Fran Valentine was cruising down Fifth Street when she saw her daughter Lucy leaning against a car parked at the curb, her arms folded and a scowl on her face. On top of the car was a light-bar; on the door was a star and the word SHERIFF.
Fran stopped and buzzed her window down. “What’s the trouble?”
“I ran out of gas,” Lucy said.
“What do you mean, you ran out of gas?”
“I mean I used it all up, and there’s none left in the tank.”
Fran rolled her eyes. “Get in. I’ll take you to the Exxon on Hamilton. Why aren’t you in uniform?”
“It’s my day off. Let me grab a gas can.”
When they got going, Fran said, “I have one stop to make first. I want to check out that new antique shop on Fifth and Maple.”
“Mother, I don’t have time for–”
“By the way, are you supposed to be using your cruiser when you’re off duty?”
Lucy sighed. “I guess we could make one stop.”
Moments later Fran parked in front of a log-cabin lookalike. The sign on its front door said YE OLDE KENTUCKY HOME. They entered to find a young brunette woman bent over behind the cash register. When she saw them she bolted upright, her face pale and eyes wide.
“Boo,” Fran said.
The woman blushed. “Sorry. My mind was elsewhere. I’m Doris Lassiter.”
“Morning. My name’s Frances Valentine, and this is someone I picked up hitchhiking.”
“Pay no attention to her,” Lucy said. “I’m Lucy Valentine, the county sheriff, and she’s my mother. They only let her out of the rest home on Saturdays.”
Doris Lassiter looked confused.
“We’re joking,” Fran said. “Are you the owner?”
“Yes. I’m new in town.”
“Where you from?”
“Well–I’m an interior designer. I studied in France.”
Lucy said, “I like the name of your shop.”
“Thank you. Actually, I’m from Kentucky. Born and raised.”
“Is that so. Let me ask you something–is the capital of Kentucky pronounced Louis-ville or Louie-ville?”
Ms. Lassiter finally smiled. “Louie-ville. The ‘s’ is silent.”
“I thought so,” Lucy said. “Anyhow, welcome to our–”
“My cousin tells me I need a new chair in my den,” Fran interrupted, pointing to a long chair in the corner. “What do you call that one there?”
Lassiter glanced at it. “That’s a–”
“Wait.” Fran handed her a notepad and pen. “Could you write it down?”
The designer printed the words CHAISE LOUNGE on the pad.
“Thanks.” Fran looked at it, said, “Well, we better be going,” and ushered the sheriff out the door.
Outside, Lucy said, “What’s going on? I thought you wanted to look around.”
“Something’s not right, here. Follow me.”
They hurried around the building and waited with their backs against the wall on both sides of the rear door. Five minutes later, Doris Lassiter emerged, carrying two bags, and Fran grabbed her. Both bags, it turned out, contained cash and credit card information. Sheriff Valentine, almost as stunned as Lassiter was, phoned Deputy Ed Malone on her cell while Fran headed back inside. She found the real owner, a woman named Mandy McBride, tied and gagged in a storeroom.
After Malone had hauled the so-called Doris Lassiter off to jail and Fran and Lucy had transported a shaken Ms. McBride to the hospital to be checked out, Lucy took her mother aside.
“How’d you know something was amiss?” Lucy asked.
“For one thing, we really spooked her, when we came in,” Fran said. “And that business about the chair? To an interior designer from France, the correct spelling is CHAISE LONGUE–French for ‘long chair’–unless maybe it’s for poolside or patio.”
“So you asked her about that because you were already suspicious?”
“Yep. I don’t need more furniture in my den.”
Lucy shook her head. “Even so–maybe she just lied about her profession.”
“No, she was an impostor through and through. She lied about her background, too.”
“The capital of Kentucky isn’t pronounced ‘Louie-ville.’ It’s pronounced ‘Frankfort.’”
Lucy squinted a moment, then nodded. “I knew that.”
“Sure you did,” Fran said. She added, “I notice you didn’t tell Malone you ran out of gas.”
“I didn’t,” Lucy said.
“You didn’t run out of gas?”
“No. If I had, that would mean I was using my cruiser on my day off.”
“Of course,” Fran said. “How silly of me. You ready to go?”
“Exxon, here we come.”
John M. Floyd’s short fiction has appeared in AHMM, EQMM, Strand Magazine, The Saturday Evening Post, The Best American Mystery Stories, and many other publications. John is also a three-time Derringer Award winner and an Edgar nominee. His seventh book, The Barrens, is scheduled for fall 2018.
Copyright © 2018 John M. Floyd. All rights reserved. Reproduction in whole or in part in any form or medium without express written permission of the author is prohibited.