An animal trainer
“Don’t eat that!”
A Sheriff Walter Wheatley and Deputy Tuscadero Caper
by The Colossus
Charlie had 100 feet of rope, a wood plank, and a schedule to keep, when he pulled out of the driveway 25 minutes to midnight. He was going low tech, because he was that good.
In the cab with him, Neil and Donald were too excited. It made Charlie nervous. He wondered what he had been thinking, bringing them along.
“It’s a secret, what we’re doing,” Charlie said. “We’re straight up screwed if we get caught. You understand?”
“We can do it,” Neil said. He was an eager, though understated guy, who had seen a lot of mobster movies, and loved baseball. He could stand in one spot for literally hours, looking down, roughly at his right nipple. It was hard for Charlie to look at Neil straight on. It made him try to guess when was the last time Neil had brushed his teeth. Neil had filthy glasses, and his pants seemed to stay up only because they had accidentally snagged on a broken shirt button.
Donald was strong. All his crazy was bound up in his muscles, and he was always ready to go. He was 50 years old, and had been in institutions since he was fifteen, and tried to break through a brick wall, wearing nothing but pillows for padding.
They are on their meds. They are stable. Charlie thought.
“Breaking the law. Breaking the law.
Breaking the law. Breaking the law,” Neil and Donald were singing.
These clowns both know the same Judas Priest lyrics? Charlie asked himself. No shit.
“Shut up, guys,” Charlie pleaded.
“Breaking the law. Breaking the law.” They looked at each other, egging each other on.
“I’ll leave you by the side of the road,” Charlie threatened.
Then, he jerked the truck to a stop. Reached over them reluctantly–lice, opened their door, and started pushing them out of the truck into the dark with his feet. Donald fell out and Charlie hit the gas trying to shake Neil loose as Neil clung to the doorframe. Then he waited for Donald to climb back in. That quieted them down. They still giggled some, but quietly.
It took ten minutes to get off the sprawling campus of the Angelfields Farm for Mental Rest, where Charlie worked, and where Neil and Donald were on retreat. Once on the highway, it was another 20 minutes to the edge of town. To drive through town took less than one minute. Seconds, really. There were six businesses on either side of the road. The municipality timed the streetlight to go off at midnight. Charlie was in sight of the light when it went out. Perfect timing.
Charlie didn’t know what the businesses were. They didn’t have anything he was in the market for. He came into town one time before. That was to make plans for what they were about to do. His buddy had flown him over in a Cessna coming out of Newark. Charlie had seen it all from above, the town, the farm. They only got one shot. It was all or nothing.
Charlie was not living in the boondocks; he was doing this job, caretaking the farm. He looked after the chickens. Took care of the llamas and alpacas. Fixed things in the chalet where the dorms and rec room were. He took care of the garden in between the members coming up. Talked big about how he’d shoot up the deer if he caught them. “I’ll be eating venison,” he boasted.
Angelfields was an extension of the Clubhouse for Psychosocial Rehabilitation in Philadelphia. “Members” would visit the farm periodically. The members’ disposition was supposed to be helped by farming activities. They traveled with social workers. The social workers said, “Let’s go pull some weeds. Now, won’t that be fun?” It was like herding cats. The members wandered and circled and ended up back in the rec room watching videos on the television. The social workers pulled weeds. Some of them did. Social workers lasted maybe three years. Tops. Charlie’d seen a lot of them come and go.
The girl social workers liked Charlie. What else was there to do a hundred and fifty miles from the city? If he liked the girls, he helped them some, looking after the morons, the human refuse. Charlie felt for them. These were the lucky ones, the ones that got caught in the last net before oblivion. Most of them had no family, nothing.
When the loonies left, he could do whatever he wanted, play cowboy. He sheared alpaca. Patrolled for deer with his gun. Split wood. Drove around the farm.
In the truck, Donald got his transistor radio out. It was taped round and round with masking tape. At the farm there was nothing but static. He’d listen anyway, sometimes rocking back and forth in the doorway between the rec room and the bathroom. Everybody was afraid to ask him to move, and some of them pissed themselves; the alternative being the outhouse. It had spiders. Members are often anxious people.
Charlie was not afraid of Donald.
“Turn it off, Donald,” Charlie said. “Quiet.”
A mile before the location, Charlie cut the engine and glided silently into the hiding place in the bramble.
“I’ll kill you guys. Don’t make a sound. I mean it,” Charlie said.
