THE DEVIL IN MARYVALE, Jackie Griffeyís new book, is now out. It is the first of a cozy mystery series set in fictional Pine County, Tenessee.
This series incorporates the gifted with the population of Maryvale and Pine county. The first of them in THE DEVIL IN MARYVALE is a psychic; the second in the series introduces a medium who conducts a seance; and the third will introduce a healer, all of them very much part of the Maryvale scenes and surprises.
Two of Sheriff Cas Larkinís men traveled down highway 220. Young Deputy Freeman drove, his eyes on the road and the underbrush that lined it.
"Weíll have to cut through the woods and cross that narrow stream of water to get at the back. Iím glad Iíve got my boots on."
Deputies Freeman and Raines were going around to the rear entrance of a barbecue restaurant called the Roadhouse. They were backing up Sheriff Cas Larkin on a call involving a hostage situation. The place and most of the underbrush around it had been there since Hector was a pup and the Roadhouse property backed up to a small branch of the river. There was no way to get through the wild and thorny growth on the old fence, leaving them no choice but to go around. Both Freeman and Raines accepted local conditions as the price you had to pay for living in a small southern town in Pine County. Senior Deputy Raines nodded as he warily eyed the side of the road.
"Itís pretty overgrown here. But itís cleared a little farther on and a couple of picnic tables put back by the tree line. You can pull off there." He smiled at his young partner. "Weíre probably in more danger from ticks drinking us dry than drowning," he teased Doug.
Deputy Freeman spotted the picnic tables and pulled the car onto the shoulder far enough to clear the road. He was as leery as his boss about dust or mud on his car and looked encouraged as he and Raines got out.
"This is better than I was expecting. Hope our luck holds and the water isnít very deep." He held up one hand with his fingers crossed. Doug Freeman was the youngest of the Pine County deputies and the most optimistic, on the near side of 25.
"Shouldnít be." Raines spoke as he walked, his long legs covering the ground quickly. "Itís not like we had any choice about it. The growth at the Roadhouse is so thick youíd never get in that way. Itíd be worth your uniform to bully your way through it, not to mention what all that holly and wild roses would do to your hide. Makes the water sound downright good and Iím permanent press from the skin out."
"Thatís okay," Doug chuckled. "I am too. My wifeís as practical as the county about anything that has to be ironed or dry cleaned. You can owe me one."
They walked single file on a path fishermen had worn in the weeds. Raines was the oldest of the deputies and retiring soon. With his head turned to admire the scenery and part of his mind on his retirement plans Raines bumped into his young partner.
"Hey! Whatís the idea? You didnít signal you were going to stop, you traffic hazard, you!" Raines chuckled good-naturedly.
Deputy Douglas Freeman stood still. His eyes stared ahead and to the right of the path. Raines followed his line of vision as Doug raised his arm and pointed with a not too steady finger.
"Over there," Doug managed to get out. "The other side of the path. Thereís something behind that tree."
Back at the Roadhouse Sheriff Cas Larkin questioned the manager of the restaurant. "You called this in? About some troublemakers?"
"Yes, sir. I made it to the outside phone there and called you. Never thought Iíd be so glad to see one of your cars pull in here." Heavyset, wiping perspiration from his brow with his apron, he looked miserable enough to be telling the truth.
"How many of them are there?"
"Four of them came in together. Two of them left when they saw the sign that said they couldnít get beer on the weekend. Then of the two that are still here, one of them was too far gone for anything that happened to make any difference to him and the other one must have been watching too much television. Turns out he had a gun and heís holding four of the other customers hostage until he gets a beer. He thinks heís a big guy and itís a big joke to him. But heís drunk and heís waving a gun around." His worried eyes pleaded for help. "He could hurt somebody."
It was a personal sacrifice for the Roadhouse owner and manager to call for help. This must have looked dead serious to have him this worried. He tried hard to keep anyone from calling about trouble out here so he could put up a good front and keep the churches off his back. They leaned on him a little to get him to quit selling beer on weekends.
