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Authors: Patricia Anthony

Happy Policeman

BOOK: Happy Policeman
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Chapter One

ON HIS WAY
to see B.J.’s alleged body, Police Chief DeWitt Dawson noticed that the window of Coomey Hardware was broken. Since B.J. had also once reported a prowler whose “scary white face” turned out to be Hereford, DeWitt reined in his mare.

The early morning shopper had swept the glass into a pile, using one of the store’s brooms. It lay propped in the bright fall sun against the front door, price tag dangling. A telltale trickle of chicken feed led down the sidewalk and stopped at the point where the shopper—Etta Wilson? Gene Selby?—had noticed the hole in the bag.

DeWitt dutifully marked the broken window in his book, then dismounted, and on the back of a traffic violation slip wrote a note which he stuck in the empty frame:
Harlan. I’m getting tired of this. From now on, leave your store unlocked.

Monday morning, downtown was deserted. The head-in parking spaces were empty, the meters all showing their red
EXPIRED
. The only car in sight was Webster Riley’s Pontiac, and it sat abandoned in the intersection of Main and Poteet.

DeWitt rode on. A half block away, at the Mobil station, Webster was trying to milk a few drops from the pump. Before the man could lift his accusing gaze from the red-and-yellow gas can, DeWitt kicked the bay into a trot.

He skirted Guadalupe, riding three blocks out of his way. Cars or not, Bo would be lurking in wait at the town’s single red light. DeWitt didn’t want to see him. He suspected that his junior officer lived in a state of constant expectation where every speeder was hauling dope and every runner of a red light was a DWl. The idea of a dead body might get him overheated.

At the bend of the road, a lone UPS van sat in the gravel parking lot of the Biblical Truth Church. Through the open doorway DeWitt caught sight of full pews. No gas, but the true believers had walked. Pastor Jimmy’s voice drifted from the church, cold as the breeze, brash as the sunlight. Damn him. Preaching about demons. With that UPS van parked there.

DeWitt, now in a mood, kicked his horse harder than he meant to. She bolted into a dead run. He let her have her head until he turned off at an old logging road. Until branches along the brush-choked trail slapped the fury out of him. He hauled back on the reins. The mare pulled up short, lathered and blowing hard.

Something big had come down the rutted clay road. And recently. There were fresh tire tracks, broken saplings. Feeling the first thrill of unease, DeWitt dismounted. He and the mare climbed the slope together. By the time they reached the balding crest of Sparrow Point, they had both cooled off.

The hill was quiet but for a grackle whistling atonally in the brush. To the east lay the Line. Paisley today, like a bad 60s tie.

DeWitt dropped the reins. Sticking out from a bush was a pair of shoeless feet. He walked closer: legs. Copious naked torso. Shocking casaba-melon breasts. And a face—Loretta Harper’s. The Mary Kay rep had been dead for hours, and her skin was the color of old newspaper.

Oh, crap,
DeWitt thought.

Leaf-filtered sun threw spotlights across the nude body as though some puckish god had chosen to grant Loretta a belated fame. Her thunder thighs were spread as wide as a picture in a cheap beaver magazine. One blue eye was staring with idiot interest at a brown oak leaf near her nose. The other eye was missing. The flesh of her cheek and the skin at her neck had burst apart, exposing the tough, pale tube of the larynx.

Swallowing hard, DeWitt reached into his pocket for a cigarette, his mind fallen back six years to the forbidden habit. Encountering only his ballpoint Bic, he pulled off the blue plastic top, slipped it into his mouth, and looked around.

Between the chalky caliche outcroppings were more tire tracks. And scuff marks, evidence that something Loretta-sized, Loretta-heavy, had been dragged.

The shade by the body was cold. The air held the sour smell of autumn. DeWitt knelt by the body, wondering how he could make the death look like an accident.

The deep-throated purr of a car engine brought his head up fast. A red Bronco was inching up the gravel trail. It stopped, and Doc and Purdy climbed out. B.J. had been on the phone again.

“Y’all been hoarding gas.” DeWitt walked down the incline to greet the pair.

“Got to hoard a little, the way you been laying down on the job.” Doc ran trembling morning-after fingers through his Van Dyke. The wind whipped his overcoat about his legs. A little taller, and the diminutive physician would have been a ringer for Lenin.

“I told them about it. They’re just slow.”

“You’re missing your cigarettes, ain’t ya?” Doc peered closely at the pen top. “Had an ex-wife went through the menopause easier than that.”

Purdy Phifer emitted a whinnying giggle. A flat black look from DeWitt shut him up. DeWitt was anxious. There was a cramp of nicotine hunger in his chest that the pen top couldn’t quell. If his pistol hadn’t been confiscated, he might have shot Purdy just because he hated that laugh.

“Well, what’s going on?” Doc asked. “Bo had his shorts in a wad. Told Purdy to get his camera and me and come on up here. But you know how Bo is.”

Glum now, DeWitt nodded.

“Anal-retentive, like,” Doc went on.

Purdy pointed. “Is that a foot?”

DeWitt tracked the plumb line of Purdy’s finger.

“That
is!”
Purdy crowed. “It’s a
foot!”

Doc and DeWitt followed the tubby photographer to the glade. They stood and looked at the corpse for a while.

