Goose Pimple Junction is not your average small Southern town. The folks are a little bit left of center, and murder, mayhem, hooligans, and heroes abound. Even so, this town and its people will stay with you long after the mystery is solved and the end of the book is reached.
Chapter Chapter 2
Martha Maye Moves InG
A mule can be tame at one end and wild at the other. ~Southern Proverb
Late-afternoon sun filtered into the room as Martha Maye kicked off her pink flip-flops and sank into the couch, emitting an exhausted sigh. She looked around her new living room in silent contentment, even though it was full of unpacked boxes. Sure, it was a rental house, but she felt like it belonged to her—her and Butterbean.
She’d left most of her things months ago when she and her daughter had fled her husband and their home in the middle of the night. After Lenny threatened to kill her if she left him, she knew what she had to do. The tragedy of her great-grandmother’s murder years earlier had taught her to never underestimate a jealous man.
And finally, things were looking up. She had landed a teaching job, rented a house, and furnished it with garage sale and flea market finds. The mistake of taking up with the wrong man was starting to be a faint memory. A slight breeze caused the drapes to billow. Laying her head against the couch, she listened to the soft giggles of Butterbean and her friend playing outside.
The front door opened into the living room, and Martha Maye watched as Johnny Butterfield came in carrying another box. He stood six foot five, had a thick neck, sculpted shoulders and arms, and he reminded her of Paul Bunyan. His heart was every bit as big as his body. Martha Maye couldn’t help it—she was smitten, but she’d learned her lesson about jumping in too fast with a man, and besides, she was technically still married.
“This is the last of it, Martha Maye,” the new police chief said, putting the box down. He joined her on the couch, his bulk taking up more than one cushion. Martha Maye turned toward him, tucking her feet underneath her, looking at the muscles straining the sleeves of his Goose Pimple Junction Police Department T-shirt.
“I can’t thank you enough for all your help.” She reached for the beer she’d gotten out for Johnny and handed it to him. “But here’s a start.”
“Aw shucks, Martha Maye, my pleasure. I know you’re excited to be on your own again. Your mama’s house was getting a might crowded, huh?”
“I’ll say. There wasn’t enough room to swing a cat. But she likes it that way. Mama’s happiest when she’s busy, and she always did like a full house and taking care of people.”
Her eyes went to the service revolver on his hip. He noticed and asked, “Does the gun bother you? I usually wear it, even when I’m not on duty.”
“Well actually, I’m scared to death of guns.” She hugged a throw pillow. “Always have been. Maybe it’s on account of my family history. Too many murders, all by gunfire.”
“And at the filling station? Before you got free?”
She was quiet a moment and then said softly, “I can still hear the sound of bullets hitting the Co’Cola machine in the office where Tess and I were holed up.”
“You must have been scared out of your mind.”
“You know, that Jim Bob wasn’t a career criminal, but he had a gun, and I can still remember the stark-white fear of that day.”
“You think about that day often?” His voice was soft and sympathetic.
“A little. Not much.” Her face brightened. “I try to only think about the good stuff. You know, like you kicking in the door and standing there in your state police uniform and . . .” Her voice trailed off into a giggle, remembering how she flew into his arms once they’d broken free of the building.
“That sure was a way to meet, huh?” He stretched his long legs out in front of him, lacing his fingers behind his head.
She nodded. “That was some way to meet.”
He shook his head slowly and exhaled theatrically. “It’s a tough job rescuing beautiful women, but it was all in a day’s work.” His smile filled his face, lighting up his dark brown eyes.
Martha Maye wondered if Johnny was as interested in her as she was in him. Their eyes locked and held until the moment was broken by the sound of the wall clock chiming five times.
“So, Martha Maye . . . tell me some things.”
“Like what, Johnny?”
“Oh, I don’t know. I’d just like to get to know you better. What’s your favorite food?”
She tapped her lips with a finger. “Hmm. Probably fried chicken. Yours?”
“A big juicy steak.” He tore off some of the label on the bottle of beer. “Movie?”
“I don’t know if I could narrow it down to one. I love movies.”
“So do I!”
“Maybe …” She rubbed her bottom lip with her thumb and forefinger as she thought. “Maybe Driving Miss Daisy.”
“That was a good one. I liked The Green Mile.” His thumb rubbed at the leftover label residue.
“Ooh, yeah, that was a good movie.”
“Okay, what about TV?”
“I don’t watch much, but I do love Justified.”
He sat up, excited, and leaned toward her. “Me too, Martha Maye. Sounds like we have a lot in common.”
They were silent again, and Martha Maye stood and walked to the window to check on her daughter and to put an end to the awkward moment.
“I’m so glad Butterbean has a new friend.” She pulled the drape aside and looked out into the yard.
Johnny cleared his throat. “It was a lucky stroke when this house opened up right next door to Honey and her daughter.”
