N Is For Noose Page 9

The interior of the store smelled like discarded shoes. I made my way down aisles densely crowded with hanging clothes. I could see rack after rack of items that must have been purchased with an eye to function and festivity. Prom gowns, cocktail dresses, women's suits, acrylic sweaters, blouses, and Hawaiian shirts. The woolens seemed dispirited and the cottons were tired, the colors subdued from too many rounds in the wash. Toward the rear, there was a rod sagging under the burden of winter jackets and coats.

I shrugged into a bulky brown leather bomber jacket. The weight of it felt like one of those lead aprons the technician places across your body while taking dental Xrays from the safety of another room. The jacket lining was fleece, minimally matted, and the pockets sported diagonal zippers, one of which was broken. I checked the inside of the collar. The size was a medium, big enough to accommodate a heavy sweater if I needed one. The price tag was pinned to the brown knit ribbing on the cuff. Forty bucks. What a deal. Does your husband belch and rut? Does be scratch his hairy butt? If you want to see him bathe... tame the beast with Burma-Sbave. I tucked the jacket over my arm while I moved up and down the aisles. I found a faded blue flannel shirt and a pair of hiking boots. On my way out, I stopped and untwisted the wire connecting the Burma-Shavc signs, reading them one by one.







I smiled to myself. I wasn't half-bad at that stuff. I went out to the street again with my purchases in hand. Let's hear it for the good old days. Lately, Americans have been losing their sense of humor.

I spotted an office supply store across the street. I crossed, stocked up on paper supplies, including a couple of packs of blank index cards. Two doors down, I found a branch of Selma 's bank and came out with a wad of twenties in my shoulder bag. I retrieved my car and pulled out, circling the block until I was headed in the right direction. The town already felt familiar, neatly laid out and clean. Main Street was four lanes wide. The buildings on either side were generally one to two stories high, sharing no particular style. The atmosphere was vaguely Western. At each intersection, I caught sight of a wedge of mountains, the snow-capped peaks forming a scrim that ran the length of the town. Traffic was light and I noticed most of the vehicles were practical: pickups and utility vans with ski racks across the tops.

When I arrived back at Selma 's, the garage door was open. The parking space on the left was empty. On the right, I spotted a late-model blue pickup truck. As I got out of my car, I noticed a uniformed deputy emerging from a house two doors down. He crossed the two lawns between us, walking in my direction. I waited, assuming this was Tom's younger brother, Macon. At first glance, I couldn't tell how much younger he was. I placed him in his late forties, but his age might have been deceptive. He had dark hair, dark brows, and a pleasant, unremarkable face. He was close to six feet tall, compactly built. He wore a heavy jacket, cropped at the waist to allow ready access to the heavy leather holster on his right hip. The wide belt and the weapon gave him a look of heft and bulk that I'm not sure would have been evident if he'd been stripped of his gear.

’’Are you Macon?’’ I asked.

He offered me his hand and we shook. ’’That's right. I saw you pull up and thought I'd come on over and introduce myself. You met my wife, Phyllis, a little earlier.’’

’’I'm sorry about your brother.’’

’’Thank you. It's been a rough one, I can tell you,’’ he said. He hooked a thumb toward the house. ’’ Selma 's not home. I believe she went off to the market a little while ago. You need in? Door's open most times, but you're welcome to come to our place. It sure beats setting out in the cold.’’

’’I should be fine. I expect she'll be home in a bit and if not, I can find ways to amuse myself. I would like to talk to you sometime in the next day or two.’’

’’Absolutely. No problem. I'll tell you anything you want, though I admit we're baffled as to Selma 's purpose. What in the world is she worried about? Phyllis and I can't understand what she wants with a private detective, of all things. With all due respect, it seems ridiculous.’’

’’Maybe you should talk to her about that,’’ I said.

’’I can tell you right now what you're going to learn about Tom. He's as decent a fellow as you'd ever hope to meet. Everybody in town looked up to him, including me.,,

’’This may turn out to be a short stay, in that case.’’

’’Where'd Selma put you? Some place nice, I hope.’’

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