Cas said, "Yeah, you were right to call." The Roadhouse was in a building so old Cas couldnít remember when it was built or what for. And every change of hands seemed to make a difference only on the inside, not the grounds around it. "You said itís a hostage situation in there?" The manager nodded. His hands twisted his apron, his eyes going to the closed door. "Is there only one of them in there with the hostages? The one you said has a gun?"
"Yes, Sheriff Larkin. I mean, thereís one of his beer buddies in there with him. But I donít think he knows whatís going on if you know what I mean."
Cas pinned him down. "Drunk?"
"Yeah, out of it. And he was that way before he got here. I didnít give them, any of them, anything to drink. Not getting any beer was what set them off."
Cas nodded. "Do you know for sure how many people heís holding?"
"Four. Two men who came in alone and a nice elderly couple. I feel bad about that. The old folks come here for the barbecue. Iíd hate to see them get hurt. Having a gun waved at them is scary enough without being held hostage. I feel bad about it."
He looked down at his scuffed up shoes as if he meant it. Cas raised the manager a notch in his estimation for his concern. He waved him back and warily approached the closed door. Standing to one side, Cas drew his gun. With his other hand he knocked with loud authority on the battered door of the restaurant.
"This is Sheriff Cas Larkin," he called, in his no-nonsense voice. "Open this door and let those people come out. Now!"
The answer was a shot which lodged in the wooden door at the bottom and a derisive guffaw. Cas also heard a scream that was quickly cut off. Inside, the husband of the woman held his wife in his arms, her white head cradled on his chest.
"Itíll be all right, Annie; itíll be all right," he told her softly.
The gun swiveled around to cover the two of them. "Thatís right, itíll be all right. You just keep your mouth shut so they wonít think theyíve got to come charginí in here shootiní or nothiní, you hear?"
The woman made a moaning sound and her husband nodded.
"Why donít you just let them out?" One of the hostages said. "Youíll still have two to bargain with." The speaker was in his mid twenties and the other hostage about his age nodded.
"Youíre so smart maybe I should just hand you this gun and see if you can get us some beer," the abductor sneered. He looked at the bar as if he hated it. "Might know the stingy crud would have all his stock locked up in the back room and the taps shut off. All of you just keep your mouths shut, you hear?"
Both the young men were wearing khaki work clothes and had come in alone. The one who had made the suggestion gave a shrug, glancing at the other one. Both appeared to be cooperative waiting out this crisis. They looked away from the gunman, not wanting to set him off again. The hand with the gun in it looked pretty shaky. He went a little closer to the door and shouted again.
"You want these people out there Iíll swap them for beer. And since Iím holdiní all the aces, I want a six pack for these four citizens, you hear me?"
Cas held his gun steady, his eyes raking the scene to make sure no one was close to the door before he spoke again. "Yeah. I hear you and I know you can hear me. What do you think the odds are on you getting that beer?"
"Not too freakiní great from what I hear about you, but whatís the big deal?"
The beer and the stress were beginning to tell on the self styled bandit. He began to whine. Sobering up a little he realized heíd caused himself worse trouble than heíd bargained for. The game wasnít funny any more. The two men in khaki were afraid of what he might do accidentally as his condition degenerated. He was still waving the gun around. As they braced to duck bullets any minute, he faced the door.
"If I let these people come out, whatís going to happen to me?"
The answer was immediate. "The same thing that happens to any disorderly drunk that threatens peopleís lives and takes hostages." Cas glanced at the Roadhouse manager who was as familiar with all the drunk stages as he was. "There are a few other things I could charge you with, too. But those are the main ones. Youíd be doing yourself a favor to get those people out of there." The Roadhouse manager nodded hopefully, his face crumpled up with worry. "Maybe they wonít want to come out now. Maybe theyíll want to sue you. Youíd be better off in jail! Youíd better give your situation some serious thought."
"Aw, gee!" He wailed. "I donít know how we got to this. All any of us wanted was a little beer to wash down our barbecue."
"All I know is those people are still in there. Thereís no progress being made as far as I can see, and youíre getting in deeper trouble all the time."
