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)
Hair: Lt Br
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.”
“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.”
“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.”
“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?”