Sam Watson rubbed his upper lip. So that was Flo’s daughter. Pop had told him the two had an adversarial relationship. He just hadn’t mentioned how bad it was.
Abby could be her mother’s clone. Same mutinous expression, same defensiveness. But, where Flo always had a ready smile, the daughter looked worried. Furled brow, creases along her mouth, thinned lips. He’s seen her around town and knew she owned the gift emporium on First Street. For her customers, she smiled. A cute, dimple in her left cheek smile. Ever since he and Pop came to the small resort town in West Michigan, he’d meant to talk to her—more than thank you after she rang up his purchase.
She was slender, with light brown hair. Under her open navy jacket, she wore what looked like a sleepshirt—with little cavorting dogs and no bra—over well-worn jeans and bare feet stuffed into green plaid flannel-lined clogs. In her hand, she carried an orange watch cap. He wondered if she knew how mussed her hair was, from sleep and static electricity. The few times he’d seen her, her hair had been scraped back from her face and twisted into a fancy bun. Or caught up with one of those claw-like things. He liked this style better.
Ever since Pop started dating Flo, Sam had wanted to meet Abby. Just not like this.
Pop cleared his throat. “Like I started to say, Flo fell into a dumpster behind the bakery. She was trying to get one more loaf of bread.”
“Bread? You were dumpster diving for bread?” Abby’s voice echoed off the walls of the enclosed area. “If you were so desperate for food, Mother, you should have told me.”
“Mom,” the daughter said quietly. “I don’t think that’s the reason. Is it, Grandma?”
Ah, the sensible one in the trio of Ten Eyck women. The girl, with her mother’s sky-blue eyes, had darker brown hair and looked about seventeen. She wore a Far Haven High School Marching Band jacket. He thought Pop told him she was a senior.
“No, Bethany dear. The bread isn’t for me.” Flo sighed. “It’s for the birds. That stingy Duncan won’t give me the stale bread, so I have to take it out of his trash bin.”
“Now, Flo,” Pop said. “You know he isn’t being stingy. He can’t give anybody the old bread. If they got sick, they might sue him.”
“I don’t understand how you ended up in the dumpster, too, Pop.”
His mouth twisted and red crept up his neck. “I was trying to help her out and—well, Flo doesn’t know her own strength.”
She grinned. “I’ve been taking classes at the Senior Center and using the machines in the equipment room. I can lift fifty pounds.”
Sam bit his lip to keep from smiling. “I understand the trespassing part of your arrest. Where does the theft come in?”
“Duncan Randolph instructed me to arrest anyone taking anything from his property.”
Abby, her daughter, and Sam all turned to look at the newcomer. Deputy Ron Dawson. Short, blond hair—like most native West Michiganders—super serious. Sam had heard he was a whiz with the radar gun. So far, he’d avoided being stopped.
“Ron Dawson, you let my mother out of jail right now.”
“No can do. Randolph is adamant.”
“Once something is thrown in the trash, isn’t it fair game?” Sam asked.
“Don’t know, don’t care.” Dawson drew himself up straighter than a Marine at attention.
“Where is Chief Hoesen?” Abby demanded. “He will sort things out and release my mother.”
“The chief is on vacation. He won’t be back until after Christmas.” Dawson puffed out his chest. “I’m in charge.”
“How do we post bail?” Sam asked.
“The judge will decide bail at the hearing.” Dawson was still filled with self-importance.”
“And when will the hearing take place?” Abby asked.
At least she’d toned down her anger. That woman was going to have a stroke if she didn’t learn to manage her emotions better. Sam knew all about the dangers of stress.
* * *
“I can’t believe that man.” Abby turned the ignition. The car didn’t start. Just ground away, slower and slower each time.
“Which one?” Bethany fastened her seatbelt. “Deputy Dawg, Grandma’s date, or the cute guy?”
“Do not call Deputy Dawson—wait. What cute guy?”
“C’mon, Mom. Don’t tell me you didn’t notice Sam. Mister Tall, Dark, and Ruggedly Handsome. Yum-my.”
