Tuesday, December 1, 2015

The Christmas Jailbirds by Diane Burton

Part 1
A ringing phone at two in the morning never brought good news. Abby scrambled across the covers to the nightstand where she’d plugged in her cell phone. She yanked it off the charger, hoping she hadn’t bent any of the prongs. Dang, the things you had to worry about with new technology.
“This is Rose at the police station. Is this Abby?”
Oh dear God. Bethany. She’d gone out on a date with a new boy. Abby was sure she’d heard her daughter come in.
“What happened?” Abby had no idea how she could speak with her heart yammering in her ears.
“I’m calling about your mother. She’s all right,” the dispatcher said quickly, as if to reassure her.
How can anyone be reassured when the police call you at two a.m.?
“My mother?”
“Yes. She’s been arrested.”
What had Mother done now? “Arrested? For what?”
“Trespassing on private property. And theft.”
Abby dropped the phone. Oh, dear God. It was worse than she thought.
“Hello? Abby, are you there?”
She scooped up the phone. “Yes. Thanks, Rose. I’ll be right down.”
“Florence doesn’t want you to come. In fact, she didn’t want me to call you.”
Her sleep-deprived mind wasn’t operating at full efficiency. “I don’t understand.”
“I knew you’d want to know. This isn’t an official call. She says she’s saving her one phone call for someone important.”
That about summed up her relationship with her mother. “Then don’t tell her I’m coming.”
As Abby pulled on her old jeans, the ones she’d thrown over the treadmill last night, a sleepy-eyed, yawning Bethany knocked lightly on the open bedroom door.
“What’s going on, Mom? Why are you getting dressed?”
Abby didn’t bother changing out of her long-sleeve sleep shirt. “Grandma’s in jail.”
“What?” That yanked the sleep out of her daughter’s eyes. “What happened?”
“I’ll tell all when I come back.” She shoved her feet into her clogs.
“No. I’m coming with you.” Bethany ran back to her room yelling, “Don’t leave without me.”
Aggravated at having to wait, Abby grabbed her winter jacket out of the closet as well as her daughter’s. She smushed her hair into her Hope College watch cap. She’d taken the keys off the hook next to the door to the back stairs when Bethany skidded across the hall floor in her sock-clad feet. Smart girl to wear socks. Abby hadn’t taken time to put hers on. Too anxious to hear what her mother had been up to that got her arrested for trespassing and, worse, theft. Clenching her teeth, Abby knew her mother’s version of what she’d done would vary greatly from the deputy’s. She just hoped the arresting officer wasn’t Deputy Dawg.
On the way to the Far Haven police station, she told Bethany as much as she knew. Ever since Father died, Mother had changed. And not in a good way. First, she turned in the lovely silver Lincoln he’d bought her three years before for a red Mustang. And a convertible at that. Then she’d gotten her hair dyed blond. Blond, for God’s sake. Father hated dyed hair. Said natural was better. She claimed that was her natural color, pre-gray. Abby couldn’t believe the change. With a stylish new cut, Mother looked younger and more vibrant.
Abby hated change.
Worse, Mother was selling her home. She said it was too much to keep up, even though she had a cleaning service and a lawn and snow-removal service. Abby’s heart ached at the thought of someone else living in the house in which she’d grown up.
She pulled up in front of the red brick Public Safety building—police and fire departments, all in one. Far Haven was too small for more. As she and Bethany got out of the car—a sensible ten-year-old Chevy—the wind off Lake Michigan buffeted them. Combined with the snow-packed parking lot, Abby had a hard time remaining upright. The wind had picked up since leaving home, almost gale force.
Clutching each other, she and Bethany staggered into the station. The door was hard to open and even harder to close behind them. Rose, sitting in her usual place of honor where she could see anyone who entered and most of the spacious office, looked up from her computer. Though the monitor was turned away, it looked like Rose had been playing solitaire.
“Abby. Bethie.” Rose insisted on thinking her daughter was still the toddler she used to babysit. “Sorry to call you out on such a nasty night.”
As much as she liked Rose, Abby didn’t have time for polite chit-chat. She scanned the room, expecting to find her mother sitting at one of the deputy’s desks. “Where’s my mother?”
A blush flooded Rose’s face. “Deputy Dawson locked her up.”
“In jail? My mother’s in jail?”
Bethany patted her shoulder. “Mom, don’t go ballistic on Auntie Rose. It’s not her fault.”
“No, it’s that damn Deputy Dawg. Wait until I get my hands on that idiot. Where is he?”
“Now, now, dear. Listen to Bethie.” Rose took a set of keys out of her drawer. “Ron is out on patrol. Come. I’ll take you back to see Florence.”
In all the time Abby had lived in Far Haven—thirty-nine years minus the two away when she was married to Ferret Face—she’d never seen the inside of the jail.
Rose led them down a beige hall. At the end, she unlocked a metal door set into the wall on the left. They walked down a shorter hall and there it was. The jail, two cells complete with steel bars, a narrow cot, and a stainless steel commode. Mother sat on the edge of the cot.
And she wasn’t alone.
“Who are you?” Abby demanded of the old man sitting next to her mother. And holding her mother’s hand!
Florence bounded off the cot with the agility of a much younger woman. All those classes at the Senior Center must be paying off. “Abigail Louise, what are you doing here?”
Abby fisted her hands on her hips. “What are you doing in jail? And who is that man?”
That man rose more slowly than Florence had. He looked to be about her age and a little taller with a head of thick, gray hair and a weathered face that had seen a lot of sun. When he reached her side, he placed his arm around her waist. Around her waist!
“Rose.” Florence gripped the steel bars, indignation in her voice as well as in her piercing stare. “I specifically told you not to call Abigail. I’ll never talk to you again.”
“You’ll have to talk to me at bridge.” The dispatcher beat it back to her desk.
“Don’t count on it, you traitor. And, you Abigail. Go home. I don’t want you here. How could you drag poor Bethany out of bed at this hour of the morning?” With that, her mother returned to the cot. The old man shrugged and gave Abby an apologetic half smile before joining Florence.
“At least have the courtesy to tell me what is going on, Mother.” When Bethany elbowed her, Abby shot her daughter the same glare her mother had given her. “I want to know what you were doing to get arrested.”
“Yeah,” a male voice behind her said. “I’d like to know what she did that got my father arrested.”
Abby spun around. Rose had escorted another visitor. A tall, dark-haired man in lumberjack clothes—tan work boots, jeans, a red plaid shirt with a white turtleneck underneath.
“More likely your father instigated the whole thing,” she shot back.
“I’ll let you folks straighten things out,” Rose said before making a hasty retreat.
“Mom, calm down. Let’s listen to Grandma and . . . his father.” Bethany jerked her head toward the man.
Abby had seen the newcomer around town but didn’t know him. Rumor had it he was a “retired” entrepreneur now a furniture maker. Considering the sawdust and wood shavings on his shirt and the front of his jeans, the last part must be true.
“Sam, my boy.” The old man walked slowly forward. From his grimace, arthritis must be taking its toll on his bones. “You didn’t need to come.”
“Sure I did, Pop. Now would someone tell me what’s going on? Why are you in jail?”
“We-ell, Flo here fell into a dumpster behind—”
“A dumpster?” Abby exclaimed. “Mo-ther. What were you doing in a dumpster?”
Florence rushed to the bars. “Don’t you talk to me like that, young lady.”
Sam glared at Abby. “We’ll get the story if you let my father talk.”
“How will we know it’s the truth? He could make up a story so my mother will look stupid.”
“Mo-om.” Bethany tried to hush her.
Abigail Louise Ten Eyck, don’t you talk about George like that.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Everybody be still.” Sam raked his hand through his hair. “Pop, tell us what happened. Then, Flo, you tell your side.”
Flo? Nobody called Mom Flo. Father didn’t approve.
“I wish all of you would go home,” Mother said. “George and I are perfectly all right.”
“It’s Christmas Eve, Mother. You are not spending Christmas Eve in jail.”
Florence jutted out her chin. “I’ll do what I damn well please, Abigail.”

