Odella Rickets, Bainesboro Café’s long-time server and expert baker, gazed through the restaurant’s plate glass window, across the wide green lawn where children rolled on the grass and chased lightning bugs in the summer, past the old fountain that only burbled and gurgled, to the park bench where they found Thom Varley’s body four days ago.
They said he’d drunk himself to death.
They said he was homeless, too, although that wasn’t entirely accurate. He owned a double-wide out SR 191, but ever since he came back from Afghanistan a few years ago, he hadn’t slept in it much, hadn’t done more than showered in it a few times a week, preferring the wide open spaces and the leafy shelter of the town square’s towering oaks to the confines of the cramped trailer.
Not homeless. But without a cozy place to rest his head.
Now a police detective had arrived in their small town, down from Asheville, and he was making his way along Main Street, interviewing folks about Thom, whether they knew him or not, if he had enemies, and similar questions, crossing t’s and dotting i’s, if Anna Grace from the flower shop was spreading truth for a change.
And really, she had no reason to lie, as far as Odella knew.
So it was no surprise when, not ten minutes later, a handsome man in a fashion-forward blue suit stepped into the café. In some vague way, he reminded Odella of her father.
Odella waited by the display case—the one holding the fresh pies she baked daily—while he scanned the room, his wolf-like stare not missing a scratch on the wall. When his attention fixed on Odella, she smiled.
“Afternoon. Just one of you today? You can sit anywhere you like.” Then she stepped back, ready to follow, wondering where a city detective might decide to sit when given the choice.
He picked a table facing the door and sat with his back to the wall.
Odella placed a laminated menu down in front of him. “Everything here is good. Take your time. Can I get you a coffee to start?”
The man pushed the menu to one side. “That would be great. But I’m not here to eat. My name is Detective Calhoun with the Asheville Police Department, and I’ve got a few questions I’d like answered. About the man found deceased in the square. Thomas Varley.”
“I’ll just go get your coffee, sir.”
“The coffee can wait. Let’s get started, if that’s all right.”
“Sure.” The lunch crowd had left, and it was still way too early for dinner, so she could spare a few minutes without Molly, the owner, chewing her out for dilly-dallying. Odella wasn’t sure whether to stand or sit, having never been questioned by the police before. She sat, but perched on the edge of the seat, ready to pop up if that’s what the man wanted.
The detective pulled a compact notepad out of his inside breast pocket and aimed the eraser end of a nubby pencil at the nametag on her chest. “So, Odella, what’s your last name?”
He wrote it down. “Did you know Thomas Varley?”
“Sure. Everyone knew Thom. Grew up here. Went to fight in Afghanistan. Came back messed up in the head. So sad.” And, she thought, just the beginning of the sadness for some in town.
“How well did you know him?”
Odella shrugged. “Saw him in passing, you know.”
The detective scribbled something in his notepad, and Odella tried to read what it was, but it was in cursive and upside down, and the letters were too scrunched together for her to make out any of the words.
Calhoun whipped his head up and caught Odella peeking. Flutters filled her stomach, but he didn’t call her on it, just smirked. “Anyone you know have something against him?”
Odella’s eyes narrowed. “Everyone says he drank himself to death.”
“Uh huh.” One of the detective’s eyebrows twitched.
“Then why …?”
“Am I here? Just investigating a few things. My job, you know.”
“Are you saying you don’t think he died from boozing?” Odella, along with everyone else in Bainesboro, just wanted to move on. Thom was a drunk, and everyone knew it. No good could come from stirring anything up.
“I’m sorry, I’m not at liberty to divulge that.” He scratched his chin with the pencil’s eraser. “Did he have any enemies?”
“No,” she said. “Not really.”