Murder on Dirt Road – Page 2

“Fritz will have a metal detector in that shop of his,” I said. Arnie snorted. We crunched through the snow-covered yard toward the car.

Fritz was a gruff old guy of 89. The local repairman that fixes anything — toasters to TV sets, in the back of his alley shack home. He’d have whatever working right as rain before you could say Waxahachie Wallbanger. There was another reason to see him. He was the local Bigfoot expert. No one knew Sasquatch like Fritz Hatchett… and I was starting to have strange ideas… always trusted my hunches.

I got lost in thought as I drove. Three murders. Boot-prints for a clue. Stolen priceless Prussian silverware. Two other victim’s silverware missing. Arnie shooting at Yeti… bizarre. I yelled hello as we walked in. Arnie followed behind, cautiously, like an orphaned puppy-dog. I asked about the metal detector and was met with a word barrage the likes I hadn’t heard in a long time. Guess Fritz hadn’t bawled out anyone lately. ‘Course, one never knows if he’s serious. He was, and eventually got around to yelling “someone stole my brand new size ten Wolverine work boots off’n my front porch three weeks ago” and he’d “called the station but got told stolen boots weren’t priority” and “was tired of waiting” and ” ’bout time you got here. You gotta get them back. Right now!”

“I’d swear it was that damned Earl Peterson just down the road.” Fritz pointed his crooked finger south toward the gravel road. “He said someone swiped his a while ago. I seen him yest’day with a brand new pair.”

Interesting as that was, I wasn’t about to do a shoe search. “Not a lot I can do about it, Fritz. How about that detector? Need to use it.”

“Billy Conger borrowed it. Had it for a month now.” Fritz followed that with a few more expletives, and pointed back down the dirt road again. “I’m gonna get that damn Peterson.”

I warned Fritz about taking the law into his own hands, then Arnie and I loaded ourselves into the cruiser. We were overlooking something, and, crazy as it sounds, I couldn’t convince myself we had a murdering Sasquatch roaming Omomqua County.

PING! The photos of the boot-print. There was something weird about them.

Back at headquarters, I laid three photos on my desk. I was right. I couldn’t believe I missed it. “Arnie, what do you see?”

“Bloody boot-prints.”

“Here, in front of the print. Hair would make marks like this, right?”

“But Jer, Billy Conger doesn’t have any hair left… he’s bald as a que ball. So’s Fritz!”

I sighed. Sometimes Arnie just doesn’t keep up. No, make that most time. The football injuries to his head were taking a toll. And he’s still a young man. No wonder the Chief doesn’t let him carry a loaded gun.

“B’sides, Jer, if Fritz’s Wolverines were stolen, shouldn’t we go after Earl Peterson?” Arnie argued. “Fritz said he had on a new pair. That’s pretty conclusive.”

“Maybe, Arn, but suspicion isn’t enough to arrest.” I picked up the photo and studied it. It DID look like hair but I refuse to believe Sasquatch could don work boots and murder. At least now I’ve got a couple of possible suspects: Billy Conger and Earl Petersen. Don’t know about Fritz yet.

Someone confused us, and so far had done a good job. The bloody boot-prints definitely looked like Sasquatch had cut the toes out of a pair of Wolverines and squeezed in its feet, they’d extended 4 inches out of the boots. That just didn’t fit, literally. These elusive creatures hadn’t decided to come out of years of hiding to murder and pillage. And what in hell would they use silverware for anyway? It was time to do a little snooping around Earl’s place.

Earl lived two miles south of Fritz’s place on a narrow, rutted gravel road appropriately named “Dirt Road.” He was a recluse. Pedaled his bicycle cart into town once a month to buy supplies, sell stuff he collected in the woods and his hand-made wind chimes. Most of it junk, but it sold like lottery tickets in the local Main Street grocery store/gas station/bowling alley. He’d do pencil drawings that could be of Bigfoot, or anything. Suspect Sasquatch footprint castings, locks of hair he claimed were real and metal chimes sold fast. I needed a closer look at the locks of hair.

No answer at Earl’s, but the new Wolverine boots Fritz complained about were sitting on the front porch, last night’s snow lingered in the boot’s shadows. I motioned for Arnie to get out of the cruiser, but he shook his head no. I motioned again — go around back, he wouldn’t leave the car’s safety. There’s something strange about that boy. Guess I’ll have a talk with the Chief about him when I’m done with this investigation. I decided to go alone. Peering through a dirty side window, I noticed a propane torch on the table, pliers, some strange misshapen pieces of metal and a couple small piles of… hair? Naw, more like well-worn wigs. Could this be Earl’s genuine “Sasquatch” locks of hair? And the metal… silverware?

I hurried around to the back porch. The first thing that caught my eye was a large deep freezer. It was old. Big. Probably 160 cubic feet. Freezers, ’round here, are used to store deer and elk meat, but as far as I knew, Earl didn’t hunt. Sensing danger, I drew my piece and approached the steps. All sorts of discarded junk littered the rotted decking — burnt pots, broken chairs, a cracked wood-burning stove, busted snowshoes and a rusted red sled. I pulled plastic trash bags and empty restaurant sized bean cans off the freezer and opened it.

I’d been a skeptic all my life, but there it was, in all its glory… uhmmm, ex-glory. I stared directly into the face of a frozen ape-man. It was huge, filled the 8-foot long freezer. I could see where Earl’d cut off its hair, but the most shocking thing was its lack of feet. The creature’s were missing. Hard to believe Arnie is correct, Sasquatch does exist. My hands started shaking as I remembered feeling something shadow Betsy and I. Quietly closing the lid, I made my way through the maze of clutter to the door. Pistol handy, I was going in.

If Earl were in the house, he could be sleeping… or waiting. Have I found the spinster killer? If he were capable of trapping and killing Sasquatch, then three old ladies wouldn’t put up any kind of fight. Still, why would he murder them. Perhaps the hairy boot-print was Earl’s attempt at throwing us off the trail. If he got away with those murders, I speculated he’d eventually skin Sasquatch and wear it for his next serial killing, the weather ’round here has been known to do strange things to the mind. The whole northwest would be in an uproar over a murdering ape-man… talk about a witch-hunt. But Earl wasn’t that bright or he wouldn’t allow himself to be caught this easily.

Shots rang out! Damn, Earl went out the front, shot Arnie. Wait, that sounded more like a service revolver. Arnie’s got bullets? Where in hell’d he get ‘em? He came flying around the side of the house, .38 snub-nose drawn, pointing towards the woods.

“Did you see it, Jerry? I shot it! It’s limping. Come on. Come on.”

Seeing Arnie in such a frantic state definitely caught me by surprise, but watching him run full speed was pro football poetry in motion. Despite his “supposed” bad knees, he was as graceful as the L.A Ram’s Eric Dickerson, hurtling old couches, legless bathtubs and the sapling fence like fallen linebackers. I debated for a minute whether to enter the house, get Earl, or follow Arnie across the snow-covered yard. A loud growl, like the sound of a dying lion, bellowed from the brush and ended my indecision. I leaped from the porch and chased after Arnie.

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