Neil and Donald carried the plank. Charlie threw the rope over his shoulder. They walked up the highway, the pavement guiding their steps. In twenty minutes their eyes had adjusted to the dark, and they reached the turnoff. They stepped into the tram tracks, leaving no footprints. They came out the same way.
Everything was timed, choreographed like a ballet. 45 minutes before sunrise, they were back in the truck, then gone.
The sound of the phone surprised Darlene. “Why does that have to be so loud?” she asked herself.
That particular phone hadn’t rung in quite some time. Not since the squirrels had nested in the Nordwell’s chimney–that time they went on vacation. Chester Nordwell called and said there were hooligans on his premises. But it was just squirrels. The sheriff had been very disappointed. It had been so long since he had done anything but a traffic stop.
“Sheriff’s Department,” Darlene intoned with the seriousness of her station. A manicured finger with a press-on nail brushed a too frivolous hair off her cheek, and tucked it into place.
“Sheriff Walter Wheatley is not in. Yes, sir…I see…” Darlene’s eyes opened wide. “Really?…Yes. I’m calling him…I am calling him right now…I can’t say that Harry. I will make sure he knows it is urgent. Please don’t yell at me.”
A case like this, experience told Darlene, would require a sheriff, and a deputy. She took a moment to put on a face before she made the call. She changed her everyday bra for her dressup. She winked at herself in the mirror, and pointed a flirtatious finger at her own reflection. She felt vindicated about spending $4 more for that bra.
“Sheriff, sir, this is Darlene. There has been a disturbance,” she said. She stayed on the line when the sheriff called the deputy, and broke in on the call when it sounded like they would go directly to the crime scene.
“Sheriff, I am urging you to come over here for a briefing. I have not been able to share all the details of the call. I have some information that you might call confidential.” She said confidential quietly, pulling him to her through the phone. She knew the deputy would come with him.
“Darlene, I am confident that we can gather the relevant facts,” the sheriff said, and hung up.
“Stay inside, Gunderson. This is police work,” the Sheriff shouted to Harry Gunderson. Gunderson had been about to step off the porch to meet the sheriff and his perplexing, foreigner deputy.
“Walter, I’ve been walking out there all morning. It is not dangerous. It’s infuriating. I want to nail the sons of bitches that did this to the lamppost as a warning. Hang ‘em high.” Harry said.
“You think maybe some of the kids got up in here last night?” the sheriff asked Gunderson, without wanting an answer, or even listening for one.
“Don’t try telling me this is teenagers doing doughnuts. That is pure crap, Walter. Don’t you think I would have heard that? I sleep about as sound as a high strung llama. This here is organized crime,” Gunderson said.
For once Tuscadero was in agreement with the codger. Where they diverged was probably on the definition of “organized crime”.
“Now, now, Harry. Let the professionals make that determination,” the Sheriff said. “At this time, all we can say is that it may be organized crime.”
“So, tell me then, Sherlock, if it’s not organized, then how did they know?” Gunderson asked.
“Know what?” the sheriff said.
“They’ve been spying on me. It’s systematic psychological… what do you call that… it’s where they make you think you’re going insane, and then, you go insane. It’s that.”
“What are you talking about Gunderson? Understandably, you are upset about your cornfields. Rightly so. And we are going to figure this out. You know we will. But this talk about psychological, well… it kind of sounds…” The sheriff shook his head.
Gunderson couldn’t take anymore. He stormed inside. Grinding his teeth, he climbed the stairs and eventually emerged on the widow’s walk along the roof. Looking down on the crime scene, he couldn’t help yelling, “How the hell did they know about the owls?”
“Captain Fart Stain and Toto are not going to be able to figure this out,” Gunderson mumbled to himself. “I’m calling the damn FBI.”
He wasn’t calling the FBI. He was missing his wife Odetta. Odetta was on the road. She got herself one of those pink cadillacs selling Mary Kay Cosmetics. She did a lot of road trips, and Harry had suspicions that it wasn’t all business.
I am a criminal,” Neil said to his “girlfriend” matter of factly, in his halting, guttural monotone. The same way he said absolutely everything.
“My name is Neil,” he reminded her, in exactly the same tone.
Neil’s girlfriend was crosseyed, had buck teeth, and scabs on her legs from bedbugs. Otherwise, she was cute, pixie-like.
“I’m not supposed to tell,” Neil said, in his halting monotone. “It’s a secret.”
Like a movie.
Charlie made us do it.
It’s a secret.
It’s a big, big, secret.
Don’t tell anyone,” he finished.
