Monday morning, and Charlie woke up feeling better than he had in a long time. He looked out of the bedroom window, as he did every morning, to check on the weather. It was grey; there were dark rain clouds building on the horizon, but these did nothing to dampen Charlie’s spirits. As a farmer, Charlie knew that weather was weather and there was nothing you could do about it, the farm’s life depended on it. Rain and shade were needed just as much as sunshine, and they had nothing to do with the mood you were in.
Lynn was at the kitchen table eating cereal when he came down. “Mornings” were exchanged as Charlie headed for the coffee.
“Dammit,” he said automatically as he dropped the spoon on the floor. Lynn giggled.
“What’s so funny?” he asked.
“Do you know what they call you around town?” Lynn asked. “Dammit Charlie,” and she giggled again.
“And how would you know that? I’ll bet Betty the Busy Body told you that.” Charlie’s voice strained as he bent to pick up the fallen spoon. Lynn gave a quick glance to check his reaction, but Charlie was smiling.
“We need to talk,” she said, putting down her phone.
“Oh oh,” said Charlie with a groan, coming back up slower than he’d gone down to retrieve the errant spoon.
Lynn giggled again. “You sounded just like Scooby Doo, and she imitated the cartoon dog, “Ro, ro.” Followed by another giggle and then, “I’ve fed Wilbur.” This time doing a fair imitation of Mr. Ed, the talking horse.
“I thought you didn’t know Mr. Ed. And when did you suddenly become a comedian?” The soothing rhythm of his morning routine was steadily being broken by Lynn’s light-hearted banter. Part of him was enjoying the change of pace while another part of him was resisting the change.
Thankfully, Lynn got straight to the point and in her normal voice although her words had a business-like tone to them. “You have been kind and generous in extending your hospitality to me, but I feel I’m intruding on your life. You’re used to living alone, with Wilbur of course, and I’m disturbing the regular rhythm of your life. I am grateful to you for getting me out of that motel and I’ve enjoyed getting to know you, but I don’t want to overstay my welcome and perhaps I should be moving on.”
Thump, Charlie sat down harder than he expected. He was shocked. He didn’t know what to say. Just when he was getting comfortable with Lynn in the house, she threw him a curve ball. His mind started whirling again.
Dammit, why do women…?
Ellie used to do that to him. Just when he got comfortable with the way things were she would have to change things; rearrange the furniture or make new curtains. One time, he had gone out of town for a couple of nights, to a farm show. When he’d got back, she’d rearranged all the kitchen cabinets. He couldn’t find a damn thing anymore, the coffee mugs had moved, he couldn’t find the spoons and it had taken him a good month to get over that.
As he was resurfacing out of his memories and formulating a reply to Lynn’s little speech, Wilbur started barking. He knew by the bark someone was coming and sure enough he heard a car, no two cars, pull up to the house. Looking through the screen door he could see, one was a slick, plain, black sedan with a tiny antenna on the roof that had ‘government’ written all over it and behind it was the local sheriff’s car. A youngish looking man in a dark suit got out of the black car and stood, just like Lynn had, hiding behind the door.
“What the hell?” said Charlie, going out onto the steps. The sheriff, Tom Watkins, got out of his car saying, “Morning Charlie, this here’s special agent Jacob Schultz of the F…B… I.” He said it emphasizing every letter as if were mocking both the man and the agency.
Wilbur was barking up a storm.
The fed shot a quick, warning glance at the sheriff and said to Charlie, “Sir, would you please call your dog off?”
He ain’t on…yet, Charlie wanted to say. To Wilbur he said sternly, “Wilbur, come. Sit.” And “Stay.” which Wilbur reluctantly did.
The agent approached the house. Wilbur growled. The agent stopped, Charlie said, “Easy now, lie down,” to Wilbur. When he did, the agent came up to the bottom of the steps and holding out his badge he repeated what the sheriff had said.
“I am special agent Jacob Schultz of the FBI. We’re looking for Ms. Linda Ashcroft.”
Charlie, born of a long line of country folk, didn’t much like government people. He’d met quite a few in his time; farming officials, animal people, the EPA, and many were officious little so-and-sos, full of themselves and the powers they thought that came with a shiny badge with an eagle on it. He looked over at Tom Watkins, whom he’d known all his life. Tom just smiled, hitched up his gun belt, and shrugged his shoulders.
The agent continued talking in his best Fed voice, “Sir, do you know Ms. Ashcroft?”
“That would be me,” said Lynn over Charlie’s shoulder. She was standing behind him, inside the open door.
“Ma’am, we would like to ask you a few questions. May I come in?” said the agent. Just then it started raining, big, heavy raindrops that were rapidly soaking the agent’s hair and the sheriff’s shirt.
“About what?” asked Lynn. She wasn’t giving an inch.
“Sir, ma’am it might be better if we talked inside. It’s really raining out here,” replied Mr. FBI.
