The Hawk Run Chronicles: Welcome Home

by Skippy


The usual...

Feedback: Skippy


IT WAS a misty, overcast, cool Sunday morning, and Helen wanted nothing more than to stay in bed and snuggle with Jesse. Responsibilities and duty had to take precedence, though, especially with Bert in jail, so Helen yawned and grumbled and gently extricated herself from Jesse's arms. She rolled out of bed and took a shower, then got dressed and headed for town.

On her way into Hawk Run, she spotted a small group of women gathered across from the Irish Rose. They were standing at the edge of the lake. In light of her new position as the acting chief of police, she decided it might be prudent to see what they were up to. She parked her car in the tavern lot and went to investigate. She was not surprised to find Vonnie Grant and Lynne Curran among those assembled on the shore.

She was greeted with hugs, she was offered coffee and a donut, but no one offered any explanation for the gathering. Helen, therefore, had to make inquiries. Between sips of coffee she asked, "So what are all of you doing out here this morning?"

"Sunrise services, Helen," Vonnie replied. "It is Sunday. We're just gathered here to thank the Good Lord for another lovely day in this lovely place."

Helen took a bite of donut and considered this explanation. "Okay," she nodded. "I'll accept that. It's just too early and I'm not alert enough to delve deeper into this particular mystery. Besides, you've given me a cup of excellent coffee and a tasty donut. The coffee alone gets you off the hook."

"Why do you doubt Vonnie's answer?" Lynne laughed.

"Maybe because I am a police officer trained to be suspicious. Or it could be that I've known all of you too long. I've come to recognize the sound of prevarication when it whispers in my ear." She finished her coffee and donut. Someone handed her a napkin, someone else held out a trash bag for disposal of the napkin and the coffee cup. "I'm off to work, now," she declared. "If there truly is more to this than meets the eye, I don't want to know about it until after lunch."

"Oh, no problem there, dear," Vonnie smiled. "We can keep you effectively in the dark for several days, if need be."

Laughing and shaking her head, Helen returned to her car and completed her journey to the police department office. She reached her destination to find Maggie seated at her desk grinning excessively as big, fat teardrops strolled down her cheeks. In front of her was a milk glass bud vase holding a beautiful red rose. Next to it sat a small teddy bear dressed in a police uniform.

Helen perched on the corner of the desk "Do I need to ask the name of the giver of gifts?" she smiled.

Maggie shook her head. "It's Lynnie," she sniffled. She opened a desk drawer and retrieved a package of tissues so she could dry her eyes and blow her nose.

"I assumed as much. That's a gorgeous rose."

"Nobody ever sent me roses before. I mean a rose. There's just the one. Never got one before. Never got any." She pulled another tissue from the package and laughed. "I'm just a blubberin' fool this morning. Sorry."

"Don't apologize, sweetie. There isn't a thing wrong with a few tears."

"Well, I should stop shedding them and get to work."

"Speaking of work…I don't suppose you know why Lynne and Vonnie and several of their cohorts are gathered by the lake this morning."

"Lynne told me they were getting together for a fishing lesson. She claims that Vonnie Grant is an expert at fly fishing."

"I stopped to investigate when I saw them standing there. They claimed they were holding church services."

"Well, chief, I guess we'll learn the truth eventually."

"Uh-huh. That's what I'm afraid of."

Maggie did get out on patrol that morning, and she was only about 30 minutes behind schedule. She was hoping to find a free moment to call Lynne to thank her for the rose and the bear and so she was pleasantly surprised to discover her working behind the Irish Rose when she reached that point in her daily rounds.

She was dressed in boots, jeans, and a white sleeveless undershirt. A blue bandana was tied over her hair, and a welder's mask obscured her face. Maggie could hear the sizzle of the torch as Lynne worked to fuse some kind of metal framework together. Her interest was understandably piqued, and so she walked over to say hello.

Lynne tipped the mask back to smile at her. "Good morning. Out patrolling the streets of Hawk Run?"

"Yes, I am. What are you doing?"


"Well, yes, that much is apparent. I should have asked, 'What are you welding?'"

"I'm not sure what you'd call it. It's a framework for a kind of boat trailer my sister designed."

"Why not simply buy a trailer? Wouldn't that be easier?"

"Yes, it would, but a conventional trailer wouldn't work with this boat. What she did was to take parts from one boat and combine them with the bottom of a pontoon boat."

Maggie tucked her hands into the pockets of her jacket and nodded understanding. "Where did you learn how to weld?"

"A friend taught me. Hawk County has the highest rate of illiteracy in Ohio," she said. "It also has the lowest per capita income. I teach adults here how to read, and sometimes, in exchange, they give me things because they can't afford to pay me in cash and because pride prevents them from accepting anything gratis. Fern Guitry, for instance, gives me a gallon jug of her homemade wine every year because I taught her husband, Lamont, how to read. That's how I learned welding…a man I taught how to read taught me how to weld in exchange."

"Sounds like an equitable arrangement."

"I think so."

"What other useful skills have you acquired?"

"Auto mechanics, bicycle repair, furniture refinishing…lots of things. Maggie," she laughed, "stop staring at my chest."

