I Can Wait


Sheriff Harden jumped.

“Keep your hands where I can see them and step away from the coffee machine.” Candi smiled when he turned around. “It’s not workplace gender stereotyping if I’m going to drink it.”

“You’re early,” Harden backed away from the coffeepot, left arm out in a be-my-guest gesture.

“So are you.”

“I had a talk with Brandy Green before things got rollin’ today.”

“She’s the ex of the deceased’s brother from another mother?”

“That’s her.”

“Anything valuable?”

“People like her, you have to let all the extra talk settle out, but she had a few things. Whether they amount to anything but a couple of kids lyin’ is up in the air. You got a little sun yesterday.”

“I forgot my nose icing. Evidence gathering isn’t something I usually do outdoors all day in a T-shirt, or less. This week I’ve managed two days in a row. She thumped the side of the coffee basket with her finger, slid it into the machine, carefully eyed the water level in the pot before pouring it in the reservoir. She gave the top of the machine a ‘good boy’ pat and flipped it on.

“I sent forensics the evidence logs and reports you emailed me. So they’d know a little more about what they were gettin’ into….” Harden couldn’t decide to go with you okay, how was it, or what happened yesterday when Candi said,

“Deputy Reed’s report reads like it was all me,” she bent, eyed the coffee drip. “That everything we found was because it was where I originally suggested it would be. I didn’t want to contradict him on paper, but you should know the evidence we found was three quarters of a mile upstream from my original target area and in his drone grid.”

“Why, do you suppose, he’d do somethin’ like that? Is there anything I should know about yesterday besides y’all findin’ a handful a phones and a smelly Wookie costume before knockin’ off at 3:30?”

“Yesterday,” she inspected the cup before loading it, “I screwed up. Big and often. My attitude embarrassed me at least three times. I buried the Jeep in the middle of the river, took part in several groundless but ultimately productive hunches. I got filthy, got sand in places fully dressed that used to only happen in a beach volleyball thong, laughed like a first-class idiot at bad jokes, cried when no one was looking, played Snot on a Ritz, ate half a stale cardboard sandwich from a truck stop and drank two beers. While on duty.” She handed Harden the freshly poured cup. “I don’t remember the last time I had as much fun, and never as a cop.”

“Fun? How was that… Snot on a what?”

“That’s what I said.” She poured herself a cup. “I saw your text about warrants and subpoenas. Any reason I should know about for splitting out the financials?”

“Small town. Three men that historically don’t have a pot to piss in are suddenly spending thousands and we need to see how that money comes and goes and did it factor into Jimmy Pierce turnin’ up dead. That request will leak before you’re out of the courthouse. The splits that go to your level are Peeping Tom subpoenas.”

“You think there’s corruption in the Courthouse?”

“I know there’s corruption in the Courthouse. It might only be nickel and dime milking, but I’d like to know who before tippin’ ‘em all off.”


“Nice of you to join us today, Deputy Reed.” The Sheriff dropped his reading glasses on a short stack of paper in the middle of his desk, sat back, rubbed his eyes.

“I drove Candi’s Crown Vic loaner in yesterday afternoon. Sounds like a loose hammer in the right front end so I dropped it at the County service center. They can deal with OSBI. Caught a ride in with a pothole crew.”

“Agent Cotton drove your sister’s Jeep in from the field and you drove her OSBI shitmobile?”

“She had a project.”

“Mmm… Well sir, in this report of yours you mention the bag of unusual ‘evidence’ was weighed down in the river by a Honda donut spare. As it happens I had a talk with Brandy Green this mornin’ an after siftin’ through a fifty-pound bag of talk I learned that accordin’ to her, Jimmy Pierce’s estate is missin’ a 2004 gold with one green fender Honda Civic Hatchback.”

“Wonder if it’s missin’ the spare?”

“Spoken like a true investigative genius. I need you to work on locatin’ that car for us till around eleven and then swing by an pick up Aiden Pierce and Ivy Green. They need to sit in an uncomfortable chair and feel an unfriendly door close behind them.”

“What about Virgil Green and Altus Murphy? Those two are part an parcel of whatever’s goin’ on.”

“Virgil’s spent his life playin’ just as dumb as he is. He’ll sit in an interview room like a wart on the chair for two days, shake his head an say ‘Ah dunno, wudn’t there’. Altus will fall out of the chair after about 90 seconds and start floppin’ around like a fish on the dock hollerin’ how he’s got some bullshit mental problem or other an needs fresh air an a ride to the emergency room. I’ll bring them in when we know what’s goin’ on with the money.”

“What if Aiden and Ivy really don’t know anything?”

“They know what’s goin’ on, or have an idea, an we gotta put some focus on this bucket a random shit for evidence we’ve collected. Evidence, I might add, of who the fuck knows what, if anything, and we’re about to have considerable more of it. Until we know if any of it’s even illegal, much less connected to death by design or misadventure, we’re just on a damn scavenger hunt.”

More evidence?”

“Hell, Bash, I have Betty down at the Staples with Lisha Patrick copyin’ her Walmart notebook and I’ve subpoenaed their transaction videos. Candi’ll be pullin’ bank and phone records by the time you get back. Both of you’ll need to get up to speed on the forensics while Aiden an Ivy stew for a while. Your dance card’s full for a couple of days. No more fartin’ around at the river all day. By the way,” he tapped the paper stack, “in your report… Piss an lighter fluid?”

“Candi and I agreed that stale urine, and lighter fluid was how we’d write it up.”

“It still reads like piss an lighter fluid.”

“Did you ask Can— ”

“All she said that matters is her nose got sunburned because you’re an unrelenting and unrepentant slavedrivin’ asshole.”


“She said jerk, but we all know that’s lady for asshole. Now get outta here and go find our missin’ Honda.”


Bash rolled the Tahoe to a stop between the riverbank and the mess of fading tire tracks. He closed his eyes, tried to imagine who’d been there… How, did it play out? He’d been stupid yesterday in failing to document the land side of the recovery scene, more intent on not contaminating the evidence and isolating it with the tarp than looking for how it might have gotten in the water. He walked the perimeter where the tarp had been, but anything disturbed could be from anytime from last week to yesterday. Shit.

He squatted, spun slowly on his heels. One set of tire tracks… stopped in a fade, not far from the bank. The trash bag car, probably the spare tire car. They’d shed the costume, left it by the river, gone for the car. Came back, fed the costume and everything else into the bag. It was heavy, they weren’t going to throw it far… Were in too big a hurry to drag it out in the river… They dropped it and the weight went to the bottom, the big airy part with the costume kept the bag visible. Instead of rolling the air out of the bag or leaving it open to soak everything and gain weight or any other do-over they grabbed the spare, dropped it and flattened the bag… They were in a hurry, maybe a panic, weren’t thinking but reacting … The tire drop forced excess air out, kept river water out… Whoever they were, and whatever happened had surprised the shit out of them. But… did it have anything to do with Jimmy Pierce?

He rose, shaded his eyes, isolated what he’d decided were slightly offset tire tracks away from the scene. Whoever dropped the spare was most likely the last out. Maybe that was whoever tossed the phone, thinking anyone who found it would keep it, or it would stay lost. Why would they bag the other two phones, keep one, aside from it being a hell of a lot more expensive than the burners… Kept it long enough to make a call and then tossed it? He climbed in the Tahoe, the door open, and idled down the escape route to the washout where he studied the scrape scar in the sandstone. The car he was looking for had to be in bad shape. Back inside the Tahoe, he dropped a marker on his GPS location, zoomed out and stared at the screen.


“Good morning, Kelly. How’s that baby?”

“Um, Candi?” Shit. Candi freakin’ Cotton, in the courthouse, outta thin air… “Er, Agent… Uh, I didn’t see… Hear?” Kelly swept all of her DIY lash extension kit except for the magnifying mirror into her desk drawer. “It’s so nice… I mean, I didn’t know you were in town.” She glanced at the mirror that shot her stare back at ten times magnification. “The baby… Right! She’s…fine? Isn’t she?”

“Not my baby, Kelly. Is Connor in?”

“Connor? Uh… Oh, him. I…” She turned in her chair. “Well, he was. But…” she scanned her desk, the McDonald’s bag was gone, thank God, only the mirror. “He mighta brought… be eating, breakfast? Or…”

“Never mind, Kelly. I see him.”

The County Attorney had just slathered two strawberry jam packets on half a Mickey D’s biscuit, chose to ignore the noise in the outer office. He had his lips wrapped around half the biscuit when he looked up. His eyes went golfball, he ripped the napkin from his shirt collar, chomped and choked on the half biscuit, the remaining piece fell in his lap. He shot up out of his chair, reached in his top left desk drawer for his tied tie…

“Goomphawmin… Awndie… shooopht!” He frowned, brushed the stuck quarter biscuit off his crotch leaving strawberry trails in its wake. He held out his right hand covered in sticky goo while tilting his head in an attempt to drop the tie loop over it, caught the gooey hand extension, pulled it back.

“Good morning to you, too. Nice to see you haven’t changed, Yates. Still eating an egg and bacon biscuit on the bottom half, turning the top into a diabetic coma.”

He wiped his hand, flipped up his collar, gave up and dropped in his chair.

“Go ahead Yates. Get yourself together. I can wait.” She picked up a half empty plastic bottle of chocolate milk, raised her eyebrows. “Your wife doesn’t feed you in the morning?”

“Don’t,” he yanked the knot up on his tie, “have,” flipped his collar down, “one.”

“As a trained investigator that should have been obvious.” She reached across his desk, straightened his tie. “I thought you and what’s her name, the library assis—”

“Annie. Anne. Rosalas.” He held out both hands, wider, closer, like he was imagining someone’s width, gave up, dropped them to the desk.

“I thought you two were a sure-fire thing.”

“She, we… got, had to get… Divorced. After college, we didn’t see… eye to eye. On some things. More than some, things, actually. Like everything…” He wiped his mouth with a clean corner of his handwipe napkin, dropped it in his McDonald’s bag, situated himself in his chair. “Now. What can I do for you, Candi?”

“I heard being married to you turned her gay. And it’s Candi, now? Not the unjolly green amazon? Stick with zits for tits? If she had an ass she could sit down? Oh, she is sitting down?”

“That’s not true. About her, or you. I never meant—”

“Water under the bridge, Yates. Every time I come back home, I run into my past and have to bury some more ghosts.” She set the folder on his desk, right side up for him, opened it. “Subpoenas duces tecum. Document subpoenas in case you’re rusty. Do you have a stamp,” she pulled a pen out of a ‘Friend of the Forester’ polished cedar pen holder on his desk, “or do you need this?”

And, Uh… Brandy?

