Solid Precedent

Candi pulled away from The Rose, zigzagging south to west through the gentrified residential area while Ivy texted with her father. At the US377 intersection, Candi looked to her left, Ivy put her phone away, and both settled in as the big SUV pulled out on the highway and picked up speed.

“Ivy,” Candi reached out, tweaked the rearview, “is your father in possession of any firearms that you’re aware of?”

“He’s had a little thirty-two revolver since I can remember. Daddy never cared much for guns or huntin’.”

“Do you know where he keeps it?”

“I know where I’m keepin’ it.” She pulled her left foot up under her right leg, turned Candi’s way. “He scared me, you know, the way he was talkin’, and bein’ as down as he was, so I took it with me when I left out from his place the other afternoon.” She paused, waited for a question that didn’t come. “It’s in the top drawer of my dresser at The Rose.” She paused again. “Unloaded.”

“Should’ve known. Can’t grow up around here gun dumb.” A tight-lipped smile crossed Candi’s face. “I apologize for wearing my bitch out in public, but it’s been one of those weeks.”

“S’okay.”

 “Not really. It’s not attractive, or productive.”

“Sometimes you gotta put it on, though.” She pulled her foot out, hugged her knee. “So everybody knows where the line’s at an they gotta bring their trip back later or forget it. An sometimes, if they’re super dense, you even gotta be rude about it. You know, like ‘Look, I’m dealin’ with my own shit here, so y’all bitches need to fuck off.”

“Damn, girl,” Candi, laughing. “Never lose that.”

“You can talk about it, you know, if you want.”

“Most of it’s stupid work politics.”

“The Sheriff an them?”

“No, they’re okay. It’s the big bosses. Nothing for you to worry about.” She slowed, pulled into the turn lane and headed west on the narrow, marginally maintained asphalt ribbon of CR1570. “Mostly I’m pissed because when I look in the mirror, I see how I deal with apathy and inertia permeates every aspect of my life.” She glanced over, discovered Ivy listening. “Some days it feels like I’m the only one who gives a damn.”

“Yeah, I know. And if you say anything, they’re all like you’re actin’ all superior when you just want ‘em to carry their load an stop screwin’ around.”

“Yeah?”

“Workgroups. At school. In group projects nobody ever does anything they’re supposed to, and I end up doin’ it all. An when I bitch ‘em down for it, they get all butt hurt. That’s the real reason I could never be Valedictorian, even if I had better grades than Einstein. Lisha can do everybody else’s work and smile. Not me.”

“That’s what I run into at work, and I can’t smile about it, either. What’s worse for me is when I’m out in the real-world offering people ways to take care of themselves in their jobs or their personal situations and run into that ‘don’t ruffle any feathers, somebody else will do it’ attitude I get so frustrated I could scream. They always have more reasons than stars in the sky to leave what’s making them miserable alone, to let it ride. Show them a workable way to turn the problem around and ‘Oh hell no, Candi. We’d rather complain our way into martyrdom than fix it.’”

“You must’ve met with Lisha and those Walmart ladies last night. I could’ve told you that’d be a waste of time.”

“And why is that?”

“Too much of what goes on around here is about how things look, not how they are. Nobody cares who you are, or how you feel ‘cause they’re too worried how they’re lookin’ to everybody else. Bein’ okay to everybody, even if they can’t chew gum and walk but know how to put on eye makeup that gets a ton of fake friend likes or a pizza date with a jock is how they make themselves okay.”

“That’s funny, because my mother used to say that vanity and convenience were the devil’s way of eroding our will. That the entire world was happy to take more time with ‘puttin’ their face on’ than doing God’s will. Short skirts, flesh, and makeup were paving the road to an uncaring hell.”

“I know all about short skirts and makeup and convenience from my Momma. I love her to death but tryin’ to keep up with her always bein’ whatever she thinks she needs to be that’ll get her what she thinks she wants wears me out.” She shook her hair out, pulled up the other knee. “What sorta convenience was your mom talkin’ about, though? Like movies or microwaves or ridin’ lawnmowers…”

“Gift cards.” She checked the mirror, caught Ivy’s look. “Yep. The whole mentality of ‘Fuck it, I don’t have time to think about a gift for Uncle Seth ‘cause the ol’ drunk’ll just return it anyway, so here’s twenty bucks he can take straight to gettin’ shitfaced’ was the Devil’s doing. Not caring about each other, along with too much flesh and makeup, signaled the end of civilization.”

“Holy crap. Like you were supposed to get him an intervention for Christmas or somethin’?”

“Who knows? But you and Mom were right because that was the whole trouble with those women last night. Too busy not looking bad to care about fixing their problem.”

Your momma was right,” she sparkled for a beat. “‘Cause it is hell tryin’ to keep up with Momma’s next way to make her life convenient. And, um,” a flash of serious, “thanks for pullin’ my head out and gettin’ me out the middle of all that mess.”

“You were ready to do the pulling yourself. You just needed a push.”

“Yeah, but you were the first person who knew what it’s like to be me to say ‘cut the crap, Ivy, and be somebody’ and then helped me out. You knew, ‘cause you lived here and said ‘I’m goin’ to the Olympics an the hell with what y’all idiots think.’”

“I didn’t say that, exactly. I said something like ‘I’m going to college on a volleyball scholarship, I’m outta here.’ I think the finesse I’ve forgotten from back then is ‘keep moving and don’t let them see your middle finger on your way out the door.’”

“I need to learn that one. Anyway, I just wish there was somethin’ I could do for you.”

“Since neither of us can fix my job or pull those women’s heads out, the only thing I’d really like is to make life pure hell for that bully of a man they work for. You have anything for that?”

“Is he married?”

“Separated. There was some noise about him doing this same act in Saint Louis. Management rotated him here, she stayed behind.”

“So, like you’ve talked to his manager?”

“I spent some quality time on the phone throwing scary words like criminal sexual harassment and embezzlement by intimidation around. I made some upper-level contacts, but they need a formal complaint or blatant, provable misconduct to bust him. Or, as crazy as it sounds, he’ll be able to sue them for harassment.”

“You think he’d steal or do whatever and maybe forget the cameras were on for a woman who’d rather have sex and some perks than do work?”

“Hell, Ivy, if someone were to clock in and volunteer to sharpen his pencil if he made it worth their while? He’d be selling the store out of the trunk of his car at flea markets to keep her happy. Why?”

“Well, ‘cause one of the things happened the other day?” Ivy leaned closer, used a finger to pull her hair behind her ear, got a clear view of Candi. “Daddy made me Momma’s landlord. And since she can’t, um, screw me for the rent, she’s gonna be needin’ a job.”

