May Cooler Heads Prevail by T. L. Dunnegan

Publisher: Barbour Books (November 1, 2010)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 1597896764
ISBN-13: 978-1597896764

Copyright © 2010 by T. L. Dunnegan

Chapter 1

In 1833, according to the Kenna Springs Historical Society, one of my ancestors, Tenacious Tanner, was accused of stealing Isaac Farley’s horse. Unable to prove his innocence, Tenacious did the only thing he felt he could do. He broke out of jail and tracked down the real horse thief.
Tenacious found the thief camped out by the Sapawhatchee River. But his attempt to take the man by surprise backfired. The horse thief suffered a heart attack and died. Tenacious,
being tenacious, brought horse and corpse in tow back to Kenna Springs and insisted that the sheriff hang the dead man instead of him.
Ever since that infamous hanging, each succeeding generation of Tanners has been viewed by the townspeople of Kenna Springs as a generally God-fearing, but peculiar lot.
And on the whole, the Tanner clan has always done their best to live up to the town’s viewpoint.
Being a practical sort of child, I never considered myself the least bit peculiar and resented any action or behavior by any and all of my Tanner relatives, including my parents, that pointed in that direction. I was a lot more interested in sanity than most of my relatives. That being the case, eventually I earned a doctorate in clinical psychology. At age twenty-six I headed out into the world as Dr. Dixie J. Tanner. I landed a very good position at a well-established clinic in Little Rock. With relatively good job security, insurance benefits, and a growing savings account, I felt like I had the world by the tail. Oddly enough, most of the Tanners thought I was the one acting peculiar. There’s just no accounting for personal perception.
Six years ago, my parents, Jeb and Memphis Tanner, sold their farm in Kenna Springs and put a down payment on a little condo near the beach in Destin, Florida. It wasn’t a huge surprise. We had vacationed in Destin as long as I could remember. Dad refers to the move to Destin as their “big adventure” in life. Mom calls it her dream retirement. The rest of the Tanners made bets on when they would come to their senses and move back to Kenna Springs. Because my parents live in Florida, I now vacation there and only return to Kenna Springs for family reunions, family crisis situations, and the Kenna Springs Founder’s Day festivities. This summer I managed to combine the Founder’s Day festivities and a family crisis. I helped my fourth cousin, Dyson Tanner, and the potted plant that controls his mind, find a home in a very nice sanitarium.
Shortly thereafter, the Tanner clan divided up into two factions: those who argue that because Dyson’s potted plant showed more sense than he ever did, I should have left well enough alone; and the second, which applauded my efforts and have looked upon me as a one-woman free mental health clinic ever since.
Tanners seldom let much time go by between one family crisis and another. Still, I was surprised when, after brushing off a nightmare blind date early in the evening and settling down in my comfy pajamas with a late night bowl of cereal, the phone rang and it was Uncle Rudd.
By the clock on my kitchen wall, it was eleven thirty when I said hello.
Uncle Rudd, from the free mental health clinic side of the family, firmly announced, “Dixie-gal, glad I caught you. Tried a little earlier, but you weren’t home. We got a family problem up here, and we need your help. You’ll need to make arrangements to stay a few days, so you go ahead and get things rolling, and I’ll fill you in when you get here. We’ll be expecting you soon.”
He hung up, and I was left standing in my kitchen with a bowl of soggy cereal in one hand and a dead phone in the other. Feeling stunned, and wondering what the Tanners had gotten themselves into this time, I put the bowl of cereal on the counter and punched in Uncle Rudd’s phone number.
Before he had a chance to say anything but hello, I jumped in. “Not so fast. I’m tired, it’s late, and it will certainly not be easy for me to make arrangements to get a few days off. Bottom line, I’m not going anywhere until you tell me what’s going on.”
“Dixie-gal, you just gotta trust me on this. We need you, or I wouldn’t have called. I’ll tell you what’s going on when you get here.”
I asked the only question that made sense. “Has someone in the family passed away?”
I heard Uncle Rudd sputter the words “family” and “passed away” like they were foreign concepts to him. Then he bellowed so loud I had to hold the phone away from my ear. “Well, I wouldn’t call that little ferret-faced varmint, Aaron Scott, family, but he’s dead just the same!”