There were 20 members in the rec room at that very moment listening to Neil and nodding. Some of them got distracted by a chicken that came in the door clucking. The television was playing a videotape of On Golden Pond.
Suzie, the current social worker, heard Neil from the kitchen. She really didn’t care. Then, Donald came flying in.
“My radio. My radio. My radio. My radio. My radio.” Donald repeated over and over again. And Suzie wanted him to shut the hell up.
“I’ll kill ‘em. I’ll slit their damn throats. My radio.” Donald’s eyes were burning.
“When was the last time you saw it?” Suzie asked.
“Charlie took it,” Donald shrieked, rocking fast, forward and back from one foot to the other.
“Ah, Donald. Charlie wouldn’t take your radio,” Suzie reassured.
She left the chalet and walked across the parking lot to Charlie’s house. Half an hour later she was sitting on the edge of his bed barefoot. She was looking at his art, which was hanging on every wall. The drawings were in various states of completion. They were in various states of decay. None of them were framed.
“I’m going to frame them for you,” Suzie said.
Charlie was in bed smoking a cigarette. He was that guy who seemed to be able to live without food. His body got all its nourishment from tobacco, morning mud, and booze.
“No honey. I’m in a different place. They’re my sand paintings. I’m a monk.”
Sheriff Walter Wheatley was sitting in a rocking chair on Gunderson’s porch, staring out at the cornfield. Tuscadero stood, ramrod straight, sipping a cup of cowboy coffee from a mug emblazoned with the words ‘Farmers do it in the Field’.
“So, any thoughts deputy?” the sheriff asked.
“Not really,” Tuscadero said. He assumed that the sheriff meant a thought other than, ‘wow nice work kids.’
The owl crop circle was large. Tuscadero was certain it had taken a great deal of planning to execute. Not to mention the fact that it had been accomplished in such a short period of time. The best view of the mischief maker’s handiwork was from the widow’s walk on the roof.
The second the sheriff and Tuscadero had stepped out on that walk and looked out at the cornfields, they had 2 large, round eyes looking right back at them.
Tuscadero sighed. “I’m stumped.” He wasn’t really, but no sense in ruining it for everyone. He surveyed the cornfield with an impassive look.
His calm demeanor in the wake of such nonsensical violence irritated the Sheriff.
“Sweet fancy Moses Tuscadero, why do I bring you along? You are more useless than a jackrabbit with an animal trainer.” he said. Pounding the rubber tip of his cane down.
“I wouldn’t know about that sir,” Tuscadero said.
“Of course you wouldn’t. You city folk don’t know hide nor tail of common sense,” he said rising to his feet.
He walked to the steps and then stared at Tuscadero. He finally threw a hand up. “Well at least help me to my truck.”
At the last porch step, the lumbering old man lost his footing. “Bullfrogs and barn swallows,” he bellowed.
Tuscadero caught him and helped steady him before he fell. The Sheriff smoothed his chambray shirt. “I’ll meet you at the station,” he said, and stalked to his truck.
“Now what this reminds me of is that time…” the sheriff drifted off. Lost in thought.
Tuscadero stared at him. This could not possibly remind the old man of anything. “What time?”
“How am I supposed to deduce what happened in that field, and make parallel realizations, with your constant yammering?” the sheriff thumped his cane on the wood floor for effect.
Tuscadero took his hat off and placed it on his desk. Inwardly he smiled. Miss Marple and Sherlock Holmes had been some of his favorites too.
When he was 12.
“As I was saying, this reminds me of that time those hippie hoodlums destroyed Earl Bradley’s International.”
Ahh yes, there it was, as Tuscadero had expected. The inevitable linking of an owl shaped crop circle to a decade old vandalism case.
“They marked up the tractor some, if I’m familiar with the case. I guess I see the similarity,” Tuscadero said. He did not see the similarity. Other than the fact that it was mild vandalism. Every little thing in that town that happened was reminiscent to the sheriff of that fateful day.
The day that Earl Bradley’s shiny candy apple red, 1962 B414 International Harvester, tractor had a very crude drawing spray-painted on it.
“Damn hippies,” the Sheriff mumbled.
“It was a naked…um… individual. Yes?” Tuscadero said. Holding back his laughter.
The sheriff nodded. “Yes. Disgusting what they did to that fine machine,” he said. He threw a narrow-eyed glance at his deputy. “I suppose that means nothing to you city folk.”
“On the contrary. Respect of private property is an assertion against madness.”