"Well, you don't have a brassiere on. Kinda hard not to stare. And you look mighty fine in them there britches," she declared. "I especially like that little tee shirt."

"Undershirt. It's an undershirt. I like to show off my muscles." Lynne fisted a hand in the front of Maggie's shirt and pulled her down to kiss her. Maggie put an arm around her and lifted her off her feet. They were locked together in that same kiss when Rae came out the service entrance of the tavern to intrude.

"Are you committing hanky-panky in a public place, Officer Conover?" she grinned.

"Not yet, I'm not," Maggie finally replied, blushing a lovely shade of rosy-pink. She set Lynne back down. "I, uhm, stopped by to thank Lynne for a present she sent to me."

Rae crossed her arms and nodded, grinning broadly. "I see," she nodded. "If I send you a present, will I receive a great big smooch in gratitude?"

"I think a handshake would suffice," Lynne laughed. "What was it you wanted, Rae?"

"Vonnie called again. She wants to know when you think you might finish."

"Some time today. I'll call her back when I break for lunch."

"Okay. I'll tell her that the next time she calls, and you know she will."

"Don't you have something to do? Glasses to wash, lemons to slice, something? Anything?"

"Nope. Not a thing. I think I'll just stand here and watch Maggie blush."

"Go elsewhere, Rae. Go do other things."

"Oh, all right," she sighed, throwing her hands up in mock annoyance. "You never let me have any fun." She went back into the tavern.

"Sorry," Lynne smiled up at Maggie.

"Not a problem. I have to get back to work, and I guess you do too."

"Yeah, I probably should. Are you free for lunch?"

"Yes, but I never know what time I'll be able to stop."

"Then how about dinner?"

"I don't know. Things are kinda off schedule with Yancey in jail. All I can tell you is that I'll be home before midnight."

"And if I should knock on your door at that time, would I be welcome?"

"Oh, absolutely. People who send me roses and teddy bears are always welcome."

"Then I'll see you 'round midnight, Officer Blue Eyes.

At lunchtime, Rae served Lynne a bowl of soup and a hamburger at the bar. She asked how the welding job was progressing.

"Not bad," Lynne answered. "I should have it finished in an hour or two."

"So," she grinned, all set to tease her sister. "You're sending presents to your new girlfriend, are you?"

"Yes. I sent her a rose and a teddy bear." She put down the soupspoon and looked at her. "Maggie's parents were very strict," she said. "They thought it was indulgent to show their children any kind of physical affection. They also believed that it was against Biblical teachings to celebrate birthdays or holidays. Maggie told me the other day that she has only ever gotten one birthday present in her life, and that was from her college roommate. I plan to add to that total."

"So it's her birthday today?"

"No, it isn't. I sent her a present just so she'll get used to receiving such things."

"I take it, then, that you are rather fond of Officer Conover," Rae smiled.

"Exceedingly fond. I love her."


"Really. Probably for the very first time in my life, I am in love."

"If you love her she must be an exceptional human being."

"Why, thanks."

"Why, you're welcome. Does she know you helped steal the duck?"

"Oh, I imagine so. Not too much gets past her."

"So she isn't a strictly-by-the-book kind of law enforcement official."

"No. Not so far, at least. This soup is great. Did you make this?"

"Yes. It's Dukie's vegetable stock, though. I traded her five pies for a gallon of stock."

"Well, it's delicious. How are we going to get the trailer over to Vonnie's?"

"We'll just hitch it to my car and haul it over."

"Think they'll have the duck ready for her maiden voyage?"

"We'd better. We need a test run before the official launch date."

"Quinn Davis claims the whole town will be in Muni Park for the Duck Watch."

"That's because of Honoria's big mouth. She's inviting everyone she's ever slept with."

Lynne took a bite of the hamburger. "I hear she has a new girlfriend."

"That is the rumor," Rae smiled. She pulled a napkin from the holder and wiped ketchup from Lynne's cheek. "The latest conquest for Miss Norrie June is Tina Schildcrout, who is 20 years old and a student at Grant College. She works part time at Dukie's. What does Honoria have to say about Maggie? Or doesn't she know?"

"She knows. She has given us her blessing. What a relief. Now I can relax."

"She usually causes problems. Or tries to."

"I think she knows it's serious for me this time."

"If she does anything to interfere, Lynnie, I wouldn't be surprised if Maggie kicks her ass up around her ears."

"Maggie won't have to. I'll do it myself. Can I have another bowl of this soup, please?"

"Comin' right up, angel mine."

Demmie and Vonnie stood together in the boathouse on Vonnie's property, watching as a group of women worked to get the Looby Huckle duck affixed to a pontoon platform. Naturally, Lynne was among them. Demmie called her over to ask a few questions.

"How much longer?"

"Just a few more minutes," Lynne replied. "They're bolting the last support down now."

"Do we need running lights?" Vonnie asked.

"There is a plan to install lights and sound. Since you want to test this contraption tonight, though, the upgrades will have to wait."

