Here’s a little preview of my dark crime novel, “The Deputy”. Coming soon from Cambridge Books http://writewordsinc.com Watch for it.
“I, Wayne Robert Terwilliger, do solemnly swear that I will support the Constitution of the United States and the Laws of Durant County, and that I will faithfully discharge the duties of the office of the Durant County Sheriff’s Department to the best of my skill and judgment, so help me God.”
Somewhere along the way he had heard people speak of the butterfly effect, and at three in the afternoon on that chill and hazy autumn day, Willis Knapp, Jr. thought about that for a moment as he hopped and scrabbled over rough terrain between dogwood trees, boulders and broken fencing. His thin lips twisted in a sardonic grin. He remembered hearing that someplace and it suddenly came to him that the saying made a sort of crazy sense. But in this case it wasn’t a butterfly. It was a coyote.
And the result produced effects no butterfly or coyote could never dream of.
The sky above grew more menacing and with a sinking feeling, Willis knew it was going to rain. He could smell it coming.
Only half an hour earlier the bus carrying him and five other prisoners had been rolling smoothly along the empty highway that ran from the county jail to the Interstate. Willis sat with his hands cuffed to a chain belt. Another chain dropped to cuffs on his ankles. There was no way to get comfortable. He slouched sadly in his seat staring glumly through a discolored Plexiglas window as the drab indistinct countryside rolled by.
The bus smelled. It smelled of the prisoners and their two guards and the driver and it smelled of all the other prisoners and guards and drivers who had gone before them. It would always smell. Willis thought briefly about that in his despair.
He dropped his eyes and stared hopelessly at his knees. The sleeves of his denim jacket covered his muscular tattooed arms. Only his bronzed hands cuffed with steel cuffs remained visible, tucked down at his sides.
The bus rumbled along. No one spoke, each prisoner wrapped in his own personal misery while the guards had nothing to say, neither to the prisoners nor to each other.
Life without parole. Willis had been half-expecting that. After all, he was a three time loser. He smiled faintly as a speck of saliva appeared at the corner of his thin lips, clinging to his unshaven beard. Three time loser. Hell, he was a full time loser. Born to lose. That song could have been written especially for Willis Knapp, Jr. It sure fit.
Just at that moment the bus gave a slight bump jolting Willis out of his forlorn reverie and then it happened.
Through the fogged window his eyes caught the flash of a coyote as it ran out onto the highway directly in the path of the oncoming gray-green prison bus.
Taken by surprise, the driver instinctively slammed on the brakes swerving at the same moment and as the terrified coyote disappeared into underbrush on the other side of the highway, the bus tilted, skidded and slid back toward the highway. While mouths flew open all yelling at once adding to the confusion, the frantic driver fought to regain control of his bus, but he was too slow and too clumsy.
Tires screeched sickeningly and the bus skidded around until it slid sideways on the highway and then as it began a turn toward the direction it had just come from, it tilted ominously and amid the cries of its occupants, the bus slowly rolled over onto its side landing with a heavy thud against the asphalt, and skidded into the ditch that ran alongside the roadway.
One of the guards had banged his head against the roof and lay unconscious at the rear and the nearest prisoner rolled out of his seat and got a hand close enough to grab the keys that hung from his belt. The other guard, conscious but dazed, failed to see this until it was too late.
Heavy fists crashed down on his head as hands scrabbled for his weapon and more keys. In less time than it took for the bus to crash, most of the men were free, scrambling for the door, some laughing, some cursing. The hapless driver, unarmed, lay buckled in his seat, unable or unwilling to move.
Willis felt his feet coming free and then his hands as one of the prisoners unlocked his cuffs. His heart exulted in a leap of joy. Resigned a moment ago to spending his life behind bars in a gloomy prison with a dangerous reputation, he found himself suddenly and unexpectedly free, free to go wherever he pleased.
Willis had not yet had time to think about the possibility of having authorities catch him and return him to prison. Even if he had taken a moment to consider the consequences, he’d have said facing life without parole didn’t offer many options. There wasn’t much more they could do to him now.
As Willis climbed up through the door a deafening blast from a guard’s shotgun blew away the head of the hapless driver for no reason at all. Momentarily deafened by the blast, Willis turned his head sharply and saw a skinny older convict throw down the shotgun. He turned and followed Willis.
Willis easily pulled himself up and from the side of the bus, lowered himself down onto the turf. As he ran he realized the skinny shooter was at his heels. But Willis was fast. He left the other behind as he took off at a dead run.
A bit farther down the highway Willis headed off into the countryside. Sticking to the highway could only prove dangerous unless he was able to secure a ride immediately and at that moment no rides were visible in either direction, the main highway still being a couple of miles distant.
Prisoners had scattered in all directions, some in small groups, others singly, Willis took his own route. He didn’t know any of the others well enough to want to join up with them, and he instinctively felt that he had a better chance alone than running with the other felons.
Before he got fifty feet into the countryside, he turned his head at the sound of heavy breathing to see the man who shot the driver only twenty feet behind him.
Willis stopped short.
“Don’t try to follow me man,” he told the prisoner. “We need to split up.”
“I’m hurt,” the prisoner said, holding his left arm. “I cut my arm bad when the bus turned over.”
