Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 24
After the Storm
Eleanor was pleased that the drive from her house to the police station was relatively clear after the brutal storm. She’d passed the trailer park where the tornado had ripped mobile homes off their blocks even sending one across the field with its residents inside. It always amazed her how random the damage was after a bad storm. She’d seen her share of them in the forty-plus years she’d lived in Colleyville.
None of the stores she passed were open, although she could see yellow caution tape wrapped around places with broken windows and storm damage. It was still early and cleanup efforts hadn’t begun yet. She parked her car in an open spot near the precinct door and turned off the engine just as a uniformed officer was heading out.
“Young man,” she said, rolling down her window. “Would you kindly help me with this basket?”
“More than happy to, Ma’am,” he replied. He lifted the basket out of the back seat as if it weighed nothing. “Something in there smells mighty good,” he said catching a whiff of the fragrant biscuits. Eleanor crawled out of the driver’s seat clutching the thermos of coffee.
“There’s plenty of food if your Captain will let you join us,” she said as he held the door open for her. She ducked inside under his arm. Although the power was off, emergency lighting was on in the lobby powered by the gas generator outside. Eleanor headed towards the Sheriff’s office after instructing the uniformed patrolman to set the basket on a table within his view of the reception area. Sheriff Mullins pushed himself off the battered leather chair and with one hand tucked his shirt back into his wrinkled pants. He stood at his office door looking like he’d slept in his clothes.
“Morning, Ellie,” he said in a gravelly voice thick with sleep. “You’re here early.”
“I’ve brought breakfast,” she announced. “That young woman you’re holding needs nourishment and I imagine you do, too.” She cast a furtive glance at his distended paunch which he instinctively sucked in as he squared his shoulders.
Eleanor tottered over to the coffee stand where she filled three empty cups with the aromatic brew from her thermos. She handed a cup to the Sheriff who nodded his appreciation and one to the officer that had helped her. She watched his eyes travel hungrily over the imagined contents of the picnic basket.
“Can we talk over breakfast?” she asked the sheriff who led the way to the employee lounge, a square, windowless room with a second-hand dining room table. The officer on duty placed the basket on the table where Eleanor began unpacking its contents.
“Will you let your prisoner join us?” she asked.
“Miss Connie is no longer under suspicion,” Sheriff Mullins quickly assured her. “We cleared her of any involvement last night with video footage from neighboring sources.” He motioned to the other officer to fetch their overnight guest who’d spent the night in a holding cell.
Introductions were made as Eleanor laid out the tablecloth and place settings for Connie, the sheriff and herself before portioning out eggs, bacon, grits and biscuits. She pulled out a stack of paper plates and set them next to the containers of food. The aroma of home cooked food drifted along the corridors of the precinct enticing others to drop in to greet their morning guest.
An atmosphere of lightheartedness prevailed as they dished up eggs and shared stories of last night’s devastating storm. Dark humor was their way of dealing with stress as they joked about the difficult situations they'd found. When the staff began to drift out to their offices and awaiting duties Eleanor turned to Connie.
“I just want you to know your dogs are safe and sound at my daughter’s house where I live now. She travels most of the time on business so I look after things for her. We’ll be going there after we finish breakfast, if you’d like.
The Henderson County Chief of Police stared at the fax that arrived last night after he left the office. Sheriff Mullins in Colleyville managed to fax it over before his station lost power. Scribbled in nearly unreadable text, he’d asked for a welfare check on the residence of Jeb Olstead of Luther Lane.
The Chief frowned when he read the name. He was familiar with Jeb, proper name Jacob, from the rumors that circulated after Jeb’s parents left town unexpectedly. Everyone suspected their son had something to do with their strange disappearance. Henderson County Police had been called out a number of times to the Hootin’ Holler Lounge where brawls were a regular occurrence. Confrontations usually ended up with Jeb spending the night in the county lockup for drunk and disorderly conduct. The Chief dialed the phone number on the fax from Sheriff Mullins.
When the call came in, the food had for the most part disappeared. The Sheriff eyed one lone biscuit when the dispatcher appeared at the door to the breakroom.
“Sheriff, I think you’ll want to take this call.” She whispered something in his ear and he rose and excused himself leaving Eleanor and Connie at the table.
Taking the call in his office, he punched the button on the line that was blinking. “Mullins,” he said. The sheriff listened for a minute while Henderson’s Police Chief shared some of his departments run-ins with Jeb in the past.
“What’s this about you wanting a welfare check?” the chief asked.
“That was all we could come up with until the Judge issues a search warrant for the house, hopefully today,” Mullins said. He spent the next few minutes explaining the events surrounding Connie’s arrest and the results of the video footage. “We were hoping he might be around to answer some questions.”
“Not from what I’ve heard. He went missing a few days ago according to the neighbors. We had reason to locate him, too. Our deputy found the house abandoned, newspapers piled up, mailbox overflowing,” the Chief explained. “Seems like his wife is looking for him, too.”
“Nah, I’ve got her right here at my station.
“Not that wife,” the chief said. “I mean Jeb's first wife, the legal one.” He let that sink in for a moment. “It looks like she found a new beau. She wants to get married so she’s trying to divorce Jeb. We only found out he’d skipped when we went to serve him with papers.”
Sheriff Mullins glanced down the hall toward the break room where Eleanor and Connie were still talking. He ran his palm up his forehead in a familiar gesture he used when things got confusing.
“Well, I guess that’s good and bad news,” he told his counterpart in Henderson County. “I’ll let you know when the warrant comes through. In the meantime, I’m sending an officer in your direction. I’ll call you when we get the go ahead on the search warrant.”
“We’ll be ready,” the Chief said. “I’ve wanted a good reason to go through that house for a long time. His parents were good people. I never believed that they would take up overnight and leave town like Jeb said.”
The Silver Tongued Devil
Rusty found paper and a pencil and started a list of things needing repair at the farmstead. First on the list was chopping up the tree protruding into the front room, then, replacing the broken windows. He’d had a good look at the roof and it could use some work replacing shingles and repairing the soft areas where the plywood sagged with age. By the time he finished, the page was filled with neatly itemized tasks.
Rover, Buddy, Cookie and Nicole, were settled comfortably close to his feet where he sat at the head of the huge dining room table. They’d enjoyed a hearty breakfast of kibble from Rusty’s backpack and scraps of fried Spam cooked in an old iron skillet on the wood burning stove. Buddy looked like a brand new dog, his smooth and silky coat gleaming, free of the burrs and brambles he’d collected in his journeys. Rover’s rib cage didn’t protrude as much after only a couple of regular meals. Cookie and Nicole seemed at ease in his company as were the boys.
“We’ll need to pick up a big bag of food for you guys,” he told them. He started on a second list of groceries he planned to purchase. He wanted to replace the canned goods they’d eaten last night and this morning from the shelter’s supply cabinets.
He’d pumped water into a bucket at the outside well and heated a large kettle on the stove. After cleaning up the dishes, he heated another kettle of water for a sponge bath. Pulling out a fresh shirt from his belongings, he buttoned it up and grabbed the set of keys to Connie’s car. The dogs watched from the porch as he backed the car up, turned around and drove out the long winding driveway toward town.
Loving Her was Easier
© 2018 Peg Cole