Top Shelf, Professional Strength, Sound Bite Bullshit

“Connor, didn’t your grandmother ever tell you ‘can’t never did nothin’?’”

“Could be, but cookies were probably involved if it was Gran.” He got lost in the memory for a second. “Her cookies were transcendent, so if she was talking, I wasn’t listening. What you don’t understand about this, Cotton, is—”

Agent Cotton.”

“Fuck your formalities, Candi. We’ve known each other since you were the tallest kid in school. You can kick my ass if you want. You can set me up with the Attorney General’s office if you want. You can even run me out of town if you want. Okay. I get it. But the reality is I don’t have what I need to pull off this kind of investigation in sixteen months. Especially if it goes huge.”

“I got this far with three subpoenas, a laptop and the Sheriff’s receptionist. In an afternoon. You have what’s-her-ass out there filing her nails and pumping breast milk for your love child. Put her to work. Or do you not want a job with the AG?”

“Hell yes, you know I do, but… God dammit,” elbows on the desk, interlaced fingers, thumbs to his temples in resignation. “What you’re not getting is I don’t have the juice with the locals.”

“That’s no excuse, Yates. You’re the fucking County Attorney. You make your own juice. If you’re lazy, or scared, or you’re in on this scam, tell me. Otherwise, what I understand is right now we have a plan to get you out of this burg with this,” she fingernailed the open file folder in front of him. “Or you can be another political casualty. Too big a wimp to step up for yourself. A side bar in history. The youngest County Attorney… Where is he now? A pharmacy tech by day and legal aid lawyer by night in Beaver Nuts, Idaho.”

“I’m not lazy. I am overlooked and ignored, and yeah, maybe I am a little scared. But I’m not crooked. You keep saying we. Who’s we? That extravagantly upholstered tool you’re shacked up with, or Merton, Senator Bachen…”

“Never mind ‘we.’ And Carson Locke, just for the record, is my partner in a real-estate investment. Period. We are not ‘shacked up.’”

“Carson Locke is a three-time political loser who’s somehow proven pretty, vapid and legacy money aren’t always a winning recipe for political success, and he lives at your address. Which last time I looked was a pricey, oversized one-bedroom condo and the perfect location for shaking hands over drinks with power brokers, and statehouse nooners. Judging by your current situations none of that has done much for either of your careers and from the pictures I’ve seen in the Law and Pol-Party rags, the two of you would be better off staying as far as you can get from participating in politics and game changing and rent yourselves out as fucking ice sculptures at black tie fundraisers. So don’t hammer me about Kelly out there and the kid.”

“Fair enough. That was inconsiderate of me.” She leaned forward, tugged at the hem of her mid-calf skirt. “You’ve seen the AG’s offer, Yates. You’ve heard mine on how you get from here to there. Your future isn’t built on can you do this, but will you do it?”

“Yes. With a couple of caveats. I need to be blessed with investigative subpoena powers, so I don’t look like some crazed, power mad prick reveling in rummaging around in people’s dirty laundry just for the hell of it. And I need some discretionary gag power… You know, if it’s not related, we shred it, say ‘thank you’ and move on. It doesn’t go public.”

“You need to look like you’re cleaning house, not out to fuck up anybody’s life. Understood. Understand this, though. People will get sucked into the investigation vortex by their own doing, which means you’ll need to put on your big boy panties and shut them down, regardless of who they think they are.”

“The state is behind me on this?”

 “Solid, silent, and unobtrusive. Your promise from the state is unadvertised support. Nobody at the state level is interested in sticking their nose up your ass or forcing you into following a political agenda while you get this done. In fact, they need you to come out sixteen months from now looking like a fresh-faced grass roots savior. Not a puppet.”

“My investigation, my way?”

“Your way. But if I were you, I’d follow the courthouse money. Offer the offenders the opportunity to leave quietly or go down in flames. Then draw up a preliminary system of transparency and accountability for all county services.”

“Easy for you… It’s likely everybody from the fat ladies livin’ on Diet Dr. Pepper down at the licensing bureau to construction inspectors are skimming.”

“Fix the courthouse first. Shake things up, give your moving forward recommendations to the County Board.”

“Seriously, Cotton? They’re all politicians.”

“With more powerful politicians looking over their shoulders. Powerful politicians who want you to clean up this mess and be somebody. Topple a few minor fiefdoms, the board passes some oversight with the AG breathing down their neck, sets up an oversight committee—”

“That committee whispers ‘audit’ to their cronies and they all start jumping out windows.”

“You’ll be long gone by the time the collaterally damaged need to find new jobs. Criminals are criminals, Connor. Robbery is—”

“Robbery. At the point of a gun or the point of a pen. I went to law school. But this,” with a headshake and long, cheeks-out lip-blown exhale. “This shit is not why I went to law school.” He closed one folder, opened another, looked up, his hair fell across his forehead. “I see we’re also letting a murderer off on man two with a sentence recommendation of what, a year at a funny farm where he’s supposed to get control of his behavior dealing with unreasonable fears? Two days a week work release from said funny farm after six months, followed by three years’ probation? Tell me again how that is going to help me?”

