Monthly Archives: April 2012

Death Makes the Front Page – Chapter 5

Armed with two plates of food, I walked into the police station around 9 p.m. after I got a text from T.J. telling me they were there. Becky, the new night dispatcher, waved at me as I went down the hall to Owen’s office. “Anyone hungry?” I said as I walked in.

T.J. took the plates from me, and handed one to Owen. “Thanks. I thought I was going to have to raid the vending machines down the hall.”

“I wouldn’t,” Owen replied. “The chips in there are about two years old.”

I waited a few minutes while they ate before asking any questions. “So, did you find out anything about our dead guy?”

Owen and T.J. looked at each other before Owen answered. “You know, sometimes you are scary.”

I looked at him, shocked. “What did I do? I just got here!”

“I’m talking about your instincts when it comes to sensing when things are wrong.”

I leaned forward. “So Coogan is dirty.”

“No.”

“Dale’s dirty.”

“No!”

“Well, don’t keep me in suspense, Owen! Tell me!”

“There is no record of an Oliver Coogan anywhere.”

“No driver’s license, no Social Security number, no criminal record?”

“Nope, nope, and nope.”

“Wow. Have you run his fingerprints yet?”

He shook his head. “I’m waiting on Doc to bring the body back so we can get a clean set of prints. He wanted to check for trace evidence under our dead man’s nails first.”

“Have to talked to Dale yet?”

“We went by his house and office before we came here, but he wasn’t at either place,” T.J. said. “Do you have any idea where he might be?”

“Me? Why would I know?”

“He’s your boss. Surely you know the places he might go to when he’s not working.”

“Your guess is as good as mine. Dale doesn’t share his personal life with any of us. Did you try his secretary?”

“Got the same answer from her that we got from you,” T.J. replied. “For a normally nosy person, you don’t know very much.”

“There are certain things that you do not ask him about, and his private life is strictly off-limits. He has made it perfectly clear that what he does outside of the office is none of our concern.”

“Like that’s ever stopped you before,” Owen snorted.

“Did you check the club?” I shot back. “Every other male in town hangs out there, why should Dale be any different?”

“Trixie said she hasn’t seen him out there in months,” Owen said.

“Maybe he went out of town.”

“For what?”

I shrugged. “He’s working on a story. Maybe he is chasing down a source.”

“Then I feel sorry for his source,” Owen said, “considering the last one is dead.”

“Maybe you can get your tech guy to trace his last call. Maybe they can tell you where he was calling from.”

“That’s a great idea,” T.J. said, “if we knew who he called last.”

“That would be me, as far as I know.”

Owen looked at me. “Why didn’t you say so?”

“You didn’t ask,” I said, handing T.J. the phone.

“Anything else you want to share with the class?” Owen said.

I bit my lower lip. Would Dale want everyone to know about his personal business? If he wasn’t at home or the office, where was he?

“Spill it, Lizzie,” T.J. said. “What do you know?”

“I talked to Mother about Dale. The person she told me about is not the same person that we know. Did you know that he used to be married?”

“Are you serious?” Owen said. “Someone actually married the Grump of Texas?”

“And he had a daughter.”

“Wait, you said ‘had’,” T.J. said. “She’s dead?”

“So is his wife. According to Mother, his wife and daughter were killed in an accident about thirty years ago.”

“Whoa,” Owen said.

“He was living back east when it happened. Mother said he quit his job and moved back home.”

“What does this have to do with our dead guy?”

“Probably nothing.”

T.J. looked at me. “You think it does.”

“I don’t know if it does or doesn’t. Dale told me to stay out of his business or he’d fire me. That tells me that something is going on, and he may be in over his head. Thirty years of depending on no one but yourself, he probably doesn’t know how to ask for help.”

“Considering his past, he probably won’t,” Owen pointed out.

A knock on the door interrupted us, and we turned to see Doc standing there, looking nervous. “What are you doing here?” Owen said.

“We have a problem,” Doc said. “I seem to have lost the body.”

“You what?!” Owen said. “How do you lose a body between the crime scene and your office?”

“I have no idea. I stopped at the convenience store to get something to drink, and…”

“You stopped? You left the body unattended so you could quench your thirst?”

“Well, I didn’t expect the man to climb out of the body bag, open the back door and run off. He was DEAD!”

