NVDT – Post Notes on Murder in Sepia

First – Not one, but many old friends from my home state sent me this.


Second – I enjoy Ben Rehder’s Blanco County series. Very Hiaasen-esque. ( https://philh52.wordpress.com/2022/04/05/nvdt-random-another-book-review-3/ ) However, I agree with several “mainstream” reviewers who complained that often in these types of caper novels a likeable protagonist gets lost in the shuffle of characters and side plots. Even if the author comes close to tying it all up. The same can be said of Hiaasen. The truth is, I’m not sure Rehder’s lead protagonist is really my kind of “guy”. A very square, sincere, black and white, kind of socially awkward strong silent type game warden in central Texas. I wonder if more exposure might not overpower him and his cast of law enforcement buddies and a handful of repeater redneck ne’er do wells even more slovenly than Jimmy Pierce and Virgil Green from Sepia.

I mention all of that because Sepia began life as the dude who killed his buddy over being abandoned to be eaten by Bigfoot. But that character wasn’t one I wanted to follow around, nor did I think anyone else would. I started out with country/county cops, wireless video cameras, and a weaponless murder. I had no idea where it would go or who would come to play. “They” say if there’s a book you want to read and it’s not available, you should write it. Sepia is my version of some not as dumb as they sound country cops and the peripherals to a mystery murder.

Cutting Room Floor – What follows are the unedited backstory dumps that got yanked for one reason or another. Generally, for length or they got off in the weeds and I didn’t want to edit them at the time. Most of these will find their way back in, slimmed down, for the sake of continuity. You will be relieved to know this is only about half. I lost most from the first half when I reconfigured the cache for Ditto, not aware that such a move would zap everything in it. There are two bits about the Barrbie Jeep.


She stood back, arms crossed, waiting.

“Can’t be true or you wouldn’t be here. Much less with Barbie’s Jeep. Unless you did steal it and that’s a whopper you gotta tell.”

“It’s not a very pretty story.”

“Confession is good for the soul, or so the missionaries told us. If Indians were cars, know what kind missionaries would want us to be?”

She raised an eyebrow.


“Goddammit, Bash,” she snorted, “I’m trying to be serious here.”

“Nobody can be serious standing by a lifted, white with pink trim Barbied out Jeep Wrangler sitting on balloon beach tires. Clock’s running.”

“There was supposed to be a professional women’s beach volleyball league. In 2013, after the 2012 Olympics. Lots of hype, lots of promises, not much consumer interest. It folded after three games.” She released an arm to point at the Jeep. “This belonged to the league, or a sponsor, to this day no one knows exactly. I got an early earful of ‘Sorry, dolls, tear up your contracts. There’s no entity, no money, no league.’ I was supremely pissed, because they used us Olympic girls as unpaid promotional material for the league. When I found out it was done, and the checks bounced, I climbed in this Jeep with Jackie and drove it off.”

“Jackie being?”

“The girl in the Barbie Jeep poster. She was the only one of us who got paid anything. She didn’t want it,” again pointing at the Jeep. “I put it in a self-storage unit in California until I finished my Masters. Then I had a friend stick it in the back of a moving company van that was rolling this way with half a load. They dropped it, covered, at a truck stop west of the City. I bribed the manager with a hundred bucks to let it sit for a few days, wrangled a flatbed from a next-door neighbor of my parents’, hooked it to Dad’s truck, drove up and hauled the covered Jeep home between rolled bales of winter hay.”

“No one was paying attention because their checks were bouncing, too. There were, well, entities is a nicer word than shit heads, who wanted it, but had no idea where it was.”

“But people in California saw you drive it away.”

“Obviously they had no valid claim or couldn’t find it.”

“Every ‘entity’ shithead from the custom car shop who did it to one of the league honchos tried and none of them could prove they had any standing. The last one was Mattel, for the ponytail logo. Since no one could confuse this Jeep with a Mattel Jeep, and a female silver medal holder owning and driving this thing posed no threat of injury to their trademark…”

“That’s a bunch of lawyer speak. They all went away?”

She nodded, her upper lip pushed out by her tongue.

“We coulda used this at the river. It’s set up for beach runnin’. Is this what you meant by ”


Harden moved a stack of empty clay flowerpots, grabbed a broom from it’s resting place against the wall and swept leaves and funk off the two wood-slat rockers on Candi’s parents’ front porch, said “Pick your poison.” She chose the furthest from the steps. The Sheriff scooted his up, sat and propped his feet on the railing, accepted the cold beer she’d been holding. “You were sayin’?”

“When we got home from the Olympics and we were still, off balance I guess you’d say, there were promoters and managers everywhere. Volleyball isn’t swimming, or any other sport that makes headlines other than we got as far as we did, but everyone was buried under these people. What happened to us was we were pitched on a professional volleyball league. Sand and bikinis, sexist junk, but they were talking money, so most of us listened.”

“A publicity high, money talk and no time to think?”

“Exactly.” She took a drink, cradled the bottle between her legs. “There was a development time frame where we got paid just enough to stay on the hook if we lived on top of each other, but we were used to that. The Jeep was a part of the overall production and marketing. Half a dozen volleyball chicks in bikinis hanging off a white and pink Jeep, cruising the sand.”

“That’s hindsight talkin’.”

“I know. But in it, and this is going to sound cheap and pathetic…”

“It beat the hell outta goin’ to work?”

“Why am I telling you this?”

“Makin’ sure I don’t arrest you till I see the whole paper trail?”


“This ain’t gonna take all night, is it? ‘Cause all I need is the big picture.”

“No, the whole thing… I could draw that out for days. After all the smoke blowing and waiting and signing this and that contract complete with behavior standards and curfews and where and what was acceptable and representing the league at all times we got in four games of the first season. The checks started bouncing after game three. At game four they told us it wasn’t going to float, that it was our fault but the cameras were up and running and we had to play that fourth game or a dozen different factions with a hat in the thing could sue us.”

“You played?”

“We did. We all talked about what we were going to do to the bastards because we were suddenly broke, jobless, kiting checks ourselves and completely screwed over. I walked off the court, climbed in the Jeep and drove off. To this day, I can’t believe a camera didn’t follow me. But the broadcast crew’s checks were bouncing because the league’s checks bounced, so I drove off into the sunset in the Barbie Jeep unseen, unfilmed and unfollowed. I drove it across Ocean Boulevard into a garage size U-Store locker where I’d stashed everything I owned since I went full time Olympic practice. I moved some things around, parked it and dropped the door. I had a week left on the month to month for that place, and in California if you don’t pay on a month to month there’s no grace period. They auction the locker or dump your shit in the driveway. Which was good because I knew they’d come looking for me and the Jeep and I needed to get it gone in a hurry.”

“Okay. I see bein’ pissed, an drivin’ off in an asset. But it had to cost more to fight to keep it than it was worth.”

“I argued, or had it argued legally by a woman who came out of the woodwork, that a not quite finished and not street legal custom car wasn’t worth what they owed me, which was, the way I figured it and after some calculator work with the contract in front of me, was in the neighborhood of fifty-one thousand dollars.”

“For Volleyball? Sweet Jesus …” he whistled softly.

“That, and all the real and punitive for the bounced checks and other public embarrassment. And you have to realize they were only paying us about a third of our contractual per game, trying to keep the thing afloat without putting their own capital at risk and feeding us a line of shit about recoupable expenses at startup when that was nowhere in the contracts.”

“What you’re sayin, then, is you an your lawyer could cook up any figure you needed to make that Jeep look like chump change compared to what they owed you.”

“I think that was her leverage angle with everyone but the Barbie brand. With them, it was a cease and desist. My attorney’s ‘How can an upstanding Olympic Medalist driving a vehicle with only four small and one large pink silhouette logo and the word Barbie nowhere to be found possibly be bad for their image’ argument won them over. We went to their West Coast office, shook hands with a bunch of people shorter than me, everyone smiled big, phony, toothy smiles and they dropped the last suit.”

