There wasn’t much crime in Lightning Bug Junction, which is one of the reasons why Jake’s misdeeds had sparked so much interest among the locals.
The low crime rate also meant that Sheriff Travis Nadeau was almost always available when a phone call came in about a problem in town. Especially if that call came from the bank.
Of course, even a call from the only lending institution in Lightning Bug Junction wasn’t enough to disrupt the Sheriff’s breakfast routine at Becky’s Country Kitchen. This was why the caller had waited until she figured he was done with his meal and morning chat before she dialed his number.
“Have a seat, Travis,” Paige pointed to the couch that sat across from her desk.
The Sheriff did as he was told. Having known Paige since childhood, he was used to her bossy ways and knew that his badge and gun did not outrank Paige’s authority in the overall scheme of things.
The office was nicely decorated and gave off a warm, cozy feel rather than any sort of cold, business vibe. There were several photos of Paige and her family on her desk, and the walls were adorned with awards and photos of Paige with smiling customers/neighbors/friends.
She finally looked up from her computer to give her guest her attention.
“I think it’s time we put our differences aside and help our friend,” she announced.
Travis smiled. “Now when you say ‘put our differences aside‘, do you mean I should forget that you broke my heart in high school and have treated me with indifference ever since?”
Paige raised an eyebrow. “Whatever translation works for you, Sheriff.”
Travis chuckled. “I’m long over you, Paige. I’ve even gotten past the fact that you pretended I didn’t exist for the entirety of our senior year. I just avoid you now because that seems what’s best for my sanity, and the overall well-being of this town we both love. Not to mention the two close friends we share like a divorced couple dealing with their kids.”
“Then I’m glad that’s settled because I need you to do something for me,” Paige announced like she hadn’t even really listened to what he had just said. “Even though she’s putting up a brave front, Becky is still a mess…”
“I just saw her at the diner, and she looked fine,” Travis contradicted her.
Paige shot him an icy glare that must have brought down the temperature in the office by at least ten degrees. He swallowed hard, and leaned back on the couch as if he hoped to put even more distance between himself and Paige.
“It’s not helping matters that the psycho scarecrow from Ephrem/Regis keeps popping in unannounced to harass her about Jake’s whereabouts,” Paige explained. “Polish up your badge, put your hat on nice and straight, and march down to his office and demand he cease and desist.”
Travis laughed. “You really think that guy is going to listen to me?”
“Quite honestly, no, I don’t,” she answered without hesitation. “I’d much rather send Michael in there to threaten him. I’m sure the Marines taught him a thing or two about being sinister and intimidating, but he doesn’t have a badge to hide behind and turn his threats into a firm request to abide by the law.”
“Badge or not, my polite request to leave a resident alone isn’t going to carry much weight,” Travis insisted. “A company that powerful thinks…no, it knows…it’s above the law. He’s just going to laugh at me and tell me to go fine someone for jaywalking.”
“Maybe if he’s bored, he’ll call in a half dozen lawyers, who all make more in a month than I do in an entire year, to explain that he’s well within the law to check in on the spouse of a former employee during her time of need. Then all seven of them will kick me out of their giant skyscraper and refuse to validate my parking.”
Paige rolled her eyes, pulled her purse out of her desk drawer, and extracted a ten dollar bill.
“This will cover your parking,” she announced. “Do you want me to throw in another ten so you can buy yourself some balls while you’re in the big city?”
Travis sighed and slowly rose from the couch.
“I’ll go talk to the creepy scarecrow in the fancy suit, but I’m doing it to help Becky, and not because you told me to do it,” he declared with his arms crossed defiantly over his chest.
“Whatever works, Sheriff,” she replied with a dismissive wave.
Before he could reply, she had already turned her attention back to her computer, so Travis put on his hat, and then marched out of the office in silence.
Becky shrugged and sipped her coffee.
The breakfast rush had ended, and she was taking a break before getting ready for lunch. Michael knew she would be free, so he had planned his visit accordingly.
“I’d be happy to go talk to that guy from Jake’s company,” he volunteered.
Becky smiled, and reached out to pat his hand.
“Thank you. That’s sweet, but I don’t want to give him any reason to add you to his hit list. Besides, I think Paige plans to make Travis have a chat with him.”
They both chuckled at that idea.
“I just don’t like the idea of your being alone in the house with someone like that dropping in unannounced whenever the mood hits,” he explained. “I could move in. Nothing permanent, of course. But maybe if he sees there’s someone else around, he’d be less likely to try his not so subtle attempts at intimidation.”
“Wouldn’t that give the town gossips something to chirp about?” Becky countered with a chuckle. “Just after they finally stopped talking about Jake, we can wind them right up again by having my old high school sweetheart shack up with me.”
