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Lorraine Vanderzanden had the thankless task being Lindstrom’s police chief.  Her husband didn’t appreciate the risks she took.  Her brother didn’t thank her for using her degree for something useful instead of helping on the family farm.  Heck, she thought, cruising to a stop on State Road 404, half of the townspeople got nervous around her and the rest sucked up to her authority. 

The 911 call had been forwarded to her prowler while she was checking out truant kids selling crystal meth.  False alarm there, but this looked like a live one.  Man dead.  Found lying in the front yard of the McCracken’s yellow house.  She had visited Carl and June McCracken before when the neighbors called to complain.

A group of neighbors stood aside respectfully to let her through.  A heavy-set man she knew as Carl pointed to Carl’s body lying supine in a flower bed.  It almost looked as if Carl was showing off a heifer at the county fair.

“What d’ya think, Chief?” Abel Henry asked, walking up.  Abel was a veterinarian who knew pretty much everyone in a fifty-mile radius.  

“You tell me, Abel.  I just got here.”

“He looks dead to me.  Like he had a heart attack, but that’s just my opinion.  I ain’t examined him.”

“Looks pretty dead,” she answered.  “How’d it happen?”

Abel pointed.  “Ask Junie.  She might know.  I was passing by and saw the people standin’ here.”

“Junie?” Lorraine called.  “C’mon over here.”

An ashen-faced woman in her twenties sidled up.  There were no tears, Lorraine noted, filing the fact away the way her deputy would have done if he’d been there.  Junie was wearing bluejeans and an Iowa Huskies tee shirt.  Huskies weren’t doing so good this year, Lorraine thought.

“Want to tell me what happened?”

“Carl was drinkin’.  In the front yard.  He beat on me again, like the last time I called the cops.  Then he started drinkin’ on the back porch.”

“I remember your calls of domestic violence, but I don’t see any blood on you.  Where’d he beat you?”

“He whacked me good in the ribs a few times.  So I bought him a bottle of Jim Beam at the IGA thinking it’d be a peace offering.  Seemed to work.”

Junie wasn’t showing a great deal of wifely remorse, Lorraine thought.  She was looking at her late husband as if he was a lawn ornament.

“So you gave him a bottle of whiskey.  Then what happened?”

“Waaaall….”  Junie drew that one out, as if she was set to tell a highly complicated story and needed to marshal the facts so they could march out in proper order.  “We was settin’ on the back porch and was pret’ near finished with the bottle when he saw the gopher.  I had a little bit, you see..”  She held finger and thumb half an inch apart.  “I told Carl I’d git him his gun.  He hates gophers somethin’ awful.”

“But you both were drinking on the back porch and Carl is pitched out here in the front yard.”  She hoped Junie would get to the point.

“Yeah,” she said, and went on with her platoon of thoughts.  “I got his Smith & Wesson and a handful of shells.  The gopher wandered into that there drainage pipe.  Well, Carl fired a bunch of shells into the pipe, but he missed.  He was pretty drunk and went to take a look.  Seems he heard the gopher in there so he told me to get a flashlight.”

“Which you did,” Lorraine offered.  

“Nawp.  Batteries was dead.  Carl said, ‘I can’t see the damned gopher in there,’ so I says I’ll git you some gas and you can burn him out.

Gasoline, Junie?”

“He keeps it in the shed.  I fetched him a coffee can full.  He poured it in the pipe and then threw a match in, but the stuff didn’t go off.  So, I said, Whyncha go further in, and he did.”

“Junie, that doesn’t sound too smart,” Abel said.  “Man could get hurt.”

“Yeah.” Lorraine saw a flicker of a smile, like a firefly glimpsed before it was gone.  “‘Git me more gas,’ he told me, so I fetched the whole can.  He went down the pipe and I guess poured it all in the hole.”

“And lit it?” Lorraine offered.

“Guess so.  I seen his butt sticking out a little way and then there was a whoosh.  Carl shot out of that pipe like a rocket.  He flew all the way over the house.  Almost hit the TV antenna.  Sure sounded funny as he passed overhead.  Like a jet plane.”

“Well, Junie, that is some story. And what exact time did this happen?”

“’Bout an hour ago.”

“Junie, it’s 5:30 p.m. now.  You waited at least half an hour to report it to the police?”

“I was pretty shook up.  So, is that all?”  She looked once at her husband and then her gaze floated up to watch the setting sun. 

Abel scratched his head. “Damned if that ain’t the craziest accident I ever heard.”

“Nope, it’s murder,” Lorraine said.  The neighbors stood like an audience for a performance at the town band shell.  “Guess you gotta be a woman to understand.  Junie managed to get Carl to kill himself.  So he won’t beat on her anymore.  With him dead she gets the house and the pickup.”

“Murder?” Abel said.  “That’s an odd one.  Aren’t you gonna take her in?”

“For what?  Scrubbing Carl’s DNA from the gene pool?” Lorraine asked.  “See, Carl wanted the gopher, and the gun and the gas, and he lit the matches.  He was a knucklehead.  No crime in that.”

“But, how’d you call it murder?”

“I saw Junie in town last week.  She was singin’ that song, Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.  Remember it back in the day?  Well, Junie found the fifty-first.  Murder by human cannonball.”

 

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Bio: Walt Giersbach bounces between writing genres, from mystery to humor, speculative fiction to romance with some historical non-fiction thrown in for good measure.  His work has appeared in print and online in over two dozen publications. including Short-Story.me.   He's also bounced from Fortune 500 firms to university posts, and from homes in eight states and to a couple of Asian countries.  He now lives in New Jersey, a nice place to visit, but he doesn't want to die there.

   Many thanks for your interest.

 --Walter Giersbach

 

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