"Sound? What kind of sound? If you're talking about that tape player we removed from the duck's feet, I have to vote no. That 'Turkey in the Straw' nonsense is not the kind of music I hear when I envision our duck paddling around on the lake."

"Honoria suggested that we record quacking sounds," Demmie explained.

"Oh, I don't know about that," Vonnie sighed. "I need to think it over. The quacking, I mean, not the lights. We do need running lights on it, and if we send the duck out for a test paddle tonight without those lights, won't we be arrested?"

"Yes, Vonnie, we will," Lynne answered. "Assuming anyone reports us."

"Don't you think we run the risk of scaring some poor fisherman half to death? Wouldn't it frighten you if you were out on the lake at night and suddenly an eight-foot tall duck came sailing past?"

"Yes, It probably would. But that's a risk we'll have to take if you want to test this thing."

Vonnie turned to Demmie. "What do you think we should do?"

"I think we should go ahead as planned and risk scaring people," Demmie replied.

"You probably hope we'll scare the crap out of someone, don't you," she laughed.

"Yes, I do."

"And you don't think anyone will report us to the police?"

"Who would do such a foolish thing?"

"Nobody I can think of. Those Huckabee idiots might, but that would give us an excuse to tar and feather them."

"You won't have to bother with tar and feathers," Lynne commented. "They'll be hauled off to prison very soon."

"What makes you think so?" Demmie frowned.

"Bert Yancey."

"He's discussed the matter with you, has he?"

"No, but we all know how he is. He'll dish the Huckabees to the attorney general in order to get a shorter jail term for himself."

"That kind of thing sometimes gets a person killed."

"The Huckabees might be unethical, arrogant thieves, but I don't think they're killers."

"Really? Well, we disagree on that. I think they're far more ruthless than you imagine. And I think that if Bert Yancey tells all to the attorney general, the Huckabees will kill him."

Rae Curran jumped off the pontoon and onto the dock. "We're done here," she declared. "Quinn says that if the two of you want to go for a spin around the lake, you should get your life jackets on and board the duck."

"We can ride on it?" Demmie grinned.

"Yes, you can."

"I thought we had some sort of remote control device," Vonnie frowned. "Won't it spoil the effect if people ride the duck?"

"The remote control is for when the duck goes cruising alone, Vonnie. Quinn just figured that the two of you would enjoy a boat ride."

"We certainly would," Demmie nodded. "Can all of us go?"

"I don't think that would be wise. It might sink with all of us on there at once. You and Vonnie go. Quinn is going to take you around the lake and back to the launch ramp at the south end. That's where the test run with the remote control will start on Tuesday morning. The plan is to launch from the south ramp and sail to the north ramp."

"And where is the north ramp?" Vonnie asked.

"Just past Municipal beach. The south ramp is at Mookie's End, the north ramp is about mid-way along that path that runs from the cove to the auditorium."

"The Vergelia Wainright Path."


"Why did we decide to do the test float on Tuesday?"

"Because that's when Helen will be named the interim chief of police. It was your idea, Vonnie," Rae laughed. "Don't you remember these things?"

Vonnie laughed with her. "Not always, I'm afraid."

"Time's a'wastin', Yvonne," Demmie interjected. "Shall we go for a sail around the lake?"

Arm in arm, the sisters boarded the duck.

BERT WAS RELEASED on bail bright and early Monday morning, and he made it home to Hawk Run by noon. He went first to his condo, where he tidied himself up, then headed for the police station. His lawyer had given him the news that he no longer held the position of chief of police, and so to avoid confrontation he did not enter through the door marked "Official Police Department Personnel Only." He opted instead for the main entrance, even though it meant a stop at the front desk. He hoped that Darnell would not be hovering in that general vicinity. His hopes were dashed when he found her perched on her favorite stool behind the counter. He sighed in resignation and held up a hand to forestall any rude comments from her.

"I know I've been fired," he stated. "All I want to do is get some stuff from my desk. Is that okay with you?"

"Why, sure, hon," Darnell beamed. "Glad to see you home from jail. Did you meet any cute boys?"

Bert's face flushed crimson. "That just is not funny. I'd kill any sonofabitch who put his hands on me like that."

"Do you know what a homophobe is, Bertie?"

"Look…can I go to my office or not? Strange as it may seem to you, I ain't in the mood to joke around."

"Oh, I'm not joking, honey. I honestly love to piss you off. In case it has escaped your notice, I don't like you one little bit. I look forward to your departure from my home town." She reached under the counter to buzz open the gate. "Don't go trying to run off with any office equipment, Mr. Yancey. I'd have to shoot you if you did that."

Grumbling and stomping and counting to ten, Bert made it to his office. He sat down at his desk and opened the bottom drawer to retrieve a paper bag stored there. He was putting a few personal belongings into the bag when Helen came in.

"How are you holding up?" she asked.

He gave her a wry smile. "Like you care. I'm fine. I just want to get it all over and done with so I can move on with my life."

She leaned against the doorjamb. "You're making plans for your future, are you?"

"I didn't do anything wrong. I'll be acquitted. Yeah, I'm making plans." He closed the desk drawer and stood up. " I suppose I need to hand over my badge and my weapon."

