The bullet hole between Amos Gardner’s eyes guaranteed that he hadn’t seen the sunrise.
Brookdale was a relatively quiet town. We all knew each other, and if we didn’t, well, you just weren’t worth knowing, I guess. But a small town also meant people knew when you did something stupid. In Amos’ case, that was darn near every day.
He drove around town in a 1947 pistachio green Chevy truck. He had it painted that color every two years, and Babe, his red bloodhound, rode in the cab with him. If his wife Earline wanted to ride inside, she had to sit in the middle because the passenger window belonged to Babe. To tell the truth, no one remembered seeing Earline riding in that truck too much – mainly because Amos usually slammed the gearshift into her legs so hard it left bruises.
There wasn’t a more cantankerous man in town than Amos. He went out of his way to tick somebody off, then sat there and laughed about it in the person’s face. “I’m old, what are you gonna do about it?” he’d cackle in the offended party’s face. “I’ll sue ya for elderly abuse!” At one time or another, he had threatened nearly everyone in town with a lawsuit. Heck, he’d park his truck in the middle of the street around Town Square, go inside a store, take care of business, and come back out to find five people standing around his truck complaining. “I gotta right to park where I want,” he would say, “and ain’t nothin’ you can do about it!” He’d climb in his truck and drive off, laughing the whole time. People around here didn’t like that kind of treatment, especially when it was from him.
Town Square was where all the excitement was in Brookdale. There was a park in the center of the square, surrounded by beautiful oak trees, with benches, tables and the usual playground equipment. Some of that equipment had been there since I was a kid. They just didn’t build stuff to last like they used to. Anyway, the main business hub was located around the park. Women got their hair done at the ‘Curl & Dye Beauty Salon’ on one side of the square while the men went to ‘Ray’s Barbershop’ on the other side. Actually, if you stopped to think about it, the square was divided into his and hers sides. Everything that you needed you could get in the Town Square shops.
It was 7:30 on a Friday morning, and I was driving into town for some paint. The shed in my backyard was old and in dire need of a face lift. The last time I painted it, Mama had picked the color, a hideous bright pink. This time, I was going for a more muted, subdued color, like brown or blue.
As I came around the corner, I had to slam on the brakes to avoid hitting Amos’ truck, which was parked in the middle of the street. I knew Amos never came to town before 9 a.m. because he couldn’t make a nuisance of himself without a crowd around. The second unusual thing was that Babe wasn’t in the truck; she sat in the middle of the park near the merry-go-round. Amos never let that dog out of the truck because he was afraid someone would run over her. He cared more for that dog than he did his wife.
Backing up, I parked in front of the Eat it or Starve café and looked inside the truck. The keys were in the ignition, which was no surprise because he always left them in there. I felt the hood of the truck; it was cold to the touch. Very odd. Thinking it may have broken down, I toyed with the idea of trying to start it up, but changed my mind. Amos would probably have me arrested for trying to steal it.
I looked over the hood toward Babe, who was watching me with a wary eye. After whistling and calling her name for a minute with no reaction or movement from her, I walked over to her. I discovered the reason she wasn’t moving from her spot.
Amos Gardner was sprawled out on the merry-go-round, mouth and eyes open, staring up at the sky. It wouldn’t have done me any good to check for a pulse. There was absolutely no doubt in my mind that he was dead.
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