He joined Martha Maye at the window, standing so close behind her she could smell his aftershave. That man always smells so good.
“I think the Lord’s watching out for us.” Martha Maye pretended not to notice how close he was to her. “The way I met Honey at school and us having so much in common, the luck of this house being available . . . when she told me about it, I jumped at the chance. It’ll be real nice having her for a neighbor. And the Bumgarners on the other side of us are good people, too.”
“What do they do for a living?” Johnny placed a tentative hand on her waist.
Inside, every nerve ending was on high alert, but outwardly, she tried to show no reaction. “Hector’s retired and Estherlene has always been a homemaker.”
“And what about Honey? What does she teach up at the school?”
“She’s the phys ed teacher.” She craned her neck to the right. “And speak of the devil.” Martha Maye abruptly moved away from the window.
Honey Winchester knocked three times and opened the screen door, calling out, “Yoo-hoo! Anybody home?”
“Come right on in, Honey. Have you met Police Chief Johnny Butterfield?”
“Well, hidee-do, Chief,” Honey crooned. “Martha Maye said you were as big as Paul Bunyan but yowza, Paul ain’t got nothing on you, darlin’.” She sidled up to him and held out her hand. “I’d fight tigers with a switch in the dark for you.”
“Pleasure to meet you, ma’am.” Johnny blushed. He tried to get his hand back, but Honey now had it between both of hers and showed no signs of letting go.
“Now what’s a big honking man like you doing blushing?” Honey teased. She got closer to him and whispered, “You come on over to my house sometime and I’ll give you something to blush about.” She took one hand away from his and squeezed his enormous bicep. “Ooh. Now that’s what I’m talking about,” she murmured. “Big muscles.” She looked down at the hand she still held. “Big hands.” Her eyes met his. “Big eyes . . .” Her voice got husky. “Got anything else—?”
Martha Maye cleared her throat and interrupted before Honey could say what she thought she was going to say. “The girls sure are having fun out there.”
“Hmm . . . what?” Honey finally took her eyes off Johnny and let go of his hand.
“The girls. Outside. Fun.” Martha Maye wasn’t used to such forward women, and she didn’t appreciate the tremendous amount of friendliness her new neighbor was showing Johnny. Honey’s particular brand of friendly was different than most people’s. It seemed like she never met a man she didn’t like.
“Oh yeah, they’re having fun. Maddy Mack is so happy to have a friend right next door now. Say, whatchy’all up to in here all by your lonesome? Y’all haven’t been smooching and mooning, have you? You know, Johnny, Martha Maye isn’t quite a free woman just yet.” Honey batted her eyelashes at him. “But I’m free as a bird.”
“Free and easy,” Martha Maye muttered, plopping onto an overstuffed chair.
“What’s that, sugar?” Honey asked, running her fingers through her short strawberry-blond hair.
“I said, maybe we could play Parcheesi.” She rubbed her nose, an habitual nervous gesture.
“Oh sugar, I like to play games”—she paused to give Johnny a coy look—”but I prefer the more . . . physical ones.” She fluffed her spiky hair and let her hand fall slowly to her chest.
Martha Maye didn’t think Honey would go beyond innuendo, so she called her bluff. “Such as?” she said sweetly.
“Oh, you know, I like football, basketball, anything physical.” She looked right at Johnny, who shoved his hands in his pockets and looked down at his shoes. “Say! Maybe we could play that game—whatsit called, Foursome?”
Martha Maye rolled her eyes and said, “You mean Four Square?”
“Oh, of course, Four Square. Maybe we could play that with the kids some time.”
“Yeah, uh, that might be fun.” Johnny hitched a thumb over his shoulder. “Listen, ladies, I’m gonna have to shove off. Got to go check in at the station.” With the look of a cornered animal, he began backing toward the door.
“Don’t be a stranger, Chief,” Honey called in her Southern twang.
Martha Maye walked to the door with him. He stepped out onto the porch, then turned, and their eyes met. She hoped he was finally going to ask her out, but he simply squeezed her hand and said, “Let me know if you need any help getting set up in there.”
“I will, Johnny, thank you for your help.”
She turned to go back inside but looked over her shoulder and saw Johnny looking back at her.
“Anything else?” she said hopefully.
He looked at her for a long moment. Her heart sped up.
He adjusted the ball cap on his head. “Nah, I reckon not.” A shy grin appeared on his face. “See you later, sweet tater.”
Flustered, she went back inside to find Honey making herself at home on the couch. The screen door slapped shut loudly behind her.
“He sure seems nice,” Honey said in a singsong way. “And cute as a bug’s ear.” She crossed her long, tanned legs gracefully. Honey had the perfect body. She was not only a PE teacher, she was also a personal trainer, and she looked it. She had a tiny waist, toned, shapely legs, and a man-made chest that left men unable to remember her eye color. Her short, spiky hair made her look slightly tomboyish, but she was all woman.
