Nona shrugged. "They don't have anything on him. So he spends a weekend in jail. At least he's not shacked up with Reenie Stambaugh."

"And you don't think he'll get sent to prison."

"No, I don't. He hasn't done anything wrong. He did a few favors for a few friends. So what. Plenty of people do the same thing and never go to jail. Bert's smart, he's got a good lawyer, and he'll be back home in a day or two."

"Well, we'll see. Don't be too surprised, though, if he packs a bag and disappears soon after his lawyer posts bail."

"Disappears?" she scowled. "What do you mean?"

"I mean, dear, that Bert is in deep, deep trouble. He most certainly will go to prison. The authorities don't look on such crimes as assault, extortion, and burglary as inconsequential."

"And you think he'll run away to avoid prison?"

"Yes, I do."

"I'll go with him if he does."

"And what if he doesn't ask you to accompany him? Ever think about that?"

"He loves me. He'll take me with him."

"Loves you, does he?" Patrice laughed. "Tell me something, then, Nona: If Bert Yancey loves you, why did he spend last weekend in the Harker Forest Lodge with Maureen Stambaugh?"

Nona gaped at her in disbelief. "No," she whispered. "Did he really?"

"Really. They left Friday evening around 6 and got back Sunday around that same time."

"He told me he had to go to Columbus to talk to the cops there."

"He lied to you. That was his third visit to the lodge with Maureen."

"Are you positive he was with her, Treece?"

"I am positive." She finished her martini just as the waitress arrived with Nona's order. "Another, please, Lorelei," she smiled at the woman. "No olives this time."

Nona sipped crème de menthe through a tiny straw. "He promised me he wouldn't go to bed with her," she pouted.

"Men lie, sweetie. It's second nature to them. And I think I should tall you that I had a meeting earlier with Maureen. She had some very distressing news."

"And what was that?"

Patrice leaned forward and said softly, "She's pregnant with Bert's child. She talked to him about it before he was arrested. As it stands right now, the two of them are leaving here together just as soon as Maureen can fabricate new identities for them. Bert wants to head for Mexico. The plan is for them to leave within 48 hours of Bert's release on bail."

Anger turned Nona's face to crimson. "Oh, really?"

"Yes, really. Are you aware, dear, that Bert has five children from a previous marriage?"

"Five?" Nona yelped. "He's got five kids already?"

"Yes. I believe all of them are from his first marriage, because he wasn't married to wife number two for more than a couple months."

"He never said anything about having any kids."

"I believe I mentioned to you what a good liar he is."

"He's lucky he's in jail," she scowled. "I'd cut his dick off for him if I could get my hands on him. Does my brother know about this bullshit? About Maureen and Bert, I mean."

"Probably, considering what good pals he and Bert are."

"He knew and didn't tell me?"

"You know how protective of you he can be, dear. Don't be angry with him."

"At least you're honest with me. You never keep secrets from me."

"Lying is a sin."

"So is fornication. I hope Maureen roasts in hell for what she did to me."

"There's something else I have to tell you."

"So tell me. Nothing could be worse than this bullshit."

"Some how or other, Maureen found out about Norman."

Nona's scowl deepened. A vein at her temple became visible. "And…?"

"And…she told Bert."

Nona took a deep breath, then exhaled. She set her drink aside and began carefully to fold the cocktail napkin into a very neat, very small triangle. "I believe I may have to have a talk with Maureen," she smiled. "And I think also that a nice, long chat with Bert is in order just as soon as he's released. When do you think that might be, Treece?"

"Well, today is Friday. Most likely, he'll have to spend the weekend in jail. I'd look for him to get home some time on Monday."

"I'll call and leave a message on his machine that I need to talk to him. Right now, I think I'd better go have a talk with that Stambaugh whore. Let her know that I don't appreciate being made a fool of."

Patrice slid the little leather key case across the table. "The key in there is for Lawrence's desk at the office," she explained. "He keeps a handgun in the bottom drawer."

Nona snatched up the case and skidded out of the booth. She scurried toward the exit without saying another word to her sister-in-law.

Patrice watched her go. A little smile of satisfaction curled her lips. "And that should take care of several things quite nicely."