“Okay then,” said Lynn. “Is that alright with you, Charlie?” Charlie said it was and they all traipsed inside. Wilbur found shelter close by, under Charlie’s truck. Charlie offered coffee which the agent declined with a shake of his wet head but the sheriff accepted and Charlie set about making a new pot of coffee. Agent Schultz then suggested that he and Lynn should speak in private. Lynn asked to see his badge again and examined it closely when he showed it to her.
“We can talk here in the kitchen,” she said. Schultz pulled himself up to his full height, which brought him just short of Lynn’s height, by about an inch and started to object. Lynn cut him off by saying, “I want a witness.”
Good for you, gal, thought Charlie.
Lynn and Schultz sat at the table while Charlie and Tom drank their coffees leaning against the counter, watching the show.
Schultz took out a notebook and began the interview. “We have reason to believe, Ms. Ashcroft that you were at the Sunset Inn, on Friday of last week.” Then he looked at Lynn, obviously waiting for an answer to the non-existent question.
In her job, Lynn had dealt with the FBI before. She did not like them any more than Charlie did. She did not trust them, certainly wasn’t intimidated by them, and especially not by this one who had all the markings of a bully. He was about her age and Lynn wasn’t about to succumb to his veiled authoritarian threats.
“Ma’am, were you at the Sunset Inn on the night in question?” The agent tried the hard approach.
“Yes, I was,” replied Lynn.
“And what was your reason for being there?” he asked.
“What’s this all about, agent Schultz?” asked Lynn with her best innocent expression on her face and she looked up at sheriff Watkins as if for an answer. Tom started to answer but Schultz quickly cut him off.
“Just answer the question, ma’am.”
Charlie chuckled remembering the famous line from an old TV show.
“I’m not answering anything until you tell me why you are interrogating me,” shot back Lynn.
“Ma’am, I’m interviewing you, this is not an interrogation.”
“Then tell me why you are interviewing me, Special Agent Schultz,” Lynn asked sweetly.
Momentarily stumped, the FBI man looked at Lynn, smiled a nasty smile then looked at Charlie and said, “I think I would like that coffee after all, sir.”
Charlie was about to say, “We’re out,” but when he looked at Lynn, she gave a slight nod of her head and Charlie gave the agent a mug of coffee.
After taking a sip and giving Charlie a nod of approval, Schultz closed his notebook, leaned back in his chair and said, “Last Saturday night, there was a double homicide at the Sunset Inn. Two people were shot.”
“What has that to do with me?” Lynn asked.
“We are interviewing,” Schultz stressed the word, interviewing, “all the guests who were at the motel over the weekend. Those guests have been helping us with our enquiries. We know, Ms. Ashcroft, that you were a guest at the Sunset Inn last Friday night. We also know that you suddenly checked out, cancelling the rest of your reservation, the next afternoon; Saturday.”
Charlie opened his mouth to speak. Lynn caught it and gave a little nod for Charlie to continue. He simply said, “That was my doing, Mr. Schultz.”
Schultz snapped around in his chair, looked at Charlie and said, “It’s Special Agent Schultz and I was not speaking to you, Mr. Stone.”
“I was only trying to assist you with your enquiries, Special Agent Schultz. Lynn here, Ms. Ashcroft, is a relative and when I found out where she was staying, I wanted to get her out of there as fast as possible. The place has a real bad reputation. It was me that made her leave. Hell, there’s a whole diner full of people who can back me up on this.”
“And that’s a fact,” added Tom Watkins, the sheriff. “Thanks to Betty, the whole town knows about it,” he added.
The Fed looked from Tom to Charlie and back to Lynn. “Is that what happened?” he asked her. She nodded, “Yes.” Then he asked, “Why were you there?”
“I was spending the night, Special Agent Schultz.” Lynn retorted fast as a whip.
“Because that’s what people do when they are traveling away from home. They spend the night in a hotel.” Lynn said simply.
Charlie was amazed at how easily Lynn was standing up to this FBI agent. Even he, innocent as he was, would have felt a bit intimidated and nervous being questioned by the FBI. He was nervous now for Lynn and also quite impressed.
Before Schultz could resume his questioning, Lynn continued, “Look, if you have done your homework properly, and I’m sure that you have, you will know who I am, where I live and what I do for a living. You have just learned that I am visiting my relative, Charlie Stone and you will find out that I have no connection to the homicides that occurred on the night following my departure from the Sunset Inn. And that, as far as I’m concerned, concludes this interview, Special Agent Schultz.”
“Very well,” said Schultz standing up. “I shall write in my report that you were uncooperative. Do not leave the country and we’ll be back in touch with you.” He nodded to the sheriff and headed for the door.
Sheriff Watkins said, “Sorry Charlie. Thanks for the coffee.” To Lynn he said, “Nice to meet you ma’am,” and followed Schultz out the door. It was still raining hard outside, and they both had to dash for their cars, under the ever-watchful eyes of Wilbur, still lying under Charlie’s truck.