“It shows that as well as a corruption buster, you’re an astute, empathetic prosecutor, keenly aware of your constituents’ needs. Able to balance the community’s demand for swift and firm justice with an affirmative and proactive approach to the rehabilitation of its salvageable citizens.”

That is some top shelf, professional strength, sound bite bullshit. But I like it. This Bigfoot made me do it, though? With a catfish? Jesus, Candi, you’re killing me here. I’ll get laughed out of the Bar Association for letting that go.”


“Duh? There’s no such thing as fucking Bigfoot?”

“Are you prepared to prove that? Better yet, do you think there’s any way you could prove it?”

“No one can prove Bigfoot is real.”

“And no one can prove it isn’t. Except the other side can put up an avalanche of physical evidence, media hype and science.”

Junk science.”

“Again… Who’s to say? That sign up there says ‘In God We Trust.’”

“Okay, I see where you’re going. Who’s the judge…” He fanned through the folder’s paper. “Perriman? Of course she is. She’ll take kidnapped by aliens as an excuse for violating parole. Good God…” He closed the folder with a sigh of disgust, rubbed his eyes. “You know, Cotton? Some days, I wonder how our simple little world got so fucked up.”

“People. Do we have a deal? Or deals?”

“Yeah…” He rose into a stoop propped up by his left hand on his desk, offered his right. Candi gave it a firm squeeze and a single, emphatic pump.

“You won’t regret this, Connor. Good luck with your future.” She turned, walked through the office, patted Kelly’s shoulder on her way out, saying, “Yours, too.”

Yates waited till she was gone before he raised his voice and barked into the outer office.


“Do I need a pen for this? Last time she was here I—”
“No pen. Call your brother, tell him to get that truck of his I paid for, take it to your mother’s and load it with everything you own. You’re moving out of her house and into mine. Today.”

“The divorce ain’t final, Connor. What’s every—”

 “I just quit giving a shit what everybody thinks, Kelly. Your husband’s been missing for close to five years. Anyone thinks they need to comment on us can fuck off.”

“If you say so… Anything el—”

 “You’re fired. Call the agency, have them find me a legal secretary who kicks ass.”

“Can she be old an maybe ugly? ‘Cause I might get—”

“I don’t care if she has three heads and one of them’s an overgrown wart. ‘Kicks ass’ is the criteria.”

“Okay.” She punched some numbers into the phone, left a message, hung up. “Uh, Conner…? Like, um… What am I gonna do now?”

“Go get the kid, cancel his daycare, stay home with him, clip coupons and save us all the money you can. A year from now, we’ll be house hunting in the city.”

“We’ll be wha—?” The phone chirped. “Uh… That’ll be the agency callin’ back. You better grab it.” She shouldered her purse and baby bag, gave the office a cursory once over. “I don’t know what that tall woman done to you in there, but she’s welcome to come back an do it again, anytime she wants.”

The Mind You’re Wearing is Fine

Sunday morning buffet at the Rose B&B had mostly tailed out when Ivy chin-pointed over Candi’s shoulder and said, “Man.”

Candi’s only response was to slow her fork down for a split second and raise her eyebrows.

“Cop. Outta uniform.”

“Which one?”


“Shit.” Candi ran her napkin across her mouth.

 After making a waiter’s twist between tables, pushed-back chairs and the few remaining guests, he took a quick survey of their table, set his hands on the top of an empty chair. “Y’all got a minute?”

“Last I heard,” Candi, not looking up, “you were on call.”

“It’s rainin’. The Chief canceled fishin’, called, said he’d keep the shop from fallin’ down if I had things to do.”

“And the first thing on your to-do list was drop by the Rose and join us for breakfast because word’s out we do a big buffet on Sunday morning?” She leaned to her right slightly and looked up. “You can forget that because I’m not feeding you.”

“There’s that golden ray of sunshine on a cloudy day.”

She looked up in time to see how the lines around his eyes removed the sarcasm. “Alright. Sit.”

“Yes ma’am. Mornin’ Ivy.” He got a nod. “What time’s your bath scheduled for, Cotton?” Ivy’s eyes widened, Candi smacked his wrist with a fork coupled with a hissed “None of your damn business.”

“Can’t say I didn’t try.” He snagged a biscuit from a napkin-lined varnished wicker basket, scooted his chair back.

Ivy’s eyes bounced between them. “Should I leave so y’all can—”

No.” Candi jabbed two fingers on the tablecloth in front of Bash’s vacated place. “You aren’t going anywhere, either.” She turned his coffee cup right side up, went back to her omelet. He pulled back in, loaded his cup from a white, glass-look thermal carafe that, based on the temperature of the coffee it expelled had been there a while.

