By M.A. De Neve (Mary Ann Slavcheff)
Lisa Brianka’s arrest came as a shock to all of us. Even me. I’m the Mountain Ridge snoop, so usually I’m way ahead of the gossip, and I can even sometimes predict things like this. What I felt that morning was closer to fear than to surprise.
When I stopped by the Yorkie cafe less than twelve hours after Lisa’s arrest, customers were discussing the latest Lisa gossip.
“Do you think she did it?”
“Of course, she done it.”
“Everyone knows that.” “Don’t mean she killed anyone.”
I glanced around at the dirty floor, the wooden tables, and the toy-sized juke boxes on the counter. Tony Orlando sang,“Tie A Yellow Ribbon.” Everyone in this town knows what a snoop I am, so no one ties a yellow ribbon for me. They started to quiet down. That was all right. I’d heard enough.
I glanced at a copy of today’s newspaper lying on the counter. The Beatles had broken up. Darn. Richard Nixon defended his decision to invade Cambodia. The war in Viet Nam was as unpopular as ever.
I know a lot about unpopularity. I’m not even a war, just a girl trying to escape boredom.
Bev the waitress poured me a cup of coffee just the way I like it, strong and black. “Hi, Penny. What’ll it be this morning?” she asked.
“A grilled cheese with a thick slice of tomato. Hash browns. Keep the coffee coming.”
“You got it.” Before she turned to put my order in, she asked, “You know anything?”
“The alphabet, the state capitals and my multiplication tables right up to 13 times 13.”
“Don’t be a smart ass,” she told me.”Were you there when they made the arrest?” “No.”
“Did you hear anything?”
“What they said on the radio.”
“But you’ll tell me when you find out anything?”
“Depends on what I find out.”
“You know I could spit in your hash browns,” she said.
“You won’t though.”
“Don’t be so sure.” Bev took off with her order pad.
I smiled and waved at Elaine, the elderly cook, who was moving slowly about the kitchen; her arthritis was probably acting up. She ignored me. She’s got some kind of grudge. She says I stole some papers she threw out years ago.
What can I tell you? They were at the curb, and I noticed them. She could have burned them. She could have read them herself before she put them on the curb for anyone to take.
I took a deep breath and sipped my coffee. I didn’t look around. I knew the other customers were looking at me. The only voice I heard was Tony Orlando’s voice. So much for yellow ribbons. At least the waitress talks to me.
I was just finishing my sandwich when Leo Olson came in. He used to be sheriff here in Mountain Ridge. Olson arrested me back when I was eleven or twelve on a shop lifting charge.
It was a fifty cent tube of lipstick. I could have bought it, but how much fun would that have been?
Leo was 70 years old or more than that, but still tall and thin like teen age basketball player. His grey hair was cut short; his steely gray eyes looked at everyone like they were murder suspects or drunken drivers. His skin was weathered like a fisherman’s skin. Yet he wore his years well. I would see him walking and even jogging around town, fit as a man in his thirties.
I started walking toward the door. Then I couldn’t help myself. I had to ask. “Is Lisa Brianka all right?”
The stillness in the room was complete. Every other customer was wondering the same thing, but no one else was brave enough to ask.
Leo sipped his coffee really slow, and then took a deep breath. Cops know that silence makes the rest of us feel uncomfortable and even guilty. Finally he said, “I ain’t a cop anymore.”
“Your son’s the sheriff,” I reminded him. “Is Lisa being treated okay?”
“Far as I know. Miles ain’t here. He’s getting ready to fly down to Louisiana.” Surprise. I was getting information from a cop, but then the sheriff’s comings and goings wouldn’t be secret. Or would they? At least Sheriff Miles Olson had something to occupy him other than poor Lisa.
Norman Cain, a serial killer awaiting execution in Louisiana was spilling his guts, delaying his execution for crimes committed down south by telling authorities where more bodies were buried in the tunnels under and around Mountain Ridge.
Dozens of state cops, crime scene investigators and reporters were in town covering the excavations. I supposed Miles’ presence was now and then called for down south.
“Our sheriff’s a busy boy,” I said. He arrested Lisa last night, and then what? Today he gets on an airplane and flies south.”
“He’s busy,” Leo agreed. I wasn’t going to get anymore out of him.
“Tell Lisa I’m thinking of her, will you?” I said after a pause.
“I ain’t goin’ near that crazy,” Leo said.