“I think we should go talk to Earl.”
“You can’t be serious.”
“It’s the only lead we have.”
The deputy looked down. He could not keep the grin off of his face. The audacity of trying to link the two crimes was more than he could bear.
“I suppose you think this is pretty funny.”
“No sir. A crime has been committed,” Tuscadero said tightening his jaw.
“You’re damn right,” the sheriff said with a thump of his cane.
As they walked down Main Street, the townsfolk were clearly restless. There were whispers. Tuscadero was used to them. He still, even after 3 years, was only tolerated by the people in town. This time, however, the whispers were not about him.
The deputy matched the leaning, hobbled pace of his boss. The old man was stubborn as a closet door off the track, and there was no way he was letting go of his job. Hobbled or not. Which suited Tuscadero fine; he didn’t want to be the boss.
After 15 years of being a cop in Philly, he was done with excitement. All he wanted to do was sit around handing out speeding tickets, be a judge at the pie bake off, and maybe fix a stop sign or two when they fell down. He had accomplished all but the pie bake off, but he remained ever hopeful.
The sheriff, well he was a different story. He craved the excitement.
What was puzzling Tuscadero at the moment, was that the sheriff had not once asked ‘why.’ The whys were what drove Tuscadero mental. He chased the why with every case he had. Trying to come up with reasons why people did what they did. The hurt, the pain, the destruction. No answer to the question, ‘Why did you do this?’ was ever satisfying.
He couldn’t escape the question in the city. So he fled from it, and wound up here. Where nothing happens. He felt the question creep into his mind.
Why would anyone make a crop circle here?
“Sheriff. Sheriff,” called a tiny lady from down the street.
“Yes Mrs. Ainsworth,” the sheriff said with a wide smile.
“Sheriff, I heard that someone was,” she lowered her voice, “killing cows at the Gunderson place. Should I bring Gertrude into the barn?”
The sheriff took her withered hand in his. “No, no, darlin’. There’s no need for any of that.”
“Should I get a new padlock for the barn?” she said excitedly.
“No. That’s not necessary,” he reassured.
“Earl said he’d sell me one for 6 dollars.” She made a face. As if the idea of a 6 dollar lock itself was rancid. “Can you even imagine spending that for a padlock?” she said, directing her question at Tuscadero.
“No ma’am I can’t,” he replied.
“Now Evelyn, please don’t fret. We’ve got the situation handled,” the sheriff said as he ambled on.
Once inside Earl’s Hardware, the sheriff took a deep breath. Tuscadero was mildly concerned about the old man’s heart. This was a lot of excitement for an 82 year old.
“Sheriff, what can I do you for?” Earl said. “Is it about the Gunderson place?”
“Earl, for the safety of everyone involved, I can’t comment on an ongoing investigation,” the sheriff said, straightening his back. “Suffice to say it shares a lot of similarities to the incident not too long ago.”
Earl nodded gravely. “The International.”
The Sheriff shot an ‘I-told-you-so’ look at Tuscadero. “Yes.”
“Damn shame.” Earl shook his head and stared at the floor, grief stricken.
“Yes, yes it is. Smartest tractor I ever did see. Now you always suspected the Davis boys.”
Earl nodded vigorously. “Yes. My wife said,” he leaned in close to the sheriff, “they caught them defacing books at the library.”
“You don’t say,” Sheriff said, nodding.
“Unsavory drawings, if you follow my meaning.”
“Indeed,” the sheriff said. Rubbing his chin, deep in thought.
“The boys said they were at the grove all night. But I never believed them,” Earl said.
“Was there any evidence?” Tuscadero asked.
Four eyes shot to his. He was not welcome in this exchange. Tuscadero leaned against the counter and stared out the front window. Didn’t bother him any. The fact that he was the only person in about a 25 mile radius that had ever seen a real crime, let alone solved one, didn’t matter.
Sheriff straightened. “I think we should pay Robbie Lee Davis a visit at the Wagon Wheel.”
Tuscadero nodded. “A fine plan Sheriff.”
“Of course it is.” The sheriff grabbed his cane. “You know, you keep that sass-mouth in check, and you just may learn a thing or two.”
“I look forward to it sir,” Tuscadero said.
“Earl.” the sheriff slightly nodded.
Tuscadero had meant it. He hoped he did learn something. He admired the old man. His energy, his persistence, his naive outlook on crime. All of it.
The Wagon Wheel had been, at one time, an establishment that sold wheels for wagons, oddly enough. And now, it was in “transition.” It was closed.