Willis looked at him, seeing blood on his torn left sleeve, but not feeling any sympathy.
“Why’d you shoot the driver?” he asked. “He was just driving.”
The man looked drawn, embarrassed. “I don’t know. It was just the excitement of the moment, I guess. I don’t know exactly why I did that. You’re right. He wasn’t even armed. But shit, they got plenty more drivers where he come from.”
Willis looked at him. A skinny little guy, about the same size as Willis, but older maybeﾅ and rattier-looking.
“Well, we need to split up,” Willis said. “There’s less chance to get caught if we split up.”
The man stood there nursing his injured arm. “My name’s Max. Max Condor. I’m up for murder, man.” His wizened face fell. “I don’t know what to do.”
Willis sighed. “I don’t eitherﾅMax. I just think we better split up. Stay out of sight and keep away from populated areas. That’s all I can tell you.”
Without another word, Willis turned and hurried off across country again. After he’d gone some hundred yards, he turned and looked to see Max standing where he had left him. A sorry sight, standing alone under a dogwood tree, holding his left arm and following Willis with his eyes.
Despite himself Willis felt vaguely sorry for the man, but at the same time, as bad as his situation was, he didn’t want to be connected to the cold-blooded murder of the driverﾅor to this convicted murderer either for that matter. He turned and picked up his pace as the hazy sky cast a pale waning light on his surroundings and he felt the first thick drops of a viscous rain hitting against his face.
Willis wasn’t sure how far it was to the nearest town. When he had been brought to the last facility it had been dark when they arrived and he wasn’t at all sure where he was. Now he decided his best course was to strike out across country. To head in the direction the bus had taken seemed like a bad idea because the authorities would assume the prisoners would head in that direction and most of them had, spreading out but still heading in that general direction.
Rubbing his wrists, Willis ran off at an angle, wishing as he did so that he could have got his hands on a pistol, but the guards’ weapons had disappeared quickly. He had nothing but the wet clothes on his back, and he knew the night ahead would be cold. He was already shivering from the cold and the wet, even after his long run and now the sweat cooling under his clothing chilled him even further and he foresaw a miserable night without food or shelter.
The last time he looked back he no longer saw any sign of Max Condor and sighed at that.
Slowing now, Willis stumbled along over the rough terrain, tripping here and catching his foot there against half hidden rocks or weed covered dips in the duff. The hard cold rain continued to pour unmercifully down on his head and back but there was nothing at all Willis could do about that. He kept slogging along into the dark wet evening, a little bandy-legged convict with nothing to live for and a lot to lose.
His eyes constantly scanned the countryside around him for signs of life. He saw nothing. But sooner or later….
Job One was going to be to get rid of his prison garb. Both his jacket and the shirt beneath it had been stenciled in large white letters.
Slogging over wet, often muddy ground now he saw no signs of shelter. The scrubby trees around him offered no cover and he could only duck his head and keep walking.
Hours later, just in the last light of the day, he spied a small farmhouse off to his right. A light in the window blinked at him through the rain.
Ten minutes later, Willis stood just behind a tumbledown barn peering out at the house. Smoke rose from the chimney. Willis knew full well that anyone living out here would keep a rifle or shotgun in the house, and he wasn’t about to deal with that. He moved slowly forward and peeked through the open barn door into the barn. A tractor and an old Ford pickup stood forlornly on the damp earthen floor. On one barn wall a couple of canvas coats hung from nails. Willis stepped quickly over and found that the first one he took down had a warm flannel lining. He pulled off his rain-soaked denim jacket and zipped the canvas coat up. The denim coat he shoved down behind some piles of rubble in a corner. It probably wouldn’t be seen for months.
He looked around in the dark barn but found nothing else small enough to be of use to him. Easing open the door to the pickup he saw that the owner had left a rifle on a rack by the rear window. Tempting. But deciding it would be too dangerous for him to wander around carrying a rifle, Willis chose to leave it. He opened the glove compartment and found a Hershey bar and a pair of worn leather work gloves. He took these and slipped quietly back out into the rainy night.
The coat held up well against the rain, better than he had hoped for. He continued to stumble along throughout the night.
In the gray dawn the rain let up and he found himself approaching the outskirts of a small town.
Willis had no money, but he hoped somehow to find something, anything, to eat and drink. The Hershey bar had disappeared quickly but did little assuage his growing hunger.
Just as he stepped out onto the road that led into the town, an old Dodge station wagon came rolling along. It was too late to duck for cover. The best thing now was to act as natural as he could and keep walking.
The wagon pulled up alongside Willis and, rolling down the passenger window, the driver leaned over and called out.
“Hi Stranger. Want a lift on into town?”
Willis hesitated, then nodded.
Gratefully he got into the car beside an elderly man wearing bib overalls under a heavy plaid coat. His gray mustache covered and hung down around the sides of his mouth and a ratty old fedora covered most of his gray hair.
He stuck out a dark brown weathered hand. Thick blue veins stood high on its back.
“Name’s Jacob,” he said.
“I – Ned. Ned Carlisle,” Willis said, mentioning the name of someone he had once served time with. He took the farmer’s hand, and the lines around Jacob’s eyes crinkled as he smiled in a friendly fashion.