Michael blushed and took a long sip of his coffee.
“I didn’t mean it like that,” he insisted. “Stop teasing me when I’m trying to help.”
Becky smiled sweetly, and then lifted the cover off the display that held the muffins. She pulled out a blueberry one, and placed it in front of him.
“Please accept my peace offering,” she said as she batted her eyelashes at him. “I know you’re just looking out for me, but I am serious about the negative effects such a move could have. This is a small town, and now that its had a taste of scandal, we can’t give it more to allow it to develop an addiction.”
“I just don’t like your being all alone in that big house,” he insisted as he broke off a piece of muffin and popped it into his mouth.
“Neither do I,” she agreed. “That’s why I’m finally going to run that ad to rent out the spare bedroom.”
Michael raised an eyebrow to that, but was too busy chewing his muffin to say anything.
Alex Foley had a very large office with an amazing view, but the first thing Travis noticed about it upon entering was that there was nothing on the walls, hardly any furniture, and the only thing on Foley’s modest desk was a blotter that was actually a huge calendar.
“Love what you’ve done with the place,” Travis quipped as he sat down in one of the two chairs that faced the desk.
“Thank you,” Foley replied with his dead, black eyes focused on his visitor’s every move. “I choose to keep things spartan to discourage visitors and prevent any distraction while I’m working.”
Travis looked around at all the emptiness. “How do you work when there’s no computer, or phone, or filing cabinets?”
Foley pulled on the sleeve of his extra long, extremely expensive suit jacket, and then flashed the kind of disturbing smile that was bound to haunt Travis’ nightmares for weeks.
“We both know you haven’t come all the way here to discuss my work habits, Sheriff Nadeau,” Foley said in his distracting British accent. “I assume you’re here to speak about Rebecca. Has there been a break in the case? I’m told the tip line has brought in numerous calls…”
Travis shot him a funny look, not expecting Foley to turn around the questioning on him.
“No, there hasn’t been a break in the case,” Travis huffed. “And speaking of that, I don’t understand why your tip line somehow leads to my office being flooded with phone calls. My Sheriff’s Department is not a subsidiary of Ephrem/Regis. At least not the last time I checked.”
Foley smiled. Again, the look was more disturbing than anything else.
“I’ve been meaning to address that, Sheriff,” Foley stated and produced an envelope from a drawer somewhere in his desk. “A thank you from Ephrem/Regis for your service during this trying time. We in no way meant to inconvenience you, but greatly appreciated the work you’ve done following up on all those phone calls.”
Foley slid the envelope across the desk, and nodded for Travis to open it.
With great great trepidation, Travis grabbed the envelope and opened it. The check contained within was not at all what he had expected.
“This is an insanely huge amount of money made out to me,” he said as his hands shook.
“Ephrem/Regis generously compensates all employees and independent contractors,” Foley explained as his dead, black eyes widened at the talk of money. “We find that happy employees don’t tend to embezzle money from the company.”
Travis dropped the check like it was burning his hands.
“I can’t accept that,” he announced, and then turned his head to look out the window as if merely looking at the check was somehow a sin.
“I don’t understand, Sheriff Nadeau,” Foley replied. “You’ve earned this. Like you said, you have been overwhelmed with calls from our tip line. It’s only fair that you be paid for your time.”
Travis shook his head vehemently. “That makes it look like I’m on your payroll, taking some sort of a bribe, and working with you to trip up Becky.”
Foley raised one of his scrawny arms to scratch his straw colored hair in confusion. “I don’t understand. Would you feel better if I had the check made out to the Sheriff’s Department or to the Town of Lightning Bug Junction?”
Travis surprised even himself by jumping up out of his chair. Once he was up, though, he just decided to go with it.
“I don’t want your dirty money. My town doesn’t need your dirty money. I came here today to tell you to keep away from Becky Riley. The next time you decide to trespass on her property and harass her about anything, I will arrest you. Do I make myself clear?”
Travis stared down defiantly at his host.
“Crystal clear, Sheriff,” Foley added with a slight nod of his oddly shaped scarecrow head.
“I’ll see myself out,” Travis told him as he walked across the big, open space to the door.
When he got to the door, he turned back to Foley. “For the record, Becky had nothing to do with your former employee’s crimes. You’re just wasting your time by pursuing that. She’s had a rough enough time as it is, so just leave her the hell alone.”
Travis exited and slammed the door behind him.
Foley extracted a cell phone from his jacket, and hit a number on the speed dial.
“I think we have a problem,” he announced to whoever was on the other end of the call.
TO BE CONTINUED…