The sheriff gestured for his deputy to handle the lesser business of knocking on the door, while he composed himself for the interrogation. He cleared his throat.
A youngster opened the door.
Tuscadero wondered how many kids the Davises had. He was guessing fourteen with this little one included.
“Young man, are your parents home?” the sheriff asked.
That little Davis fellow pushed the door open so hard it bounced back and slammed shut. His mama came and lead them through the storefront full of defunct wagon parts. They crossed over to the living quarters at the back of the store.
“Ma’am, do you mind if we ask you a few questions?” the sheriff asked.
“Well, it’s lunch time Sheriff. Why don’t you just sit down and we’ll talk over lunch.”
The sheriff sat awkwardly side saddle, and took a piece of fried chicken off a plate in the middle of the table. “This is just delicious, Carolyn.”
There was no chair for Tuscadero, nor was he offered chicken, so he stood at attention, and observed. Mother and children watched attentively as the sheriff got down to the bone.
“Is Robbie here?” the sheriff asked.
“Well, what on earth? Did he do something?” Carolyn said.
“Now, Carolyn. You know that he did,” the sheriff said.
“This can’t be about those books?”
“Indeed, it can.”
“Well, I think he’s out messing with the car.” She moved to the back door, pushed it open to an extensive scene of fallow fields. “Robbie,” she shouted, louder than you would have thought.
A young man sauntered in shirtless in blue jeans, with oil streaked across some noteworthy rectus abdominus muscles.
“Make yourself presentable,” his mother said.
He put on a shirt, but did not button it, and slouched at the table, not making eye contact with the sheriff. That book incident had made him the town’s bad boy. Oh how he loved that.
“Sheriff,” Robbie said, in begrudging acknowledgment of his presence.
Tuscadero straightened as an example to this young rebel of proper demeanor in the presence of the law.
Robbie swung his long bangs out of his eyes, revealing a laceration across his forehead.
“What’s that on your forehead, son?” Sheriff Wheatley was prematurely closing in on his suspect. “You didn’t get that last night, did you? On the Gunderson’s farm, maybe? Cutting corn perhaps? In the shape of an owl?” the sheriff said, in triumph.
“Maybe.” Robbie wished that he had. And he very much hoped that he was about to be arrested, adding to his reputation.
Tuscadero looked at Mrs. Davis, who was shaking her head.
“Well, I don’t know how he could have Sheriff. We were all here together last night, treating the ringworm. We wouldn’t want that to get spread around you know. Neighbors say such nasty things. We all slept with the medicine on us all night long. Robbie, too. We washed it off this morning.”
Tuscadero gave Mrs. Davis a reassuring look, which she missed, because she was looking at the sheriff.
Robbie wished he could die right then, on the spot. He slunk out lower than an earthworm’s belly.
“Would it be alright, Mrs. Davis, if I left my card with you? That is my personal number. I’d like you to call me, if you have any additional memories about what happened last night,” the sheriff said.
“That woman is hiding something,” the sheriff told Tuscadero, as soon as they were in the privacy of their Blazer.
“I’m sure she is, sir.” Tuscadero replied. He was sure she wasn’t. He was sure that ringworm was about all there was to reveal.
“I think we should go back and see Earl. I have some questions,” Tuscadero said, first thing the next morning.
Sheriff Walter Wheatley beamed. “I’m so glad you’re finally getting with the program. It’s about damn time.”
Tuscadero nodded solemnly. “Yes sir.”
The two drove in silence to Earl’s Hardware. Tuscadero drove, the sheriff dozing next to him. It was a 5 minute ride, at best, but this was a lot of work for the old timer. Typically the sheriff just sat in his chair sleeping, his basset hound Beauford, snoring at his side.
Tuscadero put the Blazer in park, and cleared his throat. “Here,” he announced.
“Took you long enough,” the sheriff said, shaking his head.
“Yes sir. There were a few cars at the intersection.” Tuscadero said getting out of the Blazer. “Like all of the 4 cars in town, at once,” he muttered.
“What was that?” the sheriff asked, struggling to get out of the truck.
“I said it’s a busy day in town,” Tuscadero said.
“Of course it is, it’s Wednesday.” Sheriff Wheatley said with a thump of his cane.
Deputy Tuscadero held the door open for the sheriff. This earned him a glare. Tuscadero nodded, reminding himself that Sheriff Walter Wheatley was neither a lady, nor an old man. At least not in the Sheriff’s way of thinking.
