Last week, we saw Egbert and the single forlorn tulip, and we also saw an old acquaintance of Stan and Ollie show up. Today we learn more about her. Don't forget to check out all the Wednesday Briefers, whose links follow my tale! Enjoy!
Stan and Ollie #8
“It’s a free country,” I snark, putting as much venom in my voice as possible, although I know nothing gets to that ubiquitous trashmonger. “At least the last time I checked, it was.”
“Oh absolutely!” she enthuses. “God bless America, I just love this country, don’t you? And I love my job! So, what are you two up to? And can I put it on the record?” She pulls out a voice recorder, although I wonder if she doesn’t have a microphone hidden in her upswept dark brown bouffant hairdo.
Just so you know, her name’s Lori Hatcher, and she’s an offensively foul reporter for a most offensively foul rag with pretensions to journalistic integrity—Behind Closed Doors. You’ve probably seen it near the supermarket checkout stands, vying for consumer dollars along with a number of other tabloids. She seems to show up whenever Ollie and I are on a case. Of course she has no idea who we are and what we do and we’re not about to tell her. Let her draw her own conclusions.
“Are you here for a story or for a vacation, Miss Hatcher?” Ollie intervenes. My little diplomat. Although don’t let the mild façade fool you. That man can more than take care of himself. He knows moves that would make a martial arts expert jealous.
“The word vacation isn’t in my vocabulary,” she quips. “I have a duty to my readers, you know.”
“I can appreciate that. Well, I wish you well with your story.” He slides his arm around me, and we turn to go. Can it really be that easy?
Of course not.
“What do you know about Consuelo Fairchild?”
My turn to respond. Ollie is loath to tell a falsehood, while I’m more than happy to lie to this woman’s face. It’s not any of her business, so I feel no compunction toward doing so. “Never heard the name. Friend of yours?”
“I wish.” She snorts, inelegantly. “Maybe you’ve heard of her old man? Bodean Fairchild? Bo’s Blossoms? The Tulip King?”
I shrug, rolling my eyes. “I’m not much of one for flowers. So you’re writing the society page now, are you? Or is this for the science section? Oh my bad, I don’t think your paper has a science section, just science fiction and myths.”
“Very funny, and neither. What, do you live under a rock?”
Close enough, and more than she needs to know.
“She’s disappeared. From right here in Cortez, Mississippi.”
“I thought you said we were in Nowhere, Mississippi?” I remind her. “Are you lost? Your magic spells not working these days?” That’s a reference to our last encounter, when I referred to her as a witch. She grins at me, obviously remembering the occasion and insult. I make no apology for my words and she expects none.
“You can’t pull the wool over my eyes, so don’t even try it.” She turns to Ollie, batting her false eyelashes so fast you’d think she was trying to fan him. Even if he was straight, the effect wouldn’t be sexy. As it is, it’s purely wasted effort. I don’t even have to pretend not to be jealous, because it’s just too pathetic for words. “I’m sure your nicer half will tell me what I want to know, even if you won’t.”
“Of course I’ll tell you,” Ollie smoothly asserts, and I can see her fairly salivate with excitement, until he adds, “We are in Cortez, Mississippi, not Nowhere. Glad to be of help.” He takes my arm and we get as far as the top of the bridge before she catches up with us once more.
“I’m disappointed. When did you become such a puppet? Where are your strings?” She pretends to search above Ollie’s head for non-existent guidewires. I shake my head at her lame attempt at humor. “Consuelo Fairchild disappeared on her wedding day. It’s been all over the front page ever since it happened.“
“Guess we missed it.” I shrug.
“So you’re telling me your being here where she was last seen is a coincidence?” She gives me a skeptical glance. “C’mon, be gentlemen and spill the beans.”
“It’s been a long time since anyone’s ever accused me of being a gentleman.” It’s my turn to snort now. “You’re out of luck, sweetheart. We don’t know anything and we don’t want to know anything. We’re just here to sample the pecan pie. Hear they make a mighty mean one, and we just got a hankering for it. Maybe you should get some too. Sweeten your disposition.”
I know I’ve hit a nerve, both with my faux endearment and my suggestion. Her face turns red, despite her best efforts to stay calm. Taking a deep breath, she stands at the railing of the bridge, glancing down, obviously avoiding my glance. Then she stiffens, and leans over, pointing excitedly.
“Look, there! Another of those tulips.”
“What tulips?” I pretend not to understand.
“Every day since Consuelo disappeared, a single tulip has appeared in this pond. Like it’s a message or something. Maybe from her kidnappers.”
“I’m impressed,” Ollie says softly. “You seem to have an angle for your story already, Miss Hatcher. Congratulations.”
Her momentary surliness has been replaced by a know-it-all smirk, as she turns to face us once more. “Well, it is why I’m one of the top journalists in my field,” she brags. “You don’t get there by pure luck…”
“In fact, I was telling my editor just the other day—” What she was going to say, we’ll never know as she takes one look at her foot, uttering, “What the—” Then she shrieks. I glance downward, catching a glimpse of a small white member of the rodent family sitting atop her toes. She hastily whirls and sprints down the bridge, away from us, her story obviously forgotten.
“C’mon, let’s go.” I nod to Ollie, who reaches down, scoops up the mouse—aka Xylina—and off we go.
to be continued
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