You Know What I Like About You?

Sheriff Harden leaned through the breakroom doorway, called down the hall. “Betty?”


“Print my Candi sheet for Bash, will ya please?”

“Already on your desk. With the GPS gobbledygook she rattled off.”

Bash finished his coffee, took both their cups to the trash. “What’s up with Betty?”

“Candi, that woman, can be a little… Lemme put it this way. For someone who’s used to filling a room just bein’ who she is, like Betty? Candi is at least five times that. With one percent of the body fat. I wouldn’t call Candi officious, but when she starts up her ‘you here, you there, do this, do that’ you jump or get run over. Betty’s figured she’s the house mother and Queen Bee around here for fifteen years. Candi shows up and the whole chain of command gets blown all to hell.”


Harden stopped at his cruiser, grabbed waders from the trunk.

“Waders?” Bash popped the hatch on the Tahoe.

“You got yours?”

“In the box, but—”

“You don’t sit on the sidelines with Candi. You know the woman?”

“Only by reputation.”

“Then you don’t know shit. Get in.”

Harden climbed in the passenger side of the Tahoe, buckled up, checked the two folded sheets in his hand, extended one. “Here ya go. I wrote this up for any new hires or uninitiated have to deal with her. HiPo, APA, County, BIA. Even the Feds. Unless they’re assholes. I let them find out the hard way.” He studied the paper he’d kept, tapped coordinates into the Nav system. “No need to be in any hurry, either.”

“Right.” Bash hit the AC to cool the Tahoe down from oven, unfolded the paper. It was formatted in criminal rap sheet.

Name: Cotton, Candi (Not short for anything. Ask her about it on your own time. See notes below)
Gender: F
DOB: 12.5.90
Ht: 6’1”
Hair: Lt Br
Eyes: Gr
Race: Cauc

Education: Stanford. Four years on scholarship, two more on a stipend. (College basketball All American. College volleyball All American. Olympic volleyball Silver Medalist. Black belt in some form or other of Brazilian martial arts.)
Graduate degree: Criminology and Criminal Justice.
Online graduate degree: Cybercrime, UT Austin.

Notes (use reverse side if necessary): Seems to have free rein at OSBI. Knows everybody who’s anybody at any agency you can think of. Nat’l Sec clearance. Could have written her own ticket anywhere but came home to Pontotoc County to “make a difference”. If you want to know what that means, ask about her non-profit and other ventures, including expensive speaking engagements and why she’s still pissed about no Wheaties box. When you have half a day and dinner money to spare.

“I take it you’re not a Candi fan?” Bash folded the sheet, hooked up.

“I’m not a floater fan. In fact, I hate workin’ drownings. My low back’s tellin’ me this one’s gonna be a circus.”

“Because of Candi?”

“Candi’s one a the nicest young women I’ve ever met. When she’s not workin’. But like I said, she can be imposing, and she’s got her ways. Like not sayin’ who or what she’s got for us to look at, even if it’ll end up bein’ our business. See, she’s got this theory that feedin’ partial information is prejudicial, ‘specially to ‘mumblers and bumblers’. Like we’re gonna come up with wild theories on the drive instead of stopping for barbecue and a gallon a lemonade before we step off into this heat.”

“Mumblers and bumblers?”

“Us. Boondocks cops. But only if we mumble and bumble. Woman loves some ‘now you’ve seen it whattaya think’ ping-pong. So, when she asks you what you think, don’t get all thinky an shit, tell her. Even if it’s bullshit. Shouldn’t be too hard for you,” he said. “Speakin’ your piece is why your Apache ass is now employed on the civilized side of I-35.”


Harden and Bash parked next to a white box truck with an air conditioner on top and aluminum foldout steps on the side leading up to a closed door, walked through brushy sand past two ugly, brown, unmarked state cars and an ambulance. Their first encounter with a human was an average man in every way except for his mutton chop sideburns that stood out like moss on a rock on his otherwise shaved head that had turned pink from the sun. White shirt sleeves rolled up past his elbows, tan Dockers shoved into knee high white rubber boots. Sweating profusely. He acknowledged them with a flat “Harden and company. ‘Bout fuckin’ time.”

“I’d like to say it’s nice to see you, too, Keeling, but my momma taught me not to lie. Where’s the boss?”

“One hundred and eleven yards upstream.”

“She still has batteries in that damn laser?”

“Whatta you think?”

“Where’s the floater?”

“Under, or was under the drift boat over there,” he stuck a thumb over his shoulder, “where the two Tyvek suits are standing. Bloated and stinky just like you like ‘em.”


“Candi’s found something up where she’s at, but—”

“Hasn’t clued the peons yet?”

“Two is your daily quota of stupid questions and that was the second.”

“Square enough. Who found the DB?”

“Cub Scouts. She’s got them stashed in the unmarked command truck.”

“Okay, Keeling, you can go back to that cushy office now that the real crime busters are here. And since you office boys are allergic to hats you might wanna put some aloe on that dome when you get there.”

“How do you put up with his shit?” Keeling unrolled a shirt sleeve, wiped his forehead.

“He’s an Apache. They don’t talk all that much.”

“I was asking him, fuckwad, not you”

“He may be fulla shit sometimes,” Bash cocked his head slightly, raised an eyebrow, reached out and touched the top of Keeling’s head. “But he’s right on about the aloe.”

“Fuck both y’all,” Keeling brushed Bash’s arm away. “You deal with her, I’m outta here.”


“Cub Scouts.” Harden turned to check the white box truck. “Jesus.”

“Tough break. Should we have a look at the vic?”

“You go ahead. I told you, I hate drownings.”

Bash stopped fifteen feet from the forensics techs, announced himself. They motioned him over, told him not to worry about shoe prints, the whole scene had been compromised by loose sand and four freaked out Cub Scouts and their leader. Bash moved in, got his phone out, took a portrait and a full length shot, said he’d wait on them for details, walked back to where he’d left the Sheriff.


“Jimmy Pierce. He didn’t drown.”

“Woulda been a lot simpler if he had. You sure?”

“He hasn’t been in the water, at least not since he turned dead. Looks just like his picture. Long face, nose like a hanging lightbulb, ears like the halves of an omelet pan.” He held out his phone, the Sheriff waved it off.

“Sounds like Jimmy. Let’s walk.”

“You alright?”

“Yeah… Not the way I wanted this one to turn out’s all.”

They walked in silence, listening to the river come up and the idling diesels fade, shifting shoulders with the waders. Sheriff Harden stopped, adjusted his hat and sunglasses. “Don’t get me wrong, Bash. Jimmy wasn’t a likable man.” He crossed himself. “But I don’t wish anybody dead. Huh?” He dropped the waders, took his phone out, checked the text. “Betty. Ivy Green called in, says Aiden’s back. Claims to have lost his phone in the swamp.”

“How convenient.”

“Ain’t it just.”


Knee deep in the Canadian river Candi Cotton, wearing an American Flag exer-bra and a wetsuit unzipped to her hips, its arms tied around her waist, pulled a long, metallic blue pole through the copper-colored water. She looked up, held the pole upright, pulled her safari hat and parked both hand and hat on narrow hip. “Well thank God. The cavalry’s arrived.” She took a closer look at Bash. “Damn. That was insensitive. What I meant—”

“Indian past old ways.” Bash fist thumped his chest. “Would have tribal lawyer sue for much wampum, but Indian find big humor in Great White Mother Chief Woman’s discomfort.”

