I was clean shaven with a double dose of anti-perspirant in my pits and a new shirt with my wheat-colored linen slacks. I wore my shirt out so I could tuck my CZ into a holster in the small of my back. I had brushed Max before showering so the two of us looked really spiffy when we walked to my Explorer.
“Lucy, I have a feeling that you don’t drive an old clunker like you told me that first rainy night.”
“Umm…no, I don’t. I have a Mercedes AMG convertible. It was in the shop that day and I had a loaner I didn’t know anything about. I really was stranded there. Sorry; I won’t fib to you ever again. I promise.” She put her hand in mine and squeezed. Somehow, over the past ten days Lucy had become much better looking—either that or she was taking much better care of herself.
Lucy gave me directions and I turned left onto a private road that I had passed several times during my explorations. It was long and winding, more than a mile in length and we’d gone more than halfway before we saw a house off to the right and roughly a hundred feet from the street—Lucy’s house. It was big—no, it was imposing—with a huge front lawn that looked to be perfect for lawn bowling or tennis. It was perfectly flat and level and I couldn’t find even a single weed as I slowly drove past.
“How big is that house, Lucy?”
“Well, it has a big living room, a bigger family room, library, and dining room in addition to an eat-in kitchen. There are two powder rooms—one in the front of the house and one at the rear and there’s a big screened porch in the back that leads to a broad patio and pool. Upstairs there are six bedrooms and five full baths. I also have a three-car garage.”
“And working in the diner?”
“Um…I don’t really do anything much there other than say hello and talk to friends of my family.”
I laughed. That explained a lot—like why she could skip out on work whenever she wanted, not that I was complaining. A minute later I drove up a long brick driveway that turned into a broad curve in front of the house. It was even bigger than Lucy’s. She showed me where to park then I opened the doors for her and Max. He walked in at heel to Lucy’s left.
We were in a big vestibule—big enough to hold a grand piano where we were greeted by an older black man in a black suit and tie. I assumed correctly that he was the butler. “Samuel, this is Marshal Cahill and this is his dog, Max.”
“Welcome, Marshal, Miss Lucille. Your parents are on the patio, Miss.” He stepped aside and left us to greet another couple. Lucy took my hand and led Max and me to the rear of the house. I could have picked out her father even without Lucy as my guide. He was holding court and smugly stating his views on some hot controversy to the avid audience. He was tall with silver hair and he was wearing one of those shirts that are made to be worn un-tucked. Mine wasn’t tucked in either, but that was to hide my pistol.
Lucy led me over to meet her father. “Daddy, this is Marshal Matt Cahill. Matt, my father, Jonathan Bascomb.” We shook hands and he tried to squeeze my hand—an obvious attempt at dominance, but a failed one. Anyone else, I might have broken the bones in his hand, but I’d be asking this man an important question later so I wanted to stay on his good side.
“I always appreciate a firm handshake, Sir; a pleasure to meet you.”
“I’ve heard good things about you, Marshal. I especially appreciate the way you apprehended those criminals Friday afternoon and I assume this is your dog. Max, isn’t it?”
“Yes, this is Max, but don’t try to pet him unless I give him the okay.”
“Really? Is he that dangerous?”
“He can be and he will if he sees someone threatening either Lucy or me.”
“Lucy? I think you mean Lucille.”
“I’ve always called her Lucy and she has never objected. When she does I’ll call her something else…whatever she wants.”
“It sounds like you plan on sticking around, Marshal.”
I had to laugh. “I’ve heard you have an excellent network of informants so I’m sure you know that I’ve been offered the position of chief of police. I’m also sure you know that the official appointment will be Tuesday evening, so—yes—I am thinking of sticking around, probably for a long time. Meanwhile, why don’t you call me Matt?”
Now it was his turn to chuckle. “I like a man who’s direct, Matt. Come with me and I’ll introduce you to Lucille’s mother.” I walked with him to a group of women and, again, I was sure which one was his wife before the introduction. She looked almost identical to Lucy, except a trifle heavier.
“My dear,” my future father-in-law began, “I’d like you to meet Matt Cahill…Marshal Cahill and this huge beast is his dog, Max.”
“I’m surprised, Mr. Cahill, that you would bring an animal to such a gathering,” she said indignantly.
“I also took him into the diner all week and it was because of him that we apprehended two armed robbers and ensured the safety of almost forty people, including your daughter. Besides, Lucy told me to bring him.”