***

Virgil Green answered his door in a white knit shirt splattered with blue, lasso twirling cowboys on brown rearing horses and topped with a collar that shamed Elvis in Vegas tucked into textured tan double-knit sans-a-belt bell bottoms and two-tone brown and white patent loafers. The trailer reeked like he’d broken a case of mixed drug store colognes, and his pink, fresh-shaved jowls radiated a palpable sense of relief at seeing Ivy and Candi step through his door.

“Daddy,” taking his arm, “this is Agent Cotton. The one I told you about? Before you say anything she has to read you your rights so you don’t mess this up for her or yourself. Okay?”

“Ain’t like I never heard ‘em, Princess,” he dropped his chin, “but I know she’s gotta, so go ahead on.” He waited, head down, through the recitation. “Yes’m I do understand,” perking up. “Now that’s over,” he brushed his hands together, offered his right. “Nice tuh meecha, Miz Agent Cotton.”

“You, too, Mr. Green. But,” both hands came up, palms out, “I’m afraid regulations prohibit me from… Oh, hell,” she dropped her hands. “Alright, I’ll shake hands with you as Ivy’s father. But only,” hitting him with listen up eyes, “if you understand I will break your arm if you try anything stupid.”

“Lady,” he smiled full on in spite of a few missing teeth, “I a’ready done been doin’ stupid for goin’ on fitty-three years. ‘Sides my Ivy, this right here’s the rightest thing I ever done.” He looked up, tilted his head slightly, narrowed his eyes. “Damn but you are a tall drink a water. Cotton, huh? That makes you Hill-yard Cotton’s girl. The one who lit off outta here all the way to Cally-fornya an the Olympics…” He glanced sideways at Ivy. “You done a’right for yourself Miss Cotton, an more right by helpin’ my Ivy. How y’all girls find the gumption is a mystery. No,” he wiped his forehead, “it’s a friggin’ miracles what it is. Forgive me, ma’am, but Hill-yard Cotton was the meanest, hardest man most folks here ‘bouts ever knowed.” Another glance at Ivy and he teared up. “I ain’t no prize, neither. An knowin’ you girls cain’t pick your families an still turn out angels cain’t be down to nothin’ but a miracle.” He ran a finger under his eyes, wiped it on his pants. “So, you can relax about me, ma’am. If’n I can ride to jail with a coupla angels, you can bet I’m goin’ easy.”

***

“What the hell is that smell?” Sheriff Harden took the keys Candi held out. “You get caught up in a barbershop explosion on your way in with Virgil?”

“Sorry, Chief. Bash is going to raise hell when he sees how I screwed up the seat and the mirrors on the Tahoe and Virgil stinkin’ it up.” She held her left hand under her nose to keep from laughing, “It and my right hand both have a big-time case of old school man-whore from a handshake and gliding his head putting him in the back seat.”

“I know, from firsthand experience, that a heavy dose of Vitalis and Aqua Velva is survivable.” His tone shifted to concern. “Everything go alright? No trouble? Virgil didn’t resist any kinda way or barricade himself inside that junk pile?”

“No problems. I picked up Ivy just in case I needed someone to talk him down, but it couldn’t have been easier. In fact, he called us both angels.”

“Angels?” His brows came together. “You an Ivy?”

“Yes sir.”

“The angels bit,” Harden tapped her report folder. “That’s in here?”

“Recorded and transcribed.”

 “Well, then,” he reached for his reading glasses. “Sounds like our Mr. Green’s done already set himself some solid precedent for an insanity plea.”

Dinner and a Decent Pair a Boots

“Candi Cotton.” A jovial voice squawked from the conference call speaker in the middle of the table. “What would you like for me to have finished for you yesterday?”

“We need to take another look at Jimmy Pierce.”

“Ahhhh. The man whose diet would’ve killed him if he hadn’t taken a mortal blow to the head by an object as yet unknown. Like they say, ‘Let’s do this’, ‘cause I need to get him out and to the next stop on his dust-to-dust tour or I’ll be stackin’ ‘em two deep in the meat locker before the weekend’s over.”

“You can’t be that popular, Doc.”

“That you, Dominick?” A snort chuckle. “Hell, you should know by now I’m so gall-dang popular people are dyin’ to get in here.”

“You’re about to need a new morgue joke, Doc. While you’re lookin’ for one, Deputy Reed’s got a question for you.”

“Shoot. Figuratively, of course.”

“Did you swab his forehead?”

“If by ‘his’ you mean the late James Pierce, yes. We take material and tissue samples from all over the body. What is it you’re hopin’ we found on his forehead?”

“Not sure. In the photos he’s got some crusty junk on his hairline. Is that sand, or…”

“I didn’t think much of that at first. Salt, sweat, sand, grooming products maybe… But I did take a sample just to be safe. We also swabbed the impact area to see if it would tell us anything useful, but it all turned out to be nothing but a by-product of fishin’. Like he’d wiped his forehead after handling a catch.”

“A catch like a Flathead cat?”

“You must be psychic, Deputy. Pylodictis olivaris to be precise.”

“So, the crust on the deceased’s forehead was dried Flathead catfish slime?”

“In layman’s terms. Why the interest?”

“Say somebody had an eighteen, twenty-pound Flathead in their hands, an swung it at a man’s head.”

“Sheezus. Like a catfish bat?” A few quiet beats. “Well, I’ll be damned…” Nothing over the phone for a long half minute but the sound of rustling paper.

“Doc?”

“I’m here. To answer your question an eighteen-to-twenty-pound Flathead is no different than any other blunt object. Except, like the boxing glove scenario, a Flathead is a velvet hammer. Heavy, tensile strength of skin similar to leather, all in a semi-malleable form. It won’t break the skin, but it would deliver a killer blow and leave a hell of a bruise behind. And slime.”

“So, Doc,” Harden leaned into the conference phone, shot raised eyebrows around the table. “You think we have a candidate for our murder weapon?”

“Yes. Tentatively. I need to plot the impact and mucosal deposits before I sign anything.”

“Sounds appetizing. How long you reckon that’ll take?”

“‘Bout as long as it’ll take Agent Cotton to round you up a warrant.”

***

The conference room, it’s subdued lighting, almost comfortable chairs, rich wood-like laminates and invisibly wired electronics all stood united in protest to it’s industrial sterility, was vaguely uncomfortable. The discomfort of silence weighted with unanswered questions, unfinished business. Bash leaned his elbow on the right arm of his chair, interlaced his fingers.

“Anybody know what happened to the chicken tamales that were in the fridge?”

“This morning I took the liberty of training Betty to run the conference room.” Candi in a hushed tone, elbowing her pad and pen away.

“This way,” Betty, beaming, “y’all can think an stay focused ‘stead a cussin’ the remotes. And I got this.” She came into the ring of light over the table, lifted her chin, turned her head slowly from left to right, showing off a nearly invisible headset and microphone. “It’s wireless. I can answer the phone from anywhere in the building.”

