Chief Dalton took a long drag on his Marlboro, squinting his eyes as if he were in pain. “Do you think it’s the preacher?” His words came out as puffs of smoke, made all the more obvious in the lights from the patrol cars.
“I’ve only met him once, but he looks like him. If he has any ID we’ll know in a second. I hope not, he’s got a new kid.” Tom looked back at the body as Officer Jeff Harlan rolled it to its left so Danny could check the back pocket of its jeans for ID.
Dalton’s mind wished against what he already knew to be true–that the body was almost certainly J.W.
White County had 438 deaths in the last year. Most were from natural causes. 23 were traffic accidents. 12 were homicides. 8 suicides. Of the homicides 3 were domestic and 9 were drug related–Crystal Meth mostly.
If this was J.W. that meant a good young man, a man just starting his family, the minister of a leading local congregation, had been murdered. Not a drug dealer. Not a meth head. Not someone who robs, steals or attempts to harm others. Not a drunk or a wife beater or a child molester.
Danny lifted out the wallet, placed his flashlight in his left arm pit and used both hands to remove the driver’s license. “John W. Reeves.”
“Damn” Dalton exhaled. “Harlan, call Plummers’ and have them pick up the body. Make sure to tell them to be careful, we’ll need everything for evidence. You stay with the body until you’re relieved, you, Truesdell or Canada will have to ride along to Frankfort.”
In Kentucky all autopsies are handled by the Chief Medical Examiner in Frankfort. To maintain a chain of custody the body has to be accompanied by an officer in transport.
“I know where the parsonage is Doc, you want to come with me for the notification? It won’t be easy. He and his wife just had a baby.”
“I need to stay here until Roger gets here. I want to make sure the body is bagged and I sign for it.” Roger Plummer owned one of the two local funeral homes and one of seven in the county.
“OK, I’ll take Truesdell.” Wayne Truesdell was the fourth of the officers and was sitting in the driver’s seat of his Black and White Crown Vic, filling out paperwork. He was the only one who actually liked keeping up with the paperwork. “TRUESDELL!,” Dalton raised his voice to grab his attention. The Officer looked from his paperwork, jumped up, and jogged over to Dalton.
Dalton opened the driver’s door to his black Explorer. “Get in, we’re going to go see Mrs. Reeves.”
Truesdell stopped dead for a heartbeat. Fear shot through him, he had never done a notification before. “What are you waiting for? Get in dammit!” Truesdell took a deep breath as he jumped into the Explorer without saying a word.
Truesdell wanted to ask all kinds of questions as they drove. “What do I say?” “What do I do if she cries?” But neither of them spoke as they drove the few short blocks to Front Street.
They turned onto Front Street and the dark 150 year old edifice of the First United Methodist Church dominated the block. Dalton pulled up in front of the two story, red brick parsonage next door and parked in front of the wrap around porch. As he placed the SUV in park he broke the silence.
“Look, I want you to keep quiet. I’ll handle it.”
“Sure Chief,” Truesdell was relieved.
With that Dalton got out of the truck and approached the dark porch, Truesdell padding behind.
This is chapter II. To read from the beginning, go here.
“Isn’t he the Methodist preacher?” asked Danny Canada, shining his flashlight over Tom’s shoulder at the corpse’s pale face. “I been there to church a couple times, I think it’s him. J. W. somethin’.”
“Just a minute Danny, and I’ll let you check him for ID.” Tom’s tone was barely kind. Everything Danny said went through Tom like a bolt–and he wanted to slug him. Tom wasn’t sure why, but he hated Danny with a passion, and that created an ongoing problem. Each time there was anything from a traffic accident, to a domestic dispute, to a homicide (rare though they were) every “officer” in Silerville turned out. So Danny was there each time Tom was called in.
Danny was one of the four Silerville police officers, counting chief Dalton. Danny was 32 and still slept in the same room, in the same house, on the same street he had lived in since he was born. His bed frame was the same one he had received on his sixth birthday–a dark walnut with a low bookcase headboard. The mattress and springs were, of necessity, newer. The walls were originally painted white, though were now grey and pocked from years of tantrums, posters taped up, posters torn down, and spilled beer.
The entire house was in much the same condition. It sat on the street as a tired reminder it had once been bright and new. It had once been loving built and cared for. It had once been a place of hope. Now it watched exhausted as cars drove past it on Straight Street, a weary monument to waste lives.
