Chapter 10: The Sheriff & The Spectre
The initial shock of seeing this girl swinging back and forth on a chain took a while to wear off. I have seen death many times before but this was different. It almost seemed brutal, as if the grim reaper himself was saying “look what despair brings to the weak.” And I’ve seen suicides before, but none had eyes like her, open wide in terror. She had not died feeling a moment of desperation, but of complete horror. Someone had hung her. I didn’t have the proof, but I was sure of it. Someone wrapped the chain around Carla’s neck and hoisted her from the ground to leave her feet dangling mere inches from the earth. I imagined the killer just stood there and watched her struggles, feeling either a grim sense of satisfaction or nothing at all.
Carla’s death brought all kinds of questions. Did this incident mean someone had killed Summer too? Was there a jealous party who didn’t approve of their relationship? What about the boy Jeff Dennings had mentioned? The brother of the Kaleidoscope Killer. Was he picking up where his older sibling had left off? Or was it the jock boyfriend who got dumped by Summer for Carla? Was the humiliation and embarrassment he felt a catalyst to send him into a murderous rage? And what of Summer’s own parents? Didn’t Jeff tell me they wanted to kill them both when they found out about the relationship between the two girls? Certainly they wouldn’t have killed their own son in the process, would they?
In a daze I walked back to the patiently waiting cab, these questions swirling in my head. Summer had fled in tears. Maybe the shock of seeing the girl hanging like that, her face colorless and blank, made her remember other things. Maybe she remembered what the girl had meant to her. I didn’t try to chase after her. I knew sometimes even ghosts need their time alone.
I had the cabbie radio in the dead body to his dispatch, so the police could be called. When the first squad car pulled up to the cab parked on Darrow’s Road, and I told them who I had found dead in the woods, they informed I couldn’t leave the scene because Sheriff Deacon would want to question me personally. I figured as much, but I knew this wasn’t going to be pleasant. He steals my wife, I find his only daughter dead and swinging from a chain. You tell me how that looks to you.
The sheriff was ex-military and you could tell it. Broad shouldered, Navy Seals tattoo on his forearm, and a buzz cut that screams “yes sir.” When he pulled up and saw me sitting on the hood of the cab under the watchful eyes of one of his new rookies, he glared at me. I wondered if anyone had told him what waited for him at the tree house in the woods.
When he came back out of those woods twenty minutes later, his eyes were red and there was a grim determination on his face. I guess he didn’t know whether to be sad or angry. He always came off as a “one emotion at a time” kind of person. When he saw me I knew which emotion it was going to be.
He strode up to me and just stood there staring with this intimidating look for a few minutes. When he finally spoke, I could hear the trembling in his voice as he tried to contain what he was really feeling.
“You want to tell me what happened, Winter?”
He crossed his arms over his chest as I related my tale of finding Carla. I left out any mention of Summer’s ghost, of course. He’s never been the superstitious sort. He’d probably try to have me arrested just for being a nut.
“What were you doing out here?” he asked, after I finished.
“I was feeling nostalgic.”
“Lacey and I used to play here as kids.” The mention of Lacey was not lost on him. He gave me an even harder look. For some stupid reason, he’d always blamed me for her death. Last time he did it publicly, I had reminded him it was him she’d been living with at the time. He had reminded me to shut up with a broken nose. I vowed I’d be more prepared next time.
“Lacey,” he whispered almost reverently. “Now I have to bury two people I lived with.”
I felt like welcoming him to the club, but thought better of it. I really didn’t want an altercation, though I knew one was coming.
“You know what strikes me as odd, Winter?”
“We’ve had two dead people on our docket in the past week and you’ve been there both times on the scene. It kind of makes one want to connect the dots, doesn’t it?”
“As long as it makes a complete picture.”
“Sometimes if you connect the dots wrong, the picture is all screwed up.”
“You being a smart ass?”
I bit my lip and said nothing.
“That’s what I thought,” he said smugly.
I bit it harder until I tasted blood in my mouth.
“But there’s something else I’ve been wondering about, old friend.” He said this last part with a sneer of sarcasm. We have never been friends, even when I was a cop.
“I am handed this case of a missing corpse, and when I go to check it out I find that you’d already been there. So, why are you at all these crime scenes? You’re not a cop anymore. You couldn’t hack it.”
The comment wasn’t lost on me, he was trying to push me. Hard. I could tell he was just looking for someone to slug. “I couldn’t hack it, because I didn’t want to see anyone else I knew on a metal slab with a toe tag on their foot.”
He snorted. “If you had cared about Lacey so much you wouldn’t have let me snag her from you.”
There’s Lacey again. I could feel it coming. “True,” I said, trying to diffuse the situation calmly.
“But you know,” he said with a look of someone sharing a mean spirited secret, “all she was to me was another easy piece of tail.”
