It had been a typical Friday night until his cellphone rang. All calls routed through the office system caused his phone to ring with the sound of a baby crying. Sheriff Taylor learned through experience that the sound would wake him from the dead. If it failed to rouse him, it certainly woke everyone around him.
Sheriff John Taylor sat on his plush living room couch, with plans to stay there until the next morning. His wife Jamie often told people she’d find the Sheriff loudly snoring, with the television still playing an endless list of home improvement shows. It was true. The Sheriff loved all of them. He didn’t need the woods, bar, or a fishing pole, which suited Jamie just fine. Before coming back home to take the Sheriff’s job, John caused her many nights of worry.
Because his back and hip hurt a lot, sitting up to sleep sometimes was his only recourse. He knew if his cell was ringing that one of his deputies decided to ignore his do-not-disturb order for a good reason. Even Burt Reynolds, his mutt, raised his head in protest of the cellphone ring. Dogs weren’t fans of babies crying, as it turns out. “Okay!” the Sheriff grumbled as he reached for his phone on the table.
“Go,” John said to the voice on the line. He nodded his head a few times as he listened. “Will be there in twenty.” Sheriff Taylor preferred concise work-related communications. Except for Deputy Barnes, all of his deputies diligently adhered to his taciturn way of speaking. Barnes graduated from college with a Master’s in English and Latin.
When the Sheriff pulled into the long driveway, he saw that two of his six deputies were parked on each side of the drive while leaving ample room for other vehicles. As he’d trained them, neither had their lights flashing. Unless someone was in danger, lights were a ridiculous distraction. Most days, the Sheriff didn’t even require that his deputies wear uniforms. They were fiercely loyal.
He walked up to the porch as Deputy Hensley told him the little bit he knew. “Call thirty minutes ago, anonymous. Gunshot. I arrived, front door open. Jimmy next to the kitchen table with a gunshot wound to the head. Dead.” The Sheriff nodded and went inside as he opened the screen door to the house. It banged shut behind him.
His other deputy took pictures as he walked around carefully inside the house. Jimmy was on the dirty linoleum floor. Blood pooled around his head and shoulders. The Sheriff noted the small hole in Jimmy’s left temple. He couldn’t see the exit wound. A dark spray pattern was visible across the fridge. Every inch of counter space contained dirty dishes and empty beer cans and bottles.
Deputy Barnes walked into the small kitchen behind the Sheriff. “Suicide?” He asked. “Or did Jimmy succumb to the unnaturally unkempt condition of his own residence?”
Ignoring Deputy Barne’s flowery language, the Sheriff said, “Too soon to say. But if it is a suicide, someone will have to explain why there are two other water rings on the ends of the table.”
Deputy Barnes looked at the table, surprised that he had missed that detail. He picked up the half-empty beer bottle from Jimmy’s presumed place at the table. A water ring formed there from the beer bottle’s condensation. “I surmise the bottles aren’t in the trash. Someone outwitted themselves, didn’t they?” The Sheriff nodded affirmatively.
It was going to be a long night.
Someone would have to find Jimmy’s dad, Tiny. They’d start with the dives and bar parking lots in Evansville. And the Sheriff would find a way to sober him up enough to tell him someone probably murdered his son. Jimmy was Tiny’s youngest son. Both other boys had died in the last eighteen months. Counting Jimmy, this was the Sheriff’s first murder case in his six years on the job. He was beginning to get a tickle in his brain, one that told him that Jimmy’s brothers might have been murdered too. The Sheriff never ignored those tickles in the back of his head. They saved him several times at his last job. The last time he ignored one, he got six bullets to show for his carelessness. Not to mention a furious wife. The Sheriff knew that the wife had been a more significant risk to his health than six bullets.
As the Sheriff turned to Deputy Barnes, the deputy said, “Protocols commenced, boss.”
The night did indeed drag on. By the time Sheriff Taylor drove back to his own house, the sun was over the horizon, blinding him. His right hip flared with a pain that he couldn’t ignore. A dark sedan sat next to his mailbox, engine idling. The tint was so dark that he couldn’t see the occupant. The car screamed, “Federal Government.”
Sheriff Taylor exited his vehicle and pocketed his keys. Instead of going inside, he turned and walked back to the mailbox. Without seeing the occupant, he made the universal sign to “roll down the window.” The dark window slithered down, revealing a shockingly young face. The agent inside smiled, revealing brilliantly white teeth, the best that money could buy. He held up his identification card, one emblazoned with “Special Agent” on the front. “Agent Shatner. Get in.” He tilted his head quickly to the right, indicating that the Sheriff should get in the passenger side.
Instead of arguing and asking needless questions, the Sheriff walked around the front of the car. As he did, he looked up to see his wife Jamie watching from the porch. He motioned that he was going to be a while longer. Jamie waved and went back inside. Years of being married to a mercurial cop taught her to conserve her commentary for later.
The Sheriff opened the door and climbed inside, shutting the door behind him.
Agent Shatner put the car in gear and accelerated away. “It’s better for you to see this first, Sheriff Taylor.” The agent was surprised to see that the Sheriff only nodded and remained quietly watchful from the passenger seat. They drove in silence for ten minutes. Agent Shatner turned off Highway 47. As they neared Hunnington Creek, Sheriff Taylor noted that a red pickup truck was parked near the bridge on the creek’s Evansville side. Beyond was Hunnington County, outside the Sheriff’s jurisdiction.
Agent Shatner pulled over, turned off the ignition, and climbed out. The Sheriff followed suit. A man dressed in blue jeans and a Georgia Tech t-shirt got out of the red truck as they did. “No issues, Agent,” he said and nodded to the creek. Agent Shatner wordlessly walked to the bridge.
“That’s going to be a problem, Sheriff,” he said, as he pointed to the opposite creek bank.
When the Sheriff peered over, he saw two dead bodies, men at least forty years old. He recognized neither of them.
Because Sheriff Taylor didn’t believe in coincidences, he asked, “These two murdered Jimmy last night?”
“Yes, they did.” Agent Shatner said.
“Do you know why?” Sheriff Taylor asked.
“You’re not going to believe this one, Sheriff.”