Long Time Gone(2)

By: Meg Benjamin

“What the hell does it take to get served around here anymore,” Pete growled, “divine intervention?”

“Forget it.” Lars pushed himself to his feet. “I’ll go to the bar myself.”

“I’ll help.” Cal glanced at Erik. “Dr. Pepper okay? Ingstrom switched distributors.”

“Sure. Anything.”

Pete glanced his way as the other two headed toward Ingstrom. “What do you hear about the chief’s job?”

Erik sighed. If he’d had any glimmer of a good mood, it promptly vaporized. “City council meeting tomorrow afternoon. They’re supposed to announce their decision then.”

“Any hope it won’t be Ham Linklatter?”

Erik shrugged. “Anything’s possible. But Mayor Pittman wants Linklatter and the council’s not famous for standing up to him.”

“Linklatter’s an idiot. I’ve seen cheese with a higher IQ.”

“Ham’s a little…unfocused. He’s got seniority, though. And he’s the only full-time cop in town.”

Pete grimaced. “He was hired by a psychopath and promoted by a screwup. That doesn’t sound like much of a recommendation.”

Erik sighed again. Konigsburg’s former police chief, Claude Olema, had been fired a couple of months ago for gross incompetence after a high-risk prisoner had escaped from the jail. Erik hadn’t been impressed with Olema’s skills, but at least the chief had been reasonably honest. The chief before Olema, Brody, had tried to kill Cal’s wife, Docia, but that had been before Erik’s time. Good thing, too, considering what Erik would have felt like doing to Brody himself if he’d known him then. “The town hasn’t been all that lucky in terms of police chiefs. I’ll grant you that.”

“What have you been doing for a chief since Olema left?”

“Sheriff Friesenhahn’s sent over a couple of his deputies to keep an eye on things. Pittman wanted to make Ham acting chief, but the council wouldn’t back him on it.”

Pete grinned. “You mean Horace wouldn’t. Thank god we’ve got one hard-ass who isn’t afraid of the mayor.”

Horace Rankin was Cal’s partner in the veterinary clinic. He was also president of the city council and currently Erik’s only hope. If anybody could come up with an alternative to Ham Linklatter, it would be Horace.

“Did you apply for the job?”

“Sure.” Erik’s mouth twisted slightly. “We all did—me and Nando and Curtis Peavey. Won’t mean anything, though. Pittman’s already chosen the next chief.”

Pete leaned back against the booth. “What will you do if they promote Linklatter to chief? Could you work for him?”

Erik shrugged again. “I’ll figure something out.”

Actually, he’d already figured out there was no way he’d work for Ham Linklatter, although he wasn’t ready to discuss it with the family yet. He’d worked for incompetents before—he’d gotten along with Olema, even though he didn’t hold his skills in much regard. But he’d never yet worked for a moron, and he wasn’t eager to try.

He liked Konigsburg, Texas, and he didn’t really want to stick around to watch what happened when Ham started screwing up. Which made it doubly hard—he’d have to leave the town he’d grown to like and his family just when it seemed they might actually be willing to forgive him. That forgiveness hadn’t come easily, and he still wondered sometimes if he deserved it.

Cal slid into the booth opposite, pushing a glass of soda across the table to Erik and a bottle of Lonestar to Pete. “Have you seen Wonder? I need to tell him about dinner on Friday.” He raised an eyebrow at Erik. “You’re coming, right?”

“For an hour or so. I’m on duty at eight. I’ll bring the soda.”

Pete gestured across the room. “Wonder’s over there at the booth with Allie and Morgan.”

Erik glanced at a booth at the other end of the row. Cal’s friend Steve Kleinschmidt, aka Wonder Dentist, sat opposite his fiancée Allie Maldonado, a buxom brunette baker who made the best scones on the planet. On Allie’s other side, a woman cradled her head in her arms on the tabletop. Erik sighed. Probably another drunk, not that he was going to do anything about it as long as she stayed quiet. With only a few available jail cells, the law in Konigsburg had to be discriminating about who got swept up. On the other hand, she’d probably be a more pleasant cell occupant than somebody like Terrell Biedermeier, currently knocking back boilermakers at the bar and long overdue for a trip to the drunk tank.

The woman raised her head, and Erik felt as if he’d been kicked in the gut.

Her eyes were huge, liquid brown. Like melted chocolate. Like coffee beans. Like Bambi.

Erik swiveled back to the table and grabbed his Dr. Pepper. Like Bambi? Jesus, Toleffson, get a grip.

Morgan Barrett just needed some sleep. That was all. She tried to remember how long she’d slept last night. Four hours? Maybe. She hadn’t expected the truck with the grapes from Lubbock to show up at three in the morning, that’s for sure.

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