Authors: H. M. Mann
A multicultural crime mystery by
H. M. Mann
Copyright © 2011 by H. M. Mann
Cover picture courtesy of the Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division
This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents either are the product of the author’s warped imagination or are used fictitiously, and any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, events, or locales is entirely coincidental … and unfortunate.
Also available from Kinfolk Books and H. M. Mann:
NEEDY GREEDY LOVE
THE WORST ROMANCE EVER WRITTEN
WAN YU AND TONYA SAVE THE WORLD … TWICE!
They didn’t mean to kill him. It just got out of hand. We was all drunk as skunks, but afterwards, I got all the blame.
Jimmy Lee calls me a nigguh-lover, says I wasn’t even worthy of being called a whore, says no man will want to be with me for all eternity, says if it wasn’t for me, none of us would have blood on our hands.
I never seen so much blood before.
But what they did to him after. I didn’t have no part of that, and I didn’t set no fire. That was all their doing, and I hope they burn in hell for all eternity for it. He says it’ll save our asses, throw off the police, put the blame far from Snow, maybe even go unnoticed. “I mean,” Jimmy Lee says, “it’s only one more dead nigguh, right? Hell, our ancestors probably owned his ancestors, right? Who’s gonna care?”
Who’s gonna care.
I cared for J once, I really did. He was so different, so alive, so tender. Smooth beige skin, curly hair, a mouth full of the whitest teeth, thinner lips than most black boys, and the best running back Pine County is ever going to see. God, I miss him already.
The things he told me about his mama and younger brother, about his dreams of buying his mama a big house with an in-ground pool and a setting porch, about the white daddy he knew he had somewhere on account he was so light-skinned. I can’t forget any of that.
And our nights together. There were so many, but Jimmy Lee says I got to get rid of all traces of J, can’t have nothing that will tie me to J, can’t have even a shred of evidence connecting me to him, gotta forget J ever existed. He don’t know about the poems J wrote me, and he ain’t gonna know about them or this diary neither. I’m keeping them cuz ain’t nobody ever written me no poems before.
Ain’t nobody ever loved me like J, and it ain’t likely nobody ever will. Least he left me with something wonderful to remember him by.
Monday, July 5, 1999
Darcy won’t open the door! I have my regular Monday appointment like I’ve had for the last umpteen years, and Darcy won’t open the door! I just
go to Calhoun looking like this! I’m a sight! Sheriff, can you get Darcy to open up the door?”
Sheriff Miles Overton looked up from the front page of the
(“No Drought Relief in Sight: Hurricane Anthony Heads Out To Sea”) and smiled at the most aptly named woman in Snow, Virginia. Easily three hundred pounds and only five feet tall, Mrs. Marilyn Stump stood sweating off tonnage in the doorway of Lester’s, the only gas station in town and Snow’s traditional police station.
Howdy, Mrs. Stump. Too bad about Hurricane Anthony, huh? We could have used the rain.”
Did you hear me, Miles Overton? Darcy won’t open the door. I just
to get my hair done, and I have
many errands to run in Calhoun, and I just
having to drive through all that traffic on a hot day and you
my car has no air-conditioning ...”
Overton tuned her out and cursed the city of Calhoun.
the black hole of the South. The mountains beckon you in, and the magical waters keep you coming back again and again. That’s the legend, at least. City water probably gives folks the runs, and that forces them to find restrooms there, and—
Miles Overton! Have you heard a word I’ve said?”
Unfortunately, I have.
Overton flipped to the sports section to check up on the Cubs. “Yes, Mrs. Stump. Have you tried calling Darcy on the telephone? Maybe she overslept. Probably out late last night watching the fireworks.”
Cubs lost, and Sammy had an oh-fer,
What did McGuire do? Two dingers? Sammy’s got some catching up to do.
He looked up. Mrs. Stump was still sweating in front of him. “Why don’t you give her a call, Mrs. Stump?”
Mrs. Stump blinked. “Why should I, Sheriff? Darcy knows very well that I’m coming.” She smoothed out a few stray bluish curls. “Well, are you going over there, Sheriff?”
Let’s call first,” Overton said. He folded the paper and dialed Darcy’s Cut Hut. After fifteen rings, he stood to his full six-foot-two frame, stretching his lower back. “Deputy?”
