The Steely, Square Jawed Comic Book Adventurer

“Sheriff,” Brandy carefully wiped her napkin around her lipstick, “Did you just wanna be seen with the two best lookin’ ladies in the county, or did you have somethin’ else in mind?”

“Brandy, we’ve been knowin’ each other a long time and you always could turn the noise of a junk yard dog barkin’ into soundin’ like scratchy lingerie an Avon candles.” He dropped his napkin in his plate and elbowed them both to the side. “Ordinarily I would ask you and Ivy the same questions at different times, but like Ivy said, I don’t have all day. And with the two of you I’d have to separate the performance from the facts. Not that y’all would lie on purpose about this, but I know a girl might ease off talkin’ trash about her Daddy. And for damn sure an ex-wife might lean a little harder on the trash if no one’s there to call her down. This way I get some honest reactions and I can see you choke when either of you might go to lyin’. What I want, ladies, is straight answers, quick. You start checkin’ in with each other an—”

“Dominick Harden we are not that sort of people.” Brandy threw her napkin in her plate and stacked it on the Sheriff’s. “I might be colorful. I might even embellish the truth a little or tell a particular version of events so’s a lady stays a lady, but you tell me,” she pointed a fork at him, “have you ever known me to lie to anyone?”

“Aside from me?”

“You’re the law, Dom. Nobody tells you the freakin’ truth when they’re in handcuffs in the back seat a yore goddam car!”

“Momma?” Ivy lowered her voice, put a strong squeeze on Brandy’s thigh. “There’re other people here tryin’ to eat.”

“Well, the man just called me a—”

“Momma?” The squeeze intensified. “There’re people in here call you a lot worse when you’re not listenin’, so chill. Okay?”

“Mmph.” Brandy folded her arms, her crossed leg swinging like a metronome on meth.

“Good. Now, did either a y’all know Virgil to have a temper?”

“NO.” Brandy, glowering.

“I never saw him mad, Sheriff. Honest. We had this dog, ‘member?” She checked in with her mom.

“Captain. What a mess he was.”

“He was sweet, Momma. One time Daddy was cookin’ a steak out on the grill, I must’ve been maybe four ‘cause that’s when I start rememberin’. Anyway, Captain, he stole the steak while Daddy was standin’ there.”

“How’d your Daddy take that?”

“He laughed. Most people I tell that to, they say they’d a killed that dog, but Daddy said if Captain was smart enough to steal the steak off a hot grill right from under his nose and not get burned then he was one smart dog, and Daddy was proud to own him. An Momma,” Ivy side eyed Brandy, added a sneaky smile. “Well, she’s still not much at cookin’ but back then she’d make some seriously bad dinners an Daddy, he never once said anything. He’d slip some burnt whatever under the table to Captain, makin’ it look like he was eatin’ but then after dinner he’d go eat some baloney he kept stashed out in that old fridge full a beer in the garage.”

“First I’ve heard of the baloney.” Brandy gave Ivy a quarter turn, eyebrows as knitted as Botox would allow. “And for the record, he never said nothin’ where you could hear it.” She shifted to the Sheriff. “But he never beat me or nothin’, like you hear about some men doin’ over a can a burnt beans for God’s sake. Oh, he’d drop little hints, like maybe I should check the oven every coupla hours after I loaded it or buy a timer or maybe not camp out on the phone when things was already cookin’ on the stove. But that was it. No hollerin’ or swingin’.”

“You know he said all that way back then, Momma, and he even put a smoke detector in the kitchen,” Ivy swatted her with her napkin. “It never did take.”

“Ivy! I’m your mother, for Christ’s sake. Show a little­­—”

“Now, Brandy,” Harden broke in. “Before y’all get sidetracked, seems I recall a time or two you wound up at county emergency ‘cause a Virgil.”

“That was my own fault. The man went crazy when he got startled or scared. One time, before Ivy was born, I jumped outta the closet in a witch costume and the man flipped plumb out. Chased me all around, beatin’ on me with a wood handled plunger. And the time the squirrel jumped in the kitchen window when we was livin’ out there on County 29? He liked to broke everything in the kitchen till he killed the little thing by slammin’ the fridge against the baseboard. Took the back wall off the damn house with that one.”

“I was too young or missed some of that, but more recent I know he was worryin’ about how we were catfishin’ all these people, pretending to be Bigfoot an all, and how it had to be settin’ up bad karma with the real Bigfoot.”

“Virgil believes in Bigfoot?”

“Jesus, Dom,” Brandy checked her sunglasses to make sure they hadn’t pulled her top down too far. “The man was superstitious as all hell. Witches, ghosts, Bigfoot, giant alligators, vampires, black cats, ladders, other people’s mirrors, spider webs. Tell the man a joke about a snake in the toilet and for a coupla weeks you’d find him out behind a bush with a roll a toilet paper. Ivy’ll tell you we never had a jack-o-lantern. A freakin’ candle in a damn pumpkin like to scared the man half to death. If ever a man harbored ridiculous fears, it’s Virgil Green.”

