Author: Dane Owen PM
After the unsolved murder of a young girl gets swept under the rug, her older sister dedicates everything she has to catching the killer. Everything...Rated: Fiction T - English - Mystery/Suspense - Words: 4,241 - Published: 04-26-12 - Status: Complete - id: 3016907
|A+ A- Full 3/4 1/2 Expand Tighten|
Out of the JVC stereo sitting next to the sink, the lead singer of Fall Out Boy, Patrick Stump, softly sings his catchy tune because Katie can't stand silence. "We're going down, down in an earlier round. And sugar we're going down swingin'. I'll be your number one with a bullet. A loaded God complex cock it and-" BANG!... Katie Walsh's optical spectrum of reality is distorted with such ravenous violence that the half-spherical seen room full of tangible textures immediately morphs into a two dimensional, untouchable photograph that hangs on the walls of The Nothing for a few unknown afterlife moments before disintegrating forever. It is already forgotten, therefore never known. Surprisingly, death isn't instantaneous. The brain is obviously dead. A .45 slug doesn't knock on the door and ask for sugar. It calls in an airstrike. Therefore what was once responsible for figuring out Algebra equations in Professor Frick's class at Red River State Community College and determining what was right from wrong while alone with a boy as a young girl, is now scattered grey matter happily sticking to the plastic cabinet doors as if not to fall to what would be certain death onto the fake granite counter tops below. It takes about six post-heartbeat seconds to close down the billions of miles of neurotransmitter highways and blood vessels for good. Black ice seems to be the culprit. Back to you Bob.
Three houses down, a joyful Mrs. Belinda Amrak is tending to her County Fair winning tomatoes. On all fours, the 83 year old widow is in incredible shape. And sharp as a tack too, as her mother used to say when a young Lindy would pick out the bad apples with incredible speed while sorting through the Sunday afternoon pile. Sadly, Mrs. Amrak doesn't have many visitors anymore. Her son is a successful real estate agent up in Philadelphia with nothing to say and her late husband has been pushing daisies in the old Westbrook Cemetery out on Kingston Rd. for sixteen years. Seventeen, in about two weeks. Belinda drops her spade, sits up and listens. Plopped in her side yard between her and her neighbor's house where auditory waves condense to sound louder and more often than not get picked up by human ears, she hears something that isn't the normal dog barking or sprinkler ticking. "Gunshot?" she asks the cool, late summer breeze. She listens intently for another. But there is not. Causing her to second guess whether her ancient senses are playing tricks on her again. Like the time when she ran out into the front yard at two-thirty in the morning wearing nothing but a tee shirt reading "Somerson County Fair: First Prize-Vegetable Category" and a pair of oversized Depends because she thought she smelled smoke. "Must've been that ugly Bobby's truck backfiring again." Mrs. Amrak was a loving old bag of bones but she absolutely despised Bobby Lauderman. So did most of Somerson County at that. He was a mean son of a bitch. The type of guy that puts his Coors down to swerve into the other lane and squash a squirrel. BANG!... "Now that was definitely a backfire if I ever heard one," she whispers. Belinda walks towards the quiet street in front of her house and looks to her left. "Speak of the devil." She sees Bobby Lauderman driving way too fast through a residential neighborhood. His car backfires a third time. Or was it just the second? That first one sounded a little different than the other two. And she could've sworn the first one came from down the street to her right.
As Bobby speeds by, Mrs. Amrakmotions for him to slow down. He responds with a thoughtful motion of his own. He almost smashes her flimsy mailbox while flicking her off as long as possible before he is out of sight. "Go play in your garden some more you worthless piece of shit," he mumbles as he passes. She watches him speed by her immediate neighbor's house, then the Smith's, then Katie Walsh's modest abode. That reminded her of Katie's sister's death a couple years ago. "Poor girl, I hope she has moved on, that Katie." Then Mrs. Amrak forgets about the backfire/gunshot, that low life Lauderman, and Katie and returns to what she does best: tending to her prize winning vegetables.
As Bobby passes Katie's house the flashback hits whatever part of his puny brain that stores memories like a ton of bricks. That damn flashback. "Not again," he mutters. He can't drive past Katie's house without being flung back in time about two years ago to that sticky June night. The memory haunts him like an unsettled relative. Crawling up through the choppy waters of the unconscious to dig a melting hand into the sand of reality. The memory that torments him late at night when his laughable penis is sore and swollen from the act that is as addictive to him as heroin is to a junky. His closed eyelids make a beautiful projection of that night. His callused hands closing around Courtney's narrow neck. The same neck that Johnny Tramble would leave a hicky on in middle school and then brag to his pals back at the clubhouse. The look in her innocent eyes as the most precious gift, the gift of life, slips away like the mind of an Alzheimer's patient. The confused look on her face as she is closer to The Other Side than she has ever been. She can smell the river of Styxx and hear the approaching boat. Her skin crawls as every hair on her petite body feels the end. The powerless feeling of terror and impending death turns into peace. Her soul converts and floats towards eternal destiny. And then she is gone. Bobby will never forget that look.
The unsolved murder of Courtney Walsh two summers ago shook Somerson County hard enough to leave a jagged line on the Richter Scale printout. No one believed that this humble little town possessed a human being with the capacity to take the life of another. Oh but it did. And still does, at that. Bobby smiles as the feeling of a million eyes watching him intently slowly fades away while speeding from the murdered girl's sister like a Geiger counter losing track of the apparent radiation. He is in the clear. Now nothing is in the way of him, his marijuana, and his porn. And in approximately three minutes the party will begin. But don't tell his boss, Mr. Robeson that. You see, according to Bobby, he just has to go home early because he isn't feeling well again must be the flu but Bobby the flu doesn't last two months off and on but Mr. Robeson I can't even focus on stacking the wood because I feel so nauseous and my head hurts so bad my vision is blurred but Bobby if I let you go home again it will violate the contract agreement that you signed that said after five work days unattended without prior discussion a decision between pay cut or permanent dismissal will be made from Lane Lumber Co. and all affiliations (all two, the ladder of which is a vague form a true progressing company that is run by the kind of people that are made by God in heaven to clear tables at Cracker Barrel or transport bus loads of vicious, drooling children from home to school and vice versa, but Mr. Busdriver Jenni pulled my hair, Mr. Busdriver you passed my house!) but Mr. Robeson I really am sick and quite frankly working today would hurt the company more than it would help because I'm just so sick but Bobby - Mr. Robeson Danny fell asleep on the forklift again there's stray lumber everywhere come quick come quick! – okay Bobby you can go home – damn it Danny you're in big trouble this time!
The following morning, it is a gift of a day. As if summer decided to lighten up on the reins in the humidity category while somehow preserving the beauty that the power of the Sun bestows on every living and non living thing alike. Sheriff Ledbetter (ask anyone in second grade at High Point Elementary in 1963 and the name was most definitely Bedwetter) pulls into his designated parking spot at 9:17am, running a few minutes late. But who cares? His five by eight rectangle of asphalt is, in fact, closer to the front door of the Somerson County Police Station than any other in the lousy parking lot. Move aside chivalry, punctuality just took your spot in front of the mortician. He strides across the paved walkway toward the door, pausing only bend down and pet the Station mascot, a wirey- haired black cat named Clouseau. "Gonna solve any murders today Inspector?" Ledbetter says. The feline answers with a slow figure eight around and between his legs while gently brushing his matted coat against the Sheriff's uniform bottoms. "I'll take that as a yes. That makes one of us."
"What do you got for me today Shirley? Dale Parson get drunk and break into the Hobby Lobby again? Wait let me guess… He just woke up and somehow he was inside the store and the window was all broken to hell. Must've been sleep walkin'. Am I right or am I right Shirley Sweetie?" This was a typical good morning from Sheriff Ledbetter. Shirley "Sweetie" was the Sherriff's right hand woman when it came to working the phones when he wasn't in. And this is the part when, on a typical morning, Shirley would say, "How are you so smart? We don't need a whole Station with fourteen officers, we just need Sherriff Ledbetter and his spectacularly telepathic mind to fight the crime in this here Somerson County!" And he would play along and glide to his corner office with his hands straight out in front of him as if he were Superman. But this was no typical morning.
Shirley did not have her usual glowing smile on to greet him when he approached her desk. Instead, she looked as if a dark drifter had just whispered her death date in her ear and slithered out the front door, leaving her to deal with the terrible words she had just encountered. The Sherriff liked to have a good time in the office and often said that "a happy Station is a happy Somerson", but after twenty-eight years in the business he knew, very well, that look on someone's face. That dull expression of shock and confusion accompanied with fear. That look was death.
"Who is it?" he asks the grey woman.
"Katie Walsh. Her best friend Anna Stevens just called and said she went over to check on Katie after she didn't show up to their Wednesday night American Idol date last night and never answered any of her phone calls. Said she didn't go last night because she thought she just fell asleep early from being exhausted from work. But when she didn't answer this morning either she felt like something was wrong."
"Details. Murder or accident."
"She said Katie's side door was kicked in and she had been shot in the head in her kitchen."
The stone-faced Sherriff says, "Well that rules out accident. Unless the poor girl was just cleanin' it and it went off. That makes it either murder or suicide." His last word trails off as his mind starts reeling before his mouth completes the cast. Katie Walsh, he thinks. Sister was murdered two summers ago. Still seemed to be affected by it. Pleaded with us to arrest a man named Bobby Lauderman. Couldn't take it anymore. Suicide. "It was a suicide, not a murder."
"Well then why was the door kicked in Sherriff?" That was a great question.
"How long ago did you get this call Shirley?"
"Hung up right when you walked in the door. If you were here on time you could've talked to the hysterical young woman yourself."
Seventeen minutes later, Katie Walsh's kitchen is swarming with cops, forensic teams, and photographers. Not to mention a couple dozen bloated flies lazily buzzing in warped circles around what used to be Katie's semi-pretty face. Amongst all the chaos, Sherriff Ledbetter remains stoic and motionless, like the effect often seen in movies when a person stands in view of the camera without moving for a very long time while a crowd of people walk by in all different directions and after the film is edited and put in fast motion, the said stoic one looks as if he defies the laws of physics. The Sheriff of Somerson County stands with his arms crossed, eyes fixed on the bloody heap of cooling flesh that was once known as Katie Walsh's face. But that was another life. He has studied the crime scene for close to three hours now without moving so much as an inch. Going over every variable in his head and checking, then rechecking, the imaginary boxes with his imaginary yellow Eagle pencil (with its flawless eraser because it is not used in Ledbetter's fine-tuned thought processes) next to each sign that points to murder and each that seems to be suicide on his mental checklist. Ledbetter may come off as a good ole country boy that joined the force a few decades back just for the cool blue uniform and free donuts, and is somehow still part of that very same force today, because he is. So after all those years, he was the obvious choice as new sheriff when old Duke Jenkins met his maker while doing seventy-two in a forty-five late one night out on Jefferson. When suddenly, a twitchy squirrel jittered out onto the slick asphalt, unable to comprehend that the blurr of mass that swerved to miss him, and ended up hugging a tree like it had found a long lost friend, contained a human being with a wife, Jackie, a son, Jacob, and a daughter, Jenna. The acorn that that squirrel ran into the street for was larger than its own brain. And now a sheriff is dead, a town mourned, and a family torn apart. Funny how life works. Back to present. Truth is, Ledbetter is a brilliant man. Well, brilliant in terms of seeing crimes as they actually happened. He does this by letting his brain take in the information from the scene, and simply pressing play. He knows that Katie Walsh killed herself. He has known that unnerving fact for a while now. But why? Maybe she had a plan that no one was supposed to find out. No one purposely deposits a bullet into their own brain with the radio on. Suicides need silence, otherwise the inner demon's orders cannot be heard. He knows that, but maybe she did too. Maybe she was a smart girl. "You a smart girl, Kate?" Ledbetter's hungry mind asks the pale body. Maybe that is why the apparent murder weapon is resting a foot away from her outstretched left hand and the entry wound appears ("appears" key word here) to be on the left side of the upper head, even though it was confirmed that Katie was right handed. Maybe she was smart. "Ohh Kate, you were very smart werncha?" Somehow, under the putrid, mangled bone fragments and globs of flesh and hair, Kate appears to be smiling at Ledbetter. And you know what he does? He gets it. He will soon know something that everyone else in blue, and even the stiff men wearing crime scene black, are too stupid to figure out. Ledbetter softly nods his head at her, and smiles back.
Shirley Sweetie joins the Sheriff off in the corner of the kitchen. "Still think it's a suicide? Cause I sure don't," she asks him.
"I don't know Shirley. I think you might be right."
"Her friend, you know, the one who found her? She's been asking to talk to you for the past two and a half hours you know."
"Where is she Sweetie?" he asks.
"Sittin' outside on the curb by the road. Poor girl hasn't said a word except "Can I talk to Sheriff Ledbetter?" every time I walk by. She must have asked me a dozen times now."
"Okay, I'll go see what she wants. Hold down the fort would ya?"
"Ay ay cap'n," Shirley accompanies this with a cute little salute.
Ledbetter finds Anna right where Shirley said she had been, looking as if she hadn't slept in a month. "Hello Anna," he says as he sits down beside her on the curb in front of her dead friend's house. She seemed to be in deep thought when he plopped down beside her because she jumped a little bit. Like a band geek would if the quarterback of the school football team sat down beside him at the lunch table.
"Hi Sheriff. Thank you for coming to talk to me. I know I'm taking you away from your investigation."
"Nonsense young lady. I've seen all I need to see." Smiling, Sheriff Ledbetter was more attractive than she remembered. Not sexually attractive, but the kind of older man handsome that drives middle aged women wild. However, she did not return the smile.
Instead she simply stated, "So you must know now that that son of a bitch Bobby Lauderman killed my best friend yesterday." The Sheriff is relieved, while approaching the trembling girl on the curb he was hoping that she didn't know what he did. And now that he knows she doesn't, surely no one else on this Earth knew either. Besides Bobby, of course.
"What makes you say that Anna?"
"He killed Courtney too, two summers ago. Everyone knows that. But when he was never arrested, because of 'insufficient evidence' Katie took matters into her own hands. She wanted justice, Sheriff. She dedicated the last two years of her life to solving her sister's murder. And you know what I think? I think she was just about to break it open. But somehow he knew that. So he snuck over here yesterday, kicked her door in, and shot her point blank in the brain. Then laid the gun by her hand to make it look like a suicide. How stupid, that bastard. Didn't even check to see if she was left handed before putting it there. He got her before she could get him Sheriff, you do know that don't you?"
"When was the last time you spoke to Katie, Anna?" The young woman looks off in the distance at nothing in particular and reflects.
"I saw her yesterday morning, about nine-thirty. She goes in to work at eleven. I was driving home from the store, I'm off on Wednesdays, and I noticed her walking down the sidewalk just down there." She nodded her head down the street to the right. "I asked if she needed a ride and she said no it was okay because she was just a couple houses from home. Then I asked her what she was doing. She said she had just snooped around Bobby's house for a while, while he was at work. Wait, I shouldn't be telling you this because that's breaking and entering I guess huh?"
"It is very important that I know what was said in that last conversation Ms. Stevens. It very well could have been the last time she had spoken to anyone before she passed away. Besides, it's not like I can arrest her now." His attempt to lighten the somber mood was met with the look of hatred. It failed miserably and she made it clear that she did not think that was funny in the least bit. However, she was reassured that the Sheriff was, in fact, very attractive when he smiled, so she wasn't so hard on him. "Okay, I'm sorry Anna. Tell me what happened next."
"She said she had been down the street at Bobby's looking for anything that could help her case. She was absolutely obsessed Sheriff."
"Well how did she get in?" Ledbetter asked the young woman.
"She climbed through the back window. He always keeps it open to air out that rank weed smell. She had a brown bag in her hand and I asked her what was in it. She told me that she believed it to be the murder weapon. I said, 'But Katie, you know Courtney was strangled. There was no weapon hun.' She simply said, 'I know.' And then she smiled at me. I thought that was quite strange and actually it kind of freaked me out a bit Sheriff, to tell you the truth." Anna Stevens once again gazed off into the morning hue and seemed to have said all she needed to say. The Sheriff stood up silently and walked back into the house, now knowing why Katie had done what she had done. And also hoping that no one else in uniform knew what he knew. They didn't.
Three days later Bobby Lauderman was charged with Capital Murder. After confirming with his boss that he did, in fact, leave work early around the time of the murder, had been seen driving erratically through the neighborhood by a few people, including Belinda Amrak, who let it be known that he seemed very angry and gave her the finger as he went by, the .45 handgun used to kill Katie was registered in his name, and an apparent motive, that Katie's personal investigation was close to proving him guilty of Courtney Walsh's murder, the boys in blue had enough to arrest. Two cases solved in one. After knocking on his door for nearly five minutes, starting softly with a slight sense of urgency and gradually moving up the violence scale with precise escalation, police kicked the door in. Bobby was found in the back bedroom of his sparse home sitting in a recliner in front of an old-style television, with pants down around his ankles. No need to explain why he was exposed and why he did not hear the knocking at the front door. After detaining him, police forcefully deposited Bobby in the back of one of the six cruisers parked out front, turned left onto the street, and headed toward the station. Bobby sat in silence in the back of cruiser number two, in the line of six, and watched Somerson pass by with expressionless hatred. But as the Amrak home came into view, and sure enough Belinda sitting in her garden, a nasty snarl spread across his scruffy face. For a brief second, their eyes met. Sweet old Belinda dropped her spade, stood up, and gave him the finger until he was out of sight.
It has been four weeks in Somerson County since the murderer was finally taken in custody. The town mourned the loss of Katie just like they mourned for her sister, but a mood of joy and peace quickly spread through the town like wildfire on a windy day. Everyone could now breathe a collective sigh of relief. And the Somerson County Police Station, lead by Sheriff Ledbetter was to thank. But the Sheriff wasn't in town taking pictures and walking tall. He is currently off duty, driving down Kingston in his '86 Plymouth. It is a surprisingly cool afternoon. As if fall was tired of waiting and pushed a scheduled hot summer evening out of the way until morning. He pulls into Westbrook Cemetery and parks under a massive, wise looking oak. He gets out and begins to walk. He walks through the A's, remembering Mrs. Amrak's vivid description of Lauderman on the day of the murder, when he passes her late husband, George. The cemetery has an odd feeling this evening. As if the dead can see through the six feet of southern soil packed above their bodies and are curiously eyeing him. He continues through to the H's, the I's, the J's. He sees old Duke Jenkins' tombstone and gives it a little respectful nod. The Sheriff finally reaches the far back corner of the silent death yard where the X's, Y's, and Z's lay resting. Along with the W's. He quickly finds Katie's tombstone, it is the only one around where the dirt in front hasn't grown grass yet. He kneels by the still loose dirt. He says nothing for what seems about twenty minutes, but in fact was nearly two hours. It is approaching dark now and he very much wants to be back at his Plymouth before night sets in. The Sheriff stands, and before turning away mutters, "Our little secret, Kate." And smiles at the fresh earth. Somewhere, Katie and Courtney Walsh were smiling too.