Twenty-Nine and a Half Reasons Page 39

“Wait,” I called, hurrying to catch up with him. “Who was trying to buy his property? Why did they want it so bad? Was it one of the bookies he owed money to?”

The old man stopped and turned to me, leaning all his weight onto his cane as though he was too tired to stand anymore. “Yer just full of questions, ain’t ya?”

I didn’t respond, trying to figure out the right thing to say to get him to talk. Maybe I should have questions prepared the next time I snooped at some guy’s house.

“I don’t know who it was. Frank didn’t say, not that it was any of my damn business anyways. And as to why they wanted it, I don’t know that either. But I know they was givin’ Frank the hard sell even though Frank said he’d never move. It was his momma and daddy’s house, and it needed to stay in the family.” He released a throaty laugh that caused a coughing fit. When he hacking slowed, he cleared his throat and spit on the sidewalk.

I jumped out of the way, swallowing my disgust.

The man got a hard look in his eye and the right side of his top lip twitched as he stared at me. If I hadn’t known I could outrun him, I’d have been scared.

“You know what’s funny?”

I shook my head.

“All that energy wasted tryin’ to keep from selling it and his son goes off and sells it as soon as he gets the chance. What a waste.” He shook his head.

“You said the person tryin’ to buy his house was giving him the hard sell. What exactly was he doin’?”

He squinted up at me and his annoyance curled the corners of his mouth. “How in the Sam Hill would I know? Do I look like a mind reader to you?”

“No… but…”

He scowled, his wrinkled face twisting up like a prune. “Look, Frank was a private person. Kept to hisself. The only reason I know’d anything about it was because I found him drunk out back a couple nights before he was killed.”

The pieces of the puzzle were shifting as I put things together. “Do you think the person trying to buy his house might have killed him?”

“That pot-smokin’ fool didn’t have enough money to buy a house.”

My mouth dropped. “You mean Bruce Wayne Decker?”

He tried to stand taller again but tilted to the side. “Of course I mean that Decker kid. Who the hell else would I be talking about? That boy’s on trial for Frank’s murder right now.”

“But how—”

“Damn, yer a nosy woman.” He shook his head and grunted. This guy made me appreciate Mildred just a tiny bit more. “’Cause that Decker fool lived down the street.” Lifting his cane, he pointed down the street to the house on the corner. “Right there.”

The house was one of the nicest on the street. Fresh paint, a cut yard, flowers planted along the walk.

My confusion must have been evident. The man snorted. “He didn’t own that house. That’s his parents’ house. He lived there until a couple of months before Frank died. His folks finally wised up and kicked his sorry ass to the curb.”

“Oh.”

“Got any more fool questions?”

I shook my head, trying to make sense of that information. “No.”

He turned his back to me and hobbled to the house next door. “My baseball game’s on. If I miss something, I’m blamin’ you.”

Driving away, I slowed the car as I passed Bruce Wayne Decker’s parents’ house. I considered stopping and asking them some questions, but that wouldn’t work. I couldn’t very well knock on their door and say, “Hi. I’m Rose Gardner and I’m on your son’s jury, but I saw a vision in the men’s restroom that someone else killed Frank Mitchell so I believe your son is innocent and I’m trying to prove it.”

There was no way I could pull that off. I bet dollars to donuts that they’d never believe I thought he was innocent when everyone else was ready to have a public execution. Besides, I couldn’t risk it. I wasn’t supposed to be investigating.

On the drive home, I tried to make sense of what Mr. Mitchell’s neighbor had said. Who wanted to buy Frank Mitchell’s house? It was in such bad shape, and that kind of neglect hadn’t happened since Frank’s death. Decay like that took years. But Mr. Mitchell was a manager at the hardware store. While he wouldn’t have made enough money to get rich, he surely made enough to take care of his house. So where was his money going?

Anne in the paint department had said he’d owed money and Neely Kate said she’d heard he was in debt to bookies. I knew Joe would dismiss it as gossip, but the man had to be spending his money on something and it sure wasn’t fixing his house. Had the bookies wanted his house to pay off his debts? And when he refused, did they kill him?

Muffy was glad to see me and burst out of the house, running in circles before she finally took care of her business. After I made myself a sandwich for dinner, I realized I needed to pack for my trip to Little Rock.

My stomach twisted with excitement and anticipation. I’d never been to Little Rock before, even though it was only two hours away. Violet and Mike had been plenty of times and—

Oh, crappy doodles. I hadn’t told Violet I was going. No matter how frustrated I was with her, I needed to let her know or she’d worry.

I picked up the phone, wondering if she was still mad.

“Hello, Rose.” My question was answered by her frosty tone.

“Hi.” I tried to keep my voice friendly.

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