God Bless You

“Betty? Betty, are you still there?”

Yes, Agent Cotton,” with icicles. “I think I’m having a heart attack. Not that anyone cares, or would, even if anyone knew how much I hate these infernal machines… I know how to use mine, isn’t that enough? You’d think so, huh? But noooo, Betty. Deputy Reed has a ‘live feed’ for the Sheriff. Live feed is something fishermen, or zookeepers, or crazy people who own snakes do, not what I do… much less record it.”

“You can swear if it’ll help. It always makes me feel better.”

“Candi, I’ve worked with Betty for fifteen years and I think I’ve heard her swear once,” Harden said.

“Okay, Agent Cotton,” Betty shook some short curls out of her eyes, “we now have a crooked picture of trees, and I can hear Bash yammerin’ away somewhere out there, but this,” Betty slammed the mouse into the pad, “is worse’n cat hair in a King Ranch casserole. Grab the goddamn handles, ya little piece a crap.”

“Betty? Relax, deep breath, okay? You don’t need the handles, just click the box on the top right. When Deputy Reed’s video fills the screen, look down at the bottom, click the microphone icon and the camera icon. Is there a red light over the camera icon?”

“Yes… Are we in? Did we do it?”

You did it, Betty.” Clapping and a whistle from Candi’s end of the line. “Do you need anything from Walmart while I’m here?”

“Soap to wash out my mouth.”

“I didn’t hear anything. Did you, Sheriff?”

“Not me. You did get our videos from Wally’s security?”

“Yes sir. I’m just having a talk with Ms. Patrick and a few of the girls who work here. Did you need anything?”

“You, back here, with the videos. Pronto.”

“It won’t be long. We’re wrapping it uh—”

“Pistachios!”

“Betty? Was that a sneeze? Are you okay?”

“Listen to her. Like she’s worried. Pih-STASH-ee-ohs, Agent Cotton. The nuts.” She hung her head, both hands palms down on Harden’s desk. “Please…”

“Right. Nuts. Shells or shelled?”

“Shells.” She backed away from Harden’s desk, fanned her face with both hands. “I need to work off some steam.”

***

“Bash? It’s me, Sheriff Har—”

“I can see you, Chief. Betty all right?”

“She had to talk an take direction over the phone from her personal scourge and cuss the computer, left outta my office lookin’ like Tammy Faye Bakker after runnin’ some sprints… She’ll live. Where the hell are you?”

“You know the rusty tank farm where we cleaned up the baby bonfire party at Altus Murphy’s request? Turns out that’s six-hundred feet from the river, as the crow flies, and half a mile upstream from where we found the costume. Keep goin’ downstream and you hit that long run of low-water sand that looked good to the costume crowd, the Cub Scouts and the cheap beer and catfish cooler people.”

“That’s where you are?”

“No, I’m half-a-mile south of there. The road I took outta the tank farm with you? It’s caliche, and stood out on the GPS but when I zoomed in this whole area is a spiderweb of rut tracks, old tank and sludge pond access… Down the east side of that sludge pond we trolled—”

“You trolled.”

“Yeah, well, I followed a rut track from the river not three hundred feet from the costume dump site. That took me through the trees almost straight to the east side of that slag pond. Now that you’ve had the scenic view, here’s the green and gold Honda. No spare. From here on, tell me what you need to see. All I have is the forensics-in-a-tackle-box kit from the Tahoe, so go easy on fingerprints and evidence bags.”

“If the car’s all you’ve got, shoot it, get it towed.”

“Sounds good. But it’s not all. You wanna see the trailer?”

***

“The foreign girls have it the worst,” Lisha said. The other female employees who’d answered Lisha’s text to meet in electronics nodded. One, with a heavy Slavic accent, said the shift manager in question had made her miserable since she’d gotten pregnant because he couldn’t hit on her anymore, and several other girls in her situation had quit rather than take his shit. Run off pregnant, without a job or insurance.

“You’ve given me all I need to get started. Lisha has my card. Pick a time in the next couple of days when we can all meet. All,” Candi studied each of their faces in turn, “means anyone you’ve heard complain, whether or not they still work here. I have a safe place we can meet where no one will bother us. Just let me know when.”

“Miss you no unnerstan,” from a waifish Asian girl who was close to tears. “We scare a him.”

“I’m not. And you won’t be, either. The sooner we get together the better, ladies. Ms. Patrick?” She held up a flash drive. “Good work.”

***

Candi, loaded down with plastic shopping bags, waited to get buzzed in the front of the Sheriff’s office. The door clicked, she caught it with her elbow, pulled and cleared the entry. She lugged four stuffed plastic bags that she set on Betty’s chest high on most people reception desk. Behind it, Betty continued to make mumbling noises, shook her wired mouse, typed, shook the mouse, typed…

Candi reached in one of the bags, retrieved a ten-inch-tall bag of pistachio nuts, set it on the desk.

“Pistachio’s.”

“God bless you.” Betty whipped a Kleenex from its box, held it up.

“You’ve been waiting over an hour for that one, haven’t you?”

“It seems like a lot longer. Oh my God. Are there cupcakes in that bag?”