“Jesus.” Purdy’s voice was high-pitched with excitement. “She been murdered?”

“No, Purdy,” Doc said. “She come out here, took off all her clothes, spread-eagled herself and gouged out her eye. DeWitt, damn it. Why don’t you cover her up?”

“Can’t,” Purdy told them. “Bo said to take lots of black and white stills.”

The pen top gave as DeWitt angrily bit down.

As Purdy bent with fat difficulty in order to snap a crotch shot, the roar of a motorcycle split the silence. DeWitt hurriedly took the pen top from his mouth and tossed it away.

“You got mud obscuring your license plate, Doc.” Bo set his kickstand and walked up the hill toward them. His uniform was spick and span; his motorcycle boots spotless. “I’ll let you go this time, but get it cleaned off before I have to cite you. Well, well. DeWitt. What tears you away from your vandalism lists?”

DeWitt planted himself between his junior officer and the corpse. He stared hard into the man’s mirror sunglasses and then dropped his gaze to the Dudley Do-Right chin. “Better get back into town, Bo. Folks’ll start running that red light.”

Bo’s words were strung like birds on a wire, like clothespins on a line, linked by thin contempt. “You weren’t going to tell me about the murder, were you?” In a sad half-whisper he repeated, “Were you?”

Bo knelt by the body, snapped on a pair of surgeon’s gloves, and picked up the pen top. “Evidence,” he said with triumph.

“Mine,” DeWitt said.

Bo’s smile faded. “Well. No blood. Must have been killed somewhere else and dragged here. You can see the marks in the weeds.”

Killed. DeWitt tested the flavor of the word and found it bitter.

Now Bo was playing This Little Piggy with Loretta’s stiff fingers. “Rigor’s set in. It misted rain about five this morning. Ground’s dry under her. Purdy—there’s a clear bit of tread mark in that soft spot. Make sure you get a picture of that.”

Maybe we could say Loretta drowned,
DeWitt thought. It had rained harder than Bo imagined. The force of the flood tore Loretta’s clothes from her back. Her neck was ripped open on the rocks. And the rising waters deposited her here.
Right here,
he thought in faltering hope,
some fifty yards up the rise.

“This wound’s been busted out, like it was exploded from underneath,” Bo said. “There’s no murder weapon I know of that could do this. You know what it looks like. I’ll bet—“

”Just shut your goddamned mouth!” DeWitt shouted.

Purdy circumspectly stepped back.

“Don’t you see?” DeWitt said. “’We have to keep quiet. We have to goddamned
think!
All right, we have a body, but anything could have happened. No telling what—”

“When’s the last time any of y’all seen her alive?” Bo asked.

DeWitt looked to Doc for help, but Doc was contemplating Loretta.

“When?” Bo asked.

Purdy scratched his ass. “I’m thinking. I’m thinking.”

“She probably went to church last night,” Doc said. “Loretta never misses church. All them church folks are addicted to that talk about demons.”

The dawn of conclusion broke over Bo’s face. “Demons. There. That’s the motive.”

DeWitt shoved Bo aside. “Let’s get her into town. Who all’s gonna help me?”

Purdy made a few sounds suggestive of gagging.

“Wait a minute.” Bo dusted his hands. “Curtis needs to see the homicide scene first. It’s Texas law.”

“Fuck Texas law.” DeWitt grabbed one of Loretta’s arms. The body was cold and clammy, the touch of it between fish and flesh. DeWitt pulled, not getting far.

“Damn it, DeWitt,” Doc said. “Your back won’t take much of that. Help him, for Christ’s sake, Purdy. Be useful for once.”

Purdy picked up an ankle as though he were a decorator forced by his clients to consider a knotty pine lamp. At the count of three, Purdy let the ankle slip from his grasp.

“She’s too heavy,” Purdy said.

DeWitt said, “She’ll get to stinking if we don’t do something soon.”

“All right, all right.” Doc bent to seize Loretta’s calf at the five-o’clock shadow. It took the efforts of Purdy and Doc and DeWitt to carry her. Still grumbling, Bo followed them down the rise.

They shoved her into the back of the Bronco. Her torso slid in easily. Her legs didn’t. They were spread too wide, and no amount of coaxing could unspread them.

They turned her sideways, but her toes caught on the roof. By mutual consent, the three gave up and stood by the tailgate of the Bronco, panting. DeWitt stared blankly at Loretta’s open crotch and then looked quickly away. “Check for semen, Doc.”

“Corne on, DeWitt. Nobody would have raped—” Bo began.

“Doc,” DeWitt growled. “Check for semen.”

Doc gave DeWitt a just-between-us look. Around his eyes the skin was sickroom gray; his cheeks were a festive, alcoholic red. Doc was a man of contrasts. “Chief. You’ll want to inform Billy.”

“I’ll take care of that,” Bo said.

Doc winced.

“No need, Bo. I will.” DeWitt took off his leather jacket and covered the strategic parts of the body. There was a lot to cover, and he had to arrange carefully.

Watching DeWitt fuss with the naked corpse, Purdy snickered. DeWitt cast one baleful glance at the doctor, then all three men convulsed into helpless guffaws. And Bo’s lips tightened into a disapproving scowl.

BOOK: Happy Policeman
10.14Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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