“Great. White. Mother Chief Woman?” She laughed so hard she bent over. She found her composure after a few, said, “You’re a big goddam relief, you know that? Whew-eeee… The people I usually draw to work with? Their asses are so tight they fart in dog whistle territory.” She held out her hand. “Candi Cotton.”

“Bash Reed.” He shook her hand, scanned their surroundings. “Come here often?”

“You two can break it up any time.”

“Every party has a pooper,” Candi tilted her head in the Sheriff’s direction.

“Ha ha. What’d you find up in here’s got your attention?”

“Two Igloo Dallas Cowboys blue and white coolers, tied together with yellow nylon rope.” She pointed into a patch of saw grass. “There’s eight hot, cheap beers and some ripe olive loaf sandwiches in one, if you’re of a mind.”

“Some other time, maybe. The other one?”

“Two large, overly dead catfish, stink bait, rubber gloves and a stringer.” She stuck the tip of her tongue out, thought. “There’s also an expensive new LED floating lantern, a BIC lighter in a silver and turquoise holder, an old-school hippie pot pipe made from lamp parts and a nearly empty canister of ‘Foxy Lady’ Indica.”

“Quite a haul. What’s with the pole?”

Candi lifted an oversize pool skimmer out of the water. “There’s another one to your left. If I could get Deputy Reed to grab that and climb into his waders and you were to fire up the metal detector and run, say, a thirty-by-ten-yard grid going west, from this location? We could be out of here before mosquito thirty.”

“Who’s talkin’ to the Cub Scouts?”

“There’s a kiddie psych on the way. Kids are off limits without one, you know that.”

“Their parents?”

“Troop or den or whatever’s from Arkansas.”

“Great. The leader?”

“He’s worse off than the kids. Thought he’d puke himself inside out before one of the EMTs got some Zofran down him.” She moved further out into the river to accommodate Bash. “You’re not getting out of working for this one, Sheriff. Grab your gizmo and get after it.”

The Sheriff picked up the metal detector, knocked sand out of the plastic headphones. “You know what it is I like about you, Candi?”


“Me neither.”


Sheriff Harden scraped an orange plastic, spindly chrome legged stackable chair away from the table in the break room, left his hands on the back, leaned toward Bash. “Weekend as good as that breakfast burrito?”

“Hardly,” Bash wiped his mouth with a paper napkin, set the burrito down in its foil wrapper. “But if you’re curious, I am smarter than I was Friday afternoon.”

“I gotta put a quarter in your ear to find out how much smarter?”

“Don’t you need some coffee?”

“What would I do without you?” Harden released the chair, arched backward, rolled his shoulders, left the chair for the Mr. Coffee.

“Make it two?”

“Who was your waitress this time last year?” Harden returned, screeched the chair, sat, nudged a steamy styrofoam cup toward his deputy. “Been a week now since Jimmy Pierce vanished. Your weekend education shed any light on his whereabouts?”

“No.” Bash ate a third of the burrito in one bite.

“Brandy’s key was a waste of time, then?”

Bash waited till his bite was half chewed before talking through it. “The key’s only a piece of the puzzle.”

“You’ve had a vision of the grand puzzle?”

“Yep,” he gulped the burrito, chased it with coffee. “It looks like money.”

“How’d you get on to money with Jimmy Pierce involved?”

“Iyy Green. Not half as dumb as she plays. Oughta be in college somewhere.”

“You need role models or money or motivation. All things missin’ from the Green family gene pool. Money?”

“Ivy says Jimmy Pierce’s been throwing money around like he was printing it himself. Seventy-five, eighty-inch TVs, Go Pro cameras, high resolution GPS devices, drones, new phones.”

“Phones plural?”

“Said he has at least two.”

“Which one have we been callin’? Maybe it’s the wrong one?”

“I asked Ivy about that, an she hasn’t seen or heard a phone except her own since everybody left. But it might not be in the house. According to her, about a month ago Jimmy paid cash money to a couple of what she called lumberjack types to clean out, scrub down and paint the inside of his repair shop.”

“He plan on fixin’ a higher class a lawnmowers?”

“Sounded to me like he loaded it full of photographic equipment. At least what Ivy described sounded like light boxes and portable truss. She only got a peek once because Jimmy keeps it locked up tight. Three padlocks, plywood over the windows,” He wiped his mouth with a napkin again. “Jimmy and Aiden don’t get on, but after listening to her for a while, it seems like Aiden’s just pissed his old man won’t let him in on the money train. Aiden told her before he took off for Louisiana that he’s in line for the trailer and the televisions and the mystery shed if anything happens to Jimmy. Almost like he was expecting something.”

“You believe her about Aiden an Louisiana?”

“I believe that’s what she believes. Not so sure about Aiden. She’s still alone out there. Or was when I checked on her Sunday afternoon.”

“Heard you carried her over to Rob’s on Friday. You takin’ her to raise?”

“Just doin’ my job. We need one in that mess who’s not a hundred percent sold on any of ‘em. Barbecue and a twelve pack of Orange Crush is cheap for good will, and I turned in well-checks for both trips. Serving the community, and all that.” Bash rolled the napkin and foil into a ball, shot it basketball style into the trash can. “Nothin’ but air.” He re-situated in front of Harden. “On my next stop I learned Jimmy’s ex Karla’d rather he was dead.”

“Karla has eight hundred thousand reasons it’d be nice if he was dead.”

“She’s also not a big fan of either of the Greens.”

“That goes back to when Brandy got caught bare ass nekkid in that shed Jimmy just had painted, tryin’ every woman trick in the book to get Jimmy to put up Karla’s legacy mineral rights to back a hare-brained scheme Brandy and Virgil cooked up with Jimmy to make them the Duck Dynasty of Oklahoma. With a miracle fish attractant as the family hallmark. They had a logo and everything. Only problems bein’ it stunk all to hell an fish would sprout legs an take to land just to get away from it.” He tried his coffee, close to tepid. “Two divorces and fifteen years of bad blood later not a one a the four of ‘em could stir their messes with a telephone pole. I’m doin’ all the talkin’ here. What else you got?”

“I took our mystery key to the Toyota dealer in Ardmore.”

“Why’d you go way the hell over there? You coulda had the key read a couple blocks away.”

“Wanted to check on Ivy and Aiden’s alibi and wanted more information on the key than three-or-four steppin’ it through a locksmith, DMV and phone calls.”

“Worth the drive?”

“Ivy and Aiden were at Chili’s, like she said. Build in the drive and how much time they killed drinkin’ a couple a beers and eatin’ every appetizer on the menu they were gone most of the afternoon. As for the key, that’s more of the money puzzle. The blue haired kid who scanned it was happy to explain that if you know where to look in their system, Toyota knows where every car they ship ends up. Turns out this key,” he laid it on the table between them, “belongs to a brand new, all black, fully loaded 4Runner TRD, sold by a dealer in McKinney, Texas.”

“The one advertises up here, has the skinny, arms flappin’ blonde with ten-dollar titties does their commercials?”

“That’s the one. Truck was paid for, just like the Colt, by James Leroy Green. With a cashier’s check drawn on a credit union in Ardmore. Here’s where it goes off-road.”

“Clever, but too early on a Monday.”

“It’s registered to Altus Mabry.”

