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David A. Schwinghammer

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Books
· Soldier's Gap

· Soldier's Gap


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· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9

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· Fisher of Men, Chapter 8

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· Ode to Neve Campbell

· Jacks or Better 101

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Books by David A. Schwinghammer
Soldier's Gap, Chapter Three
By David A. Schwinghammer
Posted: Monday, March 24, 2014
Last edited: Wednesday, July 22, 2015
This short story is rated "PG13" by the Author.
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Recent stories by David A. Schwinghammer
· Little Crow
· Soldier's Gap, Chapter One
· Black and White and Red All over
· Calliope's Revenge
· All the Good Stories Are Taken
· Mengele's Double, Chapter 9
· Odyssey of a Southpaw
           >> View all 71
Deputy Dave Jenkins begins his investigation of the muder of Principal Jerry Egge.


Chapter 3

What a Joke

“The world has joked incessantly
for over fifty centuries.
And every joke that’s possible has
long ago been made.”
-Sir William Schwenck Gilbert

Dave was standing on the second strand of Miles Krueger’s
barbed wire fence, one hand braced on the post, getting ready
to risk the family jewels by vaulting over the top, when Sheriff
Kline and Larry Henderson, the BCA agent, drove up in the sheriff’s
cruiser. Dave had been so absorbed by what he planned to ask
Miles he hadn’t even heard the cruiser coming down the trail.
He got down off the fence. The doors slammed on the cruiser
and Harry and Henderson, a regular Mutt and Jeff combination,
walked toward the body. Or rather, walked and waddled. Harry
was getting visibly heavier day by day. They were both smoking.
Not a bad idea, considering the stench.
Henderson was a gray-haired, dignified man with a little
David Niven mustache. He wore gray, pressed slacks with pleats
and the ever-present BCA windbreaker. No hat—might muss the
hair. He was carrying a black satchel that looked like a doctor’s
bag, which he placed next to Egge’s shoe, on the edge of one of the
footprints.
Harry leaned in, peering over Henderson’s shoulder. “Holy
Christ! He looks like he’s been mauled by a Kodiak.”
“I’ve seen worse,” Henderson said. “Sorry we’re late, Jenkins.
My pilot had to set down in Alexandria, engine trouble. Did you
touch anything?”
Dave, who was now standing next to Harry, shifted his feet,
never could lie worth a damn. “I found some evidence out in the
woods that some splatballers have been in the vicinity. Figured I’d
better check his back so’s we could set up a roadblock if it turned
out...so I propped him up and took a look.”
“You ought to know better by now—”
“So, did you find paint?” Harry said.
“Not that kind of paint, but there’s something written on his
back and legs.” Dave smiled at Henderson. “I figured I’d better
wait for you.”
“Anything else?” Henderson said.
“I backtracked the perp to where he’d been lying in wait, found
an empty cigarette package and some butts. And I remembered an
old road back there by the abandoned quarry, so I had Mingo follow
the perp through the swamp. He spotted some tire tracks that
look like they may have come from the guy’s vehicle.” Dave handed
over the evidence bags and Henderson put them in his valise.
“We’ll take a look at Egge’s back once we do the prelimary
work,” Henderson said. “Looks like lots of footprints. Awful big
man, I’d say.” Henderson removed a bag of what looked like powdered
sugar from the satchel.
“Get me some water, will you, Jenkins? There’s some in the
trunk of Harry’s car.”
Harry handed the keys to Dave, and Dave went to fetch. Galley
slave, that’s what he was. And when he wasn’t fetching, what was
he supposed to do, stand there with his finger up his ass? There
were just too many chiefs and not enough Indians, as far as he was
concerned. He set the jug of water next to Henderson’s valise, then
looked over at the John Deere tractor stuck in a field a hundred
yards or so away. Something had been added to the scene, possible
witnesses—Les Krueger and his dad swearing at the tractor, kicking
it, as if it were the tractor’s fault that it got stuck.
“Say Larry, why don’t Harry and me go talk to those two farmers
over there? Could be we got ourselves an eye witness. That’s
where I was going when you got here.”
“How am I supposed to cross that fence with my bad back?”
Harry said.
Henderson was mixing plaster of paris for the footprints. “Do
you know them?”
“Yeah, that’s Miles and Les Krueger,” Dave said. “They own
this land.”
“I don’t see any harm in it. You want my tape recorder? It’s in
the cruiser there.”
Dave waved his dictaphone at him. “All set.”
Harry waddled toward a gate he’d noticed down the track a
piece, Dave bringing up the rear. Actually, Dave had an ulterior
motive for wanting to talk to Harry alone. He had to tell him about
Hildegard’s recall petition. For one thing, if he were Harry, he
