The smell of the rental car was horrid, it smelled like ass and Cheeto’s. Jacob never was much for small fuel friendly economy rides and honestly the only reason he was driving the Toyota Prius was because it was the cheapest car that the rental lot offered. All he kept thinking was how he was coming home to get his girls and live happily ever after, but the grey skies above Pine Bluff were doing their best to prove his plans improbable. He took the map from the bag of items he had picked up from the counter at the rental car place and studied it for a minute. It didn’t appear that it would be too difficult to navigate the trip himself. Also he had purchased a “burner” phone and several minutes. He hadn’t talked to Rachel to let her know he was coming home and by now she would be worried sick about him.
He hadn’t told her the plan for one main reason. Her reaction to the police when they told her of his death. Rachel wasn’t much of an actress. Hell she couldn’t even keep a surprise birthday party secret much less the fact that her ex-husband had faked his death.
He heard the phone on the other end begin to ring and waited patiently as it rang four times. Just as he thought that it was going to voice mail he heard a frantic voice pick up.
“Hello,” it was Rachel. He knew the instant that he heard her beautiful voice. She sounded frantic, but not upset.
“Hello, who is this?” she repeated.
“Hello? Listen I don’t have time for games.” Jacob could tell she was about to put the phone down.
“Ray.” It was his nickname for her.
“Can you talk?”
“Jacob you son-of-a-bitch. What do you think your doing? I don’t have time for your games. I told you to never call here again.”
“Can you talk?”
“Of course I can talk. But that doesn’t mean I want to.”
Had the police told her yet? It had been over twenty four hours. It shouldn’t have taken them this long to notify her of his death. Assuming that they thought it had been him in the building.
“Have you not heard the news?”
“That you died in a building fire in St Louis? Yes. Did I believe it? Not for a second. You’re a bastard Jacob and if you come within one hundred miles of me or my family I will call the police and tell them your alive.”
“I’ve got money for you and Maggie. A lot of money.”
“Who did you steal it from? Wait, it doesn’t matter because we wouldn’t be safe, would we? We don’t need your blood money. Maggie and I are fine with Henry. Goodbye.”
She hung up the phone and Jacob was lost. He had no idea she had moved on to someone else. But then again how could he have expected her to sit and wait on him to return especially with no word from him in over three years. Jacob suddenly got a craving for some scotch.
The bar sat on a cobblestone street corner by the riverfront. It’s three story brick façade held no window’s and just above the bright red neon sign that announced the name Billy’s Blues House was a larger name, but this one was inscribed in concrete and bricked around. It was built into the front of the building so it would live forever. The name said Wilson Wholesale Dist. Jacob assumed it had once been a warehouse and distribution center. In fact all the buildings on this street looked nearly the same, and all appeared to have been a hub of some sort back when river boating was a way of life. Back in the days of Mark Twain.
The interior of the bar looked completely different. Modern tables and chairs lined the exposed brick walls and small stage sat at the front of the large room in front of a large hardwood dance floor. At the back of the room sat a long bar that appeared to seat at least thirty people and one old black man behind the bar.
Jacob took a seat next to a woman who sat at the all Mahogany bar in a high back bar stool and talked to her “old” friend. Jacob heard her say that to the man but from the way he looked her with a face that smiled he knew the old man didn‘t take offence to the comment. He saw the old man touch her hand softly. She gently withdrew her hand and swirled her straw in the martini glass of a pink concoction that that the man had set down in front of her.
“This one is on the house, dear.” Jacob heard the man say. He reminded he reminded Jacob of a cross between Sam from Casablanca and Fred Sanford. He had to be every bit of seventy but he still got around with all the vigor of a man half his age. He stood behind the bar like a statue in a white shirt, black bow tie and a black apron folded in half and tied at the waist. His hair was short and white and his eyes, although happy, held bags and the lines on his face showed his age. He felt most comfortable behind the bar, he could tell that, flinging drink, and Jacob watched as he talked to all the people at the bar like he knew them, which he probably did. He was a man that truly loved his job and Jacob instantly admired him for that.
“Thank you Blue.” She said and shot him a smile.