Harden, feigning interest, “Where’d that come from?”

“Been here all along,” Betty swiveled on her heels, pointed. “In a drawer with the remotes an spare cables an batteries an such. When y’all get outta here I can consolidate the remotes an—”

“Betty, I leave it all in your capable hands. For one, I’m glad to be shed of responsibility for anything in this room except the light—”

“Goin’ twice. Tamales? Anybody?”

I took them, okay?” Candi, ice in her voice. “Get over it.”

You ate two dozen tamales?”

“Are you deaf? I didn’t say I ate them, I said I took them. A guest at the Rose requested them for a fiesta themed birthday buffet, the food service company’s rapid delivery was exorbitant, grocery store tamales suck, Lucia’s had already sold through theirs that come from the same food service the Rose uses and the damn things have been in the freezer since I got here. If I’d known they were that fucking precious, I would have left a magic ring and a bag of gold in the refrigerator. I’ll replace them, alright?”

“Our Lady of Eternal Guilt doesn’t sell them every weekend.”

“Catholics sell the same goddam unbranded food service tamales everyone but the grocery stores sell. They’ll be on the Monday truck. Get over it.” Candi’s eyes flared, her phone buzzed. “That’s our warrant. Betty, can you—”

“Print it? You bet. ‘Cept I need your phone, ‘cause the Sheriff’s not copied on your email. Yet.”

Betty tapped the offered phone and a printer hummed to life in the shadows.

“We have a printer in here?”

“We have printers all over the place, Sheriff. We just never use ‘em.” Betty vanished into the dark, opened a cabinet door, returned folding the warrant.

“Give it to Deputy Reed,” Harden, rising from the chair. “Pick him up, Bash. Good work.”

“Uh…” Bash hand signaled to redirect Betty. “Candi needs to take this one.”

“What?” Harden, eyes wide, palms up. “You broke it, Bash. It’s your bust.”

“We aren’t keepin’ score. Besides…” He tapped his phone, slid it to the middle of the table.

“… and, well, I can’t get through to Ms. Cotton’s voice mail, it’s stuck or somethin’, and wants me to put in a number? That’s why I’m callin’ you about Daddy. He’s really miserable and not right with himself at all. So, even if you can’t figure out how he did it, you know, whatever it was happened to Mr. Pierce? You gotta go get him before he hurts himself over it. When you do go, can you like call me first? He needs to know it’s gonna be okay, somehow. He won’t run away or anything, I promise… Okay. Please, Deputy Reed? Can you get Ms. Cotton to call me…”

Bash pulled his phone back.

“Cotton?” Harden’s eyes narrowed. “You good with this? It’s way off into irregular, but empathetic policin’ seems to be a buzz word. If you’re uncomf—”

“I’m fine. If it’ll make you feel any better, I’ll wear a godamn vest.” She dropped the legal pad into a well-worn oiled leather courier bag, picked it up, shouldered it. “Who has the Tahoe keys?”

***

“I don’t like it, Bash. She’s gonna go get the girl before she goes out there.”

“I know.”

“That could get dangerous, they go pyscho or somethin’. You think we oughta shadow her?”

“She’s a professional, Chief.” Bash unfolded from his chair. “Besides, the kinda mood she’s in? If I was the biggest, meanest rattlesnake there ever was and happened to find myself between here and Virgil Green’s? I’d be lookin’ to get the hell outta Dodge before she decided it’d be a good idea to throttle me bare handed and turn me into dinner and a decent pair a boots.”

There’s Our Smokin’ Tamale!

Note: I made a deal with the cast. I let them get it out of their system since I was unavailable for most of a week. But I told them, no matter how off course they got, they had to hit the target. And screw the short chapters. It messes up how it’s supposed to read.

Bash reached for his mouse, found Candi leaning on the wall across from his desk. “I thought you were with Betty.”

“I was. How do you it?” She waved a hand around the room without looking. “No windows. No… ‘You’.” She came off the wall, knuckles down on the desk. “The truth this time.” Angry, combative. “Not the crap about not having time, or not taking time.”

“Straight up?” He bumped the keyboard forward, folded his arms on the desk. “I perform professional research and write reports in here. Period. In that respect this room’s as necessary to the function of this building in its own way as restrooms or a broom closet. I don’t come in here to ‘bond’ with it or choose to fill it with reminders of somewhere else or someone else I’d rather be.” He studied her for a moment. “If you get that, we can move on to what you really want to talk about.”

Something hard flickered in her eyes and dissolved into dejection with her slow-motion descent into the guest chair.

“I should have thought, you know, before I pulled ‘yes’ out of my ass… Because I thought…” She looked at the tops of her thighs, brought her gaze up. “I thought I had found a place where I belonged. Where I was okay. But now?” She rolled her head up to look at a point on the wall above his head. “What do I do now?” Her gaze came back to him with a small shrug. “I can’t live in my parent’s house, so where do I live? If my workspace is no more important than,” both hands came up, open, “than the restrooms or a, a broom closet, where do I go every day? Don’t bond, don’t belong, don’t get too involved, don’t, don’t, don’t…”

“We’re still not there.”

“What do you want from me?” Leaning forward. “Blood? My hand on the Bible? I told you—”

“What you told me was new housing and office arrangements are a pain in the ass. ‘Don’t’ is the frustration component.”

“What did you study in college, besides baseball and girls?”

“Sociology and linguistics. My post grad work has been taking something online most semesters for the last ten years, subject matter dependent on what I’m interested in at the time.” He tapped his temple. “Use it or lose it. What happened last night besides Merton redirecting your career?”

“Nobody gives a damn, that’s what. And before you say ‘I do’,” she seared the air between them with a look. “I don’t mean about me. I mean, I had fourteen women from eighteen to fifty-four in a room, all of them paying a personal price for crossing paths with the same man. Not. One.” Her eyes could have peeled paint. “Not a fucking one of them will help bring the shit storm to that man’s life he deserves. Can you believe that? The youngest is afraid being a whistle blower will follow her for her entire life. The oldest, what would her family and church friends say? Will we have to testify? Will it be public? Will it ruin his life? We don’t want to ruin his life. Jesus, ladies,” the heels of both hands to her head. “He’s ruining yours, so why the fuck not? You know what I got? Blank stares.”

“That was the last straw ‘don’t’?”

“Yes. ‘Don’t’ is epidemic in my life. Don’t get in the way, don’t be good, don’t push, don’t be a pain in the ass, don’t try to help—”

“‘Don’t belong, don’t bond, don’t get too involved’?”