“Sheriff Wheatley, Deputy Tuscadero,” Earl said, nodding slightly.
“The boy here, he has some questions for you,” Sheriff said.
“Of course, whatever you need,” Earl said. To the sheriff.
Tuscadero reigned in his annoyance. “Have you seen anything out of the ordinary the past few days?”
Earl pondered that for a moment. Head tilted up to the ceiling. “Now that you mention it, Gordy Smith came in here wanting a whole truck of chicken feed.”
The sheriff perked up. “Now that is interesting.”
“How’s that?” Tuscadero said.
Earl shared an annoyed look with the sheriff. “Gordy Smith doesn’t own any chickens.”
Sheriff nodded sagely. As far as he was concerned they had their next lead.
“I was thinking more like, unusual like… maybe someone buying a large quantity of rope, or maybe some wood planking,” Tuscadero said.
The Sheriff harrumphed.
“Now what in the blazes would be unusual about that?” Earl muttered.
“Earl, you’ve been mighty helpful,” Sheriff said, taking Tuscadero by the arm.
Once out in the street, the sheriff looked up at Tuscadero. “You’re in the country now, son. People buying rope and wood at a hardware store is about as unusual as ladies flashing bloomers at a square dance.”
“Chicken feed for a chicken-less farmer, however, is as unusual…” The Sheriff tapped his cane on the pavement, pausing for effect. “As someone buying a truck full of chicken feed when they don’t have chickens,” he said loud and slow.
“Got it,” Tuscadero said staring into the street. He knew if he looked at the old man’s scrunched up face and mannerisms, he would lose it completely.
“To the Smith farm,” the sheriff said, pointing his cane towards the truck.
“Yes sir,” Tuscadero said.
He let the older man walk ahead of him, so he could chuckle quietly in private.
The sheriff showed restraint, and did not use the siren on the way to the Smith place. He did drive fast, though. The sheriff’s cataracts being considerable, Tuscadero did at times feel some concern for his own safety.
The first thing they both noticed as they approached the farm was the chickens.
“Well played, Smith!” Sheriff Wheatley said. “He outmaneuvered us, Tuscadero! You see? He got chickens! He had to, you see?” The sheriff was disappointed that Tuscadero could not make even the simplest observations about the criminal mind. He had often lamented the day that Tuscadero’s Grand Aunt–the wife of the local State Master of the National Grange of the Order of Patrons of Husbandry–had politely suggested that he needed a deputy.
Gordy Smith was walking in their direction.
“Hold it right there,” the sheriff commanded. Smith stopped, and Tuscadero circled around the Blazer, but stopped short of opening the sheriff’s door this time.
“It’s a pleasure to see you Sheriff,” Smith said, chickens clucking his feet. “The Mrs. and I have been hearing strange news about the Gunderson’s silo. We heard a family of owls nested in there and ruined three years of grain. How’d they get in there?”
“We will be asking the questions, Smith. Since you seem to know so much about Gunderson and owls, would you like to tell us any more on that subject?” the sheriff asked.
“Sheriff, I don’t know anything that the whole town doesn’t know. All I know is, one summer night an owl flew in the driver side window of his Lincoln, and scared him so bad he drove over his wife’s dahlias. She chased Harry out, and he had to sleep outside. He couldn’t get near that Lincoln. The owl was nested in, but good,” Gordy paused.
“Remember, he tried to sell the Lincoln, owl and all, to Pete. Harry always did think that owl was taunting him,” Gordy said.
“I am not an imbecile, of course I remember. Are you being coy with me, Smith?” The sheriff believed he sounded like Lionel Barrymore.
“Good! I wouldn’t advise it,” the sheriff said. “What’s the business with all the chicken feed?”
Smith was struck dumb by the question. All he could do was look around him at the chickens.
Tuscadero felt the sheriff needed a nudge, and he thought he saw his chance. “Sheriff, may I?”
“Help yourself,” the sheriff said.
“We know you’ve been making deliveries for Earl Bradley. Can you tell us about your most recent deliveries?” Tuscadero asked.
“The only recent thing, was I took a load full of rope and plank up to Angelfields,” Smith said.
Tuscadero waited for the effect.
“Rope and a plank. What did I tell you, Tuscadero? It’s as normal as blueberry pie,” the sheriff said to his deputy.
“Who did you deliver those to?” Tuscadero asked Smith.
“Charlie,” Smith said.
The sheriff waved Tuscadero back to the Blazer. Nevertheless,Tuscadero could see the sheriff was introspective as they got back into the truck.
