AS I LIKE IT!
FEB 4, 2017
To review what happened in episode 10, click here: https://tomlawrenceblog.com/2017/01/27/mike-lomax-episode-10/
MIKE LOMAX P.I.
As Mike walked across the back parking lot to his truck, he was thinking,
I feel better not withholding anything from Willard, and I told him all I know. But, I didn’t tell him all I think. I’m pretty sure I know who killed Billy Ray.
The courthouse parking lot was nearly empty when Mike climbed into the F-150 and pulled into the deserted street. He decided to take a swing by his office before heading out to L&J. All of the emergency vehicles were gone, along with Billy Ray’s car, but the yellow crime scene tape was still in place.
He drove to L&J and saw Junior’s and Bubba’s trucks parked in front of the old school bus body. He found everyone on the patio behind the bus sitting in lawn chairs, sipping Bud Lite and chatting quietly. Stella popped another can and said,
“Okay Lomax, we’re all here as instructed. How about telling us what’s going on.”
Mike went to the cooler and pulled out a diet Dr. Pepper and sat on the patio wall. He took a deep swig and said,
“Earlier tonight somebody blew Billy Ray’s brains out at my office parking lot, and his death is going to focus a ton of unwanted attention on all of us. I wanted to meet to try to figure out how we handle it.”
Bubba shook his head.
“Damn, Mike, I don’t see how this involves Stella and me.”
“It doesn’t directly, but Stella is about to be assigned to the case by the MBI.”
After thinking for a minute, Stella said,
“I doubt that. Billy Ray’s death should be a local matter to be investigated by Willard and his homicide detectives. Willard would have to request assistance from the MBI before I get involved, and like most sheriffs, he likes to have total control.”
“Under ordinary circumstances, I’m sure that would be true, Mike replied, but Stella, I know you haven’t had a chance to review all the case files yet. When you do, you’ll find one dealing with a joint investigation into a drug operation here in Barksdale County which will put you square in the middle of this mess.”
“Well, yeah, you’re right. Since I was just handed those files yesterday afternoon, I haven’t gone through them, but apparently, you have.”
“Of course I haven’t seen your files, but Willard told me about the task force. I suspect he wanted me to give you a heads-up so you could distance yourself from our involvement. In fact, I think you and Bubba need to leave right now.”
Stella sat quietly, letting what Mike had told her sink in.
“Okay, I can see how that makes sense. Bubba and I’ll go to my house for the rest of the night, and I’ll read over the task force files. I’d like to discuss this with Bill Turpin before he goes to Quantico. Once I have it all clear, I’ll probably need to talk to each of you officially and on the record. In the meantime, leave me out of the loop.”
“Good plan. Now you and Bubba beat feet to your place. I want to talk with Bessie and Junior.”
Once Bubba and Stella were gone, Mike opened another Dr. Pepper and said,
“During my meeting with Willard, he gave me a warning for you two. He expects y’all to break off your relationship as of this evening.”
Bessie scowled and said,
“Where does Willard Diddley get the idea he can tell me what I do or who I sleep with?”
“I guess he’s trying to protect Junior’s marriage.”
“Well, he can just kiss my ass. Junior and I are consenting adults, and we’ll do exactly as we please, and there’s not a damn thing he can do about it.”
“He suggested that if y’all’s affair didn’t end right away, his next conversation would be with Lucy Lee.”
“Well, let him do what he’s got to do. We don’t give a damn, do we, Junior?”
Mike watched as Junior processed the news. He began to shift around in his chair, eyes darting back and forth. Mike knew Junior’s brain was having a hard time dealing with the prospect of a raging Lucy Lee, and when the chips were on the line, he’d do anything to avoid facing her. When Bessie saw the same conflict, she asked,
“Well Junior, do we give a damn or not?”
Junior swallowed a couple of times then stammered,
“Gee Bessie, I’d hate for Lucy Lee to feel badly toward you. Maybe Willard’s idea might be for the best.”
The expression on Bessie’s face hardened.
“You’re probably right, Junior. Let’s call the whole thing off.”
Mike could see the relief flood across Junior’s face. Mike knew that while Junior couldn’t keep his pants zipped, he loved Lucy Lee and his kids. Besides, he’d seen Lucy Lee angry, and she scared the hell out of him. Mike took mercy on him and said,
“Now that y’all have settled that little problem, I think it’d be best if you headed on home, Junior. I’ll take Bessie back to the hunting club.”
