Copyright (c) 2018 by Randall R. Peterson ALL RIGHTS RESERVED This is a work of fiction. All persons, locations and actions are from the author's imagination or have been used in a fictitious manner.
By R. Peterson
There was a mixture of hate and adoration in Doris Hicks’ eyes as she stared as the new Sheriff’s Detective leaving the Comanche County Library. He was at least six foot two inches tall and wasn’t wearing a wedding ring – as if that meant anything in 1964. Ted Jagger was good looking, in a big city sort of way, but he was investigating Lawrence Sims and going through Robert Rowand’s old police files … there was going to be trouble.
Doris stood at the window next to the file cabinets and watched him climb into the unmarked police car as she sorted ten years’ worth of old police reports back into the law enforcement archives. The county desperately needed more funding. The police station, jail and courthouse were all crowded into one two-story building. Ted was new in town and had no clue what he was getting into. Still he had smiled at her when she told him she could help him find whatever he was looking for. And was that a wink he’d given her … or only her imagination? If only Fred hadn’t returned. The thing that preacher said about until death do you part obviously didn’t apply in in a town like Cloverdale.
There were only two others in the library, ten-year-old Jerry Doward looking at one of Edgar Rice Burrows books and that crazy lady Hamilton Fisk; the young hunchbacked woman was on day release from State Hospital North, who was of course browsing her long crooked nose through the section dealing with the occult.
Jerry was running his fingers across the torn and taped dust jacket of Tarzan and the Jewels of Opar. “Would you like to check that out?” She could see the boy’s imagination swinging through the jungle.
“My library card is expired.” Jerry shrugged his shoulders. “My father said a dollar twenty-five is a lot of money and reading books is a waste of time.”
“That’s alright,” Doris said as she removed the card from the front of the book and stamped it. “I’ll trust you. Just bring it back in ten days.”
Jerry’s father Toby, and Fred had been drinking buddies. Too bad they hadn’t been drunk together when Fred’s pickup went over the cliff that night and exploded in Magician’s Canyon. But then, maybe Toby would have come back too. Doris shuddered. Poor Jane Doward; Jerry’s introverted mother would never have been able to handle a beating from a dead man.
Hamilton Fish made three of her bony fingers into a fork shape and hissed at her when Doris told her the library was closing. Fisk pointed at a clock hanging on the wall over the circulation desk. “It’s only ten to five. What is it that you don’t want me to know?”
“It always takes me a few minutes to lock-up,” Doris told her. “I have a very large Bob Cat in the basement that I turn loose in here at night. It helps keeps mice from chewing on the book covers … and it also has a taste for witches!”
Doris watched the twisted twenty year old dressed in black, pedal furiously away on a 1938 Adler Damenrad ladies’ bicycle with a wire-basket mounted in place of a headlight and a woven picnic basket strapped above the rear wheel. If she were only forty years older, she’d be the spitting image of Margaret Hamilton in The Wizard of Oz.
Doris called Mayor Margaret Otter on the phone. “We’ve got problems,” she said.
“This new detective from Chicago seems to have all his ducks in a row,” Mayor Margaret Otter told the other women as they met in Black Rose Cemetery. “If he discovers Lawrence Sims is the dead Peeping Tom, he’s likely to discover his brother’s involvement.” She shook her head. “If Vincent Sims goes to jail he’s going to tell everyone where we buried Robert Rowand!”
“Oh what tangled webs we weave …” Madeline Bird chirped as she picked up a shovel and followed the others to the back of the graveyard.
“What was we supposed to do? Allow that bastard to keep beating on Mary?” Doris was carrying a leaf rake high above her head like crusader.
“Sheriff Walker knew his deputy was a wife beater; why didn’t he at least fire him?” Ermine Crane was tapping tombstones with the backside of a hoe.
“He would have moved away and then we wouldn’t have known where Mary was or been able to help her,” the Mayor said. “John and I both tried to have him arrested for domestic abuse but as you all know he had a keep out of jail card in his pocket. His uncle, Rufus T. Bone was at that time Montana’s Governor and his father was not only a district judge but a major contributor to the Republican Party. Rowand’s job was protected by graft, corruption and political influence.”
