Eve Fisher

“Are you out of your freaking mind?” I shouted over the telephone at Bob Olson.
“What are you talking about, Linda?”
“I’m talking about you and Tina Corson, what else? Lunch at Mellette’s –”
“So what?”
“Whispering in the chips aisle at Food King –”
“Wait a second -”
“Parking at Lake Howard. You want to tell me what’s going on? Or rather, what you THINK is going on?”
“Tina and I are friends. That’s all. We went to school together.”
“Yeah, and she dumped you. I know all about it.” I should. It was my shoulder he’d cried on all those years ago.
“And that’s it. She’s married.”
“Congratulations. You noticed.”
He hung up on me. Jerk. Men do the damnedest things when they hit the high middle ages. Bob got Elsie, a beautiful, hyperactive Irish Setter with the brains of a rabbit. He insisted on bringing her along on every walk, drive, and camping trip, but other than that I’d thought he was sailing through his mid-life crisis fairly well.
The phone rang and I picked it up.
“I don’t know where the hell you get off, prying into my private life. Who I see and where I go is my own damn business. If you don’t have anything better to do than spy on me -”
I hung up on him.
Maybe I was out of line. After all, despite the constant gossip of Laskin, South Dakota, Bob and I are just friends. But still. Tina. I walked around my living room, shaking my head. And it wasn’t like Bob was the first guy Tina’d seen on the side. What on earth was he –
The phone rang again.
“What now?”
“Linda, it’s Glen. Glen Coughlin? Your date for tonight?”
“Glen!” That screeching sound was me, changing gears.

“Hi, there.”
“You okay?”
“Yes. I just had… never mind. Hard day. So what’s going on?”
“I just wanted to let you know that I’m running about half an hour late. Conference call to Denver. Sorry. But I’ll be there by seven. Okay?”
“That’s fine. No problem.”
I’d met Glen Coughlin at a Kiwanis lunch the week before. He was from Colorado, and was in Laskin to convince the Laskin Power Cooperative (among others) to sign up with his organization, the High Plains Wind Power Consortium, to develop a wind farm. I thought it sounded like a natural for the Dakotas, where the wind never stops blowing, but for some reason the CEO, Brandt Corson (yes, Tina’s husband), wasn’t going for it. Glen was sticking around, trying to get him to change his mind, which was fine with me. We’d lunched together a couple of times, and now were graduating to dinner. I enjoyed his company. I hadn’t dated anyone in a long time. In a small town, any single man in my age bracket generally has some fatal flaw that explains why he didn’t get married in his twenties. And the recently divorced ones are all looking for someone who’ll put out on the first date.
So I was very happy, sitting in the Laskin Country Club with Glen and a glass of wine, waiting for our steaks. I’d already seen Tina and Brandt, who were with a large, loud group on the other side of the room, but I wasn’t going to let that bother me.
“Isn’t there any place I can get away from Corson?” Glen asked, conversationally.
“Probably not,” I replied.
“How do people stand working for him?”
“Oh, he’s not that bad. There are worse.”
“Mm. Try negotiating with him.”
“No, thanks.”
“Smart.” He glanced over at the group again and said, “That’s his wife next to him, right? The blonde?”
“Yes. Why?”
“I could have sworn I saw her yesterday with someone else.”
“Tina has a lot of friends,” I said grimly.
“She’s young for Corson.”
“Trophy wife. Of course it’s been a while, so the shine may be dulling.”
Glen smiled at me. “Tell me about it.”
“Well, let’s see. Brandt hit his mid-life crisis late, and went kind of nuts. He dumped his wife Donna, who’d put up with him for almost thirty years, God knows how. To make matters worse, Donna’s lawyer was a friend of Brandt’s, and Donna didn’t get NEAR what she should have… Anyway, after that, Brandt bought a vat of musk and a new suit, and dived into the dating ocean with all the grace of an aging walrus. Or maybe a bear with a pot belly and, as you can see, a comb-over that rivals Donald Trump’s.” Glen was laughing so hard I thought he’d fall over. “Let’s see… within a year, he married Wanda the Biker at Sturgis. That lasted six months. Then he married – he likes getting married – some chick from Sioux Falls who came and went really fast. I don’t even remember her name. And then he found Tina. Now Tina’s hobby for years has been marrying money and spending it, and she had just shed her last husband. I believe her fourth…” I leaned over and said, confidentially, “She’s not as young as she looks, by the way. Money’ll do that. Anyway, they went off to Colorado, got married, and they’ve been prominent on the social circuit ever since.”