“Look, goddammit,” oozing determination, “I don’t show up hoping I don’t lose by too much. I show up to win.” She banged her fist on his desk. “Now?” She threw herself backward in the chair. “It doesn’t even matter if I show up.”

“You want Devil’s Advocate, career counseling, dealing with rejection—”

“Never mind.” The chair thumped against the wall when she ejected herself. “Never. Fucking. Mind.”

“How about Ancient Apache wisdom for four-hundred?” The door he never closed slammed shut.

***

Bash’s rifling through the break room refrigerator advanced to the point of squatting to peer into the depths of the lower shelves. He raised up, turned, faced the Sheriff who had one hand on top of the fridge, the other on his hip.

“You seen Cotton or Betty?”

“I thought we had some chicken tamales.”

“I asked first,” Harden, closing the door. “Cotton and Betty?”

“No on Betty. Cotton stomped outta my office half an hour ago.”

“You two okay?”

“I’m not what she’s pissed off about if that’s what you’re askin’. Tamales?”

“Truth is,” rubbing his chin, “I got away from ‘em before they had the entire country in the toilet.”

“The tamales went off that bad?”

“No, Cotton an Betty.”

They went off that bad with the tamales?”

“Godamighty, Bash, forget the damn tamales. Metaphorically. The women got the entire country in the toilet metaphorically. The conversation they was havin’ got to where the country’s swirling the bowl ‘cause women can’t get organized enough to get outta their own way an figure out how to run the show. On hearin’ that, like any sensible man, I made myself scarce. Now,” his eyes darted to the wall clock, “it’s comin’ up on ‘let’s play catch the bad guy if it kills us’ time and so far we’re it.”

“They can’t be far. Betty anyway. Seems like she’s been answerin’ the phone.”

“Yeah, she is. But from where? She’s not pagin’ us, she comes through announced on the handset like she’s at the switchboard.”

“You can direct transfer and announce from any phone.”

“How do you know that an I don’t? I’m the damn Sheriff.”

“You ever read that laminated sheet in the plastic tray that pulls out the bottom of the phone?”

“Noooo,” with comic astonishment. “I thought that tray was to put drinks on, so ya don’t get water rings on the desk. Before you say anything, let me tell you a little somethin’ about those trays. A while back, we had us a used car dealer out there off 75 where the motor home place is now. Man was on a first name basis with every hooker in Dallas, an was always jumpier’n a cricket on a hot stove. Turns out he thought that little tray was for cocaine. An got a little lax about who he offered it to.”

“You bust him?”

“Tried. Went out there after the tip about the phone tray an found him deader’n a rock. Safe was open, bank account cleaned out an his wife, along with a late model Camry and a stack a license plates pulled offa trade-ins were all missin’.”

“Catch her?”

“Coroner said judgin’ by the body she had a three-day head start. Turned out she was an orphanage baby from Missouri, didn’t have any people or connections we could find. Phone records didn’t show any unusual communication. We put her out on the wire, but I don’t recall anybody botherin’ to look all that hard for her after that. But I am lookin’ that hard for two other women.” He turned back to the break room, lifted the phone, punched two buttons. “Betty? Cotton?” His voice, wrapped in feedback, boomed through the small building. He moved the handset away, held it in front of his face at arm’s length like a plastic kitten with sharp claws. “Where are y’all?” He hung up, the handset landing in its cradle clattered and died like a gunshot in an empty warehouse.

“Push the star button before you hang up,” Bash indicated with his pinkie finger. “It won’t make the Godzilla in the attic noise.”

 “Godzilla in the attic?” Harden, sardonic. “That’s on the little pull-out sheet, too, is it? I guess I oughta read—”

“Conference room,” Betty’s phone voice flowed like honey from overhead. “If y’all are waitin’ on us, you’re backin’ up.”

***

“Damn, kids…” Sheriff Harden pulled his part-time glasses with one hand, rubbed his eyes with the thumb and finger of his other. “How long we been at this?”

“Two hours and seventeen minutes,” Betty groaned. “Seems longer ‘cause that Aiden kid is a stump. I know, I know,” she lowered her head and held up a hand. “I’m no dee-tective but Lordy… I do know when nobody’s home.”

“She’s right,” Candi tossed her pen on a legal pad. “He hasn’t got much to say lying or telling the truth.”

“And what he does says lays right across Altus Murphy’s story.”

“And somewhere in all these clips,” Harden tilted his chair back, rubbed his eyes again, “Ivy backs up Altus’s motivation.”

“Betty,” Candi pointed to the projection wall, “can you bring up the relationship slide?” A few clicks and headshots of everyone involved popped up connected by colored lines. “If we can ever prove any of these people killed Jimmy Pierce, we have a hell of a criminal conspiracy case.”

“Against Murphy, maybe.” Harden pushed himself upright in the chair, pointed at the wall with a pencil “Aiden’s a witless, unintentional accessory. Now Karla? If we could prove communication between her an Murphy, there’s a conspiracy. Nobody else up there has a motive. If Virgil did do this, the motive is simple as pie, or deep an twisted as a cypress root. Regardless, I can’t see either of ’em.”

“It would be easier to see if we knew how. All we have is sauce, no tamale.” Bash, forearms on the edge of the table. “We find the smokin’ tamale, get Virgil in here, show him the smokin’ tamale, and he’ll put it on our plate of sauce for us.” He caught their looks, his eyebrows came together. “What?”

“I was about to ask if we needed to adjourn for lunch,” a smile flashed across the Sheriff’s face. “But it’s obvious if I don’t get this boy some tamales A S A P he ain’t gonna be worth a shit for nothin’ the rest a the day.”

***

“After an hour and a half of Ivy I have to say she’s not much better than the boy,” Betty, edging into fatigue. “But she’s a sight easier to listen to.”

“Notice though, the kid’s brain never shifts into neutral,” Harden, unconsciously tapping his pencil on the table. “Even when she’s tryin’ to manipulate Bash for barbeque with her Momma junior routine. An explainin’ what was goin’ on in that converted mower repair shop a Jimmy’s helped me get my head around what these boys were up to. But nothin’ she has to say—”

“There!” Bash lit up. “Back that up.” He listened. “No, further. There…”

“… I know he was worryin’ about how we were catfishin’ all these people…”

“Bash?” Candi and Harden, in unison, with furrowed brows.

“You’ll see. Betty, can you run the day one evidence slides from the river? Yeah… Keep goin’, keep goin’… There!” Bash popped his forehead with his palm. “There’s our smokin’ tamale. Candi, get the State ME on the phone. Chief?” He checked in with Harden. “We’ve been lookin’ right past the murder weapon all along.”

It’s Not Polite to Spit Your Food Out in Public

“Agent Cotton?” Betty looked up from her monitor. “You’re early.”