wouldn’t want anyone running around plotting behind his back.
For another, he was Hildegard’s candidate for sheriff, and he wasn’t
sure he wanted the job. Then there was the Annie complication.
But somehow, he couldn’t bring the subject up. Hated confrontations
he guessed. Instead, he pointed out the blotches on the
trees. “That’s the paint I was talking about, Harry. Could be Egge
ran into some of his old students out here, got into a fight, and they
brained him.”
“I don’t think so,” Harry said. “Those marks have probably
been here forever. Splatballers are out here all the time. I’m surprised
Miles hasn’t complained.”
“So who do you think did it?”
“Damned if I know.” Harry went over to look at one of the
paint splotches as if he were reconsidering what Dave had said—
probably claim the theory later if it turned out to be true —then the
two of them went through the gate and made their way along the
edge of the plowed area where there was enough withered grass to
keep their feet from getting muddy.
“You know what?” Harry said. “I’ll bet any money that little
bastard Les Krueger had something to do with this. That boy was
born to be hung.”
“Yeah, he’s a real charmer all right.”
They came to the end of the grass and Harry looked down at
his feet, then at the soupy mud that had claimed the tractor. Dave
knew from the times he’d been over for Sunday dinner that if
Harry got mud all over his uniform, Brenda, his wife, would lecture
him nonstop for at least a week. Harry looked at Dave
beseechingly and he did what he always did when confronted with
a quandary. He told a joke.
“Did you hear about the leper who made his living as a gigolo?”
“Yeah, Harry, he was doing great until business fell off. You
told me that one last week.”
Harry fanned himself with his hat. “You know what your trouble
is, Jenkins. You don’t have any tact. Sometimes you want to kiss
up to the boss, don’t you know?” They slogged off through the
mud toward the tractor, both of them sinking down to their shoetops,
feet making sucking noises when they pulled them back up.
“Besides,” Harry said, “if you think my jokes are bad, you ought to
hear how blue it gets at deer camp. Why don’t you come along
some time? We could use some new fish.”
“About the only way I’d be able to shoot a deer is with a camera,”
Dave said.
Miles Krueger was a very short man with a two-day growth of
beard. One of his eyes was permanently droopy. His son Les, not
much taller, was knocking the mud off his shovel against the tractor
wheel.
“Hey, Miles,” Harry said. “Got your tractor stuck, huh?”
Krueger eyed them and said nothing.
“Do you mind, Miles?” Dave said, waving the recorder at
Krueger. Krueger nodded hesitantly, as if he’d never seen a tape
recorder. Dave pressed the “on” button.
“I suppose you heard about what happened over there in the
clearing.” Harry tried to scrape some of the mud off of his shoes on
the tractor hitch. “You two boys didn’t happen to see anything did
you?”
“I coulda seen the fellah,” Miles said. “I did see somethin’
unusual. How was he killed?”
“We can’t really say, Miles,” Harry said. “What did you see?”
“Fellah squatting at the edge of the clearing watching the trail.
I was about to go over there and tell him to get off my land. I’ve
had a hell of a time with city slickers playing war games over there
spooking my cows. Then he ran into the woods.”
Dave noticed that Les Krueger wouldn’t look at either him or
Harry. He kept shoveling mud away from the wheel. Occasionally
he’d drop the shovel. His hands were shaking some.
“What did he look like?” Dave said.
Miles took one of those big blue hankies with the snowflake
design out of his back pocket and blew his nose. “Seemed kind of
big, dressed all in black.”
Any normal human being would have been somewhat curious
about the man in black, considering there’d been a murder. There’d
been rumors, though, that the Kruegers still made Minnesota 13—
high octane, homemade hooch—which would definitely fry your
brain cells beyond hope.
“How big was he, Miles? About Harry’s size? Bigger?”
“Jeez, I don’t know. That’s a ways away and I didn’t have my
glasses. I’d say he was big as Harry, thinner though.” Miles
repressed a snort.
“Why didn’t you call me, Miles?” Harry said.
“I was tied up with this stuck tractor. I figured you’d get to me
sooner or later.”
“We’re going to need to have you come in and make a statement,”
Harry said. “Did your son see anything?”
“He was at the house.”
“That true , son?” Harry said.
“No, sir. I was in the barn spreading lime, as I recall.”
The kid was lying. Dave would want to talk to him as soon as
possible.
By the time Harry and Dave got back to the clearing, the medical
examiner and the crime team had arrived. One of them was
photographing the corpse and the blood spatters on the ground
and on the trees. The body was now lying face down and the writing
on Egge’s back and legs was visible.
“Take a look at this,” Henderson said.
Dave looked over Harry’s shoulder at the writing.
The letters on Egge’s back read, “D-Y-S-T-H,” and “S-Y-Z” was
