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Rated: E · Short Story · Other · #1528012
When crime comes to Abernathy Cove, everyone has a different story to tell.
Crime Comes to Abernathy Cove

Florita Skinner crossed her Florida room overlooking the Gulf of Mexico to answer the ringing telephone.

“Beatrice, how nice to hear from you. It’s been at least an hour since we talked.” The two women laughed.

“I need a favor. I need you to replace Mildred at the bridge club tonight? She just called and sounds like a bullfrog. It’s at seven. My house. Tonight.”

“Did I say I would come?”

“No, but you will. I won’t keep you. See you at seven sharp.” Beatrice Brown hung up before Florita could say another word.

She’s a piece of work, but anyone qualifying as my best friend would have to be. Miss Skinner collected her necessities for her journey downtown to the Pirate‘s Cove Cafe. She was always seated by ten and today would be no exception.

"Keep an eye on things for me, Dandy." Miss Skinner locked her front door and bent to caress her one-eyed calico. "I'll be back at the usual time and fix you a sumptuous shrimp dinner!" The cat meowed and began giving herself a lick-down.

Miss Skinner made daily walks into her little town of Abernathy Cove, Florida making sure things were as they should be. The school board might have suggested she retire from teaching after forty-five years of service, but they couldn't retire her from her town. Her grandfather had founded the town and she felt a responsibility for it few understood. Some might consider her a Busy Body, but few were audacious enough to suggest it to her face.

She rarely missed a lunch at the Pirate's Den CafĂ© where she enjoyed the beauty of the town and the citizens--most of whom she had taught in the fifth grade. Some, more hard-headed than the rest, spent more than a year in her classroom. They can take the teacher out of the classroom, but they can’t take the classroom out of the teacher.

Side stepping what used to be a chocolate ice cream cone in the street, Miss Skinner frowned and reminded herself to ask Gus to remove it right away. It wouldn't do for the visitors in town to think Abernathy Cove was not a clean town.

She spear-headed last year's city beautification project and never failed to relive her pleasure of the handsome town she helped mold. Most of the building were of white adobe except for the court house, the oldest establishment the town. It magnificently towered all the other buildings and was made of gray granite stone. Her maternal grandfather had the court house built soon after establishing Abernathy Cove in 1789.

Terracotta sidewalks lined with brass antique street lights saluted the retired teacher as she passed. They were a bit expensive, but she knew their choice added the ambiance missing in many Florida towns. Across the street she scanned the Seminole County Court House, First National Bank, Chandler’s Drug Emporium, and Abernathy Cove’s Thomas H. Skinner City Park. Her eyes lingered on the park briefly. I miss you, Father.

Miss Skinner passed Sally’s Souvenir Shop. She nodded a good morning to the grocer busy polishing the apples in his fruit display at Symthe & Daughter’s Grocery.

Editor Bert Handley was putting out this week's issue of the Sentinel Echo and doffed his hat. "Tourist season's about over, Mr. Handley. I suppose we will be getting back to normal in a few weeks." Miss Skinner removed a quarter from her coin purse and took a copy of the Sentinel Echo, the town’s weekly newspaper.

"Won't be any too soon for me," he answered squaring the papers again in the machine.

A minute later two running, laughing urchins exploded from the Cut 'n' Curl plummeting into Miss Skinner. Not missing a beat, she skewered the boy with a bony thumb just under the collar bone and bored her eyes in the girl. "What is the meaning of all this? How dare you act so uncivilized! Both of you get back inside that shop and tell your mother I said to teach you the decorum I taught her! The kids retreated liked spanked puppies to the safety of the shop.

Miss Skinner arrived at her cafe table out of breath and more than a bit out of sorts. "Tea, Susannah! I need my tea." She plopped onto a chair. Taking a deep breathe she set her purse, umbrella, and newspaper on the chair next to her. She then removed a rose covered hanky from the pocket of her sweater and dusted the table top as the clock on the court house struck 10 a.m. Exactly on time.

Gus Nixon worked in front of A King's Ransom Jewelry Store. Gus walked with a slight stoop and always wore a beat-up Panama hat, red handkerchief on his neck, and what he called "overhauls". He was the town's entire maintenance department and took the job seriously. He swept Abernathy Cove's streets and gutters like they were the queen's ballroom. He considered Miss Skinner his queen badgering the city counsel into hiring him.

Walking over to the curb Miss Skinner waved to him. "Gus, oh Gus. Could I have a minute of your time?"

He looked up and smiled his way over to her. "Yes, mam. It a right purty day, don't ya' think, Miz Skinner?” He took out a bandana and wiped his forehead.

“Yes it is and so enhanced by the sweet aroma of those petunias floating on the ocean breeze. It’s one of my favorite things.”

“I knowed you like them flowers.”

"You're keeping those pink beauties along the street looking nice and healthy. You do have a way with the flowers, Gus."

"Well, thank ya‘, mam. I do likes 'em too.”

"Gus, there's a dirty old ice cream cone in the street right where someone will step in it beside Sally' Souvenir Store. Could you take care of it quickly?"