“I was just heading in for breakfast at Tillie’s place,” Jacob said. “Great place for breakfast.”
“Oh…well, I’m not too hungry,” Willis said, looking ahead, listening to the slap-slap of the windshield wipers.
Jacob gave him a narrow look. “Maybe you’re a bit down on your luck Ned. I been there. Hey, I’d be proud to stand you a nice filling breakfast. Nice to be able to talk to somebody different for a change. Folks around here always talk about the same thing, day after day. Crops, weather, whose cow dropped a calf, price they payin’ for eggs this weekﾅalways the same.”
Willis turned his head to look at the farmer. He sighed. “I can see you’re a pretty good judge of peopleﾅJacob.”
Jacob merely smiled under his mustache.
“Well, you’re right. To tell the truth I’m starving, but I didn’t want to impose. I – I’m not a panhandler.”
“Never thought you were, Ned. Like I said, I’ll be right proud to have breakfast with you.”
The Dodge passed a few small shops, mostly still closed at this early hour and nosed into the curb before a brightly lighted storefront with Tillie’s Cafe in white letters on each window to either side of the door.
“Smells good already,” commented Willis, sniffing.
“It is good,” Jacob assured him.
A hundred miles to the east and a mile and a half from the small town of Ashley, the Terwilliger farm covered two acres of flat, mostly cultivated land surrounding a small faded white frame house shaded by several tall elm trees.
Out back of the house, Janie Terwilliger was hanging clothing on the lines. Alongside the washer on the back porch sat a dryer, but she liked the fresh clean smell of line dried clothing, the fresh smell she had grown up with, and when the weather permitted, she always chose to hang her laundry outside.
“That’s why I love farm living,” she liked to say. “That’s the way I grew up, clothes hanging on the line, waving in the breeze. I just loved to hold the sheets to my nose and breathe in their clean fresh smell, the smell of the great outdoors. Still do.”
Wayne’s uniforms, his dark brown shirts and trousers, always went to the Louie’s Laundry and Dry Cleaners because they of course had to be perfect, and although Wayne never said so, Janie knew he didn’t trust her to do the job to his satisfaction. On the one hand it meant less work for her, but on the other hand, it did hurt just a little, feeling Wayne didn’t think she could do a good enough job. She always felt she was a disappointment to Wayne. She felt so stupid much of the time, so addle-brained. He had expected more from her, she was sure. It was no wonder he seemed more and more remote all the time. And Janie didn’t have a clue what to do about it.
A light breeze ruffled her sandy hair and the sheets and towels on the lines. She breathed in the fresh country air and sighed.
At first of course, the smell of horses and their cow turned out to be more than Janie had remembered. It had been a long time since she lived on a farm, and they never had horses, only a couple of milk cows, but once here on her very own property, she quickly adapted to that and now she simply never noticed. Besides, she kept the stables clean and sprinkled fresh straw under the horses’ hooves frequently, and during the daytime they ran free out in the pastures. Six of them, each a beauty, at least in Janie’s hazel eyes. And the cow she called Betsy. A fat Jersey that seldom strayed far from the barn. Betsy had been giving milk when they bought the farm, all the livestock included, but soon the milk ran out. No matter. Janie still liked Betsy’s big brown eyes and her friendly attitude.
Beneath Janie’s feet half a dozen chickens wandered about, clucking and pecking at whatever they found of interest in the dust. Several maple trees to the back side of the barn had begun to lose their leaves, leaves the wind had scattered about in the duff at her feet. Wet maple leaves can be very slippery and the stems seemed to last forever. She sighed. If only Wayne could find a little more free time to help with some of these chores. Still, it was something she could get around to in a day or so.
Humming softly with one eye on the forbidding sky, Janie picked up the empty basket and headed back into the house. Hopefully the laundry would be dry before it decided to rain, but she’d have to keep one eye open. She placed the basket on top of the dryer and opened the kitchen door.
Wayne always ate lunch in town, but there was dinner to think about and Janie liked to take her time and not feel rushed at the last moment. And the one last thing she really enjoyed each evening was her leisurely bath just before the final preparations for dinner. Of course Wayne more often than not came home late, more so now than before. Janie knew a deputy sheriff’s hours can be irregular. She understood that. Lawmen don’t work by the hour and get off every day at five. Nominally Wayne had a shift all right, but here at least, in Durant County, deputies were on duty twenty-four hours a day and Janie had learned to live with that. She didn’t like it, but she lived with it.
But all at once and quite unexpectedly, while she stood peeling potatoes at the kitchen sink, tears welled in Janie’s eyes as the loneliness she felt overcame her. One hand instinctively grabbed at a paper towel. She dabbed at her eyes, feeling her heart pound in her ears. She stood for a long moment, and then pulled herself together, took a deep breath and started peeling another potato, hearing the drip of water into the sink.
The slow drip-drip of the kitchen faucet no longer bothered her. Wayne had promised to do something about it two months ago, but he was always so tired by the time he got home at night. A couple of beers before dinner and another with and he was out. By now however, Janie had grown accustomed to lying in bed watching TV with the sound turned low while Wayne snoozed away beside her. He came home so tired, and while she was tired too, she simply could not roll over at ten o’clock and go to sleep. Sometimes at one or even two in the morning she still lay on her back with her eyes open, long after she had turned the TV off and hoped to go to sleep.