“Ivy was telling me how she’d like to look at used cars.” Candi, side-eye.

“Sunday’s the day to look since you can’t buy one.”

“I was in the middle of explaining that, and how she might want to look where there’s better selection and competition. I was about to suggest we drive up to get my car and look around. Of course, we’d have to leave your truck. Unlocked,” cocked eyebrow, “keys on the seat.”

“Might break whoever of the car stealin’ habit.”

Might?” A derisive eye-roll and headshake. “What did you want, Reed, besides a free biscuit and coffee?”

“I came to offer some help with that ‘what am I gonna drive’ issue.”

“And what form would this ‘help’ you’re offering take?”

“Cartin’ you up in pimp mobile comfort to retrieve your personal vehicle.” He studied his tepid coffee. “Chalky biscuits, no butter, cold coffee, and the thought of enjoyin’ the current state of your charming personality for ninety minutes might have me changin’ my mind.”

“The mind you’re wearing is fine. We’re almost finished here.” She turned her phone over, checked the time. “Give us ten minutes and we’ll meet you at the car. I’ll drive.”

“That’s why I threw a pillow in the back seat.”

“Are you like sure,” Ivy cleared her throat,I, uh, won’t be, you know, in the way or nothin?”

“In the way or anything. No.” She checked Bash for objection.

“I’m good. An hour and a half of you two talkin’ chick shit with me off the one-on-one conversation hook?” He bowed slightly, tipped an invisible hat. “Best news since Little Big Horn.”


Ivy watched Bash over Candi’s shoulder until he was in the foyer where he said something that made the manager smile, kept watching while she stepped away and returned with a to-go cup of coffee, steam streaming from the hole in the top. “You don’t get it, huh?”

“Get what ‘huh’?”


“I get ‘guys,’ Ivy. He’s another one.”

“You don’t believe that, ‘cause he’s not. An you know it. He took me to get too much barbecue and a couple big bottles a Coke last Sunday afternoon not ‘cause I tried flirtin’ him into it, ‘cause he seen through my pathetic trip for what it was an walked right on through it. He done… Did it, ‘cause he’d read my bluff no matter what my mouth was runnin’. He knew from the day before I was hungry an scared an broke an didn’t have nobody I could call. You know, he ain’t workin’ you to get laid, Ms. Cotton. He’s offering to kick start you joinin’ up down here an you’re draggin’ your feet.”

“Your grammar goes to hell when you’re serious. And what makes you, at the ripe old age of eighteen, think you’re an expert on men, anyway?”

“I feel like I’m repeatin’ myself, but you have met Momma? Goin’ on nineteen years a that soap opera I seen every kinda trippy man woman shit there ever was or ever could be. You stallin’ an playin’ ice queen ain’t makin’ it any easier on you or him or anybody else wants to help. You know what I see?”

“I can’t imagine.”

“You got baggage on both ends a this thing you’re in right now an cain’t see your way clear to dealin’ on either, so you’re makin’ busy noises an treadin’ water. That guy just walked out the door?” She glanced over Candi’s shoulder again. “That’s the best lifeline you have around here. You need to grab hold before he bails an leaves you dealin’ with it all by your lonesome. Which’ll suck big time for you ‘cause then you’ll be stuck with nobody ‘cept me an the Sheriff an all them ghosts you talk about.”

Candi hit a short, hard sigh and sat, palms on her thighs, frozen. She finally pulled her napkin up, stuffed it under the rim of her plate. “Is it that obvious?”

“No more’n a nose zit on prom night.” Ivy pushed her plate away, dropped her napkin on it. “I’m ready. You need to pee or anything?”


“You seen Cotton this morning?” Sheriff Harden eased into the industrial guest chair in front of Bash’s desk.


“The way she was dressed… Only way I can explain it is aggressively managerial.”

“I don’t even need to see it to see it. She must’ve picked up some clothes yesterday or bought some new ones.”

“You talked to her yesterday?”

“I swung by the Rose after you took over on-call.”

“Now Bash, I didn’t say you had to go an apologize, or even be too nice. Just let her know, somehow, that you an the rest of us messin’ with her ain’t all, well, mean spirited or nothin’.”

“I didn’t say anything about the Chrysler or her Jeep or any of that. I offered to solve her vehicle problems by runnin’ her up to get her daily driver. Ended up ridin’ with her and Ivy. Ivy wantin’ to window shop used cars and the both of ‘em on a clothes mission.”

“Jesus. That’s a lotta close proximity, high-octane estrogen, with a side a extra attitude thrown in to deal with over a ninety-minute Sunday drive.”

“Not if you’re asleep in the back seat.”

And So Are You!