"Yes, you do. Your sidearm should be here, Bert, either in your locker or your desk. That's policy. You know that."

"And I always follow the rules, don't I. I'll have to bring the gun in tomorrow. It's at home."

"I could have your paycheck withheld until you turn over the weapon."

"Whatever. I've got more important bullshit to deal with. You do whatever you want, babe." He moved toward the door. "Did that dyke mayor appoint you to my job?"

"Until an election can be held, I'm the interim chief. I'll be sworn officially tomorrow."

"An election? Since when is the chief elected?"

"Since we got stuck with you three years ago."

He hesitated, as though debating whether or not to shove her aside. For once in his life, he restrained that kind of impulse and simply edged past her. He headed for the front desk at a brisk pace. It was wishful thinking on his part that he would escape without parting comments from Darnell.

"All done?" she smiled at him.

"Yeah. Open the gate, please. I have things to do."

"Sure. Are you on your way to see your girlfriend?"

"That's none of your business. Just open the fucking gate."

"I just thought you'd want to know the latest news, seeing as how you've been dating the woman for…"

"If you're talking about Maureen, don't bother. My lawyer told me she'd been shot and killed."

"I meant the other girlfriend, hon. Miss Nona Huckabee. Considering how you feel about homosexuals and all, I just thought you'd like to know the latest gossip."

"Now, don't try to hand me some bullshit about Nona turning queer," he snorted. "That just ain't gonna happen. I've been to bed with her. I speak from experience when I tell you that she's a real woman."

"Oh, really?" she hooted. "Guess again. It seems Nona used to be called Norman."

"What? What the fuck are you jabbering about?"

"She used to be a he. Norman Bernard Huckabee had a sex change operation about 15 years ago. What once was peter is now pussy. And I cannot begin to tell you, Bertram, how hilarious I find it that you have been to bed with Norman. I should call Tay Lassiter over at the newspaper so she can print the story up for the evening edition."

"You're full of shit. Open the fucking gate before I kick it open."

Darnell opened the gate. Her laughter followed Bert out the door.

The door had not closed behind him before Darnell was taking a seat in Helen's office. "He looks like hell," she commented.

"Yes," Helen nodded. "I think mostly he's just tired, though. I doubt he slept well over the weekend. A jail cell is hardly as luxurious as that condo of his."

"How do you suppose that bastard managed to afford that place? They're selling for a quarter of a mill."

"It didn't cost him a dime. He got it in exchange for setting up the real estate swindle and the phony permits. I believe that's count three of the indictment," she smiled.

"Do you think he'll be found guilty?"

"The state appears to have a solid case against him."

"Well, I for one would not be surprised if he runs."

"I'm expecting it. It's just a question of when he'll leave and how. Will he charter a jet, or will he exit in a body bag?"

"Like poor Maureen Stambaugh," Darnell sighed. "Did he say anything to you about that?"

"No, not a word."

"Have you heard anything from the county forensics people?"

"Not yet. I did talk to the sheriff, though. He said they'd be faxing something by the end of the day." She glanced at her watch. "I have a meeting with Vonnie Grant in 20 minutes," she announced. "After that, I'll be with the mayor and city council until around 4:00. If you need me, page me."

"Will do, Chief," she saluted.

"And take some time today to order a computer for your new office."

"Office?" she grinned. "I get my own office?"

"Yes. Just as soon as Bert moves his crap out, you can move in."

"I don't suppose I get a raise to go with my new office, do I?"

"I'll see what the mayor says. Keep an eye on that fax machine for me today, please. As soon as that report comes in, page me."

"Yes, ma'am."

"And I will see you later."

ON MAIN LAKE ROAD, across the street from the Courtyard Shops, was a turn-of-the-century brick office building. The owner had spent a considerable amount of money restoring it to its former glory, and space there was at a premium. Which was precisely why the Huckabees maintained an office on the second floor. It was a mark of prestige and of financial stability to them, an image they wanted to convey to their clients.

Bert marched out of the police station and stomped the two blocks north to the building in question, muttering and cursing to himself every stomp of the way. His initial response to Darnell's pronouncement was to pay a visit to Nona Bee, but she was at work in the Kasa de Kaffeine and beating the truth out of her in such a public place would not be a good idea…at least not in light of his impending trial. Those were his thoughts as he rode the elevator to the second floor and continued down the hallway to the offices of L & P Development, Inc.

"Lemme talk to the boss man," he scowled at the secretary. "Just tell him I got a bone to pick with him."

"If you refer to Mr. Huckabee, sir, he is not available today," the young woman replied. "Mrs. Huckabee is in, however. Shall I let her know that you wish to speak to her?"

"Yeah. You do that."

Hearing Bert's voice, Patrice stepped out of her office before the secretary could page her via the intercom. She ushered him inside and closed the door.

"When did you get back from Columbus?" she asked, settling down at her desk.

"I don't know. Maybe two hours ago. Where's Lawrence?"

"He's busy at the Zippy Mart this morning. What do you need, Bert?"

"I need the fucking truth, is what I need. Is it true that Nona had a sex change?"

"And who told you that?"