“Lucy? Lucy? Why would you take such liberties with my daughter?” I was serious on the outside, but inside I was laughing my ass off. I wondered what she would think of the liberties I had actually taken with Lucy.
“I have always called her Lucy, Mrs. Bascomb, and not only has she never objected, but she encouraged the familiarity.”
I might have continued, but Lucy stepped between us to intervene. “Really, Mother—what a stupid thing to argue about. Matt is right. I encouraged him to call me Lucy and I told him to bring Max. I think you’ll find him better behaved than many of your other guests. However, we’ll leave if you would prefer.”
“Well…I wouldn’t want you to leave, darling.”
“Matt brought me so I’ll be leaving with him.” From the expression on her mother’s face I gathered that she wasn’t accustomed to having Lucy—or anyone else—speak that way to her. Fortunately, her father intervened to say that we were welcome and that he hoped we would enjoy our afternoon. Lucy took my hand and walked me to the bar.
I ordered a Coke with a lot of ice and Lucy asked for an iced tea. She then spoke quietly to the bartender who left, returning a minute later with a large bowl of water for Max. I placed it at the edge of the patio where it wouldn’t be in anyone’s way. Then Lucy took my hand again and we mingled, speaking with several members of the city council and a few folks I recognized from the diner. Apparently, my appointment as chief of police was an open secret. The council had met in what is known as “executive session” which is supposed to be private and confidential. Executive session is usually reserved for personnel and legal issues or negotiations with labor unions, few of which exist in the southern states.
The household staff served as waiters and waitresses, bringing boiled shrimp and little pieces of toast with brie and caviar, among other offerings. This was the most extravagant barbeque I’d ever been a part of. Several times someone dropped a canapé and jumped back expecting to see Max run over them to get a free snack. I hoped they weren’t too disappointed because he completely ignored them. Lucy rewarded him by holding several fried scallops out for him to sample. He looked at me for approval then lapped his treat off Lucy’s hand once I had nodded. She further rewarded him then with a hug that Max obviously enjoyed. His tail wagged wildly for several minutes while Lucy petted him and scratched his ears.
That was when a woman asked, “Isn’t that a dangerous dog? I can’t believe you would have anything to do with such a beast.”
Lucy looked up and replied, “He can be dangerous, but I’ve seen kids play with him for an hour or more and I know he’d never hurt me.” As if to prove her point Max licked Lucy’s face as she grinned and laughed, hugging Max even tighter. I put an end to it by helping Lucy to her feet and telling Max to heel. It was time to eat.
Lucy and I went in to use the bathroom while Max stood guard. I washed Lucy’s face then she reached up to give me a big wet kiss. “I knew you wouldn’t take my parents’ shit, Matt. They can be such jerks sometimes.”
“They’re parents; it’s to be expected. Think I should tell your father that his bartender is stealing from him?”
“Huh? What? How?”
“Your father obviously buys excellent quality booze, but the bartender is substituting cheap stuff. I saw him pouring Ardbeg—a cheap scotch—into a bottle with a Johnny Walker Blue label. I’ll bet he sells the good stuff to friends. I won’t do anything now during dinner, but I think your dad and I will have to check it out once we’re done.”
“Damn, Matt, you’re so smart.” Then she kissed me again and we walked out, startling an elderly woman as we passed her en route to the patio for dinner. I held Lucy’s chair for her then sat next to her, narrowly beating another man I’d seen talking with Mrs. Bascomb earlier. I wondered what that was about.
First course was a salad served family style with lots of tomatoes and green pepper in a vinaigrette dressing. I picked up the bowl, but rather than helping myself to a hearty portion I passed it to a woman to my right. I offered to toss it and serve her and she graciously accepted. Lucy introduced me and we had an interesting discussion about law enforcement. Mostly they wanted to know how I knew the two at the diner were robbers.
I explained that a lot of police work depended on one’s ability to observe people. “For example, Bill, I noticed that you have a limp in your left leg. You try to hide it and you do a good job, but to someone who is a trained observer it’s extremely obvious. I also noticed earlier, Jane that you’re left-handed, but you have trouble with your pinky, probably a problem with the nerves in your arm.”
“What did you notice about me, Marshal?”
“Well, one of your shoes has a thicker sole and heel than the other. I suspect that you either had a birth defect or an injury that impacted the length of your left leg.”
“My God! I think we have Sherlock Holmes at the table. You’re absolutely right. I was in an automobile accident when I was six and my leg was broken in three places. It’s now an inch shorter than the other. I doubt that anyone else ever noticed.”
