AS I LIKE IT!
Saturday, November 5, 2016
Those of us of a certain age remember the serials that played during our childhood Saturday matinees. There would be a cartoon, a newsreel, and a serial story before the featured cowboy movie. I can’t guarantee any stage coaches will be plunging over cliffs, but I thought a serial might be fun to try.
MIKE LOMAX, P.I.
Mike Lomax held hands with the rest of the group, said the Lord’s Prayer, joined in the chant of “keep coming back,” and helped put the chairs back into the storeroom at St. Alban’s Episcopal Church. He visited for a few minutes with Joe Spencer, his AA sponsor, then eased out the back door. He felt the white poker chip in his pocket and thought,
At the rate I pick up white chips, I’ll soon be able to open a casino. This time I made it almost a month. At least I keep coming back.
Mike crammed his 6’5”, 315 lb. body into his 1968 Volkswagen bug and pulled onto the street behind St. Albans. There was nowhere he needed to be, and he bad needed a drink. Maybe he’d slip by Claude’s for lunch and grab a beer. He knew a beer wouldn’t do it, but at least it might stop the trembling. He put Claude’s and beer out of his mind and decided to drop by his office to check his messages.
Just like he knew that a beer wouldn’t be a substitute for a shot of bourbon, he knew that he didn’t have any messages; but at least it’d keep him out of Claude’s for a while. He pushed the button on his garage opener and the service door to Dalton’s Pure Oil station rumbled open, and he pulled over the broken grease rack. He rented the abandoned station from one of his high school friends, Charlie Reese, who owned property all over Leesburg, and the rent was reasonable. All he paid were the utilities and a small insurance premium.
He left the garage door open and walked into the old office. When he took a quick look at his answering machine, to his surprise, the message light was blinking. He sat at his desk and hit the button and a voice said,
Mr. Lomax, this is Warren Floyd. My number is 662-347-2121. Please return my call.
Mike wracked his brain trying to place Warren Floyd. He didn’t think he owed him any money, so hopefully it might actually be a potential client. He took a moment to compose himself, then dialed the number. It rang, and a man picked up on the second ring and said,
“Hello, Mr. Lomax; I appreciate you returning my call.”
“I believe you said your name was Floyd,” Mike replied. “Do I know you?”
“No, I don’t believe we’ve ever met, but we seem to have a mutual friend. Billy Ray Burton suggested that I give you a call.”
Mike thought for a minute. Billy Ray had played cornerback at Ole Miss when Mike had been an All-SEC defensive tackle at Mississippi State. Billy Ray had always been a pain in the ass. One of those rich Delta kids who had been born on third base and thought he’d hit a triple. Mike hadn’t seen or talked to Billy Ray since he’d been cut by the Chicago Bears for repeatedly failing the alcohol tests. Finally, he replied,
“Yeah, Billy Ray is an attorney in Tupelo, if I recall.”
“Yes, as a matter of fact, he’s my attorney, and he tells me you’re a private investigator. I’m calling because I need someone to help me with a problem. Would you be willing to meet me this afternoon here in Tupelo?”
For a paying client, Mike would drive to Billings, Montana; Tupelo was only 35 miles down US45.
“Let me check my calendar. What time this afternoon?”
“As soon as you can get here.”
Mike didn’t want to sound too eager, so he replied,
“I can meet you around 3:00 if that works for you.”
“3:00 will be fine. My office is in the First National Bank building on Main Street. I’ll be expecting you, and thanks for being flexible in your busy schedule, Mr. Lomax.”
“Not a problem; see you at 3:00.”
After Floyd had hung up, Mike leaned back in his chair and thought,
Now that was a strange call. I’ve been avoiding folks like Billy Ray since I got back. I’ll check with Charlie to see if he knows anything about Warren Floyd.
He pulled out his cell phone and hit Charlie Reese’s number. Charlie was his landlord and his best friend, and Charlie would know anybody worth knowing in Tupelo.