“I see everybody survived the potty break and we didn’t need to call a plumber,” Harden tilted the fishing cap replacement for his cowboy hat, stood behind the chair he’d occupied during Virgil Green’s polygraph. “First off, we can’t leave Virgil pinballin’ around a cell in here by himself on Sunday, and I’m not about to put him in the county lockup until I’m sure he can handle it. This bein’ Bash’s on-call weekend,” he shifted to look to his left. “Do you come in an babysit, waitin’ for the phone to ring? What if you get a call? Does Betty round us up a reserve to stay here all day? Do we tag Virg and put him up in the Travelodge? What about—”

“Sheriff?” Betty wagged her pen. “One problem at a time, please?”

“Alright. Disposition of Virgil. Bash?”

“I can come in if I need to. I might put him to work in the storage closet.”

“You might get the ACLU’s panties in a twist over that bein’ cruel and unusual punishment. Candi?”

“I have no problems with the Travelodge. Betty?”

“None a y’all are afraid a Virgil walkin’ across the parkin’ lot, stickin’ his thumb out,” demonstrated, “an bein’ in the wind?”

“I’m more worried about him doin’ something to himself, thinkin’ it’ll put everybody involved outta dealin’ with what he sees as the misery he’s caused.”

“I’m with the Sheriff. He was a mess when I brought him in.”

“I hate to remind everybody,” Bash, yawning, palms on his cheeks, “but he did kill a man.”

“With a damn catfish.” Candi offered a small, tired smile. “How dangerous can he be?”

“None, I guess,” Bash, leaning back in his chair. “Unless Bigfoot has his eye on the Travelodge.”

“Done.” Harden swept up the loose paper in front of him. “Virgil goes to the Travelodge. I’ll go fishin’, Betty’ll go to church, Bash’ll keep his phone on and Candi—”

“Will drink too much wine, take a long, hot bath and spend a whole day letting nothing be important.”

“Sunday’s settled, then… Betty can you—”

“Updating Virgil’s info and signing out a GPS ankle monitor as we speak.”

“We don’t pay you enough.”

“No, you don’t. It was okay for playin’ solitaire, but now I that I’ve unleashed my mad computer skills…”

“Yeah, yeah. Wait’ll we see if Cotton’s consistently worth a damn,” with a wink. “If she is, I’ll move some budget your way. Speaking of Agent Cotton,” he’d dropped his shoulders, hands in his pockets. “When do you plan on unleashing the Pontotoc war on graft? And if it blows up, what are we gonna do about a judge?”

“I have that,” Candi leaned to pull a folder from her bag.

“Just tell me, Candi. Spreadsheets make my head hurt.”

“Right,” the folder dropped back in the bag. “First thing Monday morning, I’ll give all the information I have, which is broad and not as specific as I’d like, to your beloved County Attorney-slash-prosecutor.”

Specifics of spreadsheet crime are that dickweed’s job. Don’t feel guilty. Prime his ass with what you’ve got and set it on fire. Next, and this is a bigger problem, how deep does the corruption go, and how much is it gonna to cost the county? ‘Cause if it’s bad, I might need to call in some favors to keep you from gettin’ shot in the back.”

“The fines were all judgement calls and always under the allowable max for the violation. That lets the county off the repercussion hook. The crimes are where that money went. Your other question, what will they find outside of our immediate dealings with the court?” Her hands came off the table, open and wide.

“You’re sayin’ it could be every chicken shit gas station with a post office an speed trap, or just the local courthouse barflies. What’s your gut tell you?”

“I ate too many breakfast tacos, and honestly? Betty and I didn’t see enough money going through the court’s books to say,” quote fingers, “‘widespread corruption.’”

“What about the judge?”

“He’s oblivious. The question is can he still do his job without his clerk feeding him legal answers and fines through the monitor on his bench?”

“Everybody knows,” Betty, scowling, repeatedly hitting one key on the laptop, “the man cain’t find his butt with both hands in his back pockets since before his wife died.”

“Don’t we have three other District Judges?”

“Sure, Bash, but who else is familiar with Virgil, will take Man Two and go light on sentencin’?”

Candi, with some trepidation, “Tina Perriman?”

“I’ll go Perriman. She’s as weird as they come, but she leaves it outside the courthouse. Let’s see if we can get Virgil and the prosecutor in front of her before your corruption news breaks. I don’t want her thinkin’ we set the dogs on her nightstand drawer.”

“You forget I have to live and work here now, so it won’t be my corruption investigation. Any fallout will belong to the prosecutor. Connor Yates can carry it because he’ll be leaving for the state house at the end of his term.”

“How d’you figure that?”

“Dropping the corruption investigation in Yates’ lap is contingent on him leaving to join the Attorney General’s office. The AG loves a bulldog, so Yates has sixteen months to clean house and become ‘Connor Yates – the people over politicians’ hero.”