“He’s very nice,” Martha Maye said, sitting down across from Honey.
“Is he taken?” Honey asked.
“He’s not married or seeing anyone, if that’s what you mean,” Martha Maye said, trying to keep impatience out of her voice.
“Are you two …”—Honey waggled her finger in the air as she stretched out the word “two” for a few seconds—”an item?”
“No. You know we’re not.” Martha Maye tucked her feet under her.
“I don’t know. He seemed kind of sweet on you, Mart.” Honey reached for the bottle and took a swig of Blue Moon beer Johnny had left behind.
Martha Maye looked earnestly at her friend. “You think? I feel like there’s something between us, but he won’t ask me out.”
“So you two are just friends.” She finished the bottle off in one astonishing gulp.
“Just friends,” Martha Maye sighed, making the word sound like “free-unds.”
“Well, if you don’t mind—” Honey was cut off by the ringing phone.
“Saved by the bell,” Martha Maye muttered under her breath.
“What’s that, sugar?”
“I said, that’s my cell.” Martha Maye smiled sweetly. But as soon as the person calling said one word, her smile disappeared.
“How did you get this number?” she hissed, surging to her feet.
“Never you mind about that, darlin’, I’m just calling to make sure you’re all right. I heard you were almost killed.” Lenny’s voice boomed over the line, his words full of emotion.
“Where’d you hear that?” she asked in a flat tone.
“Aw baby, don’t be like that. I love you, of course I’m gonna worry about you when I hear you were kidnapped, for Pete’s sake. I’m just glad you’re okay. You are okay, aren’t you, baby?”
“I’m just fine.” Martha clamped her eyes shut, willing the tears to go away. “And I’m not your baby.”
“Listen, sweet pea, I’m not mad. I know you did what you had to do. Both of us have had time to cool off and think about things, and honey, literally, the only thing I think about is you. Let me come talk to you. We can work out our problems. I know we can. I’m a changed man. Losing you was literally the worst thing ever happened to me, and I swear on a stack of Bibles I’ve changed. You were right to leave, but I miss you something awful, you and Carrie. I can’t stand being without y’all—”
“Lenny!” Martha Maye interrupted his pleading. He was quickly giving her a headache. “That’s enough. I’m happy now. I’m teaching up at Butterbean’s school, and we’re settling into a new life. Leave me be.”
“What about Carrie? You can’t just go off and expect me not to see our little girl anymore. I got my rights.” Lenny started crying. “I just miss y’all so much, Marty. Please let me come see y’all. Pleeeeaaaassse.”
“I’ll think about it, Len,” Martha Maye said softly. “I’ll think about it. Don’t call me. I’ll call you.” And with that, she punched End on her phone.
“Sugar, are you all right?” Honey asked, coming up beside her. “You look sorta pale. More than usual.”
“Yeah, yeah, I’m just fine.” Martha Maye ignored the slight insult. “I’d rather not talk about it right now, okay?”
“‘Course it’s okay,” Honey soothed, rubbing Martha Maye’s back. “Listen, why don’t we take the girls and go get some ice cream? That would take your mind off things, wouldn’t it? I scream, you scream, we all scream for ice cream.”
“That sounds nice, Honey, but you’ve helped me lose weight, now don’t go putting it back on me. No ice cream for me.”
“Oh sugar, you’re back in fine form, you look like a million bucks. Your pear shape is more like an hourglass now, but you gotta show it off by wearing clothes that fit.”
Martha Maye looked down at her baggy T-shirt and loose-fitting jeans. She didn’t think she looked too bad. But I suppose I don’t look too appealing, either. I’d be embarrassed to go to Wal-Mart dressed this way. No wonder Johnny wouldn’t ask me out. Twenty pounds had come off, but she hated to buy new clothes before the final ten were gone, and they were sticking like glue.
She took a deep breath and let it out, sounding forlorn. “I still have ten more ugly pounds to lose.”
“And you will. You keep working with me, and pretty soon you’ll have men lining up at your door. Now let’s sit down and work up a plan.” Honey tugged on Martha Maye’s arm, pulling her toward the couch. “We’ll plan our work and work our plan, and in no time we’ll find you a man.”
Martha smiled stiffly, thinking she’d already found one, if only he’d ask her out.
Lenny clicked the phone off. She hung up on me, he thought with spite. Lenny, my man, what you need is a plan, he told himself, getting a pencil and a piece of paper. He sat down and began to write.
Step 1: Go to Goose Pimple Junction and get a job.
Step 2: Go see Martha Maye and Carrie. Beg forgiveness.
Step 3: Visit Louetta. Get on her good side.
Step 4: Get on the good side of the law in the junction.
Step 5: Woo Martha Maye.
Step 6: Play the devoted family man.
Step 7: Move in and reclaim rightful place as head of the household.
Step 8: Make Martha Maye pay for what she did.