“Well, I’m married to Adam and it was more than a year before I noticed. You’re quite extraordinary, Marshal. Or should we call you, Matt? I’ve heard some rumors you’re going to be our new chief of police.”
“I can’t comment one way or another, May.” I saw that Lucy was going to comment, but my hand on her leg told her not to say a word.
“I do have to say, Matt that your dog is extremely well behaved. I wouldn’t even know he was here if I didn’t see him. Is it okay to pet him?”
“Not now–if you don’t mind–and don’t try unless I’m with you. I had to hold Lucy’s hand the first time she got into my car. Max is extremely protective of me and now Lucy. Unlike me, he’s always on duty.” I received the salad bowl from Lucy and finally scooped a large portion into my bowl. It was as good as I had expected with fresh crisp vegetables and the dressing was just perfect in my opinion.
Dinner consisted of pulled pork and ribs along with a variety of fresh vegetables and baked potatoes. I noticed immediately that they had been cooked in salt. I’d always found that to be an excellent method because I enjoy eating the skin even more than the flesh of the tuber. I was also pleased to see a variety of barbeque sauces on the table. Lucy picked a mild sweet sauce, but I picked the hottest available. It was great on the tender pulled pork and even better on the baby back ribs. For my vegetables I took an ear of fresh corn and several grilled tomatoes.
Discussion continued during dinner and I found myself enjoying the company of the people at our table. Not surprisingly, Max sat behind Lucy, looking left and right to ensure our safety. Looking across the patio I noticed the man who had tried to usurp my seat engaged in a long whispering conversation with Lucy’s mother. I had a feeling that there would be a confrontation with him before I took Lucy back to the trailer—oops, mobile home.
Dessert was ice cream, almost a tradition at barbeques my aunt and uncle held with homemade pie running a close second. I asked for chocolate and strawberry and received a scoop of each. Once I was done I excused myself and went to speak with Lucy’s father. “May I have a word, Jonathan?”
“Of course, Matt,” he replied, standing as he excused himself from the table. He had taken two steps away when I spoke next.
“I was wondering if you wanted to know that your bartender is stealing from you.”
“How? There’s no money involved, not even tips.”
“That much is true, but I’m sure you buy top shelf liquors and he’s pouring them into empty bottles and substituting cheap stuff. I’d bet he later sells the good stuff to friends at a discount. It’s a good way to make a few hundred bucks on every job and it’s hard to get caught.”
“How did you catch him?”
“I’ve seen this scam before, but usually on a grander scale. Shall we take a look behind the bar? I think we’ll find a bunch of empty bottles and a funnel or two in addition to the cheap stuff you’re actually drinking.” I signaled Max and he trotted to my side.
“Excuse us,” I said to the bartender. “We just want to take a peek behind the bar.”
“I don’t think you should, sir. I doubt the homeowner would approve.”
“Well,” Jonathan began, “I’m the homeowner and the one who’s paying you so I suggest you step aside.”
The guy’s nervousness gave him away and I thought he might try to run. “You can run, but do you really think you can outrun my dog? Keep in mind that he’ll stop you by biting your leg first and then your neck. Right, Max?” His low, barely audible growl settled the issue.
There was a cloth covering the rear of the bar and once I slid it aside we could see the evidence of his crime. There were more than a dozen bottles with homemade labels taped on. One said “JW Blue” and others said “Grey Goose,” “Skyy,” both excellent and expensive vodkas. Others said “Tanqueray” and “Bombay Sapphire.” Among the bourbons were “Jefferson’s Presidential” and “Kentucky Gentleman,” both of which sold for more than $300 a bottle. There were also bottles for the expensive brandies and cognacs being held for after dinner. Also clearly visible were a number of ultra cheap store brand liquors.
Jonathan Bascomb’s face turned a shade of deep red, but before he spoke I whipped out my ID and began to recite the Miranda warning. “You can remain silent or you can tell us who is behind this plot. You’ve changed enough bottles for this to be considered grand larceny in most states. Something tells me you’re not in this alone.”
“Please…I’m a college student. If I get sent to jail my folks will kill me and I’ll lose my scholarship.”
“Fine, who are you working for?”
“Carl Haynes, the city councilman?”
“No, I think his name is Jeremy. He has a lot of scams he runs.”
“Like what?” I wasn’t about to let the matter drop until I had every bit of information I could get on this rat.
“I know for a fact that he deals pot and meth. My roommate bought some from him. I also heard you can get pills like Oxy from him.”