“Which means he’ll be too busy to hassle my massage parlor. I knew you had to be good for somethin’ or Merton would’ve kept you underfoot.”


Bash walked out the back door into the parking lot, found Candi, hands on hips, scanning the area from fence to fence. “Where’s my Jeep?”

“County Service garage.”

“I thought you had it.”

“I did. I swapped the tires, drove it for a day. The alignment was so bad I could hardly keep it on the road. I got called names by an old woman just for drivin’ it, and then shot at. I’d had enough Geronimo Ken in the wrong Jeep and dropped it at the County garage. Besides, they needed the tires I’d borrowed for it back by Monday. Come Monday mornin’, though, they’ll have your new tires.”

My new tires?”

“Special order. They’ll mount ‘em and align that beast, set you to streetin’ smooth instead of gettin’ beat up by Baywatch Barbie’s Ass Buster. But… I have no problem with you keepin’ my truck till your Jeep’s done.”

“What are you driving?”

“The big, pewter Chrysler.”


“Only on weekends I pimp.”

“Nice to know you have a hobby. But I don’t believe you own the wardrobe, so I say it’s an impound lot forfeit.”

“You’d be right. I picked it up when I dropped your Jeep.”

“Then you can keep your damn truck, cowboy. I’ll take the Chrysler.”

“Indian. And no, you won’t.”

Won’t hell,” frustration seeping out. “It’s a loaner for my Jeep, Bash. Not for your rust—”

“Forget won’t. Can’t. You gotta be on the County’s liability.”

“I know insurance law, and with the owner’s permission, I can drive anything.”

“That law applies to individuals, Justice Cotton. The County, as a government entity, has their own rules, and one of them is you gotta be in the risk pool to drive a county vehicle.”

“Bull. Shit.” Steaming, her voice coming up. “I drove the Tahoe half the day yesterday.”

“As an officer of the law, performing her duty. If it’s crime busting, you can commandeer a ride if you have to. But I don’t seem to recall goin’ home to take an expensive fragrance infused bath and lie around eating chef’s choice meals and designer chocolate for a day-and-a-half in an upscale B&B as raisons d’etre of law enforcement.”

“You are so,” fists to temples exasperated, “full of it. You know that?”

“Look, I said I don’t mind loanin’ you my truck. Since borrowin’ it without tellin’ me is how you got to standin’ here all car-less an pissed off.”

“Thanks,” she smacked the top of his Ranger. “For being so fucking considerate.”

“What are friends for? Soon as the County opens up Monday morning, bingo. But you won’t need it because the Barbie-mobile will be ready by the time you’re through sweepin’ out the courthouse.”

You get a sweet ride for my Jeep, and I get stuck with your rust bucket,” acute disbelief. “You know,” over her shoulder,” I just keep getting screwed on this deal and nobody even offers to buy me dinner.”

“Hey,” a theatrically smug, blameless shrug, “I don’t make the rules.”

“Well, they’re shit.” She climbed in, slammed the door. “And so are you.” She jammed the aging Ranger into reverse, backed out, ground the gears again, raised a one-finger salute and chugged out of the lot.


“What’s with Cotton?” Harden appeared on Bash’s right side.

“She’s drivin’ my truck.”

“She’s been drivin’ your truck. What caused her to flip you off?”

“The big Chrysler.”

“Godamighty… ” It took a few seconds for Harden’s weary sigh to die away.

“You see how it happened, right?”

“I wasn’t born yesterday. What kinda bullshit you spread on it?”

“Told her she had to be signed up with the county to drive vehicles requirin’ county liability.”

“That’s true. But I listed her Tuesday. You knew that.”

“Knew what?”

“Dammit, Bash.” The heavy wait ended when he wiped his forehead with a wrist. “How long you plan on bustin’ her chops?”

“Till she stops thinkin’ we’re just like everybody else.”

“Reckon she knows that already. You’re after her behavin’ like she knows, an that’s gonna take a while. Maybe an act a Congress. So be careful with that shit. She ends up thinkin’ we’re really bustin’ her for bein’ who she is, then we are like everybody else.”

NVDT RANDOM – My Middle Finger

In Four Etudes Divertimento

Yep, that’s it up there. Why my posts have been slow. I even tried dictating and cut n paste. It wasn’t so much typing without a digit as typing around it.

Part One: Rejection

After I received a few semi-annual freezer burns and a scrape (If you’d leave it alone, it wouldn’t do that) I showed the dermatologist my middle finger. “I’m just doing my job. Save it for the parking garage,” she said. On closer inspection, “Oh.”


“Well, it could be from overuse. It’s a myxoid arthritis cyst. At your age, these are common.”

Okay, a kidney bean sized bump on the terminal knuckle of my middle finger is de rigueur for geezers? When I have full control of my digits except for occasionally my left thumb? Well, yeah, my middle finger stays cocked and tied directly to my internal bullshitometer, but it bends and flexes and can still hit whatever note I tell it to. Within reason.