What?” Harden sloshed his coffee setting it down. “Jimmy Pierce bought our self-appointed Pontotoc County surveillance camera pain in the ass a maxed out 4Runner?”

“He did. On a hunch I did some checkin’, and turns out Altus has permits for a dozen of those wireless cameras all over state and private land. Some kind of government deal for,” he made finger quotes, “ ‘documenting eroding eco systems and changing wildlife behavior’. He actually gets paid for it, through a fund set up by half a dozen oil companies. So that on paper they appear ‘environmentally aware’.”

“You keep readin’ that lawyer-worded bullshit we’ll need to get you an enema for your brain. Tell me, there appear to be enough money in a dozen ‘eroding eco systems’ cameras to buy an expensive truck?”


“So. Where the fuck does all that leave us? Y’know, Bash, I’m beginnin’ to feel like a game show host in a uniform here. All the meetings we have lately seem to end with a $64,000 question.”

“Close. The TRD left the lot at sixty-three nine.”

Shit!” Harden smacked the tabletop. “I can’t get nothin’ right around here late—”

 “Hate to break up the party, boys,” Betty filled the room in a cheery, loud green puebla dress with matching eyeshadow, sandals and toenails. “But that… that woman just called.”

The Sheriff turned in his chair, elbow over the back. “You’re gonna have to be a lot more specific, Betty. Right about now that woman could be almost anybody in this county can fog a mirror an owns a bra.”

“Candi.” Like she’d choked on it.

“Didn’t hurt that bad, did it?”

“Bad enough. Says she’s got a floater up on the Canadian. With your name on it.”

Like the Man Said…

Ivy took up her lean on the doorjamb before Deputy Bash got out of the Tahoe. He left his hat in the seat, stopped at the foot of the steps.

“You got a minute for me, Miss Green?”

“Nope. I’m standin’ here holdin’ this trailer up ‘cause I got so much other important shit to do.”

“You gave your mother a key?”

“You’re not much a one for chit-chat, I’ll give you that. What’d you say your name was, again?”

“I didn’t. It’s Reed. Baishan Reed.” He held out his leather ID holder. “If we’re about to be friends, call me Bash.”

“Everybody calls me Ivy, whether we’re friendly or not. Well, Mr. Deputy Bash, I did give momma a key.”

“You’d never seen it before, don’t know what it’s for?”

“A Toyota a some kind. Otherwise, nope.”

“You mighta gone on and washed it by accident. You know, like me? I throw clothes in the machine, wash things I shouldn’t…”

“If you’re tryin’ to ask was I bein’ nosey or lookin’ to cop some a their drunk an forgot about it pocket money, you bet I was. An I was curious. The way they been carryin’ on… And goin’ through their pockets…” She was tearing up, “an I thought, well, first I thought it was a mo-tel key…”

“But it wasn’t. And it was in Jimmy’s pocket. But still bein’ curious, you called your mother, knowin’ she’d call everybody in the county tryin’ to find out all the who and what of that key, and when she didn’t get anywhere, she brought it in to Sheriff Harden.”

“Who gave it to you ‘cause he and momma go waaaaay back and he figured it was just some more Brandy Green bullshit. Well, I don’t know nothin’ about it ‘cept where I found it.”

“I believe you.” He put a foot on the first step, hand on the rail.

“Yeah?” She cocked her head to the side. “Why?”

“If you knew where the car’s at that this key fits? You’d be drivin’ it.”

“Pretty proud of yourself for that one, huh?”

“I have my moments. Where’s Aiden, Ivy? Where’d they go?”

“Aiden’s in Loozeyana,” she picked at one thumb nail with the other. “He’s got this friend who’s got a cousin, or a uncle… somebody related… anyway he, the Loozeyana relative, he’s got one a them prop boats, you know, like Gator Hunters?” She stopped the thumbs, flexed her hands. “So… they’re all out, or ‘sposed to be anyway, in some swamp. Playin’ Swamp Nerds with Guns…” The tearing up was back. “He hasn’t called me or nothin’… For five whole days.”

“Your father told…” Bash coughed, checked giving away an opportunity for Ivy to lie. “So, Aiden’s not with his father?”

Hell no. Them two? They’re like two little bitches, pickin’ at each other all the time. Eat in different rooms, gotta look the other way when they cross through a room the same time.”

“That must make—”

“Livin’ here hell? It surely does.”

“Then why—”

“You’ve met my daddy. You meet my momma yet?”

“I have.”

“There ya go. Say, Mr. Deputy Bash… You want a Coke or somethin’?”


I do.” She reached back, pulled the door closed. “Whyn’t you run us over to Rob’s on 377? I’ll tell you all what I know about the hot mess that’s the Pierces, an somebody’s bound to see me get outta your Sheriff’s truck and start some shit talk that’ll at least make my phone ring.”


Bash parked the Tahoe fifty yards from the intersection of County Road 1627 and 3561, just off 1627 in front of a decent size pink-with-white-trim mother-in-law or tractor Tuff Shed, barn version. The five-foot by three-foot pink-script-on-bright-white sign hanging between white posts by the road said he’d made it to Karla’s – Kutz, Kurls & Kolor. Fifty yards off the road and under the shade of long-ago purpose planted old growth oaks he spotted a well-maintained vintage craft style house. In front, plastic Little Tyke kid toys were scattered across a patch of incongruously green fenced lawn and hanging flower baskets exploding with color adorned the porch. There might have been a porch swing, but from 50 yards coupled with the glare, he wasn’t sure. A single deep, belated dog bark came from the direction of the house.

“You seem to’ve caught the daydream bug, Deputy. Gonna stand there all day?”

Bash turned, startled, took in the average size middle-aged woman. Her mostly salt with a little pepper hair hung to the bottom of her neck, perfectly styled in that slightly windblown, just-lost-my-hairbrush look all the women on TV were favoring. The rest of her, save feet in bright safety green cross trainers, was shapeless except for a few lumps in appropriate places under a long, oversized white lab coat. Karla, in the same script as the sign, was embroidered in pink on the upper left.

He pulled his hat, held it loosely with both hands. “No, ma’am.”

“Call me Karla. You must be here about the key that old whore was callin’ everybody in the county about last night.”

“If by ‘that old whore’ you mean Brandy Green, yes ma’am… Karla.”

“You needn’t put on any extra polite for me where Brandy Green the Slut Queen is concerned. Leave your hat in the car there, come on in.” She checked her watch. “I can give you twenty minutes unless old lady Masters cancels or forgets. If she does either, you can buy me lunch.”

Bash followed her inside. On one side, a standard stylist’s chair, a three-panel mirrored room divider, another chair in front of a hair-wash sink and a multi-drawer clear plastic roll-around cart filled with the tools of the hair trade, trailing a long extension cord. Dryers and curling irons hung from three of the four sides. On the opposite side a massage table on a knock-off Oriental rug and another, larger sink in a vanity cabinet. Above the vanity, open shelves were crammed full of various sized bottles of unknown goo. On the front wall a tidier selection of bottled goo, crystals and other Earth Mother lifestyle paraphernalia, for sale. Quite a few small floating shelves sprouted from the walls, each supporting an unlit candle or an essential oil vaporizer or a tub of colorful scented crystals. Karla had the window air conditioner at the back of the place dialed in to meat locker.