"Supposiní I was to let them come out. How long would I have to stay in jail assuming youíre going to put me there soon as you get a chance?"
"You assume right." The answer was chiseled in stone. Cas remembered the scream that was so suddenly cut off. "Are any of them hurt?"
"No! I never hurt nobody, never meant to hurt nobody! Theyíll tell you that themselves."
"In that case, Iíll charge you with drunk and disorderly and let you out in 24 hours. First, open the door and scoot that gun out with your foot. Then let those people come out. Then you stand in front of the door with your hands where I can see them. Your brain too pickled to understand all that?"
"Yes, sir. I mean, no, sir. I understand. Iíll do that."
Thirst and desperation were working on his manners. A few seconds later the door opened a few inches and a small hand gun was put gently on the asphalt outside the door, the hand quickly withdrawn. Cas eyed the weapon.
"Little .22 pistol," he told the manager. "Probably got it at some knife and gun show."
Rhodes looked it over. The manager raised his eyes and held his breath, watching as the door opened wider. They heard footsteps inside. He, Cas, and Rhodes looked at them as the hostages filed out. They seemed to be all right. Cas noted there were four of them. An elderly man and woman were followed by two men who were wearing khaki work clothes. There was the trace of tears on the womanís cheeks. None of them looked happy, but they were all right.
Rhodes moved to stand beside Cas his eyes on the door; waiting for the troublemaker. As soon as the hostages cleared the door the Roadhouse manager hurried to meet them, talking fast. He promised all of them vouchers for complimentary meals and apologized for the unpleasantness.
"Iím so sorry," the manager said, his voice like background music while Cas watched the door.
Now he could see the would-be bandit standing just inside. He had both hands over his head, a worried look beneath the five oíclock shadow on his face. He stood still, waiting for whatever Fate and Cas had in store for him. The expression on his face showed he knew it wouldnít be good, but he stood there silently, his hands over his head. Cas and Rhodes could see the feet of his friend who was lying on the floor beyond him as they went in to handcuff the hostage taker.
"You drive a hard bargain, Sheriff Larkin." The hostage taker found his voice again. "All I wanted was a couple of beers for me and my friend here."
He put on a pitiful face at the injustice of it all. Self pity oozed from every pore.
"Um-hum, your buddy there sure seems to be in need of another beer."
With his foot, Cas nudged the man lying on the floor. He slept on, blissfully unaware of any problems at all. He looked as comfortable as a hound dog under a porch. Cas almost grinned at the open mouth and comical expression. Rhodes touched the vertical drunkís shoulder.
"Turn around and put your hands behind you."
"Before you do that, help your buddy up. Heís going with you."
Cas jerked his head toward the docile dreamer. The hostage taker got his friend up with a little help from Rhodes. His buddy roused as they worked to get him on his feet. Half awake, he slumped against the wall .He stared groggily around, his attention caught by his friend, who was complaining again.
Then the back door opened and Deputy Freeman came in, sizing up the situation. Cas motioned to him. He went to help Rhodes get the drunks cuffed and out to the car. As he passed him, Cas noted his soaked uniform and the strange expression on his face.
"Whereís Raines, Doug? One was enough to cover the back door. Did he stay to drive the car back?"
"I wish that was it," Doug said, with feeling. "Now that these guys are in the car Iíll go back and get our car and take you over. Raines didnít have any choice about staying there. Iíll hurry."
"No need," Cas cut him off. He remembered thinking how calamities come in threes and it did seem his own cases came in bunches like bananas most of the time. Dread tensed the muscles in the back of his neck as he spoke. "We can go around in this car. It wonít hurt these two to wait a little longer to sleep off their beer." Cas eyed the wet uniform again. "Looks like the water was a little deeper than I thought."
"Yes, sir." Deputy Freeman managed a weak smile. "Weíve been discussing the advantages of wash and wear."
"Tell me, what is it thatís keeping Raines back there?"
Rhodes had come to stand beside Cas, their attention on the young deputy. "We found a body, sir. A teenager." He added sadly, "Itís a young girl."