Knowing Wayne was actually so busy so much of the time would have made it more bearable, but down deep Janie didn’t really know. She had begun to have a nagging suspicion that other occupations kept him away. More than once she was sure she caught a faint scent of perfume. Janie remembered that one occasion when she asked him about it. He got indignant that she should even mention such a thing and finally he explained he had to arrest a drunken old gal at Lennie’s Pool Hall.
It was not in Janie’s nature to slip away from the farm and go snooping around town to find out exactly what Wayne was up to. He was always so sincere it was hard to doubt what he told her. Besides, Janie wanted to believe Wayne. She had been brought up to believe that marriage was a sacred union and a husband and wife never lied to one another. Empirically she realized this wasn’t true in many marriages, but she wanted it to be that way for her marriage. She willed it.
In their first two years of marriage Wayne couldn’t keep his hands off her. Morning and night his appetite was insatiable. It was almost too much for Janie, yet at the same time it flattered her enormously, knowing that Wayne was so crazy about her. And he showed it in other ways as well. She knew the farm was definitely not on Wayne’s list and a more selfish man might have refused to consider it, but before their marriage Wayne had promised. Unwillingly perhaps, he kept his promise and they bought the farm. He bought it for her and she loved him all the more for that.
But lately…Janie realized with a shock that it had actually been close to three months since Wayne was always too tired, or upset, or had a difficult case on his mind. Little things, and taken separately, it was understandable. After five years of marriage she imagined no one still maintained that same urgency that comes with being newlyweds. Still….
Her head came suddenly up as she heard Marci Girl whinny just outside the open kitchen window. She smiled and picked up a carrot from a basket of vegetables on the work table.
Outside Janie walked up to the little bay filly and caressed her soft nose.
“Here, Marci Girl,” she murmured holding out the carrot in the palm of her hand.
The filly accepted the carrot and began munching. As soon as they assumed possession of the farm, Janie had named all the horses, as well as the cow. She smiled. Her best friend. She took hold of Marci Girl’s harness and walked the filly back toward the barn. Most of the time the horses remained in the fields where they wandered during the day, always finding their way to the barn in the evening, but occasionally one or another would walk through a part of fence that had fallen. It happened more frequently lately, but Janie really wasn’t very good at patching fences.
Back in the house, she sighed and considered her next move. Most of the housework done, she still had other things to do. Make sure the horses and the cow had adequate water in the old bathtub that served as their drinking trough. Freshen the straw in their stalls while they were out and about, and the chickens. She’d better check and see if she could find any eggs waiting for her to gather them up.
Oh! The vegetables. Maybe she should see what she could find that was ready to bring in.
Luckily it hadn’t rained and by evening the clothes on the line smelled fresh and clean and felt dry to the touch. With a glance at the cloudy sky where only a few feeble rays of sun managed to shine through, Janie began gathering in the laundry so everything would be just right when Wayne got home for dinner…if for once he got home on time.
Just at that moment Deputy Sheriff Wayne Terwilliger was standing in Sandy Division’s tiny apartment. His eyes scanned the littered alley below through the window as he buttoned his brown uniform shirt, pulled on his trousers and belted the heavy black belt around his waist. He adjusted the feel of his holster and finished getting his shirt tucked in straight and tight and made sure nothing had gone awry when he tore off his uniform in his urgency.
Behind him, still lying on the unmade bed without a stitch on her, Sandy lay supine staring at the yellowed ceiling. This faintly plump twenty-two year old lay smiling in passive contentment and satisfaction. Her dark curls, although mussed from her tumbles, only enhanced her pixie features and glancing back, Wayne’s loins surged in an overwhelming insatiable urge to rip his shirt back off. But glancing at his watch, he realized it was already much later than he had thought.
“Got to get going,” he murmured. He sat down on the faded armchair and pulled on his western style boots, got back up and picked up his silver belly western hat and adjusted it carefully over his dark wavy hair. The other deputies, even Chief Belmont, wore a standard trooper hat, but Undersheriff Charles (Chick) Belmont was easy. He didn’t stand on ceremony. He even once told Wayne he liked his hat.
As Wayne took one last longing look at Sandy he suddenly yanked the hat back off his head and swooped down upon her white body. He buried his nose in her soft belly breathing in her sweetness and moved his mouth to her breasts and then to her giving lips as she wrapped her arms tightly around his neck. Torn, Wayne finally pulled himself together and bent and picked up his hat.
“Got to get going,” he repeated. “Got to go get the bad guys.”
Sandy smiled sweetly. “You’re the only bad guy in Ashley, Sheriff.”
Grinning, Wayne looked back. “See you in church,” he said as he grabbed up his brown nylon jacket and let himself out onto the small landing and headed down the steps into the alley. Half a block away his brown and cream colored patrol car waited. He slipped behind the wheel and pulled out of the alley and onto Main.
Wayne felt so drained, yet filled with satisfaction, that he was happy to be able to spend some time cruising around Ashley rather than go home and face Janie’s hurt looks. He nosed his cruiser into the curb just short of the Lucky Lunch.