“More. More!”
“Not much more to tell. That was five years ago, so this one might last. There they are, large as life and almost as natural.”
“I assume he knew her past history?”
“Everybody in Laskin knows.”
“Well, that lets that out as leverage.”
“I keep telling you, try bribery. Brandt’s cheap.”
“Then this deal should be a natural. The Consortium will handle all the set-up costs.”
“They will?”
I shook my head. “Maybe he just doesn’t like you.”
“Well, Brandt’s like that. If he takes a dislike to someone, that’s it.”
“That’s not very professional.”
“This is his town. He doesn’t need to be.”
“Great. Enough of that. Tell me some more of those crazy stories about your family.”
So I did. He was laughing again when I saw Bob come in and head for the bar. I wound up my Aunt Olive, the Hermit of Laskin, story quicker than usual, and excused myself. On my way back from the ladies room, I stopped at the bar.
“Waiting for someone?”
“I knew you were spying.”
“I’m not the spy. I’ve got a date,” I said.
Bob craned his neck around. “Oh, yeah. That crazy wind power guy.”
“Nothing crazy about it. If I had the money, I’d put a windmill on my roof.”
“He looks like a used car salesman.”
“Beats looking desperate,” I said, and walked away.
“That’s the guy I saw Corson’s wife with,” Glen said when I sat back down. “Who is he?”
“Bob Olson,” I said. “Journalist with our local newspaper. Did I ever tell you about my aunt Matt and the four roasters?”
There was a big article in the Sioux Falls Argus Leader that Friday about wind power and its benefits. Glen’s company was mentioned, among others, and so was Laskin, as a potential site. That got everybody in town talking. Monday’s Laskin Observer was full of letters to the editor, all about wind farms, ranging from mild approval to rants about “obstructionists who stand in the way of progress.” I sighed. Every old farmer in the county was going to show up at the Courthouse today, to yap about it to me. Like I had anything to do with it. But I had been seen in public with Glen, which made me an instant expert. It was going to be a long day.
Police Officer Grant Tripp was the first to stop in, with the usual weekend paperwork for me to file. He looked at the paper while I stamped away, and commented, “There’s something dicey about all of this.”
“Such as?”
“Corson’s a good businessman. He’s not going to turn down anything that makes a profit. What’s wrong with this deal? You hear anything?”
“Why would I?” Grant gave me a long, flat look that made me blush. “Look, I’ve just had dinner with the guy,” I snapped.
“More than once.”
“So? That’s my business, damn it! And we never discussed business!”
Grant raised his hands and backed out of my office. “Sorry.”
I threw the paper across the room. So much for that single man ever asking me out.
When I’m not being taken out by wealthy executives from Denver, I generally lunch at the Laskin Café, and that day I was surprised to see Brandt Corson there. I hadn’t realized he was that cheap.
“Mind if I join you for a minute, Linda?”
“Not at all.”
He sat down with his coffee across from me, and pointed at my dessert. “That looks good.”
“It’s mine,” I said coldly.
“Of course it is. And I’ve already had pie.” And at his weight, he didn’t need it. “I suppose everyone’s talking about the whole wind power question down at the courthouse.”
“I’d say everyone’s talking about it all over town.” Paula refilled my coffee. “So what is the problem with it?”
“Simple. You want to put in wind power, that requires generating systems, transmitters, transmission lines, the whole infrastructure.”
“Which we already have.”