MAUREEN STAMBAUGH SAID GOODBYE to her secretary and exited the office of Sunset Realty. She crossed the parking lot to her car and unlocked the door, juggling a briefcase, her purse, and a laptop computer. She placed all of these things into the back seat before getting behind the wheel. She was checking her appearance in the visor mirror when a person dressed in a ski mask and black clothing yanked open the passenger door and slid in next to her. She whimpered in fear as her assailant pressed a gun to her cheek.

"My purse…" Maureen stammered. "In the back seat. Take the money. Please don't hurt me. Please."

"I don't want money," was the snarling reply. "Start the car. Pull out onto Lake Road and turn right. We're going for a drive."

Maureen cocked her head to one side and squinted as she puzzled over the identity of her assailant. "Nona?" she finally squeaked. "Is that you?"

"You just never mind who it is. We're going for a drive. I want to explain a few things to you. Just drive. If you don't do as I say, I'll shoot you."

Maureen did exactly as she was told. It made no difference. Twenty minutes later, on a deserted stretch of road west of town, she died of a gunshot wound to the head.

THE RINGING OF the telephone jolted Maggie from a sound sleep. She sat bolt upright in bed, and in so doing, woke Lynnie who happened to be asleep on top of her. She grabbed the telephone with one hand while keeping an arm tight around Lynne's waist.

"Hello?" she mumbled sleepily. "Yes, Galen. What can I do for you? Oh, boy. Okay. Yes, sir. I'll be there within the hour."

She returned the phone to its cradle. Then she very gently eased Lynne down onto the bed. "I'm sorry I woke you," she smiled.

"You didn't," Lynne yawned. "The telephone did. What's wrong?"

"I have to go in to work. I'm sorry."

"It's okay. I was hoping we could have breakfast together, though. Any idea how long you'll be?"

"No. I'll call you as soon as I have some idea."

Several minutes passed in silence. Kissing was the reason. Finally, Maggie reluctantly crawled out of bed.

"I'll give you a ride home as soon as I'm dressed," she said, heading toward the bathroom.

"I guess that means that I'll have to get dressed, too."

"I wouldn't object to having bare-nekkid Lynnie beside me in the car, but public nudity is against the law."

"Can I take a shower with you?"

Maggie grinned and held out a hand. "Absolutely. Come with me. I'll let you scrub my back."

Maggie was pacing back and forth beside Maureen Stambaugh's automobile when Helen drove up in a cruiser. She sighed in relief. "It's a nasty one, Chief," she said.

Helen peered in through the driver's side window. "Did you call the coroner?"

"Yes, ma'am. He's on his way. I called the sheriff's office, too. They're sending the forensics team over. Should be here any minute."

"You didn't touch anything, did you?"

"The door handle. I opened the door to make certain Ms. Stambaugh was dead."

"I don't think there's any question of that, Maggie."

"No, ma'am, but I'm obliged to be certain."

"Did you take a look around?"

'No, ma'am. I didn't want to be responsible for ruining a crime scene, so I stayed here beside the car."

"Why did Galen call you in for this?"

"Because he's got everyone else out looking for that duck."

"Are you serious?"

"Yes, ma'am. Mr. Huckabee's lawyer has threatened to sue the city of Hawk Run if the duck is not returned within 48 hours."

"I'll take care of that," Helen sighed. "You go on home. You haven't had a day off since you started here."

"Yes, ma'am. You'll get no argument from me on that one. Thank you."

"You're welcome. Tell Lynne I said hello."

"Gossip travels at the speed of light here in Hawk Run, doesn't it," she laughed.

"And then some. I'll see you on Monday, Officer Conover. Enjoy the weekend."

"Enjoy? How would that be possible now, Captain? You know, I believe that there are some things we are not meant to see in this life. A dead woman with her brains splattered all over the window of her automobile is one such thing. It might be quite some time before I enjoy weekends again."

Helen was not given to emotional displays. Maggie's obvious distress, however, moved her to put her arms around her and rub her back. "I'd tell you to go have a drink," she said, "but it's too early in the day for liquor."

"I don't drink anyway," Maggie sniffled. "I think maybe I'll go over to that driving range on Salt Springs Road and hit a couple buckets of golf balls. Maybe I'll ask that Lynnie Curran girl to go with me."