Harden waited in the Sheriff’s Office entryway to meet Brandy Green before office hours, watched her wheel into the closest handicapped spot, hang a temp handicap sign from the mirror of an older model red Mercedes coupe. Early as it was, she’d come dressed for a Grand Ole Opry homecoming in sprayed on denim capris and a cream-color three-quarter sleeve bolero jacket decorated with large green embroidered, sequin covered cactus and red embroidered trim accents. He punched the door lock from behind Betty’s empty desk and Brandy let herself in with a dramatic ‘I have arrived’ arm sweep that ended when she pushed her sunglasses into a headband.

“Come on back, Brandy, have a seat. Coffee?”

“Coffee makes me pee an peelin’ these pants is a once-a-day thing. Now Dominick, you know I don’t wanna hear my Ivy’s in any kind a trouble.” She did a double take when he didn’t head for his office or a ‘little conversation’ room, both of which were familiar. “Are you sure we should be talkin’ in the, um, employee lounge?” She scanned the break room three-hundred-and-sixty, twisting as she went around, screwing herself into the chair she landed in.

“Brandy,” the Sheriff set his hat on the Formica-topped table between them, “This isn’t an interrogation. I wouldn’t have called you if I thought she’d be better off with a lawyer.”

“Just the same, I watch those shows on TV and with Jimmy dead, we’re all suspects.” She picked up his hat and fanned herself with it. “Jesus, Dom. Do a lady a favor and throw another log on the air conditioner?”

He got up, walked to the thermostat over the microwave, lowered the temp, stopped at the fridge for a cold bottle of water on his way back. “I had a little talk with Ivy yesterday, out where she’s stayin’ at the Pierce place. Most things she’s honest about, but there’s some things I brought up she had a reasonable soundin’ non-answer for. The unfortunate thing for her is she’s got a pretty obvious tell.”

“Where she looks like she’s checkin’ her phone when she answers you? Like the answer is in there under BS somewhere and she’s readin’ it off? I swear I don’t know what’s come over her…” Brandy took the water handoff from Harden with her free hand, still holding his hat with the other.

“That’s why you’re here. Maybe you know something that, for whatever reason, she’s not telling me. And it was thoughtless of me to forget to mention your new car.”

“That ol’ thing?” She raised her hand, shook it to drop the half dozen bracelets off her thumb joint and up her forearm. “Virgil brought that by right after the shit show in the courthouse that set him free to do some more nothin’.”

“Just like that, he gives you a German sports car?”

“No, honey, he asked me, thinkin’ maybe I’d lost my mind and he’d get laid, would I like to drive it around for a while since I, um, well… You know I had a company car just like it, only blue, an quite some newer, that I had from workin’ at McBrides’. The box company?”

“Somethin’ happen to it?”

“Well, kinda yes and kinda no. You see, I was workin’ pretty close over there with Mr. McBride himself. Junior, not Senior. Well, it couldn’t be Senior. He’s a headstone out at Rose Hill, and has been goin’ on,” she flipped her fingers out, counted to herself, “let’s just call it a while. Quite a while. Damn hot flashes… Where was I?”

“You and Junior McBride, workin’ close together?”

“That’s right. Only his wife, well somebody shown her a bunch a pictures from the Christmas party, which was all taken back at Christmas time, but somehow she only come to see those pictures a few weeks ago. And Lord, Dominick, I swear that woman, with only one look-through an not askin’ a soul, she went an took what was in ‘em all the wrong way, as we know can happen. Well, she got herself so worked up her panties was all but tied in a knot and she come steamin’ down to the office there at McBrides. I swear to God, by the time she got there, smoke was comin’ out her ears. Well, she said some downright horrible, filthy things about me, but being the better woman that I am, I took the high ground and her abuse like a saint there for a while. An then she had to go an use the ‘C’ word. Well, that’s a word there just lights me up, so I upped an slapped the livin’ snot outta her. So now she’s on her knees in Junior’s office, bawlin’ like a diaper rashed, titty deprived baby an I decided, you know what? I don’t need this kinda drama in my life. I told Junior right then an there I thought it best if I retired from the box business. You know, with a nice little, whatta they call it…?”

“Severance package?”

“That’s it. Anyway, Junior, well, he wrote me a nice check right there on the spot, but I had to give him the car keys back an that left me walkin’.”

“That’s when Virgil stepped up with the little red number?”

“Don’t I wish. There I was, stranded, an not knowing how I’d get around, an then Ivy told me, well, I took it to mean there was light at the end of the tunnel. See Ivy, now this was before the misunderstanding at McBrides’, an Junior, he was bein’ at the house of an evenin’ pretty regular. Ivy come out an said maybe I entertained too much an how sometimes the house felt like whatever central station she called it. So a course we had to get into it ‘cause just ‘cause a man comes over don’t mean it’s all that entertainin’ most times, and definitely not sleazy. Ivy’s word that was, an I said there’s nothin’ sleazy about fixin’ a man a drink an havin’ some adult conversation now an then. She went on an told me it was sleazy ‘cause she couldn’t remember a man droppin’ by who wasn’t married to some woman or other that wasn’t me, an she was sick of it. Then she said Jimmy Pierce told her she could have her own bedroom, not that she an Aiden aren’t up to sleazy theirselves, if she’d move in. Said he’d pay her fifty dollars a week to keep his place clean. Which I could understand because two men livin’ together without enough IQ between ‘em to slice bread need all the help they can get. It worried me some, though, how Jimmy was comin’ up with fifty dollars a week.”

“And how was all that gonna put light at the end of your no transportation tunnel?”

“Oh, that. Well, part a Jimmy’s deal with Ivy was he’d get this old Honda Civic he had settin’ up out there runnin’ so she could use it to do errands, like to the grocery store or wherever. An me bein’ her Momma an all I knew she’d let me borrow it if I needed to go on a job interview or get my nails done or any other little thing I might need to do.”

“But he never fixed the car for her?”

“No, no. Lord knows the man was good to his word, and I know Ivy’d have let me drive her car, but she told me, kinda in a huff about she was, too, that Aiden? Well, he’d pretty much absconded with the car, doin’ God knows what ‘cause he only works a couple days a week steamin’ funk outta the Casino chairs an that’s three to nine in the AM work. Anyway, the selfish little shit left me, an my Ivy, too, high an dry in the transportation department.”

“You happen to know any details about that Honda?” Harden had his phone out, primed to record.

“Of course. I was gonna have to drive it after all. It was a little two-thousand an four Civic hatchback, an except for one green fender the rest was once-upon-a-time-gold. I know because a man who’d love to do me a favor said he’d paint it, but he needed to know all about it first.”

“You wouldn’t wanna call Ivy an ask her about that car’s whereabouts for me, would you?”

“Of course I will. Anything to keep my baby outta trouble with the law.” She turned sideways in her chair, hunched over, the phone on speaker rested on her denim thigh.

“Ivy? Darlin’? This is your Momma…”

“What is it now?”

“Baby, I heard Aiden’s home. Where’s our little Honda at?”

“Beats hell outta me. Probably in the swamp with his phone an rifle. Same place I’m gonna throw his goddam pecker after I cut it off.”

Brandy gave the Sheriff a side eye glance. “You shouldn’t say things you don’t mean, sweetie…” Harden gave Brandy the ‘keep rolling’ signal. “Sweetie, I run into the Sheriff, um, pickin’ up to-go at Lucia’s? We got to talkin’ an he told me you told him that Aiden left outta here for Louisiana last week with his friend.

“I dint say they was in his friend’s car. I said they left outta here is all. But they was in the Honda. Without me. Why’d you think I was out here with no car, no tv, no… Oh, shit Momma… goddammit…” She started to cry.

“Ivy? Baby what’s—” The phone went dead. Brandy turned back, a what-the-hell look on her face.

“That’s all I needed.” Harden stood, pushed his chair to the table. “And don’t you worry any about Ivy. We’ll throw her a rope ‘fore she digs herself a very deep hole. And uh… Brandy? You can take the water, but I can’t let you leave with my hat. Even though it does go well with your outfit.”

I have three characters in my history who show up with nuggets embedded in a story. All I can do is let ’em talk. Unless today’s hernia surgery is my sell by date, I’ll be back to finish this.

Snot On A Ritz

The end (finally) of evidence day.

 “The Sheriff’s back.” Ivy peeked through a crack in the window blinds. “He’s got somebody with him.”

“So? That don’t mean nothin’ to us.”

It’s Lisha Patrick.


“We graduated school together. She’s an IQ farmer, la-dee-dah Valedictorian, all that.”

“Valid what?”

Shit!” She released the blinds, fingertip to bottom lip. “She works at the Walmart where your dad bought these TVs and all the hardware for the lawnmower shop.”

“I don’t think it’s a lawnmower shop anymore.”

“Aiden,” fists to her temples, “you know, sometimes…” Ivy stalked to the front door, took a deep breath before reaching for the doorknob. She pulled, stepped out, scurried a slightly bent, sandal footed, arms crossed shuffle to the sheriff’s cruiser. “S’up, Lisa?”

“Ivy? What are you doing here?”

“I live here.”

“Mine’s not contagious, either. The barrio whorehouse look your idea?”

“Sour. You on the way to jail?”

“On the way back. He needs me to say yes or no did Mr. Pierce buy any of what’s in there from me.”

“Why’re you standin’ out here, then?”

“I can’t go in till they’re finished fingerprinting everything.”

Finger printing? Everything?”

“Did I stutter? Read my lips. Eh ver ee…”



Ivy made the return scurry, muttering shit… shit… shit… until she was inside the trailer. The door closed behind her, and she continued the body hug shuffle as pacing.

“You don’t stop soon, you’re gonna wear a hole in the floor.”

“Shut up, Aiden.”

He cracked the window blind again. “Who’s the black chick?”

“I told you already. If you’d stop smokin’ that for five minutes—”

“I makes the itch not as bad.”

“For, like the hundredth time, why don’t you go get a fucking shot? I swear to God, Aiden…” She stopped pacing, swiped the joint out of his hand, killed it in an I Heart New York ashtray on the coffee table. “You know what they’re doin’ out there, Aiden? They’re fingerprintin’ everything. Did you hear me? Everything in the lawnmower shop.”

“So ?” He moved his head to the side to get a better look through the blinds. “She’s got nice hair, whoever she is.” He turned, kept his finger in the blind. “An I don’t think it’s a lawnmower—”

“Oh. My. GOD, Aiden… Will you shut the fuck up so I can think?


“If we’re through playin’ ‘Speculate the Evidence,’ it’s time you told me why you’ve been backin’ up all day. Seems like an overnight turnaround.”

“You don’t need to hear it.”

“Wouldn’t have asked if I didn’t.”

“It could be… prejudicial. Professionally.”

“That’s even more reason. We’re gonna sit here until it’s out, Candi. It’s no bullshit, snot on a Ritz time.”

“Snot on a what?”