“So are you.” Candi flumped into the chair still parked where she’d left it yesterday. “I wanted to get here before you…”

“Great minds and all that?”

“Must be. In truth, you really helped me out yesterday.” Candi offered a bright yellow, red paisley covered gift bag with colorful pastel tissue paper poking out the top, the entire presentation a mini psychedelic volcano of color not unlike its recipient.

“For me?” Betty dug past the tissue paper, “Oh, my heavens!” She removed a nice size imprinted coffee mug. “Oh you…You shouldn’t have…” She held up the mug, read—I Know I’m a Woman – Cuz If I Was a Man–she turned it– I’d Get Paid What a Woman is Worth—“Now ain’t that the darn truth.” Beaming, she scooted her chair away, spun around, and hopped up. “I was just watchin’ a video on how to make up a pot a gore-may coffee. Y’know,” over her shoulder, “It’s the same as cookin’. Them people post recipes and measurements and not a one of ‘em ever measures nothin’. I won’t either, unless, a course, you’re one a them scientific coffee types.”

“I used to be,” Candi taking one stride for every four of Betty’s. “But I say do it how you feel it, and if it’s awful–”

“Feel a little different next time. That’s how I learned to cook, sweetie. Liked to killed my husband. I thought about it, takin’ even longer, you know, just to see,” she looked up, her face radiating mischievous cherub. “But he was startin’ to eat out too often an it got so we couldn’t afford for me to keep bein’ ‘stupid’.”

***

“Don’t go in there,” Harden, voice lowered and arm out, stopped Bash on the way to the break room. “Betty an Cotton,” he tilted his head toward the breakroom. “In there. Drinkin’ coffee an havin’ some girl talk.”

“No way.”

Shhhh. Gospel. Sounds like Candi’s meet-up with the sexual harassment ladies didn’t turn out like she wanted.”

“You’ve been eavesdroppin’?”

“I heard ‘I swear we’re our own worst enemies’ and ‘Sweetie, blah blah somethin’, we’d rule the dang world.’ I ain’t gettin’ within’ twenty feet a that coffee pot.”

“I’ll walk across the street,” Bash backed toward the door. “Your usual?”

“Make it a large. No tellin’ how long they’ll be.”

***

“Momma, you can’t keep comin’ here,” Ivy gave the Rose B&B dining room a surreptitious survey, “sittin’ half the mornin’ and eatin’ like you haven’t seen food in a week. I know what you’re doin’ an there’s no good reason for it. There are no sex starved men stayin’ here and Ms. Cotton is not your benefactor

“That’s a big word for somebody who’s moochin’ herself. Besides,” she winked at a man in an Airline uniform, “they’ll throw this out if somebody don’t eat it, an I’m as likely a somebody as somebody else.”

“Momma, they take the leftovers to the women’s shelter. There’re women out there skinnier’n you, who aren’t that way on purpose, and have kids to feed.”

“She’s feedin’ you ‘cause you’re hungry, an you’re my kid.”

“Swear to God, you could justify an atom bomb to clear that toilet’s always gettin’ stuck at the house. You aren’t homeless, or hungry, or beat up.”

“Since we were talkin’ family an all before you got uppity, you talked to your daddy lately?”

“Yesterday. I went out there… Momma,” Ivy bit her lower lip, thought for a few seconds. “He’s a real mess. I mean a worse-than-he-ever-was mess.”

“He’s the one done Jimmy in, then.” She used a poppyseed muffin to wipe the butter knife clean before she checked her lipstick in it. “Dominick Harden’s lost his mind, not arrestin’ the old fool.”

“Candi, Ms. Cotton, she says if they don’t figure how he did it, he could get away with killin’ Mr. Pierce.”

“What’s that got to do with you an the price a eggs?”

“‘Cause I think he could do somethin’ bad, to himself, if it goes unresolved much longer.”

“Un-resolved?” Brandy changed the cross of her legs, tilted her head back and shook it, her earrings jangling like miniature wind chimes. “What makes you think that, Miss Word-a-the-Day?”

“I told him I was goin’ to college, and he liked to jumped outta his skin. Got all excited and told me to go over to Ardmore and see a man who’d been helpin’ him out, with the money and everything from the Red River Monster Hunters—”

“I cain’t believe that my youngest could fall for that barnyard fulla shit. Don’t you go drivin’ anywhere over some malarkey Virgil—”

“I already went.”

“I’m sorry you had to drive all that way, darlin’, just to get your heart broke.”

“Well, it wasn’t a heartbreak ‘cause Daddy called the man before I left. First thing he did was Daddy said he might not be around much longer, so he gave me his share of the Red River Monster website, plus Jimmy’s share. Back when they first started they all signed papers, like a will I guess, about who got what if they died. He said two thirds of it was mine but only if I’d promise to go ahead and keep that creeper Mr. Murphy on. Then Daddy told the man to set me up a college fund with his part of whatever money was current and his part of the rollin’ income from the site. Again, you know, like he’s not needin’ it or expectin’ to be around. I was thinkin’ I’d like for him to see me graduate, so maybe I should talk him into just tellin’ Candi what he did.”

“Whatever he done or didn’t is between him and Saint Pete and none a your business. Besides, I’d bet every dime he coulda made offa that nonsense went into the ten-year-old Mercedes he tried to con me into the sack with. You ain’t goin’ to any kinda college I ever heard of on—”

“I’m not gonna tell you how much he gave me ‘cept to say I can go just about anywhere they’ll have me. And I won’t say what it was he said about you and the red car. But I will tell you the first thing he bought with the Monsters money and the last thing he gave me was your little house over there on Elm. And Daddy said to tell you, you been screwin’ Merle Spoffit for the rent goin’ on five months for nothin’.” Ivy reached across the table, with her napkin. “It’s not polite to spit your food out in public, Momma. ‘Specially when it was chef made and free.”

NVDT VIGNETTE – Honor the Enchirito

Several years ago, I ran the following excerpt from the male protagonist’s journey in a WIP. At the time I got several questions about what are Enchiritos and sporks. Spork’s are still out there, but at the time of my post the Enchirito had long been retired. Until-I received an email from Taco Bell proclaiming the Enchirito won the duel against the Double Decker Taco and was back! However, I do not see the black olive slices from the original nor do I recall the sauce being photoshop red. Oh well, see ya at the Bell!

Albuquerque, New Mexico / Thursday February 15, 1979

The Taco Bell sat up on a hillside not far from the University of New Mexico. Jackson gauged the steepness of the hill, landed at indecision. Six weeks ago, he would have popped the clutch, hit the hill hard and hoped all of his wheels came off the ground Smokey and the Bandit style when he cleared the top, landed, drifted and stopped before he hit the retaining wall. All he could see now was his car on its top, sliding back down the hill. He wasn’t alone. The lot was empty except for two Jeeps. The Taco Bell was in overflow, the street so jammed he had to park a block away.