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Death Makes the Front Page – Chapter 4

The minute I walked in the door, my mother was all over me like a pack of crazed women waiting for a sale to start at a department store. “Just what have you been up to today, Elizabeth?” I knew she was upset when she called me that. If she used my full name, I was toast. “I have been getting calls all day about the things that you have been doing around town. From what I have heard, you have been behaving rather scandalously. I don’t even want to talk about that phone call.”

Don’t you just love small towns, where gossip spreads faster than a rumor on social media? She caught me off guard, so I did the only thing I could think of: I denied everything. “I have no idea what you’re talking about, Mother. Owen mentioned you were making meatloaf for dinner. It smells great,” I said, hurrying toward the kitchen.

“Don’t try to change the subject,” she replied as she followed me. “And please put that dog on the back porch. I just vacuumed in here.”

I opened the back door and let Babe out. When I turned around, Mother was sitting at the kitchen table, staring at me. She had that look on her face that told I wasn’t getting dinner until I spill my guts. Sighing, I sat down across from her. “What exactly have you heard?”

“Let’s start with your assault on a total stranger in the park. Delia was the first one to call me. She said you laid him out flat on the ground!”

“Did she happen to mention the man punched Dale Gordon?”

“Well, no, she didn’t.”

“I knocked him down so he wouldn’t hit Dale again. I was defending another person, which you taught me to.”

“I did not teach you to do by using the man like a tackle dummy, Elizabeth.”

“You do it your way, I’ll do it my way. What’s next?”

“Gladys called to say you were behaving like a common tramp at the café.”

“T.J. was leaving, and he kissed me goodbye. Gladys is just an old prude.”

“You have a point there,” my mother conceded. “She was like that when we were in high school.”

“I’m surprised she ever managed to get married. I wonder how she tricked her husband into that.”

Mother shifted in her chair. “We are not discussing Gladys right now, we are talking about you. Now explain to me why I got a call from Thelma, informing me that you have found another body.”

“I didn’t. Babe did.”

“Semantics, Elizabeth. Babe was with you at the time.”

“There isn’t much to tell. Body behind a tree, knife in the back, blood everywhere.”

“Spare me the gory details,” Mother said, holding up her hand.

“Are you satisfied I have not been besmirching the family name now?”

Mother got up to check the meatloaf. “I knew you didn’t, Elizabeth. I raised you better than that.” I bit back a retort. “How is your new job working out?”

“I’m pretty sure I’m not going to win a Pulitzer Prize with articles about the local garden club.”

“As long as you like the work, that’s the most important thing.”

“I’d rather be home, working on my novel, but it’s nice to have a little extra money in the bank. May I ask you a question?”

“Of course, dear.”

I chewed on my lip for a second. “How long have you known Dale?”

“Oh goodness, let me think. He moved here when I was in the third grade. He was a year ahead of me in school. Why do you ask?”

“Do you think he would ever be involved in anything underhanded?”

She looked at me, puzzled. “I’m not sure I understand what you’re asking, Lizzie.”

“Before I tackled the guy in the park, he and Dale were having a very intense argument. Maddie at the café said they had breakfast there this morning, and Dale had his reporter’s pad out, writing things down. She doesn’t know what they were talking about, but it sounds like he is working on some big story.”

“Well, he is the editor of the newspaper, Lizzie, he does write stories once in a while.”

I sighed. “I know that, Mother, but I just get the feeling that Dale is in over his head.”

“But you don’t have any concrete proof.”

I shook my head. “It was just watching the two of them together. I…can’t explain it.”

“Your gut instinct?” I nodded. “Your instincts have always been pretty accurate, Lizzie. If you think something is going on, there’s a good chance you’re right. Dale wasn’t always the grumpy person he is now. We even dated for a while in high school. He was a real sweetheart back then.”

“Are we talking about the same person? Dale Gordon? The biggest pain in the…”

“Set the table,” Mother interrupted. As I did what she asked, she continued. “Yes, the very same person. He was valedictorian of his senior class, extremely intelligent. He got a scholarship to Northwestern University in Illinois. After college graduation, he worked for a big newspaper up there, and was even nominated for a Pulitzer.”

“You’re kidding!”

“I never kid. He married some high society woman. I don’t remember who she was – I never met her – and they had a daughter.”

“Dale’s married?”

“Was married,” Mother corrected. “He lost his wife and daughter in a tragic accident thirty years ago. He quit his job and came back here.”

“Wow, I had no idea. Dale never talks about his personal life. He’s too busy growling and barking orders at everyone.”