“From an old movie. These underage kids are sittin’ around a campfire drinkin’ too much beer and have to tell each other a truth about themselves. Snot on a Ritz was the standout.”

“Sounds like it.” She tapped her beer can lightly with her fingertips for a long moment. “I can’t believe I’m sitting on a tarp with bagged evidence, drinking beer with a mud covered Indian who calls vocational confession therapy snot on a Ritz, but… Okay…” She blew a strand of renegade hair off her cheekbone. “This could be my last out-of-house assignment. I’m on what they call investigative liaison probation.” She brushed her knees, buying time. “If I screw up here, if you or the Sheriff write me up, if I piss anyone off and it gets back… I’m done outside. Until my attitude adjusts, which might not be till the second of never. And if I have to live in-house with some of those people, I’ll go fucking postal.” Knee brush and a thigh-pull seat bone readjust. “What was it you said earlier, about birds of a feather?”

“Table for two? Here we are.”

“I know, but what did you mean by that?”

“They make our moccasins in the same place.”

“If that’s true… I guess it must be based on your previous employment files. What magic did you discover that you were able to move over here and stay off pro?”

“That I can answer with ancient Apache wisdom. At least the man who gave it to me after my last exit interview was an ancient Apache. Interested?”

“If you think it’ll help. I mean, if you can keep it short and avoid the advice phase.”

“You can lead a horse to water. But you can’t make it drink.”


Too short? Your horse is standin’ at the edge of the pond but won’t drink. What are you gonna do? Beat it? Cuss it? Force it? You’re dealin’ with a thousand pounds of inertia that has a mind of its own. You got it as far as you could. Now it’s outta your hands.”

“If I’m dealing with people, or a system, that balks or can’t keep up,” her face mildly contorted with confusion, “I just walk on by?”

“Most systems are democratized for mediocrity. But you want to go to the Olympics. If that’s the case, understand up front your job is bein’ you, and if that means you take them as far as they’ll go and then walk around them to get your job done, there it is. No amount of push or force or cuss on your part will make any difference. And beatin’ them or goin’ postal’s not an option. Even if there’re times it would make you feel better.”

“One more time?”

“When it’s time to step over or around what’s weighin’ you down, smile and let it go. Makin’ a Warrior Dance out of it’s a waste—”

“Of fuckin’ time. Okay, medicine man.” With a look like she’d lost an old friend, she crumpled her beer can. “I think I get it.”

“Sure? There’s a long version.”

“I’m sure.” She came out of her cross-legged seat like a slow-motion scissor jack. “But another beer might help it sink in.”

But They Had Pictures

Bash, walking the river next to the metal detector, held up his hand. The Jeep sloshed to a stop. “Back… back… eeeeeeasy…” His hand went to wide open, the Jeep stopped again, the river slopped around it.

“What have you got? The responder went off like we have another wheel to add to the collection.”

“I need to let the cloud settle, but more like a donut spare. Small, still had rubber.”

“You got all that with your foot?”

“Barefoot is the Indian way.”

“You have on water socks.”

“Close enough.” He bent, reached into the water, came up in a hurry. “Gloves.” He waded toward her door, reached out. She handed off a fresh pair of nitrile evidence handlers. He pulled them on, went back to his reach. “There’s a tarp somewhere up there with the canoe.” He waded back. “We’re gonna need to lay it out.”

“For a spare tire?”

“A spare tire with a trash bag underneath that’s full of something doesn’t feel like random trash.”


Sheriff Harden, hat in hand, waited in the shift manager’s office at the Ada Walmart for the manager’s runner to return from the electronics department with Lisha Patrick. The runner, a tall, thin young man with long, straight brown hair, looked the spitting image of one of the Doobie Brothers. Fifty years ago.

The wall clock ticked. The manager, a man with a mustache who dyed it and his remaining hair a strange color of blue black, mumbled and made marks with a pencil on the paperwork he shuffled.

Harden cleared his throat. “The electronics department must be a decent walk.”

“Mm hmm. People’ll steal anything,” the manager said, like it was an answer.

The clock ticked, the manager mumbled and marked. He finally picked up his stack of papers, clamped them together with a binder clip. Harden made minor theater of checking his watch.

“Yes, well…” the manager fingered his mustache, “y’see, Lisha mighta been in the middle of an intensive interactive sell. Like a phone. What is it she’s done?”

“She hasn’t done anything. I need her to have a look at a setup we’re investigatin’ to see if she recognizes any of it.”

“She’s a smart one, our Lisha. Electronics would collapse or get stole blind without her. Gonna miss her when she goes off to college.” He wagged his pencil at the Sheriff. “Not often we get a Valid Dictorian workin’ with us here. We got a lot a smart folks, takes plenty to keep these places runnin’ y’see, but she’s the only one a them I ever seen.”

Harden was about to correct the man on several counts when the door opened. The Doobie Brother held it for a petite girl with long curls, big smile and bigger, nervous eyes. The manager greeted her with a magnanimous, “There’s our Lisha now!”

She rolled her eyes, saw the sheriff, panic washed over face. “Oh my God…”

“Nothin’ to worry about Ms. Patrick,” Harden said. “I hope I’m not throwin’ Karla Pierce under the bus, but she led me to believe you assisted her ex-husband, Jimmy Pierce, and two other men with some major purchases here. Am I quotin’ her right?”

“Yes sir. Those old guys bought a ton of stuff.”

“Think you’d remember any of it if you saw it again?”

“Sure. Anyway, what I don’t remember doesn’t matter because I write it all down. All my special orders and all my sales over ten dollars.” She glared out the manager. “In case they get ‘lost in the computer’ or turn up where they don’t belong. Like in my department shrink.”

“Will it take you another half a day to go get that notebook an come back?”

“No sir.” She stuck her hand in the pocket of her blue apron, pulled out a small steno pad. “I keep it with me. You know,” her eyes drew blood from the manager, “if anything should come up.”


“Little help.” Bash handed up the donut spare, Candi set it on the tarp, photographed it front, back and sides.

Bash wiped sweat off his forehead, pulled the floppy safari hat down. “The bag’ll take both of us.”

“I was getting used to being at least half dry.” She waded in, stopped when she felt the bag against her foot. “Both hands, under?”

“Works for me. On three. One… Two…” The bag came up with a watery, sucking noise. They let it drip before carrying it up and setting it on the tarp.

“Untie it?” Candi wiggled the knot at the top of the bag. “Or cut it?”

Bash stuck his finger through the middle of the overhand bag knot and pulled it apart. “God dam…” His left hand flew up under his nose, he slapped the bag open with his right and backed off.

Candi caught a whiff, backed up. “That’s not decomp.”

“It’s rank, whatever it is. Stand back.” Bash reached into the black contractor’s bag, pulled up a handful of what looked like a brown furry bathmat. He kept pulling, kept getting more bathmat until he’d pulled out seven feet of whatever had been wadded up in the bag. The bag collapsed and the smell dissipated almost as soon as the rug hit air.

“That was a lot of work,” Candi, from the edge of the tarp. “For a stinky carpet.”

“That’s what Princess Leia said.” Bash walked around the rug, one hand covering his nose and mouth, using his free hand to pull the carpet out into its flat state.

“About what?”

“She called Chewy a walking carpet.” He toed the rug. “Look what we have here.”


Harden, to his rearview mirror. “Hope ridin’ in the cruiser with me isn’t an embarrassment,”

“No. It’ll be a circus at my house tonight, though.”

“If I need to call, or drop by and explain…”

“No sir. There’s nothing you can do.” Lisha’s voice shifted from what Harden had considered newscaster quality to street, saying, “Ah knowed dat l’il nigga gurl weren’t uhl dat.” Her voice shifted back. “Coming home in a police car is like a rite of passage in my neighborhood. All the doubters around me will feel vindicated, regardless of the truth.”

“What about the store? Everything alright there?”

“As right as it can be.”

“You and the manager get on?”

“That santa? It’s pathetic how some girls are stupid enough to believe he’s doing them a favor letting them blow him so they don’t get reported for drawer or department shorts or any screw up he can manufacture to make them look bad and maybe lose their job.”

“Do I need to have a talk with him?”

“I thought of filing charges, for his behavior. But it would make me ‘that’ girl and follow me forever and I don’t need that. All I need to do is stay smarter than he is until I go off to school and that’ll be about as hard as breathing. To tell the truth I could put him in jail a lot of different ways if I wanted to, but it’s not worth it. Besides, if you say anything it would only make him more intolerable.”

“What if I sent in someone he’d never seen before, say, on a generic complaint, just to let him know he’s on notice?”

“Another deputy? I’m not sure that would do any good. Unless you have a lady cop that can lift him out from behind that desk by his balls and tell him how the hog ate the cabbage.”


Candi finished bag and tag on the remaining evidence from the heavy-duty trash bag—two phones, a portable respirator, and a wired headset—Bash flipped up a cover over where the flattened-for-storage back seat should have been and lifted the lid on a twelve-volt refrigerator.

“I wasn’t expecting company. You okay with a half a foot-long club?”

“Right now,” she stuffed loose hair back in her armadillo’s ass ‘do’, took the sub. “I think if you put mustard on my shoe, I’d eat it.”


Hell yes.” She snatched it out of his hand. “It has to be picnic thirty somewhere, right?” She walked to the tarp, sat cross legged. He followed, sat mirroring her.

“You’re goin’ after that sandwich like you’ve never seen food. I’m supposed to be the savage.”

“Mmmhmm… Sorry… No breakfast.”

“You should’ve said something.”

“We were busy.”

He let that go. They ate in conversational silence, serenaded by the river, the occasional high pitched skreee of a red-tailed hawk and the intermittent jack hammering of a distant woodpecker.

Candi broke the reverie. “What do you think?”


“The price of eggs in Alaska? Sheezus, Bash. The evidence?”

“We need to wait for forensics to give us prints from the hardware and a chemical on Chewy. I’d hate to guess what I want it to be now just to get dissapointed.”

“Humor me?”

“Two vehicles were here. Both left in a hurry, one cleared the ditch, one is limping. They bagged everything, tossed it in the river and dropped a Honda spare on top before they hit it. Whatever they were up to, if I have it my way, it had a major impact on what happened downstream. How, with a Chewy costume, a couple of phones and a respirator is too wild to guess, even for me.”

“By the pieces, I’ll say they used the phones to communicate between a director and whoever wore the carpet suit.” She chewed her last bite, chased it, fingered a paper napkin and balled it up.

“That leaves the respirator, though. Why would somebody who needs one toss it?”

“Portable respirators are common in prosthetic and oversized monster costumes.”

“No shit? They teach you that at OSBI?”

“No, I read it in a People but not People magazine in a dentist’s office. But they had pictures, so I believed it.”

Weekly Star has pictures of alien babies too, but I’m not sure I believe it. For the sake of agreement, I’d say they needed a respirator in a costume that came outta the bag smellin’ like months old stopped up urinal meets lighter fluid.”