Inside at that moment, one of the patrons, Chip Martins, an elderly lifelong resident of Ashley, had just finished surveying the graying unadorned walls of the Lucky Lunch.
“Ya know,” he called out raising his elbows from the Formica counter, “This place could sure use a new coat of paint, Lucky. And maybe some nice pictures too. When was the last time you had this place painted, just after World War Two?”
Behind the serving window in the kitchen Lucky Caruthers wiped his hands on the stained apron that covered his paunch. He wore brightly flowered pants that might have come from Hawaii, but they didn’t.
“Paint costs money, Chip,” he called through the service window. “And if you think for one minute a fresh coat of paint is going to make some new customer drive by and say, ‘Wow, look at that paint! Lets go to the Lucky for lunch,’ you’re as dumb as I think you are. You just smell that chicken noodle soup I got on the range back here. That’s what you need to do.” At that moment through the front window he caught sight of Wayne passing by in his cruiser.
“There goes one of Ashley’s finest,” Lucky added in his hoarse voice. “Thinks he’s pretty sly, that one.”
Chip nodded, smiled broadly revealing a loose-fitting plate. “I notice when Wayne comes in here him and that badge-bunny Sandy they act like they never saw each other before in their entire life. So formal it makes me laugh.”
Patsy Baker, Lucky’s other waitress, refreshed some cups at the counter and gave the men a jaundiced look. “Somebody ought to tell that wife of his. It isn’t right, you know.”
“You stay out of it, Old Lady,” Lucky told her. “Best thing we can do is keep our noses out of their business. No use causing trouble. Trouble will find them all by itself.” He smiled in his crooked way. “Besides, in a couple of weeks that Sandy’ll fall in love with some other loser and then it’ll be all over. I’ve known plenty girls like Sandy. She’s not in love with Terwilliger or his tin star, she’s in love with bein’ in love.”
A few other locals chimed in, laughing and commenting, all enjoying the fact that nothing went on in Ashley without their knowledge no matter how careful or circumspect some people might be.
“Giving out free coffee to the law is one thing,” Patsy offered, “but half the time that bugger walks out without paying for what he eaten,” She parked on hand on an ample hip and stared out the window.
At the service window Lucky nodded agreement to that.
Chip looked past Patsy to Lucky.
“Don’t tell me you’re afraid to remind him, Lucky.”
Lucky face darkened. “I’m not afraid,” he protested. “I’m not afraid of anybody. It’s not that. I just figure I’d as soon have him not pay if I have to go out and remind him all the time. I did remind him one day and he said he’d come back and pay me a bit later, but he never did. Besides,” he added, now turning a baleful eye on Patsy, “you’re the damned waitress. You’re supposed to call him out and tell him he forgot to pay his check.”
“He doesn’t do it when I’m watching,” she retorted. “He waits till I’m busy with another customer and then beats foot out of here before I can catch him.”
“Yeah,” Chip Martins said. “He thinks he’s a real cowboy all right. Put a star on a man and he’s suddenly a big shot and a deadbeat.”
Another voice spouted, “I read someplace them folks in Turkey over there, they call the cops cowboys. They call ’em cowboys because they’re so rough and ready I guess. Or maybe they carry ropes and rope their suspects like little dogies.” The speaker waited for a laugh that failed to materialize, and then went on, “Well, Terwilliger may not be no saint but he don’t go around leaning on citizens like some we’ve had in the past. I’ll say that for him.”
“Oh, he’s all right. Got to have lawmen. It’s just that a lot of them take advantage of their position,” Martins agreed.
Terence the dishwasher and kitchen helper appeared beside Lucky at the service window. He smiled widely.
“That Wayne was a help the day that dipshit tried to rob the place. Remember Lucky? Had some big old forty-five cowboy gun he was waving around when Wayne happened to pass by. That damned Wayne slipped around back and came in through the kitchen and had that boy on the floor so fast he didn’t know what hit him.”
“Yeah,” Lucky agreed, “but it turned out the gun didn’t even have a firing pin.” He pulled off his round cook’s hat and scratched his head through scraggy hair. “Never did rightly know if the kid was aware of that.”
Chip straightened. “Yeah, but Terwilliger didn’t know that. He’s no coward. I’ll give him that.”
“Oh no,” Terence chimed in. “That man no coward. I’d walk through a door with him.”
Lucky laughed. “Shit, what movie did you get that out of, Dynomite?”
Terence just grinned.
A couple of people chuckled at this exchange and then their eyes turned back to the window where Wayne had passed out of their line of sight. Now only a dusty GMC pickup was passing by.
Wrapped as he still was in the warm memory of his afternoon tryst, Wayne remained blissfully unaware of the eyes watching him from the Lucky Lunch. A few blocks further on he pulled over for a moment, sniffing at his sleeve and necktie, looking for telltale perfumes, but decided he was all right. Besides after another hour or so, he should be completely aired out.
His lips puckered in a quiet whistling. He passed a few pedestrians, most giving him a “Hi Wayne”, or a friendly respectful nod. That was one of the best perks about this job, Wayne had often thought. People had to by god show him some respect. Besides, he thought, smiling, I am a good-looking son of a bitch.