“No thank you sweetheart. Every time you come in here you make my day.” He touched her hand softly then patted it slightly. If Jacob hadn’t seen him do that to most of the people at the bar he would have thought it a come on, but she smiled and this time placed her free hand on top of his, patting slightly in return.
“How long, you been coming here?” Jacob asked.
“Since the day I turned twenty one.”
“Really, your remember the day?”
“Sure, I remember it well, I heard the band King Browne play for a room of a hundred people. They were a semi-local country band. You heard of them?”
“Well they were actually from Memphis and anyone within a two hundred mile radius becomes a local band by proxy.” She chuckled and her wavy hair bounced just a touch. “Well they are now selling out thirty thousand seat stadiums but I don’t like them anymore. They kinda sold out.”
“Well isn’t that the point?” Jacob asked.
She gazed across the field of four top tables and past a small dance floor to an even smaller stage that held a man. “That’s Charles Luther. He actually is from Pine Bluff and really pretty good. His band, Damned Old Train are a mix of modern country and the outlaw country that gives them their name.”
“They were named from the line in the David Allen Coe song ‘You Don’t Have to Call Me Darlin’?”.
“Yep. You like Coe?” She asked and raised one eyebrow.
“Not really. I just know that every bar I’ve ever been in has a bunch of drunk people belting the song.” Jacob thought it was a ridiculous song. But he didn’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings. “This guy any good?”
“Well they have a single playing on a dozen stations in the area, they are better than most big stars.”
Jacob watched as Kelsey watched Luther, in all his tattooed glory, stand in the neon glow of the beer signs and bang on the guitar strings to an up tempo number that had something to do with drugs. He didn’t particularly care for this song but the set was almost over.
“The set is almost over I bet he will play ‘I’m sorry’.”
“I’ll have a scotch, Chevis if you have it.” Jacob said as the man she called Blue returned to their side of the bar.
She turned and looked at him in the eyes, Jacob sat still for a moment, looking back at her, trying to get what she was thinking. He realized that the whole they had been chatting she never even looked his direction. Through their entire conversation up to that point she had been staring at the stage and this man she called Charles.
“You have beautiful green eyes.” she said, and then she turned her attention back to the stage, waiting for the song he assumed she came to hear.
“I wrote this song a while back,” he began, “when I lost someone dear to me. We used to do everything together, she even went hunting with me. Who does that? This song is for Lucy, my lab. 1, 2, 3, 4…”. the band started in and it wasn’t the song. Only a joke. He was playing the crowd and they knew it, a mixture of boos and laughter rose through the crowd.
“Who is this guy?” she said talking to Blue but pointing to Jacob.
She turned around and studied him again as if there were something odd about him. “There is something about him that I can’t put my finger on.”
She patted the bar and pointed her finger at Jacob, his mind raced as he poured the Scotch down his throat.
“I’ve got it,” she said, “I know what it is about you that I can’t figure out. I don’t know you. You see we know everyone here. And I mean everyone. There isn’t a person that can walk through that door that I don’t know.” She turned to Blue, “You know him?”
“No,” he said as he walked away.
“My name is Nathan,” Jacob put out his hand. “Nathan Collins.”
She grabbed his hand and shook it with authority. She didn’t feel like a fish in his hand. She was gorgeous, in an exotic looking way. She didn’t look like she fit into the scene at Pine Bluff, maybe an island in the Mediterranean, off the coast of Greece. Her skin was an olive hue and seemed a little tan for mid December. She had on a black low cut sleeveless shirt that was clingy and showed that she had nothing to be embarrassed about. Sitting in her chair he guessed her at maybe five ten, relatively tall for a girl and thin, maybe one twenty. Her long black hair was curly and pulled back into a loose pony tail. He could smell a slight floral scent, not as though she had put on perfume but maybe bathed in a rose water, which he thought seemed unlikely the instant he thought it.
“You hear him, make up your own mind. People around here love him. But he is one of our own so we might be a little bias.” She turned and the scent of rose flowed from her hair again.
The old black man came back to the end of the bar and looked at Jacob. “‘nother Chevis?”
“Where you from son?”
“Name’s Nathan, from St. Louis.” Jacob saw in the mans eyes that he had heard a lot of stories over the years and wondered if he bought his.
