Adventures of Cookie the Stray, Chapter 25
Rainbow After the Storm
“I’ll be right back,” Rusty called out to the dogs pouting on the front porch. He swerved to avoid the puddles of standing water and drove around the broken tree limbs on the driveway.
He’d found an old pick-up truck under some dusty quilts in the corner of the barn during his inspection. If he could get it running again, it would be ideal for carrying plywood, roofing shingles, and other material needed to repair the house. He made his first stop at the auto parts place on the main road. After pulling Connie’s car into a parking spot, he watched the owner unlock the door and turn the sign to OPEN.
“You’re up early,” the shopkeeper called out. “Get any damage from that bad storm last night?” He held the door open for his first customer of the day.
“A little bit, but it could’ve been worse.” Rusty answered. He told the guy about the tree that crashed through the front room window. “How about your place?” he asked.
“Just a few shingles missing off the roof,” he said, “nothing too bad. Did you see that trailer park on your way in?”
“Yeah,” he said pulling the list out of his pocket. “Hope those folks are alright.”
“The man got a broken leg, but the kids are okay, just banged up and scared.” The shop owner flipped through a large catalog on the counter and wrote down some part numbers on a yellow legal pad. “You staying out at Eleanor and William’s place?” he asked, his finger holding his place in the book. Rusty wasn’t surprised at how fast news traveled in the small community. He nodded. The guy disappeared into a maze of racks behind the counter. When he returned, he piled a collection of various sized boxes in front of Rusty: a distributor cap, a set of spark plugs, and a gas filter.
“Yeah, I’ve been telling William that old Chevy needs to get back on the road. I’ve known him since that truck was brand new. And that’s a long time,” He smiled and stared at Rusty for a full beat. “It’s good he has someone helping him to get it running again with his bad health and all. You tell him Andy says hello, okay?”
Rusty paid in cash and headed for the exit when the man called out to him.
“Ask for Bobby Lee at the lumber yard and tell him you’re fixing up the old Groves’ place. Mention my name,” he said. “He might give you a discount. Or he might charge you more.” He roared a deep sounding laugh that shook his belly.
With that errand done, Rusty was on his way with a place to get lumber and a new friend in town.
For the first time in two months William woke up hungry. He fished around on the pillow until he found the nurse call button and pushed it. For a man of his years, he considered himself in pretty good shape. That was, until the day crippling pain shot down his arms and between his shoulder blades and he collapsed. The last few weeks were still a blur after suffering a massive heart attack.
He smiled at the thought of seeing Eleanor, his sweet Ellie, who’d be coming today. She’d be pleased at his progress. The nurse that answered his call was surprised to hear from her patient who remained silent most of the time.
“Good morning, Mr. Groves, how can I help you?”
“I’d like some help getting a shower before breakfast, please.”
“I’ll send someone in right away to help you,” she responded. Paul, standing at the nurse’s station had overheard the request. He was about to go off duty but volunteered to take on the task.
“I’m sure Mr. Groves wants a man to help him,” he told the nurse. “We’ll get this wrapped up before I leave.” He headed down the hallway toward William’s room and a short time later, William was up, dressed and sitting in his wheelchair at a table with some of the long term residents, a group of like aged men who routinely sat together. The three welcomed him, surprised by his unusual presence outside of his room.
“These biscuits have nothing on my Ellie’s,” William told them through a mouthful of food. “She could make millions off her recipe if she ever shared it.” They continued on that vain, each sharing the virtues of their long beloved spouses.
Eleanor and Connie finished clearing the table at the police station, packing the empty containers, cups and dishes back into the picnic basket. “That basket’s a lot lighter going out than it was coming in,” Eleanor said with a laugh. She handed Connie her car keys as they loaded it into the backseat of Eleanor’s car.
“Would you mind driving, dear? I’m not as confident a driver as I once was.” Connie took the keys and slid behind the wheel after helping the older woman settle into the passenger seat. Eleanor gave directions to the main road.
“It seems like I’ve known you forever,” Connie told the older woman as they pulled out of the station parking lot. In their short time together they’d shared stories about William and Jeb. Eleanor’s sympathies for Connie’s situation set her mind in motion with possibilities.
