Building contractor, Scott Beets, seeks help in catching the person responsible for stealing the copper wire and pipes he uses for home construction. Police Chief Sam Jenkins finds the thief, but shortly after the burglar is released on bail, the complainant is found murdered. The investigation reveals numerous suspects, leaving Jenkins to find the guilty one.
Ned’s Bucket O’ Blood. The name suggested a real class joint. The Bucket, a typical Southern road house, sat on a secondary highway, about fifty feet off the blacktop in a dog-eared neighborhood.
Large clumps of Dallis grass dotted the gravel parking lot, and a bumper crop of ragweed grew along the exterior walls of the bar.
A half-dozen vehicles, four of them pickup trucks, were scattered around the lot in no particular order. I parked near the door and walked in.
The smell of stale beer and old cigarette smoke could have gagged a maggot.
The occupants of those six parked vehicles perched on stools and lounged at tables throughout the dingy gin mill.
A not-quite-pretty blond in a short black dress sang her rendition of It Takes Balls to be a Woman. Her guitarist wore a fancy two-tone cowboy shirt and looked vaguely like Stephen King, if Steve hadn’t washed his hair in a decade.
I took a stool at the close end of the bar.
“What’ll ya have?” the bartender asked as he dropped a stained coaster in front of me.
I placed him somewhere between forty and sixty, broad and short with a crew cut and a walrus mustache. From the twists of his nose, you could count the number of times it had been broken. His teeth were stained yellow as were two fingers of his right hand. He might have single-handedly accounted for the nicotine stink inside the Bucket O’ Blood.
“What do you have on tap?” I asked.
“That’s it?” I gave him a friendly smile.
“Uh-huh.” He didn’t return the smile.
“How about in a bottle?”
“Bud Light…an’ more Bud.”
“A company man, huh?” I managed another smile.
“Do what?” Still the same blank expression from him.
So far a tip was out of the question.
“I’ll have a pint of Bud.”
“Don’t got no pints.”
“OK, make it easy on yourself.” I grew tired of our erudite debate.
He took three steps to the tap handle and came back with a twelve-ounce mug.
The beer was cold and fresh. The bartender went to check on his other customers and I looked over the room. It probably wasn’t the worst place I’d ever seen, but it made my bottom ten.
As the blond ended her song, the barman walked back toward me drying a glass.
“Are you Ned?” I asked.
“Nope, I’m Jake. Ned won’t be here till mebbe eight-thirty, nine o’clock.”
“Got a few minutes to talk?”
“Ain’t exactly got a crowd takin’ up my time,” he said.
“I need some information.”
My statement caused a wrinkle on his brow and a general look of distrust to alter his expression.
“You the po-leece or sumpthin’?”
“Or something,” I said, and showed him my badge. “You know a guy named Melvin Kite? I understand he comes here.”
“Melvin Kite? Hmm, not sure.”
Jake’s momma taught him how to play hard-to-get.
“How much was that beer?” I asked.
I took a twenty from the folded wad of cash in my pocket and placed it on the bar.
I grinned and said, “I guess you could keep the change…if you knew something about this Melvin Kite guy.”
Jake liked that idea; finally his turn to smile.
“Melvin Kite? Melvin Kite…” he said. “Sounds familiar now. He a short, stocky guy with a scar on his chin?”
“Sounds like my man, but the picture of him I saw was almost five years old.”
“I know him,” Jake said. “What’s he done?”
“I’m not sure he’s done anything,” I lied. “Someone reported a hit-and-run and gave his plate number. I need to find him and straighten that business out.”
“Why don’t you go to his home?”
Jake was a practical thinker.
“All the addresses I can find are old. Melvin moves around a lot.”
“Comes in here some,” Jake said, “exspecially when they’s live music. I ‘spect he’ll be here tonight t’ see Marla.”
He used his chin as a pointer and gestured toward the stage where the blond flipped through the pages of a spiral notebook and Steven King tuned his guitar.
“You’ve been a big help, Jake,” I said.
He took hold of the twenty with his thumb and forefinger. I grabbed the opposite end and tugged. I won.
Copyright© Wayne Zurl. All rights reserved.