scrawled on his right leg.
“What’s that,” Harry said, “some kind of vodoo, devil worship
shit?”
“Beats me,” Henderson said. “We’ll let the shrinks figure it
out.” He began to put his equipment back in his satchel. “The
blood, hair and fiber guys are just wrapping up. We got all the pictures,
and the M.E. will do the autopsy tomorrow morning.”
Henderson closed the snaps on the satchel, and stood, stuffing
his hands deep in his pockets. “We should have the results tomorrow
or the next day. The boys followed the tracks into the swamp
and found this.” Henderson held up a muddy boot. “It doesn’t
look good if there are no prints on the baseball bat or the boot. Did
your farmer have anything interesting to say?”
“Says he saw a big fellow dressed in black run into the woods.”
“I’d say that’s pretty close to an eye witness. Do you know if the
deceased had any enemies?”
“Are you kidding?” Harry said. “The man was the principal of
a high school. Everybody hated him. I remember my principal, old
cross-eyed Benboom, called him Baboon. The bastard actually had
a paddle in his office he called ‘the board of education.’ Thought he
was being original. Graduation night we broke into his office and
poured pig’s blood all over the place. They never caught us.”
“Well, I’d suggest you interview Mrs. Macintosh,” Henderson
said. “I met her briefly before we came out here. She’s the talkative
type. She probably knows all of his enemies.”
“Can’t argue with that, Larry.”
Maybe Hildegard was right about Harry. Who cared about
Baboon and his board of education. Dave wanted to get in his Jeep
and track the Bronson lead. He couldn’t let the creep get away with
killing a fellow Dog. He began pacing up and down along the border
of yellow crime scene tape.
“I wish you wouldn’t do that,” Harry said. “It makes me nervous.”
Good. Dave kept on pacing.
Harry lit up another nonfiltered cigarette, offering one to
Henderson. Henderson shook his head. He smoked some kind of
British-looking cigarettes he had in a silver case.
“I just can’t get over this,” Henderson said. “Homicides are up
fifty percent from 1990, most of them juvies. You don’t suppose
this was a juvie homicide, do you? When’s the last time you had a
murder in Polk County?”
“Not so long ago,” Harry said. “You remember that farmer we
repossessed who shot my deputy in ‘84? And the school teacher
who strangled that kid in ‘87? ‘Course I guess that’s getting to be a
while now.”
“The world’s changing, Harry. How’re your kids doing?”
“Driving me nuts. You know the one got a minor league contract—
Mel? He bummed up his knee, and they dropped him. I
tried to tell him baseball was no profession for a man, but would
he listen to me? Not a chance.”
“I know what you mean,” Henderson said. “My girl Jesse’s
only seventeen, just out of high school, and she wants to marry this
kid who, get this, sells encyclopedias for a living.”
“Jesus.”
“I want to send her to a girls’ school like St. Ben’s so she can get
a good education and be able to support herself if her romantic life
doesn’t work out. And she thinks I’m a beast because I won’t sanction
this marriage.”
“Such is life, Larry,” Harry said.
Dave was getting tired of pacing; he wanted to boot Harry and
Larry, the rhyming rumdumbs, in the ass. Then, out of the blue,
Henderson said what Dave had been dreading, “You want me to
take this one, Harry? You boys have your hands full the way it is.”
“I don’t think so, Larry.” Harry tried to stretch out his back
some. “If I let you do that, my constituents will begin to wonder
why they’ve got me.”
Dave stopped pacing. By God, Harry’d finally stood up for
something.
The crime team stored the body in the back of the medical
examiner’s van, and Henderson reached down for his satchel and
moved toward one of the criminalist’s cars. “If you say so. I’ll give
you a call about the forensic results tomorrow morning. You’ll be
in your office?”
“That’s where I’m usually at with this back of mine. See you
later, Larry. Hope you work things out with your daughter. Well,
Jenkins, I’m going to head out unless you can think of anything
else. You’ll head up the case. We’ll bring Mingo in off the night
shift if we have to.”
“Thanks, Harry. I won’t let you down.”
Harry clapped him on the back and smiled. Dave wanted to
throw his arms around the fat man and hug him. But he didn’t.
Dave got in his Jeep, and followed Sheriff Kline down the cowpath
that led to County Road 185 and the outskirts of Soldier. Now
that he was without distraction, the images began to creep back in.
The vision of the kid with the homemade haircut. The groan the
body’d made. Mingo’s ceremony request.
He’d see Father Mischke first chance he got. That would set his
mind at ease. The old priest was a close personal friend of the Holy
Ghost. And everything Dave said in the confessional was classified
top secret.
First things first, though. He still needed to stop at Hildegard’s.
Had to try and talk her out of that recall petition before Harry
found out about it.
Kind of proud of the stumblebum for standing up to
Henderson that way.