“Can you do anything for it?”

“No,” a dismissive drop of my hand. “You need a hand doctor. Those things start down in the joint and sometimes they need to dig them out.”


“I’ll send a referral. D’Kwandita will have it in your exit paperwork.”

Part Two: Cross Cultural Contamination

In my ‘Your Next Appointment is April 17’ paperwork, which is also in the online portal and there’s no need to waste more paper, is 1/3 of a tri-fold, or twice a bookmark, for the “Hand, Shoulder and Upper Body Specialist”

Whiplash Backstory. I speak and read enough Spanish/Spanglish to get in trouble. If I woodshed for a week (not full time) I’m semi-competent. I can get through a synthesizer or Pro Audio clinic, airports, restaurants, hotels. Mostly rehearsed. Conversationally I listen for the verb(s). I once helped a non-English speaker get his boarding pass in an American airport (this was in an airport far enough away from the border that the airline needed to send for an interpreter). I used my poquito Español, along with a lot of pointing, to manage my way through Italy. I had to learn the word for underwear as Delta had lost my luggage, and, of course, musicians being what they are, they taught me slang for female tart undies just to fuck with me. That’s another story…

Why all that? Because I live in Texas. El español está en todas partes. Menus, street names, advertisements. Everywhere. It’s built into the daily ambience. So, upon reading the handout (first name changed to protect the innocent) I read Miranda Y Chu. I see the headshot of a smiling Asian woman. I go directly to wondering which partner is she? Miranda, or Chu?

Part Three: Middle Finger, Huh?

Dr. Chu’s assistant is very thorough. I hand her my paperwork from reception, which is ridiculous because it’s all in their portal. I mention that. She laughs and says, “I don’t know why they do it. Maybe so while you’re filling it out you don’t know how long you’re waiting, or to see if you know who you are today.”

“You get a lot of that?”

“You’d be surprised. Like the chart says Robert, the paperwork says Robert, I go out front and call Robert and nobody gets up. I go out and start knocking and a lady elbows a man and says. ‘That’s you’ and he says ‘Who’s Robert? My name’s Bob!’” She is a black lady, in her fifties if she’s a day. “Middle finger, huh?”


She laughs. “Don’t I know it.” She makes the salute, rotates it. “I always wear the polish off this nail first. Xray tech will be with you in a minute.”

A young-ish female child begins screaming just outside the door. It’s obvious she doesn’t want to go, or do, anything her parents or anyone else wants her to do. Hollering her head off about all of it. The Xray tech shows, a young, six-foot Hispanic guy who doesn’t have too much shit in his hair or like the cologne counter at Macy’s. We walk out in the hall where the pissed off kid, though not visible, is considerably louder. “Somebody’s not happy,” I say.

“Yeah. Sorry about that.” Like it’s getting on my nerves and here comes the one star review.

“I ‘d probably be hollering too, if I could get away with it. Besides, my daughter broke a finger in a bike wreck when she was 10. I get it.”

“Cool, you’ve been there. You can holler if you want ‘cause I can’t hear anything in the booth.” Grin. “We’re doin’ a middle finger, huh?”

“I sprained it drivin’.”

“I was about to ask. My cousin, he drives for FedEx? He says he has to rub CBD on his middle finger after every shift. Step over here for me?”

Part Four: Door Number Two, please.

Dr. Chu is petite. Not what I expected. Her head shot makes her look like a member of the Chinese female basketball team. She’s all business, and has a roll-around table laid out with pre-packaged scalpels, sutures and syringes in their own stainless-steel bowls stashed under the computer and paperwork counter.

“Middle finger, huh?” She’s seen the x-rays and doesn’t look at them on the laptop monitor. “The good news is I didn’t see any notable deterioration for overuse. This is one of those things that happens.” She pulls my hand out to study my finger. “There are three things we can do. Leave it alone, I can drain it and shoot it full of steroids, or we can operate. The simplest is do nothing.”

“But it creeps me out. It looks like monkey pox or some giant wart bubble. I’ve been using my debit card left-handed.”

“How is that working for you?”

“I’ve only gotten locked out twice.”

“Not bad. Unless you’re left-handed. Then you need help we don’t offer. Option two happens here. Option three means we book a surgery room next door, set it up with local anesthesia unless you’re a real crybaby, assistants, hook you up to a bunch of monitors…” Pauses, continues to hold my finger in an iron grip. “Either procedure runs a ten to fifteen percent chance of recurrence.”

“How soon on the recurrence?”

“Next week? Ten years?”

“You can do something here? Now?”

“I can.” She reaches under the counter, wheels the towel covered microwave stand full of goodies over, plops my hand on top, grabs two syringe packs. “Just a minute.” She returns with one syringe barely loaded with something and the other one full, gloves up. “You okay?”