Snow’s other policeman, Ramsey Saunders, looked up from the comics section. Beefy, red-faced, and short, Ramsey was an overgrown Opie with acne instead of freckles. He was Snow’s Oliver Hardy, which naturally made Overton Snow’s Stan Laurel. “Yes, Sheriff?”
Ramsey looked into the garage at Lester Williams, Snow’s only mechanic and one of the few black mechanics in Pine County. “He’s still at it.”
Lester? How much longer?”
Lester slid out from under the Crown Victoria on a dolly. “An hour, maybe three. Depends on if I have the parts.”
You won’t need two cars for Snow. Damn county commissioners. That Crown Vic ought to be retired after 75,000 miles anyway.
“Ramsey, let’s go for a walk then.”
After all, it’s only ninety-five degrees with ninety-five percent humidity at nine in the morning.
Mrs. Stump blocked the doorway. “I’m going, too, Sheriff.”
Overton shrugged and put on his hat. “Suit yourself.”
Overton thought as he and Ramsey walked the two blocks to Front Street.
The quiet redhead. They’re pretty rare. Kinda pretty still, but she had never married because of some talk years ago about her and—
Y’all slow down now!” Mrs. Stump yelled.
Weight Watchers can work for you,
Overton thought. “Sorry, Mrs. Stump.” He and Ramsey waited for her to catch up at the corner of Front and Oak.
Hot enough for you, Sheriff?” Ramsey asked.
Overton sighed. “You ask me that every single day, Ramsey. Can’t you think of anything else to say?”
Overton blinked at him. “Well, ask me about baseball or something.”
Sorry.” Ramsey had been the only applicant for the deputy’s position after Fred Thompson retired without ever having to draw his gun. “So, did Sosa hit another?”
Oh for four.”
Too bad. Shame about that hurricane. We would have had a little excitement around here for a change.”
Flooded streets aren’t exciting, Ramsey.”
Better than all this dust, Sheriff.”
Overton couldn’t remember the last time it rained, but he knew the first rains would mean lots of wrecks out on the road to and from Calhoun.
Rain’s kinda like snow that way,
Folks ain’t used to drivin’ in it, and when the first rain hits all that build-up of oil on the road, it’s slicker than snot on a doorknob.
When Mrs. Stump arrived, the three walked past Bob’s Hardware, Antique Alley, and Trudy’s Diner, each vacant because of the malls and restaurants in Calhoun twenty miles to the northwest. That left Front Street with a pharmacy that still had a soda fountain complete with the original spinning silver stools, and Darcy’s Cut Hut, housed in the bottom floor of a skinny blue Victorian.
While Ramsey pounded on the door, Overton checked out Mrs. Stump’s condition. Streams of sweat dripped off her forehead.
I didn’t know whales could stay so long out of water—
Nobody home,” Ramsey said.
Let’s be sure,” Overton said, and he shook his key ring until he found an old skeleton key.
You have the key, Sheriff?” Mrs. Stump asked.
He inserted the key and wiggled it. “Same locksmith did most of the doors around here once upon a time, Mrs. Stump. This one”—he heard a faint click and pulled out the key—“opens most of the houses on this street.”
He opened the door, and a hot wave of decay blew by them. Ramsey drew his gun, and Mrs. Stump stumbled backwards, doubling over and gagging.
Put it away, Ramsey,” Overton said, pinching his nose. “I doubt Darcy will bother us. You stay with Mrs. Stump out here on the porch, hear?”
Ramsey holstered his gun. “Yeah. That would be a good idea.”
Mrs. Stump recovered somewhat and sat on the porch swing. “What
Overton withdrew a handkerchief from his shirt pocket and put it to his nose. “Darcy, I suspect.”
Overton walked past the single barber’s chair, noted the spotless floor, and checked Darcy’s appointment book on a counter near the register. Darcy had been busy on July 3, fourteen customers listed.
Had to get their hair done so they could go out in complete darkness the next night to look at some fireworks
, Overton thought.
What a waste of money.
Her last customer had had an appointment at five.
Time of death between five, no, say six—the floor’s clean—on July 3 and ... when? Did I see her at the fireworks display? Don’t recall seeing all that red hair at all.