* * *

“Rock of ages, cleft for m-e-e-e...” Sounded like the church choir
yowling right outside Mingo’s bedroom.
“Let me h-i-i-i-de myself in Th-e-e-e; Let the w-a-a-a-ter and the
bl-o-o-o-d...”
He clamped the pillow over his face and ears but he could still
hear them. Must have left the stairway door open again.
“Be of sin the double c-u-u-u-re; save from wrath and make me
p-u-u-u-re.”
He pulled off the pillow, looked over at his bedside clock. Ten
o’clock. Since it was as bright as the day of the resurrection, that
must mean he’d only had two hours of sleep. He rolled over,
snagged his foot on the bedsheet, and fell out of bed on his bad hip,
the one Cousin Cecil had nicked with a steel-tipped arrow when
Mingo was four and wandered into Cecil’s line of fire. Mingo got
up, limped down the two flights of steps, and turned the corner
into the living room.
And there they were, gathered around Mrs. Mac’s tiny
Wurlitzer, at least ten women, most of them with huge bouffants
and fifty to sixty extra pounds. Then one of them noticed him and
dove behind the couch. “It’s a naked man!” And suddenly all of
them were diving for cover, screaming high enough to make his
teeth hurt. He clamped them shut and glanced down. Ah, shit.
He’d been wearing a breechclout to reservation powwows for so
long he’d forgotten the effect a pair of men’s boxers might have on
a bunch of middle-aged white women.
Mrs. Mac threw him a braided lavender shawl she’d had
drapped over one of the chairs. He grabbed it and wrapped it
around his waist.
“Sorry about the excitement,” he said.
“Don’t fret about it,” she said. “Biggest thrill they’ve had in
years. You had better put something on, though. We’re doing
penance. I expect to be wearing ashes for the next week at least,
and I’ve cancelled all my readings.”
She must mean the astrological charts she did. She got a hundred
a throw for those.
“I’ll be getting out of your hair pretty soon,” he said. “I need to
find Olive and get her to paint over the cuss words on the water
tower.”
“That girl is quite a handful, isn’t she? She reminds me of me
when I was that age. Had to get married when I was sixteen.”
The other women began to crawl out from their hiding places.
Mingo tipped his Mountie hat, which he’d again forgotten to
take off when he went to bed. “Hello, ladies. Sorry I scared you.”
“Hello, Deputy,” they ululated in chorus.
Back in his room, he got into his uniform, and went out the rear
door where he’d parked his GMC 4X4 pickup. The shocks were
shot and he only got about ten miles per gallon, but he’d paid just
$2000 for it, so he couldn’t complain. Had to borrow the money
from the bank, get Harry Kline to co-sign for him. Thinking about
painting her green with a camouflage design. Show Jenkins who
had style.
He knew what he’d see even before he got to the tower, and
there they were. A crowd lined up underneath pointing up, discussing
what the world had come to. Hell, the graffiti was all they
had, since they’d never get to see Egge’s body.
Mingo parked his truck next to a fire hydrant and got out. The
bakery lady, henna-colored hair styled like early Lucille Ball, was
saying, “I’ll bet it was that Green River killer I’ve been reading
about in the Enquirer.”
“Yeah, they say he’s a long-haul trucker,” the flower shop lady
said.
The Soldier vagrant was leaning up against one of the tower
supports, hunched over, clutching a brown paper bag. Mingo
sidled over to the man. “I thought I told you to move on, Billy.”
“Yes, officer,” Billy said. Bloodshot eyes, tangled ZZ Top beard,
gray fedora too small for his grizzled head. The man stunk almost
as bad as the corpse at the murder scene. Mingo felt kind of sorry
for the vagrant. Back on the Rez, his uncle Seymour stayed drunk
on panther piss for weeks on end. Just last week, Mingo’d taken
Billy to Crookston to the shelter, got him some walking shoes at the
Good Will. They were gone.
“What happened to the shoes I got you?” Mingo said.
“Traded ‘em for food.” Billy shuffled off, heading toward the
south side of town, still hunched, his overcoat so outsized he
couldn’t avoid tripping.
