The crowd gasped as they watched Earline dance around the merry-go-round with glee. I had to admit that I was a bit stunned by her reaction. Granted, Amos had been a royal pain the butt, but I thought Earline had lost her mind.
Gladys raced over, grabbed Earline’s arm and slapped her. “Get a hold of yourself! Your poor mother is rolling over in her grave right now because of the way you are behaving. Your husband is dead! That is no reason to act like some heathen at Mardi Gras!”
Earline jerked her arm out of Gladys’ grasp. “Oh, shut up, you old goat. After thirty years of putting up with all of his garbage, I have a right to celebrate. I can finally start living my life the way I want to! No more playing second fiddle to that flea-bitten hound dog!” she added, pointing at Babe. “That mutt is going to be the first thing to go.”
“What are you going to do with Babe?” I asked. I didn’t want to believe that Earline would do anything to intentionally harm the bloodhound, but in her current state of mind, I wouldn’t put it past her, either.
“I’m going to send it to the pound, what else? I hate that dog. Amos always treated her as if she was the mistress of the house, while he treated me like a dog. The house is mine now, and I don’t intend to share it with that mutt.”
Bending down, I put my arms around Babe, who licked my cheek. “I’ll take her,” I said impulsively.
“Fine by me,” Earline said. “Take her now. I don’t want to see her ever again.”
I looked up at Gladys, who looked shocked by her friend’s behavior. “Earline, are you sure you should be making any rash decisions right now?” she said. “You’re distraught. Why don’t you wait a few days before you make any other…”
“Oh, dry up, Gladys,” Earline interrupted. “I’m not distraught, upset or irrational. I’ve been planning for this day for years.”
“Where were you last night, Earline?” Owen said.
“I was at home, where else?” Earline snapped. “He never let me go anywhere unless I went with him. I bought this car three years ago and kept it hidden. It wasn’t as easy as it sounds, either. He was always going through my things, taking any money I had squirreled away, keeping me a prisoner in my own home.”
“Can anyone verify that you were there all night?” Owen asked.
“Of course not.”
“Do you know how to shoot a gun?”
“Well, that’s a stupid question, Owen Greene,” she retorted. “Everyone around here knows how to shoot a gun.”
“I didn’t ask about everyone else, Earline. I asked you.”
“Yes, Sheriff, I know how to shoot a gun. Amos made sure of that. He told me it was my job to keep people off our property when he wasn’t around. He said, ‘Shoot first and ask questions later, Earline. The police can’t charge you with anything because you are protecting private property.’ Not that I ever had to; no one ever came out to see us.”
“How did you know to come down here?”
“Someone called me, said Amos was dead in the middle of the park. I wanted to make sure it wasn’t one of his stupid pranks.” She looked down at her dead husband. “Good luck finding his killer, Sheriff. Your list of suspects is probably a mile long.” She started walking off.
“Want me to come with you, Earline?” Gladys asked.
“What for? I’m not going home to fall apart. I’m going home to pack. I plan to take a long vacation.”
“But you need to make arrangements for his funeral!” Gladys replied. “He deserves a Christian burial.”
“Then you make the arrangements, Gladys. Everyone knows you have been carrying a torch for him for forty years,” Earline tartly replied. “The only reason you were friends with me was to stay close to him.”
Gladys’ mouth fell open, and tears sprang up in her eyes. “That’s not true, Earline. I swear!”
“Oh, dry up, Gladys,” Earline said as she walked to her car.
“Don’t leave town just yet, Earline,” Owen told her. “I’ll need to come out to your house and take a look around, check your guns to make sure they haven’t been fired recently.”
“Do you plan to arrest me?” Earline glared at him.
“Not at this time. No reason to.”
“Unless you are planning to lock me up and throw away the key, I am leaving on a nice, long cruise. And I may not come back.” She got into her Cadillac, started it and rolled down the window. “You can haul that piece of junk truck away and crush it. I never want to see that puke green thing again.” She backed up and sped off.
“Unbelievable,” I muttered as she squealed around the corner. “She’s as heartless as Amos was.”
“He made her that way,” Gladys replied. “She’s got more fire in her than I have seen in years.”
“Do you think she’s capable of killing, Gladys?” Owen said.
She thought a moment before replying. “If you had asked me before she got here, I would have said no. But after that display, I’m not so sure.”
It looked like Earline just placed herself at the top of the suspect list, with Gladys a close second. Oh boy.