As I Like It!

Stella Stone — Every Cloud Has a Silver Lining


DECEMBER 14, 2016



Chapter 8



When the cookout was finished, just after midnight, Mike Lomax had gone home. It took Stella and Bubba an hour or so to clean up the patio, cover the grill, and do the dishes, and it was after two before they got to bed. Bubba got up at six and left for work, and since she was on paid leave pending the MIB’s investigation into the shooting at the gin, Stella was sleeping in. The jangling of her cell phone woke her up at 8:15.

She finally found the phone and answered groggily,

“This had better be important.”

The gravelly voice of her boss, Sheriff Willard Diddley snapped,

“Your telephone manners are almost as bad as your radio procedure. Did I wake you up?”

“Yeah, I had a late night, and I’m not on duty today.”

“Well, you are now. I just got a call from Randy Landers, and he wants to see you at his office in Jackson at 3:00 this afternoon.”

“Willard, who the hell is Randy Landers, and why should I care?”

“Randy is Chief of the Mississippi Bureau of Investigation, and you should care because he has your career firmly in his hands.”

“Don’t tell me they’ve decided to screw me on that shoot last week. I rid the world of a monster and the suits in Jackson think it’s police brutality. What a crock of bullshit.”

“He didn’t tell me why he wanted you there, but assuming that you intend to keep working for me, you’d best drag your butt out of bed and head to the Capital City, and don’t think you’re gonna use your cruiser.”

“C’mon Willard. The only other vehicle I have is my 1947 Ford Roadster, and I don’t take my baby on road trips.”

“Transportation’s your problem, but while you’re on suspension, you don’t want to show up for a hearing in a Sheriff’s car.”

Stella sighed and said,

“I know you’re right. I’ll work out a ride, and I’ll be there at 3:00. Thanks for the heads up.”

“Call me as soon as the meeting is over. It was a good shoot, and I’ll go over Lander’s head if he says otherwise. Rooming four years in the same fraternity house with the Governor gives me some serious clout.”

“Let’s hope we don’t need it. I’ll call you as soon as it’s over.”

“Yeah, be sure and do that. Good luck.”

Stella crawled out of bed and went straight to the shower. She dried her hair, dabbed on some lipstick, and walked to her closet. Usually, she’d wear a uniform to such a hearing, but just to be ornery, she decided to wear civvies. She picked a pair of black slacks with a silk top; at least she’d look good when she got fired.

She still had to solve the transportation problem; she had no intention of taking her roadster to Jackson. When she called Bubba, he heard the phone ringing inside the bus, but he and Junior were fixing a flat on the pulpwood truck, and it wasn’t going well. He decided to let the answering machine catch the call until he heard Stella’s voice. He managed to pick up before she was gone and said,

“Hi, Babe, what’s up?”

“Just wanted to give you a heads up. I gotta go to MBI headquarters in Jackson this afternoon.”

“Oh shit. Think they’re gonna hassle you about the gin shoot?”

“Can’t think of any other reason they’d want to see me, but that presents me with a problem. Willard won’t let me use my cruiser, and the only other vehicle I have is the 47’ Ford. Got any suggestions?”

“Yeah, we got a yard full of vehicles out here: everything ranging from the tank recovery rig to Junior’s pulpwood truck. Course it’ll take a tanker truck full of gas to get there.”

“I thought maybe I could use your pick up.”

“Well, that might be arranged under certain conditions.”

“Like what?”

“Like letting me drive you there. We can spend the night and have a good dinner in the process.”

“Can you get some time off?”

“Last time I looked I still owned half of this joint. Junior can handle it for a couple of days. Give me time to go to the apartment and pack, and I’ll pick you up about ten.”

“Okay, I’ll be ready. Where we are gonna go to eat?”

“If it’s up to me, we’ll go to Chico’s and get a steak.”

“We just had steak last night. Let’s go to the Mayflower and get some flounder.

“Flounder works for me, and I’d kill for that salad dressing. Be ready when I get there.”

Bubba picked her up, and they were sailing down the Natchez Trace by 10:15. He set the cruise control at 53 MPH, figuring that even the asshole Park Rangers would give a little slack. The only reason they were using the Trace was that it was by far the shortest route to Jackson, and even at 53 MPH, it took less time.

Stella looked out the window and said,

“I know you hate to drive on the Trace, but you have to admit it’s beautiful. It’s only a couple of hundred yards wide in most places, so you feel like you’re in the middle of a National Park.”

“Yeah, it’s nice enough, and you have to go so slow, you could feed the bears, if there were any.”

They stayed on cruise control and listened to four Hank Williams tapes and the entire “Will the Circle be Unbroken?” album. Just as the Carter family and the Nitty Gritty Dirt Band finished, Bubba was pulling off the Trace onto I-55. Stella looked at her watch and saw that it was a little after 2:00 and asked,

“Did you make the reservation for tonight?”