Mingo looked up at the tower. Quite a feat of derring do, climbing
twenty feet along one of the tower supports to where the
ladder started, carrying a bucket of paint and a roller. He was getting
dizzy just looking up there. Had to be two of them at least and
most likely a lookout—that friend of Olive’s, Stormy, would be a
good bet. He should go see her first. She’d spill her guts faster than
spit freezes in February.
Gradually, people noticed him standing there and began
crowding in on him.
“Hey, Deputy. Any word on who killed Principal Egge?”
Mayor McCready said. He was the mayor in name only. Hildegard
Weiss pulled his strings so readily some people called him
“Howdy”.
“Nothing yet, George,” he said. “I’m sure Sheriff Kline will
have a press release before the day is out.”
McCready nodded and went back to looking up at the tower.
Mingo started his truck, turned onto Peach, drove past the
Polaris snowmobile factory—the day shift was just coming in to
work—took a left on Meade, rumbled across the bridge over Plum
Creek, hooked a left into the Shady Brook Trailer Park, and pulled
up next to the Randall trailer. He could find the place blindfolded
he’d been there so often. Hated to hassle the mother, she worked at
the Legion till past one o’clock, but there was no way to get around
it if he wanted to see Olive.
A little girl, cute as a wolf pup, opened the door, Nancy or
Patty. Must be Nancy, she was the older one, around eleven.
Superintendent Bronson must have called off classes for the day.
“Is your sister home, Nancy?” he said.
“She’s up at the school,” she said. “She had to make up time
again for skipping. She’ll never let us skip. It’s not fair.”
“Mind if I look around?” he said. Olive had used that ruse
before.
The little girl shrugged, went back to the kitchen, and began
drying the breakfast dishes for her younger sister who was doing
the washing.
Mingo peeked into the mother’s bedroom; she was curled up in
a fetal position, dead to the world. He looked under the bed—
nothing but dust bunnies—searched through the closet, stuck his
nose out the window to check the roof. Nothing. As he left, he nodded
to the girls. They giggled.
On the way to the school, he met Olive walking down the street
headed back to Shady Brook. Long-strided, shoulders slightly
hunched, blond tresses flowing in her wake, a light windbreaker
doing little to veil the goodies underneath. The most beautiful
white woman he’d ever seen, except for the perpetual sneer that
marred her otherwise angelic face. And the girl was a Luddite,
always trying to throw a wrench into the works.
He pulled up alongside, rolled down the window. “Got a
minute, Olive?”
“Hey, Chief,” she said. “You hear about Scrambled? They
closed the school.”
“Kind of a dastardly thing to do to get out of school, Olive.”
She smiled a smile that would knock the birds out of the sky.
“That’s your opinion. Every second I spend there is like a month of
Sunday school.”
He rubbed his eyes, repositioned his Mountie cap at a tilt, trying
to look nonchalant. “Sooo, you know anything about this,
Olive?”
“Not hardly. I tried to...get along with him. The man was
always hassling me about his stupid dress code, but I didn’t hate
him enough to kill him.”
She worried her thumbnail with her teeth.
Mingo got out of the truck. “I didn’t ask you if you did it, Olive.
Was Freddie in town last night?”
“He’s in Crookston. Got sent to Level Five for bringing a gun to
school. You knew about that, didn’t you? He was trying to scare
these guys who were spreading stories about me.”
“Crookston’s only twenty miles away, Olive.” She swept the
hair away from her face and he caught a smell like freshly mown
alfalfa. God, he had to get himself a woman. Maybe that red-haired
schoolteacher he saw jogging every morning before the end of his
shift. Debbie Meyer he thought her name was. “I’ll give you the
benefit of the doubt about the murder, for now, Olive, but I know
you painted those cuss words on the water tower.”
“The hell you say. Want me to take a lie detector test?”
A convertible drove by with a load of boys in it. Wolf whistles.
