Saving readers from the 2k word count. Less. More often.
Betty’d been on the money. Bash’s aging crew cab 4×4 Ford Ranger was gone. He parked himself on a rear pink paddle of the Barbie Jeep, tapped a number into his phone. Twenty minutes later, a county vehicle service truck pulled up with four oversized, Armorall-ed pull-offs from an impounded Wrangler that had probably never been off pavement.
“I’m holdin’ you to that three days for these, Reed,” the service truck driver, unrolling a dirty blue air hose. “I need the Wrangler these come off back together for next week’s auction.” He pressed the trigger on the impact wrench. It whined like a jet starter. “Grab the jack. You can drop the beer off after work.”
The old Victorian-esque two-story belonging to Altus Murphy’s ninety-four-year-old mother Esther, location and age data supplied by Betty, stood on a small rise a quarter mile off the road. No fence at the road or the house. Two old oaks that looked like they were trying to die to the west. Behind the house, a forty-foot ham radio tower loomed like the skeleton of a steeple. All the place needed was a Bates Motel sign or a crew of screaming teenagers and a maniac with a chain saw. Bash, sitting by the drainage ditch, felt the same chill he’d gotten in Bodega Bay the time he’d stood outside The Birds schoolhouse.
He had to check it out, though. Altus Murphy wasn’t answering his phone or returning calls from any of the three burner phones employed by the Red River Monster Hunters. On the assumption Altus had gone MIA to avoid being charged as complicit in bringing about the death of his partner Jimmy Pierce and wasn’t to be found, Bash left his cruiser in the lot and used the run out into the county as a test drive for real tires on the Barbie Jeep. Okay, but it could use an alignment.
He dropped the pink gearshift into second, rumbled crossed the cattle guard, up a dusty drive that kicked up occasional remnants of gravel and parked by a rotting decorative wooden horse hitching rail. Weeds and succulents vied for control of a patch roughly five feet deep and fifteen feet long between the rail and the porch, the steps up to that porch in the middle, between his patch and one similar on the other side. He creaked up the plank steps, let his eyes adjust to the deep shade. The old woman dressed in a gray housedress, white shawl, bright white socks and white canvas slip-ons stood parked to the right side of the door, her body bent ninety degrees at the waist and caged by a three-sided walker replete with tennis ball caps on the legs.
“Been expectin’ you,” said in a voice reminiscent of a pirate’s parrot. “Lookin’ for Altus like ever one else, I figger.” She clomped the walker. “Cain’t tell you what a disappointment that boy’s been. No sir, ain’t no words for it…” She stuck a bony finger toward the Jeep. “That what the county does with my tax money? Buy pink and white Jeeps to keep the long-haired queers they hire to drive ‘em happy?”
“No ma’am. It belongs to a friend. I’m—”
“Another fucking disappointment, that’s what you are. There was a time, young man,” she thumped her walker for emphasis, “all the colors we needed from the goddam rainbow was red, white, and blue.” She coughed a deep chest phlegmy wheeze, turned the walker, clump clumped toward the front door. “Damn shame your momma hadda be disappointed, too. Indian sheriff, more hair than a woman and a ‘friend’ with a pink jeep… Godamighty… what’s next…”
“Look, before you go inside, is Altus around?”
“You see his car?” from inside.
“No ma’am. I—”
“You wouldn’t, though, would you?” She cackle laughed from further inside. “Because it’s out back!” That was even funnier. From further in, “They’re out yonder, havin’ a party in his radio shack.” That was funnier still, the cackles bouncing around the inside of the old house. “Shack sets out back, clear a the house a ways. You go on ‘round,” he could hear her clumping toward the back. “I’ll be along.”
Sheriff Harden whistled softly, closed the passenger door on the BMW, found himself in the freshly raked gravel lot of a gleaming, tree shrouded colonial style home converted to steak house sitting on a forested hill. Over his right shoulder the view sloped off several hundred feet down a natural clearing through the forest to a tree-lined creek. A little snow and it was a Christmas card. “No idea what you’re sellin’ Merton,” Harden stretched his neck, straightened his collar. “But when I look around, I know it’s gonna be unpleasant when you try to shove it up my backside.”
“Dominick,” Merton locked the car with the fob. “When was the last time I offered you a risky deal?”
“Lemme see. Bash Reed comes to mind. Before that Monica Perez.”
“Monica hasn’t stabbed any inmates lately. And Reed’s turned out okay.”
“Better than okay. He didn’t like his own people screwin’ his own people, that’s all. Shitty to get your career blackballed for bein’ a stand-up guy.”
“Since you’re the stand-up guy that’s fixin’ that for him, you won’t object to me tellin’ you about another politically incompetent little lost lamb impaired by intelligence, conscience, and impatience.”
Merton held the door. The hostess ignored Harden’s uniform and badge, icy eyed his gun. “Sir, we don’t allow open or concealed carry here,” leaving icicles in the air. “There’s a sign outside.”
“Then we shouldn’t expect any trouble.” Merton pulled his wallet badge, exposing his shoulder holster. “The guns go where we go. Two, please.”
She huffed off in front of them, stopped at a table in the middle of the room. Merton tapped it to get her attention, pointed to a window. She picked up the menus, huffed some more.
“Check your guns and lousy first call seating,” Harden quickly inspected the pearls and diamond bracelet late lunch with extra alcohol crowd. “Coupled with a high maintenance perfume fog. No wonder cops don’t eat here.”
“Only old cops on a mission,” Merton said. “Don’t look at the prices. The marijuana lobby’s buyin’.”
Bash rounded the corner of the house. Ten yards away in a square patch of weed infested gravel sat a shiny new black Nissan SUV and an older white Buick sedan. While he was trying to place the Buick, his phone buzzed. The number, like the car, familiar. “Deputy Reed.”
“Deputy? Oh thank Gawwwd… Shit, oh shit, oh shit…”
“Mrs. Pierce? Karla?”
“My car, Aiden… Ohhhh… Shit, oh shit, oh shit…”
“Take a deep breath, tell me what’s—”
“Aiden’s gone. So’s my car. I just walked down to the shop to wax Miz Cotter’s eyebrows and—”
“Little white Buick with a Go Sooners tag holder?”
“Yes! Do you know where—”
“What was that? It sounded like a gunshot…”
“That it did. I know where your car is, and most likely your son. Gotta go.”