My main writing efforts now go into the Melanie Hart Cozy Mystery Series. I’m currently writing the third Melanie Hart book. The series features the madcap sleuthing adventures of small town reporter, Melanie Hart, and her beautician sidekick, Ginger Black. The books are a lighthearted romp filled with murder, and mayhem, along with a few laughs. But sometimes, I prefer writing something a bit heavier, a bit more serious. That’s when small town sheriff, Delton Ross, steps in.
So far, he lives only in my short stories. Road Trip is the latest such tale. In this story Ross unexpectedly finds himself caught up in what could quickly become a dangerous situation.
Snow drifted down onto the wet highway. Sheriff Delton Ross shifted in his seat. Welcome to early March in Illinois. And he had another three hours of driving to go.
Ross had spent four long days in Chicago at a sheriff’s convention. Booze had been drunk, stories swapped, but little of much importance had happened. He sighed. The sheriff didn’t enjoy those pursuits as much as he once had. These days, he’d rather make plans for his approaching retirement.
In the distance, the glow from a brightly lit sign of an all night Mini-Mart loomed out of the darkness. Thoughts of hot coffee and a dwindling supply of gas in his tank floated into his mind.
Ross eased off the gas pedal and listened to the splash of his tires as they rolled across the wet highway. After giving his brakes a quick tap, he nosed his SUV into the Mini-Mart’s lot. Not much activity there. An old Ford Taurus sat off to the side in the shadows. A rusting pickup stood near the front door. The lot was about as deserted as the highway had been.
The sheriff pulled his vehicle next to a gas pump and climbed out. Snowflakes drifted onto his shoulders and neck. Ross tugged his coat collar up, unscrewed the gas cap, freed the nozzle at the pump, and shoved it into his tank. Leaning back against the vehicle, arms folded over his chest, he watched the dollar amount on the pump spin rapidly higher, then shifted his gaze slightly and studied the store.
The building was just like all the others spawned by this kind of chain. Red brick. Lots of windows. Lots of posters taped to the inside of those windows, all advertising beer, cigarettes, whatever. Not much glass left uncovered to get a good look inside, though.
Behind Ross, the flow of gas stopped. He swung around, pulled the nozzle free, and returned it back to its cradle. After recapping the tank, he headed off for the store.
Ross swung the door wide and stepped inside. He sensed the trouble before he actually saw it. The air nearly crackled with tension. The hairs on the back of his neck snapped to attention. If he’d been one instant faster, he might have retreated, gotten himself out of harm’s way. But it was too late now. He’d seen the gunman. The gunman had seen him.
There were two people in all. One male, one female. Both scrawny. Ross figured the woman was probably the cashier. The man with the gun stood behind her with one arm clamped round her shoulders. His free hand held a handgun to her head.
“Don’t you do nothing stupid,” the gunman barked.
Ross raised his hands into the air. “Don’t worry. I have no desire to get myself killed. Whatever you say, son, that’s just what I’ll do.”
The gunman chewed his lip. Nodded. Waved his gun in the direction of a pair of coolers. “Over there. Keep your hands where I can see them.”
Ross nodded, moved off slowly toward his destination. He took care to make no sudden movements and kept close watch on the pair out of the corner of his eye.
She was a young thing. Stringy blonde hair. Sheer top over a pair of washed-out, old blue jeans. Makeup a mess. Smeared by her tears.
Her captor looked to be a few years older than her. Dark hair, plaid shirt, sharp chin. He appeared to be nearly as frightened as she was. And both sets of eyes were riveted on him. He reached the coolers, turned, kept his hands in the air.
“What’s happening here?” Ross asked, struggling to keep the tone of his voice neutral, non judgmental.
“None of your business,” the man snapped. “Just ignore us, and maybe, you won’t get hurt.”
“Please, Joey,” the girl sobbed, “don’t do anything foolish.”
“And you,” he said, his lips next to her ear, “you keep your trap shut. I’ve heard enough outta you for one night.”
She whimpered. “What are you going to do to us?”
Next to the cooler, Ross stirred. He’d wondered the same thing himself.
“I don’t know,” the man roared. “You got that?” He waved his automatic weapon randomly about the room, aiming at nothing, endangering nearly everything, including the woman and Ross. “Just shut the hell up. Give me a chance to think, would ya?”
Through a small patch of glass, where nobody had managed to slapped up a poster, Ross watched another car roll into the lot. He hoped the driver only needed gas. And he prayed the guy would pay for his purchase out at the pump. The last thing Ross wanted was another person or two added into the mix inside the store. More numbers would make the gunman feel increasingly threatened. That could heighten the chances for a bad outcome in here.
Right about then, the gunman spotted the threat, too. And both he and Ross watched as two men, joking and laughing strolled into the store, saw the gunman, and froze. One was short, the other tall. Both were built like defensive linemen. Ross figured they’d probably come in to grab a quick case of beer.
“Hey, you two,” Joey snapped.
The men nodded, raised their hands in the air. “We don’t mean any harm, here,” the taller of the two said. “Whatever you’re up to, it’s none of our business.”
“Yeah. Just… you just take the money and run… if that’s what you’re after,” the other one stammered. “It’s… it’s no skin off our nose.”
