In all my life, I’d never been questioned by the police before. Even though I was completely innocent of any wrongdoing—up till now, that is, because if I found Happy Jack Wilkins before these official law enforcement officers did, he was going to rue the day he tried to swindle Zeke Higginbottom out of his hard-earned money—nonetheless, I was still quaking in my Hush Puppies.
Would my Zeke be…what was the word?…my mind raced back through all the episodes of Matlock I’d watched ten times each… ‘implicated,’ yes, that was the term, ‘implicated’ in the crimes of Happy Jack Wilkins?
Because, as I had suspected, there had been something shady about WHOO all along.
The moment called for being demure. “Yes, I know who Happy Jack Wilkins is. He came here to open a radio station.”
Detective Fontana scribbled in a pocketsize spiral notebook, while Detective Sims went on with the interrogation.
“And have you seen this so-called radio station?” Sims asked.
“No…sir.” I added ‘sir’ as an afterthought to show proper deference and imply innocence.
His tone got the slightest bit edgy. “You mean there’s been a new building going up just on that ridge over there and you’ve never once driven by to take a look?”
“No,” I said, feeling bolder.
“Have you ever met Mr. Wilkins?”
“No,” I said.
Sims eyed me suspiciously. “So you have no idea as to his whereabouts?”
“No,” I said.
“And what is your name?”
“Higginbottom,” I said. “Maybelle Higginbottom.”
“Higginbottom,” Sims said, cutting his eyes at Fontana. “Any relation to Zeke Higginbottom?”
My heart plummeted headlong into my scuffed up shoes. “I’m his wife.”
“We have it on good authority that Mr. Wilkins and Mr. Higginbottom are often seen together in town. Do you know anything about that?”
“Zeke is taking banjo lessons from him.”
“Banjo lessons,” Sims said, smirking, while Fontana grinned and nodded his head.
“And do you know where we can find your husband?”
“Of course, I know where you can find my husband. In our kitchen, practicing the banjo like I told you.”
An image of Zeke picking his banjo and singing “Down in the Valley” behind the bars of a cell flashed into my mind.
“And where is your farm located?” Sims inquired.
I gave them directions. The moment they got in their car and headed east, I got in Zeke’s truck and headed out of town to WHOO, where I intended to have the showdown with Happy Jack Wilkins I’d been practicing mentally for a long time.
I knew right where the infamous building was. Everyone did. It had been the talk of the town ever since the first concrete block was laid down months ago. Hog Holler had never had its own radio station before, and like the railroad that came through in 1869, it was supposed to “put us on the map” and “be the best thing that ever happened.”
Well, it wasn’t the best thing that had ever happened to me and I intended to put a stop to it once and for all today.
Dovie seemed to sense we were on a mission, because like a good horse, she responded to my urging her forward and got me to the unpainted concrete block building in no time. I parked within half a foot of the front door—no knob—and snatching up my purse from the seat, I marched into the building and found Happy Jack Wilkins folding up the legs of the card table he had apparently been using for a desk.
Red-faced and sweating, he looked up when he heard the door open.
“Who are you?” he asked.
Crossing my arms, I sized him up. He wasn’t anywhere near the sinister figure I had conjured up in my imagination. He was a head shorter than I was, bald, with a funny little moustache, and a double chin.
“Maybelle Higginbottom,” I said as if that summed up my reason for being there.
“Oh,” he said, standing up to his full height, which wasn’t much. “Zeke’s wife. He’s told me a lot about you. He says you’re a singer. Have you ever thought about being on the radio?”