“I could have gone all day without that one.”

“I could’ve gone all day with ever smellin’ it at all. But that’s the way we’ll have to write it up.”

You’re Gonna Have To Suit Up Or Git

Note: The scenes are outrunning me. On the couch at the grandkids, walking the dog… I had a document that was 6,000 words. As a result, I’ve cut it down into digestible chunks.

The Jeep Candi had buried sat, covered in red mud and silt, idling on the sandbar that had been her target. She swiped a row of red mud icing from the top of the passenger side mirror, flung it off her finger. “You still want me to drive?”

“Unless we’re gonna walk, yeah.”

She stepped up behind Bash, pulled the six-foot length of half-inch rigging chain off his shoulders while he reeled the winch line into its rollback. He stretched his shoulders, kept his loose grip on a pair of leather gloves he had wrapped around the winch line. She walked the chain to the open back, let it slither through her hand and clank its way into the spare tire well.

There hadn’t been much conversation since he’d gotten the Jeep out of the red mud, and she hadn’t expected much because that process had been a real spectacle. From across the river, she’d heard the chain and the cotton wood groaning under the stress until the Jeep had come up enough to roar into assisting itself. The spinning wheels threw mud thirty feet in the air, and far enough back that she got splattered nearly thirty yards away. ‘Behind the Jeep’ must have meant anywhere back and out of range of the winch line, not directly behind. Unless… Okay, she had it coming.

Bash hung the winch hook off his pocket, lowered the towbar, hooked it up like he’d done earlier that morning. He dunked his hands and the gloves in the river, shook them out, ran his eyes around the Jeep and patted a clean spot on the fender. “Good as new.”

“Filthy, though,” she said, taking the gloves, tossing them in the back.

“That makes three of us.”

“Three?” She checked her wet, splattered clothes, ran the back of her hand across her forehead, looked, made a face. “I’m having a difficult time understanding why,” she closed the hatch, “you want me to keep driving. Is it like a joke, or some kind of ‘watch me fail’ superiority thing? If it is—”

“Here we go…” He came up out of his hands to toes stretch. “No, Agent Cotton, this is not a mind game or an embarrassment conspiracy. This is nothin’ more than your ‘you fell off the horse, get back in the saddle’ moment.”

“What if I bury it again?”

“Do it again and you get to pull it out.” He climbed in the passenger side, knocked sand out of his water socks. She climbed in, closed her door.

“What’s your sister going to say? How much is it going to cost? There are issues here, Bash, and I don’t know exactly what’s next, or what’s expected of me, after…” she switched on the wash jets and wipers, sat back, held her hands up in frustration at the smeary windshield.

“After makin’ a huge fuckin’ mess of the Jeep and us?”

“Yeah. That.”

“My sister would say you either own a Jeep, or you drive a Jeep. If you drive one, shit happens. What it’ll cost you is around twelve dollars’ worth of quarters at Jet Wash. Issues handled, future known. Happy?”

“Better. But what do I do now? Take it easy, try to get us back on land and call it a day?”

“Damn, Candi. You offer to quit every time you think you fucked up?”

“When I push too hard, like today, blowing up on you, burying our Jeep in the mud,” her hands had gotten into it, “or doing whatever I do to end up with situational shit on my shoes, I get quit on. I’ve found being proactive, volunteering to ease up makes it easier on everyone.”  

“Also makes it easier for you. What would you call, right now, if I told you quittin’, or easin’ up were just options, not requirements?”

“Seriously?” She looked over at him, cleaning his sunglasses with a paper towel from the glovebox, squinting through them, rubbing again. “I’d look at what we’ve accomplished against what we set out to accomplish.”

“I’m still listenin’.”

“Hang on.” The windshield had gotten stuck on repeat streaking. She squirted it again, and it cleared. “Alright… First, I don’t think we’re done. Second, the system being what it is, we might not have another unscripted day to get our heads around what went down out here. We’ll get lab reports tonight, in the morning at the latest, and we’ll go into puzzling evidence mode, not looking for it. I can’t say exactly what I expect to find, or if we’ll find anything, but I have this feeling, you know, that we’re not finished out here… So I’d ‘call’ doing as much as we can with the tools we have before we quit.”

“You say you’ve got a feeling we’re not finished, then I’m in.”

“Great, but we’re on a sandbar in the middle of the South Canadian River. I’m game for whatever, but since this was your hunch in the first place, I was hoping you would come up with what’s next.”

“First, take off your wet boots and drive barefoot so you can feel if you start to dig again. Second,” he pointed a finger gun out the windshield, “take this sandbar upriver till it stops, swing over and curb crawl the bank.”

“Good,” she pushed the clutch in, dropped the Jeep into third gear. “I’ll like driving better once we’re back on the search grid and out of the river.”

“Who said anything about gettin’ outta the river?”


The Quonset hut door swung open, Sheriff Harden stepped inside, felt along the wall for a switch, flipped the entire row of four, causing a sequence of light explosions overhead that erased every shadow in the building. “Holy shit…”

“You ain’t lyin’.” The evidence tech popped her fresh gloves.

 “What the hell is all this? ”

“Looks like a video studio to me. We’ll have to fire it up to see, but that’s my first best guess.”

“What would somebody do in a place like this?”

“Anything video from porn to YouTube kiddie shows,” she pointed an elbow at the solid green back wall and floor, “including chroma-key content.” She pulled him back toward the door. “Sorry, Sheriff, but you’re gonna have to suit up or git.” She popped her gloves again, pulled up her hood and lowered her face shield, crowded him outside. “If you do suit up,” her hand on the door, “you can ask questions if you want and maybe we’ll answer a few, but you have to stay outta the way, and you can’t touch anything.”

Cut ‘Em Off

That’s what I’m talkin’ about.” Bash evidence bagged the phone he’d recovered from less than an inch of sand, handed it through the window for Candi to document and tag.

“Real phone, not a burner,” she said, capping the Sharpie. “What do you think went on this far upstream from the incident?”

“We know there were two vehicles—”

You know there were two vehicles. I know Tic Tac Toe tire tracks in the sand.”

“If you’ll look at the drone pic—”

Her eyebrows came up over the top of her sunglasses.

“Yeah. Later.”

Much later.” She slipped the clutch, putting the Jeep back into its slow crawl.

After another half hour of finding nothing but the beer Candi had tossed Bash suggested they should “Try the river.”


Sheriff Harden parked Ivy in the back seat of his cruiser telling her the air conditioning in it worked considerably better than in the house, took her phone with him back to the porch and sat Aiden in one of the plastic wicker-look chairs. Harden sat across from him, the round table that matched the chairs between them. He thumbed through Ivy’s call list – Mom, several times, deputy twice, which he recognized as Bash, Aiden, easily forty times, pizza, once and a few numbers with no contact attached. He continued to thumb the phone, surreptitiously watching Aiden get antsier by the minute. Mindlessly scratching his arms and palms, sitting on his hands, biting a nail, rubbing his eyebrows, all the while air bouncing his left heel at high speed.

“So, Aiden,” Harden set the phone on the small round table, a long list of unanswered calls to ‘Aiden’ on the screen. “Where the hell you been, son?”

“Why’re you tearin’ the house apart? An don’t you need to read me my rights or somethin’?”

“We’re tearin’ the house up because your daddy’s dead, Aiden. We need to find out why. As far as your rights go, you an me are just havin’ a little talk.”

“Well, you ain’t gonna find who killed dad in my underwear drawer.”

“Be surprised what we find in underwear drawers. You didn’t answer my question. You need to hear it again?”

“Louisiana. I was in Louisiana. I told you already.” He waved an arm at the cruiser. “Ivy knows.”

“Truth is, Aiden, she don’t know if you were in Louisiana or on Mars.” He tapped the phone, popped the screen to life. “Your name, right there in red letters, tells me she didn’t know shit, but damn sure woulda liked to. Looks to me like she might even a been worried some about you. I can’t imagine why, you leavin’ her like you did.”

“I figured Dad’d be home. An I told you. I dropped my phone in the swamp. Lost my over-under, too.”

“So you said. Whereabouts in Louisiana was this, again?”

“There south a Laff-aye-et.”

“Port Barre, around in there?”

“Yeah, Port Barre, a little south, maybe.”

“Gator huntin’ must be good around that area, huh?”

“Pretty good. I didn’t get one, my rifle bein’ in the swamp.”

“And you couldn’t a borrowed one a your gator huntin’ buddies phones? You know, just to call home, ease your girlfriend’s mind?”

“The gator guys ain’t got phones, don’t trust ‘em. My friend, he’s got a pay-as-you-go job. He told me it don’t work interstate like regular phones.”

“First I’ve heard a that. Good to know, I guess. So tell me, how’d you come to drop all that expensive gear in the swamp? You boys smoke some dope, get a little drunk?”

“Gator man don’t like fucked up people bein’ around gators an guns, so no. What happened is we hit a gator going what felt like about thirty in his prop boat. Come close to bouncin’ us all out, along with all our shit.”

“No damage to the boat, though? Not takin’ on water or anything?”

“Gator man has reinforcin’ plates on his boat, case that kinda thing happens.”

“Mmm.” Harden picked up the phone. “Think you could give me the gator fella’s information, maybe your friend’s number?”

“All that was in my phone. And it’s gone. I quit rememberin’ shit like that when I got a phone. Can I go in now?”

“For now.” Harden watched Aiden, eyes darting all over, stand and scratch his elbow. “Aiden, we aren’t gonna find some meth or anything else you shouldn’t be havin’ in the house there, are we?”

“No.” He noticed his fidgeting, stopped. “I got some kinda skin condition bein’ over there.”

“You brought it home with you, then?”

“Yeah. I’ll be honest, Sheriff. It really sucked for me, bein out there.”

“In Louisiana?”

“Yeah. Where else we been talkin’ about?”


You were the one who said ‘just drive out to the sandbar’,” Candi, her forehead resting on the steering wheel.

After you told me it wasn’t more’n knee deep.”

“You say that like knee deep on me is some kind of drowning depth.”

“Nothin’ personal, Candi. People drown in bathtubs.”

“Next, you’ll tell me you can drown in a teaspoon of water.”

“Be a waste of time since you already seem to know.” He unlaced his desert boots, tossed them over his shoulder, ripped the bottoms of his cargos from their Velcro seam just above his knee, reached under the seat, pulled out half a dozen water socks, picked two the right size, pulled them on.

“This isn’t all my fault, you know. Where are you going?”

“Doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right. What we need to get right now isn’t blame but Cat’s Jeep out of this river.”

“Look, I didn’t know this thing would dig a hole for itself, alright. So—”

“You ever been muddin’ before?”

