Murder on Dirt Road – Page 3

PING! My head chimed again. This could be huge, tourism in our little town just got a boost. Sasquatch does exist around here, and there’s one in Earl’s freezer.

Arn waved his gun and yelled like an excited schoolgirl. I was about to shout “where’d you get bullets” when I saw it. Hairy, at least ten feet tall and close to 486 pounds, crashing through the brush like an out of control bulldozer. The swath it knocked down made a great path, but Arn was losing steam and I wasn’t used to such a chase. The creature leapt over logs and boulders with ease, leaving us panting. Arn stopped and squeezed off several shots. I was out of breath. “Arnie, where’d you get bullets?”

“Get the Chief on the radio. Tell him to get the crew up to East Humptulips River, near Devil’s Slide Lake.”

That didn’t sound like the Arnie Besmiller I knew. There’s more to his story then anyone can imagine. I was awestruck. Arnie wasn’t as lame-brained as he let on. I holstered my gun. That thing certainly wasn’t Earl skeedaddling from the house. If he was still in there, Earl knew we were coming for him.

We stopped for a minute, listened to the dying sound of Bigfoot hurrying through trees.

“Man, it was fast,” Arnie said, doubled over, hands on his knees. “I’m sure I hit it a couple of times.”

I nodded, gasped into the microphone of my shoulder-mounted radio and relayed the situation to the Chief. I requested backup at Earls’ and a search party mobilized for Devil’s Slide Lake. It took some convincing, but the Chief finally agreed. I guess he deemed the information reliable coming from me and not Arnie. I concurred, signed off and yelled, “That was unreal Arn, sorry for doubting you all these years. Let’s head back, gotta find Earl.”

We moved toward the house. Breaking tree line, I saw another cruiser behind ours. I motioned the two officers around back. We were going to make a two-way breach. Arnie covered the front door, from behind the cruiser’s fender. I knocked. “Earl, come on out.”

“Earl’s dead,” a voice called out.

“Then you’d better step out with your arms raised and nothing in your hands,” I yelled toward the house.

“OK, this first.” An ancient double-barreled shotgun slid out of the ripped screen-door butt first. Fritz Hatchett eased out of the doorway, hands raised.

“Fritz? What the hell? Where’s Earl?”

“Sasquatch got him,” Fritz said, grinning ear to ear, holding his new Wolverine boots. “Tol’ ya he stole my boots.”

“You stealing them back?” I asked, knowing the answer.

“I don’t steal nothin’,” Fritz shouted. “I’m just taking them back where they rightfully belong.” Squatting on the porch step, he pulled off his worn-out boots. “Got here just after you two did. Saw the ape-man go out the front door. It ripped Earl’s head clean off.” He slipped the new boots on and rubbed at fresh blood spotting them. “Guess ol’ Sasquatch was jus’ getting even. Earl killed his mate, ya know? Wondered why they were hanging around here so much.”

“Hanging around?” I asked. “What do you mean?”

“Them Sasquatches been ’round Dirt Road for the last month. I hear ‘em at night.” Fritz finished tying his boots and stood. “Ya’ll need to get in there and check out Earl, he’s a mess.”

“You stay here, Fritz. We got more talking to do.”

I stepped inside. Arnie followed. Sure enough, Earl was deader than rock, lying what would have been face down if his head were still attached. “Where’s his head?” I asked, following the bloody trail out the front door.

“Bigfoot,” Arnie said, shaking his head. “Saw it, I hid behind the fender of the car. Didn’t realize what it was at first, but it carried Earl’s head… like a football.”

“Call the coroner. Can’t leave him like that.”

Arnie picked up the phone in the living room. I heard him relay the report. I made my way to the kitchen wanting to investigate the metal pieces and wigs I saw. I needed to make sure our killer really was Earl.

After examining the objects on the table, I was convinced Earl was indeed the “Spinster Killer”, but it appeared he had an accomplice. One piece of Maggie’s missing silver had been fashioned into a wind chime, a hole drilled in the end with string ran through. Several pieces of the other two spinster’s silver place-settings lay nearby. The chime was never finished. Slipped under one shiny butter knife was a note: Earl, quit using this for wind-chimes. This is real antique silver. Worth millions. I’ll take it to Seattle-hock it. We’ll share-80% for me and 25% for you. The handwriting looked familiar, but in the kitchen’s dim light I couldn’t tell if it was Billy Conger’s, Fritz’s, Earl’s, the Chief’s… or Arnie’s.

I slipped the note into a plastic evidence bag and stuffed it in my pocket. I know… major Faux Pas, but someone close was an accomplice to a crime that extended beyond simple theft. I had no idea who to trust anymore and had to get to headquarters, compare handwriting samples.

