The Pampa ballet contingency departed the drugstore. I was left with questions. Why was the ghost haunting the house? And what was his food obsession? He died by choking to death on communion bread...did he scream “smaller bites” to save others from his mistake? No, he sounded too hateful to be helpful. What was really driving him? If I could figure that out, I'd have the key to getting rid of him.
“Find everything all right, ma'am?” asked an elderly gentleman behind the cash register.
I studied the contents of my shopping basket. Tums and Sudoku. Something for my stomach and something for my brain. Nothing for stress. “Do you have any cheese crackers?” I asked.
The cashier nodded and smiled. “Turn around, and they'll be in the first aisle on your right.”
Everyone has there go-to when they're stressed. My roommate Charlotte swears by Yoga. My friend Joe goes out to the range for target practice. Me, I eat baked cheese crackers.
I dumped my selections out on the counter. “Thanks,” I told the cashier.
He totaled my order and placed everything in a bag with unusual care. The gentleness of his movements caught my attention. I studied him. A nice looking man, mostly bald, wearing glasses. Quiet and unassuming. His name tag read F. Barton.
“What's the 'F' stand for?” I asked, pointing at the tag.
“Frank. Frank Barton's my name.” He stuck out his hand. I shook it, surprised. People in the Panhandle don't introduce themselves unless they already know you. It's just the way we are.
“My name's Maryanne Wells,” I offered.
He smiled. “Yes. I know. I heard you talking with DeeDee and Renee.”
Oh, that made sense. He knew them, and had overheard that I had local roots. Therefore Frank Barton knew me. “It's nice to meet you, Mr. Barton. How do you know DeeDee and Renee?”
“My granddaughter takes dance at the studio. She's all excited about the Nutcracker this year. Can't stop talking about it, and it's only October.”
I nodded and smiled politely. Frank Barton nodded too. And we just stood there, silent.
“Can you really help her?” Mr. Barton asked suddenly.
“Nora. I mean, Mrs. Johnson. She's a good woman, Ms. Wells. She doesn't deserve any of this. Not the haunting or the court battle.”
I leaned against the counter. “Did you know Hank Johnson when he was alive?” I asked excitedly.
“I did. Hank changed after the plant explosion. He turned just plain mean. Couldn't ever understand it. He was a hero for what he did that day, but he acted like a villain.”
“What did he do?”
“He got a bunch of people out. Saved over a dozen lives. But the more people praised and thanked him, the angrier he got. And the anger never went away. The day Hank Johnson died, his wife was the only friend he had left.
Could the plant explosion be the key to the haunting?
“Thanks for your help, Mr. Barton,” I said. I turned to leave.
“Please help her, any way you can. Nora's a fine woman.”
I looked back from the doorway of the drugstore. It could have been my imagination, but Frank Barton looked wistful.