Dusk settled on Fredericksburg, Mississippi. Swamp moss hung off cedar trees like mistakes dangle from a past best forgotten. Bullfrogs croaked from the banks of the swampy wetlands. Lanterns pierced the darkness intermittently as johnboats were pushed in search of frogs and fish. Loud music played from the juke-joint that never shut its doors.
Sue Ann Mobley wobbled back to the bathroom to fix her makeup. Hungry eyes watched her as she stumbled and giggled. In the dimly lit hallway, she put her hand on the wall to balance herself and turned the knob with the other hand. Burping, she made it to the counter and peered at her countenance in the mirror.
“You got it, babe. Every man out there wants only you.” Sue Ann added color to her cheeks and applied a fresh coat of lipstick. She pressed her lips and together and threw a seductive glance in the mirror. “I may be divorced but it doesn’t mean I have to be alone!” Slowly, she made her way back to the dance floor.
“Hey doll, you wanna dance?”
Sue Ann sized him up. Her eyes drank him in, and she gave him a seductive look. “Tall, dark and handsome, of course darling. Let’s dance.” She shimmied and judging from her moves, this wasn’t the first time she had partied like a rock star. Suddenly, her hand flew to her mouth. “Oh, my God!” Sue rushed outside. Leaning over the rail of the bridge which spans the river, the night’s consumption of liquor spewed out. Taking several deep breaths, Sue giggled. “I think I need a drink.” She wiped her mouth and turned around. Sue pointed and slurred, “I know you” and then succumbed to the darkness.
Drip, drip, drip, the sound of water splashing on the floor tiles brought Sue Ann around. “Oh, dear God, my head is killing me. I will never party again.” Sue’s fair hair hung in her face and she tried to move it, but she couldn’t lift her hands. Looking down, she noticed her hands are shackled. “What in the….”
Someone unseen tightly gripped Sue’s hair and lifted her head violently up. A rough hand pulled her hair back from her eyes, and she stared into the skeleton mask of her captor. A cry escaped Sue’s throat. “Who are you?” Skeleton mask answered with a swift kick to her midsection. The biker boot knocked the wind out of her, and Sue Ann returned to the darkness.
“Sheriff, I’m telling you Sue Ann ran out of here with her mouth covered the other night. She never came back in.” Joe the Bartender shrugged. “I don’t know what happened to her, that’s the God’s honest truth.”
Sheriff Lancaster shook his head. “Well, me and my two deputies have our hands full, we are gonna have to ask for help on this one. Ain’t nobody seen her, and her momma is worried sick.”
“Well, you want something to drink before you head out?”
“Yeah, give me a Dr. Pepper. What I owe you?”
“Not a thing Sheriff. Good luck on finding Sue Ann, this place just ain’t the same without her.”
Driving down Main Street, Sheriff Lancaster considered the case of the missing girl. “She’s only 22. Maybe she run off with a boy. Kids get into all sorts of craziness now days.” Pulling into his assigned parking spot at the courthouse, Lancaster got out and strolled into his office. “Patty, call the State Police, I gotta have a chat with ‘em about this case.”
Without acknowledging her boss, Patty lifted the phone and dialed the number. “State Police on line one, Sheriff.”
Lancaster sat behind his metal desk and picked up the phone. “Sheriff Lancaster here. I have a problem and need some help, if ya’ll don’t mind helping me out.”
“We’re here to help, Sheriff.”
Lancaster spelled out the case and what he had deduced so far. After a brief but terse conversation, he hung up the phone. Grabbing his keys, Lancaster stormed out of his office. “I’m going to be out for a while, Patty. Some young hotshot should be coming by. Holler at me when he gets here.”
“Okay, Sheriff. Should I contact you on the short wave or call your cell directly.”
“Either, I will answer when I can.” Patty nodded, and Lancaster walked out the door, praying for a miracle. Sheriff Lancaster called his deputies to meet him at Walker’s Bridge. It spanned a small river which bordered Louisiana and Mississippi. Rumors were when a truly bad person was caught on either side of the bridge, they made a one-way trip to the middle of the bridge for a come-to -Jesus meeting. No one had jurisdiction over the middle of the bridge, so like Vegas, what happened there, stayed there.
Lancaster looked up from his phone and watched his two deputies walk over to his truck. He liked to watch them walk. Twin sisters Lucy and Emma Walker crowded around the driver side window.
“What’s got your dander up, Sheriff?”
“I called the State Police for help with Sue Ann’s case. Ya’ll find anything?”
Lucy shook her head; her long brown hair moved in rhythm to her shake. “Not a thing boss, it’s like she was never here.”
Emma chimed in, “Everybody saw her run out, but nobody saw her leave. If that’s the case, she should be here. She could have fallen into the river, but surely the body should have washed up by now.”
Lancaster grunted. “So much for having anything for the hotshot the staties are sending.”
Lucy and Emma smiled. “Who are they sending?”
“Some guy named Whitman. Supposed to be a real good detective.”
“So, is he a State cop?”
“No, he is a P.I. The staties said they can’t spare any of theirs and recommended this guy.” Lancaster wiped at his fat face. The sweat seeped out of his pores. As he ran the handkerchief across his forehead, the radio cackled.
“Sheriff, there is an Aldrich Whitman here to see you. He said it’s about a case.”
“Alright, Patty. I’m on my way.” Lancaster looked at the girls and gave them a smile. “Ya’ll keep looking, I will go deal with Whitman.” The deputies nodded, and Lancaster raced off toward town with his siren blaring. Entering the town limits, Lancaster shut off the siren and pulled into his parking place. Walking up the steps, he noticed Patty smiling and chatting with a young man.
“Hi, Sheriff. This is Aldrich Whitman.”
“Sheriff, nice to make your acquaintance.” Whitman extended his hand, but Lancaster ignored it.
“Come back here to my office, Whitman.”
Nodding, Whitman turned to Patty. “Ma’am, it’s been a pleasure. Are you free for dinner tonight?” Patty smiled and nodded. Whitman smiled and trailed after the Sheriff.
Walking into the office, Lancaster motioned to a chair. “Have a seat.” Whitman sat in the high back chair.
“Do you know why you’re here, Whitman?”
“Yes sir, I am here to help you find a missing girl.”
“That’s right, and none of that consists of you flirting with my secretary.”
Whitman chuckled. “Is she your girlfriend, Sheriff? You got dibs on her?”
Lancaster knife pointed his hand at Whitman. “Listen here boy, you’re here to find this missing girl and nothing else. Get done with the job and get out of my town.”
“What type of evidence do you have concerning the case?”
The Sheriff shrugged. “None. There is no evidence that this is anything more than a runaway girl.”
Whitman stood to his feet and met the Sheriff’s eyes. “You brought me here for nothing? There is no evidence of an abduction?”
Wordlessly, Lancaster shook his head. Whitman glared at the man, when there was a knock at the door.
“Sheriff, its Lucy and Emma. We might have found something.”