“Hey Olive! How much for a quickie?” one of them yelled.
Mingo didn’t know the car. He flipped open his notebook,
wrote down the license number.
“Motherfuckers!”
“I wouldn’t doubt it,” Mingo said. “If Freddie didn’t help you
paint those cuss words on the water tower, who did?”
“I didn’t do nothing.”
“Olive, you’ve got red paint all over your fingers.”
She took his arm, nuzzling up against him. “Chiefy, why don’t
you and me go someplace and talk about this.” Damn girl would
have been worth five or six ponies back in the old days. In the end
the brave would wind up slitting her nose.
“The only place you and I are going is to pick up some paint
and a cherry picker.” Mingo opened the passenger side door, she
got in, and they headed off toward Transportation. “Why’d you
want to do the man that way, Olive?”
She shrugged, smiled a down-turned smile, her chin dimpling.
“Nothing better to do.” Then she gave a quick, convulsive laugh
that caused her breasts to swing left, then right. “You should have
seen his face. We were laying over there in the park next to the war
monger statue watching Egge’s house with field glasses. When he
saw what was on the water tower, I swear he had a heart attack,
knocked him right on his ass.”
Mingo turned toward the girl. “You sound proud of yourself.”
“I wasn’t trying to give him a heart attack.”
“You got yourself in some real trouble this time, Olive, whatever
your intentions. I’m sure Deputy Jenkins is going to want to
talk to you.”
She folded her arms. “Fine with me. Like I said, I didn’t do
nothing.”
* * *
After he’d returned from the murder scene, Dave had driven by
the rectory at least a dozen times trying to make himself go in and
talk to Father Mischke about the vision. But he just couldn’t do it.
The whole thing sounded too much like a bad acid trip. And
besides, Father would ask why he hadn’t been to mass since he
returned from Desert Storm. Then he’d tried to talk to Hildegard,
but her neighbor said she was in a school board meeting with
Superintendent Bronson, where they were discussing the impact of
Egge’s murder. The meeting would probably run all day.
On the way back to the office, as he drove by Farmers &
Merchants, he noticed a very pregnant blond woman coming out
of the bank. He could’ve sworn the woman was Mary Lou Forman,
the banker’s daughter, but that couldn’t be right, he’d heard she’d
married some stock broker while he’d been in the SEALs and
moved to Chicago. All through high school he’d watched Mary
Lou, with the long blond hair that reached all the way to her
ankles, captain the cheerleaders at the Friday night football games,
lead the most popular clique in the cafeteria, and give the valedictory
speech on graduation night. Once or twice he’d even mustered
up the courage to ask her out. She’d turned him down like the knob
on a radio dial.
Couldn’t be her. He’d contented himself with filling out reports
and checking with the BCA and FBI computer on a murderer with
an MO that fit their man—the kinky lettering on the victim’s back,
the baseball bat. Nothing.
It was nearly six when he drove out Pickett’s Road to
Hildegard’s house, an A-frame that looked like an old-fashioned
Norwegian church he’d seen once in National Geographic. Hrothgar
and Hagar, Hildegard’s dobermans, galloped toward him until
their leashes snapped them back, then stood barking and growling,
the sound a cross between a lawn mower and a mountain lion.
“Tough talk for a couple of eunuchs,” he said.
Hildegard came out, rapped them on their noses with a rolled
up magazine. They whined, “We didn’t do nothin’,” and skulked
off into a dog house almost as big as the main house.
Once inside, she led him to an armchair opposite her rocker,
the old-fashioned wooden kind. Both chairs were positioned in
front of a patio window overlooking the ancient pines bordering
her property. Dave sat down but couldn’t get comfortable. Must
have been the antimacassars protecting the fabric of the armchair.
“Would you like some tea, dear?” she said.
“No thanks. Tastes like water to me.”
“You’ll like this. It’s Earl Grey, you’ve never tasted it before.”