“This attorney of yours a female?”

Candi nodded

“She resemble Barbie any kinda way?”

“Down to the ponytail.”

“Women ever get organized, us men are a buncha screwed pooches. I’d ask how you managed to transport a highly recognizable stolen object halfway across the country, but I don’t think I wanna know.”

“In the empty back end of a partially loaded moving van. And a midnight transfer in Kansas where it got tarp-covered on a flatbed trailer behind a Dually Dodge that belonged to the man watching us from his porch down the street.”

“Now Candi, what’d I just say?”

“Couldn’t help it. Now you know. Most of it, anyway. Besides, Chief, removal of property for relief of a contractual debt, without intent to deprive the owner of their property for my personal gain isn’t considered theft. I’m actually not a crook.”

“You know, Cotton, outta everything you told me tonight, that’s what I most needed to hear.”


Candi exited the elevator in the parking garage of her condo, a thick, satiny garment bag draped over her arm that went to Bash and a rolling suitcase that went to Ivy. She clicked a key fob and halfway down the aisle, a shiny, black ten-year-old Lexus SUV lit up.

With one hand on the lift gate and the suitcase loaded, she checked Bash. “No comments?”

“Not what I’d have put you in, but…”

“But you have no idea what you’d have put me in?”

“That’s about the size of it.”

“It belonged to my mother.” The liftgate closed.

“Interesting. This one have the original GPS and the shifter in the middle of the dash?”

“Yes. If you can call this,” she made a small square with her thumbs and forefingers, “a display. Next?”

“I’m surprised is all. After what I’ve heard about your parents.”

“So was I. My mother drove dad’s five-year-old hand-me-downs. He bought a new car every five years. He died and instead of selling her Ford and driving his, she traded them both in on a loaded Japanese luxury SUV. Hang the dress bag on the passenger side, if you would.” She walked off down the driver’s side, stopped. “Unless you have more questions?”

“One,” reaching in the back door Ivy held open. “When was the last time you took what’s in here to the dry cleaners?”

“That’s important because?”

“My arm’s gonna smell too good for me to go in anywhere usual on the way back without gettin’ my ass kicked,” Ivy, wrinkled eyebrows and nose,. kicked his ankle. “So, uh, if you see me sittin’ on the side of the road with a gas can be kind enough to stop, will ya?”


“You look some worried, Chief,” Betty set a freshly reloaded cup of coffee on the desk. “Those two got you bothered? Her takin’ off outta here like a scalded cat, him trottin’ over to the courthouse to see what happened?”

“You’re a mind reader.”

“That’s why I get the big bucks. Nothin’ you can do. Times like this I pray.”

“Times like this, I wonder would it help? You know how you take one a them little jars a salsa home from Lucia’s an let it sit a few days in the fridge an you go to open it an the damn top blows across the kitchen? That’s what I’m worried about. They’re the mirror image of each other. All bottled up sportsmanship ethics and half-cocked middle fingers aimed at injustice an not enough goddam patience between ‘em to keep a fat cat’s eye on a lazy bird.”

“Heard that one as a sunbathin’ coon hound on a fat squirrel. Anyhow, he seems to be holdin’ his own, keepin’ the lid on. An that poor girl’s just dyin’ to talk to somebody, be around somebody who’s country themselves, but’ve seen the big bad world and have the same taste in their mouth over it. I figure it’s him. Birds of a feather, like you said.”

“You’re not worried?”

“Nah. An you shouldn’t be. What was it, ‘sportsmanship ethics’? They figure out it’s them against the world and not each other? All you’ll need to do is to keep your handle on the brake so they don’t go vigilante together over the price of free-range eggs at the farmers’ market.”

“You reckon?”

“I just told you. You gonna drink that coffee, Sheriff, or do I need to reload it? Again.”


“Daddy, you know the only thing I wish? I wish you’d have stopped Momma from sayin’ that ‘my youngest’ nonsense every time she introduced me. The way she says it, you know, like you can hear her eyes rollin’. ‘This is Ivy, my youngest’. Like I’m some sorta lost cause failure and there’s this whole passel of her other Green kids out there that’re all doctors and lawyers and the like.”

“Ivy, if I’d a knowed, or you’d a said…”

“Daddy, you never could tell momma squat. But I don’t hold that as any sorta fault of yours ‘cause nobody ‘cept a man throwin’ money at her could ever tell momma nothin’. I guess I’m sayin’ I wish somebody’d been able to tell her to stop trippin’ on me. You know what Ms. Cotton calls it? Appropriation.”

“I don’t think I…”

“It means people using you to enhance their fabrications, make themselves look better so people will think more of ‘em.”

“Sounds like bullyin’. But you gotta understand, some people’re just mean natured. Not completely, not like a man kicks a dog or beats a woman for jollies, but how they gotta be better’n you. I put up with plenty a that with Jimmy. Weren’t really no hard feelin’s, he just made it a point to make me feel stupid, so he’d feel better.”

“Accepting it still don’t make it right. And the worst part is momma’s not the only one.”


“No. That goddam Aiden, telling everybody he’s my boyfriend an all that. An even Jimmy, his own daddy, goin’ on like it’s true. Just like momma. Droppin’ me inside their trips like I’m some kinda footstool or somethin’.”

“Now you’re wishing somebody’d tell ‘em all? As a nobody sittin’ here, I’m bettin’ that lady policeman could shut ‘em all the hell up. If you were to ask her. An she just might, for you. But I reckon you don’t want that.”

“I guess not. But there’s times it’d nice.”

“Then as your daddy, an a sorry one I am for not seein’ this botherin’ you nor sayin’ nothin’ when you was comin’ up that’d help, an seein’ as how now you ain’t so inclined as to let it run off like water on a duck. An seein’ as you’re grown to a point and lived with that woman we call your momma, here’s what I have to say. Next time somebody pulls their shit on you, you hold up a hand an stop ‘em in the middle, or maybe you gotta punch ‘em in the face to get their attention, and when you have it you say, ‘Who said you could drag me into your bullshit? Stop fuckin’ with me or I’ll start fuckin’ back.’ Might not hurt none to take some karate lessons, but most times just bein’ in their face sayin’ your piece is enough.”


“I understand. Believe me, I do. I’ve lived like a refugee since I left my parents’ house.”

“I don’t think you could sell The Rose, or your’s and Carson Locke’s luxe condo as refugee camps to anyone with less than a boatload of money.”

“Carson and I are not—”

“Didn’t say you were. Don’t think you would, hope you wouldn’t, but his name pops on your address.”

“Why would you be looking up my address?”

“I remembered reading a case report about him, written by you as both eyewitness and investigator. Yesterday I went back to it. I ran the address and surprise! Carson Locke and Candi Cotton, involved in an event that occurred outside a residence you share ownership of.”

“That wasn’t an answer for ‘why’.”

“Before I wasn’t a BIA cop anymore, I got tagged as a local security asset to hold hands with the State Troopers assigned to protect that waste of skin when he was campaigning over on the wild side of the interstate. Twice.”

“You don’t have a very high opinion of him.”

“Your politics are your own. For me, the man’s a three-time loser, for good reason. He needs to be absorbed back into the trust fund or get a real job.”

“My comment was a statement, not a question. I’m not much of a fan, either.”

“Yeah? Couldn’t prove it by the pictures. You think hangin’ your future on Locke might be part of your ‘compatibility’ problem with the job?”

“I wasn’t ‘hanging’ anything on him, and this conversation isn’t going anywhere near where I wanted it to go. I was trying to empathize.”


“Your… austerity. Don’t start it again. Furnished doesn’t necessarily imply comfort.”

“Is this the ‘alone in a crowd’ justification?”

“Goddam, you are the perpetual ass buster. NO. The Rose is designed to imply homey-ness. But it’s manufactured, it’s not me. I make a lousy guest because I know who designed it the way they did and why. The condo is the same. Just the right couch, the right amount of complementary metal, leather, glass and textiles. The right rugs, the right… everything. Being there isn’t being home. It’s a place to live. Convenient arm candy slash hostess was the price I paid to have a nice place a few blocks from the statehouse where Carson could throw evening networking hors devores parties for lobbyists and local party leaders. The trouble was they all liked his shrimp cocktail better than they liked him.”

“You mean they liked your shrimp cocktail better than they liked him.”

“I never cooked for him. I don’t cook for me. And I damn sure didn’t walk around with a drink tray or a plate of designer meatballs. I said, ‘How do you do’ and ‘How nice to meet you,’ and ‘Have you met so and so’ and held the same drink for a couple of hours till it was over.”

“You’re either a champion cheapskate or a lightweight.”

“It wasn’t my money, Bash, I just… Are you laughing? God dammit. You are!”

“Look, you floated ‘arm candy’ out there like nobody would nail you for it.”


“I don’t have much to do at the non-profit during the summer. What I have to say is seasonal. Colleges in fall and pre-graduation. Young and old after Christmas.”

“‘Don’t Let Your Parents Fuck You Up is a college tour?”

“There you go with that shit-eating grin. I have a niche that works for young women, and men, out on their own for the first time, or have been on their own and are having trouble with the baggage. Colleges, institutional giants, public and private schools, fraternities, sororities, Chambers of Commerce…”

“So these ‘institutions’ pay you to make it look like they’re conscientious.”

“My take on that is ‘Yes, probably.’ But if I get just one Ivy Green out of a weekend, I did something valuable for someone’s life.”

“Who did it for you?”

“No one. That’s why I’m doing it for anyone who lives with their crazy parents in their back pocket and will listen.”

Don’t Try to Apologize

Fingers crossed that the last two weeks of chaos have let up. This has been waiting for me to get to a computer that works. Tomorrow I’ll post the backstory cuts and the “prompt” for this lengthy tome. I’ll pull it all into Scrivner and clean it up and see how it reads “cover to cover.” Thanks for being here.

Wednesday Morning

“Bash? Tell me you have some idea,” Sheriff Harden examined the breakroom from the door, “if Cotton’s got anything else up her sleeve for this building?”

“All I know is secondhand from Uncle Cleve.”

“That’s more than I have…” He took several apprehensive steps into the room. “Take this couch… Please.” A nervous laugh sold out his confidence in the ancient joke. “Why us, Bash? Why here?”

“The entrance to this place is a security door into a bulletproof concrete and glass foyer and another security door getting to Betty’s crescent desk with one crappy chair to the side as a ‘waiting area’. I heard Candi’s take was our presentation was a long way from welcoming. Since we didn’t have a reception area, only the baby ‘modern policing’ conference room and the interview rooms, there was no place else for what she called ‘The Sheriff’s informal chats.’ My guess is this is her idea of dual purpose break and reception once a visitor clears the front-end bunker.”

“My ‘informal chats?’”

“The way you question people without questioning them. You gotta admit this is more conducive to waitin’ or eatin’ or Sheriff Harden’s Coffee Talks than the chipped thrift shop table and rusty folding chairs.”

“I was savin’ budget for other things. An nobody in this county ever objected to Formica, or,” he gestured toward toward the countertop lineup of modern kitchen gadgetry, “or a regular coffee pot or watercooler or folding chairs.”

“Nobody you heard object. We still have the coffee pot and water cooler. And now no one who visits or works here has anything to complain about.”

“She still gonna office at the end down there? Or does she have more painters an other surprises?”

“This and the storage closet were all I heard about for paint and rehab. Her office is her telephone. When she’s here, yeah, she’ll use the office down there where we’ve been storin’ office supplies.”

“I noticed earlier Betty’d already cleaned out that office, so the hunt for where paper and scotch tape and paperclips is on.” Harden made several passes of his forehead with his wrist, frowned at the cappuccino machine. “You have anything you’d care to share with me about whatever talk you had with Cotton? Somethin’ might shed some light on what sent her through here Monday afternoon like a Tasmanian Devil?”

“She told me she had some logistic and personal issues with turning her life inside out. I listened, told her we were on her side, gave her Uncle Cleve’s card and she hauled ass outta Birdsong.”


“Creekview, Castleview, Castlerock, whatever. West, just this side of the Chickasaw show and tell?”

“Castleview. Where kids get to play in the castle and normal people used to go to think or give gettin’ romantic a little shove or play hide the sausage and modern folks go meditate, do yoga in the weeds and climb the ruins in expensive boots. Birdsong, huh?”

“It’s an Indian thing. For some reason there’s no frogs or crickets to get in the birds’ way and when the sun goes down, the birds cut loose.”

“But you didn’t do, or say anything that would cause Cotton to run wild through the county orderin’ painters and plumbers and turnin’ our breakroom into a designer coffee shop and the storage room into a laundromat?”

“A stack washer and dryer is hardly a laundromat, Chief. As for sayin’ anything that would incite all this, there’s nothin’ I recall.”

“He’s being—”

 “Goddammit, Candi,” the Sheriff clutched his chest. “You’re the second woman to sneak up on me in the last two days. Y’all tryin’ to give me a heart attack?”

“It’s only a conspiracy if both parties are aware of each other’s intent. I was saying,” Candi flashed a smile, dropped her hand on the Sheriff’s shoulder. “He’s being way too modest.”

“Bash? Modest?”

“He told me to pull my head out, get over myself and get after it.”

“So, he said you were stuck with us?” He squinted in Bash’s direction. “And to get over it?”

“More like you were stuck with me. That being the case he suggested I cut the wallower routine and hit it.”

“That’s not what I said at—” Bash caught the look she gave him over the Sheriff’s shoulder.

“Yes, it was. In so many words. Chief, you should know your deputy was good company for a full-on self-pitier. He fielded all my whines, turned them around as positives, then gave me Uncle Cleve’s card. I took off skeptical and not sure what happened to sympathy as a consolation method, but somewhere along the way, in that thirty-mile drive back, what he’d said sunk in. I wasn’t a believer until Uncle Cleve turned out to be the best thing to ever happen to a lady in distress. After that? I did get over myself and realized what I had to do.” She gave the Sheriff’s shoulder a light squeeze. “I called in a couple of days off, so I’m going out to check on progress at the house. If anyone needs me for anything, too bad. I’ll check back later this week and look, you know how I hate to ask for anything,” she came close to smiling again before she bit her bottom lip. “If anything catches fire or calls my name, can y’all handle it?”


“He’s ‘Uncle’ Cleve already?” Harden’s eyebrow went up.

“He gets shit done, which is right up her alley. I can see her standin’ eye to eye, directin’ Cleve and the Swiftwaters. A tall, attractive white woman who knows what she wants and’ll break a sweat carryin’ her share? They’d lasso the moon for her if she asked.”

“Well, if she’s off workin’ on her own place, I guess we’re off the remodelin’ hook. But she needs to understand this decoratin’ business is a two-way street. Where’re you off to?”

“Karla Pierce’s. Deliverin’ the coroner’s report and a copy of Virgil Green’s admission of criminal guilt in Jimmy’s death. Her insurance man’ll be out there today and she’d like to wrap it all up at once.”

“She hadn’t filed for Jimmy’s Life Insurance yet?”

“Nope. Karla said she didn’t want anything ‘undignified or inconclusive’ bein’ attached to her cashin’ in on his policy.”

“No grist for the gossip mill, huh?” He shook his head, disgusted. “I was Karla, though, an close to a million-eight was barrelin’ down on me like a Mac truck? I wouldn’t give a flyin’ fuck what anybody in this county thought.”

“Me, either. For future reference, do we call ‘don’t give a shit’ situations a Mac truck flyin’ fuck? Or a Flyin Mac truck fuck? Say you ask, ‘What’re we eatin’ for lunch?’ I can say Mack truck flyin’ fuck? Maybe shorten it to Flyin’ Mac Fuck. Or just MacFuck? Maybe even MTFF? ”

“MacFuck. Didn’t I hear you say there was somewhere you needed to be?”


Friday, Late Afternoon

Bash made sure the parking lot door latched behind him, turned, took two steps, got body slammed into the wall by Candi storming out of her office. “You!” She shook a handful of pink and purple streamers in his face, her eyes on fire. “What the hell is this?!”

“Uh… dunno?” A shrug and mock serious appraisal. “Birthday leftovers?”

“Try again, genius.” Another shake of ribbons. “Well?!”

“‘Well?’ Well, hell, Candi. I just got here.”

“Just got here? It’s five-thirty, Bash. Where the hell have you been all day?”

“Uh… Court?”

“Bullshit.” She reached back, slammed her office door, glared him out.

“Okay, court,” he dodged the fist of ribbons, “and a complaint. Couple of early weekend drunks out on 337 plinkin’ mailboxes with a hand cannon.”

“Yeah? So where are they?”

“Last I saw? Cuffed to a concrete parkin’ lot barrier behind the Parlo cop shop.”

“Not your problem, not your business?”

“Just like these ribbons you need to get outta my face.”

“Useless,” she stomped off down the hall. “God damn useless.”

He leaned across the hall, opened her door to a full-on World of Barbie. Two-foot-tall pink Barbie ponytail silhouette logos on the walls, a Welcome Home Barbie banner stretched across the room, pink and purple streamers hung everywhere. A dozen Barbies in as many outfits strewn across the desk – Perched on the computer monitor. The desk phone receiver hung from a surfboard between two. Streetwalker Barbie in a short skirt leaned provocatively against the desk lamp, one in scuba gear stood inside the pencil cup while golf Barbie set up a for a putt on top of a Barbie waving from her Jeep mouse pad. He shook his head, laughed to himself, eased her door shut.

SHERIFF?” Candi’s voice echoed in the hall. “You can’t hide, Harden.” She threatened the empty hallway with the clutch of ribbons, opening the few doors that lined the walls. “I know this was you. CHIEF!? Goddammit, where the hell are you?”

“Candi?” Betty stuck her head out of the foyer. “What’s the matter, girl? All ribbons and no kiss goodnight?”

“Betty?” Candi stopped, let the clutch of ribbons drop to her side before offering them for view. “Kiss goodnight my ass. I tell a story on myself, and suddenly, BAM, I’m a fucking laughingstock.”
“I, um… I’m not sure I follow…”

“I stole a Jeep, Betty. A long time ago. Unfortunately, it was a custom-built, one-off Barbie Jeep.”

“That’s, um… News. To me.” Betty’s chin kicked out sideways, her eyebrows crawled together.

“I didn’t take it because it was a fucking Barbie Jeep. I took it as collateral. And now,” she shot frustrated looks around, “Now,” she held her finger and thumb together, “I let a teeny, tiny bit of myself out and what do I get? HA, HA, Candi’s got a Barbie fetish.”

“Um, you know, AC, you might be readin’ a tad too much into the uh… Barbie stuff. In fifteen years, I’ve never known the Sheriff to be, well, mean, so I’m pretty sure he, if all this,” she flipped the ribbons with her hand, “is his doin’, he must’ve reckoned it would be a fun surprise.”

“A fun surprise? Fun? A fun surprise is a nice bottle of wine or a box of Swiss chocolate, not a goddamn Barbie World office!” Candi threw the streamers into the Sheriff’s empty office, where they landed in a tangled heap on his desk.

“Betty, I wouldn’t put those words in your mouth. Just tell him… You know what? Don’t tell him shit.” She wheeled around, saying over her shoulder as she went, “Let him think he got away with his embarrassing little shit show.”

She hit a solid, purposeful stride to the next-to-last door, threw it open. “Bash? You never saw me today. Don’t say a fucking word to—”

“Me?” Harden, rubbing his nose, extricated himself from behind the door. “Sorry, Cotton. I didn’t mean to piss you off. I thought you’d appreciate some more redecoratin’ around here.”

“Re decorating?! I try to bring a hint of professionalism to this office, Sheriff, and what do I get? A fucking third grader’s bedroom! And this!” She pointed to a life-size inflatable Barbie doll in a Team USA tank top and American flag bikini bottoms leaning drunkenly against Bash’s guest chair. “What the hell is this?”

“I kinda figured we could put it out front by Betty. You know, like a mascot.”

“Mascot?! MASCOT?!” Her cheeks flushed, “This… THING, is the most disrespectful, condescending piece of man world bullshit since—”

“Gettin’ screwed outta bein’ paid for T n A disguised as professional beach volleyball?”

“Yeah,” she fumed. “Since that.” She stomped out, slammed the door. Harden yanked it open.

“Look, Cotton,” the Sheriff, hands wide, open

“Don’t try to apologize,” she kept her back to them, held up a double handed one-finger salute, “Fuck both y’all.”

“Hey, I was just ribbin’ ya, you know? Like a welcome home surprise. I’ll take it down as soon as—”

“The hell you will.” She spun around. “GOTCHA!” She hit them with a wide, toothpaste commercial quality smile neither had seen before, honk-snort laughed, threw her arms around the Sheriff’s neck. “It’s nice to be home. It’s nicer to have someone take time to do the nicest thing anybody’s done for me in forever.” She reached one arm out to Bash, pulled him in behind the Sheriff and into an awkward group hug. “This is one of those times winning does look like it oughta. Thank you,” Betty stuck her head in the room, got a wagging fingers wave. “All of you.”

Harden, still flushed from the sheriff sandwich hug, followed her out the parking lot door, Bash on his heels. She broke into an easy jog, turned, jogged backward, called out, “Last one to Earl’s gets the check.”

“So,” Bash put on his sunglasses. “Looks like you’re buyin’ barbecue.”

“You’re still a little short in the britches around here to know all the shortcuts, Cochise. But,” nonchalant, “if I happen to be the last one there,” Harden held his sunglasses out, checked them with a squint. “I’ll make a point a writing both your asses up for speedin’.”

A Half-Melted Stick of Green Spotted Butter and Some Science Experiment Yogurt

This is one of the wraps they performed, or 1/2 the denouement. Over the next couple of days I’ll throw up the backstory dumps/cuts and some other cutting room floor junk. Also – as this all happened over the course of a week and a day. I’ll go back through it and add days and rough timing before I rush out to buy an ISBN… Thanks for being here.

Early Monday Afternoon, continued –

“Here, before you go,” Bash reached inside the Tahoe, handed Candi a business card.

“Cleveland the Indian. Anything For a Buck.” She flipped the card. “General Contractor, Roofing, Framing. Cement. Paint. Backhoe and Dirt Work… Who? No.” She held up her index finger. “Why?”

“On down that list is ‘Moving’. I think Uncle Cleve knows every Indian in three states with a box of tools, a truck, trailer, tractor or dirt mover.”

“I’m not sure, Bash. I’m on a tight timeline. Locke is being a prime asshole about me getting out, and if I’m going to stay at my parents’ old place, even temporarily, it’ll need a complete—”

“Call Cleve on your way out of here. Tell him your name is, no shit, Candi Cotton. You’re six one, almost blonde, an ex-Olympic volleyball player, an OSBI agent and a friend of mine. Your condo can be empty by tonight if need be. Your parents’ house can be painted, inside and out, gardens reloaded and everything that was in it containerized in two days.”

“Seriously? How much is all… Well, hell, it doesn’t matter. Locke just dumped half a condo in my account.”

“Leave negotiating the ‘how much’ to me. It’ll be better than fair.”

“No commission for the nephew?”


“You understand, fully, that I’m between a rock and a hard place here?” Eyes even and locked. “I’m going to have to trust you on this one.”

“Time you started trustin’ somebody.”

She studied the card, muttered “Oh hell,” came off her lean on the dusty Lexus, whispered “Thank you” and kissed him on the cheek. When he opened his eyes his nose was unsure if it had actually encountered the faintest hint of the cleanest scent on Earth, her SUV was throwing dust out of the ruts between the pine trees, and Birdsong had begun its return to simple, uninterrupted grandeur.


Early Tuesday Morning

Sheriff Harden stood in front of the breakroom sink, his hand wrapped around a strange device with a wire sticking out of it, an even stranger look on his face. “Betty?” His voice at room-to-room level.

“Right behind you.”
“Godammit, woman…” he turned, red faced. “Sorry, Betty, but that kinda thing could scare a man to death.” He opened his hand, showed her the device. “What the hell is a fro-thur? And should it be in here, by the sink?”

“Why shouldn’t it be?”

“Because it looks like some kinda crazy, European, lady razor. Or something from a kinky sex hardware store, that’s why. Who knows where these little wires have been?”

Froth-er, Chief. Froth-er.” She thumbed down on the top to get it spinning. “It’s for milk, or one-off whipped cream. Think fancy coffee and deserts. Does your mind always go straight to the gutter?”

“Not always,” Bash interjected. “He’s just been a cop so long he’s seen too many things that aren’t what they started out to be. Right, Chief?”

“Yeah… Right,” still flustered. “Who moved the coffee pot?”

“We have two, now.” Betty fingernailed the original drip machine and the combo coffee and dual espresso machine.

“That damn thing looks like a miniature refinery, not a coffee pot. And this,” he tapped a brushed aluminum dish drainer. “Where’d it come from? And this smiley face sponge thing… And the old coffee stand. What happened to it?”

“Agent Cotton happened to the coffee stand,” Betty, rinsing a coffee cup. “And to everything else that’s in here. I should add everything that’s on the way and not in here yet.” She dried her hands on an impossibly white dish towel, hung it on a towel bar over the sink that matched the dish drainer before she opened the cabinet door closest to the sink and knuckle-tapped a sheet protector containing a bulleted list. “New rules. My favorite is do your own, well, you can see what she called the dirty cups and dishes.”


“Last evenin’, nine-ish.”

“But without the stand, how’s the coffee girl gonna know where—”

“She’s gone.” Betty used her fingers in the universal throat cut sign.

“We can go on the honor system or pony up however often it takes to buy ourselves tasty and responsible coffee and save a bundle.”

“The honor snack tray?”

“Same place as the coffee girl. You can buy fifty tiny bags of munchies at the Membership Warehouse if you want ‘em that bad. For next to nothing compared to a dollar fifty a bag.”

“Damn.” He looked up from the coffee stand used to be. “The phone. Where’s our phone? And the sheet fulla numbers for orderin’ lunch?”

“Phone’s being swapped for a cordless. You need to store the numbers of all those dives in your phone. Not writin’ them on a greasy piece of paper bag hangin’ on the wall.”


“Her word, not mine.”

“No coffee stand, no coffee gal, no little bags of Oreos, no phone, no phone numbers…”  

“But we have a linen and plant service for what half that Daisy Dukes wearin’ coffee girl of yours was costin’ us.”

“Linen? Plants? Whoa, whoa, whoa, whoa…” He scanned the room for a chair, didn’t find one.

 “Not even a goddam chair. Bash, you got any idea—”

“Nope. Best guess would be Uncle Cleve’s crew will be deliverin’ whatever Cotton tells ‘em to from her old digs to right here.”


“We’d best go to our separate corners,” Betty, checking her watch. “The paintin’ and plumbin’ fellas’ll be here in ten minutes.”

“Painters? Plumbers?”

“This room and the storage closet are gettin’ painted. Did you know we have hot water in here nobody ever turned on? And how easy it is to tap a freshwater line from the men’s room into the storage closet?”

“Why do we need fresh water in the storage closet?”

“‘Cause we’re done rinsin’ and hangin’ towels and whatever else y’all men and the occasional prisoner get dirty and feel the need to drape over the stair rails out back. What I gathered from ACC’s email—”


“Agent Cotton. I looped her into our email system as ACC. She said there’s one of those apartment style over-under washer-dryers goin’ in the storage closet. Seems like it’ll be plenty roomy in there once all the, well, you know what she called it, gets organized instead of thrown all over. Plus, she’s gettin’ a kick outta how the man bought out her condo had no idea what he was sayin’ when he said ‘all’ her, you know, ‘things’ needed to go. She’s takin’ it down to walls and floors. No drapes, no appliances, not even a shower curtain or a roll of toilet paper. Only leavin’ the stuff in her fridge that’s gone off.”

“Like to be a fly on the wall when Locke shows up in there Friday evenin’ after a liquor and shrimp cocktail hand shaker needin’ to bury some pipe and she hadn’t left him a scrap of anything except a half-melted stick of green spotted butter and some science experiment yogurt.”

“Bash, this ain’t funny. Who’s payin’ for, for…”

“Same people as buys us our toilet paper and pencils. You and me,” Betty, both hands on her ample chest, “and everybody else pays taxes. She waltzed right over to the maintenance and supply yard when she come back from wherever on Monday afternoon,” she shot Bash a look, “and had the County to reschedule some work release convicts who do the landscape and mechanical and maintenance work. They may be convicts, but a lot of ‘em have licenses for this or that and quite a few have come to know Jesus as their Lord and Savior while bein’ incarcerated. Under the influence, I might add, of our pastor Rev—”

“Jesus? This is a Sheriff’s office, Betty. They’re still convicts. Who knows what they’ll fuh—”

“Now Sheriff,” Betty, one eyebrow up, hands on hips. “Don’t you go gettin’ upset an cursin’ at me. Do you honestly believe any a those people’d ‘eff up’ somethin’ Agent Cotton an a half dozen muscled up Indians are wantin’ done?”


“Uncle Cleve,” Bash, from his lean against the counter. “Sounds like he didn’t want anyone messin’ with our Paleface Warrior Princess.”

“Cotton can take care of herself. Who the hell is her movin’ crew, anyway?”

“The Swiftwaters.”

“The wrestlers?” He hung his head. “Godamighty…”


Long read alert. 3k. I thought of two things as I sat on the grass with these characters while they wrangled and wrapped this story’s main themes. One-Steinbeck’s commentary on Hooptedoodle in the prologue for ‘Sweet Thursday‘, and TwoArgue your limitations and they are yours – Richard Bach. Sheriff Harden’s wisdom counters that with a fresh take on an old addage. Thanks for being here.

Candi, aware but without acknowledgment, swept the flagstone to her left free of debris, brushed her hands together. A conditioned and imminently futile act as she returned them to their proper sides, palms down in the grass and dirt. Bash hitched up his jeans and sat. Unlike her cross-legged seat, he dropped his feet over the rim of the natural amphitheater where Buffalo grass, sprinkled with fiery red and yellow Indian Blankets, sunflowers, random clusters of wild lavender and purple bluebonnets spread out, sloping away from them for fifty yards to a creek. It’s listless glisten a mix of groundwater from below and spring water that ran clear and quiet from a two-foot-wide waterfall through the flagstone further to their left to tumble down the hill in a narrow, rock lined trench. Cattails waved at the water’s edge, disturbed on a breezeless mid-day by eddying schools of unseen minnows. A variety of birds let out short, fitful bursts of abbreviated song from the trees behind them and those on the far side of the creek that spread upward on the craggy, red face of an ancient mountain long since eroded into the red hills around them. The trees grew sparse and random on that side, some asserted themselves through the crumbling remains of a dead oil magnate’s monument to himself. They sat together in silence, surrounded by a fraction of eternity.

“The birds only sing,” her voice reverential. “I mean really sing, at night.”

“It’s worth the wait. Birds, no frogs. Stars and sky forever.”

“Frogs…” she wrinkled her nose, eyes crinkling. “We had this pond at home,” her eyes now a thousand miles away. “Summer nights? I imagined it was a Venetian festival, the blazed faces of the cows their masks. Or that I could hear Dixieland in it, like I thought Mardi Gras should sound. One summer, when I was a teenager, I heard Feste Romane on Public Television, because ‘educational’ television was what we did at my house for entertainment on Sunday afternoons when it was too hot or too cold. A man in a tuxedo said it was the sound of too many things going on at once, and I thought ‘Buddy, that was nothing. If you want some racket, come listen to my pond.’ Birds, frogs, crickets, bugs whizzing around, all the livestock… I used to come here because it was just the birds. I must’ve wished a thousand times the sun didn’t bottle them up.”

“Hard to get out alone at night?”

“Out period at night…” She shooed a fly from her knee. “I’ve been told there was a time you could drink the water over there straight out of the ground. I was always afraid to try it.”

“You should. Won’t hurt you or ruin your reputation.”

She glanced at the trickle of water, acknowledged him with a question marked “Hm.”

A hawk that had been making a wide, lazy circle overhead swooped down several hundred feet to screaming inches off the ground across the buffalo grass like a fighter jet, snagged something smallish and furry, rose and banked gracefully into the trees across the creek.

“Nature’s drive through,” a flash of smile. “The kids will eat tonight.”

“No fried pie with a la carte field mouse.” Bash stood as slowly as the hawk rose, walked behind the ridge above the water, counted pine trees, and, behind the one he’d singled out, lifted a rock a foot around and four inches thick. He toed a whip scorpion into the needles, bent, came up brushing dirt from a piece of glass in the shape of a seashell. He took the glass to the mini waterfall, rinsed it several times at the point of the water’s exit, let it fill, and drank. He wiped it, filled it again and offered.

“Come here often?” She took the glass shell, gazed out over the amphitheater, tasted the water in sips.

“Birdsong tries to be a well-kept secret,” he took his seat again. “The tourist trap west of here hasn’t put it on their ‘trails to hike’ list because the Chickasaws said no, but with all the tribes who lay claim to these five counties I don’t think the Indians even know whose land this is.”

“Birdsong. That’s what you call it?”

“What I’ve heard it called. I’m pretty sure as a Legitimate Indigenous Person I could make some calls to different Indigenous Tribal Historians and get as many names as calls.”

“Does that make you an Indigenous cynic?”

“There are far greater things to be cynical about than inter-tribal cultural appropriation of a name for a landmark a billion and a half years old. What I do remember of my training in the Ancient Ways is that beautiful things don’t require a name.”

“You get a lot of mileage out of that with the girls?”

“My sisters and mother put me off bullshittin’ girls. Told me not to bother. That y’all were inherently smarter than men and could see right through it and occasionally accepted it only to be polite. Told me to try anything I thought was lady killin’ quality on them first, to save me embarrassment. I’d lay one out, and they’d say, ‘Aw, Jesus, Bash, that all you got?’ I had to get dates the old-fashioned way.”

“Which was what? The strong, silent baseball star?”

“No. I had to ask. They say bein’ shy, skinny and mostly Indian askin’ girls out helps you learn to cope with rejection later in life.”

“I asked a guy out. One time. To a sweetheart dance. Because nobody’d ask me.” A sardonic smile and almost imperceptible one shoulder shrug. “I was at least a head taller than most of them. He wasn’t my sweetheart, but he took me.”

“Scared not to, I imagine.”

“You know,” side eyes, “I still have to get used to you… and the Sheriff. Even Betty. I tend to take everything too personally. I mean, I know better, been coached and therapy-ized to know better. I preach knowing better, but personally… You guys aren’t going anywhere, though, are you?” A quick look over her shoulder. “Not in the ‘ain’t goin’ nowhere’ in life way, but not deserting me, walling me out. Not taking the pieces of me that fit, that you like and…” She let the thought trail off into silence.

The hawk returned, or another one in the first’s place having heard about the buffalo grass cafeteria. Candi stood when the shade from behind them shifted and it was move or roast. She walked down the flagstone rim to the other side of the water, stopping to take two shells’ full before she held it up to catch the sun.

“This thing looks like an ashtray.”

“It was.” He said, taking the shell. “Stole it out of a box of ‘em off a maid’s cart at a motel in Seabrook, Texas. I was twelve. We went down to League City south of Houston to a regional playoff game.”

“You win?”

“Nope. I blamed it on stolen ashtray karma. Which I figured out later, when I looked at it in perspective, was crap. We got beat because they were better than we were. And bigger. Like high school ringers.” He drank, set the shell down between them. “Is that what you’re scared of? Everything in your life running an endless loop of the politicians and that house full of only-the-daughter-dad-wanted-to-see pictures, not the whole enchilada?”

“The Chief didn’t tell you the Jeep story?”

“He figures what people tell each other is between them. Like what they tell other people is none of his business unless there’s a crime in the middle. I learned right off that we keep what we know to ourselves or among ourselves and rely on other people being gossips. He told me he worked on the principle that to most folks, a question is like putting a nickel in their ear and all you have to do is sit back and they’ll tell you more than you wanted to know.”

“Well, there’s a story in the Jeep about a stupid girl believing she didn’t have to grow up and be what she’d been telling herself and everyone else she was working toward.”

“I’d call that a romanticized notion, or naïve. Not stupid.”

“Yeah, well…”

“I know. Stupid is how you feel, after. But if you bought your ticket not knowin’ it was one way and a dead end, that’s hope. Which, in hindsight, kind of looks like stupid, but isn’t.”

“So, stupidity is the personal takeaway, not part of the original equation that got you to feeling stupid?”

“If you wanna get technical. Stupid would be the next time, when you see it and know better, but do it anyway.”

“I was ready to say something full of self-pity, but somehow taking stupid off the front and tacking it on the end made me feel better. When did you bury the ashtray?”

“School year after the game. Coming here was a science teacher and a history teacher everyone thought were cozy’s idea of a field trip.”


“You know.”

“You aren’t going to say it, are you?”

“Unless it’s required, no.”

That got a light snort and a smile.

“One of them told us about the spring, and the creek, and the water at the top was probably cleaner than tap water. Nobody thought to bring cups, but the history teacher told us cowboys would drink out of their hats, or boots, and then load ‘em up for their horse to drink out of. The few of us in boots weren’t sold, and hats, if there were any, were ball caps with holes. The next chance I got to come over here was with my younger older sister and her boyfriend and they told me to go play in the castle across the creek till they whistled. Before I left that day, I buried myself a cup because this place and that water are addictive and I knew I’d be back. Plus, I got a ‘what’s this?’ ashtray mom hadn’t found yet out of the house without explaining how it got there. The only person I’ve ever told the truth about it is you.”

“Like a sacred bond?”

“Tell anybody and I’ll swear you’re lyin’.”

“That’s fair. How did you know where to find me?”

“I asked Yates. I figured he went to school with you, had to know a spot where the thinky kids went. He said you wrote a poem about a place where only the birds sang. Had to stand up and read it in class. I’m from the other side of the interstate but, like I said, Birdsong isn’t anybody’s secret.”

“Birdsong…” Wistful, tasting the word. “I went to college in California…” her chin up, an edge of the eye wipe with a knuckle. “There were days… Years… I’d get out of volleyball practice, showered, squeaky clean, damp hair. Sweats and red Connies. I’d roll out of the gym that way on an endorphin high, wanting, more than anything, some bigger world for myself. A hundred yards of shrubs and sidewalks later, I was in the thick of it. But it was all the ‘normal’ students. Popping out in packs from coffee shops and fake pubs, dressed in magazine hipness and being clever with each other about a Sundance film or Ferlinghetti or underappreciated music from a short-lived band named after a vegetable.” She turned his way, not noticing she’d disrupted the shell. “They sounded like the pond.” Her eyes begged to be understood. “I wanted to shush them, like sunshine shushes the birds’ songs. Shush all of them. I wanted to tell them about this place. This very place we’re sitting now… How it’s so quiet you’re not sure you’re even breathing, and wonder… Wonder if the next breath will come, it’s so quiet, and then it does and it’s like finding out you’re free of all the pond noise and the, the mean, meaningless shit people dress up their lives with. Empty words and empty personal dogmas. Playing their parts like stone faced actors, completely ignorant of what their own tragic plays are costing everyone around them…”

He waited to see if there was more, but none came.

“You’re havin’ a hard time comin’ home.” He set the shell behind them.

What? I’m closer to home than I’ve been, in, in…”

He touched her shoulder, light and off. “Listen,” he said. “This,” he touched his heart, “this is home.” He touched his temple. “This is noise.”

“How,” her index finger on her temple, “do I get from here to there, huh? How? I’ve made such a fucking mess of, of every—”

“Of nothing. You made noise, Cotton. Maybe you made a lot of it, but it didn’t follow you to Birdsong. Or,” hand on his heart again, “in here. It’s nothing but head noise now, so shake it off. You’re almost home. You won.”

“Won? Jesus, Bash. I have nowhere to live. I emailed my investment partner at midnight, told him he could buy me out. The asshole had the money in my account this morning, but he wants the furniture and all my shit out by Friday so he can move in. The place, well, you never saw it, but it was as sterile as an upscale department store, and he knows that damn furniture is leased. None of my ‘shit’ in there is worth keeping. My B&B will have to evict me and Ivy by Thursday because they’re booked up with weddings. That closet with a shower in the non-profit office isn’t the answer. I’ve essentially flushed my career, would have lost my job if I hadn’t capitulated, and even though I got a raise, it’s all on for how much longer, you know? I can’t be in my parents’ house for more than an hour, but I can’t sell it… I guess I could bulldoze the house and put up some storage buildings. I’ve heard that’s a money maker and a tax write off, but the neighbors… I couldn’t see to solve a simple case. I got filthy and, and I know I trashed your sister’s Jeep no matter what you say. And before I came out here, I had to come face to face with what a beautiful job you’d done on mine…”

Had done on yours. It’s not finished. You could chrome it out. The undercarriage, under the hood. Turn it into a trailer queen. That’s a write off that might make pocket money.” He flicked a baby pinecone into the field. “You’d have to dress up like Barbie at car shows.”

“I’d have to find a Barbie figure first.”

“You could do it with prosthetics. In your case, probably Hollywood quality.”

“Ha ha. I lived in California. You can rent fleshed out ready to go Barbies by the hour for car shows or anything else. Anyway, you kicked me off track. I have such a huge backlog of noise and failures, you know? I don’t want a pity-party. I just want out from under it. All of it. Except working here. I’ve had more fun making an ass of myself for the last week than I’ve had in forever. I told the Chief that, too.”

“He kept it to himself. He told me he thinks I’ve been an unconscionable prick.”

“Nothing could be further from the truth. For instance, tell me why you didn’t want to make the Virgil Green collar?”

“Human factor. Ivy was worried about her dad. You two have a friendship. If you were concerned and she was concerned, then I didn’t need to go out there all puffed up, rattlin’ handcuffs. Virgil claimed you two were angels. I doubt he’d have felt the same about me.”

“I was ready to be that puffed up cop, but I took a page out of your book. You got shot at and didn’t arrest anyone.”

“Because they didn’t need it. Look, Cotton—”


“Candi. You solved a case. I learned a lot. You rescued a smart girl from perpetuating the redneck hell of her mother’s life. A smart-ass on his way to Master Chauvinist kid learned when dealin’ with women the truth is the best option, regardless of how stupid it makes you look and that a woman you figure for a righteous bitch might just demand to have your life saved. You freed Betty from long days of solitaire and boredom and searchin’ casserole recipes, taught her to make decent coffee and made her a team player. In two days. And, like me, you’re out of a place that would have buried you alive if you’d stayed and fought a losing battle, no matter how good you looked in expensive clothes and holdin’ a champagne glass.”

“Flute. Rented those, too.”

“Smart girl. Smart enough that you’re your own boss for almost a quarter of a state, you make your own calls. Forget the noise. So you have to clean up a little. You have friends, a purpose, and a place to get your head right. I’m tellin’ you, you won this round.”

“You solved the case and—”

“We’re not playin’ that game. Teamwork solved it.”

“Okay. I was saying… There’s a lot of noise and a big mess. How is it I’ve won? How did I ever win? I’m a second. A Silver Medalist. An intimidating, too tall, unwanted nuisance. Cheated, ignored, lied to, and swept under the rug. What have you got for that?”

I don’t have much, but I said the same things you’re sayin’ a few months back, and the wise old man I’d come to work for, he did have somethin’.”

“The Sheriff?”

“Yep. When I finished unloadin’ all my noise without realizin’ I was in a better place to find my way home, just like you are now, he said, ‘Well, son, I cain’t believe you never had a coach nor nobody else tell ya this, but here ya go.’ He put his hand on my knee the same way I’m doin’ to you, looked me in the eye just like this and said, ‘Partner, here’s a solid truth you’d best remember. There’s gonna be all kindsa times when winnin’ don’t always look the way we think it oughta.’”

Somebody in this County has a Brother-in-Law in the Dead Grass Business?

Judge Perriman, an imposing figure without the robes, larger than life in them, stepped up behind her bench, waved her arms wide to unfurl her robes and sat. The robes cascaded gently down around her, giving the appearance of the judge having parachuted onto her judicial throne. She donned a pair of half glasses, the chrome frames turning pink as they approached her tri-tone yellow tip to orange to pink spiked hair. She lifted a gavel with a handle made of a petrified redwood branch, bark on. The bailiff made his speech, identifying the court, the judge and the matter at hand and proclaimed the court in session. Judge Perriman banged the three-million-year-old gavel, and while examining several items on her desk, including a laptop, said, “Gentlemen?” as if she were addressing a panel of people all several bricks shy of a load.

“Conner Yates for the People, Your Honor.”

“Good morning, Mr. Yates,” still studying her desk. “You’re a ways outta your pasture. A little difficulty with Bynum, I understand?”

“Yes, Your Honor. But it’s always a pleasure to be—”

“Blow that smoke elsewhere, counselor.” She looked up over the glasses. “Oh, good God…” and momentarily hung her head. She raised her head and one eyebrow, flipped her fingers at the defense table.

“Lawrence Winchcombe for the defense, your Honor. Could I have a moment? To familiarize—”

“What the hell are you doing here, counselor?”

“It was a last-minute decision,” he flattened his tie, buttoned his blazer. “Pro Bono, of course.”

“Of course.” Perriman mounted a withering glare at the too-well-known pain-in-the ass publicity hound, star of his own multi-media outlet commercials and phone-in radio talk show defense attorney in front of her. Rumored to be eighty-two, he could have passed for sixty-two, down to a full head of needs-a-haircut white hair, Botox, laser peels and a lengthy list of nips and tucks.

“Larry,” said with pointed impatience, “all you had to read in the back of that limo on the ride down here was he’s confessed and has a deal in place. A legal aid intern could have stood where you’re standing.” She eyed the banker’s box, three Airstream briefcases and a young overdressed female assistant. “With considerably less horseshit and hoopla.”

“If I may speak candidly, Your Honor, this case has broader ramifications. It begs us to examine the shifting media paradigms blurring the lines between science and entertainment, to bring in deism, theistic psychology as it bonds to myth and culturally embedded belief structures—”

“Not in my courtroom, Bozo. If you want headlines, this ain’t gonna be the one.” She leaned one forearm flat on her desk, looked over her glasses. “If you ordered a television crew, Winch, send your assistant out there and have her tell them to beat it.”

“But I owe it to my, uh, the public. They have a right—”

I have the right not to allow you to turn a simple legal process involving a sad, repentant man, his dead friend, and a catfish into a circus for your personal gain. I’ll allow the newsies to stay, on one condition. Be damn sure they stay outside, or I’ll have them all jailed for creating a public nuisance, and I’ll throw your ass in the tank with ‘em for being complicit.” She turned to his thin, red-suited brunette assistant with a cowlick kicking up the corner of her bangs. Bangs of an unfortunate length that had her constantly pulling them off her face and not quite behind her ear since entering the courtroom. “Are you deaf, Missy?” Perriman snarled. “Quit messin’ with your hair and git out there.”

‘Missy’ hit the aisle with as much stride as her suit skirt, heels, and the hair in her eyes would permit. When the double door closed behind her, Judge Perriman banged her gavel again. “Now… If there’s no other ‘business’ before the court in this matter, is the defendant prepared to allocute?”

Virgil coughed into his hand. “Yes, ma’am.”

“Manslaughter by catfish, mmm? Well, Mr. Green,” she pursed her lips before sweeping everything on her desk to one side and leaning forward. “Let’s hear it.”


Virgil Green read his allocution from two double-spaced typed pages. Winchcombe objected to the snickering from the gallery after Virgil read, “I truly believed he was gonna leave me to get kilt by Bigfoot.” When he was through, Yates accepted it. The Judge went through her motions, pronounced the agreed sentencing, admonished Virgil against future catfish noodling as being both a stupid and dangerous pastime, banged her gavel. Virgil hugged his daughter, offered nods to everyone in the courtroom, turned and put his arm around the prosecutor, who spun slightly with the tug and screamed “GUN!”

Aiden Pierce uttered a loud, wet, sloppy. “Die yuh bassard.”

Yates drove his captive shoulders into Virgil’s ribs.

Aiden let go the single round from an old .410 shotgun. A blast that would have ended Connor Yates’ life if he hadn’t been on the floor entangled in a comedically erotic sprawl with Virgil Green.

Bash vaulted the waist-high wall between the gallery and the foyer, grabbed the barrel of the shotgun, flung Aiden into the wall, ripping the gun away. *Pop*, from outside the open double doors and, like the shotgun blast, the bullet was a split second away from where Aiden’s head should have been. Instead, it tore through the starched peak of the County Seal on Bash’s uniform sleeve, taking a layer of skin with it.

Candi blew through the courtroom full of shouting and confusion, her weapon drawn, out the double doors hunting the second gunman. Outside, she dropped to one knee in the dead grass, drew down on a lanky, greasy-haired young man in gray coveralls holding a cell phone in one hand and a small chrome automatic pistol in the other.

“Put the gun down. Now!

He looked away from his phone, spotted Candi, said, “Well, shit…” stuck the gun in his mouth and pulled the trigger. Candi covered the ten yards between them, scooped up the still connected phone, heard, “Ruben? Ruben, what’s happening, man? Talk to me. Ruben?”

“Who is this?” Candi demanded

“What? Who the hell are you? Where’s Ruben?”

“Ruben just ate his gun.” She heard noises like furniture moving and a faint, “Go. Go, go, go!” before the phone went dead. She looked up, noticed the news van that had followed Winchcombe down from Tulsa, took in the ashen faces of the photojournalist and the tiny reporter in her blouse and blazer, jeans and bright green trainers standing on a milk crate. ‘Missy’, her eyeliner running down her cheeks in death-doll fashion, stood next to them staring at a puddle of vomit on the ground in front of her.

Cotton snapped “Did you get that?” at the photojournalist.

“Dunno,” he said, his voice vacant, wooden. “I think…”

“Check for me.” She holstered her weapon, walked toward ‘Missy’. “What’s your name?”

“Suh, suh, Saphy… Sapphire,” ‘Missy’ stammered. “Blaise. Sapphire Blaise.”

“Of course it is.” Candi shook her head. “Any or all of this part of Winch’s photo op?”

“Nuh, nuh, nuh, no. No. Are you crazy?”

“That’s up for debate.” She turned her head toward the news crew. “Y’all got any wet wipes?”

The tiny reporter stepped off the milk crate, dropped to a squat, rummaged around in a bright yellow gym bag, handed the pack over with a sheepish “I can’t keep this mud on my face all day…”

Candi pulled a wipe, reached out, ran it through the ends of Sapphire’s dangly bangs.

“Huh?” Saphy’s face not registering Candi’s action.

“You can’t go on television with barf in your hair.”

Television? Me? BARF?”

“You’re an eyewitness. These people want your statement. We’ll want your statement. Trust me, you do not want to go through the rest of your life as Sapphire Blaise, the eyewitness with barf in her hair.”

“But, but… TV? What am I supposed to say? I mean, you know, what should I do?”

“You’re a lawyer,” her tone implying, You should know this one. “What you should say is exactly the way you saw it go down. In a straight line. What you should do is fix the fucking bangs.”

“Huh? My bangs? How?”

“Jesus, lady. Cut ‘em or grow ‘em.”

“I have that argument with myself all the time,” she sniffled into the back of her hand. “What do you think?”

“Girl to girl? Eyebrow is retro nouveau,” she squinted into Saphy’s face. “You have the eyes for it. The other way you can braid it, clip it, pull it back and wear a big red bow if you want. I’d drop the contacts for glasses if you go that way. In the meantime,” she handed the wipes pack back, dropped the used one in a plastic grocery bag offered by the reporter. “I’ll bet this lady reporter can find you a clip somewhere in that big yellow bag.”

Saphy watched Candi retreat toward the gunman on the grass, said to no one in particular, “How’d she know all that? I mean, about TV and barf and me and contacts and you having a clip and everything?”

“Forget that,” the reporter said, stepping back on her milk carton. “How’d she get so freakin’ tall?”


Aiden sat handcuffed, his back against the wall, alternately muttering nonsense and drooling. The bailiff led Virgil out the back. Winchcombe sat on the floor clutching his chest while he chewed a pair of aspirin. Sheriff Harden inspected the concrete wall that had taken most of the blast. Judge Perriman, resembling a large, demonstrative choir lady with her hair on fire, stalked the courtroom, barking orders, asking questions. Yates, still on the floor, had rolled over onto his back from his sprawl with Virgil, told the Judge he was counting his lucky stars. Bash told the EMT’s it was just a scratch and to get a big tube of Aiden’s blood before they did anything else, left them to it and walked outside.

He found Candi kneeling by the lifeless body of the second gunman, squatted next to her. “No ID,” she said, “but he answered to Ruben.” She gave him the phone.

“Nice. Burner?”

“Could be.”

“You pop the card?”

“I shut it down. Why?”

“Poppin’ the card keeps ‘em from clearin’ it by remote.”

“How’d you get so smart?”

“Small town single guys who have an IQ higher than the percentage of alcohol in their beer spend a lot of time on the internet. No exit wound?”

“Twenty-five cal.” She opened her hand. “Hollow points. Pro gear. His brain’s Swiss cheese by shrapnel. He wasn’t dead at first, but he couldn’t talk. Took him a few to fade. Shit.” She put her hands on her thighs, unwound to standing. Bash joined her, and they stood, watching the dead man turn blue.

Finally, “I had the EMTs bleed Aiden.”

“Yeah?” Her face woke up. “So… We’re thinking the same thing?”

“Virgil Green wasn’t the target. Aiden was fueled and primed and should be dead.”

“Except he’s not, you’re bleeding, and Ruben here knew he wasn’t going to outlive his fail.”

“At least he didn’t make you do it.”

“There is that.” She flipped the braid running down her back. “What a fucking mess.” A faint smile crossed her face. “Feels strange, being able to say what I’m thinking and get feedback in the now.”

“You don’t miss the suits and waitin’ on the whiteboard?”

“Hell no.” She scanned the new, metal roofed concrete box of remote courthouse, toed the dead grass, folded her arms. “They’ll need to roll out new grass again next year.”

“And turn on the sprinkler.”

“According to the plaque in the foyer, this one’s eco-listed.”

“Then why, if they never intended to water it,” he surveyed the sepia landscape, “didn’t they Xeriscape it in the first place?”

“Somebody in this county has a brother-in-law in the dead grass business?”

“Just like somebody in this county doesn’t want Conner Yates to do his job.”

“Or,” speculation rising in her voice, “up the ladder somewhere doesn’t want him taking his reformer shtick to the statehouse.”

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.”

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.”

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.”


 “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.”


“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.”