“As long as I don’t have to look.”

“I usually have a view of downtown from up here, but the rain has done a number on it today. Over there,” head points, “is a poster of all the bones and muscles in your hand. Or you can close your eyes and imagine none of this is happening. This one is just a sting… This one is going to hurt.”

Sunshine and Air

“Why ain’t I in the big jail?”

“Because,” Harden tossed his hat into an empty chair, leaned forward, put his hands on the back of another, “we can’t arraign you until Monday. Tuesday if come Monday mornin’ Agent Cotton cleans house over at the courthouse. An Betty tells me your daughter dropped you off a gym bag with some p-jays and extra underwear that you’ll be able to use stayin’ here as opposed to the big jail up in town.”

“I seen hangers outside the cell…”

“We’re not gonna tie you up with hanger wire. Hangers are there so your clothes don’t get wadded and bagged or messed up in case we put you in a motel or you want to wear ‘em to court instead of the jumpsuit.”

“That’s all mighty nice, but ain’t I in here for murderin’ Jimmy?”

Harden lifted his head, scratched under his jaw. “Don’t rightly know what you’re in here for, Virgil.” He stepped a leg over the chair, sat forward, elbows on his knees, eyes on Virgil. “You need to tell me a story. About all what happened up there at the river, and we’ll take it from there. First off, you need to hear your rights again? Want a lawyer?”

“No, Sheriff, I done it, an I ain’t gonna deny it. I dint mean to, I just plumb flipped out… He pushed me in the river laughin’, you know, like he laughs at them damn cartoons.”

“I need you to back up all the way to where it started, Virgil, an use everybody’s names. Start by tellin’ me how you come to end up in the river, an who it was pushed you.”

Virgil screwed up his lips, propped his head temple to knuckle, slowly growing into a thumb and fingers forehead squeeze.

“We was noodlin’… Guess that part’s pretty obvious. I’d just popped a third one on the head when we heard…” he stalled, dropped his chin to his chest.

“When you heard…”

“Bigfoot,” mumbled.

“Okay. You heard Bigfoot. And?”

“You sayin’ you believe me?”

“I’m sayin’ for now I believe you believe you. Go on.”

“Well, I heard it an hollered somethin’, you know, profane like an how pissed off he sounded.”

“How pissed off who sounded?”

“Bigfoot, a course,” eyes getting wider.

“What’d it sound like?”

“Like how I done it, only after Altus done somethin’ in the TV place to it to make it bigger, an… An that’s kinda what it sounded like, only even bigger an louder, echoin’ all over. Ain’t no TV’s down to the river, Dominick, to play Altus’s Bigfoot tricks. I knew Bigfoot’d heard me out there doin’ a piss poor imitation, an then,” his hands came up in werewolf pose. “RAWWWR. Really loud. I told ‘em a hunnert times—”

“Told who, Virgil?”

“Altus an Jimmy. I told ‘em, you know, how we was messin’ in somethin’ was gonna bite us right in the ass.” He stopped, collected himself, got a nod from the Sheriff.

“Then, after I’d cussed an said my piece about Bigfoot, I say to Jimmy how we gotta get the fuck outta there an he’s laughin’ an says somethin’ about how I’m a idiot, an how Bigfoot an me, we deserve each other, an then Jimmy ups an pushes me in the damn river. I come up spitting out muddy water an I hear Bigfoot again, only louder, by this time soundin’ like a jet flyin’ over, I’m freakin’ out tryin’ to get my feet outta the mud an climb out the river an he’s standin’ there–“

“He who? Jimmy or Bigfoot?”

“Jimmy. No shit an swear to God, Dominick, if I’da popped my head up an seen Bigfoot? I’da crapped myself and went straight to Jesus from right there in the river.”

“So Jimmy’s still laughin’?”

“Like a hyena. Like me gettin’ ate by Bigfoot is funnier’n to him than anything ever was. I mean I was seriously flippin’ out, you know, Bigfoot bein’ close an not knowin’ how fast can they move an all an I told Jimmy to shut the hell up an help me an he went to laughin’ harder. I crawled out an grabbed up a cat outta the cooler an swung it as hard as I could. Don’t know what I expected to happen, I just swung hopin’ he’d stop the laughin’.” He sat, shoulders slumped but moving, shaking off something invisible.

“I done thought on it a lot since, an I guess, it bein’ a fish an all, it kinda surprised me it didn’t explode or somethin’. But what it done was pop Jimmy’s head right back so’s he come up full tall. Then he kinda stumbled over his feet, leanin’ some to the left, an he spins around an lands on all fours. Well, he jumped right up still laughin’. You know Jimmy’s always sayin’ how in a bar fight he can take a lick, an like I was sayin’, it was only a damn catfish I hit him with. He’s still sayin’ how ol’ Bigfoot was havin’ me for supper an all an then he almost fell to one side, but he put his hand down, turned an lit out a runnin’… An everbody knows the onliest thing Jimmy ever could do was run like the wind. I figgered him for me eatin’ his dust an him jumpin’ in the truck an leavin’ me…”

“You didn’t take kindly to bein’ left behind for Bigfoot’s supper?”