The sheriff ground the dirt driveway back to the pavement. Then, “Hold on Tuscadero. There’s something you didn’t think of.” There was no restraint. The light blazed, the siren screamed, and the sheriff sped toward Angelfields Farm.
The sheriff and his deputy would have burned rubber peeling into the Angelfields parking lot, if it hadn’t been a dirt road. Instead, there was just a lot of dust.
The flashing light got the attention of all the club members, and they circled the Blazer. It looked like the zombie apocalypse.
The sheriff pulled his gun before he got out of the Blazer, creating an awkward moment during which Tuscadero believed he would be shot. The deputy put a hand up to redirect the pistol, which the sheriff took personally. He made a face. Tuscadero smiled to himself. They got out of the Blazer.
“Which one of you characters is Charlie?” The sheriff asked, gun ready.
Suzie was watching from the kitchen window. The silence lasted long enough for Suzie to think the members were going to protect Charlie. Stand up to the law. It was exciting.
“Charlie lives there,” Donald yelled, pointing. “He took my radio. I want my radio. Radio. My radio. He took my radio. Radio. I want my radio. I hate cops.” Donald did hate cops. He glared. He made a chopping gesture with his arms. He might have been thinking kung fu. It was hard to be sure.
“Alright. I’m ready to question this hoodlum. Where did you put the criminal?” the sheriff asked puffing out his chest.
“In the supply closet,” Tuscadero said, leaning against his desk.
The sheriff nodded in approval. “Nice and cozy. Cozy throws the guilty off balance.”
Tuscadero nodded as if this was sage information.
The old man threw open the door of the supply closet with a big sweeping motion of his arms.
“So…Charlie, is it?” Sheriff Walter Wheatley said clearing his throat. He flipped through some random pieces of paper he had brought in with him.
“What brings you into town?”
“I work at the Angelfields Farm.”
The sheriff nodded as if that was very important information. “Do you do a lot of gardening there?”
Charlie tilted his head upwards slightly. “Not so much.”
“Really? I would think that kind of job would need you to be well versed in crop maintenance.”
Charlie shook his head. “Not really. I’m more of an animal guy.”
Sheriff Walter Wheatley nodded thoughtfully. He had this crook right where he wanted him. “Like owls?” he asked innocently.
Charlie’s expression didn’t change. “We don’t keep any owls on the farm.”
The sheriff leaned forward. “Are you sure? No big, giant owls you’ve been tending to over there at Angelfields?”
“Not that I’m aware of. Alpacas, llamas, chickens, we used to have a cow.”
The old man was losing his patience. “I’m talking about owls, boy. Owls.”
Charlie said nothing.
The sheriff abruptly got up, and left the closet.
“Well?” Tuscadero said.
“He’s a tough nut to crack,” the sheriff said sighing. “Maybe you should take a shot at him.”
Tuscadero put down his coffee. “Are you sure?”
He nodded. “Absolutely. It’s about time you got your feet wet around here. Now remember, lure him in by being friendly, and then when he’s at ease, you get him to confess.”
“Yes sir. I’ll do my best,” Tuscadero said, hand on the door knob.
Charlie looked up as the new guy entered the closet and sat down. They stared at each other for a few moments, sharing silence.
“Did you make the crop circle?” Tuscadero asked, placing Donald’s transistor radio on the desk with care.
“We made it,” Charlie confirmed. “Did you like it?”
“How did you do it?” Tuscadero said.
Charlie smiled remembering Donald’s energy set full in motion, running like hell wherever Charlie directed, breaking cornstalks with that big rope. Neil was the anchor and Donald ran. They laid down the plank and Neil stood on it. Again and again. The lunatics under the new moon, smiling and proud. Madman as medium, Charlie thought.
“Just a little elbow grease.” Charlie said nonchalantly.
Tuscadero nodded. “Did you have any knowledge of Gunderson’s feelings about owls?”
“No. Does he like them?” Charlie’s voice went up at the end. Curious.
“Not especially.” Tuscadero said leaving the closet.
“Open and shut. Excellent work deputy. You’ll make a fine sheriff one day,” Sheriff Wheatley said smiling. “The way you tricked him into just giving it up. That was a thing of genius.”
Tuscadero felt proud. Although he didn’t know why. It wasn’t difficult or crafty what he did. Charlie had wanted to tell him.