“Sorry.” Karla shuffled to the back wall, killed the air conditioner, turned, offered a tight smile and “Hot flashes.” Bash didn’t see a license posted for any of the obvious activities, decided, like a lot of things far enough off the interstate, that unless it became an issue, it wasn’t any of his business.

“Lemme see the key,” Karla said, holding out a tanned hand with short, clear polished nails.

Bash removed it from his shirt pocket, handed it off.

“Never seen it before,” in a musing tone. “Ivy found this in Jimmy’s pocket?”

“What she said.”

“Never known Jimmy to set foot in a Japanese car.” She rolled the key with her thumb and two fingers. “You think she’s lyin? It runs in the family.”

“I tend to believe her. Teenage girl left to sit. If she knew—”

“I see where you’re goin’. Sad to say you’re right. Impulsive and self-centered.”


“Kids. In general. I had two impulsive girls ahead of Aiden. Now I have two unmarried daughters and four grandkids. Aiden and Ivy get impulsive and don’t figure out contraception? They can piss up a rope if they even think of coming here. I’m outta room, money and patience.”

He let that sit for a minute after getting busted earlier for his low conversational skills.

“I was told you’re still making payments on your ex-husband’s life insurance.”

“I am. It’s common knowledge that lazy, lyin’, cheatin’ no good son of a bitch is worth considerable more dead than he is alive.” Factual, without animosity. She turned to the window behind the stylist chair, waved her arm in a slow arc. “Half the damn county’s got bets goin’ on how an when I’ll croak him, an if I’ll get away with it. If it hadn’t been for all the hoopla last night over a key in Jimmy’s britches, I would’ve figured you were here to tell me he’d finally turned up dead an where was I when it happened. ‘Cause I know if he don’t kick in front of a dozen witnesses, I’ll be y’all’s first stop.”

“Right now, him bein’ dead could be the case. Look, ma’am…. Karla… He’s been gone for five days with no word.” He looked for any sign, any tell in her reaction and got nothing. “Ivy said she and Aiden went to Chili’s over in Ardmore on Monday, the day Aiden was leaving for Louisiana. They came back late afternoon, Jimmy and his truck were gone. Virgil Green turns up four days later driving Jimmy’s truck. Nobody’s heard from Jimmy, his phone goes straight to voicemail, and nobody seems to care where he’s gone or wants to report him missing. According to Brandy Green,” he lifted his chin slightly toward Karla’s hand, “you’re holding the key to the mystery.”

“In most of her time on this Earth, Brandy Green’s eaten more peckers than hot meals and it’s churned what little brain she mighta had to butter. This key don’t mean shit to me, Deputy, and as far as where Jimmy’s at? Like the man said. Frankly, my dear,” she offered him a quick, tight smile along with the key. “I don’t give a damn.”

Happier’n Pigs…

Sheriff Harden smacked the one-inch clear-front binder on top of the only file cabinet left in his office, unclipped his uniform tie, tossed it in a desk drawer he promptly slammed. “If that don’t beat a sore dick…” He kicked his chair from under the desk, dropped into it fuming.

The door opened halfway and a short, round, homegrown tomato of a woman with too much blue eye liner, red lipstick and a Ronald McDonald’s orange not found in nature hairdo filled the space. “Chief?”


“Don’t bite my head off. Brandy Green’s out here. Says it’s important.”

“Tell her I’ve had enough of the goddam Greens in the last two days to last me a while.”

“That’s nice. I’ll tell her you said to come on back.” Tomato lady swished away in her colorful yellow embroidered puebla dress, the door closed.

“BETTY… shit.” He stood, waited and within thirty seconds the door opened, a deeply tanned bottle blond head poked around the edge.

“Dom?” Bottle Blonde’s earrings dangled, eyes sparkled, saying, all southern belle coy, “Can I come in a sec?”

“Yes. But I’m tellin’ ya, Brandy, before you sit down, whatever you have to say better be damn good.”

“Well, darlin’, we won’t know that till I tell ya, will we?”

“Alright… Sit.” She made a production of jangly bracelets, swinging necklaces, tight white jeans, hot pink sleeveless top, elbows, knees and tie-around-the-ankle cork wedgie sandals on the way to sitting. The room filled with a citrusy perfume. She flopped her hands around like someone who usually adds a stagey cigarette to their presentation but couldn’t. When she settled, he sat. “Whattaya got, Brandy?”

“Who pissed in your post toasties?”

“The justice system. Your ex. Sue Grainger. Judge Bynum. Pick one.”

“Honey, I cain’t help you with none a that. What I got for you is, well…” Her hand drifted out like this would be a good time to ash her invisible cigarette for dramatic effect. “I figure it’s a mystery.” She brought the extended hand around, reached in a small, gold sequined purse, held up a single key fob hanging from a beaded, Indian-ish souvenir key ring.

“God amighty, Brandy. That’s not a mystery. It’s a fuckin’ car key.”

“Calm down honey, I know what it is. It’s the why of it that’s a mystery. See, this key, well Ivy, she’s my youngest? She called me, told me how she’d been abandoned by those Pierce peckerheads, got bored and decided to do laundry, bless her heart, and she found this key in one a Jimmy’s pockets. Since the Pierces seem to have been abducted by aliens, eaten by Bigfoot, arrrested or become otherwise indisposed, and since we both watched that what-on-God’s-green-Earth carnival act in the courtroom this mornin’, and since there ain’t no new Toyota any of us knows about—”

“Brandy, you mind if someone else hears this?”

“Male, or female?”


“By all means, babe. Is he cute?”

Harden pushed a button on his desk phone. “Betty, find Bash and send him in here. Please. And, uh… is he cute, would you say?”

“If you like ‘em total Tonto, yeah, I suppose. Tell Brandy she’s too old for him.”

Brandy leaned across the desk, raised her voice, “No such thing, girl,” and winked at the sheriff.

The phone clicked. They sat in an awkwardly comfortable silence, the way people who’ve known each other a long time with a lightweight mixture of distrust, disapproval and respectful tolerance do until the door opened.

“Hey, you need me?” He caught Brandy out the corner of his eye. “Oh, sorry, didn’t know you had—”

“Deputy Reed, meet Brandy Green.” He waited for a sign of recognition. “As in Virgil Green’s ex?”

“Oh. Okay…”

“Brandy’s got a mystery for you, Deputy Reed. If you think you can handle it.”

She leaned sideways, turned her head, gave the deputy an appraising look and brushed his arm in a slow downward motion with her fingertips. “Darlin’, I think you could handle just about anything…”

“Brandy, goddammit…”

“Okay okay…  You don’t have to get ugly.” She pinched the key ring between the long, polished nails of her thumb and first finger, her other fingers fanned out like she was handing off caviar on in imported ten-dollar cracker, offered it to the deputy.

“What am I supposed to do with this?” To Brandy, then a look at his boss.

“I don’t know,” Harden said. “Hold it to your ear and let it tell you a story? Jesus, Bash. Figure the damn key for the lady.”

“Honey,” Brandy put up her famous horse tooth Farrah smile, “you figure that key, and it might just tell you what my idiot ex and Jimmy Pierce been up to lately that’s keepin’ them on top a the water. It has to be somethin’ good, ‘cause neither a them two’ve hit a lick for a couple a months. And you,” she dangled and jangled, pointing a finger at the sheriff, “you mark my words Dominick Harden. That scrawny ol’ lez and Judge shit-for-brains are in on it too, somehow.”