Reaching the corner by the feed store near the end of Main, Wayne waited for a couple of pickups to pass and then made a tight U-turn and parked on the other side. He got out and walked along. One eye watched the sky, but he felt pretty confident that there’d be no rain today. He passed Milton’s Barber Shop and Sally’s Beauty Parlor next door. Milton and Sally had been married for some forty years and still liked each other. Wayne often marveled at that. Seeing nothing going on, he walked back and got into his cruiser and started the engine. Wayne smiled at the thought of being married for forty years. How in hell could two people put up with each other for forty years? Milton, in the midst of cutting a customer’s hair glanced up and smiled as he watched Wayne pass in front of the window. Wayne smiled back and waved.
Just half a block from the sub-station, crossing the railroad track, Wayne’s eyes caught sight of a wiry bandy-legged little guy walking along by the track. The man limped slightly, and from the look of his oversize coat and unshaven face, he was obviously down and out.
It had never been the policy in Ashley to bother transients or vagrants so long as they didn’t cause any problems, and this fellow appeared to be heading on out of town.
Wayne looked more closely at the man. He continued to observe for a moment and then stepped on the gas, moving slowly ahead. As he neared the man, he stopped and leaning out of his side window, said, “Howdy.”
The little man stopped abruptly, looked over at Wayne sitting in his cruiser and hesitated. He looked as if he was debating whether to stay or run.
Up close, getting a better look at this stranger, Wayne realized the man wasn’t quite as small as he’d looked half a block away. Smaller than Wayne’s six foot one and thinner, he still looked healthy enough. A wiry little fellow.
“Hi,” the stranger said and something about the pitiful expression on the man’s face intrigued Wayne.
“You’re new around here,” he said, swerving his vehicle to a stop in front of the man.
Forced to stop, the man looked slightly evasive, but then gave the deputy a sad smile revealing bad teeth. “Just passing through,” he said. “I been looking for work.”
“Looking for work,” Wayne said, in no hurry to move on. People who knew Wayne knew he rather enjoyed detaining people for a short time. Let them know he was in charge of any situation. “What kind of work do you do?”
The man shrugged. “Oh…most anything. I’ve worked in restaurants, garages, I been a groom at the race track, handyman, you know….”
As the man spoke in his slow drawl, a little opportunity had begun to creep into the back of Wayne’s mind. “What kind of wages you usually expect?” he asked.
The stranger’s dark eyes brightened noticeably. “Wages? Why, I hadn’t thought much about wages. I mean, I just need enough to keep me.” A faint hint of hope had crept into his voice.
Wayne studied him for a moment while stroking his square chin. He opened the door and stepped out of his cruiser. “My name’s Deputy Terwilliger, but most folks around here call me Wayne.” He held out a bronzed hand.
The stranger accepted Wayne’s hand. “I’m Ray. Raymond Stark,” he said. “I’m from Montana.”
“Glad to meet you, Ray. Listen, I was just thinking. You know I have a little farm out – oh, it’s just ten acres, but it’s a nice little place. A few horses and a cow and some chickens. And we plant a lot of vegetables. Some we eat and some we sell. And there’s the pumpkin patch. We keep that so the kids can come out toward Halloween and pick out a pumpkin, you know?”
Ray’s wizened face had brightened some as he nodded understanding.
“Well, what I was thinking, Ray, is that I’m tied up here in town so much of the time. You know, a sheriff’s always on duty, and my wife, Janie, she’s alone out there all day with all these chores to take care of. I mean, I try to help her all I can, but like I say, I’m working so much of the time. I was just thinking – I mean, I can’t offer much in the way of money, but we do have a spare room. I’ve been using it for storage, but we could clear it out and make up a little room for you there and my Janie’s a good cook. A damned good cook. You wouldn’t ever go hungry, I can guarantee you that.”
Ray was smiling broadly now, forgetting the bad teeth he normally tried not to show. “That sounds mighty good to me – Wayne. I think I could be real helpful around a place like that. I like horses. I don’t know a lot about gardening and that, but I’m willing to learn what needs to be done. And I can be handy around the house too. I can paint and do a little carpenter work and stuff like that too.” He paused and added, “As to wages, I just need maybe enough to keep me in a few things, you know, shaving stuff and socks and….”
“Sure, Ray. We can handle that. And listen, if you don’t like it, you’re free to leave any time you want to. He held out his arms expansively. “This is still a free country you know.”
Ray’s mouth opened wide in a huge grin and the two men shook hands as Wayne said, “Come on. We’ll get in the cruiser and I’ll take you out there. It isn’t far.”
Back in the Lucky Lunch, one of the customers laid his newspaper down on the counter and smoothed it with one hand while the other retrieved his coffee mug.
“Damn, remember them cons that killed the driver and escaped when the bus turned over? They still haven’t caught two of them. It’s been over a week now.”
“Those boys must be smarter than the average con,” quipped someone.
“Smart,” Chip Martins said, removing the toothpick from his mouth. “If most of them guys had any smarts they wouldn’t be in jail in the first place. They’ll get picked up before long. Too hard to make it when you’re on the run.”
“Maybe they got friends someplace to help them,” another customer offered.