***

Agent Cotton’s phone sat in a cradle on the conference room desk streaming a video call from the medical examiner to a projector that flooded one wall with three scans of Jimmy Pierce’s skull. The ME used an old-fashioned conductor’s stick pointer to tap points on the scans while she explained Jimmy’s coup and contrecoup brain injuries.

“So,” Harden tapped the eraser end of a pencil on the table, “can you tell us what he got hit with?”

“Unfortunately, no. But,” the screen changed to a facial close-up of Jimmy’s head, “you can see the bruising here,” the pointer circled all of Jimmy’s forehead. “The blow was hard enough to slam his brain to the other side of his head without breaking the skin. To be honest I only see injuries like this in rollover wrecks or sports injuries. Deputy Reed probably remembers the boxer from Anadarko a few years ago?”

“He took a hard punch to the side of his head, made it to the dressing room and keeled over?”

“That’s the scenario you’re looking at here. The boxer and your victim both got slammed with something hard enough to cause brain hemorrhage and soft enough not to leave anything but a bruise behind.”

“Could a fist have done that to our vic?”

“Sorry, Sheriff. You’re looking at an injury that covers at least ten inches, wrapped across the forehead, and from the middle of his nose into his hairline. If it’s any help I think he might have been bending down. Not deep, possibly ten degrees from upright. But again, that’s guesstimate.”

“Did he eat anything, drink anything that could have led to where we are?”

“Not that I’ve found. His tox was clean except for indications of light marijuana use and alcohol as a food group. I will say in general terms that Bologna loaf on white bread, Slim Jims and Keystone Light don’t constitute a healthy diet.”

“We didn’t find any Slim Jims.”

I did. If anyone knew how hard it was to digest those things—”

“Thank you, Doctor. How close is the time of death?”

“The best I can do is what’s in the report. Thursday. Before noon, based on the amount of heat exacerbated decomp. If you pinned me down, I’d say closer to midnight to before the sun came up. He’d had a good four days plus to cook. Being under the skiff helped roast him, but it’s also why we had enough to work with to get as much as we have. Bugs are one thing, Sheriff. We’d be dealing with gristle and bones if the birds and four-legged scavengers had gotten ahold of him.”

“Could he have pulled that boat on top of himself, knowin’ he was in bad shape?”

“I suppose he could have been lucid enough, but for all I know he could have danced the Charleston with Taylor Swift to that boat before he collapsed, and she covered him in a fit of empathetic altruism. I know what caused him to die, guys. How that came to be is y’all’s job.”

***

“Shit.” Harden looked around the table. “No closer than spittin’ distance on time of death. Mystery murder weapon. No drugs, no poison. Y’all got anything?”

“The Cub Scouts found the Slim Jim wrappers.”

“That’s real case bustin’ info right there, Agent Cotton. Bash?”

“The velvet hammer had to be convenient and light enough to carry away or easily disposed of. Over ten inches by six or eight with enough heft to kill somebody doesn’t walk away by itself.”

“Exactly,” Candi, thumbing through evidence pictures. “We aren’t looking for a weapon in the conventional sense… We need an uncommon weapon of convenience…”

“Unless I’m mistaken Deputy Reed just said that very thing. It’s good we’re on the same page, but what I’m hearin’ from both a y’all is we have this big ol’ pile of evidentiary information that we can’t make heads or tails of an it still ain’t tellin’ us jack shit. Am I right?” He waited a few long moments. “That’s what I was afraid of.” He shuffled his paperwork into a pile, grabbed it and stood. “Candi, you’re up with Aiden Pierce. Bash, you’re with me.”

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Published by

Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

28 thoughts on “God Bless You”

      1. Every procedural/caper goes back a hundred years to Hammett and Chandler one way or another. If anyone were to look, their style could reach back into the 18th century to Stephen Crane and other (Twain) magazine published short story magicians who wrote local color or westerns that, in construct, read a lot like the cops and robbers that followed. But I missed it if I did it. We all quote our sources, by design or subconsciously.

        Liked by 2 people

        1. Been too long since I watched McGyer. That show, the A Team, Hardcastle and McCormick, Knight Rider etc were staples to sit on the floor and eat dinner with my now 40 year old daughter while mom went to night school or ballet.

          Liked by 2 people

  1. Now I want some pistachios, and cannot be bothered to drive anywhere to buy some. I like the challenge of trying to crack open the shells with my bitten-down fingernails. So instead I am going with the Red Wine food group that is authorised for 70 year-old men who live in Beetley. I may add an extremely unhealthy ham and mascarpone thin and crispy pizza, (with lots of extra black olives) because it is Saturday night here, and one hour off my usual dinnertime.
    Best wishes, Pete.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Slim Jim’s are marketed as beef snacks. The might be road kill and superglue. https://www.slimjim.com/
      I have a story of how inedible they are.
      Keystone light is possibly the world’s cheapest, and worst, beer. If bought in large enough quantities (30 pack) it comes out to 50 cents a can. Bologna loaf, Slim Jim’s and Keystone light and you have redneck fishin’ an picnic party all wrapped up.

      Liked by 2 people

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