"Course I will, Miss Skinner. I'll git on down there right now and be back in no time. Won't take very long a’tall."

Miss Skinner returned to her table as waitress set the hot tea in front of her. "You want the turkey club today, Miss Skinner?"

"Yes, Susannah, that would be nice. Are you getting excited about your sophomore year at community college, dear?

“I am. I hope I’ll be able to juggle my job and the course work.”

“I’m sure you’ll find away to make it happen. Let me know how things go.” Miss Skinner emptied one packet of sugar in the cup, added a slight squeeze of lemon, and swirled the liquid around. She enjoyed sitting here each day seeing her old students and friends as they roamed about the town. They all remembered Miss Skinner. She was remembered her organizational skills, eye for detail, and no-nonsense demeanor. Sometimes "that look" that had served her so well in the classroom could still bring a grown man to his knees.

Sipping her tea, she noticed that the town drunk, Willie Tinker, asleep on the concrete bench that marked the entrance to the park just east of the bank. Poor Willie, she thought. He never had a decent break in life even as a youngster. She used her lace handkerchief to dot her tearing eyes.

Most people thought Willie was crazy because he carried on extended conversations with himself. But, she knew he talked to himself because no one else chatted with him. She understood loneliness. Sometimes, she understood it too well.

At 10:20 a.m. a rusted out, battered '55 blue Chevy Bel Aire with four men inside pulled up in front of the First National Bank spewing forth three men dressed in camouflaged attire complete with ski masks and guns. While three were inside conducting their nefarious business, the get-away driver, being a creative thinker, backed the car up the walkway leading into the bank. He awaited his accomplices while checking the street and eyeing his watch.

Four minutes later the first thief exited, tripped over his own big feet, and shot himself in the ankle. The second burglar out of the bank saw that his path to the left backseat door was blocked by his fallen comrade. He turned, ran behind the car, and yelled, “Hit the gas! Let’s go!”

The driver did just as he was told and gunned the car which was still in reverse knocking the second thief unconscious. Robber Three exited into the pandemonium, assessed the scene, and ran toward the park. The driver threw the car into drive and stomped on the gas. The dented old car advanced a few shaky feet, coughed twice, and died.

For the first time in her life Florita Skinner was momentarily speechless. "Cloe, come here." The arriving nineteen-year-old waitress bumped into the table as she stared across the street.

"I heard was a loud bam and then the crashing of glass. What the heck are those men doing?”

“I do believe those rascals thought to steal our money, Savannah!"

The uproar and jarring report of a gun going off, aroused the sleeping Willie Tinker out of his slumber on the park bench. He sat up and hiccupped. He look toward the mess of people outside the bank’s front door and rubbed his eyes. Willie was never sure if what he saw was real or not. Hallucination was one of his strong points. The third robber flashed by Willie and escaped into the park. Willie’s blurry, vacant eyes had a nice red hue about them.

Gus was frozen in place, mouth agape, starring at the circus playing out before him. Then, he dropped his broom and hobbled toward the two downed miscreants. Taking his bandanna from his neck, Gus tried to stop the robber’s ankle from bleeding.

“You idiot!" yelled the fallen thief, “get that filthy rag off me! Ain’t you got no sense at all? You wanta kill me?”

“Ah, no sir, I’s jist tryin’ to hep you out a bit,” bleated Gus. “I didn’t mean no harm atall. I seen them put cloths on bleeding things on ER. I knows it’s the right thin’ to do.”

The robber started screaming again as both of Abernathy Cove's police cars screeched to a stop blocking the path of the get away car. “Get this dad-burned idiot away from me,” the man with the shattered ankle screamed at the nearest officer.

Deputy Joe Clinton ran to the unconscious man and checked for a pulse. When he found one, he headed over to Willie.

Chief Malcolm Smith approached Gus and the screaming robber. “That’s all you can do right now, Gus. You just go on over to Officer Clinton and give him your statement. I’ll take care of this gentleman until the ambulance arrives. Go on now.”

“But, Chief, I’s jist tryin' to help. I seed the whole thing. Yes, sir, I did,” said Gus before limping to Officer Clinton who was in the process of attempting a meaningful conversation with Willie.

“Willie! Willie! Look at me. Willie,..look...into...my...eyes. There. That’s better. Now,” Officer Clinton said like a patient parent seeking the truth, “what did you see happen at the bank?”

“The bank?” slurred Willie. “Our…ah…bank?”

“Yes, Willie, our bank.”

“Is that what’s…all the…ah…noise’s about?”

“Yes, Willie. That was all that noise you heard. What I need to know is what you saw.”

“Don’t reckon I saw… anything. I was having a little nap. I sleep pretty sound, you know.”

“Willie, you were awake when I got here. You had to see something.”

“Well, let me think…I woke up and… ah…saw Miss Skinner across the street.”

“Miss Skinner at the Pirate's Den is nothing you haven’t seen everyday for the last five years, Willie. I mean what did you see at the bank? How many people tried to rob the bank?”