Sheriff Harden waited till he heard the door going to reception close, motioned for his deputy to take a seat. “Leave the door open,” he fanned his face with his hand. “Woman wears enough perfume to power an entire French whorehouse over a long weekend.”

Reed eyed the key in his palm, sat. “What happened in court?”

“I have no idea. You’ve been to those hearings… The PO makes a couple excuses about the perp’s circumstances and the effort they’ve made and the Judge nods, fines ‘em or locks ‘em up. If they can’t pay the fine, he sticks them back in jail so they’re out of everybody’s hair for a month or so. This mornin’…” He glanced around the office. “Shit. That’s what’s wrong with me.” He punched his phone. “Betty? We have any coffee?” The phone clicked, he waited, hands folded on his desk. The round, clown haired woman appeared in the doorway, this time with a styrofoam cup. She handed it to the deputy, who passed it to the sheriff. “Betty,” Harden said, “you’re an angel.”

“Don’t you forget it,” she said, swishing off in a psychedelic swirl of color.

The sheriff closed his eyes, let the steam from the coffee cup waft over his face. “Where was I?”


“Right. Bottom line is Sue Grainger said her piece, then, it was like they changed channels in the middle of the show. Instead of a speech on personal responsibility and some ‘this is how you got here in the first place’ sermon, the judge says, ‘That’ll be time served on the off-ince and fifty dollars.’ Grainger hands the bailiff the fifty and Virgil walks.”

“Sounds a little off. But I read Virgil’s file last night, Chief, and historically he’s way more stupid than dangerous. Maybe the judge—”

“You aren’t seein’ what wasn’t there that shoulda been. Those two, Grainger and the Judge, they usually know to a penny how much the perp can afford. If they have five hundred, that’s the fine. Or seven-fifty if they want them off the street until they can raise it. And the books over there are so squirrelly you couldn’t prove they’re pocketing it, or takin’ a reduction as cash under the table. But today? Today they’re all happier’n pigs in shit lettin’ Virgil Green go for fifty bucks and a ‘be a good boy’?”

Question of the Day

“You think he’ll run?”

“Nah.” The Sheriff blew on his sunglasses, rubbed them with a Kleenex. “Truck’s not worth a shit, and it’s not his. Evading arrest with an array of traffic violations tacked on would be way worse’n what he’s lookin’ at as a piss ant parole violator.”

“So, do we violate him for this?” Bash pulled the Python, set it on the console.

“Fuck me, Bash. Where’d you find this?”

“Sittin’ on the front seat of the truck.”

“Sheezus. If he’d a come outta the truck with that thing I mighta shit my pants.” The Sheriff popped the Python’s cylinder, ejected the shells. “No spent rounds.” He sniffed it. “Not clean but not recent and…” he tilted it away so it caught the light, “serial number is plain as day. Gun’s clean as a whistle. You think he knew it was there?”

“Hard to miss, even under the trash.”

“Never known Virgil to carry anything but a huntin’ rifle. For poachin’mostly. Hogs, deer…” His eyes crinkled for an instant. “And a course he keeps a sharp eye out for Bigfoot.” He set the pistol on the floor, put the bullets in his shirt pocket. “You step off when we get there, find Jimmy on the QT, and ask him what he knows about it. Hate to make things any worse for Virg than need be.”


The Tahoe rolled off the road, down a slight incline and stopped where it leveled out in a wide semi-circle of gravel in front of a turquoise and white double-wide sporting a covered veranda across the front. Virgil pulled off twenty yards to the right in front of a Quonset hut bearing a large, hand painted “MOTER REPARE HERE” sign, killed the engine and slid out of the truck. A girl in her teens, based on the shredded cutoffs and halter top, opened the front door of the double-wide and leaned on the jamb in that “supremely ain’t interested” way only a teenage female can.

“Honey,” Harden said, “is your daddy home?”

“Ain’t your honey, honey.” She raised her left arm, sighted down it, “An right there’s my daddy.”

“Wait a minute…” The sheriff unhooked his sunglasses, eyes bouncing between Virgil and the girl. “Ivy?”

“Maybe. What’s it to you, Mr. Po-leece-man?”

“Don’t give the Sheriff none a your shit, Ivy,” Virgil trundled up the four steps to the porch. “Your smart ass was born in the backseat of his damn cop car.” He left out the part about how he and her mother were both under arrest at the time. “Where’s Jimmy at?”

“Don’t know, don’t care. What’re you doin’ here is so important,” She stretched her neck up, looked past him, “you done brought your whole extended family?”


“Let it go, Virg,” Harden stepped up to the porch. “Ivy, we need to ask Mr. Pierce some questions. Any idea when he’ll be back?”

“He don’t consult with me, and neither,” her voice escalating, “does his chicken shit son. They go off willy nilly whenever and wherever they damn well please. They come home smellin’ like ass and wantin’ me to cook and run the washer machine for ‘em.”

“I’m sure that’s a pisser, Ivy, but when either one of them shows up next, you have ‘em call me first thing. I mean before they even think about startin’ to smell better or eat. We understand each other?”

“I ain’t never cooked for nobody but myself and don’t plan on changin’ that any time soon. But I’ll tell whichever one I see first the Chief County Mountie is huntin’ their asses an they better call. That’ll be right after I kick the shit out of ‘em for leavin’ me with no car, a empty bong and nothin’ but crapola antenna TV.”


Virgil sat cuffless in the back seat of the Tahoe while it backed away in a slow arc from the house. He waved, hoped she could see him through the tint. She shot the bird in their direction before she rolled off the jamb into the house. She’d seen him.

“How old is she now, Virg,” Harden looked over his shoulder. “Sixteen, Seventeen?”

“Eighteen. Goin’ on forty. She’s legal to smoke that weed you smelt. Even got her own card.”

“Weed’s not my problem anymore. Neither’s lyin’ about not havin’ any. What’s she doin’ at Jimmy’s?”

“She’s sorta, uh,” he stuck his chin out, his lips tightened, thinned, “Well, I guess,” he thumb and fore-fingered his plump, red turkey neck. “I guess you could say she’s, uh, kinda livin’ with Aiden.”

“Aiden still livin’ with his dad?”

“Uh, yeah.”

“You don’t like that arrangement much?”

“Nothin’ against Jimmy. I just, well, he don’t need to hear that little sack a shit a his an my baby girl doin’… What kids’ll do when they’re all… like that. Together an all, y’know?”

“I do know.”

“Your Lucy done alright.”

“Reb’s no prize, even if he could play football in high school. To be honest, Virg, I had to make the down payment on their place so they didn’t pull that ‘daddy can we live with you till we save up’ bullshit on me.”

“Yeah? I hadda run ‘em off ‘cause a that cow pulling its foot outta the mud noises at one in the mornin’.”

“Virgil,” the Sheriff narrowed his eyes, “I suggest you remember your right to remain silent.”


Across the butcher block Formica veneered table sat Ms. Susan Grainger, Virgil Greene’s Parole and Probation Agent. Tallish, slightly bug eyed, neck and legs like straws stuck in Mrs. Potato Head, she resembled a gray emu in her sensible and perfect for forty years ago gray pantsuit and a white blouse with a large, built-in droopy, loopy bow tie. She finished the look with over-the-ankle black Doc Martin Beatle boots. When she crossed her legs the top of her dark gray trouser socks showed. She gathered her notebooks and files, looked over her half-glasses at Sheriff Harden.

