Women screamed. Chair legs scraped against the tiled floor. The German shepherd barked while the capuchin monkey shrieked and dove out an open window.
“Oh my God—Ian!” Helen-Ophelia cried, toppling her chair and ducking behind the podium with her husband.
Lieutenant James Vickers of the Dunnville Police Department had been observing Mayor Jennings’ pitch for the EOD, knowing it wouldn’t go over well with the citizens. He commanded the excited German shepherd to hush before striding toward the gun-wielding septuagenarian. He didn’t expect an elderly woman to produce a shotgun pistol from her behemoth of a handbag.
But then, since it was Agnes Harper, he probably should have.
“Wallace, holster your weapon,” he ordered calmly, wading through the sea of abandoned bridge chairs and cowering townsfolk with Kaiser trailing dutifully beside him. Stopping beside Agnes, he looped his thumbs on his gun belt and asked calmly, “Mrs. Harper, why did you bring a gun to a town meeting?”
“‘ Mrs. Har–’?” Agnes gazed up at him with an injured look on her face. Still holding the pistol in her hand, Agnes looked at it as if she just noticed it. “Oh, ever since these burglaries started up, I’ve been carrying it. I thought you knew that, Jimmy.” she explained. “Ned taught me how to care for it. ‘Take care of the Judge and the Judge will take care of you,’ he always said—hey!”
While Mayor Jennings and his wife crouched behind the podium, Vickers gently pried the revolver from Agnes’s arthritis-swollen fingers, surprised she could wield the twenty-nine ounces of iron so adroitly. It was fully loaded, and he hoped the horror he felt didn’t register on his face.
“Mrs. Harper, I’m going to have to confiscate this firearm,” he announced, deftly removing the bullets and pocketing them. “You can’t wave a loaded gun around in a crowded room.”
Exasperated, Agnes reached for the weapon while beside her Rita muffled a cough into her dimpled fist.
“Jimmy, I wasn’t ‘waving it around’! I was merely getting Rita here a hard candy for her cough—”
“Lieutenant Vickers!” Mayor Jennings bellowed, emerging from behind the podium with Helen-Ophelia visibly trembling behind him. “Please have this—disruptive woman removed from the premises! She’s a menace to everyone’s safety.”
“Yes, sir, Mr. Mayor,” Vickers said. “Come with me, Mrs. Harper.”
The assembled townspeople mumbled quietly as Agnes’s jaw dropped in indignation. Then she turned to Rita, whose ample bosom jiggled with each suppressed cough.
“Here, dear,” Agnes offered, handing her the roll of Life Savers. “They’re all yours.”
She made a show of zipping her bag shut before rising to her feet. Slinging the purse over her shoulder (now tons lighter without the firearm) she presented bony wrists to the waiting officer.
“Aren’t you going to cuff me, Lieutenant Vickers?” she asked.
Kaiser released a soft whine, gazing at Vickers for direction while the young officer eyed the impatient mayor and his stricken wife.
Sighing, he turned his gaze back to Agnes. With the confiscated weapon tucked safely into his belt, he reached for Agnes’s arm. “Just come with me, please. Kaiser, come.”
Agnes dropped her arms to her sides and huffed indignantly but allowed the policeman to escort her out of the Town Hall building, followed by the German shepherd. Guiding her gently down the steps by an elbow, Vickers led her to the waiting adult-sized tricycle with the rear wire basket. Kaiser positioned himself next to Vickers, panting audibly.
Agnes turned her face up at the young lieutenant, tears shimmering in her eyes. Sunlight streamed through the brim of her yellow crocheted hat, dappling her wrinkled face with tiny spots of shade. An unpleasant stench assaulted them at the same time, overwhelming the fragrance of lilacs and causing their noses to wrinkle in unison.
I can still smell that damn monkey, Vickers thought, clamping his nostrils shut with his fingers.
“James Vickers,” she scolded, her voice breaking. “How could you humiliate me in front of the entire town?”
Now it was his turn to be exasperated. Removing his hand from his nose, he peered into her creased face, flush with pain and embarrassment.
“I know you’re a responsible gun owner,” he began gently. “That’s why I can’t believe you so carelessly pulled it out like that. It could have accidentally gone off and hurt or even killed someone.”
“The only person I would gleefully shoot is Harvey Dilwood,”Agnes declared, absently scratching her forearms. “After what he did to Didi, I’ll never forgive him.”
“Agnes, you can’t hold a grudge forever. It’s not healthy for you.”
“And if it weren’t for him, I’d still have my driver’s license and not have to pedal this ridiculous tricycle like a three-year-old.”
“Agnes, your car was impounded because you drove through Finnegan’s front window.”
“You say that like I did that on purpose!”
“Then you took out the ATM on Park Street.”
“The last straw was when you hit the gas pumps on Market Way.”
“Anyone can get the brake and the gas pedal confused,” Agnes argued.
Vickers felt a headache building behind his eyes.
Agnes shook her head sadly. “And that’s another thing. In public I’m ‘Mrs. Harper,’ and in private the best I can hope for is ‘Agnes’?” She produced a tissue from her purse and dabbed at a tear that shimmered just below her left eye.
Vickers pressed finger and thumb to the bridge of his nose, the headache increasing. “It’s Mayor Jennings. You know he insists on formality when there’s a town meeting. As for the gun, I’ll return it to you this afternoon after I’ve written my report, but only if you promise to keep it locked up. You don’t have a conceal carry permit, and I could write you up for that too.”
Agnes sniffed and returned the used tissue to the depths of her purse. “I promise.”
“Thank you.” He gestured toward the waiting tricycle. “Go home and get out of this sun. I know how it aggravates your eczema. I have to stay here for the remainder of the meeting.”
Agnes returned his smile, pulling the filigreed sleeves of her crocheted jacket down.
“Jimmy, you’re welcome to stop by later for some fresh-baked sourdough bread and homemade strawberry jam.”
Despite himself, he smiled into her upturned face.
“I’ll do that, Grandma.”