Chapter 26

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When Barlow and Caroline arrived at the hospital, they had to wait in line outside Pet's room. In front of them were two uniformed state police troopers who eyed the two of them.

Barlow introduced himself and Caroline. "Petronia and I grew up together. We're good friends."

The troopers identified themselves and shook hands. They were Lieutenant Martin Jardine and Trooper Morg Johansson. Both men wore squared away uniforms, crisp ironed trousers, perfectly knotted ties, and highly polished shoes. Jardine said, "We work with Petronia and respect the hell out of her. She's an ace trooper."

Since the man was a lieutenant, Barlow figured he was her boss. "Can you tell me what happened? The news report lacked details."

"It's one of the reasons we're here," Jardine said. "We need to talk with her about the accident."

"I hope she's okay," Caroline interjected.

Trooper Johansson fingered the brim of his hat. "We spoke with her doctor a few minutes ago. She's banged up pretty bad but nothing life threatening."

Barlow sighed in relief. The knot in his stomach eased.

The room door opened and a nurse and Pet's mother exited. She nodded to the two troopers. "She's ready to talk with you now."

The lieutenant snapped to attention. "Thank you, ma'am." He turned to Barlow. "It will be a while until we're done interviewing her. You might want to get coffee."

He acknowledged the lieutenant with a nod. "Mrs. Henning, do you remember me?"

She regarded him. "Barlow Jackson. What a pleasant surprise. It's been years."

"Ten to be exact." He embraced Pet's mother. When they separated, he introduced Caroline.

"How is Petronia?" Caroline asked.

"Broken nose, stitches in her forehead that will leave a nasty scar, black eyes, swollen face, but the doctors assured us there are no internal injuries. Thank God for seat belts and airbags."

"Were any other vehicles involved?"

Mrs. Henning shook her head. "It appears to be a one car accident. She simply ran off the road."

Barlow knew Pet only had two beers and they were spaced an hour apart. She couldn't have been seriously impaired. She patrolled the county roads, knew them well. How could she have missed a turn?

"We were with Pet before it happened." Barlow went on to explain to Pet's mom how the three of them had dinner together at the Dancing Bear but left out details concerning the purpose of their meeting.

"Petronia didn't tell me you were back. Where do you live?"

Barlow explained how he lived in Ohio and how his father's passing led to a chance encounter with Pet.

"I knew your father had passed because of us being neighbors. Sorry for your loss."

"Thanks."

"I occasionally get phone calls from your mother. How is she doing?"

"Fine. I was hoping to fly to Texas to visit with her over the holidays."

Mrs. Henning checked her watch. "I'm so happy to have seen you again. Stop by and see me sometime. You spent so much time at our house growing up that I was practically your second mother. When you see your mother, please send her my regards."

"I certainly will."

She turned to walk away, Barlow thought about something. "Wait, Mrs. Henning?"

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