“Dominick,” she waggled a pencil at him, “are you sure you’re telling me everything?”

“Sue,” Sheriff Harden palmed his mouth, jaw, “what you see is what we got and how we got it. You can read Deputy Reed’s report when—”

“Didn’t you question him about where he’s been?”

“Yes, and I told you he said he’d got a wild hair to go noodlin’ since the Canadian’s runnin’ a little now, and that Jimmy loaned him the truck ‘cause he was gonna be off with Aiden. I sent a man out to check on Virgil’s truck and it was deader’n Elvis’s disco comeback.”

“Sheriff,” Ms. Grainger stood, clutched her materials to her chest. “Dead is dead. There is no dead-er. You people need to stop being colorful and deal in facts. This is a legal matter, after all.” She wrinkled her nose to raise her glasses an eighth of an inch. “Did he have any money on him?”

“Seventeen dollars, a shiny new credit union cash card and an Applebee’s gift card.”

“Mmm. There’s absolutely nothing more you can tell me about the capture and subsequent interrogation of Mr. Greene other than ‘routine and uneventful’ and ‘gone noodling’ a ‘few days ago’ that would shed any light on the last three weeks of his life?”

“No ma’am. Other than your warrant, nobody’s been lookin’ for him or complain’ about him so what he’s been up to is your business, not mine.” Sheriff Harden pushed his chair back, hoping to signal an end to the meeting. “We’ll have him in front of Judge Bynam for you tomorrow mornin’ at nine sharp.”

“You’d better.” She took the hint and two steps toward the door. “Get him cleaned up and in a clean jumpsuit that’s too big. Does he have any better shoes?”

“The Mexican tire sandals are what he had on.”

“Find him some shoes, Sheriff. We’re all that stand between this man and a heavy-handed miscarriage of justice.” She glowered over her glasses before turning for the door again.

“Yes ma’am.

“Don’t get smart, Sheriff. I’m a system lifer,” she banged the door open with a shoulder. “You’re elected.”


Sheriff Harden lifted the paper from the printer, initialed it without reading. “You leave out the Colt, the beer cans in the truck?”

“Yep. Visual ID and routine stop of a suspect with an active criminal warrant. The rest is all there.”

“What about Ivy and smokin’ pot she claimed not have?”

“Ivy’s old enough to live where she wants, do what she wants, lie and bitch about what she wants.”

“And talk shit to us and her daddy. You buyin’ Virgil’s noodling story?”

“The only fishing gear was a minnow bucket in the bed. No stringers, no cooler or nets anywhere. If he was noodling, he wasn’t very optimistic about his chances.” He dropped a manila folder on the table, dropped himself into a beige steel and orange vinyl industrial office chair across from the Sheriff. “As of two years ago, the Colt was legally purchased by, and registered to, James Leroy Pierce of 26 CR 1430, Pontotoc County. Damn thing’s worth more than the truck it was ridin’ in.”

“So, as divined by your Apache intuition, the question of the day is…?”

“Where the hell is Jimmy Pierce?”

“Yessir.” The Sheriff put his forearms on the table, leaned in. “And what the hell are Virgil Green, Ivy, and Sue Grainger not tellin’ us?”

Cochise on Litter Patrol

From an untitled WIP, ripped from the headlines, about Noodling, Bigfoot and Murder; in sepia tone.

Deputy Baishan Reed poked around the campfire’s remains with a rusty piece of re-bar, didn’t turn up any embers. He looked up to the right, found the solar powered camera mounted on top of a fifteen-foot-tall unused rainwater capture tank as rusty as the short piece of steel in his hand, dropped his gaze to the two empty, disintegrating stock tanks and let the re-bar fall in the dust where he’d found it. Dust and rust and sandstone. He lifted his hat, palmed his hair back, replanted the hat. A cop, another Apache only from Arizona, asked him what sandstone country was like. Life in sepia tone, he’d said. The Arizona cop said, “I hear ya” and nodded. Reed took it to mean Same job, different shades of brown.

Reed stepped around an ancient truck frame working its own version of dust to dust, got a plastic trash bag from the back of the idling Pontotoc County Tahoe, pulled on a pair of blue nitrile gloves and proceeded to walk the perimeter of the roughly 30-yard diameter clearing, picking up beer and soda cans, plastic bottles, the occasional liquor bottle, and random campfire party trash. He used a stick to stab up a couple of condoms and several pairs of abandoned underwear, a pair of cutoffs that were no more than belt loops and pockets. One of these days I’m gonna buy a three-foot pistol grip trash picker with the county’s dime. He left a nearly new flashy pair of red patent and rhinestones ladies’ sandals where they were, on the off chance the owner remembered where she’d left them. He picked up the faded, bullet-riddled “Vandels Will be Porsecuted to the Full Extant of the LAW” sign, pushed the base into the dry ground with a boot, pulled the gloves and bagged them with the trash. When he’d finished, he stared at the camera again, like he was in a spaghetti western gunfight with it, tied the trash bag and tossed it on the hood of the Tahoe before he climbed in.

“All y’all Apaches so retentive?” Sheriff Harden raised the passenger seat, kicked the air conditioning up to gale force.

“Only when we’re bein’ watched. Otherwise I’d’ve been happy to kick all that shit off into the brush. Why?”

“I only ask ‘cause we don’t have many around here.”

“You’re saying Oklahoma this side of 35 prefers the well-behaved tribes?”

“I am. We try to keep the bloodthirsty types closer to Texas. I’d bet that governor down there would find some money if your people could take up your old ways and start raidin’ down into Mexico again.”

“They’d pass us headin’ north before we crossed the Texas line.”

“I’m talkin’ Mexicans, not Guatemalans.”

“Me, too.” Bash tapped the Pontotoc County Sheriff’s communication app in the center of the dash to clear them from the “possible vandalism” investigation. He waited ten seconds, the screen flashed, their present assignment disappeared and put up a blank screen. No crime wave in Pontotoc County.

“Looks like we’re free to return to civilization,” Harden shifted in his seat. “That is till Altus finds Bigfoot in his trash or some other shit goin’ on with one of his damn cameras.”

“Why do you think he has a camera way the hell out here, anyhow?”

“Why does he have ‘em anywhere? ‘Cause he ain’t got nothin’ better to do than watch for Bigfoot and spy on kids partyin’ and call us to be sure they put the fire out.”

“You’re sayin’ fire prevention is a waste of taxpayer’s money, then.” Reed smiled halfway, cranked the wheel hard right, pointed the Tahoe south through thin scrub and gray grass at a hidden-if-you-didn’t-know-where-to-look scraggly tree ensconced dump pit a hundred yards away.

“I’m sayin’ this ‘public nuisance’ call is complete bullshit. Not to mention you out there in the heat bein’ Cochise on Litter Patrol chaps my ass royal.”

Reed dropped the Tahoe into low, floored it.

“What the hell? Bash? Gawwwwwdammmm…” The sheriff grabbed the ohmagod handle, stiffened his legs and clenched the side of his seat. Reed ran the Tahoe right up on the pit, stood on the brakes. The bag of party trash slid off the hood, flew ten feet, landed in the open mouth of a dead washing machine.

“Bullseye.” The deputy sat back, basking in a self-congratulatory glow. He opened the door, pulled his phone.

“It’ll be on the dashcam, asshole.”

