Bakersfield Irregulars by Jackie Pentecost by Jackie Pentecost - Read Online

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Summary

An eccentric and choleric oil industry inventor is found bludgeoned to death by his timid wife in the living room of their rented bungalow. Homicide detectives Ramos and Cantrell find a wealth of suspects, including his employer, his brother in law, his own children, a neighbor and even the victim's wife herself, who proves not so timid after all.

Detective Cantrell is attracted to the victim's landlady but finds the woman, Oleta Parker, tends to interfere in the case. It's not only her he has to contend with, but also a small contingent of her allies including her best friend Birdie McGrath, a woman with a violent shade of Plum hair named Vicky Furlong, Oleta's ex-husband Wade (much to Cantrell's chagrin) and Wade's nephew called "Cousin Billy".

When it is discovered that blueprints of an important new oil derrick stuffing box are missing from the victim's improvised workshop, focus turns to the invention as a motive for the murder. Oleta stays one step ahead of the detectives, tracks down the plans and triumphantly pounces on the wrong suspect but is the catalyst for at last unraveling the mystery.

This is the first of a series of four separate mysteries that follow Oleta through her romance with Cantrell, her growing sophistication from a farm raised high school dropout to her achievement of a private investigator's license and growing appreciation of correct grammar. Only the knowledge of when to use "who" or "Whom" seems to defeat her.

The books in proper order of progression are "Bakersfield Irregulars", "Snake in Paradise", "Double Barrel" and "Weddings, Wine, and Murder".

Published: Jackie Pentecost on
ISBN: 9781311673770
List price: $2.99
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Bakersfield Irregulars - Jackie Pentecost

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CHAPTER 1

Irma fondled the infant one more time before driving off.

I wish your father would relent. How he can resist hugging his own grandson I can't fathom!

You'd better go. It's after 4:00. I don't want you and Pa to get into an argument because of me. Greta's father blew up whenever her name was mentioned.

I'll be home in plenty of time, Irma said. Are these all mine? She looked at the bags of groceries.

Yes, it's all yours. I checked mine when we brought them into the kitchen. Don't tell Pa we were together.

I won't. Goodbye, darling. Goodbye, little sweetheart. She kissed the baby on his cheeks and started up the old Chevy.

The afternoon sun was still bright despite the dust in the air. Bakersfield was quiet, sleeping resignedly that Thursday through the enervating drought of that year.

North of the dry bed of the Kern River, Birdie sat, deeming it more interesting to be at Oleta's dining room table looking out through her large windows than staring out the living room windows of her own home down the street. Oleta's bungalow in Oildale crouched like a watchdog on the corner of Houston and Cantaloupe. There was more to observe. Birdie's house was across the way, five houses down, towards the middle of the street, facing one of Oleta's rentals.

There goes young Ed, Oleta said, he's the boy which delivers for Osgood.

Despite twenty-five years in California's San Joaquin Valley, Oleta still twanged with an indigenous New Mexico-Texas border town mangling of verbs and prepositions, no matter how well-to-do she became with her rentals. Oleta's mishandling of grammar didn't disturb Birdie, however. Oleta was her best friend.

I do think motorbikes are noisy beasts. Mr. Osgood should insist that deliveries be made by regular automobile. Birdie spoke in a soft Georgia accent that she, in turn, had not shed despite twenty or so years in Oildale. She had attended college at USC, Berkeley, where she met Oliver. When he was hired by an oil company headquartered in Bakersfield, they had moved down there together as man and wife. That was twenty-five years ago. Their children were grown and gone to more exciting cities.

They are more economical to run, I reckon. Oleta ran her hand gently over her hair, set and combed out in a mass of waves. It was unseasonably warm for May 16 and there was no rain nor cooling of weather forecast. I hate this weather. I prefer winter here in the valley.

I'm still unsettled driving in the fogs that come with the cold, never could get used to them. That February the dreaded Tule fog had caused a twenty car pile-up on the Grapevine heading south on the highway. Birdie conjured up the scene as pictured in the newspapers, the mutilated cars and trucks strewn below the mountain pass leading from Los Angeles into the San Joaquin Valley, police cars and ambulances feeling their way toward the ghostly calamity, their sirens sounding like banshees wailing through a moonscape.

Dry, hot summers, dust storms scattering the valley fever over the farmers, foggy, icy winters; sometimes I think I'll just pick up and move north to Redding. Oleta's daughter and son-in-law lived in Redding with their three year old son and toddler daughter.

You'll never leave this block, 'Leta. That's just talk.

There's Irma's car, Oleta said. The Chevy turned off Houston onto Cantaloupe. I wonder where she's been.

Probably gone to see a daughter.

Probably. Since they won't come to her."

Irma's heart leaped in her throat. George's late model Buick was parked in the driveway. There would be a row. He would be angry if he came home early from work to find that Irma wasn't there. She parked behind it. Usually, she was home and he would customarily park behind her car for easier access to the street. They now would have to back their cars into the street and repark them. He will be angry at that, too, Irma thought, but she had groceries to bring in. Controlling her trepidation, she entered the side door that led into the little laundry alcove to the kitchen with one of her bags.