“I’d seen the cigarette burns on Mary’s legs,” Madeline said. “And the cuts on her back … I wish I’d been there when Ermine put three slugs into the creep’s face!”
“It wasn’t that spectacular,” Ermine Crane said. “Rowand came busting into that flea-bag motel room where we were hiding Mary. I don’t know how he tracked us sixty miles past Dillon. The bastard had a small propane torch in his hand and he was out of his mind focused on Mary; it was as if he didn’t even know we were there. “I’m going to burn rings around all your parts that you keep covered,” he promised as he stalked to where she was cowering in a corner. “I’m going to make you look like a red and white striped Zebra!” He was laughing like a hyena when the first shot tore off his nose. There was blood flying everywhere but I couldn’t seem to take my finger off the trigger.”
“We’ve all got a little of the old South Fork vigilante in us,” Margaret said. “Some times you have to bend the law to bring justice to the innocent.”
“Bend the law? We jumped rope with it!” Doris gritted her teeth.
“What made you decide to bury him in Black Rose?” Ermine asked.
“A cemetery is the best place to hide a body … too logical for most minds,” Margaret said. “Everything would have worked out fine if Vincent Sims hadn’t been watching from his bedroom window and saw us opening a grave and giving the resident corpse company. He must have crept out of his house and snuck over to see what we were doing. About a week later the phone calls and blackmail started. We paid the creep almost six thousand dollars before we figured out his brother was the Dead Peeping Tom and that Vincent whose hobby is taxidermy was most surely helping him with his gruesome disguises. It became then what you would call a Mexican Standoff … we don’t tell what we know … and he keeps quiet about what we did.”
“We’ve all had the creepy feeling of being watched,” Ermine muttered. “I always keep my drapes pulled. I’m glad that part is coming to an end.”
“This new investigator changes everything doesn’t it?” Doris said. “I’ve met this new detective; he’s no dummy. It will take him about two seconds to figure out everything he needs to know about the nasty Sims brothers.”
“Are you sure he’s coming here tonight?”
“I’m almost certain he will,” Doris said. “So, we’ve got to dig up our secret and move it to a new location fast!”
“What if the authorities decide to dig up the whole cemetery?” Ermine’s eyes were like two white-wall tires.
Margaret laughed. “If that happens, and Comanche County’s closet skeletons are finally exposed to the world, then every person in western Montana and eastern Idaho is going to jail.”
They were just finishing reinterring Rowand’s body in a new grave, this time on the opposite end of the graveyard, when it started to rain. “Damn,” Ermine cursed. “If those dark clouds could have only held off for a few more minutes!”
“It’s about time we had a break!” Doris was all but laughing. “The rain will help wash away any evidence of our work!”
A pair of headlights suddenly glowed at the far end of Vineyard Road. “It’s him! It’s the new detective!” Doris squawked. “That unmarked police car they’ve provided him with has one headlight that is always shining to one side.”
Margaret handed an armload of rakes and shovels to Madeline and Ermine. “Quick, hide these in the bushes across the road. We’ll have to think up a reason for being here if he decides to enter the cemetery.”
“Whether he turns in here or not,” Doris said. “He’s not blind; he’ll notice our cars.”
Madeline and Ermine picked the wrong spot to cross the road. There weren’t any clumps of bushes big enough to hide the excavating tools and the car was approaching at a much faster speed than they expected. Madeline panicked and sunk the tools in an irrigation ditch half full of icy water then bolted across the road … Ermine followed. There was the sound of car tires skidding on the wet pavement then the unmarked police car plowed through the cast iron fence and crashed into a tree.
Four women stared as a broken radiator sent swirling steam into the air to dance with the rain. “What do we do now?” Doris was near bawling when she saw Ted Jagger open his eyes. He didn’t appear to be badly hurt.
“When you’re in Rome …” Margaret said looking around at the tombstones.
The four women began to chant softly as they lurched zombie-like toward the car. Ted closed his eyes as Madeline reached her wet and cold fingers through the broken glass and began to pull him out. Ted moaned once as they lay him on the grass. “He thinks he’s having a bad dream,” Doris whispered.