“Yeah,” someone else chimed in, “sometimes they have friends waiting with a getaway car.”
Looking through his window from the kitchen Lucky adjusted his glasses and made a face. “Just be glad they was a hundred miles away. I sure wouldn’t want to see any escaped convicts coming through Ashley.” He let out a hoarse laugh. “Bad for business.”
“Ain’t that the truth,” Chip agreed. “But if they, did old Eagle Eye Terwilliger would be on their asses like horseflies on manure.”
Terence sniffed. “If he wa’n’t too busy porking that Sandy,” he threw in with a big grin.
Lucky gave him a look and then nodded. “I should fire her ass, but she’s cute and customers like her. Sandy’s not a bad girl. Just what I call unsophisticated.”
“I like her too,” Terence said, “but maybe she don’t like dark meat.”
“Get the hell back to work, Dynomite,” Lucky told him and a grinning Terence drifted off into some corner of the kitchen.
The general chuckle all around quickly faded and everybody went back to doing what each usually did. Some read papers and magazines and drank free refills while Terence went back to peeling potatoes and Lucky got on the kitchen phone and began ordering supplies from a list he had made up. Chip got up and paid his check at the register. “I left a dollar under my plate,” he whispered to Patsy. Watch out Terence don’t swipe it.”
Patsy gave him an arch look. “Terence may not be no Einstein, but he’s honest.”
Chip winked and pushed the door open and went out into the street.
Three blocks away, just as Wayne with Ray sitting beside him, got back to Main Street, Wayne caught something out of the corner of his eye and slammed on the brakes. If Ray hadn’t been buckled in he might have banged his head on the windshield.
“Just a minute, Ray,” Wayne muttered as he jumped from the vehicle and ran toward a young man who had just emerged from Abe’s Hardware. The young man, a kid really, was tossing a baseball in the air and catching it.
“Hold up there, Weasel,” Wayne yelled.
The kid he called Weasel stopped, an expression of chagrin on his blotchy face.
“You pay for that ball Weasel?”
Weasel’s face expressed confusion and turned even redder.
“I’ve told you. I’ve warned you. How many times do you expect me to yell at you and let you go?”
Weasel’s eyes couldn’t meet those of Wayne. He simply stood, his hands hanging at his side now, the ball concealed, as if he wanted it to go away.
Wayne grabbed him by the arm and turned him around. He marched Weasel back into the store and walked him past tables loaded with everything from tools to pots and pans to the main counter where Abe Linder stood beside a large display of brooms. As the pair entered the store he blinked behind his thick glasses and ran a hand over his bald head.
“Hi Wayne,” he said. “What’s up?”
“Did this boy pay for a baseball?” Wayne asked, yanking the baseball from Weasel’s hand. “Namely this here baseball?”
Abe blinked and stared myopically at the pair and at the baseball.
“That’s my baseball? No. Hell no. He just wandered around and looked at a couple of things. Come to think of it, he was bouncing that ball in his hands all the time, but I didn’t think anything of it. I -” He broke off and looked at Weasel. “Weasel, you know I can’t afford to let you walk out of here with my merchandise. You want to put me out of business? Hell, I barely pay the rent as it is. These days everybody goes over to Franklin to the Home Depot. Man doesn’t stand a chance against these big conglomerates any more. And you come in here and steal my merchandise.” His voice changed almost to a whine. “That ain’t right, boy.”
Wayne looked at Weasel. “I’m going to have to take you down this time, Weasel. I’ve tried to talk to you. I like to be nice and give a fellow a chance, but I’ve come to the conclusion you’re determined to take advantage of my good nature.” He handed the ball to Abe. “I’m sorry about this Abe. I shop with you. I’ll never bypass you to go to the Home Depot.” Even as he spoke Wayne felt slightly guilty knowing that most of the time he actually did go to The Home Depot for paint and other household necessities.
Abe smiled gratefully showing well-crafted teeth. He turned his unfocused eyes back on Weasel. “You keep this up I’ll be forced to forbid you to come into the store anymore.”
As the pair exited the hardware store, Wayne, in a cheery voice called over his shoulder, “See you in church.”
Outside Wayne walked Weasel to his cruiser. He shoved Weasel into the back seat and got back in beside a waiting Ray.
“Bad boy here,” he explained. “A shoplifter. I’ve given him too many warnings and free stay out of jail tickets. This time I have to take him in.”
Ray glanced over his shoulder at Weasel who kept his eyes down.
As the cruiser started up, Wayne told Ray he had to drop Weasel off at the station and Ray nodded understanding.
After a moment he glanced down at Wayne’s sidearm and cast a sideways look at Wayne and blinked. “You look like a real westerner,” he ventured in a soft voice. “How come you don’t carry a forty-five like in the movies?”
Wayne laughed. “Those old Colts are beautiful weapons but way to slow to load and unload in this day and age. He reached down and patted his weapon. “This baby holds fourteen rounds double stacked and I’ve got two more clips on me in case of war. And if worst comes to worst, I’ve got my trusty broomstick locked down right here.” He laughed, pointing to the shotgun locked into place just against the dashboard between the two men. He turned just off Main and pulled up before a small brick building with a dark bronze plate beside the entrance that read: Durant County Sheriff.