“Not exactly. But it’s just sand, right? Only underwater. So what’s the big—”

“The ‘big’ is that big, terrain-tread tires and big torque will chew up mud until you hit bedrock or bury yourself. You just found out which one of those usually comes first. Dry sand, except for big curls, is packed by its own weight and is a fuck of a lot more forgiving.” He crawled out the window, waded to the front of the Jeep, lifted, and tied off the tow bar with metal detector still attached.

“You never said where you were going.” Candi pulled herself up and out, sat on the windowsill. “To get help? Shouldn’t we call someone instead of you just taking off?”

Bash made the universal hand phone with his thumb and little finger, held it to his ear. “Hello, Triple A? This is Pontotoc County Deputy Sheriff Bash Reed. Agent Candi Cotton, with the OSBI – Oh, you’ve heard of her? Yeah, well she just buried our Jeep in the South Canadian and we were wonderin’…”


Harden motioned from the porch for Ivy to join him and parked her in the chair Aiden had vacated. He thumbed through her phone like he’d done with Aiden, but for far less time. He set it down, nudged it her way.

“Seems you called some numbers aren’t in your contact list.”

“Seems you’re bein’ kinda nosey.” She snatched up the phone, rubbed the face of it on her cutoffs. “An gettin’ fingerprints all over.”

“Who’d you call, Ivy?”

“Well, the cable company is one. It was twice I had to call them.” She checked the phone, buffed it again.

“How come?”

“Du-uh?” She gave him the look and upturned hands that went with it. “I told your deputy.”

“Tell me.”

“No TV? Maybe? Why else do you call India and sit on hold for ever? I sure wouldn’t call them orderin’ Ramen.”

“You wouldn’t be. Not from India. How about the internet?”

“Duh, again? They come from the same place.”

Harden had seen the satellite dishes on the house and the Quonset hut. “How’d you know who to call?”

“I called the number on the box by the TV. They told me it was cancelled a long time ago, and they needed all kinds of numbers and passwords and a blood sample to tell me anything else, so I gave up. The other numbers are probably the hospitals I called lookin’ for Aiden.”

“He didn’t tell you where he was goin’ in Louisiana?

“Just to wherever they hunt alligators.”

“No city or anything close by?”

“No, ‘gator huntin’ is all he said. I didn’t figure him to go missin’ for a week without callin’ me or nothin’ so I didn’t really care, you know. Just call me, lemme know where you’re at, right? Not.”

“And you have no idea what goes on in Jimmy’s shop over there?”

“No, but I can tell you they sure ain’t working on cars or lawnmowers in there anymore.”

“You know of anybody came to see Jimmy about whatever new business he was up to?”

“Only Daddy, an that creepy old TV repairman.”

“Altus Murphy?”

“That’s him. They were over here almost every night an then Daddy an Jimmy’d leave out, which I don’t mind sayin’ bothered me some, leavin’ that old pervert in there with me alone in here cause of Aiden bein’ off wherever an the locks bein’ what they aren’t.”

“Any idea where they were all off to?”

“Aiden was goin’ in to work at the Casino early an flirtin’ it up with the hookers, or off drinkin’ beer somewhere. None of ‘em check in with me about nothin’ but which basket a clothes is clean and how long does it take to nuke pizza rolls.”

“And the TV. Was that workin’ before Aiden left for Louisiana, or Jimmy went off wherever?”

“Yeah, always. You know, I can’t understand how a grown man could get such a kick outta cartoons an old monster movies.”


“I can help, you know.” Candi sloshed her way to the front of the Jeep. “If you’ll tell me what I can do.”

“You can wade back to the bank and stay at least as far behind the Jeep as we are from that big cottonwood tree across the way.”

“That’s not helping.”

“It’ll help me worry about one less thing.”

“What’s to worry about with me?”

“We don’t have a tree saver or even a tow web. I have a chain and a D-ring and a winch hook to pull this thing out, and that’s it.” He pointed to the big cottonwood. “If that tree snaps or anything from the chain to the hook pops loose, this winch line’ll cut you in half if you’re anywhere inside its radius.” He dragged the winch line toward the cottonwood on the opposite bank, saying over his shoulder, “As pissed as I am, I’d still just as soon not take you back to the station in a couple a trash bags. So beat it.”

She made a wrinkled nose rat face, turned and waded toward the bank wishing she could moonwalk in water saying, in a nyah nyah sing song, “Doesn’t matter who’s wrong or right, So beat it… So beat it… Ass hole…”


“Not a one in the bunch.” The evidence tech dropped the last of the keyrings found in the house in an evidence bag, turned to the Sheriff. “Those kids didn’t give anything up?”

“She knows somethin’ she thinks is worth the stonewallin’ act. Every word out of his mouth is a fuckin’ lie.” Harden slapped the middle padlock on Jimmy Pierce’s Quonset hut door with his left hand. “Cut ‘em off.”

Screw You, and Hell No

Bash knelt in the sand fifty yards upstream from the Cub Scouts’ van, studying a large crisscross pattern of indentations. He scooped up a handful of sand, held it up, let it drift out slowly. He pulled his phone, fell to his knees, and took several closeups of the ground. He’d done the same thing at what had been Candi’s “crime scene” and behind the Jeep when she’d parked.

“I’m guessing Thursday… Wednesday and they’d be gone. Friday, ehhh…” he waggled his hand.

To Candi, he looked like an extra playing scout in a western movie. Only his clothes and hat were all wrong. He had the hair, but needed a breechcloth, headband and a wide, beaded bicep wrap. Except he was only an inch shorter than she was and fit, not a little skinny spray-tanned Italian Hollywood extra holding the reins of a saddle-less pinto pony. She was trying to think of a way to ask what the hell he was doing without it sounding like she was making fun of him.

“But,” Bash said, saving her and wiping his hand on his pants, “it would never stand up in court.”

“What wouldn’t?”

“Tracks. You know,” he made a panoramic gesture with his hands, turned his voice into breathy life coach pudding. “Footprints… In the sands… Of our crime…”

“Is this a genetic urge, or…”

“Could be. I’ve been doing this since I was a kid. C’mon.” He headed for the Jeep, stopped behind it. “See, the sand starts filling in right off the bat.”

“Is that a baseball analogy?”

“You want that story, too?”

“When there’s time.” She opened her hand toward the ground. “Go on.”

“It’s simple. The more time from impression, the less impression remains. At first, there’s a landslide into the trough. Then it slows to almost, but not quite a stop. There’s never much detail, only slow closure.”

“Subject to weather I presume?”

“Yep. A dry front blew through last Wednesday night. If you look around where there hasn’t been any recent traffic, the sand’s smooth or wind rippled.”

“Which is why you said ‘Thursday’. Let me get this straight. The tracks over there are what you saw on your extra drone time I knew nothing about, thank you very much, and why there’s now a long metal tube and God’s own fish finder for evidence hunting, both devices I’m taking on faith and why a huge Jeep with a conveniently attached canoe just happened to be in the parking lot this morning. Are you sure your sister’s in China?”

“Jesus, you actually do believe you’re the center of the universe.”

“I do not. But three incredibly convenient coincidences? Give me some credit.”

“Coincidence is God’s way of remaining anonymous.”

“Once is happenstance. Twice is coincidence. Three times is enemy action. And the last thing I need from you right now is ancient Indian wisdom.”

“It wasn’t. Unless Einstein was an Apache.”

Mine was Ian Fleming. And that right there proves my point.” Her voice took a theatrical turn. “Everybody knows Deputy Reed is smarter than she is. He’ll make up some magical dimension inverter toy for her to play with, placate her, let her look for evidence where we all know there isn’t any. Then he’ll find a fucking Jeep that dwarfs hers…” Her voice dropped back to hot normal. “It’s the same old ‘tell her lies and feed her candy’ good-ol’-boy bullshit to get me out of the office on some vapor chase while the boys’ club solves a slam dunk case without me. Then they can call ahead next time and tell Merton I’m a pain in the ass, don’t ever send me back.”

Bash hooked the winch to the Jeep’s front tow bar, let it out level with the ground. “You finished?” He bounced the tow bar to check the winch tension, walked to the Jeep and pulled out the six-foot metal detector.

“Are you really going to continue this farce?”

“Look,” he dropped the bar in the sand, got in her face until she backed up, had to sit on the front tire. “I don’t know how much research you did on me, or where you found out about my very short baseball career, or how you figured out I was the resident boy genius when I’m not, or how I learned to shit a monster Jeep on demand just to embarrass you, but you’re wayyyyy off base. You wanna know somethin’? Yeah, the Chief did say thanks for not bein’ an asshole about the Cub Scouts and to tell you I thought your map was righteous work because it was. The fuckin’ scouts collectin’ evidence? That was one of those ‘none of us knows everything’ observations. You had a body site and a secondary site, both almost totally devoid of physical evidence. You were never a Cub Scout, so you didn’t put it together. Your standin’ in the river routine was nothin’ but you not havin’ any other ideas, and instead of askin’ one of us Barney Fifes for input, you go on and stand knee deep in red runnin’ silt and wavin’ a pool skimmer so it looks like you’re workin’.”

He backed off, hand pointed at the Jeep. “I’ve been driving this off and on since June. Ask anybody. In fact, go ask the manager at Sonic. She’ll be happy to tell you it’s too damn tall for their awning, and it cost me four hundred bucks worth of trail lights to find that out. As far as your good-ol’-boy ‘get her ass outta the office’ bullshit, I figured the Sheriff had more important liaison work up his sleeve for you than sweatin’ out my guess work. Since you were a surprise, the fish finder was an on-the-way-out-the-door improvisation, so we’d have something to do when my cluster of tracks idea went south.”

“Well… Shit…” Candi pushed into her knees, slowly eased up from the tire, dusted her butt. “Where does my being stupid leave us?”

“Candi, I can think of a lot of words for you, but stupid’s not one of them.”

“About working with people, I am. I see what I think stinks and have to let everybody know. Sometimes it clears the air, but in most cases it’s exactly the shit I called out. Either way,” slight shoulder shrug, “you know? So…”

“Birds of a feather. Waiter, table for two, please.”

“Do you mean,” her eyes came back to life, “that we’re still on? Even after I shit talked your entire plan for the day?”

“You know what Custer said when somebody suggested he stop shit talkin’ Indians?” He waited, she shook her head. “So Sioux me. Get it? S-I-O—”

“Get out…” she smacked his arm with her safari hat. “That was beyond awful.”

“So soo—”

Don’t.” She held up her index finger. “Make the magic dimension inverter work. Then I’ll sign off on funny.”


Sheriff Harden parked as close as possible to Jimmy Pierce’s porch, killed the siren, left his cruiser’s light show on. Aiden Pierce, shirtless, was on the porch before the Sheriff got out of his car. A sullen, arms folded head down Ivy Green followed, parked herself on the opposite side of the door frame, away from Aiden.

“You kids might wanna take a seat in one a those chairs, there.”