“We all are,” Margaret said.
When Ted Jagger opened his eyes he was surrounded by four women. The flashing lights of an ambulance reflected off the wet trees as it pulled into the cemetery.
“What happened?” Ted tried to sit up but Madeline pushed him down.
“You have a concussion; you were in a car crash,” she said.
Ted looked at his car wrapped around the tree and then at the four women. “What were you ladies doing here?”
“We were next door volunteering our companionship to the patients who don’t get regular family visits,” Margaret Otter said. “We heard the crash and came over to investigate.”
Ted stared toward State Hospital North. There were four cars in the parking lot that he didn’t remember seeing before … but it was raining and those damn streaky windshield wipers … still.
“Two dark figures ran across the road in front of me,” Ted said. “I hit the brakes and lost control.”
“Did these things vanish into the graveyard?” Ermine asked.
“I think so.” Ted tried to sit up but Doris pushed him back down. Two EMT’s from the ambulance were bringing over a stretcher.
“Those were darts you seen,” Ermine said. Her voice suddenly took on the serious, spooky tones of a late night campfire story. “Restless souls of the dearly departed dead wandering the back roads, hiding in corn fields and the dark corners of barns … they are usually invisible … but rain makes them appear to the living like glimmering shadows.”
“Take it easy mister,” The first EMT said as he shown a penlight light in Ted’s angry eyes. “We’ll have you in Comanche County General Hospital in about twelve minutes.”
Ted pushed the medic away and stood up. “Darts? Glimmering shadows? What kind of bullshit are you lying bitches trying to feed me? Why won’t anyone listen to what I want? I said I’m fine!”
Ted limped to his steaming police car and retrieved a clipboard from the floor and a 38 special from under the seat. “I don’t know what’s going on here … but I’m going to find out!” He glanced back at the wreckage as he walked toward the Sims residence and shook his head. “I just hope Comanche County has car insurance.”
“Are we sunk?” Doris asked Margaret as the EMTs carried the empty stretcher back to the ambulance.
“Maybe,” Margaret said. “We’ll just have to wait and see what happens.”
Five minutes later, the women were just starting to walk toward the State Hospital North parking lot when a gunshot disturbed the stillness after the rain … followed, a split second later by another shot. The four ran to the Sims’ residence.
Detective Ted Jagger stood at the opening to the basement stairs with his gun drawn. Blood dripped from a gash in his cheek where a bullet had grazed him. Vincent Sims lay sprawled at the bottom of the stairs … the wound was dead center right between the eyes. His brother was huddled in a corner of the kitchen as if he were a child not quite sure where he was.
“Lawrence seemed eager to show me his work,” Ted said gesturing to a gruesome row of human skin masks hanging on the wall in the basement made from tanned human flesh. “His brother obviously had other ideas.”
I wasn’t surprised when Margaret Otter dropped by my office to see how I was coming along. I had been expecting her visit. “Any word on a trial for Lawrence Sims?” I asked her. I had spent the last week learning everything I could about the detective I was replacing. The guy was no loss to the community.
“I don’t think there will be one,” Margaret said. “Sims’ court appointed attorney has agreed to admit him guilty on an insanity plea. His brother had more than a dozen grief stricken women believing their dear husbands had returned from the dead. Some of the more irrational ones even went to bed with what they thought were lost loved ones. Vincent promised them all return visits … for a dear price of course. The prosecution has no objections. So it looks like Lawrence will spend the rest of his life looking out a barred window from a north side of the mental hospital. He’ll be able to gaze upon the same graveyard he used to roam and skin corpses in.”
“Just as well,” I told her. “We wouldn’t want him tangling with any darts!” I was momentary startled by the stricken look on the Mayor’s face. “Hey, I’m sorry if I was out of line before …. You might have some unusual ways of doing things here … and we all have our secrets but I think you and your friends are good people.” I paused waiting for a reaction … expecting a bad one but hoping I didn’t get it. “I didn’t know you were my boss!”
Margaret smiled and I knew instantly I liked her. “That’s okay. We’re just a small town with our own peculiar ways. Welcome to Cloverdale” she said.
THE END ???