George? she called, hoping he wouldn't answer. He didn't. With relief, she decided he had gone to his workshop in the detached garage. All the older bungalows on the street had detached garages located at the end of a driveway that skirted to the left of the houses. She would unpack and then repark at her curb. Even then, he would be annoyed that her car wasn't parked where it should be. She placed the bag on the kitchen counter and returned to the car for the others.

While putting the foodstuff away in their proper cupboards, she glanced nervously out the kitchen window towards the garage. She couldn't make out whether the cylinder lock on the door was still latched. George's car blocked her view. She took for granted he was there and would return to the house in his own good time. She reparked her car and reentered the house.

Wide-hipped, tall and angular Birdie McGrath formed a singular contrast to short, round, pink Oleta Parker. Birdie was soft-spoken, Oleta decisive in voice. Birdie's eyes were soft and brown; Oleta's were sharp, piercing blue. Birdie's dark hair was dusted with gray, but Birdie's blonde curls were invented at Natalie's. Natalie was a hairdresser who had a shop nearby on North Chester. She was one of Irma's two daughters. Irma was the tenant who lived across the street from Birdie.

You want to play bingo tonight? Birdie asked, bored. They had accomplished their customary stint at the hospital gift shop that morning, but the afternoon seemed endlessly tedious.

I guess so. Nothing much doing around here.

That was a disappointment. Oleta and Birdie looked forward to being in the middle of things. All the neighbors in Oildale and a good deal of greater Bakersfield either knew or knew of the two women. They were renowned as the Bakersfield Gazette.

The Duggans pay up finally? Birdie asked, touching on Oleta's problem with her tenants on Baker.

After I knocked on their door five days in a row. Everyone's paid up. Oleta, with businesslike determination, collected her rents in person the first of every month. She owned twelve rental bungalows in unincorporated Oildale and the northeastern section of Bakersfield. Ginny Dobson's been ordered to keep close to home until the baby comes. I promised her I would come over and play Spite and Malice with her. Ginny was her tenant on Deerfield. Spite and Malice was a card game that Oleta played with sharp-eyed intensity. As with the fabled Minnesota Fats and pocket billiards, she couldn't be beaten, but everyone wanted a go at the attempt. She's bored.

So am I, Birdie said.

I know, honey, Oleta commiserated. What with Harriet May Hughes' divorce over and her moved away and Rose Schauer's husband convicted, there's not much left to sit up and take notice at. Oleta sat back in her chair and stretched her arms. Something's bound to turn up to make life interesting. Ginny will need me until the baby is born and she can be active again...

My land! You and your tenants! You treat them as if they were your own children!

They act like children most of the time. Old Corey Sparkman wants to marry Ida, his cleaning lady. I had to argue with him a whole evening she was only after his money. He said he didn't have any money. I told him to tell that to Ida!

She's out for something! Ever since she buried Ben, she's been angling for cleaning jobs at the houses of bachelors!

And her sixty years old! Oleta and Birdie were in their forties; sixty still seemed a long way ahead.

Is she sixty? Birdie asked, awakened by the gossip.

This past March.

How do you know that?

Corey Sparkman told me. She told him she was forty five, but he asked her sister when he bumped into her at the dentist. Her sister, you know, is the one which called the mayor to complain about the trash collectors using bad language.

What did the trash collectors say? Birdie expected Oleta would know. Oleta whispered the words in her ear. Birdie wasn't impressed.

Oh, 'Leta! They use worse words than that in the fields! She meant the oilfields surrounding Bakersfield. Oliver, an engineer, worked in the local industry until better quality oil easier to obtain from the Middle East and South America forced the local companies to retrench and the refineries to close. Now, American oil had taken on a new urgency and a new interest in San Joaquin oil had developed but the refineries had become obsolete and remained closed. That's why Oliver had taken the job overseas.

At about five minutes to five in the afternoon, the street was deserted. Wives were busy in their kitchens, children hunched over their computer games inside and the men had not returned from work yet. Birdie sighed as their chatter petered out. Outside the windows of the dining area in which they sat drinking Pepsis, there was nothing but the heat reflecting off the road, dusty looking trees asleep with nary a nod nor a snore, and the pulled shades of the houses opposite to Oleta's. Birdie yawned.

Irma thought of cooking the chicken she had bought but George liked to eat late, after taking a break from his workshop and rewarding himself with a few whiskeys. She had time. She would change her dress first.

Perhaps George wouldn't guess she was visiting with Greta. Perhaps he would believe she had only gone to the market. Perhaps he would not be angry.

Irma left the kitchen and walked into her parlor.

Oleta had a parlor with a comfortable matching suite of maple furniture, including two comfortable rockers flanking a table in front of the windows, but the women preferred to sit at her adjacent round dining table, where they thumbed through magazines or played cards while watching the traffic entering Cantaloupe.