He picked up his order, tried to shake off five weeks in the desert where he’d babbled to the wind before he’d moved up to horses and a big, solemn Navajo. Last night in the Motel 6 was the first time he’d seen television in six weeks, understood why he hadn’t missed it. He stared at his Enchirito, knew the hundred bucks Tony had given him wouldn’t last long and something needed to gel besides enchilada sauce and cheese. Quick. He took a deep breath, let it go in a low, slow whoosh. He’d managed to re-acclimate to reality, but his social skills were in tatters and there was no place else for him to sit. He could pace around rubbing shoulders and kicking feet saying “sorry…” while the plastic cover on his enchirito got steamier or drop into the one vacant chair in front of him, beside her. Long, straight brown hair. A lot of thin abalone, silver and turquoise bracelets, and a big leather purse. And an Enchirito. He dropped.

“No place else. Sorry.”

“You’re fine,” she said without looking up, checked, just to be sure. He smelled like soap, had on goofy knee high moccasins, put out a spacey vibe, hadn’t looked at her or invited himself into her space other than filling the chair. She offered him a friendly on the cool side smile. “As long as you watch your elbows, Geronimo.”

“I do a better Tonto. Less pressure, you know?” He thumbed the lid off the Enchirito and slid it under the bottom. “‘Yes, Kemosabe. Me go get horses, put out campfire’. No hero stuff required.”

She laughed. “Careful. This is Tonto Central. You must not be from—” She stopped, watched him dip his spork slowly into the enchirito, turn it in measured half-circles, each lower than the turn before until it was loaded to perfection, last turn in the cheesy sauce picking up an olive slice. She continued to watch, transfixed, as the spork traveled in slow motion to his mouth, none of it getting on the beard he needed to shape or get rid of.

“Religious experience?”

“Had one of those.” His eyes and enigmatic smile were momentarily a thousand miles away, the spork suspended in midair. “Been living in a hogan, doing some work for a Navajo guy. Coffee, fry bread and tamales. Eggs and beans once in a while. This is manna.”

“You seriously think God gave Moses Enchiritos?”

His second perfectly loaded spork blew into his tray. She immediately reached out with a handful of paper napkins and wiped it down, caught the question in his eyebrows.

“Habit.” She swiped with the napkin. “Student teaching. Primary. They stuck me in kindergarten. None of them can eat without it ending in disaster.” She reached out for round two of the cleanup. “You’re not the usual muttering vision quest vagabond type we get around here. You flunk out, lose your compass and your razor at the same time?”

“I flunked advanced girlfriend. She went to England, I took a drive.” He rubbed the beard he’d forgotten about. “I was supposed to be in school a month ago.” He lifted the reloaded spork around her stewardship of his mess.

“Took a drive?”

“Looking for Los Angeles. I turned right at Albuquerque and got lost for a month. My survival cash got hijacked. Now I need to hang for a while. Find a job, make some traveling money.”

“Where’re you staying?”

“I just got back a couple of days ago. I can keep doing the cheap motel till I get a job or run out of money. Then I’ll —”

She dropped a banded roll of papers on the table, slipped the green rubber band off and flattened them into a short stack of Xeroxed ads.

ROOMMATE WANTED
Private Patio Home – Near Campus
Rent Only – Bills Paid
Personal Hygiene a MUST
UNM Preferred

He tapped the address at the bottom like it meant something. “Nice idea, but I’m more U of nowhere headed for USC.”

“Yeah. But you’re clean and not too weird and we eat the same. People call me crazy, but I accept things like you landing next to me as minor epiphanies.”

The spork stalled mid-flight. “I get that.”

“Good. One other girl and a guy and no weirdness ‘cause nobody’s screwing anybody. There’s two guys, actually, but one of them owns the house and he’s never there.” She turned his way, her elbow on the table. “He works construction. Sometimes.” She made the universal for crazy finger rotating by her head move. “He wants to write acid head mysteries. Like Castaneda meets Miss Marple? We pay for his house, he eats ‘shrooms and disappears for a couple of weeks. There are mountains of notebooks in the garage.”

The spork stalled again. His head turned so he could see her. “You read any of it?”

“I tried. It reads like what I think happened to you when you turned right in Quirky the first time and missed USC.”

“Maybe it’s contagious. I’d feel better if it was.”

“Don’t get high on that feeling. It’s more like stupid. The best time to say ‘no’ isn’t the next time.” She stood. “If you’re following me, I…We can go to the house and I don’t have to hang these posters.”

“Sure you don’t want to audition more weirdos?”

“Seen one, seen ‘em all, right?” She held out her hand. “Carmel. Or Mel. Or Lita. Don’t ever call me Karma. Education and Philosophy.”

“You have a handful. I have one.” He took her offered hand, light squeeze. “Jackson. Front or back, either way. Story if you want it.”

“Later.” She smiled, shook her hair and picked up a key ring that had at least fifteen keys and a long, fringe-y leather thing with turquoise and silver beads hanging from it. “Lucky for me, today was one and done. Génene, the other girl? She has a test tomorrow. What do you know about transportation economics?”

“Nothing.”

“You’ll be an expert by this time tomorrow.”

“Yeah?”

“Yeah. Look at me. I student teach five-year-olds. Last week I learned all about container metrics and Inland Marine insurance and more other kinds of useless information than I thought existed. I can’t believe people get into doing shit like that for a living. What about you?”

“I’m a musician.”

“Yeah?” She raised an eyebrow, shrugged her purse up. “I really can’t believe people try to do that shit for a living.”

We Save the Good Dishes for Company

 “Cotton,” she leaned her ear into the phone in her hand.

“It’s Bash. We need to talk.”

She turned away from the two men, lowered her voice. “Not a good time.”

“Call me back. I don’t care how late.”

“Can’t. It’s…” She glanced over her shoulder. “Look, I’m at the baby Hilton. With the Chief, and Captain Merton.”

“Then it’s figured already and none a my business.”

“Nothing is fig… Hello? Hey…” She lowered the phone, disconcerted.

“That would’ve been Bash,” Harden, with a wry smile. “Call him back, Candi.” He checked in with Merton. “Let’s get this shootin’ match over with.”

***

“Come in, Deputy Reed,” Captain Merton, from a corner of the chair-less Hilton Garden Inn’s ‘Business Center.’ “If Agent Cotton will scoot down the wall and make some room.”

“If you’re wondering about seating arrangements,” Harden, to Bash. “Merton decided years ago that chairs made meetings longer than they needed to be.”

Bash acknowledged with a nod, parked on the wall with Candi, opposite the chiefs.

