TEA AT CLAUDE’S
To see previous Stella Stone story click here:
It was close to 2:00 p.m. when the sun crept across the bed and beamed down on Stella’s sleeping figure. The persistent light on her eye lids finally kick started her brain, and she slowly woke up. Her first thought was that the rain from the night before had stopped, and it was a sunny fall day. It took several more moments before she remembered the shoot-out at the Shell station the night before. She had stepped into the middle of a robbery in progress, and had shot and killed the two perps.
She lay on her back, with her arm shielding her eyes, thinking,
“Well, Stella, how do you feel about that?”
The little voice in her head replied,
“Pretty darn good, as a matter of fact. I feel the same way I felt in Fallujah; the world’s a better and safer place this morning.”
Then she remembered that she would have to go to Jackson to submit to an internal affairs investigation. She wasn’t all that concerned though. The shooting scene spoke for itself, so the trip to Jackson would be an opportunity to shop and eat some good food. Later she’d have to pay a perfunctory visit to the shrink in Tupelo, but she’d been through the psych stuff in the Army, and this didn’t concern her either.
Stella slipped on jeans and a Mississippi State tee, made a pot of coffee, and walked outside and sat on her front porch. Her eyes strayed to the beat up old police cruiser sitting in the yard, and she wondered where her brand new Ford Interceptor was parked. Then she remembered. It had been wrecked during the shootout, and she’d taken this piece of junk home. She’d have to decide what to take to Jackson tomorrow, the washed out cruiser, or her Ford F-250 pickup. She was leaning toward the pickup, when she caught movement out of the corner of her eye.
She had to do a double take, but she thought she saw a figure dash behind her equipment shed. Deciding to check it out, she went inside and grabbed her Glock and stuck in the back waist band of her jeans. She slipped on her rubber boots, and eased out the back door of the old farm house. She eased across the back yard to the side of the shed, pulled her gun, and started to creep around the side. Nothing there, so she continued to the far side, Glock held in firing position. Rounding the corner, she came face to face with Mary Lou Higgins, who was crouched down by the shed.
Stella recognized her young neighbor, and put the Glock away. The girl looked up, and Stella could see that she had been badly beaten. Her eyes were purple and green, and there was a trickle of blood oozing from her nose. She was wearing a thin cotton robe, and sobbing uncontrollably. Stella reached down and pulled her to her feet.
“Mary Lou, who did this to you?”
Stella looked into the girl’s eyes, which revealed pure terror, so she took the frightened girl by the arm, and led her toward the house.
“You don’t have to talk right now. Let’s just get you cleaned up.”
They sat at the kitchen table, and Stella cleaned the girl’s face and put iodine and bandages on the worst of the damage. When she finished, she handed Mary Lou a cup of coffee and said,
“Mary Lou, I know you’re scared to death, but I promise you that you’re safe here, and whoever did this to you is gonna be in a world of hurt. Now tell me what happened.”
“Aw, you know how it is. Johnny can be pretty nice, but if he’s been drinking, it’s another story.”
“Your husband did this to you?”
“Yes’m, but he’ll be sorry when he sobers up.”
“Tell me exactly what happened.”
“Johnny got off from the mill at noon yesterday, and he and some of his buddies stopped by Claude’s for a beer. I was hoping he’d come home with his weekly pay, ‘cause we’re behind on our rent and there’s no food in the house, but he lost most of it shooting eight ball at Claude’s. When he got home, he wanted some lovin’, and when I asked about the paycheck, he hit me in the face, then took what he wanted.”
“In other words, he raped you?”
“It ain’t rape if you’re married, and it usually puts him to sleep. I thought he’d be fine this morning, but he took his belt and beat me bad, then stormed off to Claude’s.”
“Mary Lou, it’s rape if you didn’t want to do it, and he sure as hell is guilty of aggravated assault, and I’m going to go to Claude’s and arrest his sorry ass.”
“Oh, please don’t get him in any trouble, Miss Stone; Johnny just can’t hold his liquor. He’s not so bad when he ain’t drinking.”
Stella thought for a minute then said,
“Mary Lou, I’m gonna run to the store. I want you to go lie down and get some rest. Let the aspirin take effect. I’ll be back in less than an hour and we’ll figure out what to do.”