“I’ll just be a couple of minutes, Ray. You should probably just wait here. I’ll be right back.”
Ray nodded his head. “Sure, I’m in no hurry,” he said.
Inside the station, Wayne marched Weasel across to the low railing that separated the room from the outer office.
Seated behind her desk, Carma Belle Hawthorne, receptionist cum dispatcher, looked up though her big glasses.
“Got a bad-ass here for you, Cowbelle,” Wayne announced, shoving Weasel forward against the railing. “He’s too old for juvie and too young to go to prison. I don’t know what to do with him.” He glared at Weasel. “Maybe I should just beat his ass to a pulp and send him to the hospital.”
At this Weasel’s blotchy face reddened even more and his lower lip quivered and his recessed chin shrank more closely to his Adam’s apple.
Carma Belle tried not to smile. “Weasel,” she said, “I think you have a real problem.” She looked back up at Wayne. “You know I hate that damned name, Wayne.”
“Which one, Weasel or Cowbelle?”
“Both of them dammit.” She shook her head and said, “Lyle. I’ll call you Lyle, but that doesn’t make any difference in the charge. What did you take this time?”
“A baseball,” Wayne said. He threw Weasel a brief smile. “He don’t play ball. Only thing Weasel ever plays with is his dick. Ain’t that right, Weasel?”
Weasel just looked down at the asphalt tile floor.
“What were you going to do with the baseball?”
Weasel hesitated and after a nudge from Wayne, he said, “I don’t know. I forgot I had it.”
“Forgot you had it?”
“I mean, I just picked it up and was kind of bouncing it around in my hand you know, and I guess I forgot I had it.”
Wayne shook his head. He looked at Carma Belle. “I think we better book him, Cowbelle. Let him appear before the judge Monday when he comes around. Maybe that’ll teach him a lesson.” He looked back at Weasel. “Judge Moody is one hard-ass judge my man. He’ll throw the book at you. He believes in being hard on kids especially. Says that keeps them from growing up bad.” He glanced sideways at Carma Belle and winked. He pushed open the gate in the railing and pushed Weasel through.
He marched Weasel through another door behind the railing and past a couple of small offices to a row of three empty cells at the rear. He snagged a ring of keys from the faded green wall as he passed and opened the right hand cell. “Get in,” he commanded.
Weasel obediently entered the small cell furnished only by a steel sink and toilet and a one double bunk made from sheets of steel filled with small holes, and a single steel bunk, all painted a flaking dark brown enamel. There were no blankets or pillows.
Weasel looked hopelessly around at the bare cell as Wayne slammed the bars shut and locked it up.
“Try that for a while,” he said. “The bed’s not too comfy but at least there’s no bedbugs like you probably got at home.”
Leaving a sad Lyle aka Weasel behind, Wayne came back to the front and just as he reappeared, the street door opened and Andy Holgate entered.
Wayne shook his head. He wondered if Andy would ever make it. A nice guy all right, but Wayne had the distinct feeling after eight months that Andy Holgate was just a little too easygoing to make a good deputy. Wayne had his own ideas of just what tone to take with people. He could be affable, friendly, official and downright mean, according.
Wayne saw something in Andy that was just a tad too soft. In the eight months that Andy Holgate had been a deputy in Ashley, the situation had never come up, but Wayne had an almost certain feeling that in a pinch, Andy wouldn’t quite know just what to do or how to act. None of Wayne’s misgivings however showed on his lean face as he grinned and nodded to Andy.
“So what’s up Andy? Any action today?”
Andy grinned in his good natured way. “Oh…same ol’ same ol’. Somebody backed into the cross at the church and knocked it off balance, but I think it was an accident. Dumb driver probably didn’t even know he hit it. I helped Reverend Clay straighten it back up. I think it’ll be all right. What’s that in your cruiser? A prisoner? ”
“Naw, he’s a drifter I hired to help around the farm a bit.”
Carma Belle spoke up, her slightly pudgy face almost smiling. “Deputy Terwilliger here made a major bust today, Andy. He brought in a major crime figure.”
Wayne laughed. “I’ll tell you, Cowbelle, that boy has a serious problem. I don’t know what to do with him. He steals shit he doesn’t want or need. He’s got a problem.”
“Well, maybe the judge can get him some counseling in Franklin,” Carma Belle said. “They have some kind of programs over there I think.”
“Hell, I was just throwing a scare into him. I thought maybe you could throw his ass out after a few hours. I imagine he’s pretty sick of that steel bed already.”
“Well, that’s okay,” Carma Belle said; “We can let him go home but I can call the judge and talk to him. Maybe he’ll issue an order to get the kid some counseling.”
Wayne gave her a wide grin. “You don’t have to go that far, Cowbelle. A good scare is what all boy needs.”
Andy moved over to a large corkboard littered with notices and pictures of wanted people. He leaned close, squinting his eyes.
“Where’s the Chief Belmont?” Wayne asked.
Carma Belle shrugged her narrow shoulders. “Haven’t seen hide or hair of him all day. But since nothing big is going on, who cares?”
Wayne laughed. Okay, you guys. I’m out of here. See you in church.”
©2014 by C. M. Albrecht