“His life is that newspaper. I’ve tried to invite him to dinner and social gatherings, but he always turns me down. It’s like his life ended when his family died, and he doesn’t have any interest in being happy.”

Something told me there was more to the story than Dale had told people. But little did I know that those events from thirty years ago would have an impact on what was to come.

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Death Makes the Front Page – Chapter 3

Thirty minutes later, the place was crawling with police. Owen had called in the troops to help secure the crime scene, and the M.E. was bent over the body, taking pictures. “Did you touch him anywhere?” he asked me.

“Just his wrist to check for a pulse.”

He grunted at he started wrapping Oliver’s hands in paper bags. Lizzie turned and walked toward her car as Owen finished a call on his phone. “How did you just happen to find the body?”

“I didn’t, Babe did.”

“What were you doing over here?

“Babe hasn’t gotten used to Amos being gone, so I bring her over here once in a while to let her walk around. She took off for the woods when we got here. I figured she probably had a stash of bones buried back there. But it wasn’t a bone she brought to me. It was Oliver’s cap.”

“How did you know it was his hat?”

“Because he had it on when we were at the park.”

“Doc says that’s a butcher knife in his back. Do you own one?”

“Doesn’t everyone?”

“I’m not worried about everyone else, just you.”

“Are you accusing me of killing Oliver Coogan?” I said incredulously.

“Did you?”

“No! Go to my house and look at my butcher block. I’m sure you will find my knife right where it is supposed to be.”

“Oh, don’t worry, someone is already on their way there to check.”

“I cannot believe you actually think I killed him,” I fumed.

“The first person on the scene is usually the murderer, Lizzie.”

“Well, you didn’t believe I killed Amos, and I was the one who found him.”

“One body I can excuse. Two…well, you’re either incredibly unlucky, or you’re turning into a cold-blooded killer like your aunt.”

I pulled out my phone and dialed a number. “Mother? Would you please call your lawyer and have him meet me at the police station? I think I’m about to be arrested, and if I’m not, I plan to sue Owen Moore and the city for slander.” I listened for a minute, and then held out the phone. “She wants to talk to you.”

Owen took the phone. “Good evening, Mrs. Crenshaw. How are you…well ma’am, she found another body, and she did have a very public altercation with the victim this morning. Yes ma’am, I know that but…yes ma’am, I remember that, but you have to understand…no ma’am, I would never do that. Yes ma’am, I’ll do that right now.” He handed me the phone. “I’m sorry, Lizzie, I’m just trying to do my job. She says to get over there as soon as you can. There’s meatloaf for dinner.” He started to walk off, but turned back. “For the record, I know you didn’t do it. The handle of your butcher knife is black. The one in Coogan’s back is silver.”

“How do you know?”

“Remember last month when we came over to your house for dinner? You asked me to cut up some celery and carrots. I used the butcher knife, and I remember it had a black handle.”

“Then why did you ask me?”

“Because if I didn’t ask, it would appear that I was showing favoritism. The officer I sent to your house will take a picture of your butcher block to verify it isn’t your knife, all nice and legal. Please tell your mother that when you see her. I’m going to need you to come to the station later this evening, preferably without the lawyer, to give your statement.”

“I’ll bring you some meatloaf.” He smiled and walked off. I turned and literally ran right into T.J., who wrapped his arms around me to keep me from falling backwards. “How long have you been standing there?”

“I came in when Owen was obviously being chewed out by your mother,” T.J. chuckled. “Sorry we have to cancel our dinner plans.”

“I understand. Work comes first.”

“Yes, but not because I want it to,” he said, touching his forehead to mine. “I’d rather spend the evening with you than a dead body.”

“Well, that’s good to know.”

“T.J.!” Owen called.

“You better go. Mr. Crankypants is calling.”

He gave me a kiss on the cheek. “I’ll call you when I’m done, if it’s not too late.” He jogged over to join Owen near the body.

My phone rang as I got into the car, and I frowned when I saw the number. Dale. I thought about ignoring him for now, but I really didn’t want to get yelled at by him again. Sighing, I hit the talk button. “Hi, Dale. How’s it going?”

“What’s this I hear that you’ve found another body? Did you get pictures and interviews?”

“You want me to interview the dead body? What am I supposed to ask him? ‘Excuse me, sir, but could you tell me who stabbed you in the back?’”

“Don’t be a smart aleck, Crenshaw. Did you interview that bumbling sheriff?”

