Extract from The Sheriff of River County
Copyright 2007 by zanybooks.com
10. Shootout at the Bar-B
The afternoon before the robbery was another occasion on which Sergeant LeJeune made it quite clear in his rumbling bass-baritone, spoken from a point a good six and a half inches and sixty pounds above my own ear, that I would be more trouble than I was worth when it came to patrolling the Bar-B’s parking lot and breaking up fist fights. He pointed first to my holstered gun—which I knew how to use having practiced constantly, and then to my baton—which I’d hefted at most once or twice, and then to me. Imagine a full-length poster of my compact but, at best, average five foot ten, fifty-five year old body clothed in a deputy’s uniform, with the caption, “Would you fear this man?” No, you wouldn’t.
Just as well I wasn’t needed for duty that night as Beverly had decided it was time—now the morning sickness was over and she still hadn’t picked up any real weight—that we went dancing. Now I love to dance as already noted—with Beverly as well as with the sweet young things attracted to a deputy’s uniform. Beverly and I generally went to the Bar-B early in the evening, from eight to ten, as most couples did, so we’d probably be leaving just as LeJeune and his deputies were showing up prepared to break apart the late-night drunken brawls among the frustrated single men.
The joint was jumping. The Bar-B would always smell of sweat and stale beer, but this night’s program featured a particularly popular band from Phoenix headlined by River County’s own Lou-Ann Sims (Miss Red Ridge the year before). The band had brought their own following and all Lou-Ann’s former friends and neighbors were there as well as those of us who’d come to dance, shoot pool in the corner, or drink beer after beer till they had the courage to ask a woman to be their partner for the evening.
Beverley was beautiful that night, as the River County Gazette (a weekly) reported later, “dressed in a white sleeveless top, white jeans and a pair of Dan Post whites with blue stitching in the sides.” Beverley was in the photo the Gazette ran along with its report, so was my shirtsleeve—the Gazette’s owner-editor didn’t care for me much.
Regardless, Beverly and I danced almost every dance, and had a generally good time, though both she and I stuck to Seven-Up with ice. We were out in the parking lot preparing to go home by ten thirty, when once again Bev grabbed me in a long, heart-felt kiss. She’d been doing this all evening, even out on the dance floor. (As this was just the start of her second trimester, I guess I could count on things getting even more embarrassing over the next few months.)
We were seated in the car, preparing to drive off, when Bev announced she’d forgotten her jacket. “I’ll get it,” I said and held her back from rising. The quicker I got into the club and got her jacket, the quicker I’d have Bev home and in bed. Take her with me and there’d just be more dancing, more hugs, and more kissing. Not the real thing, if you get my drift.
I headed for the musician’s entrance around back near where we’d parked just as LeJeune drove into the lot. Beverly called out to me, “aren’t you supposed to go around front?”
“Already paid,” I said and held out my wrist though it lacked a stamp as we’d been comped on the way in.
As I headed through the backstage area, I was conscious that I couldn’t hear any music. The band members were on break—I’d waved to one with his cigarette in hand as I entered through the back, but the Bar-B usually had a DJ spin records when the band wasn’t playing. I could hear yelling though, a single voice just the other side of the back-stage curtain, but I couldn’t make out the words.
When I peeked through the curtains, I saw a man standing on the stage near where Lou-Ann had stood earlier that evening. He was waving a sawed-off shotgun indiscriminately around the club as he screamed at the panicked dancers, “Sit your sorry asses down. On the floor, in a chair. My partner’s going to be coming round now with a bag. You hand him your wallet; you hand him your purse, your watch, your bracelet, your necklace, yes, those gold chains.”
The man had two partners I saw. One was carrying a bag and making his way slowly among the seated victims, the other stood against a pillar in the rear of the club to the left of the stage, on my right, a second sawed-off shotgun in his arms. I took my .380 out of its holster and spoke quietly through the opening in the curtain, “Put down your shot gun.”
The robbers had done a lot of stupid things that evening, the first of which was to not just take the money from the cashbox and then drive away. There had been rich takings at the box office that evening what with the extremely popular band the club had brought in. As the Gazette sort of hinted later that week, maybe the robbers were more interested in terrorizing than in robbing. But the biggest mistake of all was made by the robber on stage who instead of dropping his gun when I asked him to, turned slowly around toward the sound of my voice, taking my first shot in his hip and the second, aimed higher, straight through his heart.
A shotgun rang out from his partner, standing against the pillar. Its firing blasted innumerable holes in the curtain on my far left (and would have blasted a hole in me, too, had I been standing there). The man then backed slowly out of the club, his shotgun holding every potential hero well away from him. He kept backing until LeJeune’s strong arms went around him in a bear hug and lifted him off the ground. He’d sense enough to drop the gun then.
The third robber, the one making the collections, wasn’t as lucky. He’d surrendered immediately, not that he had a choice. He might have taken a punch or two to the body subsequently had there been only men in the club. But a woman tends to attach sentimental value to her possessions even if an ex-husband she still refers to scornfully as the “sperm donor” had given her the bracelet the robber had taken. The robber had to be hospitalized. Charlie, who’ d been there that night with his wife, bravely, if foolishly, came to the man’s rescue. He had to have an antiseptic applied to the scratches he received.
As for me, I made the briefest of appearances on stage, smoking gun in hand. (But long enough apparently, that a poorly-lit photo of me, the muzzle of the Kel-Tec barely visible, began to circulate throughout the county.) I holstered my .380, inspected the body briefly just to confirm the man was dead, accepted Bev’s jacket that Charlie’s wife handed up to me, and returned to the car.
“What took you so long? You really know how to destroy a mood.” was all Bev said to me when I returned.