“Hell no,” with pleading eyes. “Would you?”

“You didn’t set off to kill Jimmy that night, didja Virg?”

“No. I just—”

“Plumb flipped out. Didja hit him again?”

“Naw, just the once.”

“I’m goin’ with you wantin’ to shut him up but not permanent, an honestly thinkin’ he’d left you for Bigfoot.”

“Like I said, though, I done murdered my best friend. I confess, if that’s the word you need.”

“Murder is a tough call here. It’s what us law enforcement types call ‘extenuating circumstances.’”

“That’s sounds a awful lot like expensive lawyer talk, an I don’t want you fixing up no fancy trial or lawyerin’ for me or makin’ any mess Ivy’s gonna hafta clean up or pay for.”

“Got it. We’ll try to make it as smooth as possible for everybody. In the meantime, Monica Perez is workin’ the night shift. I’ll send her in here an you can tell her what you’d like to eat. Don’t play cards with her for money.” He stood, pushed the chair under the table, collected his hat, headed for the door. “I’ll get her to wheel the TV cart back, too. Can’t put it in the cell, but I’ll leave the remote.” He stopped, turned, one hand on the doorknob. “Would you be willin’ to take a polygraph?”

“Sure, but I’m tellin’ ya—”

“You done it. I know. There’re just a few things would sit a might easier with me if you’d take one.”


Candi, cross-legged on her bed, tapped her buzzing phone. “Cotton…” she checked the time and the caller ID. “Hey, Sheriff? Something up?”

“I know it’s late, but I been thinkin’, an that got me to wonderin’ if, in your new capacity as the State’s regional hotshot, you might could rustle us up a state polygraph operator on a Saturday.”

“Like tomorrow Saturday?”

“Yep. Short notice. State budget. It’s bound to piss off at least a handful a people up there.”

“Done. What time do you want her?”


Margaret V. Durber, Ph.D. didn’t look like her name. Too black to be natural 1950s TV Mom hair, bright red lipstick, red pantsuit, a black AC/DC t-shirt under the jacket, all piled on top of thick, rainbow-soled white high-top tennis shoes – “a gift from my granddaughter and a concession to Saturday.”

Candi, Bash, Harden and Betty occasionally stuck a hand in a bag of breakfast tacos while they watched Margaret on monitors as, in a dull monotone, she questioned Virgil in an interview room. She spoke, he answered, and she used a stylus to drop markers in the rows of graphic data streaming across her laptop screen. After half an hour she stopped, printed a ribbon of paper 6 inches wide and ten feet long from the lie detector interface. She regained a chirpy customer service tone, told Virgil to relax, and left the interview room to appear moments later in the conference room. She partially unrolled her printout over the long table, Betty thumbed her remote and the tabletop appeared on screen.

“I haven’t had a lot of time to study these,” Margaret, now matter of fact, “but the man is what he appears to be. No pretense, straight across the board. The only thing he got edgy about was his ex-wife during the baseline questions. Had he ever been married? What was his wife’s name? Just the mention of that issue sets him off.” She pulled the strip forward, tapped it with a red pen. “Both times. If you know the woman, would you consider this a normal reaction?”

Betty’s response was to offer her a taco.

“I see. If you can’t say something nice…” she tested the hottest sauce from the bag, opened her taco, drenched it, took a bite. “Mmmm… Nothing like habaneros to light you up in the morning. As far as what y’all were after,” talking around the taco, “he didn’t mean to kill the guy. Yes, he lost it, and we’ll get to why in a minute. Yes,” tapping the paper, “he hit his partner with a catfish. Who knew they were deadly, right? Not your man in there. Regardless of how many ways I asked him, it was the same. Yes, he hit the man with a catfish. No, he wasn’t trying to kill him. The other thing you wanted to know about Bigfoot, or Sasquatch or Yeti, or anything else I called it…” She tossed the taco foil in the bag, pulled a folded sheet of paper from her pocket. “I printed this from the Bigfoot archive. In the same state, not that far away. He’d have been about ten at the time.”

Harden stepped closer to the monitor to read the newspaper article from 1977 and the follow up from the ’90s. “Say’s here it was a hoax.”

“Uncovering the hoax never makes headlines, Sheriff.”

“What you’re sayin’ is Virgil believes in Bigfoot?”

“Technically,” she began rolling up the paper ribbon, “Bigfoot fared better in the rapid acceptance of fact aspect than religious figures.” She popped a rubber band that had been lurking on her wrist around the roll. “As far as your Mr. Green is concerned, Bigfoot’s as real as sunshine and air.”