Charlie picked up and said,
“Hey, what’s up?”
“I just got a strange phone call from some dude named Warren Floyd in Tupelo. Said I was recommended by Billy Ray Burton. I’m supposed to meet him in the First National Bank Building at 3:00. Said his office is there.”
Mike heard Charlie laugh, and he said,
“Yeah, it’s likely that his office would be in the bank, after all, he is the President of First National. What in the hell did the richest and meanest son-of-a-bitch in North Mississippi want with a private investigator, living in an abandoned gas station.”
“We didn’t discuss my living arrangements, and I guess he’ll tell me what he wants when I get there. I like the richest part of your description and he ain’t met mean until he meets me.”
“Hey, Mike, don’t let your hippo sized ego override your hummingbird brain. You don’t want to cross Floyd. Just listen and try to make a buck or two.”
“I know, I know. I’m just saying, I don’t really like to meet small town badasses.”
“I know you Mike; tone down the testosterone and behave. God knows, you need the money. Call me when you find out what he wants.”
“Okay. I’m gonna grab some lunch at Claude’s and head on over to Tupelo.”
“Make sure that all you grab at Claude’s is a cheeseburger, and leave the Bud alone.”
Mike managed to stuff himself back into the VW and headed to Claude’s Tap, with visions of Wild Turkey running behind his eyes. He knew Charlie was right. He damn sure didn’t need to be drinking when he met Floyd, so he sucked in his gut and set his jaw. When he opened the door to Claude’s, the contrast with the bright sunlight in the parking lot made the interior even darker. All he could see were the beer signs behind the door.
As his eyes adjusted to the light, he saw his old friend, Deputy Sheriff Stella Stone, looking pretty darn good in her tailored uniform. It seemed to Mike that Stella had always worn a uniform, even in college. She usually wore track warm ups or an ROTC uniform.
She was working on a dozen of Claude’s hot tamales and a large diet coke.
He sat down on the barstool next to her and said,
“How ya doing, girl?”
“Everything’s smooth Mike. How about you?”
“Going great; got a big meeting with a client down in Tupelo and wanted to catch lunch before I left.”
Stella and everybody else in Barksdale County knew things weren’t going great for Mike. His firing by the Bears, his drinking, and his depression was common knowledge. The only thing that worked in his favor was the fact that everybody loved the big guy and sincerely wanted him to work out his problems.
Mike ordered a double bacon cheeseburger, a large order of fries, half dozen hot tamales, and a bowl of chili. When Claude brought it all and arranged it on the counter, he asked,
“What you drinking, Mike? A Miller draft?”
“No, I’ll have a diet coke; I’m like Stella, still on duty.”
Claude eyed the array of high-calorie dishes sitting in front of Mike, shook his head and said,
“I’m glad to see you drinking a diet coke and trying to keep the weight off.”
Mike rubbed his hand across his crew cut and replied,
“I’m a big guy and need nourishment to keep going; I still weigh what I weighed at State.”
“Yeah, Claude, give him a break,” Stella said,
“He was a fat ass then too.”
Mike grinned and said,
“Husky, not fat, and I could outrun most of you track wusses.”
Stella nodded and thought,
He’s right. He could run and sub five forty, and more importantly, he was agile and quick. He’d been the best pass rusher in the conference, and that’s why the Bear’s took him in the first round.
They sat and chatted until Mike pushed the empty plates away and said,
“Well, I gotta go; don’t want to keep my client waiting.”
“Give me time to pay our checks, and I’ll walk out with you. Watching you get into that Bug is always a treat. You look like a sumo wrestler putting on a Speedo.”
When they were standing in the sunlight parking lot, Stella said,
“Really, Mike; are you ok?”
“Yeah, I am. I’m struggling with the drinking, but I’m managing to stay sober most of the time. I’ll always be grateful for your suggestion that I try my hand as a P.I. Never thought I’d actually use my criminal justice degree.”