“No, I don’t think the Mayflower takes reservations.”

“Not for dinner, for a place to sleep.”

“Oh yeah, I thought we’d try the new King Edward. It’s near the MBI Offices and a block from the Mayflower.”

“Good, we’ll have time to check-in, and I can walk to Landers’ office. I can’t see this taking long. If he’s going to fire me, I’ll be back by 3:30, after I give him a piece of my mind. If all they want is to ask a bunch of dumb questions, it may take longer, but you can bet your ass they’ll head for home before 5:00. After all, they are State employees.”

“That’s harsh, especially from someone who has her head in the same trough.”

“I serve and protect. These dudes are trying to look busy until retirement.”

Bubba pulled into the parking garage at the King Edward and put their bags on a baggage cart. They checked into a single room with a king sized bed, using both of their names. Once they were alone in the room, Bubba pulled her close and said,

“We have some time to kill before your appointment, and there’s a big bed over there.”

“C’mon Bubba. I’m not going to show up looking and smelling like afternoon delight. The bed will still be there after we eat.”

“I didn’t see it as an either-or situation.”

Ignoring the remark, Stella stood in front of the mirror and pushed her hair around and checked her lipstick. Finally, she asked,

“How are you going to amuse yourself while I’m on the hot seat?”

“Think I’ll go sit in the bar and await your return. Who knows, might find someone to try out that big ole empty bed.”

“Make sure you like her because you’ll surely be spending your last hours on earth with her.”

“Oh yeah, there’s that. Maybe I’ll just watch the baseball game with some of the guys.”

“Seems like a safer plan, but do what you think is best.”

Stella kissed him and left the room. She walked out onto Capital Street and turned right toward the Old Capital Building, visible about ten blocks east. The MBI headquarters was in one of the new, modern, glass-walled buildings that the State had built to revitalize downtown Jackson.

As she entered the cool lobby, she saw a receptionist. She walked up and said,

“Hi, I’m Stella Stone, and I have an appointment with Mr. Landers.”

“Yes, he’s expecting you. Just take the elevator to the fifth floor, and you’ll see his office just across the hall.”

Stella saw Lander’s office as soon as the elevator doors opened, and she pushed through the glass door and walked to the counter.

“Stella Stone to see Mr. Lander’s.”

Before the girl could say anything, a tall, handsome man in a tailored suit stepped in and said,

“HI. I’m Randy Landers. Miss Stone, would you like coffee or a coke?”

Stella smiled and said,

“No thank you, it’s a little late for me.”

Landers led her down a short hall to his office, which was well appointed, with carpet on the floor and a perfect view of downtown Jackson. There was a small, gray-haired lady sitting on the couch, who stood when they entered the room. Landers looked in her direction and said,

“Miss Stone, or may I call you Stella? This is May Haiden, our director of personnel.”

Stella replied,

“Yes, Stella is fine,” then turned to the lady and said,

“Mrs. Haiden, nice to meet you,” and thought,

Director of personnel, eh? That doesn’t sound good.

When everyone was seated, Landers looked Stella in the eye and said,

“Well, Stella, I’m pleased to tell you that we have completed our investigation into last week’s incident at the gin, and we have concluded that you reacted completely within the procedures set forth. It was a good shoot.”

Stella sat quietly for a moment, then replied,

“Thank you. I felt that it was, but surely I didn’t need to drive to Jackson to find that out.”

“No, usually we’d send a letter to your boss with the good news, but we have another reason to invite you here.”

Oh shit, she thought, here comes the other shoe.

Landers continued,

“This is the second incident in the past year that you’ve used your weapon, and Willard and I have decided that you may need to consider another line of work.”

“With all due respect, both of those times lives were in danger, and I acted to prevent harm to others. In fact, I was decorated for the shooting at the Shell Station.”

“Yes, in fact, I endorsed Willard’s request.”

“So what’s the rub? An officer must have the discretion to use a weapon when lives are in danger.”

“Yes, I couldn’t agree more,” Landers replied.

“This brings me to why we invited you here this afternoon. You may not be familiar with how the MBI is set up, but we have field investigators assigned to eight areas across the State, and our man covering Northeast Mississippi, Bill Turpin, has accepted an offer from the FBI.”

“Yes, I’ve met Bill. He lives in Corinth and led the team that investigated the shooting at the Shell Station. Good man, and I’m pleased that he is going to Quantico, but what does any of this have to do with me?”

“Well, it seems that Bill has recommended you to fill his post, and Willard and I agree with him.”

Stella was stunned; she looked around the room, then finally managed,

“I don’t understand. Fill what post?”

“Our MBI agent in Northeast Mississippi.”

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