Murder! At the Bingo Barn?
Murder! At the Bingo Barn?
No one was more surprised than Constable Dan Martin. The small town policeman regularly paid a courtesy visit to the bingo hall 5 nights a week and usually came away with nothing hotter than a micro waved donut and a cup of overcooked coffee. Thursday night, however, proved to be very surprising indeed.
This night his town was typically quiet. The Barn’s parking lot was full, as usual, and the donut van was just pulling away from the back of the hall when he arrived. Martin smiled as he pulled into the reserved parking space they kept for him near the kitchen door. He licked his lips in anticipation of the fresh donut he would be rewarded for his visit.
This was actually Martin’s second visit to the Barn today. A few hours before he had dropped his mother off for a night of fun. She was visiting from Vegas and he thought this might reminder her of home, just a little bit. He also wanted to keep an eye on her, the duty of good police officer, and son.
When Martin stepped into the hall from the kitchen the blackout round was well underway and the caller was ready to announce the 40th number. About 150, mostly older women, and a scattering of middle-age patrons were settling in to begin the tense grind toward the bonus 45th number. Martin noted, while taking his first swig of coffee to wash down his first bearclaw, that the jackpot was up to $1,000. Kind of high for the Barn, he thought, but good for business. Of course he was silently rooting for his mother as he scanned the room for her. Winning would be hightlight of her visit, he thought.
Picking a sliver of almond from his back tooth, Martin noticed the tension in the room as well. Given the fact that they were heading for bonusville, he could understand the quiet, but something else was heavy in the air. Betty, the refreshment girl, was not as friendly as usual. He smiled and winked at her but she did not look him in the eye and flirt back with her enticing smile as she usually did. Instead she turned sharply from his flirt and began polishing the chrome hot chocolate machine on the other end of the counter.
There was also something in the caller’s voice. Bert was usually up an jovial. He was loved for his sense of humor and sexy voice and was famous for his romantic pronunciation of certain numbers. He liked to play for whistles and catcalls. Not tonight, however. Tonight Bert was delivering numbers with a flat, emotionless voice. He was not entertaining tonight, but was very cautiously calling numbers. He was flinching under the glaring stares of 150 very aggressive players.
Martin looked again for his mother. He spotted her, surprisingly seated in the left corner of the smoking section. Curious, he thought, she isn’t a smoker. Perhaps it was only seat she could find.
“Next number, B-3.”
The response was a flurry of rustling as the players daubed their paper sheets. But the usual low mumble, indicating excited anticipation, was missing. Usually the players liked to tell their neighbors how close they are, but tonight the chatter was missing.
Mom was sitting across from Bunny Biondi. Martin was glad for that. Bunny was a strong woman, not always friendly but very protective of those around her. She was standing. Bunny always stood, never sat, like she was ready for anything. Bunny retired from the police force about 15 years ago, just as Martin was coming in. He had spent a couple of nights walking patrol with her. Bunny never drove patrol. She seemed to thrive hoofing it on the streets. She was a tough officer, corse and loud. She played bingo with the same attitude.
“Mom’s in a good spot,” Martin thought to himself. “Just in case. . .” Now, where did that thought come from?
On mom’s left was Minnie. Just like her name, she was small and her tiny “Bingo” always had to be echoed to the caller by those around her. She was a darling, generous to a fault, always sharing her winnings with the caller and her friends, which was everyone. His mother would come home with something.
“That’s number 43,” though Martin. He walked around the parameter of the room to his mother’s table. Bunny had her index finger firmly planted on 1-19. “Don’t let loose of that number, Bunny!” Martin joked. She scowled at Martin as he passed. Bunny, holding her dauber like a hunting knife, ready to finish off her prey, glared a hole through Martin’s friendliness.
Martin quickly stepped past Bunny and over to Minnie. He placed a kind hand on her shoulder, just to say hello. “Don’t ask me for nothing!” Minnie suddenly spewed out without looking up from her paper. “Tonight’s winnings are mine! I ain’t sharing it with nobody! No charity tonight! Sit down, boy. You bother me!”
Martin pulled his hand away quickly and placed it on his mother’s shoulder. She reached up, squeezed his hand, and gave him a warning glance. He could feel her fear. “Ok, ok!” he protested. “Forgive me for breathing!”
Just then another policeman walked through the door and up to the caller. He whispered something in the caller’s ear then walked back to the door and waited.
“Third call tonight!” announced Bert. “There’s a brown Chevy pickup parked in the fire lane. Policeman says he’s not gonna ask again. Come move it or pick it up at the impound lot.”
The announcement broke the silence but not the tension. Everyone knew who the brown Chevy pickup belonged to. The whole room turned fearfully toward Bunny. Bunny stomped her foot, sat down in her chair and buried her face in her bingo paper, but just for a moment. In a another moment Bunny was standing again. Without taking her glare from her paper she stomped her foot again and waived off the policeman and the rest of the hall. “Go ahead! @#&*$@! Take it away!” she cursed. “I”M ON!”
The policeman knew better. The pickup stayed in the firelane until the end of the game.
This was the 44th number and Martin could feel a steaming hush come over the room. Jaws were tightening. Paper rustled as players were sat straight up in their chairs. Bert was sweating. An attendant rushed over to Martin, tapped him on the shoulder and asked to speak with him, away from the players. Martin kissed his mother’s cheek. She waived good bye but continued to stare at the caller. The woman drew Martin to a far corner and whispered excitedly to him. “You won’t believe this, but the whole place is down to one number.”