"That fucking bitch over at the police department."

"Helen Burke? How would she be privy to that kind of very personal information?"

"Not her, Darnell. Darnell Adkins. The secretary over there."

"The tall, good-looking blonde woman? Always dresses so beautifully?"

"Yeah, whatever. Just answer the question, Treece."

"You mean the question about Nona having a sex change?"

"Yes!" He thumped his fist against the desktop. "Is it true?"

"I really don't think I should discuss the matter with you. That's between you and Nona."

He stood, fists clenched, and leaned toward her. His face was nearly purple with suppressed rage; his eyes were narrow slits. "Is it true?" he hissed.

Patrice sat back and gave him a weary smile. "No, it is not true."

"Are you positive?"

"Yes, dear, I am positive. I've known her longer than I've known Lawrence. Believe me when I tell you that she was born female. Her whorish ways should be proof positive of that."

"I warned you about calling her names," he snarled. He picked up the chair he had been sitting on and swung back with it as if to smash it over Patrice's head. That she did not so much as flinch made him change his mind. He put the chair back down and sank onto it like a deflated balloon.

"A wise decision," Patrice smiled. She opened the drawer of a file cabinet behind her and took out a bottle of bourbon. She poured some into a coffee cup and handed it to him. "It seems to me that you've got more important matters to occupy your energy than whether or not your girlfriend once peed standing up. When is your trial?"

"One month," he sighed. He drained the cup and held it out for more.

"Would you consider a disappearing act?"

"What? You mean, like, leave town before the trial?"

"I mean vanish. Leave the country. I believe they call it flight to avoid prosecution on all the television programs."

"I never thought of that." He sat up straighter in the chair. "I wouldn't know how to go about it though, Treece, Could you and Lawrence maybe help plan it and stuff?"

"I would be happy to help you make the arrangements. And Lawrence and I also would want to provide expenses. Along with a bonus for services rendered over the past three years."

"Where would I go, though? I went to Mexico for my second honeymoon. I liked it there. I'd want to go somewhere warm like that."

"I'll get some information off the internet for you. We'll need to create a new identity for you, too. That sort of thing isn't nearly as complicated as it used to be, what with computers and all. I'll take care of it, Bert. You just try to relax and keep a low profile. That means you cannot go stomping around town looking like a psychopath. Forget about Nona. Concentrate on your freedom."

He nodded vigorously. "Yeah, okay. You're right. There's plenty of fish in the sea, like the old saying goes. Plus, she's a lousy cook."

"Lousy does not begin to describe it," Patrice laughed.

"So. Are you still planning that next job, or are you going to hold off on that til things settle down around here?"

"We're going ahead with it. The police department is in a state of confusion right now, with you gone and two officers resigning. This is the perfect time to get those coins."

"Is Lawrence going with you?"

"I'm thinking about taking Nona along."

Bert hooted. "Nona? Are you nuts? I can't think of a quicker way into jail than taking a kewpie doll like Nona Bee along on a burglary. She'll break a fingernail and stop to file it instead of watching your back for you."

"I think you underestimate her, Bert."

"Well, you go ahead and take her along as your backup, Treece. I'll come visit you in jail."

"You seem confident that you'll be acquitted of all those charges against you. Why is that?"

"I didn't do anything wrong," he shrugged.

"It wouldn't be because you offered information to the attorney general in exchange for your freedom, is it?"

"I don't rat on my friends, babe," he scowled.

"I'm very glad to hear that. I would be forced to shut your big mouth for you if you decided to talk. Don't ever doubt that."

"I won't talk."

"Good. Now, do you need anything? Groceries, money, anything?"

"I could use a few bucks. I can't withdraw any cash from the bank. The state goons have got it."

Patrice opened a desk drawer and unlocked a cash box there. She handed Bert $500. "Let me know if you need more."

"Thanks, Treece. I really appreciate it."

"Anything else you need? Do you have any questions?"


"Then I'm going to have to chase you out," she smiled. "I have a meeting with a new client in 20 minutes.

"Okay. And thanks again."

From Patrice's office, Bert went to the Kasa de Kaffeine. He was hungry, he wanted a couple of cheeseburgers, and his most fervent wish was that Nona would not be there to cook for him. The coast seemed clear as he took a seat at the counter to order, and he was thanking his lucky stars when the cheeseburgers were served and Nona still had not put in an appearance. He took a bite of the first sandwich, chewed, swallowed, wiped mayonnaise from his chin, and just when he thought he might actually enjoy a meal alone for a change, Nona came swooping in through the front door and sat down beside him.

"Why didn't you call me to let me know you were home?" she demanded.

"I came here to tell you in person," he replied. "I stopped by the PD to get a few things from my desk first. I've been fired, by the way."

"Yeah, I heard about that." She stood up and walked around behind the counter to pour a cup of coffee. "I also heard that you went to visit Patrice."

"You heard right," he nodded. "I did do that." He continued eating his cheeseburger.

Nona stood staring at him, one hand on her hip, watching him intently as she sipped her coffee. "I want to know where you heard that filthy rumor about me, Bert," she said, finally.

"What rumor?"