“We’re fine standin’ for now… What’s goin’ on, Sheriff?” Aiden rubbed his arms even though the shady porch had to be ninety-five degrees. “You tryin’ to wake the dead?”

“Ain’t wakin’ your daddy. Trust me, we tried it yesterday. There any weapons in the house?”

“Dad had a pistol, but I ain’t seen it lately. I lost my rifle when I lost my phone an Ivy’s done turned all the knives into paperweights tryin’ to cut up some frozen barbecue your damn deputy bought her.”

“You weren’t here,” Ivy laser eyed him, “and I ain’t wastin’ good barbecue thawin and refreezin’ it a million times.”

“Sounds reasonable to me, ” Harden said, hands on hips. “Ivy, run inside an fetch up a shirt for Aiden, if you would, please.”

“I can get my own shirt.”

“I need you to stay out here with me, son. Ivy?”

“Yes, sir…” She rolled her eyes, rolled off the wall and through the door calling over her shoulder, “Clean, buttons or pullover?”


Candi idled the Jeep over two passes starting at the edge of the grid Bash had flown. Fifty yards in and back, twice, and they’d come up with a disintegrating picnic basket full of cheap metal eating utensils, a topless gimme coffee thermos from Delta Energy, three rusty coffee cans riddled with large caliber bullet holes and half a round grill grate.

“We know two things,” Candi said. “The magical dimension inverter works,”

“And we ain’t findin’ shit.” He lifted his hat, scratched his head, stared out the window. “You watched the drone footage. What are you thinkin’?”

“You’re the navigator. If you’re impatient for results, we can hit the spots you bookmarked on the video. If we’re still in the junk metal recycling business at that point, we can try the river.”

“Okay, then head straight down the middle of the track to the gulch. Stop when you get there.”

She stopped at the edge of a shallow, narrow gulch just deep and wide enough to be a serious road hazard for most vehicles. Bash jumped down, walked to the driver’s side.

“See that, on the other side?”

“Tell me what I’m looking at.”

“The scar on top of the ridge, straight across. Somebody bottomed out here. Hard.”

“I can’t do it either with the towbar out.”

“You can in reverse.”


Bash stood, hand on the rear quarter panel of the Jeep. “If you want to get rid of something and you’re driving, what do you do with it?”

“Throw it?” Candi, from her backside lean on the passenger door.

“Exactly. That’s where I’ve been wrong. We don’t need to be dragging the vehicle paths or the perimeter. We need to check the rollin’ throwing distance on either side of the tracks.”

 “So,” She leaned upright. “What’s the new plan?”

He emerged from behind the back door of the Jeep with a cold can of beer, handed it to her. “Go back to where the tracks start, head this way right down the middle and about mid-way lefty sidearm this out your window.”

“If this is the only one of these?” She held up the can. “Screw you, and hell no.”

You Oughta Be a Detective

Connor Aldrich Yates became one of the youngest District Attorneys ever elected to his post. Not just locally, but anywhere. Younger by three years at his election time than the thirty-one-year-old in Pennsylvania. He defaulted into the job when his elderly predecessor keeled over after receiving what the Medical Examiner described as “extremely vigorous” oral sex from “party or parties unknown”. Two colors of lipstick were identified on the dead man’s contused organ. After a voluntary but thorough search of every desk, closet and trashcan of the courthouse proper and briefcases, purses, personal and county automobiles of all personnel, no matches were found on the premises. Or on any other person employed on contract or legitimately visiting the courthouse on that fatal day. Yates’ former boss not only had the audacity to take his security camera offline, but to collapse two weeks before an election with no one on the ballot as an alternative. The former District Attorney had been DA for thirty-two years. No one who’d run against him in the past posted over seven percent of the total votes cast. As a result, he’d run unopposed for the last four election cycles.

Yates, being the solo assistant DA was the obvious and only person available to fill the vacancy. He stepped in and immediately began making campaign sounding noises about “cleaning up Our County.” The County Commissioner’s Court granted an exception to the statutory ‘last date for filing’ to run for county office, but with Yates in place and the Christian Ladies Auxiliary behind him, the two people running against him scrambling for name recognition didn’t have a prayer. Not from the CLA, anyway. However, only 437 people bothered to vote. Which should have sent the fledgling DA a message about the County’s interest in how its wheels of justice turned. A fact that didn’t deter Yates from attempting to pursue his “reform” agenda. He immediately discovered the status quo carried far more popularity weight than he did, and in three short years, he’d become the poster boy for a life of quiet political desperation. When he complained, quietly, the local and state party bosses told him his position was indeed tenuous and to “just sit tight” until the next election. An election where someone targeted early on for reform by Yates had already rented a billboard offering to run their dog against him. And now he had to return a call from one of his most vocal detractors.

“Harden,” the sheriff eased his cruiser off CR1621 onto the shoulder.

“Yates here, Sheriff,” trying to sound upbeat. “You called?”

“Damn straight, I called. Half an hour ago. Where the fuck you been?”

“Uh, Sheriff, that might not be the most constructive way—”

“I need three warrants, Yates. I’ll have Betty email the particulars. Round up the judge, get ‘em signed. In an hour, Yates. Evidence could be disappearin’ as we speak. Hear me?”

“Sheriff, there might be a slight hitch in your time demands. Our secretary is doing double duty, and my typing skills aren’t—”

“I have two words for that bullshit. Candi. Cotton.”

“You’d go over my head for…” Yates checked himself. Filthy, illiterate, petty criminal white trailer trash was something the Sheriff could say and most likely get away with, but Yates couldn’t. He loaded his voice with his remaining reserve of theatrical optimism for, “an unsubstantiated case of death by misadventure involving one of our, um, less contributory citizens?”

“If you mean the Jimmy Pierce case, fuck an a I’ll go over your head. You need to look good when it’s done, Yates, so get my warrants. If not, I’ll pull Agent Cotton off real work and put her on gettin’ ‘em. If that happens, not only will I get my warrants in a horse race fuckin’ hurry, the state boys’ll be wonderin’ right along with the rest of us exactly what kinda numb nuts leadership we got for law and order around here.”

“Sheriff, just give me… Sheriff? Shit.” Yates tossed his phone at its cradle, raised his voice. “Kelly? Put the nail file down and forget wandering off to the day care at lunch. We have three warrant requests coming in.”

We, Kemosabe?” His secretary’s voice echoed back from the outer office. “I think I feel my carpal tunnel kickin’ in.”

“I have a $25 Applebee’s gift card that says it’s heading straight into spontaneous remission.”

“Done. But I need to be holdin’ it in my poor, crippled little hand before it can work any kinda miracle on my CT.”


“Can you not take a picture until I look more like a Jeep girl than a stewardess?”

“You said it, I didn’t.” Bash dropped his phone in a pocket of his cargos. “And I think these days, technically, it’s ‘flight attendant.’”

“Do you really think ‘attendant’ is any less demeaning than ‘stewardess’?”

“No. Stewardess has some nostalgia factor. Like from a time when ‘flight attendants’ weren’t fat, and nobody wore fuzzy bunny ear slippers and sleep pants to the bank. Attendant is the dude in the men’s room at a too-expensive restaurant who sells squirts of watered-down cologne for three bucks and expects a tip. But, as an ‘indigenous person’ no one put me in charge of political correctness.”

“If you were?”

“That’s a long conversation we don’t need to have right now.”

“Agreed. Do you think I look like a stewardess?”

“Do these pants make my butt look big?”

“No,” she unlocked the driver’s door, “but your hat does.”


“OSBI Field operations, Captain Merton’s office.”

“Tell him it’s Harden.”

“Hold, please.” The line hummed, clicked, played two bars of forty-year-old Jacuzzi jazz, clicked again.

“What can I do for you, Dom.”

“I need you to roll on three warrants I have comin’ down.”

“I haven’t heard about any warrants. Where they from?”

“Jeez, that pussy? What’d you do, put his nuts in a vice?”

“I wasn’t sure he had any, so I threatened him with you.”

“You mean threatened him with Agent Cotton. How’s that workin’ out for you, her and the Indian?”

“They took some gadget out to play in the sand on the pretense of looking for evidence. No blood so far.”

“Give ‘em time. Three warrants, you said? Prints, DNA? Or are you just fishin’”

“Fishin’ at this point, but a swab kit might come in handy. Two structures at one location and a pickup truck, whereabouts unknown.”

“Vehicle’s on you. I’ll roll a discovery team on the structures soon as you send me the address.”

“You’re a good man, Merton. Regardless of what the Governor says.”

“Careful, Dominick. I can leave Cotton down there when this is over.”


Candi drove Cat’s “God, this thing is torque-y” Jeep to her “ancestral home”. “If you ever need to come out here when I’m in town and you pass Nate’s” she pointed down the road to Nate’s Pit Stop, “you missed me.” Candi slowed at a rusty mailbox and turned onto a caliche drive that disappeared into trees whose branches touched the ground. She swung wide of the tree cluster, pulled in under their canopy from the side, stopped in front of a clean, wood slat rambling ranch-style house with rows of empty flowerpots stacked behind the porch railing. She climbed down, unlocked two electronic deadbolts and swung the door inward.

Bash followed her inside, found himself in a time warp. In the shades-of-sepia Berber carpeted living room, while he waited for her to change, he studied a collection of ceramic, stuffed, rubber, plastic, Christmas tree ornament and snow-globe-encased penguins, backed by penguin motif holiday plates, all arranged on a spotless vintage Montgomery Ward breakfront. Moving through a room-to-room opening, he discovered Candi owned the dining room. Pictures of a bucktoothed, long legged elementary school girl in need of a hairbrush all the way through braces, high school and college that culminated in the same girl, longer legs, buck teeth gone, still needing the hairbrush. There were no pictures of the Olympic team, or any other team pictures. He stood, staring out the back window at an empty fiberglass above-ground pool, when Candi reappeared wearing cargos similar to his and a camo t-shirt with a bright white OSBI badge silkscreened on the pocket. She had two safari hats in her hand that she dropped on the table.

“You’ve seen mine. About time you showed me some of yours,” she said, opening a 70s vintage dark bronze refrigerator with huge, chrome, stirrup shaped pull down door handles. “By telling me the truth about you and your sister’s Jeep.” She grabbed two cold glass bottles of Italian sparkling water, held one out for him.

He studied the bottle that looked more like expensive Vodka should be inside instead of carbonated water. “Do I need a corkscrew?”

“Clever, but unnecessary. They ship this stuff to my door. Free.”

“How does that work?”

“My only remaining endorsement. Of three that weren’t worth much in the first place. Someone must have died or gotten fired, or they haven’t bothered to audit their swag books in ten years.”

“To Olympic medals.” Bash held up his bottle at toast height. “The gift that keeps on giving.” He used the bottle to point toward the living room. “But no Olympic pics?”