“What?” exclaimed Martin, a bit too loud. Several players close by growled at him. He tried to smile away their anger.
“I and the other girls have been watching, extra careful like, the papers we can see. Some people hide their numbers pretty good. It has been pretty weird in here tonight and it looks as though everyone in the room is down to one last number, the same number. That’s why it’s so tight in here! Everybody is gonna split this pot! If we go beyond 45 numbers the players won’t split $1,000. After 45 balls the consolation prize is only 100 bucks. A whole lot of people are going to be angry with their tiny piece of the pie!.”
“Yes, but these are mostly little old ladies. What can they do? Riot?”shot back Martin.
“Don’t underestimate them, constable. Bingo players can be terrible winners. Three hundred angry hands can make quite a mess!” she warned. Martin shook his head, thanked the attendant, and then left to stand behind his mother again. On his way there he tried to peek at as many bingo sheets as he could without being obvious. The attendant was right. The saw a multitude of crossed fingers in the house. There were going to be a lot of sore winners tonight. When he approached his mother, her eyes were still on the caller.
It was time for the 45th number. Bert hesitated. Martin didn’t blame him for delaying the call. The crowd became still and tense. “The 45th number is… good for $1,000. The 45th number is…Just remember folks, the number must be called by me to be valid. The winner is responsible to shout “BINGO” nice and loud so everyone can hear them. Also, please hold your cards just in case…”
“Just call the number, dammit!” Someone shouted from the hall. The whole room erupted in agreement. Bert was pushed back by the sudden violent verbal wave. A lump of fear formed in his throat. He pulled the ball from the spout but could not speak. He placed the ball in the holder, but the number was turned away from the video camera. As he tried to cough out his congestion, the players began to shout again. Some even stood and began waiving their daubers.
Arelene, the backup caller, walked up to the desk to continue for Bert. Without thinking she pushed Bert a little too hard and he slipped off his chair while reaching for the ball. Arlene snatched it from him but it slipped from her hand and bounced across the table to the floor. As she reached for it, Bert, still coughing, made a lunge for it also. Bert’s arm tangled in Arlene’s leg, bringing her to the floor and their heads crashed together. As Bert and Arlene lost conscienceness the ball bounced off the stage and rolled quickly toward the policeman standing at the door.
It rolled right to the tip of his shoe and, without thinking, he stepped on it. Realizing what he had done and feeling the heat of 150 angry players, the policeman smiled fearfully, leaned over and picked up the ball. Three hundred eyes followed him as the policeman, ball held high, walked swiftly to the stage and the callers table. Still facing the crowd he tried to hand the crushed ball to Bert, but Bert and Arlene were sleeping peacefully under the table.
“Oh, god!” the policeman gasped. “What do I do now?” Unfortunately the remark went out over the PA system causing the players to stand, stomp and swear. Martin ran to the table, grabbed the microphone and took the ball from the frightened policeman. As he held it in the air he tried to bring the hall to order.
“Ok! Ok! Let’s all act like adults now. Calm down. I have the ball. And I will announce the winning number just as soon as you all sit down and behave yourselves. Come on now. Sit down, take a deep breath, and . . .”
Martin never finished. In the middle of his speech a bingo dauber hit him solidly between the eyes. As his life flashed before his eyes he headed for the floor to join Bert and Arlene. The ball left Martin’s hand, bounced on it’s uncrushed side, and disappeared into the smoking section somewhere.
the lights went out.
Hours later Martin awoke. He found himself laid out where he had fallen. Bert and Arlene were still there also, still unconscious. Police and rescue crews were scurrying everywhere. Someone in a brown suit bent down to help Martin up. “What in the world happened here?” the brown suit asked.
“Danged if I know,” began Martin rubbing his head. “One minute I was calling the winning number and the next minute I find myself down here talking to you! What is this red stuff dripping off my eyebrow?”
“It’s not blood, sir,” answered the brown suited man.
“Hmmmm.,” said Martin, licking the liquid from his cheek. “Tastes like dauber juice.”
“Seems to be all over,” said the man.
Martin looked around. Hundreds of daubers covered the floor around the table. Bert and Arlene seemed to be buried in them. Multiple colors of spilled juice had stained everything around them. The hall looked like a mad rainbow painted by an angry impressionist.
“Who won?” Martin asked wearily.
“Nobody. The ball is still missing. The Barn is keeping the prize money to pay for the clean up.”
“Anybody hurt besides us?” asked Martin.
“Just the evening. Just a murdered evening,” responded the brown suit.
“And whom do we hold responsible for this?” asked Martin.
“Well, just whom would your arrest? Let he who cast the first dauber…”
Despite the debacle, bingo continued at the Barn, but it was never the same. Minnie came back, of course, what else did she have to do? But she was never as generous. Bert stayed with the Barn after they promised him a raise. Martin and Betty should of been history, but four babies later, that history turned out to be very sweet indeed. Bunny never returned. Some say she never played bingo again. Some also say she left town, and that’s last anyone saw of her, except maybe Martin’s mom. She went home to Vegas and played a lot of bingo in the Neon City. To the end of her days he was most proud of the package she sent to Bunny, containing the remains of the crushed ball and a check for $1,000.
by David Grant
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