Return tomorrow for Part 2 of The Christmas Jailbirds.


Leah St. James said...

Love it! I can picture the scene, and I'm laughing...which isn't my normal state at 6-something in the morning. :-) This is the same town as your Bygone Brother book, right, Diane? Can't wait for the next parts!

Margo Hoornstra said...

Great start for the Christmas stories. Thanks for the morning brightener, Diane.

Rolynn Anderson said...

Way to begin, Diane. Brings a new perspective to dumpster diving...as well as the elderly parent conundrum. Having recently acquired a convertible, I am definitely in Flo's corner!

Christine DePetrillo said...

OMG! I love this time of year at The Roses of Prose! :) Great start!

Diane Burton said...

Good morning, ladies. You're up bright & early. Thanks so much for your lovely comments. Yes, Leah, this is the town from my Alex O'Hara PI mysteries. (For the super-observant, there's a name change. A reader from the east-side of Michigan informed me there's a real Fair Haven. Now the town is Far Haven.)

KatB said...

I have no idea how you ladies write such awesome, well-developed stories in short story format. This is great! Can't wait for the next installment. :)

Diane Garner said...

Oh, what a fabulous opening! I feel like I know these characters already.

Brenda Whiteside said...

You gave us a good kick off. Love it and can't wait for the next portion!

Diane Burton said...

Kristen, thanks for your kind words. Writing short is a challenge for someone like me whose books tend to be 100k. This is my 3rd year and it's getting easier. :)

Diane, thanks. I'm glad the characters came through.

Brenda, thanks.

Jody Vitek said...

What a way to kick off this now annual reading event! I hate when I miss out on these stories, but am glad I caught the first of them. I can't wait to read the continuation.

Jannine Gallant said...

What a fun beginning, Diane. I love Flo!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Jody. I'm glad you found us.

Jannine, isn't she a hoot? I want to be like her. LOL

Vonnie Davis ~ Romance Author said...

FERET FACE!!! Bwahahahaha. She musta married my ex. OMG, what a great start to the month of free reads. You did the Roses proud, Diane. Love it!!!

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Vonnie. You made my day!

Melissa Keir said...

Wonderful story. I can't wait to read more! Such a cute couple... I hope that Abigail gets her own happily ever after.

Alicia Dean said...

Eeek, I'm late reading, but I loved this! Wow, what a conundrum. Haha, great characters. Love the tension and humor you wove in, and my detective skills tell me a romance is brewin'...off to read the next installment. Great job to kick it off!

Diane Burton said...

Melissa, would I deny Abby her HEA?

Thanks, Alicia. That's high praise coming from you. :)

Susan Coryell said...

Your conflict here is fascinating! Thanks for sharing.

Diane Burton said...

Thanks, Susan.