Junior handed Mike a set of keys, and without looking at Bessie he said,
“Mike, lock up when y’all leave, and you can give me the keys tomorrow.”
Mike gave the keys back to him and replied,
“No need. Bessie and I are leaving when you do. We can talk on the way to the camp.”
Junior sighed with relief.
“Y’all go on now, and I’ll clean up the empty cans and lock up.’
Mike took Bessie’s arm and led her to his truck before she exploded in Junior’s face. Once they were safely on the blacktop, he said,
“Sorry about that. I know it was tough for you to handle.”
Bessie began to giggle and soon broke out in gales of laughter. When she regained her composure, she managed to say,
“Did you see the look on Junior’s face when you said that Willard was going to tell Lucy Lee? I thought he’d pee in his pants.”
Mike looked confused.
“Damn, Bessie, you’re taking this better than I expected. I thought you’d be really pissed.”
“Oh, I’m plenty pissed at Willard Diddley. Damn old busybody. But I never thought it’d be so easy to get rid of Junior.”
“Now I’m really confused. You wanted to get rid of Junior?”
“C’mon, Mike. Junior is, at best, a life support system for one magnificent wanger, but the boy’s as dumb as a box of rocks. Try carrying on a conversation with him sometime.”
Mike just shook his head.
“The older I get, the less I understand women, but, let’s move on to our real problem—proving that you didn’t pay for the hit on Billy Ray.”
“Do you think that I did?”
Mike watched the lights from the oncoming traffic for a moment and then answered,
“No, as a matter of fact, I don’t, but what I think doesn’t matter.”
“It does to me. If you don’t believe I’m guilty, then you won’t let Willard pin it on me.”
“No, you’re right, I won’t, but that means I’ll have to be able to prove you aren’t and you’ll have to trust me.”
“Well, like Ronald Reagan said, ‘trust but compensate,’ or something like that.”
“Actually, he said ‘verify,’ but compensate will work too.”
“So, we still have a deal?”
“We do, but like I said, you’ll need to trust me. I’ve got an idea about who’s behind all of this, but as of now, I can’t prove it.”
“Who do you suspect?”
“For the time being, I’d rather keep that to myself, but I’ll need your help to pull this off.”
“Okay, tell me what to do.”
“For starters, I want to take another look at your hunting camp. If the guy we saw was really Billy Ray, then he was looking for something, and we need to find it.”
Bessie nodded and replied,
“What makes you think he was looking for something and not there to kill me?”
“Two things. He had a camera, not a gun, and he wasn’t looking in your bedroom. I think he was looking for something to photograph besides you and Junior.”
“What do you suspect?”
“Not sure, but let’s see if we can find it.”
Mike parked at the hunting lodge, and he and Bessie walked in the front door. They stopped in the entrance hall, and Mike asked,
“Okay, where was Billy Ray when you found him?”
“I’d just come downstairs to get some water, and he was just inside the kitchen. In fact, now that I think about it, he was walking out of the kitchen toward the back door.”
“So we can assume he’d already found whatever he wanted to photograph and was leaving. Let’s check out the kitchen.”
Bessie led the way and flipped on the kitchen light. Mike looked around as asked,
“Is there any hidden storage space in here?”
Bessie thought for a moment.
“Not really, just the pantry and broom closet. There is an old root cellar, but it hasn’t been used in years.”
“Where is it?”
“There’s a trap door just inside the pantry, but I put a rug over it.”
Mike opened the pantry door and pulled back the rug. He found a recessed handle in the floor and pulled on it. A door opened in the floor revealing a dark hole. He turned to Bessie and asked,
“Got a flashlight handy?”
She reached into a drawer and handed Mike a hand torch. He flipped it on and aimed at the dark hole. There were steps leading into the old root cellar, and he led Bessie down. When they stood at the bottom of the steps, he flashed the light into the cellar. There were stacks of cardboard boxes against the far wall, and Mike pulled the top one opened. The flashlight revealed a box full of brown plastic bags, sealed with packing tape.
Mike took one from the box, pulled out his pocket knife, and slit it open. It was filled with a fine, white powder. Mike looked at Bessie and said,
“Well, I think we know what Billy Ray was looking for.”