The sheriff walked over to a small sideboard where there was a box of doughnuts. He struggled to get the lid open. He threw down his cane. “Great Ceasar,” he slammed a fist onto the table. “Darlene. Darlene,” he shouted. “I’m not trying to break into a damn bank vault here.”
“Don’t eat those.” Tuscadero said before he could stop himself.
The old man whirled on him. “That’s sweet, are you worried about my cholesterol? Christ almighty man, I’m 82. If I want a doughnut I’m going to eat it.” he turned back to the table. “If I can get into. The stupid. No good. Horse huckey. Box,” he said, continuing to tear at the box. “Darlene.” he boomed again.
“Hold your horses old man.” Darlene said, snapping her gum.
“Put a lid on it Darlene, and open this box. You know you could’ve opened this earlier. It’s not as if this happens every single seed spittin’ time.”
Darlene put a hand on her hip, slipped a press-on nail under the flap, and in one smooth motion, opened the box.
“There. Are we all warm and fuzzy now?” she said, turning to leave. Not waiting to hear the answer.
“That woman could drive even the great Harry S. Truman to the booby hatch,” the sheriff said plucking a powdered doughnut from the box.
Sheriff Walter Wheatley walked to his desk. Just a little slower than he had been the past few days. He sat down in his chair with a thud and sighed.
It took him several moments to realize that Tuscadero was staring at him. Waiting patiently.
“Something on your mind?” Sheriff said.
Tuscadero sat down across from him. “Is that it sir?”
Sheriff laughed. “What else do you want? Enjoy your triumph. Justice will be served. The violent hoodlum has been caught.”
“You want more than that?”
“Well, I was just thinking…doesn’t it bother you?”
He leaned back in his chair. “Doesn’t what bother me?”
Tuscadero sighed, impatience creeping in. “Don’t you want to know why?”
The sheriff scratched stubble on his chin and smiled slightly. “And what would come from that?”
Tuscadero was puzzled by the question. “Sir?”
“What could possibly be gained from knowing why? It’s a fools errand, Roger,” he said.
The sheriff’s use of Tuscadero’s first name, which he never used, zeroed the deputy’s focus.
“The how is a much more helpful question. Why, well that sticky wicket, that will drive you to madness.” He leaned forward towards Tuscadero. “Folks are quirky, troubled, amazing animals. No sense in trying to figure out the nonsensical.”
Sheriff picked up the Gazette. “Now enjoy your triumph. Tomorrow I believe Mrs. Ainsworth needs help getting those rogue cattle, from Louis Tinsley’s farm, out of her back 40. You’ll supervise.”
The next day Deputy Tuscadero stood in the middle of a field, supervising the removal of the “rogue” cattle. Meaning he was standing around, watching rugged men do work, and wiping sweat from his forehead.
Mrs. Ainsworth appeared from behind him and smiled. Tuscadero was taken aback. “Good afternoon Deputy Tuscadero. I’m so grateful for your help,” she said handing him a glass of iced tea. “It’s hard work out here, I thought you’d enjoy some refreshment.”
“Thank you ma’am. I appreciate it,” he said bewildered by the friendliness.
Mrs. Ainsworth patted his forearm. “Wasn’t any trouble at all, and please call me Evelyn.”
“Yes ma’am,” Tuscadero said, knowing that while it was a friendly gesture, politeness dictated he call her ma’am.
“There’s talk all over town about how you stopped that awful criminal from killing more cows,” Mrs. Ainsworth said. She leaned into him slightly. “I just knew my Gertrude would be next,” she whispered.
“Well it’s my duty ma’am,” he said. There was no point in correcting her. She would forget the truth of the situation almost as soon as it left his mouth.
“As a thank you, we’d love to have you judge our pie contest. When I called Nelda Swanson, and told her about your bravery, she insisted that you judge. You do know about our local chapter of the League of Lady Quilters?”
“Yes ma’am I do. High quality work you ladies do.”
Tuscadero wasn’t sure, but he thought he saw Mrs. Ainsworth blush.
“Well,” she began shaking off what she was certain was flirtatious flattery, “we also don’t take no for an answer.”
Tuscadero straightened. “I would be honored.”
Mrs. Ainsworth smiled. “Now you get on outta here. You’ve earned a break.”
“I really should wait until they’re done,” he said hesitating.
“We’ll be fine. You scoot now,” she said, slapping his arm.
As Deputy Roger Tuscadero wandered away from the cattle and to his truck, a broad grin spread across his face.
On his lips only one solitary word. “Pie.”
© 2013 Jennifer Rose, Laura Bromley