Betsy Booth (aka Miss Ocracoke 2012) stood equal distance between her lover, Dale Chumley (aka Detective Chumley of the Ralston County Sheriff’s Department), and her husband, Big Hank Booth (aka The Mall Baron), in the empty food court of the Hawktail Galleria.
It was two hours after closing, and most of the lights were out, except for a scattering of sodium vapors above and the blazing red neon sign for Patty’s Pretzels.
Dale had his signature Sig Sauer pointed at Big Hank, who in turn had the business end of his .357 facing Dale.
Betsy looked back and forth at both men as she clutched the tan satchel filled with a cool one million.
“What’s the plan here, Big Hank?” Dale asked.
“Was about to ask you the same damn question, boy,” Big Hank said.
Prior to Big Hank showing up with a hand cannon, Dale’s plan had been pretty simple. After Betsy fleeced the satchel from Big Hank’s secret little love nest over on Route 18, she and Dale were to head to the airport and set off for CocoCay in the Berry Islands.
But not before rendezvousing here at the mall, right after Dale closed up the Sharky’s Shades stand.
He’d been playing the stand’s manager for nearly six months as part of an undercover operation investigating Big Hank for running a money laundering scheme to aid and abet the Prince Rodrigo cartel. Dale had yet to inform his superiors, though, that — instead of busting the Mall Baron — he was now going to take the man’s money and live happily ever after with his wife.
“Seems we got two options,” Big Hank said. “Either I’m walking outta here with my wife and my money. Or I ain’t.”
“There are a few others I can think of,” Dale said. “Maybe we don’t get what we want. But at least we can continue breathing oxygen.”
“I’m an all-or-nothin’ guy,” Big Hank said, then turned to Betsy. “Might wanna scooch back a smidge, sweetie.”
Betsy took two steps back from the line of fire.
“Now you wanna do a countdown?” Big Hank said. “Or do you propose another method for bringing this to a close?”
“I don’t wanna shoot ya,” Dale said. “Let’s just discuss this.”
“Ain’t nothin’ to discuss except whether we’re counting down from five or ten.”
Betsy figured at this point any other woman might say something. Maybe offer a calming word. A plea for rational logic to prevail over barmy emotion.
But instead she stayed quiet and just took a third step back.
After a long beat, Big Hank said, “Alright then, I’m choosing five.”
“Don’t,” Dale said.
Both men pulled their triggers at the exact same moment.
But rather than two loud bangs preceding the outbursts of acrid smoke and whizzing bullets and some measure of blood from both men’s chests, there were simultaneous clicks that echoed out in the food court.
Dale and Big Hank’s eyes went wide.
The two men quickly pulled their triggers a second time. Then a third.
That’s when Betsy unzipped the satchel and pulled out the firing pins. One she’d removed last night from Dale’s Sig while he dreamed in post-coital slumber. The other she’d taken from the .357 before snatching the satchel and leaving a note about where she was going next.
She dropped the pins onto the floor, where they made clink and clank sounds.
Next she pulled out the automatic Colt pistol her papa had bequeathed to her, along with an abandoned chicken ranch outside of Mount Ethel.
See, Betsy had no intention of fleeing to some island. Not with Dale at least.
But she also didn’t want to stay married to her sonofabitch cheating husband.
So she decided to do something about both things.