Ivy nodded.

“Don’t you go actin’ superior, missy,” Brandy, using the bottom of the shiny tube to fix her lipstick. “You’re your daddy’s own daughter. Thinkin’ one a these days some crazy woman’s gonna come an shoot me over a pecker with wanderlust.”

“Don’t know about gettin’ shot, Brandy,” Harden handed the tip tray and cash to the waitress, mouthed ‘keep it’. “But she’s got a point. The way things are goin’ in this world? One a these days you’re liable to catch somethin’ when you’re out trollin’ an regret bringin’ it home.”

***

“Wait here a minute.” Bash stood. “You want anything? Coffee? Coke? Water?”

Aiden rubbed his neck, thought. “Mountain Dew?”

Bash made his way to the interview recording room, checked the computer and available recording time, figured six and half days was plenty. He asked Betty if she’d seen Candi, got a no. He sent Candi a text saying Aiden was ready to spill. No answer. He walked past the empty clone of his office that Candi had been using, saw she was in a contentious conversation with a man the sheriff’s age. From his gray hair, shiny shaved cheeks to his shiny gray suit and shiny gray shoes, he gave off a steely vibe. Like a square jawed comic book adventurer. Bash grinned at that, Candi vs. The Cartoon. He carried on down the hall, punched the unlock code into the Coke machine, opened it and pulled a Mountain Dew.

***

“Antihistamine hangover, huh?” Bash set the Dew on the table. “This oughta help.” He swung his chair around to sit in it backwards, checked in with Aiden, found him weeping, not making a sound. He got up, retrieved a box of tissues from a built-in shelf, set it down within easy reach for the kid who grabbed one, honked.

“My Dad’s dead, man…” he dropped his forehead on the table, heaved a sob. “An it’s my fuckin’ fault…”

“What’d you hit him with, Aiden?”

“Hit him? I dint hit him with nothin’…”

“Then it’s not your fault.”

“I dint know, man… An then Deeder, he says he heard goin’ in to work there’s a body on the Canadian an I knew it hadda be Dad or Greenie.”

“Why’d you think that?”

“Cause a what I seen…”

“Which was?”

“All I seen was after I put on the costume,” he blew his nose again, “I seen Dad… an Greenie. They was scramblin’ cross them little dunes like they’d sat on a wasp’s nest… Crab walkin’, runnin’, fallin’… all fours an back up…”

“Which direction were they headed?”

“Southeast. Downstream, anyway… Murph, Mr. Murphy, he said they’d prolly been drinkin’ an they most likely was headin’ for where their beer was at… An to get a gun an… Awwww shit, man… Now I know it’s Dad all I can figure is them two was all fucked up an tryin’ to get the damn gun out an Dad got shot…”

“You hear a gunshot?”

“No, but like them two, me an Murph was freakin’ hard, so maybe we was outta earshot or missed it… Fuck, man…”

“Aiden, your Dad didn’t die of a gunshot wound. I got that gun outta your Dad’s truck when we stopped Virgil Green, goin’ on a week ago. Virgil didn’t even know it was there. It was clean and unfired. Truth is, we don’t know how your dad died.”

“Maybe I give him a,” honk, “heart attack or a stroke, or some other shit happens to old guys…”

“Nope. Look, I know it’s tough to lose your dad. Tougher when you missed it by a couple a days bein’ out of it, but I have to ask you to back up to why you were at the river in the first place. Start there. Maybe you can help us both figure out what happened.”

***

Harden stopped at the generally empty except for temporary storage office, hands on either side of the doorjamb. “Betty told me I had high falutin’, suit wearin’ company. What the hell is Captain Merton of OSBI, former crime fighter and now political insider doin’ in my house?”

“Thinkin’ I might run something by you and Agent Cotton.”

“Run it by me first. She’s got work to do.”

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Phil Huston

https://philh52.wordpress.com/

25 thoughts on “The Steely, Square Jawed Comic Book Adventurer”

  1. All I could think is how sorry I feel for Ivy having a mom like that, but at least she doesn’t seem the type to internalize it too badly. Some people need to get to thirty or beyond to separate themselves mentally as people.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Too deep for me. Ivy just solved it, but it’ll take Bash a couple of episodes before they all sit down in a room in a last ditch effort. I think maybe Altus commits suicide after a lifetime of being a disappointment to his mother. Or not. And Bash helps Candi with Betty and the plot holes get whitewashed. Remember, we still have peripheral corruption and sexual harassment to deal with.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Dang! Reading this makes me think I’m back home. Locals in small-town America never suffer boredom. There is too much subterfuge and nebulous chicanery to get into. I lived off of baloney and fake cheese as a child. Saturdays, we got fried baloney. That was my favorite.

    Liked by 1 person

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