“Yeah, I know you were there only because it sounded better than Phys Ed. Do you think this guy in Tupelo might be real?”
“One can only hope; I sure need the fee. Thanks for lunch, Stella. I’d better get going.”
Stella watched Mike squeeze into the VW and head toward US45, and she thought,
There goes one of God’s nice people; I hope this works out for him.
Mike found the First National Bank building and parked two blocks away. He knew he looked like a clown in a Shrine parade in the VW and saw no reason to call attention to it. He probably should get a bigger car, but the little bug had a big thing going for it; it was paid for. He opened the door to the bank and found a young woman sitting at a desk in front of a group of offices filled with men and women. Some were talking to clients, and some were on the phone. He smiled at her and said,
“I’m Mike Lomax I have a three o’clock appointment with Mr. Floyd.”
She checked a calendar on her desk then replied,
“Mr. Floyd is expecting you; take the elevator to the second floor, and his assistant will meet you.”
When the elevator door opened, there was a tall red headed young man waiting.
“Mr. Lomax, I’m Todd Wilson, Mr. Floyd’s assistant. If you’ll follow me, I’ll take you to his office.”
The reception area was elegantly decorated with dark wood paneling and gleaming hardwood floors. Plush oriental carpets accented the antique furniture. The young man stopped in front of a massive mahogany door and gently tapped. A deep voice said,
“Yes, Todd, please bring in Mr. Lomax.”
Warren Floyd came around from behind his large desk and extended his hand.
“Mr. Floyd, I want to thank you for working me into your schedule, and I think you know Billy Ray.”
Mike shook Floyd’s hand and turned to see Billy Ray Burton sitting on the sofa. Burton got up and took Mike’s hand and said,
“Yeah, Mike and I go back a long way. It’s good to see you, Mike.”
Burton was dressed in gray flannel slacks, a white turtleneck, and a blue blazer. Mike looked at him and thought,
Billy Ray looks like he’s dressed for a rush party in the Grove. Bet that outfit cost more than my car.
Mike smiled and said,
“Good to see too. Thanks for the referral. How’re you doing?”
“Can’t complain; how about you? Your practice taking off?”
“Things could be better. Not a lot going on in Barksdale County requiring investigating, which makes me wonder why I’m here.”
Warren Floyd laughed and said,
“You just answered your question; you’re here because you know Barksdale County.”
Mike looked at Billy Ray and replied,
“And why is that?”
“Before we get into that, we need to tend to some housekeeping. I want to employ you to investigate something for Warren, and I’ve got a check for your retainer. You’ll be working on Warren’s behalf, but because officially you’re my employee, my attorney-client privilege will apply to you as well.”
He handed Mike the check and added,
“Do we have an understanding?”
Mike looked at the check, which was made out for $1,500. He decided that he could live with the attorney privilege arrangement, so he folded it, stuck it in his shirt pocket, and said,
“Yeah, we do; now tell me what I’ll be investigating?”
I’m going to share things that would be very embarrassing to Warren if they became public knowledge. Warren is a very private person, and also, he has a public image as President of First National. Both of those are the reason for the attorney-client privilege.”
“Okay, I can see that.”
“Good. Here’s the problem. Warren married right out of Ole Miss, and he married a girl from Minter City, just down the road from my home in Clarksdale. Bessie Malone’s father owned over 15,000 acres of ice cream land, and Bessie grew up in the lap of luxury: schools in Switzerland and Paris and a modeling career in New York.”
“When her father died, she inherited everything, and Warren met her when his father helped her with the estate. She and Warren have been married for twelve years, and they have three children. Until recently, their marriage seemed perfect.”
Mike listened, then said,
“You say until recently. What’s happened?”
“Warren believes she’s having an affair.”
“Okay; who with?”
“That’s what we want you to find out.”
To be continued…
Categories: As I Like It!