Before he could protest, she moved toward the kitchen and her two
burner stove.
He looked around. He’d never been here before, usually saw
her at town hall or the sheriff’s office. There was a circular staircase
that led to a loft where she probably slept. Immediately behind the
rocker were two oval portraits of a man and a woman. The man
had snow-white hair, a string tie, and a drinker’s nose. The woman
could have been Hildegard in an old-fashioned dress. Same
schoolmarm countenance, same wispy hair. He’d always been
amazed by her hair, done up in a kind of British-eccentric look, just
right for her. She hadn’t changed it in all the time he’d known her.
He doubted she’d ever been to a beauty salon.
Hildegard returned, handed him a cup, and sat down in her
rocker, cradling another cup and saucer in her lap. Her hands and
her head were shaking just a bit, the hands chapped from all those
years writing at the blackboard.
“There, I think you’ll find that a bit more robust than usual.”
There was a candy dish next to the rocker filled to the brim
with bonbons. Hildegard was famous for them. Spelldown winners
got bonbons when he had been in third grade. Everyone was
a good speller.
She noticed where he was looking. “Would you like a bonbon,
dear?”
“Thank you.” He took the candy, then sipped his tea. It tasted
like water with pepper in it.
Hildegard sipped her own tea, then set it aside.
“I can’t believe this horrible outrage has happened in my
town,” she said. “I swear sometimes I think we’re living through
Armageddon. All that rape and murder. It wasn’t this way when I
was a young girl. Everybody went to church. ‘Thou shalt not kill’
was still one of the commandments, and if anyone ever touched a
child, he’d be run out of town, or worse. Not that I’m advocating
vigilantism, of course.”
“No way.”
“I’ll be calling a town meeting for the end of the week to put the
townspeople’s minds at ease. By then you’ll have something for
me.”
“Sure thing.”
“Are you doing anything about the graffiti on the water tower?
We can’t have visitors being subjected to something like that. I
can’t imagine what that deputy was doing that those children were
able to effect such boorishness right under his nose.”
“Mingo’s already taken care of it. And you can’t really blame
him. Those kids revel in trying to make him look foolish, and they
work with military precision.”
“Perhaps. Any likely suspects in the murder?”
“I had to break up a fight between Egge and Charlie Bronson
once, but that’s really stretching it...Miss Weiss, I came by to
talk…”
“What makes you say that?” she said in a voice he remembered
from third grade, the aristocratic one that would scare any third
grade boy out of any “notions” as she called them. Bronson had
run his own school board candidate against her once, and she
never forgot. Evidently, the idea that Bronson might be innocent
was a notion.
“If he and Egge’s wife were having an affair,” Dave said, “why
would he want to kill Egge? He’d already captured Mrs. Egge’s
heart. Besides, Bronson isn’t the type to get all dirty that way.”
She sighed. “Any clues?”
“The murderer sprayed Egge’s back with the letters, ‘DYSTH’
and ‘SYZ’ on his legs.”
“Any tie-in with the graffiti on the tower? Seems like quite a
coincidence to me.”
“I don’t think so. The perp was a big man—Sasquatch, Mingo
calls him. He could have had help, though. There were other tracks
near where Mingo thinks his vehicle was parked. Miles Krueger’s
boy, Les, is acting awfully guilty. Harry thinks the message on
Egge’s back is devil worship. Miss Weiss, I wanted to—”
“That man. You should have heard the joke he told at the
Commissioner’s meeting the other night, some awful jibe against
lepers. I have already amassed a thousand signatures on my recall
petition.”
“Harry’s not such a bad shit—”
He winced, anticipating a sharp rap on the knuckles. But she
simply smiled.
“You’re a grown man, David. If you can’t control your tongue
by now, I can’t help you.”
“Sorry. When you do what I do, the language gets a little rough.
Jokes are a defense mechanism for Harry, Miss Weiss. He was