"You know what I'm talking about," she hissed, moving to the counter and leaning toward him. "Don't get cute with me. I'm not in the mood for cute."

"You mean the rumor I heard over at the PD?" he asked loudly, looking around to make sure he had an audience. "That rumor that you used to be a guy? Is that the rumor you're talking about, buddy?"

Nona turned immediately and emphatically crimson. She did not hesitate to pitch the coffee from her cup at him, and while he sat there and sputtered and cursed, she picked up a banana cream pie and shoved it into his face. A veritable barrage of cutlery and crockery followed. The restaurant reverberated with crashes and shrieks and howls of pain. Bert managed to crawl from the counter to a nearby table, where he hid himself until Officer Conover arrived to rescue him from Nona's rage.

Bert sat scowling on an exam table in the emergency room of Lakeside Memorial Hospital. He held a wad of gauze to his bloody nose as a nurse bandaged a cut above his left eyebrow. His anger and embarrassment increased when Maggie entered the room

"Get outta here," he snapped. "I got nothin' to say to you."

"I just want to know if you intend to press charges against Miss Huckabee, sir," Maggie smiled. "I'll leave as soon as you give me some indication as to what you want to do."

"No charges," he grumbled. "Just forget about it."

"Okay, then. Do you need a ride anywhere?"

"No, I don't. But thanks for asking."

"If you change your mind about pressing charges, let me know."

"I won't be changing my mind. If I had her arrested, her brother would come after me with a baseball bat. It's bad enough she threw that chair at me. I don't need any more stitches, thank you very much."

"If that's what you want…"

"It is definitely what I want."

"Then I'll see you around."

"Not for much longer," he muttered, watching Maggie exit the room. "Not much longer at all."

A LIGHT RAIN was falling when Maggie started her shift on Tuesday. Her daily routine began at Municipal Park, where she walked through the picnic area to the beach making certain that everything was as it should be. She did this twice a day, regardless of the weather, so the rain did not coax her into hurrying; she strolled along at her usual, leisurely pace. It wasn't until she spotted the truck on the beach that she broke stride.

It was a large, red truck with a very colorful chicken painted on the side. Above the chicken, in glittering gold letters, were the words 'Kluck's Poultry'. A snort of laughter escaped her as she hurried forward to get a better look. A wooden ramp extended from the back of the truck, and from the bottom of that ramp to the water's edge the footprints of some sort of large, web-footed creature could be seen across the wet sand.

When she stopped laughing, Maggie keyed the microphone at her shoulder to contact dispatch. She requested someone remove the truck from the park, then she went on about her business. That meant she was heading for the boardwalk.

Many of the concession stands along the boardwalk were being painted and refurbished in preparation for the unofficial opening, which was Memorial Day weekend. It was a pleasantly cool morning, the rain was ending, and so she strolled along, enjoying the day and whistling softly as she twirled her baton.

Up ahead, she saw a woman standing at the railing with a camcorder. Maggie looked in the direction the woman seemed to be taping and nearly tripped over her own feet. The eight-foot tall, pink and green Looby Huckle duck was floating through the mist and bobbing along toward the north end of the lake. She continued forward until she stood at the woman's side.

"I love this town," she grinned.

The woman smiled at her. "Loch Ness and Lake Champlain have their monsters, we've got the Looby Huckle duck." She shook Maggie's hand. "I'm Kate Fitzpatrick. I own the salt water taffy stand."

"A pleasure to meet you, Ms Fitzpatrick. When did that duck put in an appearance? Do you know?"

"Well, let me think. I got here around 5:30 this morning to open the stand for workmen. I'm having the counter and display cases replaced. So I was here before the duck arrived. I first noticed it when I came out onto the boardwalk to get a little fresh air. That was maybe around 6:00."

"So you didn't see where the duck came from?"

"No, but from any of the boathouses down at the south end of the lake would be my guess. If it had been tied up to someone's dock, it would have been noticed. I wonder how they got it to float and to move through the water."

"Well, ma'am, we're dealing with some highly creative and slightly demented folks, I believe. Maybe someone should give the television station a call, see if they want to come out here and take a look."

"I called them," she laughed. "That's why I've got my camcorder. It should make the evening news."

At the end of her watch, Maggie returned to the station to finish the day with paper work. She got a can of soda from the vending machine in the break room and settled at her desk to file several reports. Just as she was getting ready to leave, she saw Helen come marching out of her office with a single sheet of paper in her hand and a look of irritation on her face.

"Oh, dear," Maggie sighed.

Helen clutched the paper in her fist and shook it at Maggie. "Just what is this bullshit?" she demanded.

"I can't read it all crumpled up like that, Chief. May I see the paper?"

Helen threw it at her. Red in the face and with her hands fisted in her pockets, she dropped down onto the chair next to Maggie's desk. "I do not need more aggravation," she snapped. "I am up to my eyeballs in aggravation."

Maggie examined the paper, which was a hard copy of a report she had just filed. The report concerned the truck in Municipal Park and the footprints on the sand. "Now, Chief Burke," she said. "Let me be clear about what it is, exactly, that has you so upset. Do you think I made this up just for the fun of it?"