That did it. He knew it. I knew it. He waited for me to throw the first punch. It landed square on his jaw and his head reeled to the side. His return punch was a lot harder. He delivered it straight to my stomach. I doubled over, knowing his next move would be his knee in my face for the coup de’ grace.
But he wasn’t expecting the gun in my hand. I’d pulled it from my jacket holster and pointed it at his fat beer guzzling gut.
“Go ahead, hit me again,” I wheezed, trying to get my breath back.
He stopped and stood back. As I righted myself I could see the snarling rage in his eyes. Another cop saw me with my gun drawn, and he drew his own approaching us.
“Put it down!” he shouted with a shaky voice. How come nearly all rookies remind me of Don Knotts?
Sheriff Deacon grinned in my direction. “I could have you arrested for assaulting and pulling a weapon on an officer of the law,” he said gleefully.
“But you won’t,” I said, putting my gun back in its holster, even though the rookie was giving me this look like he wanted me to hand it over. None of these clowns was getting my gun.
Deacon signaled his man to lower his gun. “It’s alright Charlie,” he said and then looked dead at me. “And why won’t I?”
“Because this has nothing to do about the law or this crime. It’s all about Lacey. And you know as well as I do that you baited me into throwing the first punch.”
He laughed. “Yeah, but who else does?”
“Anyone I choose,” I said and pulled a mini tape recorder from inside my coat. It was easy to see it was in record mode. “Anything else you want to add sheriff?” I asked, holding the recorder up.
He was fit to be tied. Like a snarling demon stuck in a bottle just wanting to break out and smash my face. But he knew he’d lost this round. He may have been able to get deputies to back him up, but the court wouldn’t. Our local judges knew us both and had known Lacey as well. They’d see this for what it had been.
I put the old recorder back in my pocket. “I’m going to go now. Call my lawyer if you have any more questions, sheriff.”
“One of these days, Winter, one of these days,” he replied. He forced a smile and it reminded me of a snake just waiting for the right time to strike. When he got me he wanted it to be cut and dried, with no way for me to escape. Sometimes I just wished Lacey would go back to him and haunt the hell out of his house until he was a gibbering idiot in a straitjacket.
When I got home I was so overwhelmed by the stress of the day I collapsed on the couch with no intention of getting up again. I picked up the TV remote and turned it on. I tried to get interested in a few things, but with every turn of the channel I just couldn’t get focused on anything. Finally the news came on reminding me of the tragedy of Carla. My name wasn’t mentioned as the person who found her, which I was glad of. Instead, reporters showed the tear streaked, weeping face of Sheriff Deacon. I guess now the anger had left him long enough to seriously grieve for his daughter.
“I don’t know whatever I saw in him,” Lacey said from behind the couch.
“I don’t either,” I replied weakly. I didn’t want to talk about this, but she did, and so I knew what was coming.
“I was just tired of you never being here.”
“I mean, Deacon worked a lot too, but when he was home, he was home. His mind wasn’t off somewhere else.”
I sighed. I knew I’d been a bad husband. I had neglected my wife. I’d shut her out of my life. In the familiarity of our marriage, I’d been content and satisfied with just knowing she was there. Like a fool I didn’t stop to think it took more than me being content to make her happy.
“I wish we’d been given another chance,” she sighed. “Knowing what we do now, I think we both would appreciate what we have and the time we have it for.”
“Yes we would.” I agreed quietly.
“Maybe this is our second chance,” she said, as she passed through the couch to sit next to me.
“Please Lacey. Don’t taunt me so. It’s bad enough knowing where I messed up, but to also know there’s not a damn thing I can do about it now. It’s hard having you here and not being able to be like we were.”
“Do you want me to leave?” she asked.
A big part of me wanted her to. If she left, maybe it would give me peace. But there was this other part of me that knew I would be just as tortured without her. Having her here had helped the healing process, but still I longed for her, the way she used to be…alive.
“No I don’t want you to go,” I replied. “I need you.”
She smiled, though I knew it wasn’t exactly what she wanted to hear. “I know you do,” she whispered. She leaned her head on my shoulder, but I couldn’t really physically feel it. I tried to put my arm around her and hold her like I used to, but my hand passed right through her form. I wanted to cry. I just wanted to feel her for real one more time.
Instead I just closed my eyes, so she wouldn’t see the anguish there. She started to softly hum a tune we both knew from a long time ago. We’d been going to see her parents in Georgia and we stopped at this little country church. It was Sunday and they were right in the middle of services. When we walked in they were singing this hymn, an African spiritual, which seemed to raise the whole roof off the place with both its sorrow and joy.
Lacey began to sing it now softly in my ear.
“Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world, troubles of the world, troubles of the world. Soon I will be done with the troubles of the world, I’m going home to live with God.”
Somehow it didn’t make me feel better.
“Advocate For The Dead ” 2017 Paul D Aronson. All Rights Reserved.