“Yes Sheriff Brown is in Mabel, but you can understand he is a bit indisposed at the moment… Of course I will tell him of your concerns…Sanford’s fine... you know my son, already at the fair... no problem sweetheart… I’ll be coming in for a bowl of that lovely tomato soup soon, love those floating croutons! Bye honey.”
The bouffant blond typed rapidly as she answered into her headset, her voice calm and soothing despite the multiple blinking hold lights flashing menacingly at her.
“How you doing Jen? Sure you don’t need some help with those phones?” Sheriff Brown laid down a fresh cup of coffee next to Jen’s computer, watching as the southern belle’s fingers flew across her keyboard.
Jen smiled up at Brown, placing her hand delicately over the mouthpiece. “This ain’t nothing but a little town gossip Sheriff, and I excel at gossip.” She winked a heavily painted eye at him and cheerily answered the next line “Sheriff’s office, how may I assist you? Shelly Carter, how are you love?”
Brown returned her smile and made his way back to his office; stopping just outside his door to look back at a defeated looking deputy in the corner. “Make sure Jen is comfortable James, it’s the least you can do.”
James slowly wagged his head and moved his chair closer to Jen’s desk.
The Sheriff removed his gun belt and sat down in his worn leather chair, massaging his temple as the ring of each new phone call echoed through the office.
“Sheriff, Mayor Huckabee is on the line.” The Deputy stood in the doorway, unable to make eye contact with Brown.
“Tell Jen to pass him through James.”
James nodded his head, but remained in the doorway.
“Sheriff, I honestly did not know news traveled this fast, I would never have…”
Brown raised a palm to stop James midway through his explanation. “Chickens cluck rapidly when they think there is a fox in the hen house, best not to get them going. Now have Jen pass over the Mayor.”
“Yes sir.” James lowered his head.
“Oh and James?”
“Yes sir?” The deputy turned back eagerly.
“Close the door behind you.”
“Yes Sheriff.” James winced as he shut the door silently behind him.
The Sheriff took a deep breath in anticipation and answered the sole lit line on his phone.
“Herman Huckabee, I’m anticipating you are not calling for my wife’s peach pie recipe, she hasn’t even laid yours out yet.”
“This is no time to be forgetting formalities Sheriff, you’re a smart one, you know why I rang.” The gruff voice grumbled.
“Still have to remind myself that you’re the Mayor, keep wanting to call you Herman the Hulk like we did when we were young. Remember that time you nearly took the head off that receiver, picked that boy up like he was nothing but a…”
“Do we have a killer on our hands Ted?” The Mayor’s calm use of his first label stopped Brown mid thought, his pause drawn out longer as he searched for the proper words.
“I don’t know what it is yet Herman.”
“How the hell is everyone chattering about something the town’s own Sheriff can’t explain? I got people leaving Mabel’s calling me in a panic. They’re saying you found a bag of body parts out on old Veteran Bridge.”
“The new deputy was a bit worked up when he ran into old lady Byrd at the Gas and Go, she got to asking him questions and he was just trying to be polite.”
“So it’s true then?” Huckabee didn’t try to hide his gasp.
“It is a bag of organs Herman, but it’s a bit premature to be calling it a serial killer. I got the Medical Examiner working on it as we speak.”
“When will you know then? Do you have any idea how fast this information will spread with everyone in town? It’ll be the only thing people will talk about at the Mayfair, it won’t be long before I have the next counties over asking me if Holtville’s serial Killer should have them concerned too, what am I supposed to tell them?” Herman failed to take a breath as he shot out question after question.
“As soon as Hector calls me with anything I’ll make it a point to call you first. You can’t stop the flow of talk in a small town Mayor, just take a deep breath and try not to get sucked under.”
Mayor Huckabee snorted on the line. “You call me with any news, I’ll leave my cell phone on so you can reach me direct, I’ll assume you’ll do the same. And put a muzzle on that Deputy of yours, I don’t need any more trouble than I’m expecting, especially from a loose lipped hen posing as a rooster.”
Brown dug his teeth into his lip to keep from laughing out loud. “I’ll call you soon as I know Mayor.”
“Oh and Ted.”
“My crumble top boysenberry is going to hand Etta her first second place ribbon, I suggest you wrap this up so you can be there to comfort your wife.”
The dial tone left Brown without an option to answer. He muddled over the morning’s events, contemplating his next move. The towns murder rate read lower than the Sheriff’s staff numbers, but Ted Brown came from a long line of badge wearing brethren, and though out of practice, he knew his next move before he realized it.
“Deputy James!” Brown hollered to penetrate through the thick oak door, but as James tumbled in the room Brown thought perhaps there was no need. “Were we listening at my door Deputy?”
“No Sheriff, I was already on my way in here.” James stammered unconvincingly.
“For what reason?” The Sheriff feigned ignorance as he maintained eye contact with the Deputy.
“To tell you your wife is on the phone sir.”
Brown broke eye contact to glance up at his clock. “Deputy make some calls to the neighboring sheriffs and see if they got any missing people in their towns and then go see if Meredith needs any help processing those photos.”
“Are you leaving Sheriff?”
Brown put on his coat and hastily grabbed his gun belt. “Aye, I’m going to go drive my wife to the fair so I save our town another murder today.”