A vein pounded at the gunman’s throat. His face flushed a deep red. His eyes bulged. “Is that what you think of me?” He roared. “That I’m some kinda thief?” His gaze flashed back to his captive. “You see the mess your cheatin’ has landed me in? They think I’m a crook. A thief.”
The woman panted for air. Fresh tears streamed down her cheeks. “Honest, Joey. I’ve been nothing but faithful.” Her voice trembled. “You got it all wrong. You gotta believe me. Please, sugar, put the gun down. Think of our daughter. What happens to her if you shoot me?”
“I told you to shut it.” He turned his gaze back to the strangers. “Over there,”he told them. “Line up next to the old fart. Go.”
Hands still raised, the two linemen shuffled over and joined Ross next to the coolers, their gaze never leaving the sight of the deranged man with the gun.
Ross shifted uneasily. Three men against one now. Factor in the woman and it came to four against one. The gunman had to be feeling the pressure. “What do you want, son?” Ross asked, still keeping his voice neutral. “What can we do to help you out here?”
“What do I want?” the gunman screamed back. “I don’t have a clue. I thought I did. I wanted my life back. I wanted her dead. Now, I’m not so sure.”
“Then, let her go,” Ross said.
“Why should I?”
“Because she’s your child’s mother. You can’t want your daughter to become a ward of the state.”
The guy raised his chin. “The state’s got no say in this.”
Ross shook his head. “It might, if the child’s mother is shot dead and her daddy’s sent to prison for murder. Is that what you want?”
The two guys who had stopped in for beer licked their lips. They exchanged nervous glances, obviously wondering, if bullets started flying, whether they’d become what’s called collateral damage?
Joey’s right shoulder twitched.“Yeah, well, none of us would be in this mess ‘cept for this little tramp.” He shook his head and scowled at his wife. “Her and Terry Beemer, that is.”
“Joey, you got it all wrong,” she said. “There was never nothing between Terry and me. Honest.”
“I ain’t no fool, Becky. It’s your fault. Every bit of it.” He stared at the automatic gripped tightly in his right hand.
“Whatever she’s done,” Ross said, “she’s paid for it tonight. Look at her. She’s terrified. She gets it. She knows how you feel.”
The young woman offered her husband a wan smile. “Honest, Joey….”
“Shut up. Shut up. You think you can walk all over me and not get some kind of crap back?”
She opened her mouth. Came up with nothing. Closed it again.
“Well, do you?” he demanded.
Her lip trembled. “No, Joey. Of course not.”
The gunman scowled. “You got that right.”
“Look at me,” Ross said. He waited for the man’s gaze to shift to him. “You need to know. This can be over. You can walk out of here.”
The gunman scoffed. “You don’t think the minute I’m gone you and your buddies won’t be calling the police?” He spit out a sharp bark of laughter. “Sure. Right.”
Ross took a small step toward the gunman. “I can’t say you’re not right, son. But I’m pretty darn sure walking out of here with a cop on each elbow beats getting chased down and shot dead in some cornfield. What I’m saying is let’s call the cops now.”
“What good would that do me?”
“Look, so far, nobody’s been hurt. That’s a good thing. You haven’t done anything you can’t work out with a judge. You’ll probably do jail time. But you’ll live to see your daughter’s next birthday. Your best chance for tonight is to put that gun down and let me help you talk to the cops.”
The woman glanced at Ross, a glimmer of hope in her eyes. “He’s right, Joey.”
“Shut up, woman,” Joey yelled. “I lose you, I lose half my grief. You got that?”
“But I never….”
“Just… shut… up.” The man snapped the gun back to her temple.
“Joe, take a step back,” Ross said. “Don’t blow it now. She’s not worth it.”
“You know what,” Joey said, waving the gun in random directions again. “I think maybe I already figured that out. His gaze returned to the woman. “Just how special do you think you are? I could get myself a gal twice as good looking as you. One who wouldn’t cat around on me behind my back, either.”
Becky sniffled. Wiped her eyes with her hands. “That’s right, Joe. Don’t you think I don’t know it? I sit up nights worrying you just might do that.”
“I do,” she replied.
“Put the gun down,” Ross said. “Set it right there on the counter.”
Joey’s shoulders slumped. The adrenalin he’d been pumped up on visibly fled from his slender frame. He slid the gun onto the counter and nodded. A whipped dog. A defeated man.
Ross crossed the room slowly, his gaze locked on the man. The sheriff reached out, snatched up the weapon. Heaved a sigh of relief. Silently cursing that he was without a set of handcuffs, his gaze flicked across the store shelves looking for something to secure his prisoner with. Saw some clothesline. Couldn’t believe his good luck.
“You there,” he said to the shorter of the two linemen. “Toss that rope over here.”
By the time Ross had secured Joey’s hands, Becky had crossed the room and cuddled into the taller lineman’s arms. “I was beginning to think you’d never get here,” she whispered, gazing up at the handsome and obviously well heeled man.
“Babe,” he answered, relief echoing in his deep voice. “I said I’d come by and see you tonight. You never doubted me, right?” He nuzzled the top of her head with his chin.
Thank you for reading the Delton Ross story. To view my other stories and novels at Amazon, click here. Most of them are available as free reads with Kindle Unlimited.