Read Along: Paradise Palms: Chapter 6
Having people comfort her and tell her everything was going to be alright started to get on Girlfriend’s nerves. She wanted to scream and just tell them all to leave her alone, but she couldn’t be alone at the moment. She didn’t even get to say goodbye, or ask what had happened, or why they were taking Sam away. He looked so scared. The only comfort she took was that they hadn’t handcuffed him. Maybe they just needed to ask him some questions.
And poor Pops. When she saw him burst into tears, she knew something bad had happened to Casper. Something really bad. Again she buried her face in her hands and started sobbing.
“I’m sure Sam’s going to call any minute,” Patty said as she put her arm around Girlfriend. “They just needed to ask him some questions. He’ll call any minute now and he’ll need you to pick him up.”
Girlfriend sat up and wiped her eyes. “So why don’t I just go down there and wait?”
“You know they’re not going to let you do that. Besides, you’re here with friends. There you’ll just be waiting. And alone.”
She knew Patty was right, but sitting in the café and drinking coffee from white, porcelain cups with blue flowery designs wasn’t going to keep her mind off of Sam and his dilemma. He had no one. Would he be alright? Maybe she could take him a slice of rhubarb pie, his favorite, while he was stuffed away in some cramped room answering questions. She could do that, couldn’t she?
“Patty, I need to go there. I really need to.”
“Girlfriend,” Patty said that in her best attempt to sound authentically ghetto and made Girlfriend laugh. “See, you just need to sit tight.”
“He didn’t do it.”
Patty sighed. “I know that. You know that. Hell, the whole park knows Sam would never do anything like that.”
“Hear, hear!” chimed in Leroy Gaines and Martin Van Buren who were having lunch in the booth behind Girlfriend and Patty. Leroy said, “And even if the police think he’s guilty of something, we’ll all go down there and break him out.”
“Leroy, we’re not going to stage a jail break. Sam’s innocent and he’ll be home before you know it. Now just sit there and eat your burger or I’ll force feed it to you,” Patty snapped at him.
Martin punched Leroy in the arm. “She’ll do it, too, you know?”
“Just you eat your own burger,” Leroy said in a dejected tone to Martin. “Look, Girlfriend, all I’m saying is that if anything bad happens to Sam, we’ll all be there for you. Thick or thin, we’re there. Hear?”
Girlfriend smiled. Everyone wanted to protect her, but why couldn’t they understand it wasn’t her that needed protecting? It was Sam that needed her! “Thanks Leroy. Martin. You’re both very sweet.”
“See there. She thinks I’m sweet.” Leroy took a poke at Martin, but missed. Martin laughed.
“Boys.” Patty rolled her eyes.
Plates clattered as Mrs. Kowalski dumped their order down on the counter. Girlfriend had ordered a salad, Patty asked for steak and eggs. “You want my opinion? Casper finally got what was coming to him.”
Girlfriend gasped. “How dare you say that?”
Mrs. Kowalski had managed Charlie’s café ever since it’d opened. No one even knew who the mysterious Charlie was and many had speculated that Mrs. Kowalski had somehow slept with a rich man named Charlie and convinced him to open the café. She was a wonderful cook and Girlfriend and Sam had eaten many good meals there. She’d never gotten friendly with Mrs. Kowalski because of the woman’s tendency to be blunt and crude, despite the cheeriness of her bright-pink uniform and the heavy make-up on her chubby face.
“I dare because I’ve known that boy since he was hanging on his mommy’s skirt. That’s why. That boy has never been good for anything. Did I ever tell you I’d caught him in here one night? I don’t know what the hell he thought he was doing. Everyone knows I live in the back. I had come up front to check on everything before I went to bed and there he was, sitting right where Leroy is now. He had a stupid look on his face, staring at the Sandy Bar. I think he was one of those stalkers or something. He’s been trying to get in Julie’s pants for near four years now and I think he’d been using my café as his stake out.”
“How’d he get in?”
“Oh, Honey, it’s no big secret. Everyone knows I leave a key for Sampson, the delivery boy. Funny that I call him a boy when he’s nearly forty now, but he’s been delivering here for the past fifteen years and I have a key set on the sill over the door. Sam and Casper both knew it was there because I had them do some work for me and Leroy and Martin know it’s there because they’re usually here before I wake up and they get the coffee going. It’s no secret, but I don’t want anyone in here after I close the doors at night. He crossed the line with me and I made sure he knew it.”
“Sam never told me about that. Why wouldn’t he tell me that?”
Mrs. Kowalski smiled and tucked the towel she’d been wiping the counter with into her apron. “Sam and Casper have been friends since before I knew them. I think Sam is what’s kept Casper from getting into more trouble. You’ve got yourself a good man, Girlfriend, but you need to get him out a little more. He’s a homebody.”