“Yes. And they’re already running at full capacity. We’ve got a functional system. Our energy costs are low; wind power’s not going to make them any lower. Over time, we’ll build wind power into the system, but we don’t need to now.”
“But why not if there are investors –”
“They’re willing to invest only because they plan to take every single kilowatt out of state. It’s all going to go to California. Nothing’s staying in South Dakota. That’s another thing your boyfriend hasn’t bothered to mention.”
“He’s not my boyfriend,” I said automatically. Brandt half-smiled. “Why don’t you say this publicly?”
“I have,” Brandt said. “I made it real clear back at the NPCC meeting in Denver, and to my board of directors when I got back. I guess word hasn’t leaked out about that.”
He nodded. “No one’s listening. Everyone’s all hyped up for wind power. They don’t want to hear that it will actually cost more in the short run.”
“So I’m going to hold an informational meeting this Thursday night at the Conference Center. You should come. I’ve invited Mr. Coughlin.”
“Thanks. I might.”
“Good. A lot of people listen to you, you know.”
“That nice girl down at the courthouse?”
He smiled, which made his eyes disappear in his puffy face. “You should eat that brownie before someone else does.” He got up and left as Paula brought my baked chicken.
So Glen was trying to get a wind farm going to power up California. Well, why not? We already had an oil pipeline from Canada running through South Dakota, with most of the oil promised overseas. Money to be made. But it wouldn’t go over well with any of the South Dakota farmers I knew.
More farmers came in that afternoon, and then Bob called.
“So what’s going on with you and the wind nut?”
“I thought you didn’t like prying into personal stuff,” I snapped back.
“You started it.”
“Like hell. How’s Tina?” There was a silence, but no dial tone, so he hadn’t hung up. “That good, huh?”
“Linda… I can’t explain it.”
“I can.”
“Now don’t go blaming her. Tina’s been up front with me the whole way. I’m the one who can’t think straight.”
“Well, duh. You’re fantasizing about your high-school sweetheart, who’s married to the richest guy in town. I’m sure everything’s going to end happily in a white wedding.”
“That’s – look, she’s lonely, okay?” I crowed. “She is! Everybody’s got a down on her because of her past, but it’s not her fault that men go nuts over her.” I sighed. “She just wants to talk sometimes, with someone who understands her. An old friend. Brandt’s a workaholic, he’s possessive, he’s jealous, arrogant, insensitive…”
“Yeah, yeah, yeah.”
“She made a mistake, all right? She told me she’d planned on being alone after her last divorce, just to get to know herself. And then Brandt swept her off her feet, and before she knew it, they were married. He promised her everything, and Tina’s the kind of woman who needs a man to take care of her. She’s embarrassed about it, actually.” He broke off and asked, “Are you still there?”
“Yes. I’m here.”
“I’m just trying to help her sort things out. That’s all. She says I’m the only one she can trust.”
“Yeah, well, after working her way through the Country Club you’re about the only one left.”
“What are you talking about?”
“I’m talking about Dan Fjerstad, Wayne Olson, Carl Nelson –”
“They’re just bitter exes.”
“Yeah, well, you don’t know bitter until Brandt comes after you. He’s got a mean temper.”
“That’s my point!”
“Yeah, right. Have fun, Fred.”
“Fred McMurray. ‘Double Indemnity.’”
“Oh, like you’re not playing ‘Working Girl’ with Mr. Wind Power.”
“At least nobody gets killed in that one.”
As you can tell, it was a great day. When Glen came by to pick me up for dinner, I was having a beer on my deck. “Come and join me!” I said.
“Bad day?”
“That’s putting it mildly.” He sat down across from me. “I think everybody in town came by to find out the details of the deal you’re offering.” He raised his eyebrows. “It’s a small town. They know we’ve been out together. How often and where.”
“Whatever happened to privacy?”
“I think that’s a suburb of New York, isn’t it?” We both chuckled. “Never mind. I don’t know, and I don’t care, and that’s what I’ve been telling everyone all day long.”