“It won’t be art, Chief.” He cupped a hand over the phone so he could see the screen. “But this will be.” He pocketed the phone, climbed in, buckled up. “Besides, now that you know where your daughter’s dead washing machine and all their DIY renno trash went, you can have the county out here with a scooper truck before some civic-minded citizen like Altus starts looking to ID the source of all this illegal dumping.”

“That can’t all be Lisa and Reb’s.”

“Nope, but it’s hers on top.”

The sheriff peered over his shoulder toward the clearing they’d just left. “Reckon that camera can see this far?”

“Hard to say.” Reed backed the Tahoe around, pulled up to the no-name gravel road, stopped and looked both ways like they weren’t the only traffic in that part of the county.

“Y’know Bash,” Sheriff Harden popped a stick of gum in his mouth, “kids would be a lot better deal if they came with a no questions asked return policy.” The Sheriff leaned to the left, unclipped his phone, sat back, made a face, flipped through his contacts. “Since they’re not, better safe than scandal…” He tapped out a brief text, set his phone in the console tray. Reed figured the crane truck would have the dump site cleared before lunch.


He turned north out of the rough clearing, drove a few hundred yards, made the horseshoe up to the Thompson Shed that was a sheet of brown galvanized tin lying in sandstone colored Tomahawk grass, followed the road south a mile, past the four desperately in need of paint crude storage tanks and hung a right on some ruts that soon curved back south running beside a scummy dark green pond most likely full of three eyed frogs and glow in the dark salamanders.

“Where the hell you takin’ me now, Bash?”

“Bein’ nosey’s all.”

“Bein’ nosey’s how you almost come up blown all to hell.”

“The sign said ‘Ruby’s Kiddie Kare’, not ‘Meth Lab’. Didn’t look right. Like this.” Reed stopped the SUV, rolled down the window, brought his binoculars to bear on a single-wide trailer with a broken back, set off under a clump of thirsty oaks forty yards off the road. Holes in the trailer walls and roof were patched with now bleached and peeling plywood. The grass around the once white late 60s Charger was nearly as tall as the car. There was no glass in the car or the trailer. Reed let the Tahoe crawl forward while he looked for some way into the trailer site. He almost missed it. Grown over and unused.


“Almost.” Reed put the binoculars back in their holster on the door. “Nothin’ that can’t wait.”

“Good. Bouncin’ around out here with you bein’ nosey for nothin’ was about to ruin my day. Not to mention my lower back.”

“I hear your low back is the only reason a certain massage parlor outside Ada stays open.”

“An it’s gonna stay open. In spite of that little shitass county attorney wants to be somebody when he gets old enough to shave.”

“He’s just lookin’ to make a name for himself so he can move out of the boonies an up to the state level.”

“He’s lookin’ to get a DUI hung on his pecker if he don’t back off.”

“You’d do that, ruin a man’s political ambition for a massage?”

“My back starts up, I’d arrest your momma for solicitation and bein’ at risk of a dissolute life if she was blockin’ the door to Tan’s. Wasn’t for those girls and CBD I’d be a cripple.”

Reed laughed, resisted the urge to say A horny cripple, took a left heading east at some ruts that followed a wind break line. Half-a-mile later he stopped where the ruts met the northwest spur of County 3590. He was about to pull out when an aging Ram pickup with a red body and blue bed flew by, headed south.

“Son of a bitch,” Sheriff Harden’s head turned, following the truck.

“Wasn’t that Jimmy Pierce’s truck?”

“For a fact. With Virgil Green drivin’.”

“Virgil Green? There’s a warrant—”

“Hell yeah there is. Light this puppy up, Bash. You mighta nosied us right into some real police work.”


Reed caught up with the truck, chirped the sirens, followed the pickup into the buffalo grass that came right up to the no shoulder road.

“I’ll take Virg,” Sheriff Harden said. “Take the passenger side. Keep your eyes open.”

Deputy Reed drew his handgun, kept it low behind his leg, checked the truck’s bed. Dirty rope, chain, a minnow bucket. Keystone beer cans, red sand and general truck bed funk. No people, no weapons. On the front seat of the truck he spotted a nickel-plated Colt Python nestled in with the Big Gulp cups and a couple of Keystone empties. He retrieved it through the open window, checked the safety and stuck it in his waistband.

Sheriff Harden had Virgil out of the truck, Virg’s back leaned against the front fender, the sheriff reading from Virgil’s license. “Virgil N. Green. You really fifty-three, Virg?”

“Comin’ up here in August.”

“This says blue eyes, five-ten, one-eighty-five. They got the eyes right.” The Sheriff stone faced and aviator shades, Virgil shirtless in overalls, sweating like a sharecropper. “You’re five-seven, five-eight in boots. When was the last time you saw one-eighty-five?”

Virgil looked down, mumbled, “Dunno.”

“You been out in the sun, Virgil?”

“Some, yeah,” fidgeting. Sheriff Harden studied the two-inch red lines above where Virgil’s usual farmer’s tan stopped, his red over tan cheeks, the pink ring around the bottom of his neck. “I grabbed up one a the kid’s shirts when we, when I come to leavin’ out.” He rubbed the back of his neck, stopped, left his hand where it was. “It was so damn tight… I hadda get rid of it.”


Me. Just me.”

“Wherever you went was so important you bailed on your appointment with your probation officer? Three fuckin’ times?”

“That bitch. I mean… Look…” His head came up. “Hell, Dom… She’s all the time on me like stink on cat shit to get a steady job. I tried it, y’know, I really did. But goddam I’m not one a those people can stand around Walgreens, or the big Exxon for that matter, an sell chapstick to teenagers an emergency Kotex to snotty town bitches lookin’ at me like I’m from Mars, or clean up the shit awful mess the Messkin yard guys make a the hot dog bar and the bathroom. I’m tellin’ ya, motherfuckers must eat roadkill when they ain’t on the hot dog stand. I cain’t do it, Sheriff. I swear I cain’t.”

“You should’ve gone to your appointments anyway and told her that. There’s gotta be some kind of warehouse or mechanics jobs out there.”

“I tried the oil change place. People were shitty there, too.”

“Tell her you’re not a people person next time you see her. Which will be soon. Maybe this afternoon, even. You realize I have to take you in for bein’ in violation, so turn around, put your hands behind your back. Virgil Green, you have the right to–”

“Hell, I know that one front, back, an sideways, Sheriff.” He turned back around. “That’s why you stopped me, though? For parole violation?” He took off his cap, tilted his head and eyes skyward, whispered, “Thank you, baby Jesus.” He took a deep breath in through his nose, lowered his head, popped his cap on. “Can y’all skip the cuffs for now an follow me to drop Jimmy’s truck off on the way? He’ll be missin’ it I don’t get it back pretty soon.”


“A Fucking Nixon”

Meyers pulled the viewing room doors closed, motioned for Huntley and Rifat to follow. After several wrong turns Meyers found the kitchen, grabbed a neatly folded towel off the counter and opened the under-sink cabinet. He pulled out a pair of yellow latex dishwashing gloves, put them on. He tossed the towel to Huntley, who eyed it suspiciously.

“Now what?”

“Now I reload their guns, empty them into the muddy corral and put them back where I found them.”

“Be easier to bring the guns inside.”

“Are you volunteering to clean them?”