Even with my uncle’s rather colorful description, I couldn’t dredge up a mental picture of this Aaron Scott. Finally, I gave up. “Do I know this man?”
“Not exactly,” he admitted. “Connie didn’t cotton to talkin’ about the man very much, so naturally the rest of us didn’t, either. The Scott family live around Brogan’s Ferry. Aaron Scott, in particular, is the scummy little toad that skipped town and left your Aunt Connie standing at the altar on their wedding day over forty years ago.”
I knew that someone had left Aunt Connie at the altar, and as a result she had never married, but I had never heard anyone speak his name. As far as I knew it was one of the best kept secrets, if not the only secret, in Kenna Springs.
“And you want me to attend his funeral?” I obviously didn’t get the point.
“Dixie-gal,” Uncle Rudd groaned, “Aaron didn’t just pass away in his sleep real peaceful like. He was murdered.”
Murdered! The word slammed around in my head from one side to the other, giving me the beginnings of a terrific headache.
“And it wasn’t my baby sister that done him in, if that’s what you’re thinkin’,” he growled. “But it sure looks like she did!”
Right then and there I should have hung up the phone, packed my bags, and moved into a condo near my parents. Instead, I asked the question I wasn’t sure I wanted the answer to. “Okay, Uncle Rudd, why does it look like Aunt Connie murdered this guy?”
Uncle Rudd huffed. “It’s against my better judgment, but I’ll give you the bare bones of it. None of us has seen or heard from Aaron Scott since he left Connie at the altar. That is, until he showed up here in town sometime yesterday evening. Nissa and I heard about it when we were having supper over at Patsy’s Café tonight. ’Course, we got worried about how Connie was going to react, so we drove over to her place. We parked in the alley behind the flower shop, like we always do. We started to head up the stairs to her place over the shop when we noticed the back door to the shop was cracked open some and the lights were on inside. Nissa thought maybe Connie was so flustered at hearing that Aaron Scott was back in town that she forgot to turn off the lights and shut the door when she closed up the flower shop for the evening. We went in. . .and, well. . .that’s. . .”
Uncle Rudd’s voice trailed off until he stopped talking. I waited quietly. Finally, I heard him take a deep breath and let it out. “That’s when we found Connie and Aaron in the shop. Connie was sitting on the floor, moaning, and her eyes were all crazy-like. We tried to get her to talk to us, but she started saying stuff that didn’t make a whole lot of sense. She just moaned and rocked back and forth holding Scott in her arms, and him just laying there with a pair of her flower-cutting scissors sticking out of his back.”
Uncle Rudd’s voice quivered, and he quit talking. I knew I should respond, but I couldn’t translate my thoughts into words.
My head began to throb in earnest. Somewhere in the back of my mind was the perfectly good notion that I needed to move someplace where there are no telephones and no one could even pronounce the name Tanner.
I had heard enough to know this didn’t look good for Aunt Connie. I started to speak, but my mouth was so dry I had to stop and clear my throat. Swallowing as best I could, I croaked out the words, “Would you mind telling me again why you think Aunt Connie didn’t kill this Aaron Scott? I must have missed it the first time around.”
“Now see here, young lady,” Uncle Rudd bellowed again. “You just proved my point. You think she killed him, just like everyone else around Kenna Springs will. But I got her to make just enough sense to know that she didn’t kill him. I know good and well it looks bad for Connie. That’s why it’s up to us Tanners to prove she didn’t do it.” Uncle Rudd paused for a brief second, then announced, “And I’ve come up with a plan to do just that!”
I immediately quit worrying about my aching head and my cotton-spitting mouth and felt the thump, thump of a nervous tic that was developing at the corner of my left eye. All things considered, I didn’t care that my voice sounded a bit testy when I asked, “Plan? What plan?”
“I ain’t got all the particulars worked out yet on how we’re gonna catch that killer. That’s why we need you up here.”
“You want me to help you work out the particulars on a plan to catch a killer?” I couldn’t keep the shrillness out of my voice. “Uncle Rudd, that’s just. . .well it’s just. . .” I wanted to use the word “insane.” Instead I settled for, “It’s just not practical.”