“I try. I really do. I told him just this morning we needed to take a vacation. Anywhere. Anything.”
“Well, after this, I don’t think you’ll have much trouble getting him away, if the police don’t want him around until they finish this investigation that is.”
“Why would they need him around?”
Patty said, “Just because he found the body doesn’t mean they’re going to assume he’s innocent. Quite the opposite in fact.”
“What?” Girlfriend couldn’t believe what she was hearing.
“Oh, they’re not going to arrest him, don’t worry about that.”
“Hush,” Mrs. Kowalski told Patty. “Police by their very nature are suspicious. That’s their job. They’ll want to ask Sam a lot of questions, but unless they have something, evidence, motive, a confession, they won’t even talk to Sam again. They’ll get his statement and that’ll be that. You’ll see. You just get to planning that vacation of yours.”
The phone rang. Girlfriend nearly leapt out of her skin. It’d been so quiet except for their talking. Mrs. Kowalski smiled a big smile. “I’ll bet you a nickel that’s him now.” She picked up the phone from the wall. “Hello. Yes. Yes. I’ll let her know, you just sit tight, Honey.”
“Was that him?” Girlfriend asked anxiously.
“He’s ready for you to come and pick him up. He’s at the station in town. Patty, dear, I think you should drive. This one is in no condition to drive.”
# # #
Patty smoked nearly non-stop as she sped to the police station. The smoke did nothing to calm Girlfriend’s nerves as the ’69 Mustang raced down the road into town. Patty swerved around the few cars, carrying elderly folk into town for dinner at the one fancy restaurant, and narrowly missed a semi in the process.
“You can slow down a little bit. I would like to actually see Sam,” Girlfriend said as a joke, but her voice wavered nervously.
Patty gasped; she had a tendency to do that. “I’m so sorry. Am I making you nervous? Oh, Girlfriend, I didn’t mean to do that.”
She slowed considerably.
“I was trying to make a joke. Please. Don’t slow down on my account. I really want to see Sam.”
Patty pressed down on the gas pedal and sped the rest of the way into town. They picked up Sam in front of the police station and Girlfriend climbed into the back of the car with him.
“Oh, Sam! I was so worried.” She tucked her face into his neck and cried.
“I’m fine. I’m fine.”
Patty looked back in the rear view mirror. “You don’t look alright, Sam. You look like you’ve seen a ghost. What the hell happened?”
“I’m not supposed to talk about it. In fact, I don’t know that I feel comfortable talking about it.”
Girlfriend sat up and slapped Sam in the chest. “Oh no you don’t. I’ve been worried about you all day. You’re not going to sit there and not tell me what’s going on. Tell me what happened.”
Sam wiped the tears from her face and did his best to smile. “They don’t think I killed Casper. I’m sure that’s first on your mind.”
“Thank God. So why did they take you all the way into town?”
“They wanted to ask me questions and they wanted to do it quietly. It’s hard to say this, but they only found half of Casper’s body.”
Patty slammed on the brakes and the car slid onto the shoulder. She spun around. “What?”
“They only found half of Casper’s body.”
“Well where the hell is the rest of it?” Patty asked, her tone a mixture of fear and anger.
“I don’t know. The detective said that was one of the things that puzzled him about the crime scene and why they wanted to take me into town.”
Girlfriend rubbed Sam’s face. “One of the things? Was there more than one thing?”
“You know, there was. I think that has me more freaked out than only finding half of Casper. I mean, at least I can wrap my mind around some sicko cutting someone in half. I’ve seen scary movies and stuff. It’s horrible to think that someone did that to poor Casper. He didn’t deserve that. But I mean, I can somehow make sense of that. It’s the other thing I still can’t make sense of.”
“What other thing, Sam?”
“The lizard head.”
“Lizard head?” Patty sounded dubious. “Are you going to tell me they found some iguana head next to Casper?”
“No, nothing like an iguana. This head was big. Not as big as a crocodile, but not like any lizard I’ve ever seen. This one had a long neck and brown and yellow skin, but it had small serrated teeth.”
“Serrated? You mean like a bread knife?”
“The detective said more like a shark’s teeth, but there’s no lizard he knows about that has teeth like that. He was wondering if I’d ever seen anything like that, and I said ‘no’. So he’s going to be calling some kind of expert on lizards and reptiles.”
Girlfriend shook her head. “Does he think that lizard cut Casper in half?”
“That much he didn’t say, but he did say that the mystery around Casper’s death had something to do with that lizard head. He kept telling me that he didn’t think I was guilty. So much that I think he does think I’ve got something to do with it. Whatever he thinks, I’m guessing that we’ll be seeing a lot more police around the park.”