“Jonathan, I think we need to take this inside.” He agreed and as I turned I saw Lucy trying desperately to fend off her mother’s “friend.” Fortunately, I had just the solution. “Max,” I said as I pointed at her. “Lucy…now.” Max looked, saw Lucy in trouble, and sprinted to her. A second later her “suitor” couldn’t back away fast enough. Even Jonathan laughed like crazy as we led the bartender into Jonathan’s office.
His name was Jack Perkins and he was a student at Memphis University. He wrote a statement outlining his involvement, how much he was being paid, and how he would get the illegal bottles to Haynes. Once his statement had been dated, signed, and witnessed I took a photo of him and his driver’s license and sent him back to work. “We need to sit on this, Jonathan until I become chief. Then we’ll blow this asshole out of the water. I’m afraid if we do it now his father will use his influence to quash the entire deal.”
“I agree. This is exactly the reason why I’ve thought we needed an outsider in the position.” He began to walk out, but I asked for a few more minutes of his time.
“I think you know that I’ve been staying with Lucy and we’ve been seeing a lot of each other over the past ten days.”
“Early last week she asked me how I felt about her and I told her that I could see myself falling for her big time, but it was too soon to tell her that I loved her. I was wrong. I am in love with her…very much.”
“I see. How does she feel about you?”
“The same, at least that’s what she’s told me.”
“Then I guess you’re not sleeping on the couch.”
“That’s a subject I’ll never discuss with you or anyone else. Bottom line is that I’ve asked her to marry me and she has agreed, but she told me that I had to ask you for her hand. That’s what I’m doing now.”
“What happens if I say no?”
“Nothing, except I’ll probably not get the chief’s job and Lucy will move to Wilmington, North Carolina to be with me. I have a small apartment in Carolina Beach. I’m sure you’d like to have her nearby because we’ve agreed to start a family as soon as possible. I’m sure you know that I have my own money so I have no interest in hers.”
“I guess I don’t have many options, Matt so welcome to our family.” He rose, shook my hand, and laughed.
“What’s so funny?”
“My wife has been encouraging Donald Craig to pursue Lucille. He’s the one your dog chased away. Can I announce the engagement tonight?”
“I don’t see why not, but I would like to discuss it with Lucy first and you might want to mention it to Mrs. Bascomb.” He laughed at that then we shook hands again and, to my surprise, he hugged me. Of course, I hugged him back.
Lucy was seated on a cushioned love seat with Max at her side when I approached. She rose and I kissed her. “He approved and wants to make an announcement tonight. I told him I wanted to talk to you first. I see your suitor got cold feet.”
“He was panting worse than Max. You should have seen his eyes when I pointed Max out to him. They must have been as big as quarters. Max has been protecting me ever since. I got him a plate of pulled pork as a reward. I hope you don’t mind. He seemed to like it.”
No, I don’t mind. I’m glad he’ll eat for you. It shows that he’s accepted you. He’ll protect you now as much as he will me. Hopefully, Mr. Craig will be discouraged from chasing you, especially when your father makes his announcement.”
“Hopefully, my mother will be discouraged. She’s tried to shove that ass down my throat for the past two years. She thinks he’s a good catch. I think he’s a colossal bore.”
We heard Jonathan tap on his glass, asking for attention. “Please excuse me, but I have an important announcement to make. Marylou and I have waited a long time for this. We learned a few minutes ago that our daughter Lucille is engaged to Marshal Matt Cahill. We don’t have any details yet on the wedding, but I propose a toast to Lucille and Matt.” He held his glass up and there were a number of salutes. Lucy and I stood holding hands until she pulled my head down for a long kiss.
We received the congratulations of everyone present before we were allowed to leave. I had held the door for Lucy before allowing Max into the back seat. By the time I had walked around to my door, Lucy had slid up onto the console. I was greeted by a huge hug and an even bigger kiss as soon as I was seated. Lucy broke it almost five minutes later, only because Max had pushed his muzzle between us. He gave us a low “Woof,” telling me how happy he was. Anyone who thinks that dogs don’t have emotions knows nothing about dogs. Lucy whispered, “I do love you so much, Matt. I loved the way you stood up to my parents. I didn’t tell you this before, but I’d never met anyone who I thought was strong enough to do it. My parents would walk all over anyone if they thought they could. You showed them today that they can’t—that you’re going to be your own man. I doubt that you can realize how important that is going to be for you…for us.”
I couldn’t think of anything to say in response so I stayed silent as I backed out and drove down the drive toward Lucy’s and my temporary home, Max’s massive head resting on Lucy’s shoulder.