“Would you mind if we made a short detour before we go to the house? It’s right on the way and it won’t take long.”
“Of course,” she said. “I’m sure the dogs won’t mind. They’re probably busy taking a nap.” The two women laughed as they traveled down the main road. When they reached the mobile home park, their laughter stopped abruptly. A huge tree limb lay across one lane of the street causing traffic to veer around it single file. Remains of what had once been couches, walls and insulation lay strewn around in the soggy yards. Eleanor cast a sobering glance at the upturned mobile home, its contents now a pile of debris.
“I hope those people that were in the trailer are okay.” They drove on in silence.
Detective Brannigan got an early start on US 175, his route through Colleyville had taken him around the main areas damaged by the storm. At that time of the morning there was little traffic, most of it heading north. He hoped to make it to Henderson County right when they opened the doors. He and the Chief would search the house where Jeb’s parents had lived most of their life.
An hour, thirty-five minutes later and eighty-five miles to the southeast, he spotted a welcoming billboard for Gun Barrel City. At the small parking lot of the city’s police department he found an empty spot and pulled in, glad to be off the road. The large breakfast, more than his usual cup of coffee, made him drowsy on the drive. He stretched and went inside where he found the Chief sitting in his cramped and cluttered office sipping coffee.
“Come on in,” the Chief said. “Want coffee?” He’d watched the boxy, unmarked car pull up and park right in front of his street-facing window.
“No, thanks, I already had too much.” Brannigan put a piece of official looking paper on the Chief’s desk.
“Looks like Mullins has some pull with the judge to get paperwork through this quick,” the chief said reading over the search warrant. They spent several minutes sharing their collective histories of the cases surrounding their chief suspect, Jeb.
“The Olsteads were well liked in the community,” the Chief told Brannigan. “Late in life, they finally had a kid. Old man Olstead, Jacob Senior, must’ve been around fifty by then. When the kid was almost into his teens he already had a history of petty larceny and mischief.” The Chief frowned and continued. “Some of the neighbors reported pets missing among other things like spare tires and tools. The kid was nothing but trouble right from the start.” The chief handed Brannigan a stack of mail that the deputy had collected on his trip to the Olstead house. “We suspected he was somehow involved in his parents’ disappearance but we couldn’t prove it.”
Brannigan glanced through the stack of bills and advertising and found a letter addressed to Connie from the American Kennel Club. The flap on the envelope was already open so he reached in and pulled out the single typewritten page along with two blank forms.
The letter read:
“We are in contact with the owner of Sir Samson, AKC Champion Chow Chow dog recently mated with your female, Queenie of the Middleton’s. Please be informed that all outstanding credential issues have been cleared in regard to the Championship paperwork. AKC registration of Sir Samson, the stud of the pairing with your female entitles his offspring to AKC registration. Kindly submit the enclosed forms on behalf of Queenie’s brood at your earliest convenience.”
It was signed by some official sounding name with a title of Registrar.
“Thought you might want to hand deliver this stuff to Jeb’s new, um, other wife. Some of it might be of interest to her,” Chief told the detective.
“Can I use your fax machine?” Brannigan asked. “This is news she’ll want to have right away.”
Chow Dog Agility
When they arrived at Luther Lane in Gun Barrel City, Detective Brannigan pushed open the front door with his gun drawn.
“Police,” he yelled, “If you’re in here make your presence known.” He yelled a second time as a uniformed officer followed him inside moving to the right as Brannigan went left. They made a complete circuit of the house before motioning for the Chief to follow them inside. Behind him a trail of others carrying evidence boxes, cameras and gloves entered the residence ready to comb through its contents.
Their first stroke of pay dirt was in the bedroom closet where a stack of empty velvet jewelry boxes were found buried under a pile of dirty clothes. On the shelf above, a blonde wig was recovered.
“That looks like the same style and color as the one on the woman in the video,” Brannigan said. “Bag it up,” he told the officer who marked the evidence bag with a felt pen noting the date, contents and location where it was found.
At the same moment one of the other officers yelled upstairs from the basement. “Chief, you’re going to want to see this for yourself,” he shouted.
© 2018 Peg Cole