“I’ll work out the plan, Dixie-gal, you don’t need to worry about that. We need you for something else. See, Connie is pretty rattled, and she keeps talking in some kinda code. Nissa calls it symbols. Don’t matter what you want to call it, we can’t make heads or tails of it. So I was thinking that since you did such a good job with cousin Dyson, and you know all that psycho mumbo jumbo, you could help us decipher what Connie is talking about. Then we would have our first clue as to who really killed Aaron Scott.”
“It’s psychological mumbo jumbo, if you please,” I muttered, wondering how I could explain to my uncle that this was a lot different than finding Dyson a nice place in which to be psychotic. I’m not trained to decipher coded messages—or find murder clues for that matter.
I knew Uncle Rudd wouldn’t listen for two seconds to all the sane reasons I shouldn’t get mixed up in this mess, so I settled for what I considered to be the next best tactic and said, “Of course, I’ll be there to support Aunt Connie in any way I can. But Sheriff Otis may want a therapist that is licensed in the state of Missouri to talk with her.”
“Doesn’t matter what the sheriff wants,” he huffed, “because tellin’ Otis Beecher isn’t part of the plan.”
Fearing that Uncle Rudd had, as so many Tanners before him, excused himself from the Dinner Table of Intelligent Reasoning, and was now in a feeding frenzy at the Buffet for the Befuddled, I used the same calm, well-modulated voice I had used with Dyson. “Maybe it would be a good idea to inform Otis about Aaron Scott’s murder. After all, Otis is the sheriff as well as a friend of the family. I’m certain he’ll see to it that the truth comes out. Besides, one cannot simply leave dead bodies lying about and expect people not to notice. Surely this man’s family is wondering what happened to him?”
“Nope, nobody will be missing him,” Uncle Rudd replied gruffly, “because nobody knows he’s dead. We hid the body where no one will find it.”
I knew it! The minute Uncle Rudd used the word problem, I should have packed my bags, bypassed Florida, and headed out for some remote South Sea island where I could learn
to juggle coconuts and simultaneously sing “Nobody Knows the Trouble I’ve Seen.” But since it was now the middle of the night and much too late to get in touch with a travel agent, I pleaded, “Be reasonable, Uncle Rudd. Where in Kenna Springs could you possibly hide a dead body? It’s a small town. People see things, people know things.”
“Reasonable?” Uncle Rudd exploded. “You want me to be reasonable? If old Tenacious Tanner had been reasonable, they’da hung him for horse stealin’ instead of that dead horse thief. I’m telling you straight out, we hid that body real good. Nobody is gonna find it unless we want ’em to. End of story!”
“All right, all right, you don’t have to yell,” I told him. “But you and Aunt Nissa locked up in jail for hiding a dead body is not how I want either one of you spending your golden years.”
“What? You think I’d let Nissa drag around a dead man? I’m not that big a clod. She took Connie upstairs, got her some things packed up, and then took her out to the car while we did what we had to do.”
Since the “we” part wasn’t Aunt Nissa, I was left to wonder which cousin was egging on this latest Tanner madness. Personally, my vote would’ve gone to cousin Woody. At one time there was talk of reinstating hanging in Kenna Springs just for the benefit of seeing Woody swing. However, no one had seen or heard from Woody since he took off for California ten years ago, and Woody’s parents moved to Florida soon after. It couldn’t be cousin Dyson and his potted plant. I had talked to Dyson on the phone this morning (I declined the opportunity to chat with the plant). No one else came flashing into my mind, so I asked, “Who is ‘we’ then?”
“We’ve talked long enough, Dixie-gal. It’s time you started packing. I’ll tell you the rest when you get up here.” Uncle Rudd hung up.
He had me and he knew it. As things stood, there was a murderer running loose in my hometown, a dead body tucked away from prying eyes, an aunt who apparently now speaks in code, and a sheriff who knew nothing about any of it. And of course, the Tanner family was right in the thick of things. What choice did I have? I packed my bags.  ❖

_    __________________________________

T. L. Dunnegan wrote for over two decades.  She passed away in 2006 and her family, particularly her son, Patrick, worked hard to bring his mother’s dream to fruition–the publication of this book.


About Vicki Hinze
USA Today Bestselling and Award-Winning Author of 40+ books, short stories/novellas and hundreds of articles. Published in as many as 63 countries and recognized by Who's Who in the World as an author and an educator. Featured Columnist for Social-IN Worldwide Network and Book Fun Magazine. Sponsor/Founder of FMI visit

Leave a Reply

Please log in using one of these methods to post your comment: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: