Another Dog Gone
"Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music:–Do I wake or sleep?"
– John Keats
In order to reach the corpse, Dave Jenkins, deputy sheriff of Polk County, had to drive his Jeep down a deeply rutted track the farmer used to get in and out of his field. Twice he almost got stuck before reaching the clearing about a quarter mile in where Mrs. Macintosh said he’d find the body. He put the Jeep in neutral, letting it idle.
Miles Krueger’s property. That odd little pecker, Les, was his son. Could he have had something to do with this?
Off to the left he could see what looked like a pile of dirty clothes, or maybe, a windblown scarecrow a farmer had staked in the middle of his cornfield to frighten away noxious birds. Only this scarecrow had been clubbed to death. Mrs. Macintosh said the body was in pretty tough shape. She’d been really freaked out, refused to come along. "I’ve been negligent," she’d said. "All I want to do is get to church and pray."
This was Dave’s first murder. He didn’t really want to go too close to the corpse just yet, thank you, so he pulled the bill of his USS Lake Champlain cap over his eyes and slouched, stroking the ends of the Old West mustache he’d grown to hide his baby face. Sheriff Kline and Larry Henderson of the Bureau of Criminal Apprehension should be here any time now.
Time passed. The body just lay there. Nobody came. He shut off the engine, got out and leaned against the hood. An Alberta wind was whistling through the trees giving him a chill. He snapped the top button on his Navy SEAL windbreaker and tried to stretch the cuffs of the sleeves over his hands.
Wasn’t in the best shape to be investigating a murder after a night out with the boys. His head hurt a little and his stomach was queasy. He’d been worrying about the recall petition his former third grade teacher Hildegard Weiss–county clerk and power behind the scenes–had started on Sheriff Kline, and a few beers always quieted his braying conscience. Normally, he could sip coffee and recover at his desk. Who knew some crazy’d bump off the high school principal.
The sun chose this moment to peep through the clouds, the glare blinding him. He took off his cap, wiped the sweat away from his forehead with the bandana. He opened the buttons on his windbreaker, snuck another look at the corpse. Blood all over the place.
This wasn’t going to be fun. He hadn’t seen a corpse since Desert Storm–a couple of Saddam’s boys–and he hadn’t been too thrilled then. And this was somebody he knew. Egge had played right field and sometimes pitched for Dave’s softball team, the Soldier Dogfaces. Just last night he’d called Egge asking if he’d like to join the baseball rotisserie league he was starting.
Had to suck it up. He was going on thirty after all, and this was the big one he’d been waiting for ever since he’d had the tin star pounded on his chest.
He wandered down the path away from the body, careful to stay on the verge. There were footprints moving toward Egge’s corpse, lots of them, and they looked fresh. Size fourteen at least, if he were any judge. No time to follow the tracks now. Sheriff Kline would wonder where the hell he was when he showed up. Next to the path, some slob had discarded a twelve pack of empties. Rolling Rock barley pop. Green bottles, green carton. Never tried it.
High school kids and young adults in a state of arrested development used this place as a make-out spot. He’d been here himself not too long ago.
He looked around the clearing. Birches mixed with the occasional red-tinged pine, downed trees, unidentifiable weeds just beginning to sprout. There was a pond off to the right of Egge’s body where the birches reflected off the water. Like mummy fingers. A ticklish shiver crept up his spine.
Guess he couldn’t put it off much longer.
He strode toward the body. Egge’s bowels had let loose when he’d expired, and the stench was worse than an open cesspool. He put his bandana over his face, bit his lower lip to control the gagging sensation.
When he looked down at the body, he had the sickening feeling he was going to fall, kind of like he’d felt that time in the Twin Cities when he’d looked down from the top floor of the IDS building. The corpse was totally unrecognizable from the neck up. The killer must have been in a frenzy. The bones of the face were virtually pulverized. It was Egge all right. Dave often saw him jogging before school in this same outfit: a Minnesota Gopher sweatshirt, gray sweatpants, and black socks with high-tops.
Dave stroke the corners of his mustache. Squatting on his haunches, he picked up the maroon baseball cap with the big Minnesota "M" lying near Egge’s left hand, and looked at the inside. Sure had a big head, the one size-fits-all snap was in the last hole. He ran his finger around the inside band, still wet from Egge’s sweat.
And then a movie began to scroll through his mind. He was in an operating room. A baby was being born.
"Mary, you’ve been in labor for forty-eight hours," the doctor said. "I know you want a natural birth, but I assure you we do this all the time."
"It’s for the best," the husband said.
"Clark is right," the doctor murmured. "If we wait any longer, the baby could be born dead."
The movie fast-forwarded to a kitchen scene where Clark, Mary and a little boy sat around what looked like a kitchen table. "He’s three years old, Clark. He should be talking by now. I think we ought to take him to a specialist."
"Ach, Mary, my ma says nobody in our family was ever too talkative until they started school. Maybe he doesn’t have anything to say."
"I’m worried the doctor futzed something up during that Caesarian."
"Mama," the little boy said. Mary and Clark looked at each other and smiled.
The movie scrolled ahead to a schoolroom–an old fashioned one with the desks bolted to the floor in rows. A boy with a homemade haircut and a big head was slumped in the front row looking embarrassed. The teacher was yelling at the class to ‘fess up and admit who took Kitty Hoefer’s pencil case or she was going to keep them after school and they’d miss their buses. The little boy’s face got really red. The teacher said, her finger in his face, "You took it, didn’t you?" Then a little girl raised her hand. "Found it, Miss Dalrimple, it got tangled up in my extra underwear."
The movie was gone. Dave stood, stumbled, nearly fell, then shook his head. He’d heard about this sort of thing before–a movie flashing through your mind as you’re about to die. Thing is, it was supposed to be the dead guy reviewing his life just before he kicked off, not the first cop on the scene. Dave didn’t know any Kitty Hoefer and his parents’ names weren’t Clark and Mary. God, he must be in shock. After all, it isn’t every day you find your right fielder dead, looking like afterbirth. And Mom had said he’d always had a wild imagination. She’d said when he was three or four, he’d been in her and Pa’s bedroom in the middle of the night complaining about seeing ghosts in the attic upstairs where he slept. The movie must be his imagination working overtime.
Then the corpse groaned, and Dave’s hair stood on end. No! There was no way this guy could still be alive. He remembered something from his law enforcement courses about bodies passing gas and making other odd noises during autopsies. His mouth was as dry as cotton, and he couldn’t swallow, but he got the mirror he kept in the glove compartment of the Jeep, held it under what was left of Egge’s mouth and nose. Nothing. No pulse either. The man was as dead as disco, groan or no groan.
Enough of this nonsense. He had to try to do some police work. He stepped away from the body, grabbed a stick, and nudged the baseball bat lying in the weeds about then feet from Egge’s body. Different. A Wayne Terwilliger model. Twig had been first base coach for the Twins during the Series wins. Usually coaches didn’t get much credit. Managers sometimes, never coaches.
Something tugged at his sleeve. Dave forgot to breathe.
"Holy crap, Dude. I ain’t seen nothing like that since a fourteen car pile-up on the four-lane outside Mescalero."
Damn. Dave got his breathing started again and turned around. Mingo Jones, the night deputy, his fingers head over his nose, walked over and inspected the body. He looked out of place in a Polk County deputy’s uniform, what with the long Apache hair, the turquoise belt with the number four etched into it, and the moccasins that increased the stealth factor.
"Jeez, you aged me ten years."
"Sorry, Dude, thought you heard me. D’ya know there’s some cuss words painted on the water tower?"
"Must’ve missed it in all the excitement. What’s it say?"
"Says ‘Fuck You, Egg Man.’"
"Those kids are getting downright verbose. Did you block off the road?"
"The sawhorses are in place and I tacked up the ‘No Trespassing’ signs on some trees, the orange ones that say, ‘Keep Out! By order of Polk County Sheriff’s Office. Violators will be drawn and quartered, entrails nailed to a tree.’"
Mingo stared down at the body dispassionately, as if he were looking at a department store window on Friday night when all the stores were open late. Then he made the sign of the cross, bowed his head, laced his fingers together over his groin, and began moving his lips.
When Mingo finished praying, he came back to stand by Dave. "You know the Egg Man very well?" he asked.
"Not really. He was on my softball team. Not hit, no field."
"The Egg Man and me got to know each other at the school. He had me rap with some of the classes. Multi-cultural education is a big thing there these days. Egge was a good shit, I don’t want him stuck out there in limbo."
"Limbo like in babies who aren’t baptized?"
"Kind of. Some people say that if a dude gets himself murdered, he could get hung up between this world and the afterlife. We Mescalero call them the Shadow World and the Land of Ever Summer. I think a formal ghost medicine ceremony may be in order."
Dave swallowed. He felt like he was the one stuck in limbo. Should he tell Mingo about the vision he’d had? Nah, he didn’t know Mingo well enough yet to tell him something like that. This was the first time Dave had had anything to do with the Indian, since Mingo worked the night shift for the most part. Sheriff Kline had brought him on a few weeks ago to deal with the hordes of teenagers breaking curfew. He’d always wondered what would possess an Apache to take a job in Minnesota.
Rather than tell him about the vision, Dave said, "You believe that stuff, huh?"
"Sure do, Dude. Never did until I read up on it in college. The old Apaches used to burn down their tepees to make sure the deceased didn’t try to take them with him."
"We aren’t too keen on ghost medicine ceremonies around here," Dave said. "That was the sign of the cross, wasn’t it? I didn’t know you were Catholic."
"Born and bred. You know what they say–once a mackerel snapper, always a mackerel snapper. Most all Mescalero are RCs to some degree. The Spanish padres, you know."
"Yeah, well, let’s just keep this ghost medicine stuff between you and me, huh? It doesn’t look like Sheriff Kline and the BCA are gonna get here anytime soon. I’m gonna backtrack. There’re some prints over there. Looks like the perp ran Egge down. Waiting for him farther up the trail, most likely. I’d say the killer got away through the slough, probably a vehicle parked back near the old quarry. I didn’t see any other tracks coming in. Why don’t you go take a look?"
Mingo frowned, though it was pretty tough to tell since he always appeared to be frowning. "You don’t happen to have a pair of waders I could use? These are very expensive handcrafted moccasins."
"You better get started before Sheriff Kline and the BCA get here. Who knows how bad they’ll screw things up."
Mingo saluted, took off his moccasins, put them in a coat pocket, and was off, bearing toward the swamp. Dave hadn’t seen such an insolent salute since the last time he’d saluted Harry Kline.
Available at a discount at www.Amazon.com/exec/obidos/asin/158736039x/authorsdencom.Used copies also offered.