Mary Lou seemed to relax when she realized that Stella wasn’t going to arrest Johnny. Stella led her to the bedroom and tucked her into the un-made bed, then pulled her combat boots out of the closet and laced them tight. She pulled the tee over her head, slipped on a sports bra, and threw on a New Orleans Saint Football jersey. She checked on Mary Lou and found her fast asleep, then she got in her F-250 and headed to Claude’s
When she pulled into Claude’s gravel parking lot, there were a half dozen pickups scattered around, and two motorcycles leaning on their kick stands. It took her eyes a minute to adjust after the bright sunlight in the lot, compared to Claude’s dark interior. The only lights came from the beer signs and one overhead light above a pool table in the back, and the place reeked of stale beer and cigarette smoke.
When her eyes adjusted, she looked around the joint and saw two guys wearing biker leathers siting at a table, and four guys shooting pool. She recognized Johnny Higgins, who was leaning against the wall holding a pool cue in one hand and a Bud in the other. Claude Wilson was standing behind the bar staring at her, and when she walked over, he said,
“Hello Deputy. What can I get you?”
Stella and Claude knew each other from her many visits to break up fights. Claude was able to handle most of the problems without calling the Sherriff, but when it really got out of hand, Stella usually got the call. She smiled at Claude and said,
“I’m off duty, so I think I’d like a cold beer.”
Claude reached into the cooler and pulled a frosted mug. He tilted it to the side and slowly filled it with Draft Miller’s. He pushed a coaster over, and sat the mug in front of Stella.
“It’s on the house, Stella; you’ve always been fair with me. How about some lunch? We make a mean cheeseburger.”
“No, I don’t think so, but there is something you could do for me.”
“Sure, Stella, just name it.”
“In a minute, I’m going to go back to the pool table and kick the living shit out of Johnny Higgins, and I’d like to ask you to keep out of it, and don’t call it in.”
“This got anything to do with Mary Lou?”
“Indeed it does. The bastard beat the daylights out of her last night, and again this morning. I can’t do anything officially, but believe me, this is personal.”
“Stella, Johnny’s a badass, and I’m not sure you can take him.”
“Johnny’s a bully and coward, so just watch me.”
“How ‘bout his buddies? What if they get in?”
“Then they’ll get their asses whipped too.”
“Okay, but I’ll step in if it gets out of control. Can’t let them hurt a customer.”
Stella smiled at Claude and said,
“No worry, just sit back and watch the movie.”
Stella slid off the bar stool and ambled back to the pool table. She walked around the side until she was even with Higgins, then hit him in the face with the beer mug. He staggered back and caught himself on the wall. Blood gushed from his nose, and he had beer in his eyes, but he pushed off the wall and charged at Stella.
She sidestepped his lunge, and pulled the pool cue from his hand. She caught him in the small of his back with a full Ted Williams swing of the cue stick. Then she broke the stick on the side of the table, and began hitting Higgins with the weighted end. She worked on his arms, legs and torso, carefully avoiding his face. The whole thing was over in less than a minute, and Higgins lay in a pool of blood on the barroom floor.
Stella stepped back, holding the broken cue, looked at the other three guys and said,
“Anybody got a problem with this?”
One of the young men managed to croak out a quick “No ma’am.”
Stella smiled at them and said,
“Well I’m glad to hear that. You boys have a nice day.”
She waked back to the bar, where Claude, slowly wiping the bar top, had a huge grin on his face. Stella reached into her jeans pocket and pulled out a $100 bill. She handed it to Claude and said,
“This oughta cover the beer and the pool cue.”
“Stella, I told you the beer was on the house.” Claude looked across the room at the two bikers, both grinning like a pair of jackasses eating briars, and holding up their fingers in the V sign, “Those guys have already paid for the pool cue.”
Stella nodded in the biker’s direction, and walked out into the fading fall sunlight. Tomorrow she’d take Mary Lou to Jackson with her, and deal with any aftermath when she got back. All in all, she felt a lot better.
Beer mug is licensed under CC By 4.0 — linked to commons.wikimedia.org
Categories: Flash Fiction