Slipping past the medical examiner zipping Earl into a fresh black body bag, I stepped onto the sagging front porch. I handed Fritz my notebook, told him to write down his version of what just happened. I had two reasons. One, I needed a sample of his handwriting and two, I didn’t think Fritz did it. He wouldn’t know where to pawn silverware, and I don’t think he’s ever been out of Omomqua County, much less to all the way to Seattle. I do know this, someone is very nervous. I told Arnie to stay there and I beat feet for the station. The press, by now, had heard it on the scanner and would be all over the frozen Sasquatch. I shuddered thinking about questions I’d have to endure.

“Chief,” I said over the radio, “pick up Billy Conger. Meet me at the station.” I surmised that should throw suspicion on Billy. In the meantime, I’d stop at the courthouse, grab the handwritten copy of the Chief’s acceptance speech and Arnie’s hand-written entrance exam papers. One of these men killed three old ladies. I was determined to get him.

I needn’t have worried about it. As I came out of the courthouse, the Chief called me on the radio. “Jerry? Jerry? Dammit-it-to-hell, get your ass back to Earl’s. Hurry. Fritz called, said he’d been shot.”

“Bring Conger.” I slammed the mic onto the dash, the shifter into drive and left fourteen feet of black rubber marks in front of the courthouse.

Driving with my knees, I compared samples of Fritz’s handwriting and the Chief’s to the note. Neither was a match. In disgust, I flung them, hurled them toward the passenger side window, which, thank God was closed. The samples fluttered onto the floorboard. I noticed Arnie’s notebook there. Straining to stay on the road, foot on the gas, hand on the wheel, I stretched to grab it. I opened it and put the yellowed note from Earl’s next to a page. A perfect match. Damn, I should have known. He played for the Seahawks, has relatives in Seattle, including all three of his ex-wives. I hailed the Chief on the radio. “Send more backup to Earl’s.”

As I bounced the car into Earl’s driveway, the distant sound of approaching sirens wailed. To my surprise, Arnie was still there. Sitting on the front stoop with his head in his hands like a redneck version of Auguste Rodin’s “The Thinker.” I opened the car door.

Approaching slowly, I noticed a revolver fill his hand. Had a feeling this wasn’t going to end well. “Arn, why?” I asked, crouching behind the safety of the fencepost as he raised the pistol. He sobbed uncontrollably, quite a sight for a former football star.

“It just got out of hand,” he yelled. “No one was supposed to get hurt… not even Earl.”

The revolver crept higher.

“Earl never had much… ” he said, “all he wanted was a storefront to sell his wind chimes. I only wanted to help him… and get myself more money than this damned deputy job pays.”

He waved the revolver in the air.

“Where’s Fritz?” I asked.

“In the john.”

“He OK?” I countered.

” ‘Course he is, why?”

“Just wondering.” I felt relieved. Apparently Fritz wanted us back here in a hurry before Arnie did something really stupid. “C’mon, Arn. Let’s go.”

“No! I’m not done explaining. Them old spinsters all had priceless silverware. Earl needed it,” Arnie sobbed. “And my ex-wives are bleeding me dry. The first old lady was an accident. I swear.”

I knew Arnie was playing his trump card, but chopping up Maggie wasn’t an accident. It was frustration. One of us wasn’t going to walk away from this. I stepped out from behind the fencepost hoping I wouldn’t have to shoot.

“The second old lady wouldn’t hand over her silver, she pulled a knife. The third I cut up after she called me Marshall, her hubby’s name, gave me a big ol’ sloppy kiss and told me she was getting even by poisoning my dinner… his dinner. Understand? She was a wacko… I got real scared.”

I walked slowly toward Arnie. “It’s over, Arn. Give me the gun.”

“Can’t,” he said, sticking the barrel in his mouth. I wasn’t close enough to do anything. I turned my face away just as he pulled the trigger.

Laughter erupted behind Arnie. I looked. Toilet paper unrolled and bounced down the porch steps. Arnie’s gun hadn’t gone off. He seemed bewildered. I was too.

Fritz chuckled. “Arnie laid his gun on the table when he phoned.” Holding out his hand, open palm up. “I swiped his bullets.”

Arnie was arraigned the next week on three counts of murder and we buried Earl. The television and news media barrage was like nothing our little town had seen before. Bigfoot hunters from around the world filled our lone hotel to capacity for weeks, the frozen Sasquatch disappeared and I’d heard the Smithsonian paid a cool $7 million for it and Earl’s freezer. They denied it, of course, but sources tell me Sasquatch is in a vacuum-sealed glass case and a team of scientists pour over it inch by inch. I still haven’t figured out who got the money, wasn’t the town. And the feet are still missing.

Some weeks after, The Institute for Advanced Studies released a paper stating Sasquatch is a mutant branch of the evolutionary chain descending from Cro-Magnon and Lucy, but days after it appeared, that report was denied. I don’t know what to believe. I know what I saw and no one, so far, has found Bigfoot’s lair. There’ve been reports they’re still around the area, sometimes seen at dusk… and I still wonder where Earl’s head is. Late at night, I imagine them creatures in caves near Devil’s Slide Lake dancing around a fire, holding a long branch with Earl’s head prominently displayed atop it. Maybe I’ll go hunting for it someday. I owe that to Earl.