“Shit…” It came out mostly as air when Huntley sighed and draped the towel over his shoulder. “You’ll want these, then.” He reached in his pocket, pulled out the two rounds wrapped in Wichtikl’s silk pocket square. He caught Meyer’s look. “Seriously? Like anybody believed they were gonna make it to the stable?”

“Glad you told me before I fucked around out there looking for them. Use the towel,” he turned his head, taking in the room. “Open every drawer, every cabinet until you find some more gloves. Put ‘em on and keep opening.”

“What are we lookin’ for?”

“Anything that looks like it doesn’t belong. Pull it, put it on the counter.”

“And then?” Huntley checked in with Rifat.

“I’ll be back before you’re done in here.” Meyers flexed the fit of his gloves, kicked off his shoes and stuck his feet in a pair of black, knee-high rain boots he’d collected from inside a mud bench by the back door. “There were files in the safe with initials that weren’t mine and more money than the forty-seven large Cavelli got when he rolled me. Wichtikl was a fucking Nixon. We need to find his hardware.”


“What,” Rifat leaned up and away from the counter, “is a ‘fucking Nixon’?”

“Some President,” Huntley closed another drawer. “The only reason I know is I was at a Taco Bell one night, they had a framed newspaper article on the wall, and the headline was ‘President Loves Tacos’ or some shit like that, and there was a picture of this ugly goofball at a Taco Bell in Yorba Linda. Or maybe Clemente.”

“We’re looking for tacos?”

“Maybe. Knowing Meyers, though, there’s more to it than tacos. I’ll ask and then he’ll say ‘Didn’t they teach you any history in school?’”

“You’ve heard this before?”

“Yeah, about other things when I come up short, and I always tell him I was busy checking out Melinda Gonzales’ bra that day. ‘Cause she wore sleeveless tank tops with arm holes big as a Schwarzenegger workout wife beater and looking at her bras beat the hell outta whatever the teachers were grindin’ out.”

“I had to leave the room last night when Sunny, uh, Miss Sutton, was explaining bras to my mother.”

“Okay… Sunny. That’s your girlfriend?”

“I think.”

“Explaining bras to your mother?”

“It is a long story. Aha!” Rifat turned from the pantry, a can of Hormel tamales in his cotton gloved hand. “Do you think this is important?”

“Only if we need to prove that rich don’t mean smart.”


Meyers squatted beside the bodies, rain dripped from the hood of his borrowed raincoat, the tip of his nose. Wichtikl and Archie weren’t hamburger, but they were torn up. He flashed to bagging land mine victims’ parts. Not the same. These were crushed, perforated, broken. Pieces ripped out and carried off by an animal with steel teeth. The mine victims… They were parts. A nose here, a finger there… He found Wichtikl’s gun inside his suit coat, Archie’s where his intestines oozed out around it like fresh rope sausage.

He loaded their guns while he walked to the stable where he picked up a saddle blanket, held it over his hand and emptied the clip of Wichtikl’s 25 and the cylinder of Archie’s 357 into the quagmire of the corral, the muffled shots lost in the wind and thunder.


“A ‘fucking Nixon’ is someone who bugs themselves. Nixon bugged his own office when he was President, recorded everything,” Meyers said, feeling the walls inside a closet in the receiving room.

“Fascinating,” Huntley rolled his eyes for Rifat.

“Wick, as a ‘fucking Nixon’, had to have this room wired. Like Nixon’s office. We need to find the capture hardware.”

“You mean this?” Huntley spun the coat and umbrella rack just inside the big receiving room doors, exposing a cabinet stacked full of what looked like ancient broadcast tape cart machines. Instead of tape cartridges, they’d been modified to hold gray epoxy blocks the approximate size of the original carts.

“That explains what I found in the safe.” Meyers brought the trash bag he’d loaded with the safe’s contents. “Bag all the carts, then take the boots and your raincoat I left outside the viewing room and go get your car. Use the paved roads to come back. Stop before you get on the gravel drive and honk.”

“What are you gonna do besides stay dry?”

“Dry mop the floors, erase any sign of us being here. And look for his real hardware stash. That was too easy.”


Huntley rolled into Rifat’s garage, killed the Rover’s engine. Rifat stretched out of the cramped backseat, pipe wrench in hand. Meyers got out holding the collected manila envelopes from Wichtikl’s safe, dumped their contents on Rifat’s work bench. He stacked the money by denomination, mostly hundreds, and from that he counted out forty-seven thousand dollars, pushed the pile toward Rifat, who stared at it. Sunny stuck her head out the back door of his mother’s shop, hobbled out a few feet on crutches. She stopped, arms bent at the elbows, palms up mirroring the question mark on her face.

“Mr. Meyers,” Rifat stammered, “I… I’m… confused. This money,” his face and body language a casserole of torments, “this money has been nothing but trouble. Innocent people have died over this money. My brother is dead because of this money. You could have been dead trying to find it. If not for you, today, we could all be dead. What good can come of it?”

“If you’re asking me what I think,” Meyers tilted his head slightly in Sunny’s direction, “it’s your job to make something good come of it.” He eye locked Rifat. “Everything, everyone involved in this mess wouldn’t have taken such a hard road to end up with you if you didn’t look like hope.” He glanced back at Sunny, scooped the leftover denomination piles into different envelopes, climbed in the Rover. Huntley cranked the starter, backed out into the rain. They waited for the tall door to close.

“Where to now?”

“The Catalina Flyer.”

“You gotta be shittin’ me,” Huntley pushed the clutch back in, rain sheeting the windshield against the useless wipers. “You wanna go to Catalina in this weather?”

“No. But you do.” He put Marcia DeMilnes 25 automatic in the glove box. “About halfway to Catalina, step out and drop that pistol over the side.”

“That big house is a puzzle nobody’ll put together, Mr. Meyers. What’s one more gun?”

“One more gun, one more person they start looking for. Dead man’s wife is where they’d start.”

“Why you didn’t shoot anybody with your gun.” Huntley thought his way through it. “If your gun wasn’t there, neither were you?”

“You’re catching on.” Meyers peeled off twenty one-hundred-dollar bills, reached over, stuffed them in Huntley’s shirt pocket. “Eat something right at Bluewater or the Trap. Try to stay dry.”

“Holy shit…” Huntley’s eyes dropped to his pocket before returning to the street. “That’s two grand. Man, I’d have done today for two hundred.”

“You could have gotten shot today, Huntley. Starting with the landscapers.”

“Mexicans are usually slow to kill their own outside of a gang thing. And hell,” he broke a big I-know-a-Hollywood-dentist smile, “I build possibly gettin’ shot into your rate.”

NVDT RANDOM – A Little Dab’ll Do Ya

Transitive verb (archaic): Absolve, Pardon, Acquit, Clear, Expiate

Origin: Middle English, late 12th century (earliest known reference): from Anglo-French assoilé, past participle of assoudre to absolve, from Latin absolvere

This word is so perfect, and so wrong, in so many ways.

“Lester’s gonna raise all kindsa hell he finds out you locked his ass inna holdin’ tank for two days now ‘at Nuella done confessed to killin’ Shorty.”

“She confessed lessen ten minutes ago, but you two bein’ kin an all,” the Sheriff tossed a ring of keys at the deputy, “go on, assoil him and send him home.”

“The priest did what to you in the confessional?”

“I don’t want an apology from the state. I want a complete assoil.”

“I would’ve thought you got enough of that in prison.”