“They’re on the walls at my non-profit’s office. There’s an Olympic joke in that, and a longer story about those pictures and my parents. May they rest in peace.”

“Pictures or parents?”


“Sorry to hear that.”

“Don’t be. The pictures are history.” She sipped some water, leaned against the counter, crossed her arms bottle in hand. “My parents were religious zealots…” another drink, “and bigots of the first order.”

“That’s a popular combo, and a better segue into Cat’s story than I could’ve found. I became the babysitter of her pride and joy back in June when she left for China. She’s gone for a year, maybe longer.” He unscrewed the cap on his water, drank half the bottle. “She’s an Apache teaching English to Chinese. Over here she was also a volleyball coach. That’s why you got the keys instead of attitude. I’d be on the receiving end of eternal grief if she found out I’d shut you down on drivin’ her baby.” He lifted the bottle again. “Know why she got the job out of hundreds of applicants?”

“She ticked enough of their boxes.” Candi palmed his bottle cap from the counter, tossed it along with hers into a wastebasket under the sink. “Indigenous. Female. Might be gay. More than likely a bachelors from a historically minority university and an advanced degree from a traditionally white Ivy League school.”

“You oughta be a detective.”

“Technically, it’s ‘Investigator’. Before you ask, neither is demeaning.”

“Good to know.” He dropped his bottle in the bin at the end of the kitchen counter marked ‘recycle’. “Let’s go play in the sand. That is,” he paused, “as soon as I can send Cat a picture of her baby with an Olympic volleyball Jeep girl cop and not a stewardess.”

It took her a second. “You didn’t… You fucking rat. You did!

That Poor Ol’ Sumbitch Jimmy Pierce

“She brought her own coffee.”

“That’s fine, Betty.” Sheriff Harden punched out of the phone intercom thinking at least Candi would brew her “sustainably and ethically sourced” coffee, whatever that meant, strong enough to float a horseshoe. Unlike Betty, who, if she wasn’t caught and stopped, would add two scoops of sawdust she’d bought at Dollar General to yesterday’s grounds. Harden’s line flashed again.

“How long is she going to be here?”

“Until we figure who, if anybody, killed Jimmy Pierce.”

“Karla did it for the money.”

“Accordin’ to my inbox and voice mail, lotsa folks seem to agree with you.”

“Good. Go arrest her and send that woman home.”

“I’ll see what I can do, Betty, but I doubt it’s gonna be that simple.” He punched out of intercom, stood, answered the knock on his door with “Nobody’s home.”

“Lights are on.” Candi shouldered the door open, set a steaming mug of coffee on his desk. “Where’s Deputy Reed?”

“Went to the airport.”


“Beats me. Said he’d be in as soon as he got hold of whatever he’s gettin’. Looks like barbecue and two shots a Jack did you a world a good. What’s with your hair?”

“It’s called a French twist.”

“I wonder, they got armadillos over there in France?”


“Yeah,” he shook a little with a silent chuckle, “‘cause that hairstyle a yours looks just like an armadillo’s backside.”

“Sheriff, I brought you coffee. In a ceramic mug. Don’t make me climb over this desk and kick your ass.”

“Ass kickin’?” Bash leaned a six foot long, five-inch square box against the sheriff’s desk. “If you’re sellin’ tickets, I’m in.”

“Don’t encourage her. What the hell is that?”

“Bumper mounted dual mode metal and object detector. Mornin’, Candi.” He tossed his hat on an empty chair. “You bring us some real coffee?”

“I hope you didn’t just ask me to get you coffee. Because if—”

“Did I ask for deliver—”

“Knock it off, you two. Bash, tell Agent Cotton ‘thank you’ for bein’ so considerate as to brew us up a batch of excellent coffee. You might work in how she brightens up the place before you go get yourself some. Come back and you can explain the box.”

“Okay.” He bowed. “Thank you. For whatever you did about coffee I haven’t tasted yet. I have nothing to say about your wardrobe or hair ‘cause sayin’ anything to a lady in the workplace about how she looks or asking her to fetch coffee is a good way to get sued, fired,” he shot the sheriff a look, “or your ass kicked. Am I right, Agent Cotton?”

“Candi. Deputy. For both y’all’s future reference, ass kicking is my default option for stopping junk behavior. I should add,” she said as Bash turned for the door, “that behavior definition includes sarcasm.”


Harden inspected the package leaning against his desk saying, “Box reminds me of that aggie joke.”

“About the garden hose?”

“That’s the one.” He moved his hand so Bash could run a knife down one of the box seams, returned it to the top of a nearly three-inch diameter metal tube while Bash peeled the box away. “So, exactly what is this, again?”

“It’s a bumper mounted standard metal detector, or a short-range radar.”

“Sounds like junk science,” Candi, arms crossed. “Like the myth of long-range metal detectors.”

“The man designed it says it eliminates the frequency fight of multiple metal detectors in proximity. Ground penetrating radar and frequency analyzers are nothing new, but this is for hobby use, not to geo map buried pipelines or utilities or any of that. Which is why it doesn’t cost fifty grand and we’re getting to use it for free.”

“And who is this designer?”

“Long story full of relatives who know some other relatives who know a professor teaches Petroleum Geology at Rice.” That seemed to ease the skepticism in the room. Or at least stopped the questions. The sheriff knew getting Bash off into a litany of relatives who knew other relatives would be like asking someone to recite the Tulsa phone book.

“I’m guessin’ you saw somethin’ in all that extra drone time you put in an aren’t satisfied with the Cub Scouts’ beer cans and Jimmy’s wallet.” Harden eyeballed the metal tube at arm’s length. “That it?”

“Mostly. Figured I’d hang it off the back of Cat’s Jeep, put the video up next to the GPS on the dash and drag the curiosity spots. Can’t hurt.”

“Well, it’s not like we’re doin’ anything ‘cept waitin’ on the ME’s report, prints and DNA to come back. See if we’ve got a reserve deputy available an y’all can go play in the sand.”

“Hello?” Candi, arms still folded.

“Hate to say anything about your clothes,” Bash did a quick top-to-bottom scan, “but now I see you’re not really dressed for—”

“These are not the only clothes I own.”

“I wasn’t sayin’…” Bash caught the Sheriff’s look, shifted into a neutral, palms up shrug. “Okay by me.”

“It’ll save me reserve budget. But…” The Sheriff raised an eyebrow at Candi, “I won’t be along to chaperone. You two swear not to kill each other or piss each other off beyond the point of repair, I’ll say yes. Can you do that for me?” He got two nods. “Not good enough.” He punched the intercom button again. “Betty? Got your Bible handy?”


“What the hell are you doing now?” Candi had watched Bash dig around the contents of metal shelving in a dimly lit storeroom for five of the longest minutes she could remember.

“Still lookin’… Awww right.” He backed out of the storeroom holding a dark blue, heavy duty ripstop backpack.

“All that for a backpack?”

“Ever been drift fishing?”

“Yes. We’re fishing now? I thought—”

“This is the Chief’s high-dollar fish finder. He bought it with County budget to find bodies in lakes, which happens just about never, but he fishes most weekends. GPS, memory, down and side view sonar, mapping…”

“Great. What do you plan on doing with it?”

“Drivin’ the drift while you check the river again.”

“We don’t have a skiff and I thought the river was,” she made finger quotes, “‘a big fuckin’ waste of time’.”

“It was. But we don’t know about the river away from the banks or out in any current pockets. We don’t have a skiff, but I’ve got a canoe. No Indian jokes.” He held the door to the employee parking lot for her.

“I know the names one,” she stepped through into the heat and sunlight, “but that’s it.”



“Yep. Means I don’t have to hear the million I’ve heard before as road trip time killers.”

“I wouldn’t do that to you.”

“Yeah, you would.”

“You’re right,” she adjusted her OSBI ball cap, grew a crooked smile. “I would.”


“Whoa…” Candi stopped when Bash did, directly behind a seriously lifted, red, late 90s Velveeta box Jeep Cherokee with thirty-five-inch tires. On top, an upside-down camo canoe was lashed to a deep, over size luggage rack loaded with a trolling motor and what looked like rolled up camping gear. She noted the Rosie the Riveter spare tire cover and large ‘Silly Boys – Jeeps Are For Girls’ sticker. “We’re riding in this?” She ran her hand down the edge of the hatch, waited. He didn’t say anything. She broke the silence with, “What’s the lift?”

“Four and a half.”

She let out a low whistle. “May I ask who ‘Cat’ is, if it’s not too personal?”

“It’s not. Cat’s Catori. My oldest sister. We can take one of the county’s four-by trucks if—”

“Fuck that,” she’d circled behind him to the driver’s side. “Think your sister’d mind if I drove?”


Sheriff Harden pulled past the pink and white barn, up the caliche and gravel drive, parked under a shady, hundred-year-old oak next to Karla Pierce’s house. He took his hat with him, out of habit, but held it against his chest while he waited for the front door to open. He was about to knock again when Karla, barefoot, wearing loose jeans, a white Mexican peasant blouse and a gaudy turquoise necklace, opened the door. She unlatched the screen, walked away saying, “Let yourself into the cool, Sheriff. You drinkin’ yet?”

“Little early for me, Karla. You go ahead on, though.”

“You don’t want me sober for questioning?” She disappeared into a closet at the edge of the front room wall.

“I just came by to have a talk, Karla. We don’t need everybody gettin’ lathered up, seein’ you goin’ in and out of the station.”

She came out of the closet with two fingers of dark golden liquid in a water glass. “You sure?” She held up the glass. “Glenfiddich 21.”

“A little rich for my blood and still too early.” He hung his hat on a coat stand, dropped into a brown leather and cowhide recliner. “You keep it on hand?”

“Just the one bottle this come from.” She swept her free hand down her back side and thigh like she was still wearing her smock, sat on the edge of a couch covered in a pastel casserole of throws and blankets. “Your ex-husband only dies once,” she said, setting her glass next to a cell phone on the coffee table. “I guess you need to know where I’ve been. Tell me when he kicked, and I’ll try to remember.”

“We don’t know for sure yet. When or how. Y’know, Karla,” he leaned forward in the recliner. “You been real patient all these years and I don’t figure you as near stupid enough to have anything to do with Jimmy’s turnin’ up dead. But you might know some things you don’t even know you know about how or why it happened.”

She took a big hit of the scotch, held it in both hands, elbows just behind her knees. “I don’t think I follow you.”

“Why don’t you start with what prompted you to buy a two hundred dollar bottle a scotch. Ahead a time.”

Karla sat for a minute. Harden could almost see the tapes in her head running in reverse.