“Well, I hope you care a little bit…”
I leaned into him, he put his arm around me and, right out there on the deck in broad daylight, we kissed for the first time. But it wasn’t that good, for either of us. Glen reached for his beer, and I started talking.
“Oh, I ran into Brandt at lunch today. He told me the reason he’s opposed to your company is that all the power’s going to go to California.”
“Damn it,” Glen said. “Not all of it. And the landowners will be paid rent, maybe even a percentage –”
“You don’t have to sell me. Sell the meeting.”
“Meeting? What meeting?”
“Thursday. Conference Center.”
“Oh.” His gaze drifted across the yard to Baird Creek, which wasn’t looking its best, and stuck there.
“You are going to go, aren’t you?”
“Huh? Oh, yeah. Of course. Shall we get going?”
We went that night to Mellette’s Lounge, where they serve a hamburger as big as a steak. As we waited for our food, I spotted Tina and Bob, damn them, in a back booth. You’d think after living in Laskin this long they’d know that the back booth is the first place everybody looks. Brandt certainly did. He walked straight over to them, and everything exploded.
Bob and Tina leaped up. Then everyone else did. Brandt had Tina by the arm. She was screaming at him, Bob was trying to pull them apart, and I was wishing Bob had some sense. Everyone in the place rushed towards the center of the action, including Glen. Tina ripped herself free from Brandt, and Brandt and Bob proceeded to get into the lamest fistfight I’d ever seen. Eventually – it seemed like an hour, but it was only moments - Tina flailed at both of them, Glen grabbed at Brandt, and Bob let loose with a haymaker which connected. Brandt fell backwards, hard, on top of Glen, and Bob was piled up on top of both of them. Tina leaped on top of all of them, I suppose to drag Bob off. Brandt was jerking around so hard that he threw both Bob and Tina off. And then he stopped. Bob kind of crawled over to the wall and laid against it, gasping. Then he started vomiting, weakly.
Glen looked up - with the strangest expression on his face - from underneath Brandt. “He’s dead.”
Tina flung herself back onto Brandt’s body and started wailing. A couple of guys tried to pull her off, and another couple tried to get Glen out from under Brandt. Bob stayed where he was, a stained white stone. Finally they pried Tina off, and Glen out, and that’s when the knife clattered down onto the floor. Tina started screaming, and didn’t stop until well after the police arrived.
The EMTs took the body away. They also took Bob - still barely able to move or breathe - to the hospital. The police took statements from all of us, and then let us go. Glen and I didn’t say a word all the way home. I didn’t sleep well that night, and I was a zombie at work the next day. I didn’t snap out of it until I got a call from Grant, asking me to come in to answer a few more questions.
I was locking the office when John Nordquist, Judge Dunn’s court reporter, came over and said, very quietly, “I hear they’re charging Bob.”
“Oh, no.” I leaned against the door.
His voice sank even lower. “Second degree murder, manslaughter, aggravated assault, involuntary homicide. Ward figures one of them might stick.”
“Oh, for God’s sake. Bob would never have -”
“I thought you’d want to know.”
The jail is in the courthouse, but the police station is two blocks away, past the post office and the Donut Shop, the two busiest places in town, and it was only 9:30. From the corner of my eye I could see people watching me from the corners of their eyes. I was sure little knots of people were forming as I passed. It was going to be a real busy day for gossip.
When I got to the station, Detective Jonasson was in his office, but Grant waved me over to his desk, and we went over the events of last night one more time.
“I honestly can’t remember,” I said. “I didn’t see a knife in anyone’s hand. Bob… I remember he punched him, Brandt, I mean, Bob punched Brandt and Brandt went down, right on top of Glen, and then Bob fell on both of them…”
“So he jumped on top of Brandt?”
“No, he fell on him. Like he tripped or something. Didn’t anyone have a cell phone? Take video of it for YouTube?”
“Too old a crowd.”
“Thanks.” Grant started to apologize, and I waved him quiet. “Anyway, Bob – well, he couldn’t get back up. He could barely breathe. That’s why they took him to the hospital.”