Danny’s mother Agnes Canada slept in the room just next to Danny’s. She was a frail looking woman of 74, and played the part of wounded oldster to her advantage. Her husband died of stomach cancer when Danny was 20 and was missed by neither.
Danny was a small, doughy man. He had a round middle and spindly arms and legs. With his flat-top he looked somewhat like a dummy made from a large pillow, four sticks with a bucket for a head. In every way Danny was a weak man.
Danny longed for greatness. All through his childhood his mother had told him he would be great. He was her “special boy,” her “prince” and, after his father’s lingering death, her “big man.” Each picture he painted in grade school was a masterpiece. Though he got mediocre grades, his mother assured him it was the jealous teachers who wished he were their son. He was Adonis, Einstein and DaVinci.
Of course this constant praise did not enable Danny to become great, it only weakened him. The hard lessons of life were never learned. The hard emotions were never allowed to develop and mature. Danny was a spoiled 5 year old in a bloated 32 year old body. He had all the fears of a 5 year old. He was petulant. He whined. He cried–in private often and in public more than rarely.
Though he would never confess it, he knew he was weak. Whenever there was the potential of physical labor on the horizon, he made a determined effort to go somewhere else. Everything filled him with fear and dread.
Tom didn’t really like Danny, but as coroner he had to tolerate him.
Tom got up from his squat next to the body and purposely turned away from Danny as he talked to him, moving toward Chief Dalton. “Get pictures of the body from every angle and bag the hands for Frankfort, then you can roll him for ID.”
The story continues here.
First chapter of a short story or long story (not sure which.) I haven’t gotten much further on it, but I likely will one of these days.
Tom Sibley’s Watch
Tom Sibley loved his watch. His father, a physician of no small reputation in the “hills and hollers” surrounding Silerville, Kentucky, had left it to him. After 25 years on his father’s wrist and then almost 15 on Tom’s, the watch body had it share of marks and scratches. Upon close inspection, one could see the crystal also had a tiny fracture, visible as a small line between the Roman “X” and the tick mark representing “XI”—in 1967 the Rolex “Bubble Body” face only had room for the even numbers.
Jim Helton, Tom’s across the road neighbor and local jeweler, had more than once offered to replace the cracked crystal. “Tom,” he would say in his perpetually and inexplicably jubilant tone, “when ya gonna let me fix up that watch fer ya? It’s probably worth near on three or four thousand. You oughta take care of it.”
“One of these days, Jim, one of these days.”
The truth was Tom didn’t want to replace the crystal. That hairline fracture meant almost as much to Tom as the watch itself. The watch received that injury the day “Doc” Sibley took his 12 year old Tom out to the garage to show him how to change the oil in Doc’s new fire-engine red 1972 Chevy Impala convertible.
Huddled beneath the huge crimson hulk which was securely elevated by two bright orange ramps, Tom held the “trouble light” while his father ratcheted free the drain plug.
Being a new car, and this being its first oil change, the plug was putting up solid resistance. Doc lay on his back, his right hand on the wrench and left lying motionless on his chest.
Doc was just instructing his son saying, “No need paying someone to do something you can do…” when the bolt suddenly gave way, causing Doc’s typically nimble hand to lose grip of the wrench, which predictably landed smack dab on the watch crystal.
It was one of the few times Tom heard his father offer a profanity.
Doc quickly slid out from under the vehicle, carefully inspecting his watch for damage. Tom scurried out as well, “Are you OK dad?”
“I think I cracked my watch. Shoulda taken it off before we started. Oh well, what’s done is done. Let’s get back to work.” With that Doc placed the wounded watch on his workbench and crawled back under the car, placing mom’s old roasting pan beneath the drain plug to catch the oil.
That was the first day Doc had ever treated Tom like a man. He explained to Tom everything he was doing, imparting seemingly ancient masculine wisdom. Dipping your finger in the used oil to lubricate the seal on the new filter. Checking the timing using a strobe. Revving the engine by pulling on the little rod next to the carburetor. Checking, “gapping” and replacing a spark plug.
Things men must know.
In Tom’s mind that was the day he became a man. There would be many days where he would learn “man” things, but that day Tom knew his father no longer saw him as an awkward boy, he saw him as a man.
That tiny, barely visible line in that 40 year old Rolex meant everything to Tom. It meant manhood. It meant his father’s love.
At precisely 11:58pm Tom looked down at his watch and pronounced me dead. A single stab wound to the chest the obvious cause.