“St. Louis is a big place, where ‘bout?”
“Lived in Clayton area, worked just north of downtown. Branch of AIG. You from STL?”
“Nope, Memphis myself but know a lot people.”
Kelsey turned back to Jacob. “This is his big hit right now. Listen and be the judge.” He saw a light in her eyes. Like a kid in a candy store.
The old black man leaned in to Jacob’s ear. “People call me Blue. She’s like a daughter to me. You understand me son?”
Truth was Jacob had no intention of caring want the man said. He would be out of town with the sun and he was just looking for scotch.
The song had been touching and heart felt. Jacob honestly wished the best for the young man. He seemed troubled and Jacob knew how hard it was to breakaway from a small town. As Jacob drove the Prius up the snow covered riverfront streets and then into the old downtown district it reminded him a lot of Dublin, not Ireland, Missouri. Rachel and Maggie still lived there. Some two hundred miles west. It was a small town nestled in the foot hills of the Ozarks that in reality were merely foothills themselves. Pine Bluff’s downtown district was filled with small shop owners selling handmade crafts, a few shoe stores, a camera shop and couple furniture stores. The main economic business had headed toward the interstate, it appeared, several years ago.
Jacob couldn’t help but wonder what had kept young Charles here. It was obvious that he intended on making his way to Nashville in hopes of a music career and God knew there was nothing for him here. Pine Bluff appeared to be like most small towns. If you didn’t come from money chances were that you would never have any. And from Charles’ outward appearance he didn’t have any.
Kelsey lay half passed out in the passenger seat of the tiny car. Her height made it hard for her to spread out.
“So where is your house?”
“Make a left at the next stop light.”
After a few more rights and a couple lefts Jacob found himself in a cushy neighborhood near a college of which he didn’t recognize the name. Her house was small and cozy but classy. Not quite a brownstone but in that line of architecture. Its brown brick front was narrow like a row house. The interior was just as predictably modern yet safe. Hardwood floors covered the entirety of the home.
Jacob made his way around the sitting room and noticed a few pictures hung on the wall above the mantle over the fireplace. One was of an older man and a teenage boy and Kelsey as a young girl, maybe ten, on a fishing trip, she held up a small fish that appeared to be a perch. The next one was of Kelsey with an older lady in a turquoise dress and grey short curly hair and a Wilma Flintstone pearl necklace. If Jacob was a betting man he would put a hundred dollar bill on the fact she was a school teacher. The next picture was Kelsey in a cap and gown holding a college diploma.
“I’ll be right back, make yourself comfortable. I’m going to go upstairs and slip into something else. Kitchen is that way.” She pointed toward the back of the house from midway up the stairs. “Sorry there is no Chevis though.” She called from upstairs.
“It’s okay, I’m done drinking anyway.” Jacob lazily strode through the downstairs looking at anything that would hint as to who this girl was. She was amazing and beautiful and crazy and reckless but the shape of her home and everything about her said just the opposite.
“So what exactly does a day trader do anyway?” she was still calling from upstairs.
“Well, its just a fancy way of saying that I’m a banker that trades stocks, bonds, futures, pretty much anything. I’m getting burned out though and I’m looking to get out. That’s why I’m heading south. I’ve got some money saved and I’m looking to make a chan…” his thought trailed off as he came back around the corner from the kitchen and back into the sitting room. He had been looking at the fishing picture again. Kelsey stood in a red and white lace bra and panty set. Her hair was down and hung over her shoulders. It wasn’t as curly as he had thought it was in the ponytail, but had more of a wavy body to it. But it was her small perky breasts that held his attention at the moment.
“Change?” she finished the thought for him.
“Yes, change sorry, you’re so beautiful. Your so fit, you must devote hours a day on that body.”
“I run two miles a day, that’s all, natural beauty, I guess. That’s me and my dad and my half brother.”
Jacob moved closer to her. “What is it that you do exactly? I can usually read a person pretty good, but you Kelsey Lawson seem to have stumped me.”
She moved closer to him and pushed her near naked body close to his. She ran her hands over his inner thighs and he became instantly hard.
She whispered in his ear, “Its Detective Kelsey Lawson.”