"That thought did occur to me, yes," Helen snapped.

"Well, I didn't. Ben Tolliver towed the truck back here to the garage. He says he took a few photos of the duck prints. Says that kind of thing should be held onto for posterity, and the rain was washing the prints away. So, if you don't believe what I put in that report, just go take a look in the garage."

"A Kluck's Poultry truck, is it?" she fumed.

"Yes, ma'am. Those are the words painted on the sides of the truck. Pictures of great, big chickens on either side, with the company name above them. It's a real colorful vehicle."

Helen glared at her. "You also claim you saw that damn duck go sailing by out on the lake."

"Yes, ma'am, I did. I happened to be patrolling the boardwalk when the duck went for a swim. The woman who owns the salt water taffy stand videotaped it. It'll be on the evening news on channel 13 tonight."

Helen let out a loud sigh. She abandoned her scowl. The hint of a smile flickered in her eyes. "Well. Maybe now we know what those fools were doing on Sunday morning."

Maggie grinned at her. "Yes, ma'am, I think so, especially considering Lynnie's welding job."


"Yes, ma'am. She was out back behind the Irish Rose welding a metal framework together. She said it was a boat trailer her sister designed."

"A trailer for the duck is more likely."

"Yes, ma'am. And I should probably tell you that the duck had a sign attached to its head and streaming out behind it. Sort of like those signs you sometimes see an airplane tow across the sky. Know what I mean?"

"Yes, I do."

"Well, the duck's sign read 'Hooray for our new police chief, Helen Burke'."

The faint smile became a full grin. "Thank you, Maggie," she laughed. "And I'm sorry for my grumpy behavior."

"No problem, chief. You've got a lot of pressure on you these days."

Helen stood up. She gave Maggie's shoulder a pat. "I'm glad Bert hired you. It's the only good thing he ever did for this town." She went striding off, her bad mood gone for the time being.

THE NEXT MORNING, Helen spent three hours in discussion with the mayor and city council, then kept a lunch date with Demmie Masterson. They lingered in the dining room after the meal, drinking tea and discussing Bert Yancey. Just as Helen was getting ready to leave, the housekeeper entered carrying a file folder. Demmie instructed her to give the folder to Helen.

"A bit of interesting information I happened across," Demmie explained. "I don't know that it will be of any use to you, but one never knows, and as I understand it there were not many clues left at the scene of Maureen Stambaugh's murder."

Helen opened the folder and put on her reading glasses. Then she glanced at Demmie. "Or did you mean for me to look at this in the privacy of my office?"

"No, I meant for you to look at it here. I'm curious about your reaction."

"Nona Huckabee had a sex change." She closed the folder. "The only thing interesting about that is that Bert Yancey was dating her. If he found out, we have an explanation for all that commotion at the Kasa de Kaffeine on Monday."

"You didn't read the second page, Helen, the information regarding Norman Huckabee's arrest for manslaughter when he was 16 years old. He killed his own father."

Helen frowned as she read the page in question. "I still don't see how any of this could relate to Maureen's death."

"I simply think it might be worth looking into," she shrugged. "Can you think of anyone with a motive for killing Maureen?"

"Bert Yancey, maybe. I've heard a rumor that Maureen was pregnant by him. I can't imagine that news would thrill him. The only reason he is not being questioned is because he was in a jail cell in Columbus when Maureen died."

"What about the others involved in the real estate swindles? They certainly did not want Maureen talking to the attorney general about the matter."

Helen gave her a wry smile. "I'll have to look into that aspect of the case."

"A good idea," Demmie laughed. "I just thought you should have that additional tidbit of information. It might prove to be worth something beyond the obvious blackmail value."

'It might, indeed. I'll keep it in mind."

"Have you found the Looby Huckle Duck yet?"

Helen smiled at her. "You know damn well that duck went sailing up the lake yesterday morning. So, in a manner of speaking, we have located the duck. We also know how it was stolen from the impound garage."


"Yes. A truck was found in Muni Park. It was painted red, and on either side was a large and very colorful chicken beneath the words 'Kluck's Poultry'. Officer Conover discovered the truck on her regular patrol through the park."

"And what evidence did she find?"

"She was too overcome to find anything."

"Overcome by what?"


"Laughter is a wonderful thing, Helen."

"So I've bee told."

"You haven't had much opportunity for laughter over the past three years, have you?"

"Not since Bert Yancey showed up, no."

"Maybe you'll regain your sense of humor, now that he's been fired."

"Maybe so."

"Because, if I remember correctly, you have a wonderful laugh and a beautiful smile."

"Thank you, Demmie."

"You're welcome. Try to relax a bit, Chief Burke. You'll catch the person who killed Maureen. You're a very intelligent and perceptive individual."

"Thank you again," she laughed. "And thank you also for lunch."

"You're welcome. Have a lovely afternoon, Helen, and take a page from Officer Conover's book: Laugh out loud every once in awhile. It won't hurt you."

MAGGIE ENTERED the diner for a late lunch and took a seat at the counter. She was putting ketchup on a hamburger when Dukie came out of the kitchen to sit down beside her.

