The idea behind this month’s chain was to take a character from the post of the person above you in the chain and use them in a story (they don’t have to be the main character, and you don’t have to keep the same setting or genre, but they have to be recognizable as themselves). Ralph Pines went directly before me, so I’m running with Jay-Jay from his piece. I may also, cheekily, have messed with his main character. I’m sorry Ralph, I couldn’t resist! The breadcrumbs, they seemed to be there and I was powerless to avoid picking them up…
Jay-Jay flinched as the lady from the FBI slammed his little black book onto the table in front of him.
“Explain this,” she demanded.
“It’s what it looks like,” he muttered, “It’s my, uh, collection of ladies I’ve known.”
Agent Barnes glared at him, “It’s yours? We found it on him.”
“Tom had that? He must’ve taken it from my booth.”
“I don’t know. Look, lady, I’m married. When I met my wife I put that book away. I left it in a drawer at the station and forgot about it. I don’t know when he took it, or what he wanted with it. I quit W-KVA you know, maybe he found it when they were clearing out my booth and wanted to get it back to me.”
“Why’d you quit?”
“Like I told you, I’m married now. The hours we worked, they didn’t suit me anymore.”
“Was Tom upset about that?”
“About me quitting? Nope. He always said he didn’t need me there anyway.”
Barnes sat down, plucking at her blouse. Hadn’t anyone in this godforsaken place heard of air-conditioning? The air in the cramped interview room was like soup. She looked across the table at Jay-Jay, “Why do you think he did it?”
“Why do I think he shot all those people? How in hell would I know?”
Agent Barnes sipped carefully from the mug the sheriff’s deputy had given her, biding her time. She’d let that question hang in the air a little, see where it took them.The coffee tasted like it had been made out of burned toast. She could feel Jay-Jay’s anxious eyes on her as she placed the mug carefully on the table and made a show of opening the folder in front of her. When she spoke, she was calm and careful: “I’m not accusing you of having had foreknowledge, or of being an accomplice. I’m just asking you, as someone who knew him, what you think might have made him do it.”
“I have no goddamn idea. I can’t tell you how his mind worked. I lost friends today. That’s on him.”
“Was Tom himself one of those friends?”
“Tom was a former co-worker. That’s all he was.” Jay-Jay said, slowly and deliberately.
Barnes raised an eyebrow, but didn’t press him on it. He was staring at her now, daring her to doubt him. She didn’t.
He was pretty obviously telling the truth. Besides, she didn’t have enough energy to keep playing the hard-ass. The desert heat had sapped it all. Her clothes were sweat-soaked and clinging to her. She knew she looked rumpled and sticky and red-faced. So much for the clean-cut Bureau image.
Much more of this and she’d be willing to shoot someone herself for the sake of a Frappuccino and a cold shower.
She took a deep breath and tried again, “Did he have any friends?”
“I don’t know.” He frowned, “I don’t really think so. Huh. He was sort of a loner-type. You get them out here. I never did think it strange….”
He trailed off, probably wondering about all the other loner-types he knew. She let the silence grow. Jay-Jay was the only one they’d managed to turn up who had anything more than a passing acquaintance with the shooter in recent years. He had to know something. She needed to come at him from a new angle.
She shuffled the papers in her folder, idly wondering if she could get away with folding one of them into a fan. She paused at the autopsy photos of the shooter. He had a tattoo on his chest, one of those heart and scroll jobs. The scroll read ‘Mabel’.
“So, who is Mabel?”
Jay-Jay burst out laughing, “Mabel? Are you kidding me?”
“Just answer the question, please.”
He grinned at her, “Everybody knows Mabel.”
Agent Barnes sat forward in her chair, “Assume I don’t. Tell me about her.”
“Mabel’s a dog.”
Barnes looked indignant.
Jay-Jay scrambled to clarify, “Mabel is a dog. Like, a for real, animal-type dog. She’s some stray. Folks feed her and pet her, but she ain’t interested in being kept. She’s practically the town mascot. Everybody owns her but no-one does. Like that, you know?”
Barnes nodded. “You have any idea why Tom would have her name tattooed on him?” She passed the photo across the table to him.
Jay-Jay looked at it and shook his head. After a minute, he groaned, “Aw, no. Jesus. Tom.” He bit his lip, eyes watering.
“What are you thinking?”
He sighed and started talking, “This is gonna sound crazy, but Tom lost custody of his dog in his divorce. Took it real hard. They let the dog pick, see. Dog chose his ex-wife and their son. Worst betrayal of his life, he said. Wasn’t ever like a joke when he said it.”
Agent Barnes squinted at him, “And Mabel?”
Jay-Jay shrugged, “I guess he thought he could win her over, get her into his car, bring her home. You know, make her his pet….have her choose him, it’d make things right somehow.”
“But nothing. Mabel got run down by some drunk tourist from the city. Last I heard, she was at the veterinarian. She was hurt real bad….” He looked over at Barnes, plaintive, “Did Mabel not make it?”
Agent Barnes took the photo from him and put it back in her folder, “My guess is she didn’t, Jay-Jay. I’d even put money on it.”
She peeled herself out of the chair and stood up, “Thank you for your time, you’ve been most helpful.”
Check out the other participants in this month’s chain: