Chapter 1 – A sneaking suspicion – A motorcyclist in black
Harvey Piquet shuffled and straightened the piles of papers on his desk, not really adding any order, merely stirring the contents. Warming the desk for the morning’s work. His eyes roved around the show room and then out, through the windows and over the woods and the mountain down at the far end of the road. A king surveying his domain.
He noticed an unwelcome crease in the little desk mirror and fiddled his pink tie into a more appropriate position. Then he picked up his cordless phone and set about the shop armed with a polishing cloth.
After a few rings his little sister picked up. “Well, good morning Harry,” he said. “how are you on this lovely morning?”
“Pretty good, how bout you Harvey?” she replied, sounding tired.
“Oh, you know. Sitting here, thinking about what I might like to have for breakfast. Then I remembered I was supposed to have some company for breakfast. But oddly enough she is nowhere to be seen. What rudeness!”
An exasperated sigh came down her end of the phone.
“Oh, don’t sigh at me Harriet Piquet. You said you would come round for breakfast before I opened for the day and I’ve been standing here for a good half an hour growing hungrier and hungrier and wondering where you’ve gotten too! Where are you anyway?” said Harvey
“I’m sorry Harv. To be honest I straight up forgot. Today is the first day of the season and I’m up here on the top of Pikes Peak hunting. Not that I’ve shot shit all morning.”
“You went hunting and didn’t think of you poor brother, starving away at the foot of the mountain!?” Harvey was being, perhaps, a little dramatic. He had snuck a Little Debby cake out of his secret stash an hour ago. Mostly he seemed to be enjoying the opportunity to have a go at his sibling.
“Well, look Harvey. I’m sorry. I’m just packing up now so I’ll head down the mountain now and meet you in town in not too long.” said Harriet, nay Harry.
‘It’s no good I’m afraid Harry. I’m a very busy man and I’ve got half the world waiting for me this morning. I couldn’t possibly be free till lunch time.”
A short pause, probably to allow a bit of head cooling before she responded. “Well what would you say to lunch then Harvey?”
“That will be alright I guess.” he said, after his own magnanimous pause.
“Good. I’ll head down now, take a shower and show up to meet you for lunch.”
“Fine.” he said.
“Fine.” she said.
Harvey put down the phone and wandered around the shop, peevishly flicking invisible dust off the cars in the show room.
Customers came and went throughout the morning. The old Johnson woman grilled him for a half an hour and walked away again, saying she’d think about it. A young couple came in looking for their first car together, the husband trying very hard to be serious and knowledgeable in front of his new wife. They left with little two-door coup, not the most practical car and rusting under the hood, but they were happy and Harvey was certainly happy to have it off his lot.
It was heading on towards lunch time when he first started to get a bit worried. Coming down from the top of the mountain wasn’t a long trip. It took maybe an hour or two at the most. He picked up his desk phone and tried Harry’s number again. Nothing. He tried her home line too. All he got was a message saying her voicemail was full.
‘No reason to fret. I’m sure she just decided to hang out there for a little longer than she said and she’ll be rolling back into town at any moment.’ he thought.
Fifteen minutes passed.
It was now 12:30pm. Definitely lunch time. He walked over to his desk phone and dialed.
‘There is no cell reception on the road.’ he thought, as he hung up the phone. ‘What if she’s stuck out there? There might not be another soul passing for hours.’ The thought rankled him, and as thoughts tend to do when the mind has nothing else to do it started to roll around in his mind, building until it spun him into a state of a anxiousness. Just like a child laughing at the speed of the merry-go-round who suddenly realises that it is now going to too fast, fear suddenly sprung up in him.
He should go out and look for her. But he couldn’t. There was another raft of customers likely to come by at any moment, and he didn’t have his assistant here to mind the dealership.
Just then he saw Tyler, one of the two local firemen, walking out of the diner across the street. The younger man had a happy smile on his face as he turned to make some remark to Karen at the counter and then he walked across towards to the firehouse.
Harvey hesitated for a moment, sitting there in his chair, and then he jumped up and crossed over the road to meet him.
Tyler turned round at the sound of heavy, flapping footfalls behind him and was confronted by the large figure of Harvey jogging up to him. Harvey, though a little winded by his efforts, launched in with his usually magnanimity. “Good morning Tyler, hope you’re doing well. Now I reckon this might sound a little strange and perhaps you’ll think I’m just a worry-wer, but I had a quick favour to ask.”
“No problem Harvey. Now what’s got you all hopped up.” said Tyler grinning at him.
Harvey grimaced a bit at that. “Now it’s probably nothing, but Harriet and I were talking this morning and she was at the top of the mountain and said she was going to come back down and meet me for lunch. That was a couple hours ago, but I haven’t seen her come by and I can’t reach her on her phone.”
“So you would like me to what?”
“Well, I’m awfully sorry for the inconvenience, but I need to stay and mind the dealership and…” Harvey now felt the awkwardness of the request he was making. “I know it sounds silly, but I just have this kind of a funny feeling, you know? And then seeing you I was just…”
Tyler nodded and smiled at Harvey.
“Sure”, he said “How ’bout this? The truck could probably use a bit of drive, so why don’t I take a quick nip up and the road and have a look, then if there is anything the matter I will be in a better spot to deal with it and I’ll have my radio which ought to work better than a phone out there. ”
“Thank you very much Tyler.” said Harvey, relief and embarrassment tugging at him as he said it.
Chapter 2 – A body is discovered – The sheriff enters
About thirty minutes later, in the cafe across the street, Sheriff Jennifer Paige was amused, but trying not to show it.
“I’m tellin you Jenn, that’ll be it.” said Sergeant Walter Goomer. “Nobody’s realised it yet, bit the world’s supply of lithium will be depleted in just a few years, especially with all of these new electric cars and home batteries and things. All those poor Tesla owners are going to be S.O.L. (shit outta luck)!”
“Okay,” said Jenn, speaking slowly. “Then wouldn’t the price of all of those materials be going up as the supply becomes scarce?”
“Well, that’s what you’d think, but you see…” and here the Sergeant leaned in conspiratorially “the big oil companies are hushing the whole thing up. They want this whole battery thing to take down just enough of the market so then they can jack gas prices sky high!” he waved his coffee cup decisively and ended up with coffee down his sleeve.
Jenn started to laugh, and then quickly took a sip to cover it and ended up choking on her coffee, rather over doing her cover.
She and Walt were dabbing and hacking respectively when outside the sound of a fire siren startled both of them from their preoccupations.
They peered out the window of the café as the fire truck came flying into town, and round the corner to the local medical centre.
“Haven’t seen him hustle like that in a good long while.” said Walt. “What do you reckon it is?”
“Reckon we ought to get up there and find out.” said Jenn, rising. “Odd he didn’t call me.”
“He was coming in on the road from the mountain right? Ain’t no cell reception out that way. Wonder what he was doin’ out there? ”
Jenn called to the waitress “Be right back!”
And she and Walt darted out of the cafe and piled into the patrol car parked out front. As Jenn pulled them out onto the road they were almost sideswiped by a huge blue Chevrolet which tore past them towards the medical centre. They followed it up the hill and were just in time to see it screech to a halt in the parking lot. Harvey Piquet launched himself out of the drivers seat and hustled across the parking lot as fast as his short legs would carry him. Pink tie flapping and his carefully sprayed combover flapping wildly.
He met the firetruck at the same time as the three scrubbed attendants who had hustled a gurney out of the emergency room doors and sent Tyler reeling as he ran to the open rear door of the cab. “Harry! Harry!” he yelled as stuck his head into the darkness of the cab. Then his body stiffened, and as the medical staff pushed past him, he slumped against the cab.
Even from a distance Jenn was struck by the odd expression on his face. The eyes were still wide with stricken panic, but the face was already reddening from embarrassment, while the mouth wore a surprised expression.
As she approached, he turned away.
The body was being pulled gently from the back of the back seat of the truck and Jenn caught a flash of a whiskered face and a pair of enormous black boots. A man in full motorcycle gear.
She walked up to Tyler, the fireman, who turned as she approach, and raised one eyebrow quizzically.
“A motorcycle accident, Ma’am.” Tyler spoke up. “Single vehicle, about 15 miles from here on the road to Pikes Peak. Bike was off in the ditch and this …fellow… was lying out in the middle of the road. He seemed badly hurt, and his pulse was weak so I bundled up into the car as gently as I could and drove straight here.” Tyler paused, and Jenn noted the decision which had gone into the choice of word, ‘fellow’.
Jenn was in the habit of letting people talk rather than talking, and so in a moment Tyler began again. “It’s the damndest thing, just arriving on an accident, you see I was only out there on account of Harvey. You see he, I mean…”
Tyler paused again and Harvey cut in, shaking himself free of his torpor “I sent him out to check Sheriff. Harriet, that’s my sister, and I were speaking this morning. She was at the top of the mountain and said she was going to come down and meet me for lunch. About an hour ago I got a bit apprehensive and so I ask Tyler here to go out and have a look for me.” He swallowed noisily. “Sometimes horrible things can happen out there on the road.”
Tyler nodded along with him, and said “Yeah, bit of an ugly wreck that was. I can’t imagine how he’s gonna make it.”
“I see,” said Jenn. “And neither of you have any idea who this man on the bike is?”
The two men looked at each other and then back at her, shaking their heads in unison.
Tyler hesitated at the silence and then said, “I suppose I’ll go and collect the bike.”
“No, don’t worry about. Walt and I ought to take a look at the scene of the accident anyway.” said Jenn “Can I call in later to though to collect your formal statement for this though?”
Turning to Harvey she said “I’ll need similar statements from both you and your sister, I apologise for the hassle. Can I call on you later this afternoon? ”
She left Walt, who had been standing quietly to the side, to collect contact details and headed into the hospital.
She found Dr. Swisher in the ER Ward, but no one else was in attendance. In the middle of the room the body, she assumed, lay covered in a white sheet. A glance and nod with the doctor confirmed her assumption.
“No hope?” she asked.
“DOA,” he said. “Probably sometime during the drive over here. Nasty business.”
“Do you mind if I?”
He hesitated, but “Go ahead” he said.
She pulled back the sheet and grimaced at the smashed up face and torso.
“Caucasian male, 40 to 45 years of age. Died of severe trauma and associated blood loss, or at least that seems pretty clear at first glance.” said Dr. Swisher, voice flat. “I assume you’ll be wanting an analysis and a death certificate?”
“That’s the usual.” said Jenn. “But, it’ll be a first in the time I’ve been here.”
“I’d bet back in the city, you’d get these things all the time, eh?”
“This and uglier. Must say I was kind of hoping to avoid it out here.”
“Same proportion of idiots everywhere I reckon. But I’ll look this one over for you.”
Jenn left the body on the table and came back out into the sunshine to find Walter standing in the middle of the parking lot humming to himself.
They walked back to the truck and Jennifer starred out the window as Walt drove them out of the hospital and down the hill, rambling all the while as he did so.
“I don’t think it’s safe the way the county has let that road go. All those potholes and cracks, why, it ain’t no better than a dirt road and worse than a few I know about!”
“Probably swerved quickly around some furry creature and then ‘Wham!’ front tire sticks and then over he goes.” he slammed on the steering wheel for emphasis.
As they pulled up to the cafe to finish their lunch Walt waved to Tyler who was just closing the big fire station door.
“That’s odd.” said Jenn, waking out of her brown study.”He’s pulled it in straight. Isn’t the fire truck supposed to be backed in?”
Walt looked back in his mirror with minor interest and made an indiscriminate noise. “Could be. ” he said. “But Tyler’s only a volunteer and besides he seemed pretty shaken up what with the body and all. Could be he just forgot?”
Chapter 3 – An accident? – The victim is named
The scene of the crash was right where Tyler had reported it. About fifteen miles outside of town they came across the battered remains of a big black Harley lying on its side in the ditch, alongside a dark stain in the middle of the road.
Together she and Walt wrapped a chain round the belly of the beast and dragged it up onto the road with the truck. The plan had been to roll it up the ramp into the bed of the truck they used as a police cruiser, but the front tire has been bent cleanly around the front fork and there was little rolling to be had. They pushed and pulled for a bit, but it was no use.
“I reckon we ought a give Harriet Piquet a call and let her come and sort this out for us. She’s got the only real tow truck in town. What do you reckon Jenn?”
And that is what they did. While they were waiting they poked around the site of the accident Jennifer peering into the ditch whilst Walt inspected the road surface.”Well, I’ll be.” He said stumping back to the patrol car. “Seems like this son of a bitch found the smoothest section of road in this county to crash his bike on. Not that that changes my mind, I just think that there was probably an animal involved. Make sense to you Jen ? ”
She wasn’t listening, having developed a habit of tuning Walt out. Instead she was intent on the bike itself, looking at the battered fuselage.”Mmm Hmm… ” she said.
“Well, I’ll bet you this is how it went down. Some deer or fox or critter of that kind comes running across the road. Rather than running into it or laying the bike down our guy makes a big mistake and twists his handle bars. He goes flying and comes down hard on his head. That would give you the bent front tire, the busted up head, everything!”
After a while the tow truck came rumbling up the hill and pulled up beside them.
A tall woman climbed out. A stark contrast to her portly brother Harriet Piquet was a tall and bony woman with a slightly hunched back and short crop of wiry brown hair which stuck out of the cap she wore. Jenn’s first impression was one of reserve, and then on self consciousness. This was a woman not fully at ease with herself, she thought.
She spoke up directly though.
“Good afternoon ma’am, you must be the new Sheriff. My name is Harriet, but feel free to call me Harry.”
Sticking out her hand she shook Jenn’s firmly and then nodded her hello to Walt who returned in kind.
Jenn said, “Good to meet you Harriet. Thanks for coming back down here on such short notice.”
“Not a problem.” said Harry. “It seems I must have been just behind the action. I pulled up at Harvey’s place to find him in quite a state, blathering at a half a million miles an hour like Harvey does, and then just as I was beginning to make sense of it you rang up.”
“Some kind of a mess, surprised I didn’t notice it on the way down.” she grimaced, indicating the bike in the ditch. Jennifer was struck by the similarity between brother and sister. Harry, or Harriet as Jennifer tried to remember her, was tough where Harvey was soft and wore greasy overalls where Harvey wore starched collars, but when they spoke to you in that big jovial way of theirs you started to see the resemblance.
With the help of the winch they got the bike up on the back of the truck. And as Harry drove the bike back towards town Jenn and Walt went to climb back into the patrol car.
Walt whistled, rather tunelessly, to himself as he started up the car and pulled gently off the steeply sloping shoulder. As the headlights of the truck cut through the gathering shadows Jenn made a sudden movement. “Hold a sec Walt. ” she said and hopped out of the cab. A moment later she was back, clutching a batter wallet in her hand. “Ha!” she said, triumphantly waving it about.
“I had wondered where this had gotten to. I was surprised not to find it on the body, but now it seems like we will finally find out who our mysterious stranger is. Let’s see, ” she began narrating as she peeled apart the contents of the wallet. “$50 dollars in small bills, one rather well lubricated condom escaping its wrapper, bowling loyalty card, ah ha! Nice to meet you Mr Melvin Johnson. ”
“Well I’ll be,” said Walt quietly from the drivers seat, as the truck drove slowly through the darkening woods. “I wonder if he’s any relation to ole Miss Mira Johnson. I recall there was some business to do with a Melvin, just before I moved to town.”
Chapter 4 – A scoundrel is revealed – Suspicions rise in the sheriff
“He was a good boy, but he didn’t grow up to be a very nice man.” said Mira, sitting down at the kitchen table and pushing two cups of instant coffee towards them.
“He was your sister’s son, is that right?” said Jenn, accepting the coffee with a gracious nod.
Mira signalled assent with a sharp jerk of her neatly curled grey head.
“Don’t know what happened to him. He wasn’t the brightest boy mind you, but you bet’cha my sister kept him straight. Even after his dad ran off he always seemed like a kind and happy enough kid. Didn’t do too well in school though and so he enlisted when he turned 18, Navy I think, hoping to be a Marine or some such nonsense.”
“Mmmm…” said Walt, leaning forward and munching on the somewhat stale cookies that Mira had insisted on getting them.
“He went away a clueless boy, but after two years he came back a mean small man. He used to come and visit his aunt every now and then, before he left, but when he came back to town he shut us all out. Took a job in the lumber mill and found a doublewide down in Paradise trailer park to live in. It was just work and the bar for him, or at least until he met his wife.”
“He was married?” said Jennifer, starting.
“Oh yes.” continued Mira. Raising her prim little eyebrows and making a big ‘O’ with her little mouth.
She leaned in conspiratorially, and Jenn could tell she was coming to what she considered the juicy bit.
“He married Miss Harriet Piquet.”
Jenn turned a startled expression on her partner, but Walt just shrugged.
“But she never mentioned…”
“Oh, I would have been surprised if she had, poor woman. Especially after what happened…”
“What do you mean?” said Jenn. Mira seemed to be enjoying parting with information bit by bit.
“Well, you see it wasn’t a terribly happy marriage. I thought at first maybe being a married man would straighten Mel out a little bit, but it soon became clear that wasn’t the case. He was a drinker, and he used to be out in the bar at all hours. I heard from their neighbours that there were some raging fights.”
“Then of course there was the girl.”
“Mel didn’t always come back home at night, and I heard through the grape vine that he had been seen around the place with some high school girl from Kremmling. I don’t recall her name, maybe Rollins or some such, but there was a rumour going around that he got her pregnant and that is why he did it.”
“I’m sorry, did what?”
“Left town of course. Harriet came home one day to find the house stripped and his motorcycle gone, and that was the last she every heard from him. I understand she burned everything of his in the backyard.”
“And you’ve not seen or heard from him since that day?”
“Not a peep. His mother passed away a few years ago and the wretched slime-ball couldn’t even be bothered to attend the funeral.”
Jenn took a sip of her lukewarm coffee and considered all that she just heard. The interview lasted a few more minutes and then, thanking Miss Johnson and offering again their condolences for the accident, she and Walt made their exit.
Sitting again in the patrol truck, Walt said. “I think we probably ought to pay Harry a visit. We’ll get that complete statement from her. This really tips the thing on it head don’t it?”
Chapter 5 – Dents and tire irons – Doctors thoughts – Mounting suspicions
As they pulled up outside Piquet Mechanics Jenn was mulling the problem over in her head. Was she letting her imagination run away with her? This was just a simple accident, but the amount of coincidence involved was starting to seem suspicious to her.
They parked in the lot and wandered into the small cavern of a garage. At the back was a small wood panelled office, crowded with filing cabinets and with a greasy note on the door. “Back in 15 minutes.”
They debated for a moment and decided that this was as good a time as any to find a bit of lunch.
Crossing back across the lot to the cafe Jenn noticed a big blue pickup truck parked up against the wall.
“Hey Walt, is that Harriet’s truck?”
“Well, I think so. Why?”
“Just a sec.”
Jenn walked back towards the truck and, peering along the wall, got a better view of the thing that had caught her eye. The front headlight was smashed and the grill had been mashed up. Sliding in between the wall and the bumper Jenn took out her little flashlight and pointed it into the grill. It had been cleaned, but peering into the twisted metal Jenn caught sight of a few little brown bristles, stuck in a crack. She reached into her coat and drew out a small sample bag. Slipping it inside out in a practiced motion she reached out and grabbed the small clump of hair in much the same way someone uses a grocery bag to pickup dog terds.
“What’cha find?” asked Walt as she came back.
“Evidence” said Jenn, grimly. “This case is not closing up neatly like I hoped it would. In fact, everything I see is starting to look more and more suspicious. I’ll explain over lunch.”
Sitting in the Sweet Pea cafe Walt remarked between mouthfuls of the burger he was munching – it was vegan, and not Walt’s first choice, but he knew better than to complain at Jenn’s choice of restaurant – “You know I still can’t make it out. I still think that the best explanation is the simplest. Like that Occam’s Knife thing. He was riding along, some animal ran out, he pulled up fast and went flying. We have the bike in the ditch, the scrape marks in it, it all makes so much derned sense.”
Jenn had explained her issues to him. The coincidence of just Harry and Melvin on the road at the same time. The bizarre way Harvey had reacted when he s aw the motorcycle coming through town. Now, this clear evidence of a collision with Harriets truck. Walt, however, either didn’t see the way the puzzle was fitting together or wasn’t in a mood to look at it.
His comment though, roused her. “You’ve given me an idea. Hold a minute, I think this is another important point, but I need to draw this out.” she said. She scrambled about for a moment for a pen and paper, but finding neither she instead reached out and grabbed the salt shaker, unscrewing it and upending it onto the table.
“So, this is the road.” she narrated, tracing a neat double line through the field of salt. “This end faces toward the mountain,” pointing one end of the road, “and this faces town”, flattening the opposite end.
“This is the place where the body was found.” here she heaped a small pile of salt in the left hand of one of the two lanes.
“And here is the motorcycle as we found it.” here she made a divot in the salt on the side of the road, ahead of the body, and closer to the mountain.
“Now, I am no expert in forensics, but doesn’t it make sense to you that if it had been a motorcycle crash the force of impact would have thrown the lighter body ahead of the motorcycle?”
Walt looked hard at this considering, but uncharacteristically said nothing.
Jenn continued, questioning herself. “But if he was hit from the other side, say by a truck coming down the hill, wouldn’t that have had the same effect? Oh, but then of the course the bike might have been drug off to the side of the road, so that by the time Tyler would have come along all he would have seen was the body in the middle of the road.”
“Well, it ain’t much good you just conjecturing to yourself. Why don’t we go over to the fire station and ask him what he saw. Maybe that will help us clear this whole mess up.”
A few minutes later they walked out of the cafe and headed towards the little fire station.
Inside they found an old man whistling to himself as he bent over a big sink of washing. Walt seemed to know him and greeted him jovially.
“Hello Jack, how are you?”
“Oh, you know Walt, a little here a little there. What can I do for you and the Sheriff?”
Walt paused, looking uncertain.
“Oh, nothing much,” said Jenn, who had followed Walt in and was looking into the open back seat of the fire truck, which was apparently in the middle of being cleaned. “I was hoping to speak with Tyler and get his statement on yesterdays events. By the way, you haven’t seen anything unusual about the truck?”
“Not particularly” said Jack. “Impressive quantity of blood mainly. Seems to have been a regular fountain in the back seat there.”
He went back to his sink and pulled out a large tire iron, which had been caked in blood.
“Would you just look at that!” exclaim Jack, scrubbing hard with a sponge at the offending stain. “It seems like everything was just thrown in, in a hurry and then bled upon. And of course it didn’t help that Tyler left it all over night, though what could you expect of the poor boy really, shocked as he was.”
“What do you mean by that?” said Jenn, who had long ago learned the value of open ended questions.
“Why just the shock of realising who the man was of course. Harvey came running by to tell us not 10 minutes after Tyler had brought the truck back. I heard them talking.”
“And why should that have made any difference to Tyler?”
“Well, didn’t either of you know? No, well I guess it is getting to be a long time ago now, and your both quite new to town. Fact is, long time ago Mel, I mean Melvin Johnson the dead man, had had an affair with Tyler’s little sister, when he was still living out in Kremmling. Got her pregnant so I understand and skipped town not so long after. I don’t know the finer point of the thing, but she decided to go through with the pregnancy, but perhaps she was too young for it, and she died in childbirth, along with the baby. I’ve never heard Tyler talk about it, but I can’t imagine it was real pleasant for him to discover who he had worked so hard to rush to the hospital. It is his job as a fireman after all, but still a nasty shock for poor Tyler.”
Jenn’s eyes got big as she said this, but she kept her tone of voice casual. “And did you hear any of the rest of Harvey conversation?”
“Not really ma’am. I was upstairs at the time, and they moved off into the back room after Harvey came in. He only stayed for a minute or two though.”
They left Jack to his washing and walked back across the road to the car, Jenn’s mind was now full of different possibilities, like a whirling slot machine, going just slow enough so that she could almost make out the patterns.
A few minutes ago there had been a strange coincidence, now there was a definite air of foul play. Two people who certainly had reason to wish Mel Johnson dead, had been with him on the mountain that day. Was it possible they were both in on it?
She thought back to the dent in the truck and the bloody tire iron, and grimaced.
Just as they we stepping up to the cab her pocket began to buzz. She looked down at her phone and saw that it was Doc Swisher.
Crossing over to the other side so that Walt could drive she took the call.
“Hello, this is the sheriff.”
&qquot;Hello sheriff, how are you?”
“Pretty good, yourself doc?”
“Pretty puzzled, truth be told. Our boy Mel here isn’t as clear a case of motorcycle crash as I first thought.”
“By which you mean?” said Jenn, a grim certainty rising in her gut.
Doc continued in his own slow way. “I mean he has most of the injuries you would expect in a fatal motorcycle crash, broken collar bone, grazes and abrasions down his legs and arms, even the dirt lodged in the palms, but there are other injuries which just do not fit the bill.”
Again a pause, but Jenn was growing used to this meter and did not interrupt.
“The major wounds in his head and chest, were probably not caused by contact with the ground. It’s only a rough estimate, but I would say that they are the result of some hard edged tool, wielded with uncommon force.”
“Wait, so you mean…”
“Yes, ma’am. This was at least a two part incident. A crash, and then, unless I am very much mistaken, a rather savage beating.”
Chapter 6 – Two suspects – A surprise visit – A murderer is revealed
“Well shoot.” said Jenn. Sinking back into the car seat and starring out the window blankly. “Guess that cinches it Walt.”
“Mmm,” said Walt. Then in a more exasperated tone. “What could that idiot have been thinking? Why would he run off and do a thing like that?”
“He?” said Jenn. “What do you mean ‘he’?”
“Well, ain’t it obvious to you Jenn? Clearly it was Tyler the fireman that did the killin’. He had the motive and the murder weapon was right there on the floor of the cab, already covered in blood. Ugly bit o’ business. Tyler must have been driving out there, looking out for Harry and come across Mel. Maybe his bike had broken down or summit’.”
“He recognises who it is when Mel steps out into the road to flag him down and then, rather than slowin’ he steps on the gas and WHAM! hits him full speed, smashing him down into the road.” Walt continued, getting more and more excited as he painted his gory vision.
“He weren’t all the way dead though. Tyler stops the firetruck and walks back towards the body, sees that his victim is still breathing and goes to the cab. The tire iron is right there and so he returns to his victim and THWAP! smashes his skull in with the iron.”
“Just then he realizes what he’s done. He can’t very well leave the body and claim he ain’t never seen it. So he pulls the real genius out. Hooks the bike to the bumper of the truck and drags it into the ditch. Then places the iron underneath the body so that the blood pools on top of it and pulls out like all fury towards the hospital.”
“Wow.” said Jenn. Momentarily, she considered the vision which her partner had expounded. Then she said, in a diplomatic tone, “It certainly is a possibility but there are a few things I don’t quite like about it. For a start, how did Tyler know Mel would be out on that road?”
“Why, he didn’t. It was a crime o’ passion pure and simple.” said Walt.
“Alright, maybe a more interesting coincidence, how did Mel himself wind up motorcycling up that road on this particular day.”
Walt was silent at this.
“Mind if I explain what I think occurred?” asked Jenn.
“Go right ahead.” said Walt.
“You were right, Tyler’s trip up the road was not planned. But it was the only part of an otherwise carefully planned murder.” started Jenn.
“This is all conjecture mind you, but I’ve been thinking about it since we first spoke with Miriam Johnson.”
“Mel wasn’t cruising up that road on a whim. He was coming to meet someone. Someone who had planned his visit and carefully given herself a solid cover story by going out hunting the night before.”
“When Mel came up at the road she was waiting for him, and crossed into the other lane knocking him off his bike and crumpling it as we have seen. That would account for the dent in her fender we observed at the garage.”
“Then she got out and finding her unfaithful husband still alive in the road had beaten him with a jack or some such other thing. Then she must have retreated back up the mountain and as she was doing that saw or heard Tyler coming up the road.”
“Perhaps she had some plan for how to get someone up to find the body, maybe faking engine trouble or maybe just driving coolie into town and pretending she had simply passed the motorcycle on the way, but Tyler’s arrival saved her the trouble.” Jenn, frowned for a moment at that.
“I’ll admit that that part is perhaps a bit of a stretch, but either way I’m sure something similar happened. All she then had to do was continue down the hill after the firetruck and pass us all by while everyone was crowded around the body at the medical center.”
“Wow.” It was Walt’s turn to mull an idea over.
“Only thing that doesn’t quite click Jenn, why was the bike where it was? You just said yer’self over lunch that if he had been hit from up the hill the bike would have ended up much more nearby him.”
“Oh that.” said Jenn, surprised Walt remembered such a trivial detail. “I imagine she simply dragged the bike off the side of the road to make it look more like a single vehicle accident. Perhaps she’ll have a good explanation for it.” Jenn sat up as she said this and looked at Walt expectantly.
“What?” said Walt.
“Why aren’t you driving?” said Jenn.
“Driving where?” said Walt.
“To Harriet’s garage.” said Jenn. “We need to have a serious talk with her.”
They pulled up outside of the Piquet Mechanics just as the sun was setting over the little town. Inside they could see a little light dimly filtering through the greasy panes of a side door, but the main garage doors were closed.
Walt looked at Jenn, as they neared the door, and placed his hand on his pistol.
She waived him away, but was feeling none to sure herself as she approached the door in the growing gloom. She knocked, three times. Nothing.
She knocked again, three times. Nothing.
She put here ear up to the door and from behind it could here the swelling sounds of some pieces of classical music. All sharp violins and deep cello.
Cautiously, she stretched out her hand to the door handle and tried it. Open.
Together she and Walt followed the rising sounds of the symphony into the garage.
In the far back corner there was an overhead lamp pouring yellow light onto a figure bent over a work bench. They moved closer.
The figure at the bench was bent over a small piece of work, and as they came closer they caught the flash of steel, rising and falling in with the waves of music.
“Harriet!” Jenn had to shout over the noise of the boom box which was blasting into the little workshop.
The big woman whipped around, and the long, bloody knife she was holding came up defensively. Jenn and Walt both jumped for their guns and Walt’s was all the way out of his holster before Jenn realised what was going on.
“Wait!” she shouted. Raising her arms to fend off the impending calamity.
Harriet was starring wide eyed at the pair of them, still shocked by their sudden appearance. Jenn reached out and shut the music off, and suddenly, robbed of its majesty the scene became calmer.
“So,” said Jenn, turning to Harriet. “You do your own taxidermy? I’m very sorry to come bursting in on you like this.”
Harriet’s face flashed from to stunned surprise, to annoyance, to sudden trepidation as she was realized she still had a knife raised towards the sheriff. She hastily put this down on the table and then turned a red face back to the Sheriff.
“Yes, I found this fellow up on the road to the mountain as I was coming down yesterday. Hit it with my truck as a matter of fact.” she stepped aside so that Walt and the Sheriff could get a clear view of the bench.
And the large moose head which sat there, partially skinned.
Chapter 7 – The face of a murderer – An explanation
The next day the morning found Jenn doing something she had rarely found occasion to do in her short tenure in this job. Sitting in her office.
The sheriff’s office was a large one, with old fashioned wood paneling and a massive oak desk which took up much of the available floor space. Though most of the tchotchkes had been boxed up and taken back to the old sheriff’s house but the cowboy motif still shown through. The hat rack, for instance, which had spurs.
Here and there though there were signs of a new tenant with distinctly different tastes. The big clock still ticked away quietly on the mantelpiece, but on either side of were two small vases, filled with little arrangements of wild flowers. The low chairs and the sofa which sat under the window had each acquired a much needed splash of colour, in the form of rather nice cushions.
As Jenn’s guests – Tyler, Harvey and Harriet Piquet, and Doc Swisher – filed into the room she waived them towards the sofa.
“Well,” she said. “Thank you all for making time in your morning to wrap this up. I don’t care for this to be a matter of public discussion, but since each of you were involved closely with the death of Mel Johnson, I felt that it was right that you know the full story as far as we can piece it together.”
There was a general grimace at the name, but she continued on without comment.
“Since his body was discovered four days ago there have seemed to be many twists and turns about the case, but we seem finally to have come to an answer, though I admit, not one I ever would have guessed on my own.
“Yes sir. We believe we have found the perpetrator of this murder.” she paused to enjoy the effect this word had on her audience. “Hey Walt,” she called into the adjoining room, “Would you please join us for a moment?”
Walt came through the door, struggling with a heavy something under a sheet. It was too big to fit thru [through] the little door of the office and he grunted as he turned it longways and carried it inside.
He set it in the middle of the felt desktop, and stood to the side, panting with the exertion.
“Thank you Walt.” Jenn, turning to her audience reached out for the cloth. She couldn’t help herself. She cracked a smile.
“Behold,” she said. “The face of a murder!”
With a rapid gesture like a conjurer she jerked the cloth aside.
It was an old, grey, taxidermied, moose head, with a nasty vengeful expression, even in death.
Stunned silence greeted this revelation until, quite suddenly Harry began to snort with laughter. “You mean,” she said “That I have this old grey fellow to thank for what happened to Mel out there and the missing headlight on my truck?”
Jenn sat down on the desk next to the head and patted it. “Yep, that seems broadly right, but I had better let Walt explain, since it was he who had the original idea in the first place.”
“Well, you see it were a little like this.” said Walt, speaking up from the corner he had taken residence in.
“Two days ago Mel came a ridin’ into town, but rather than stopping in town he continues on up road to the mountain. As Jenn put it that road is really like a little room with two doors into it, and if you think of it that way it works pretty well for people, but it wasn’t people that Mel had to contend with.”
“About fifteen miles out of town this big fella,” and here he patted the silver fur, “was out for a quiet stroll when a huge Harley comes flying up at him. It scares him so that he stands stock still and WHAM Mel hits him straight abroad sides.”
“Now you have all seen how big these fellas can get and as you can probably tell from this head here this weren’t no slouch of a moose. When Mel hit him, his body took most of the blow and the bike skidded right through the moose’s legs while Mell fell on his back at the moose’s feet. That how his bike came to end up so far out ahead of him on the road and what’s more the moose has got a few broken ribs on that side to prove it”
He turned to Harriet. “We called in at the butcher where you dropped off the carcass Harry, and even had a vet come out to look at it, just to be extra sure.”
He continued, “The moose, as you might imagine, weren’t very impressed with being crashed into and so it did what you or I might do to an ant which bit your foot. It stomped him good and proper, which accounts for those grievous head wounds don’t you know.”
“The blood on the hooves has now been analysed and I am happy to confirm it is a match to our Mr. Johnsons.” chimed in Jenn who had settled back in her desk chair and was quite enjoying herself.
Walt started up again, “The moose ran off, and then you ma’am,” he indicated Harriet “came down a little while later and struck the same moose a little further up towards the mountain which would account o’course for the broken leg the poor animal had when we found him.”
“Meanwhile, Harvey” he indicated the car salesman, “you was getting worried about your sister up the mountain and asked Tyler here to come take a look.” he indicated the young fireman. “And from there the story is just as you all have seen.”
And with Walt concluded his story and a smug smile crept across his face. “And didn’t I say all along sheriff. Was probably just some animal?” and between that self satisfied smirk and the flummoxed faces of the four sitting watching the proceedings, two of whom would never know how close they had all come to being murder suspects, Jenn had to laugh.
A little later, when everyone else had gone off for lunch with Walt, Jenn stood talking with Doc Swisher.
“So, what are you going to do with your killer moose?” said Doc Swisher, still nearly chuckling as he said it.
“I was think I might hang him up above my desk, actually.” said Jenn. “Seems like a fitting reminder for me of how new I will always be around here.”