“If you are referring to Owen, no, I didn’t. I was too busy answering his questions.”

“Do they have an I.D. on the body yet?

I hesitated for two reasons: one, because I didn’t know if Owen wanted that information released yet, and two, because I really didn’t want to be the one to tell Dale that his ‘business associate’ was dead. A weird thought struck me. What if Dale killed him?

“Crenshaw!” Dale yelled. “Do they know who the dead man is it?”

“No,” I lied. I’m a coward. So, shoot me.

“Hang around there and see what you can find out. I want a story on my desk by 9 p.m.”

“There’s nothing to tell, Dale. You could write up what we know in about two minutes. ‘A body was found in the woods behind the burned down Gardner house. Police are not releasing any information at this time, including the identity of the victim.’ You know Doc isn’t going to give Owen any information until after he does an autopsy.”

“Stupid sheriff. I’d like to sue him for interfering with the performance of my duties,” Dale grumbled.

“Give them time to investigate. I can go to the police station in the morning, ask some questions, and write a story for the next edition.”

“Guess that will have to do,” he conceded.

“One thing before you go.”

“What? I’m busy over here, Crenshaw.”

“That man at the park this morning, is he working on a story with you?”

“What business is that of yours?”

“I was just curious about what kind of story you are working on, that’s all. It must be pretty big to get the boss to write it.”

“It’s none of your business, so stop asking. You’ve got enough to do without poking your nose into my business.”

“It was just a…”

“And let me tell you something else, Crenshaw,” he interrupted. “If I catch you nosing around my business again, I will fire you. No questions asked.” He hung up.

Well, well, well. What exactly is Dale trying to hide? And was it worth my job to find out?

Of course it was.

Because I’m nosy.

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Death Makes the Front Page – Chapter 2

I met T.J. Reynolds for lunch at the Eat It or Starve Café. While we hadn’t officially said we were an exclusive item, everyone in town knew how many dates we had been on. After our tenth one, the gossip queens declared us a couple. Even my mother seemed to agree with this assessment. I had a feeling she was hoarding a pile of bridal magazines in a closet at home.

“What are you thinking so hard?” T.J. said.

I felt my face turn red. There was no way I was going to tell him about the gossip or my fears that my mother was picking out wedding gowns with big butt bows. “I had a weird run in with Dale Gordon.”

He looked at me for a moment, one eyebrow slightly arched. “Uh huh,” he replied. I had a feeling he knew exactly what I had been thinking about, but it was evident he was going to let it go for now. “Tell me about it.”

I told him what I had seen and heard. “I think there was more going on than either one of them are going to admit.”

“Did you actually tackle the guy?” I nodded. “Where did you learn to do that?”

“I was a tomboy growing up. I played a lot of football, and the guys I played with didn’t like flag football.

“She’s right,” Sheriff Owen Moore said as he sat down at our table. “I don’t remember hearing her complain about all the tackles the boys made on her.”

T.J. held up his hand. “I get the picture.”

“From what I have heard in the last hour, you still like to tackle first and ask questions later,” Owen laughed.

I looked startled. “Has Mr. Coogan filed charges?”

“No, he hasn’t. I have received calls from half the owners in the town square, mostly about your mostly unladylike behavior.”

I groaned. “Which means they have already called my mother and told her.”

“Most likely.”

“You said it was a weird run-in, Lizzie. What makes you say that?” T.J. asked.

Taking a bite of my cheeseburger, I thought about it. “I’m not sure. Maybe the guy is a source.”

“Has Dale been working on a story?” Owen said, snatching a fry from my plate.

“Not that I’m aware of, but it’s possible. Since I’ve been there, all I’ve ever seen him do is boss everyone around. He has a computer in his office, but I get the impression he doesn’t know how to use it, because he is always asking the rest of us to look things up for him.”

“I know for a fact that Dale had breakfast with that guy this morning,” Maddie, the owner of the café, said as she brought Owen his own burger and fries. “Back there in the corner booth. Upset poor old Homer Green because they were sitting in his regular booth.”

“Did you hear what they were talking about?” T.J. said.

She shook her head. “Every time I got close, they shut up. But I did notice Dale was taking a lot of notes in one of those pads he always carries around.”

“So the guy is a source. Makes me wonder what he’s working on.”

“Why don’t you just go into his office and ask him?” Owen replied, squirting ketchup all over his fries.

“Because he already told me that what he was doing was none of my business.”