Helen held her at arm's length. "Now that is a sure-fire way to rid yourself of depression," she smiled. "Once upon a time I dated that Lynnie Curran girl."


"Yes, really. She helped me through some rough times when my mother died. I consider her one of my dearest friends. And I'll tell you something else, Officer Conover. I can't think of anyone on earth better suited to her than you."

"You barely know me, Captain."

"Some things are obvious right from the start. You go home now. Try to relax. I'll see you in the morning."

THE HAWK RUN VINDICATOR was in a three-story brick building just north of the police station. Vonnie, in partnership with her sister, owned the paper and maintained an office there. It was her habit to spend every morning in that office, and so Helen had no difficulty tracking her down very early on Saturday. Vonnie, who was quite fond of Helen, greeted her with hugs and offers of tea and cookies. All things considered, it took Helen a good 20 minutes to get situated in a chair facing Vonnie's desk so she could discuss the reason for her visit.

"Maureen Stambaugh has been murdered," was how she began.

Tears welled up in Vonnie's eyes. "Oh, Helen…what a horrible thing. Do you know that there has not been a murder in Hawk Run since 1952? Samuel Guitry was shot and killed when someone tried to rob his service station. Is there a suspect in Maureen's murder?"

"Not yet. The sheriff's office sent the forensics team to gather evidence. I hope to have a preliminary report quite soon. Maureen was found in her car on Goodnight Road. I spoke to her secretary, and she says Maureen left the real estate office at 5:30 pm yesterday. The woman who lives in the house across from Sunset Realty happened to…"

"Kate Fitzpatrick," Vonnie interrupted. "Owns the salt water taffy stand."

"Yes," Helen smiled. "She was unloading groceries from her car when she saw someone in a ski mask and dark clothing get into Maureen's car with her. She called to report the incident, but the officer who took the call told her it was most likely someone playing a joke of some kind."

"Oh, dear. May I ask who that officer was?"

"Galen Miller. I spoke to him about it. He told me that he had been out on the docks behind the police department the other evening when you and a boatload of fools came sailing across the lake to see the world famous Looby Huckle Duck."

Vonnie nibbled a cookie. "Yes," she nodded. "We did do that. I understand the duck is missing."

"Yes, it is. Lieutenant Miller saw fit to send the entire force out in search of that missing duck because Looby Huckle's attorney has threatened to sue the city. Where is the duck, Vonnie?"

"Why ask me? I know nothing about the matter."

"I'm not in the mood for your nonsense," Helen snapped. She set down her teacup. "We have a murder to investigate. We have a chief of police in jail and facing the prospect of 10 years in prison. We do not have the time to play games with a pack of hooligans, and yes, Vonnie, I mean you and your band of merry pranksters. I understand you're calling yourselves the Kazoo Band these days."

"Yes. We needed a name so we could file as a charitable organization. It was Lynnie's idea to call us the Kazoo Band."

"Well, whatever you call yourselves, I want that damned duck back in the police garage by Monday morning, or I guaran-damn-tee you that I will arrest every last one of you."

"Technically, the duck belongs to me."

"What? What are you talking about?"

" I own Hippity-Hop."

"And just what the hell does that mean, Yvonne? I really am not in the mood for…"

"The rental company where Looby got the duck. The Hippity-Hop Rental Company. I own it. So technically, that duck belongs to me, and technically, it was not stolen."

Helen took off her glasses to pinch the bridge of her nose between thumb and forefinger. "Shall I assume that Lynnie also named the rental company for you?" she inquired.


" That figures. Lawrence Huckabee claims that he had to shell out $2500 because he could not return the rental unit. He is going to sue the city for that amount plus damages. If, as you claim, you own the rental comp…"

"Hippity-Hop is the name of it," Vonnie interrupted.

"Yes, but I simply cannot bring myself to say that. You have a chat with Huckabee's lawyer, Yvonne. Give the man back his $2500."

"I'll have a check sent to him right away. Would you like more tea?"

"No, I would not. Just let me ask you one thing: When Mayor Lassiter appoints me to fill the vacancy left by Bert Yancey's arrest, am I going to be subjected to the same practical jokery that he has experienced for the past three years?"

"Of course not, dear. We love you. We'll find someone else to annoy."

Continued in Part 8.

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