“Well, first off, I guess it’d be Ivy Green, if you can believe it. Only one in that litter worth a flip. I called over to Jimmy’s not long back, Ivy answered, started right in tellin’ me about Jim an Aiden bein’ pissy, an how hinky an secretive they were actin’. How Jimmy was throwin’ money around like there was no tomorrow, which kinda pissed me off, you know, since I was callin’ about where the hell was his rent. ‘Cause I still own that ugly ass trailer and the ground it sits on. Then, it must’ve been Lisha Patrick. You know her? Cute little black girl, works at the Walmart there in Ada? Well, she come out to get her hair done an in the process a that she told me she seen Jimmy an Bozo an Altus Murphy, all hangin’ together like the Three Stooges in her Walmart. More’n a few times, she said, an always buyin’ buckets a special-order electronic shit.”

“Bozo bein’ Virgil Green?”

“Who else?”

“She say what kind of electronic shit?”

“Like I would know? She said they was comin’ in pretty regular, half lit and lettin’ on to her how they was involved in some kinda hush-hush nonsense together. ‘We’re talkin’ dollars big as beach towels, girl,’ an gigglin’ like schoolboys was what she said.” She slammed the last of her scotch. “After hearin’ that I said to myself, you know what? That trio a dumb fucks, their luck cain’t hold forever. And when Lisha was gone, somethin’ come over me sayin’ all these years of fuckery was comin’ to a head. So, I locked up an left out in a hurry for Du-rant, to buy that bottle.”

“Durant? Jesus, Karla. You might as well a driven on down to Neiman Marcus in Dallas, you’re gonna spend that kinda money.”

“I know casino booze is a big rip off, but I didn’t want nobody knows me to see me buyin’ it. ‘Cause they’d all say, ‘Well, looky there, Killer Karla’s out buyin’ celebration booze.’ Then they’d all start talkin’ their shit about how that poor ol’ sumbitch Jimmy Pierce… She’s got his ass as good as in the ground, he just don’t know it yet.”

Up to Speed

Candi released her service Smith & Wesson M&P 9, reached to set it in the Crown Vic’s trunk. Sheriff Harden intercepted her hand, took the pistol, popped the clip, racked the slide, caught the shell and offered the gun back, saying, “Never miss an opportunity to talk gun safety.”

“This is still a crime scene. I’m not—”

“The body’s gone, Candi. The rest of your crime scene’s been here nigh on to 300 million years. On the other hand,” he chin pointed to the box truck while ejecting shells from her gun’s clip, “for the last three hours or so that truck’s been a corral for four boys full a piss an vinegar with nothin’ to do. You walk in there all tall, boss and good lookin’ without a gun on your hip, it can go one of two ways. You can scare talk ‘em into show an tell an walk out wonderin’ what all they left out, or try to reason with ‘em and get nowhere. Or… Wear the gun. Don’t say much, invite ‘em to look over your shoulder and it’s guaranteed at least one of ‘em will ask about your sidearm.” He handed her the empty clip. “Show ‘em how to handle a deadly weapon, even when it’s empty. And a little see somethin’ say somethin’ reminder wouldn’t hurt.”

“What about the evidence they might have, and why I’m… Why we’re here?”

“After they watch whatever drone business you cook up with Bash, and they’ve seen your gun an they’re thinkin’ you’re the coolest, baddest, hottest cop babe there could ever be, tell them that you, the towering goddess of Oklahoma law enforcement, need their help with this case.”

“That seems like a lot of PR and sexism role play when we—”

“Jesus, Candi, screw sexism. You’re a cop who happens to look like you do, who needs evidence and boys are boys. It won’t kill you to be nice and explain what you’re doin’, ‘cause you’re gonna be doin’ it anyway. Explainin’ the gun is community service. Once they’re all gaw-gaw over Agent Cotton, have ‘em recite the scout law. When they’re done say ‘okay, who has the cell phone an who has the wallet?’ They’ll drop everything they’ve got in your lap.”


Agent Cotton climbed the aluminum steps, opened the door, held it while a stout, athletic black woman stepped out and down. The creases in the woman’s white uniform shirt and black pants looked like they could draw blood. In the sun, her boots shone like mirrors. At the bottom of the stairs she fanned her face.

“Aren’t you some hot, Deputy Reed?”

“Am for a fact, Miz Sydney.” Bash kept his eyes on the drone controller. “How are you doin’?”

“I’m a might hot under the collar, but I’ll do.”

“Follow the Sheriff. He’s off to crank up some air conditioning in the Tahoe.”

“You know I coulda stayed with Missy an them. I coulda stayed in the front end with my own AC, but Lordy Lord Lord… It’s my truck, Deputy.” She poked her index finger into her breastbone. “See, so now I had to be in there all this time, you know, since no one else official was around and the damn psychologist, she ain’t worth a shit with kids, boys anyhow, I don’t care how much college paper she has hangin’ on her wall. I won’t tolerate nobody messin’ with any shit in my truck, an Missy, Agent Cotton, she don’t brook no shit, neither. But between them boys and that shrink, even with the Lord Jesus watchin’ over me…”

“I hear ya. Agent Cotton showin’ up when she did was the answer to your prayers, lookin’ to be saved from murderin’ a handful a can’t-keep-their-hands-off-anything Cub Scouts.”

“Tell the truth, honey. How’d you know?”

“I was one.”

“Deptuty Reed,” she tugged his ear, “you’re livin’ proof the good Lord, if she’s of a mind, can save even the most devilish of her children.”


Bash followed Candi’s orders for a slow ground sweep at low altitude from the boat where Jimmy Pierce’s body was found to the scout’s van. Once he got a visual on the van, he set the course in the controller and had the drone run it again, Candi praising his quick adaptation to free flying in his earplugs while the drone did its own thing. When she had what she wanted, which was, a steady continuous shot of the riverbank to sixty feet inland, she told him to bring the drone home and cut him loose. He said, “Roger that” and pulled the earbuds, effectively killing communication with his handler. He hovered the drone three feet off the ground, told it to get its bearings before flying it low, skirting the scout’s van and a hundred yards further upstream, working narrow grids from the bank to fifty yards inland. He gained altitude, zoomed the camera out, drew a series of blocks on the screen and let the drone do it’s thing, again without human intervention, crisscrossing the areas he’d marked from three elevations. Bash didn’t know what he was looking for, but he had leftover battery and storage in a machine with impartial eyesight that could cover a lot more ground than he could, and not argue with him over ‘what about here or over there’ or sit down when its back ached or tell him there was nothing else to find.


The door of the Mobile Command Center blew open and four Cub Scouts bounded down the steps only to be met by Sheriff Harden, who arranged them into a pseudo lineup and presented each with a solid junk metal, pin-on Jr. Sheriff’s badge. Bash, from the rear bumper of the Crown Vic, offered to drive them to their van. Their leader declined, leaving the impression that the scouts needed to burn off “some” excess energy. Once they were out of sight, Mobile Command Officer Sydney returned from the Tahoe, her creases still sharp, only to be hugged at the top of the stairs, at length, by Agent Cotton. They talked for a few before the door closed and locked from inside. Candi stepped down, backed up to the sound of air being purged from pressurized levelers and the steps began a magic, hydraulically assisted folding dance that ended when they disappeared under the truck. It beeped, backed up, swung around and took off in a cloud of diesel and red dust.


 “Empty handed?” Bash stood from his lean on the Crown Vic.

“You backed up and packed up the drone? And stored it? Properly?”

“Nope. Left it in the river.”

“Are you always a smart ass?”

“Are you always a hard ass?”

“Now children,” Harden stretched backward. “It’s been a long day, my back’s talkin’ to me, my stomach’s talkin’ to me, and I’d like to know where the hell the evidence is myself. That is, if Agent Cotton wrangled any of it away from the Cub Scouts.”

“I have everything they collected. Bagged, tagged and inventoried.” She loosened the clutch on her laptop and clipboard away from her shoulder. “With photos. Everything had been handled so much it’ll be a miracle if we get any decent prints, but there might be liftable DNA from the beer cans.” She stood in place, looking slightly disoriented.

“A little stressed, there, Candi?” The sheriff smiled, gave her shoulder a light attaboy thump. “Didn’t kill ya though, did it?”

“What doesn’t kill us only makes us stronger.” She checked her watch. Four thirty-seven. “I should follow the evidence back to the lab…”

“V’ronika Sydney’s been haulin’ evidence damn near as long as you been breathin’. Besides, I’d like to see what’s on that clipboard you’re white knucklin’. Deputy Reed was in such a big damn hurry to be punctual and make a good impression this mornin’ he refused to stop for food on the way and none of us have eaten since breakfast. Now,” he took her laptop and the clipboard, “grab your go-bag outta that brown piece a shit and Bash’ll carry us all over to Stoney’s. We’ll eat some barbecue, have a look at what you got and drop you at the B&B in Ada after.”

“Sheriff,” Candi leaned into the space over the Tahoe’s console, “do you know if Stoney still keeps a bottle of Old Forester under the cash register? Used to be he’d put a shot in your lemonade for fifty cents. We’d ride our bikes over there on Sunday afternoons with our pockets full of quarters. By time to go home we thought we were the hottest shit bunch of fourteen-year-olds around.”

“He’s upped his game to Jack and it’s a buck and a half now.”

“Right now, I’d pay three times that and tip him ten bucks.” She looked out the window of the Tahoe as her state issued loaner disappeared in the dust. “What if my share-pool gets stolen?”

“Well, I’d consider it more community service.” Harden hooked his seat belt. “If stealin’ that ugly POS don’t break ‘em a stealin’ cars, I don’t know what will.”


Bash stayed in the driveway until the B&B door closed behind Candi.

“Told you she was smart,” Harden said.

“Kinda on the retentive side, you ask me.”

“I didn’t ask, but she’s no worse than you. She just looks better doin’ it.”

“I’m about to get a complex.”

“Okay, here’s your gold stars for the day. Thanks for not grindin’ her about the Cub Scouts. And for bein’ as nice as possible, for you, tellin’ her to stop apologizin’ for that printout.”

“I don’t know of many MCUs with color banner printers, that’s all. Have to say that map she stitched together outta letter size paper and Scotch tape was nice work.”

“Yeah, well, you could’ve told her that. She wasn’t really apologizin’ for the printout. That was her way of coverin’ bein’ embarrassed about showin’ us evidence she’d never have found without you gettin’ her outta the river.”

“I don’t need an apology.”

“Good. You might find a way of sayin’ that, too. Without comin’ right out and sayin’ it.”

“Is this one of those mentor moments I’ve heard about?”

“I had to tell her how to deal with the damn scouts. Only right I should tell you how to deal with her. Listen Bash, all bullshittin’ aside. She’s good. Hardheaded, but that’s okay. So am I, so are you. We need to learn how to get outta our own way here ‘cause I have a feeling it’s gonna take all three of us to figure this Jimmy Pierce thing. If that means bringin’ you and Agent Cotton up to speed on how the sun don’t shine outta either one a your asses, so be it.”