Let's play canasta, Birdie suggested, searching for diversion until the sun's daily demise brought a measure of coolness and Thursday evening bingo at her church. They would eat dinner at Jessup's on North Chester. Oleta avoided cooking as much as was possible, although she was a good country cook. Birdie didn't fancy cooking while Oliver was away. It seemed wasted effort when he was gone.

All right, Birdie said, reaching for the cards set on the buffet with a pile of magazines, advertisements, letters, an old typewriter and a file box so crammed it wouldn't shut. The counter of her buffet was her office. The telephone, crowded off the furniture, balanced on the seat of the dining room chair next to her own. Pausing in mid-action, she stared out the window. There's Irma running down the street like a rabbit chased by hounds!

CHAPTER 2

There were sidewalks and curbs on Cantaloupe, installed ten years ago, but Irma was headed crossways through the street from Birdie's, where she had run first, hoping Birdie was there with Oleta, but the front curtains were closed and that signified absence. You couldn't tell by the presence of her Lexus because both Birdie and Oleta parked their cars neatly away in their garages, unlike George and her because George had converted their garage into his workshop. She galloped along, praying the women would be at Oleta's.

Oleta and Birdie had risen to follow Irma's movements from up close to the window.

She's coming here, Oleta observed.

Oleta, hastening to the door with unconcealed curiosity, opened it, anticipating her neighbor's arrival.

What's the matter, Irma? She called before the woman had climbed the curb and turned up her front path.

Irma ran past her into the living room which they called 'the front parlor'.

When Oleta caught up with her, the woman crumpled into her arms.

Birdie jumped up in alarm and ran to her. Why, Irma, honey, you look like you've seen a ghost! She said.

I visited with Greta and then went with her to the store to hold the baby while she shopped. I thought while I was there I'd buy a chicken and fresh vegetables for a stew. You know how it is! I ended up with three bags full of groceries. The food at the supermarkets look so inviting! Irma’s voice shook as she spoke. She buried her head in Oleta's bosom.

Yes? Oleta said to prompt her. And then what happened? This fuss wasn't about chicken and vegetables, but one had to be patient with Irma's narratives. She always started at the bottom and worked her way methodically to the top, no matter how far the bottom was to the punch line.

Irma stepped back from Oleta to wring her hands. Her mousy face twitched.

I drove Greta home, helped her to put away the groceries and stayed some to play with the baby but it was getting late, so I had to leave because I wanted to get home before George. But George's car was already there, in the driveway. I was afraid he'd be mad at my not being home and had guessed I had been with Greta. I parked behind his car and brought the bags through the side door into the kitchen. I called out to him but he didn't answer. I thought he was in the garage.

George turns the corner from China Grade Loop when he comes home from work, not Houston, Oleta observed, as if apologizing to Irma for missing out on George's comings and goings.

I thought he was in the garage! Irma repeated in a ragged chant, throwing herself back into her landlady's arms to steady herself. She took a deep breath. You know he keeps the garage door bolted and goes in and out through the side door, but I couldn't get a clear view of it to see if it was unlocked. I just presumed he was there. I tried to hurry, anyway. I put the food away and folded the bags up...I save the bags for recycling, like they say to do...Then I reparked the car at the curb so George wouldn't make a fuss that my car was blocking his. Oh, my God! Oh, my God! Irma's feet folded beneath her. Birdie rushed to Oleta's aid and, together, they dragged her to the couch.

Now, honey, you got some sort of a shock. You take it easy and tell us what happened. Then, Oleta will make you some tea, Birdie said solicitously.

Tea! Tea! Irma laughed in mirthless hysteria. I finally walked into the parlor and almost tripped over George! If he had been a foot more in my path, I would have fallen over him! Do you understand what I'm saying?

What exactly do you mean, Irma? Oleta asked, holding her breath. Had George been drinking and passed out senseless to the carpet?

He's lying on the floor in front of the fireplace... Irma stopped talking, her eyes wide with horror.

Drunk? Oleta prodded.

Dead! He must be dead! There's blood all over his head. He looked dead. Do you think he isn't dead?... Irma began to blather.

Are you sure you saw what you saw? Birdie asked, excited.

Yes! Yes! Of course I'm sure! No! Maybe I'm not sure! She reached for the women's hands. Go look! Maybe I didn't see right! The side door is open. Go look!

You stay here with Irma, Oleta told Birdie.

Birdie squirmed, but Oleta was right. Someone had to remain with the distraught Irma, but her nose itched with curiosity.

Taking off down the street, Oleta couldn't wait to take a gander at what was on the carpeting of Irma's front parlor.

Oleta's rental, like most of the other homes on the block, had a raised front porch with a screen door and a solid wood door behind it that opened directly into the living room, but most inhabitants used either a side door, as Irma or Birdie had, or a back door, as Oleta possessed, more convenient when parking their cars up the driveway or in the garages, themselves. Oleta skirted George's car and entered the side door as Irma had done and made her way into the living room and found herself peering down at George's strapping body.

He was lying on his back a few feet from the fireplace, his face bearing the same irate expression it always had. His feet stuck out about six inches into the room from the concealment formed by two couches that faced each other over a narrow cocktail table. The flowery chintz