“We’ve been here a while, Deputy.” Merton, straight, no attitude. “Agent Cotton is aware of my proposal. You’re here to tell us what you think about it.”

“My experience with foregone conclusions,” Bash’s eyes swept their faces, “is further discussion is a waste of air.”

“Accurate,” Merton acknowledged, “but tell us anyway.”

“Sure, why not take your shot?” Candi rotated to her right side against the wall. “My character flaws on parade discussion is trending.”

“That’s the only thing I could do without, right there,” Bash, eye to eye. “The adversarial bullshit. If you were a man, I’d grab the front of your shirt and—”

“And I’d tie you into a pretzel.”

“Think I can’t keep up?”

What? Are you calling me out?”

“Pick your dojo or pick your nose. Standin’ still it’s just a pose.”

“Is that right?” Her eyes narrowed. “Okay, badass. What would you say after you grabbed my shirt, huh? Ask me where I learned to drive? Why I stole a pink fucking Jeep?”

“Why you never let your hair down?” Expansive grin. “No,” he leaned into her space. “I’d ask how the hell you ever won a silver medal in volleyball bein’ a one woman show.”

I didn’t. We were a team. We worked together like a machine. We—”

“I knew ‘we’ had to be in your vocabulary somewhere.”

That…” she started to heat up, “was a cheap shot, you… fuck head.” She rolled to her back against the wall again, arms folded, eyes to the ceiling. “Any other sucker punches I need to hear?”

“Would you be more comfortable talkin’ about bein’ part of something if we put up a net, threw a little sand on the floor?”

Candi’s eyes came off the ceiling and back to his face. “That’s. Two.”

“Three and I’m out? I’ve played that game. I might feel more comfortable with the sand—”

“We played on a court, smart ass. The sand came—”

“Later? With a Jeep worth stealin’?”

“Fuck you, you smug bastard. You don’t know shit about—”

“What’d I tell you, Merton?” Sheriff Harden came off the wall, brushed the hat in his hand. “They’ll figure this better an faster’n we ever could. Mornin’ oughta be soon enough for you to get an answer, an I could use another drink.”

***

Bash stepped through a door that was more stained glass than wood, found himself surrounded by a jungle of perfectly placed plants and furniture arranged on a remarkably level and indirectly lit pavestone courtyard behind the Rose B&B. “Nice patio.”

“Thank you. I told the expert I wanted it to be like the patio I’d always wanted at my house but could never maintain by myself.”

“A millionaire’s patio without waiting to be a millionaire to enjoy it.” He stared into the unobtrusive ringed with greenery bubbling stacked cubes water feature. “At least you didn’t go for the naked guy peeing.”

“I prefer understandable modern to classical. And it’s usually a naked guy, or girl, with water running out of an urn on their shoulder, not—”

“In Cuba and Mexico, the fountain guys are peeing. I took pictures.”

“You’ll have to show me. Sometime in the distant future.” She made a minimal hostess wave around the patio. “Please. Make yourself comfortable. She picked two lightly sweating glasses of white wine from a crisp tablecloth covered wicker end table, gave him one and settled by pulling her feet up beside her on a glider. She held the stem of the wineglass with one hand, absently turned it with the other. “The Chief said you ‘blew some mighty pretty smoke signals’ up his butt about me.”

“I just told him like it is.” Bash, from a cushioned Adirondack chair. “All I said—”

“If you tell me you’ll ruin it. I don’t want to know how flowery or full of shit you were. It’s enough to know you were kind and trying to have my back.” She squirmed into being more comfortable. “Do you have anything to listen to?”

“Let’s see…” he set his glass on the patio next to his chair. “What are you in the mood for? Meditative Plains Indian pan flute in a canyon? Lite jazz? Grunge? Whiny chicks with mandolins?”

She made a face.

“I’m glad you agree because I don’t have any of that.” He stopped fingering his phone, unsure of his social footing, wondering if this was a test. “What’s wrong with yours?”

“I’ve heard mine.” She leaned her head back, closed her eyes. “The connection is Rose Garden.”

He pushed the volume up to where the music became part of the air and no more. Ten minutes that could have been ten days went by on the insular patio while sleepy Spanish guitar backed with lightweight percussion and an occasional lonesome horn or marimba sneaked out from under the furniture.

She raised her head, found her glass. “What is this?”

“They call it café music. Open air sidewalk cafés are where I heard it. Not the weekend Mariachi at Los Locos.”

“That’s good. Or I’d rent a booth and never leave Los Locos.” She studied her glass. “I decided to take their offer.”

“If it’s the café music, you can get that off the internet, you don’t need me.”

“Yes, I do, but not for the music. You and the Chief both.”

He let that hang like fog. Finally, “Snot on a Ritz?”

She snorked her wine. “I decided,” finger wiping her lips, “before we left that closet at Merton’s hotel. I’d saved my long pity party vent, you know, with all the ‘What’s fucking wrong with me?’ What fucking choice do I have?’ drama for when you finally got to the hotel. Shoot myself in the foot, make a huge mess out of it and be everything they already think of me. Then you showed up, took me right out of it and the Sheriff took them out of it.”

“Old Apache wisdom,” he picked up his wine glass, drained it. “Friends don’t let friends drive angry.”

“Friends aren’t easy to come by. At least not for me, anyway. Can you send me that playlist?”

“Sure.” He took that as a cue, rose from the chair, set his empty glass on the wicker table it came from. “What are friends for?”

“I’m not done.”

“Yeah?” He backed up so he could see her.

“I leave my hair up so the bad guys don’t have anything to grab. I stole the Jeep because I got screwed and was way pissed off at a whole slew of people who’d been blowing smoke up my—”

“If you’re worried about that happening here, forget it.” He squeezed the top of her shoulder on the way by. “We save our smoke and the good dishes for company, not each other. And none of us drive anything worth stealin’.”

NVDT RANDOM – Cover Reveal

IT’S NATIONAL TACO DAY! AND BOY, DO I FUCKING LOVE TACOS!

What better day to promote my latest Children’s WIP! What, no content? That’s never stopped an Indie Author before! Now taking advance orders! Visit my Go-Fund-Me page so I can afford an ISBN! I promise not only gut-wrenching indigestion but several of my favorite recipes shoved in as filler between garish typos, taco in a fright wig jokes and formulaic flatulence!

Soon to be released in a Dan Lavatore Everything I Eat Makes a Turd and Other Horrors Anthology!!!

Circle Jerk Book Tour to Follow!

RESERVE YOUR COPY TODAY!!

Can’t wait? Want to jump the line? Now accepting cash at the corner of Heartburn and Stingring Streets. Call for hours!