“Bethany Ann, he is way too old for you.” She tried to start the car again.
“Me? You have got to be kidding. I was thinking for you.”
As if she had any interest in a man. Once burned, twice shy. Abby blew out an exasperated noise. “Dang car. I hope Triple A isn’t too busy.”
Leaning back for access, she dug in her pocket for her phone. A rap on her window made her jump. That guy, Sam Whatshisname stood outside, his hands in his jacket pockets, his breath frosting in the air.
With no power, she couldn’t lower the window. She had to open the door. “What?”
“Mo-om,” Bethany whispered. “You sound like a bi—witch.”
“Car trouble?” Sam asked.
“No trouble. I love sitting in a cold car in thirty below windchill at four in the morning.”
Bethany leaned across the gearshift. “Yes, our car won’t start. Mom was going to call road service.”
“The dispatcher said the storm is causing havoc on the roads. I imagine it will take a long time for anyone to get here. I can give you a ride home.”
Abby was about to refuse when Bethany eagerly accepted his offer. She jumped out of the car, leaving Abby sitting behind the steering wheel. She hadn’t had a night like this since she caught Ferret Face and his girlfriend doing the dirty in their bed.
Sam continued to stand outside her car door. “Abby, I’m not the bad guy in this scenario. Are you coming?”
No, he wasn’t the bad guy. He seemed genuinely concerned about her and Bethany. Just as he’d been about his dad. Rather than seem ungrateful, she climbed out of her car. She slipped on a snowy patch and nearly landed on her butt. Sam caught her just in time. He helped her across the short distance and up into his SUV. His warm SUV. When he got in beside her—Bethany had taken the backseat—the interior seemed a lot smaller.
“You live above your shop on First, don’t you?” he said as he put his vehicle into gear.
“Yes. You seem to know a lot about us.” As soon as she said it, she realized she was still in bi—witch mode. “I’m sorry. You don’t deserve my bad mood.”
He easily maneuvered the big vehicle around the slippery streets. “Getting a call at two in the morning never brings good news. Especially from the police.”
“That’s exactly what I thought when I got the call.”
“Kindred spirits?” The deep rumble of his laugh was contagious. “Your mother talks about you two a lot. She says Bethany is an honor student, and you work too hard.”
She’d heard that before. Too many times to count.
“What are we going to do about our parents?” he asked.
“They can’t stay in jail over Christmas,” Bethany exclaimed. “We could break them out. I saw where Auntie Rose keeps the keys. You guys could distract her, and I could unlock the cell and get them out the back door.”
Abby sputtered while Sam chuckled. He spoke first. “That might work. But then we’d all spend Christmas in jail.”
Bethany leaned over the front seat. “Do you have a better suggestion?”
* * *
At ten the next morning, a mechanic from Schuyler Automotive brought her car around. Apparently, Sam had called and even paid for the service. Although she thought that was pretty high-handed of him, Abby was grateful for his thoughtfulness. She and Bethany headed back to the police station.
Instead of Rose, Jenny Sampson sat at the dispatch desk. Far Haven was so small, the deputies—Jenny and Ron Dawson—took turns relieving Rose.
“Hi, Abby. If you’ve come to see your mother, you’re just in time. Ron’s taking her and George Watson over to the courthouse.”
At that moment, Deputy Dawg ushered a handcuffed George and Florence to the back door of the station.
“Really, Ron?” Jenny said. “Handcuffs? Afraid those two desperados might get away from you?”
Deputy Dawg, who carried a large bag, ignored her.
Abby said, “I didn’t think the hearing was until Tuesday.”
“Somebody—who shall remain anonymous—called Judge DeVran before she went off duty. Ron had to come back to work to take them to the courthouse. He is not happy.”
Abby took off around the block to the courthouse. When she and Bethany arrived in the courtroom, Sam raced in behind her, as out of breath as she was.Santa Claus sat on the judge’s bench.
Return tomorrow for the conclusion of The Christmas Jailbird.