"Afternoon, Miz Dukie, ma'am," Maggie grinned. "How you doin'?"

"Not bad. Can't complain. Doesn't do any good."

"That's true."

"Any news on Maureen Stambaugh?"

"Last I heard she was still dead."

Dukie gave her a push. "That isn't nice," she huffed. "Have some respect for the dearly departed. And I probably should have asked if there was any news about the investigation."

"A fax from the county forensics lab came in this afternoon."

"Can you tell me anything?"

"No, and I'm sorry but I can't share. You'll have to be satisfied knowing what everyone else in town knows."

"That's okay. I hear you've been moved off day watch to afternoon."

"That doesn't start until Monday."

"And for how long will you be working afternoons?"

"Til the next rotation, which will depend on the hiring of two additional officers. I don't expect it will be more than a month."

"I'm asking because I'd like to invite you to a picnic in Municipal Park next week."

"A picnic? I've never been to a picnic. Wait…I take that back. I attended a number of church picnics as a child. Everyone sat around eating macaroni salad and passing judgment on heathens. Is that the type of thing you mean?"

"No. Just where the hell did you grow up, girl?"

"Fundamentalist Fork, Kentucky."

"There is no such place," Dukie chuckled. "Do you think you might be able to stop by our picnic for a little while? Maybe on your lunch break?"

"Will Lynnie be there?"


"I've sometimes heard fried chicken mentioned in conjunction with picnics. Will there be any fried chicken?"


"Then I'll stop by on my lunch break. Fried chicken is a favorite of mine. So is that Lynnie Curran person."

"I'm very glad to hear that, Maggie."

"Is there a special event, or is it just a picnic for the heck of it?"

"It's an event. The first annual Looby Huckle Duck Watch."

Maggie looked at her. "Duck Watch?"

"Yes. We're having tee shirts made. Vonnie is assigning a news crew from the television station. Everyone is going to stand on the beach and wait to see if the duck swims by."

"Sounds like a good time to me."

"I thought it might. I hear you were a witness to the duck's maiden voyage."

"Yes, I was. I was on patrol on the boardwalk when it swam by. The owner of the salt water taffy stand taped it all with her camcorder."

"Kate Fitzpatrick is her name. The owner of the taffy stand, I mean."

"Yes, I know. Tell me, Miz Dukie, were you in on the great duck heist?"

"Absolutely not. And I defy anyone to prove otherwise."

"That's what I thought."

BERT SAT at the bar in the Lamplighter Lounge shelling peanuts and drinking beer while he watched television. Patrice had called him that afternoon to ask him to meet her there, as she wanted to discuss his 'travel' plans with him. He was happy to oblige. The floor around him was littered with peanut shells by the time Patrice put in an appearance. She would not sit down until the bartender swept up the mess.

"Mighty damn picky, don't you think?" Bert asked. "This is a bar, for crissakes. This ain't Buckingham Palace."

"You're right, Bert, it is a bar, and I just happen to own it. Those peanut shells could cause someone to slip and fall. I certainly wouldn't want that poor unfortunate person to sue me, would I?"

"You own this place? Since when?"

"Since Monday morning. One of Maureen's final acts was to provide me with the necessary paperwork." She ordered a drink and another beer for Bert, whose attention was focused on the evening news broadcast.

"I don't believe that," he laughed. "I swear to god the people in this town are certifiable. Every last one of them."

Patrice looked up at the television to see what he was talking about. The tape that Kate Fitzpatrick had shot was being aired. "Looks like that duck Lawrence had in front of the Zippy Mart," she commented.

"It couldn't be. How could it? That duck there is floating on the lake. The one from the Zippy Mart had a speaker under it and a heavy wooden platform."

"Well, whatever. Shall we move to a booth, or do you want to discuss this here at the bar?"

"I'd rather just stay put."

"Fine. The job is set for Saturday night. Larry will take the coins to our friend in Pittsburgh just as soon as Nona and I finish. When Larry comes back and we divide up the profits, you'll be all set to disappear."

"Did you get me the papers I need for that?"

"Yes. I have a driver's license, a social security card, a passport, and a bank book. On Friday, I'll transfer one million to that account. I suggest, Bert, that you stay in Mexico for at least one year. And I also urge you to keep your plans to yourself. Don't go telling all your buddies over at the Dockside Tavern that you've got travel plans."

"I won't tell a soul."

"Just remember that if you do, your next stop will be the morgue. I mean that in all sincerity, Bert. You don't want to cross us."

"I won't Treece. I give you my word."

"You'd better."

"Is Nona still pissed at me?" he grinned.

"You might say that, yes," she nodded. "Why would you do something so unkind? I told you that wasn't true, that nonsense about a sex change operation. Why would you announce that idiotic rumor in a public place?"

"I was just teasing her. It's too damn bad if she can't take a joke."

"Well, it was unkind. You should apologize."

"Why? I'll be out of here in a couple days, and she'll forget all about it. I'd rather not have to deal with any more bullshit until that plane takes off for Mexico."

"Suit yourself."

"I usually do."

Continued in Part 9.

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