Company for Dinner

Flat on her back in the dust and weeds, Esther Murphy moaned, “Ammulanz… I nee a Ammulanz… Ammulaaaannnnnz…”

“Shut up, Mother,” Altus, turning the Mauser’s grip forward for the handoff to Bash. “Shut. The fuck. Up.”

He stepped around the Deputy, out the door of the shed, scooped his mother up and over a narrow shoulder, grabbed the walker with his free hand and dragged it to the back porch steps where he unceremoniously dumped his mother, set the walker in front of her and pushed it against the bottom step with his foot. “No ambulance. No muscled up EMT techs. Where’s your oxygen?” She folded her arms, bent over and rocked, muttering occasionally recognizable profanity into her knees.

“I apologize for Mother,” to Bash. “And for your father,” to Aiden.

“Why don’t you and Aiden have a seat over there with your mother for a minute while I disarm this party and figure some things out.” He dropped the magazine and popped the chambered shell from the Mauser, set it in a convenient rusty wheelbarrow. He dropped the clip from Aiden’s pearl-gripped baby automatic and discovered both clip and chamber were empty and set it with the Mauser. Esther Murphy’s wild west revolver he half-cocked, rotated the cylinder to find two spent shells and four empty chambers. He looked up to see Altus had wrapped the Mauser in an oily rag, had another rag waiting for the big Colt.

“I’ll have to take these in for ballistic fingerprints. You can have them—”

“Fine, fine,” Altus, nitty, wrapping and tucking the rag. “They’re so old, you see. Great grandfather’s… There’s a box in the house. Worth a fortune, some of them.”

“You ain’t sellin’ nothin’ you worthless—” Mother broke out in a coughing fit that sounded like pieces of her lungs were coming loose, hocked out an oyster sized wad of phlegm. “You been stealin’ from me since you was born, you an that good for nothin’—”

“Mrs. Murphy, you’re on the edge of goin’ to jail as it is. It’d be wise of you to take your son’s advice and keep your mouth shut.” He turned back to Altus. “You think it’s safe to have a box full of guns in the same house with her?”

“She’s a delusional, disillusioned old bat who’s been cussing me and shooting at me for thirty-five years. The frequency has fallen off some since her mid-eighties. Cussed and shot at father, too, before he died.”

“No intervention of any kind?” Calmly incredulous. “You just let her shoot at you whenever she wants?”

“Hadn’t hit me yet, never hit dad. She’ll tell you, because you’re wearing a uniform, that she shot my father for being the biggest disappointment in her life until I came along and then buried him under the big disappointment oak out front. After paying too much to rent a backhoe and expensive DNA tests, your boss will tell you, the bones in the casket over at Rose Hill are Father’s, and there’s not shit under that oak tree but roots and red dirt.” Altus took his seat on the stairs with Bash’s other two gunplay perps, rubbed his gun-oily hands on his loose carpenter jeans.

“Right,” Bash kicked back against the rear of Karla Pierce’s Buick, crossed his boots at the ankles. “Somebody start. Keep it simple and short.”

***

“Three guns, no prisoners?” Harden signed and passed back the property intake clipboard. “Anything I need to know?”

“The Mauser has a breathe-on-it hair trigger, and the hammer on the Colt comes back so easy a baby could cock it. They’re both worth a small fortune. Particularly the Colt.”

“I meant—”

“Yeah, I know. What happened was Aiden came apart tryin’ to get his head around his dad bein’ gone, went to Altus with a gun to leverage a story out of him. Altus keeps the Mauser in his ham radio shed to pop rats and discourage trespassers. Esther Murphy comes in and out of reality and put somethin’ together in her head about Altus havin’ two visitors, one a cop in a pink Jeep, that made it another good day to shoot at her son.”

“Another?”

“Habitual. Altus says every so often she gets a wild hair, starts cussin’ him and let’s go a couple rounds in his direction. Never has hit him.”

“Jesus. And your executive decision, after five wild rounds between nutcases, was to cut ‘em all loose?”

“Aiden’s gun was empty. Maybe he knew, maybe not. If it had been loaded, and Altus was a better shot than his mother, it would have been messy. But it wasn’t. All Aiden wanted was to know why.”

“Are we gonna get to that?”

“Simple. Altus wanted to put some polish on the monster hunters. Jimmy and Virgil figured they’re the stars and it should stay status quo and voted down any improvement in the way they produced the shows. Altus thought they were gettin’ a little big for their britches, found out they were goin’ catfish noodlin’ and decided to give ‘em a dose of Bigfoot they weren’t expectin’. He said he never expected Virgil to go…”

“Go on an say it ‘fore it kills you.”

“He never expected Virgil to go ape shit over seein’ the costume on someone else or fail to recognize it. From there, it zips right up with Aiden’s story.”

“Also with something Ivy said. Except Altus went home to get shot at by his mother an Aiden sat it out with a rash an ate junk food in a party squat, an Virgil Green drove home in Jimmy’s truck claimin’ he hadn’t seen him. When Aiden and Altus say they saw the both of ‘em, together.” Harden leaned back in his chair, interlaced his hands behind his head. “I have a five-dollar bill that says Aiden didn’t give a shit about what Ivy thought or that they’re even an item. I think he didn’t want to show up early an sick and disappoint his old man by not bein’ off doin’ man shit like alligator chasin’ or titty bar hoppin’. Either a those woulda bought him some back slappin’ cred if they’d panned out. I can even hear Jimmy sayin’ ‘Ya little fucker, I ‘bout pissed myself over you needin’ money to go see some titties’ and laughin’ it off. Instead, Aiden comes home when he’s supposed to and his dad’s dead.”

“Altus said the same thing. Jimmy was always callin’ all of ‘em fuckers. Dumb, goofy, boring… He expected Jimmy to call him the next day with a ‘Hey, was that you down to the river, ya dumb fucker?’.”

“But he didn’t call, an nobody who expected Jimmy to be Mr. Jolly over a practical joke figured him for missin’. If it hadn’t been for some curious Cub Scouts, Jimmy might still be an MIA got-drunk-and-fell-in-the-river fisherman statistic. Tomorrow mornin’, we sit in the room together and listen to everybody’s interviews, look at the evidence again and see if it’s worth pullin’ Virgil Green in and pluggin’ him in to a wall socket to get him to talk, or walk away. ‘Cause at this point if he doesn’t roll over and confess, we’re back to a dead man and a bucket a air.”

“Does Cotton know?”

“About tomorrow, yeah. But there’re a few things Cotton doesn’t know. Not just yet.” His eyes hit the clock. “What’re you doin’ about company for dinner this evenin’? I ate enough lunch for two people, but I could use a drink.”

“Meanin’ you’ll nurse a Jack with ice and talk, most likely about Cotton, and watch me eat?”

“You get any smarter,” Harden picked up his hat, “I’ll have to start payin’ you.”