Grant nodded. “A couple of people said Brandt looked like he was having an epileptic fit.”
“That’s true. He was jerking around, and then he stopped. Why?”
“Just trying to figure out what happened.”
“Was he really stabbed?” Grant’s face didn’t even twitch. “Tell me, did Bob and Tina… Were they actually eating dinner?”
“Food. The knife had to come from somewhere, and you know Cassie, she never brings the silverware until you get your food.”
“No. They weren’t. They were just having drinks. But the knife could have come from another table.”
“They were in the back booth. There’s nothing there but another booth, and it was empty.”
“How about your table?”
“What do you mean?”
“You were having dinner with that Coughlin guy, weren’t you?”
“Yes.” I set my jaw.
“Did you have silverware?”
“We hadn’t gotten our hamburgers yet,” I said. “And never got them. By the time I got home I was starving.”
“So. The knife came out of nowhere.”
“Was it one of Mellette’s knives?” No answer. “Was it Bob’s?” Grant just sat there, looking sympathetic. “Look, I don’t believe Bob intentionally stabbed the man. I can’t believe he did it unintentionally.”
“Oh, that reminds me. Bob wanted to know if you’d take care of his dog.”
“Oh, God, yes. Elsie. Yes, of course I will. Can’t you tell me anything else?” I pleaded.
“Not really.”
I went over to Bob’s, and saw Elsie bounding around the yard. Mrs. Gustafson, Bob’s neighbor, was watching her.
“I figured I’d let the dog out,” she said as I walked up and Elsie overwhelmed me with doggy love.
“That’s nice of you.”
She shrugged. “Not her fault. Heard you were there last night.” I nodded. “I knew he’d get in trouble sooner or later, carrying on the way they were.”
This was not a conversation I wanted to have. “Listen, I’ll take Elsie over to my place until Bob gets back.”
“From what I hear, that might be never. You might have yourself a dog.”
I went back home, damning Laskin gossip, and found Glen sitting on my deck, waiting for me.
“Hi. Why don’t you come on in?” I asked. He followed me and Elsie into the house. She leaped up onto the couch, curled up, and watched us. “So, how are you doing?”
“Okay. How about you?”
“I just can’t believe any of it.”
“Me, neither. I’m going back to Denver. For a while, at least. My company… They don’t like the idea of me being involved in a death, even as a witness… So they’re calling me back home. They’ll send someone else out to try to close the deal with the LPC.” He laughed, a bit nervously. “Just when my major obstacle is gone and I could finally close the sale. I’m just hoping they don’t fire me. I mean, I’m sorry he’s dead, but… Anyway, it’s not up to me.”
“I’m so sorry.”
“Yeah. Well, maybe… maybe when I come back…”
It was all so half-hearted I wanted to smack him. Instead, I said with my best Norwegian smile, “Of course. We’ll see.”
“Okay.” He patted me on the arm and left.
I sat at my kitchen table and tried not to think about the next few weeks. Purely selfish, but I was already “poor Linda Thompson, you know, who married Gary Davison, yes, THAT Davison,” and now they’d add on “she still doesn’t have any luck when it comes to men…” Everyone would be very kind, very sweet to my face, and I wasn’t sure I could take it. Again.
Elsie came over and licked my face, which I hate. But she meant well, and I patted her head. “Well, it’s just you and me, kid,” I said, in my best Bogie. I wondered how Bob was doing… I turned on my TV set. It’s an old one, an analog (I have a converter box) that always takes a minute to get a picture up, and as it snapped and popped and hissed, I wondered what had made Bob so sick the night before. It certainly wasn’t the fist fight, and Bob had always had cast-iron guts. The last time I saw him that sick was after some bad chili we’d on one of our camping trips. And even that hadn’t made him lose all bodily control…
But five years ago, there had been a display for everyone at the courthouse about taser use. Poor Officer Johnson had been the volunteer victim, and he’d gone down to the floor, jerking like he was having a fit. And Bob, like an idiot, had also volunteered to be tased, so he could write an article about it for the paper. He, too, had gone down jerking. I could still see him, white and puking and gasping, the same as he had last night… And Brandt, jerking, and then so still…
I called the police station. Grant was still there.