“I don’t know if he is working on a story or not,” Maddie said, “but they were having one very intense conversation.”

“I think this new job of yours has sent your imagination into overdrive,” T.J. said. “Why don’t you just let it go? Dale already told you to butt out.”

“Why don’t you go ask him some questions?” I countered. “The guy did assault Dale.”

“Dale didn’t press charges,” Owen said, “and you assaulted Mr. Coogan. You’re lucky he didn’t file charges against you.”

“But I was defending Dale!”

“It doesn’t matter. The guy attacked Dale, not you. Unless he wants to press charges against Mr. Coogan, if that is his real name, there is nothing I can do.”

“You could run a background check on him.”

“Why?”

“To make sure Dale isn’t hooked up with some shady character.”

T.J. shook his head. “You’ve been watching ‘The Sopranos’ again, haven’t you?”

“I have not!” I said, a little too loudly. People turned and stared at us. “Just check him out, please.”

“Not my call. You’ll have to talk to the boss,” T.J. replied. He picked up the check and stood up. “I suggest you leave Dale alone for the rest of the day. Knowing him, he’s probably not too happy that you interrupted his meeting.” Leaning over, he gave me a kiss. “You’re still coming over tonight, right?”

“I’ll be there around six,” I assured him.

“Bring dessert,” he said as he left.

“I think it’s just shameful the way young people carry on in public these days,” Gladys said from the center table. “Obviously, there is something lacking in their upbringing.”

I rolled my eyes as Maddie brought Owen’s check. “You’re just jealous, Gladys, because Lizzie is getting more action in public than you are in private,” she said.

Gladys sputtered as everyone in the café laughed. “There are certain things a lady never discusses in public,” she replied.

“I don’t see why not, Gladys,” her husband replied, “you talk about everything else in public.”

“That is quite enough,” she said, cutting him off. “I would appreciate it if you wouldn’t carry on in front of me, Lizzie.”

“Fine,” I said. “Turn around next time.”

Gladys’ eyes widened. Grabbing her purse, she stomped out of the café to the sounds of more laughter. Her husband trailed behind, laughing and shaking his head. “Stuck up old cow,” I muttered as she left.

“So, did Dale at least say thank you after you used Coogan as a tackling dummy?” Owen asked.

“I didn’t use him as a tackling dummy, and this is Dale we’re talking about here. What do you think he said?”

Owen laughed. “Forget I asked.” He took a bite of his burger. “Have you heard from your aunt?”

“Why on earth do you keep asking me about her? She’s dead.”

“No official proof yet. I was just curious.”

I gathered my things and stood up. “Is there anything else you want to talk about? I’ve got some work to do, and a dog to take for a walk.”

“A bit touchy, aren’t you?”

“She tried to kill me, remember? I hardly think she’s going to give me fair warning if she was planning to try again. But this is all a moot point, isn’t it?”

“We’re not sure if we have her body or not,” Owen reminded me.”

“It’s been three months. No one could have survived that crash.”

Owen shrugged. “Perhaps you’re right. One more question: since when do you care so much about Dale Gordon?”

“Since he started signing my paychecks three months ago. That’s my only source of income at the moment, since Amos’ estate is tied up in probate.”

“I’ll check out Coogan, but I think it’s a waste of time.”

As I left, I hoped Owen was right. But I couldn’t ignore that nagging feeling that Dale was in serious trouble.

I spent the afternoon working on two new stories for next week’s edition, and then wrote two chapters on my novel. Looking up from the computer, I realized it was almost five p.m. I saved my work, shut off the computer, and grabbed Babe’s leash. For some reason, the old bloodhound preferred to walk around her old neighborhood, even though Amos was dead, and Earline was in jail.

Pulling up in front of the burnt out house, I let babe out, and she ran off toward the woods before I could clip on her leash. I decided there was no harm in letting her run, so I pulled out the little notebook I always carried and started plotting the next chapter of my novel.

I was so engrossed in my writing, I nearly slid off the hood of my car when Babe started baying. She came running back and sat down in front of me. It was what she had in her mouth that made my eyes widen in surprise. When I tried to take the blue ball cap from her mouth, Babe ran off toward the woods again, with me in hot pursuit.

I found her sitting in front of a large oak tree, the cap still in her mouth. Chills ran up and down my spine when I looked down at the base of the tree.

It was Oliver Coogan, lying on his stomach, a knife sticking out of his back. I bent over and checked for a pulse. Nothing.

Oh boy.

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