“Rob the bank? Someone tried to rob the…ah…bank? Today?”

The officer let out a deep sigh and began to shake his head. “Willie, how much have you had to drink today?”

“I had two beers, Officer. I swear, just two beers." Willie held up three fingers.

“Did you see anyone running from the scene?” asked the officer ready to throw in the towel.

“Nope. The…ah…thing I saw was some hunter…running into the park. Ah…do you think he was going hunting in the park?” asked Willie. Then, Willie withdrew into one of his personal conversations. “Hunting in the park. They should never let someone hunt in the park. I would never hunt in the park. Nothing but birds and butterflies in the park. I wonder if I could fry up a batch of butterflies? Wouldn’t be much left of one if I shot it first. Better use a net." He lay back down on the bench to consider butterfly hunting and was snoring within seconds.

“Officer Clinton, Officer Clinton!”

Clinton turned to see Gus trying to catch up with him. “Hey, Gus, what do you know about this entire ruckus?”

“I seen it all, I did! I seen it all!. It was so excitin’. First, that there broke-down car comes chuggin’ down the street and parks dab-nab in front of the bank. Next thing I knowed, some guys come barreling outta the car and runs inta the bank. Then, the driver he turns the car around ready for…for a quick git away. Man, oh, man. Ain’t nothing this excitin’ ever happen in Abernathy Cove before!

“Gus, how many men did you see go inside the bank?”

“Two or three.”

“Was it two or three?”

“I’m not rightly sure.” Gus began to stroke his see-through beard. Two, but counting that there driver that’d be three. Anyway, soons they come back outside, the first one shoots hisself right in the ankle. I tried to…"

“Just a minute, Gus. You saw three men. Two went inside the bank and one remained in the car? Is that correct?”

“Yeah, I guess so. Anyways, I runned as quick as I could and pulled off my neckerchief to try to help that shot guy and he warn’t nice t’all. Why he told me to leave him alone, he did.”

“Ok, the first thief out shot himself. Is that what you are saying?”


"What happened to the man over behind the car?" asked Officer Clinton.

"Why that git-away car runned right into 'em. Yes sir-ee, it surely did. I saw it all!

"Anything else you want to add, Gus?"

"I guess that's bout all. What's they gonna do with that runned-over guy?"

"The paramedics are taking care of him. I guess he'll be in the hospital for awhile before he goes to the jail. You give me a call if you think of anything else I need to know, Gus. I'll be at the station after we finish our interviews here. Thank you very much. You have been a big help."

Thirty minutes later the interviews were completed, and Officer Clinton started to his cruiser. Looking across the street, he saw Miss Skinner waving to him. He waved back and went to put an APB out on the runaway robber. He didn't have much of a description, but they needed to round him up.

"Officer Clinton," waved Miss Skinner.

Irritated he looked over at her again and waved back to her. "Hello, Miss Skinner," he smiled through gritted teeth. Miss Skinner, he thought, I don't have time to chit-chat with her just now. As old as she is I doubt she heard or saw very much. Her aging eyes and ears were the main reasons the school board suggested she retire.

"Joseph Trumann Clinton, you come over here this instant!"

"Yes, Miss Skinner, I'll be right there. Let me finish up this call to the dispatcher."

"Young man, I suggest you come here right now," she barked.

Crossing the little space of street between his patrol car and Miss Skinner, he put on his best smile. "What can I do for you today, Miss Skinner?"

"Why haven't you come to ask me what I saw and heard?" she demanded. “I'm proud you became a policeman, Joseph. Lord knows I often wondered which side of the law you'd end up on."

"Now, Miss Skinner, don't be so hard on me," the officer laughed. "You know you were always my favorite teacher."

"Oh, horse feathers! Now, do you want to catch that missing thief or not?"

"Well, of course, I do and we will catch him." Clinton put his notebook into his shirt pocket. "I know we don't have any descriptions to go on, but rumors will be flying soon and maybe his partners-in-crime will rat him out."

"Rumors! Hogwash! Just go and arrest Phillip Henderson. I expect you will find him hiding in his Uncle Jimmy's old Airstream travel trailer that's been junked in Jimmy's backyard for thirty years. It’s over on 10th Street. At least that's where he always went to hide out when he skipped school in fifth grade."

"Phillip Henderson? Todd Martin’s nephew?"

"Yes," she mocked him, "Phillip Henderson. I’d recognize that run of his anywhere. I watched him play football from fifth grade right on through his senior year of football. He was the most pigeon-toed running back ever to play ball for Abernathy Cove. Besides that, no one ever carried a football with both hands like Phillip did. The man you are looking for carried his bag of money precisely like Phillip."

The police officer hit his forehead. “Geez, you’re right. I forgot you attended all the ballgames, Miss Skinner. Thanks.” Clinton turned and ran for his squad car.

Miss Skinner wasn’t watching, however. Having had her say, she drank the very last drop of her Earl Gray Black Tea, placed all the sugar packets from the table in her black leather purse, picked up her umbrella, and walked stately down the sidewalk toward home.

(Word count: 2951)

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