“Listen, Grant, this is Linda Thompson. I think I know what happened. But I’m not sure which one. Whether Tina or Glen. Glen Coughlin.”
“I know who he is.”
“Do you know he’s leaving town? Heading back to Denver. You need to see if he or Tina has a taser.”
I could hear him say something and then Detective Jonasson got on the line.
“Linda. Thanks for calling us and letting us know that Coughlin’s leaving town. What’s this about a taser?”
“I’m not sure. I just…” A lot of things jammed together in my mind. “It depends on whether Brandt was really stabbed.” There was a blank silence. “And even if he was, was that what actually killed him? Or was it a heart attack? Because, if so, I think he was tased. And he and Bob both need to be checked for taser marks.”
“I always said you’ve got hunter’s instincts,” Jonasson said. “Thanks for the tip. Here’s Grant.”
“You got anything else, Linda?” Grant asked. I could hear Jonasson barking in the background.
“I don’t know. I’m not sure if it’s one or the other, or if it might have even been a set up between Glen and Tina. They were all in Denver at that meeting, but Glen asked me who Tina was. And he must have met her there. She’s not that forgettable.”
“If you say so,” Grant said, bless him.
“And someone must have tipped Brandt off that Bob and Tina would be at Mellette’s. And no one from Laskin would do that but Tina.”
“Good point.”
“That’s it.” I wasn’t going to bring up the lack of chemistry with Glen.
“Okay. Listen, thanks for your help, Linda.”
“Don’t worry. As soon as we can, we’ll let you know what’s going on.” And he hung up.
As it turned out, both Glen and Tina owned tasers, and both had been packing that night. Brandt had had a heart condition: one of the major debates at the trial was whether it was being tased or the fist fight that brought on the heart attack that killed him. Glen claimed he carried a taser because he lived in a big city, but he’d never used it anywhere at all. Tina eventually argued that she used the taser to stop Bob from attacking Brandt, and that she had never intended to kill anyone.
The knife… in the first place, Brandt wasn’t stabbed at all. But it sure led to a whole bunch of stories. Tina claimed Bob had it, and that’s why she used the taser on him, and inadvertently tased Brandt, too. Bob swore he had no knife, and that it must have been Glen. Cassie, the waitress, said she had just brought our hamburgers when the fight broke out. Glen claimed that he never picked up the knife, or if he did, he didn’t remember it, and he stuck to that story like glue. And they couldn’t prove he did, because some idiot at Mellette’s had picked up the knife and it got passed around the crowd. So much for forensic evidence.
Tina was fairly nonchalant about legal charges, even when investigation proved that Glen and Tina had met, at least flirted, and perhaps done more, at that Denver meeting. She said it had meant nothing, and she was probably telling the truth. But it didn’t sound so good in court, to a jury that didn’t like her. Tina was convicted of simple assault and sentenced to a year in jail and a ten thousand dollar fine. Her lawyer got them to change her punishment venue to Minnehaha County, and after that she vanished. Everyone agreed that she got away with murder, fairly cheaply. But Brandt’s children sued her for her share of his fortune, and that’s still on-going. They just might win.
Glen never got charged and never came back. Wind power will eventually come to Laskin, but it won’t be through his Consortium.
Bob got hit the worst: he was convicted in the court of public opinion of total stupidity, and that’s a hard thing to live with in a small town.
We only talked about it once. We were having a beer in his back yard, while Elsie bounded around.
“She really had me fooled,” he said, and I didn’t have to ask who ‘she’ was.
“I know. I’m sorry.”
He shook his head. “You just never know.”
We sat there, silent, watching Elsie as she sniffed everything in creation.
“I’ve had it with dating,” Bob said.
“Probably a good idea,” I said.
There was a long silence, then Bob asked, “Want to go camping next weekend?”
“How about the weekend after?”
I didn’t have the heart to tell him I had a date with Grant.