brought up telling jokes in order to avoid genuine conversation.
Lots of guys Harry’s age know a million jokes.”
She slowed the momentum of the rocker, and grasped a folder
she had handy on a lamp stand next to it. “I have here a copy of the
physical requirements a sheriff must maintain in order to do his
job. Your Harry is a good fifty pounds overweight. The county
commission notified him in writing over a year ago. I think the
man has actually gained weight since then. And I understand he
has a bad back as well. He won’t be much help to you in the field.”
“True, but—”
“Then there are the rumors about Harry and Shirley Pleasiac—
not that I pay any attention to gossip, and Shirley’s much too
sensible to be involved in anything so tawdry. I’m afraid the recall
is a foregone conclusion. I realize you’re concerned about Harry’s
family, but I assure you he has a very lucrative retirement package.
We need young blood. I think what we have here is a man who has
overstayed his welcome.”
“I don’t think you’re being—”
“Let’s get back to the murder now, shall we? I think the spray
paint is a ploy. Bronson could have told his hired killer to make it
look like a psychotic episode. You have heard of Dr. Jeffrey
MacDonald, haven’t you?”
“No, who—?”
“The Green Beret doctor who killed his wife and children and
tried to make it look like the Manson slayings. His daughters were
five and two. I remember their names as if this happened yesterday.
Kristen and Kimberly. That villainous man went so far as to
stab himself with a paring knife.”
“I don’t know about this Jeffrey MacDonald person, but you
won’t be the only one to think that Bronson had something to do
with Egge’s murder.” He hesitated for a moment, searching for
words. He’d never disagreed with her before. “Miss Weiss, I want
you to drop the petition. I definitely do not want to be sheriff.”
“Oh, but this will be such an ideal opportunity to gather material,
dear.”
He sighed. Hildegard had always had literary ambitions for
him, had read all of his papers in class, and she’d kept with him up
all the way through high school. She’d been damn pissed when
he’d opted for the Special Forces instead of college.
For a second he was tempted to tell her about the vision he’d
had. She was such a no-nonsense person, though. Somehow he
didn’t think he could tell her, respect for his ‘thick-coming fancies’
or no.
Thick-coming fancies?
“How do you plan to proceed, dear?” she said.
“Ah...I guess I better talk to Mrs. Egge first and look around
Egge’s den at home, if he’s got one.” He cleared his throat, felt
around in his pockets for a handkerchief.
Thick-coming fancies? He didn’t even know what that meant.
What had he been saying? Oh, yeah, Egge’s den. “Maybe he’ll tell
us who killed him. If I don’t turn anything up there, I’ll sweat that
Krueger kid some and beat the bushes around the trailer park.”
“Get some sleep, dear. You’ll be needing it.” She handed him a
little bag. “Take some bonbons with you. Candy is very energizing.”
He slipped the bag into his windbreaker pocket and got up to
go.
“I can’t be adamant enough about how important it is for you
to find this person before the town meeting,” she said. “Mr.
Henderson has been sounding me out about the feasibility of the
BCA managing the investigation. He has so much more experience
and I’m inclined to...if...”
Dave could feel the blood rushing to his face. The old woman
knew everyone’s Achilles heal. His had always been pride. “I’ll
handle it,” he said.
The dogs didn’t need to be told twice, but that didn’t mean they
liked it much. Low rumblings emanated from the dog house while
he walked back to the Jeep.
Dave waved, watched her close the door, then kicked the front
wheel of the Jeep. Five days. She expected him to find Egge’s murderer
in five days! Stupid old woman must think he was Houdini.


SOLDIER'S GAP, a Fargo-esque mystery, is available new and used at Amazon.com and at authorsden.
     

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Reviewed by Jane Noponen Perinacci
Another great one!

Love ya!

Jane

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