Courtin' Murder in West Wheeling by Michael Allen Dymmoch follows Sheriff Homer Deters as he has to solve a string of murders, while keeping his personal life and his town in check (Available May 17, 2016).
When Sheriff Homer Deters' proposal to his sweetheart is interrupted by the report of a body in a ditch, he discovers the corpse is skeletal and half the town has trampled through the scene.
Before the investigation gains traction, someone turns a truck load of actual mustangs loose in the Truck Stop parking lot. And when the truck-driver is subsequently murdered, Homer has a real who-dunnit on his hands.
Complaints about rats and transients, jackasses of the two and four-legged variety, and a series of hijackings interrupt both investigations. While Homer tries to sort things out, a local farmer is murdered and dumped in another ditch.
With help from the State Police and plenty of assistance from his sweetheart, deputy, and adopted son, the West Wheeling Sheriff manages to survive an Indian uprising, West Wheeling’s October Fest, and Sadie Hawkins Day. He just has to solve the murders while he’s at it.
a modest proposal
“Nina Ross, will you marry me?”
Nina’s the woman I been sweet on since she was jail bait.
Sheriff of Boone County.
She looked surprised; I don’t know why. I’d been courtin’ her since spring an’ had her grandad’s permission.
We was stretched out in the sun, next to the Glass Mountain Reservoir, the first weekend in October. Injun summer. The grass was still green and sweet. The trees was startin’ to turn. An’ we’d had a killin’ frost a week earlier, so there was nothin’ left to bug us. I was on my back with my feet propped on a rock. Nina was lying cross-ways to me, with her head resting just north of my belt buckle. We’d polished off a fair-sized picnic lunch an’ washed it down with moonshine. God was in heaven an’—far as I knew—all was right with Boone County. Not that it was my concern.
It was my day off.
B’fore I could get a answer, my radio started squawkin’.
“Sheriff!” Festus Reagan—Deputy Reagan—sounded like he’d got his tail in a ringer. Damn all!
I’d a ignored him, but Nina said, “Homer, ain’t you gonna answer?”
“I axed you—”
“No! Answer Festus?”
“Yeah. But why’d he have to call now? It ain’t like I been all that busy the last two hours.”
“Sheriff?” This time Festus sounded like he’d lost his best dog.
I got up an’ keyed my radio. “This is Sheriff Deters. What do you want, Festus?”
He said, “Thank God! Sheriff, we got a 10-50-an’-a-half over on County C, just off the interstate.”
“What’n hell’s a 10-50-an’-a-half?” I axed.
“Sump’n you tole me never to announce over the radio.” I ’membered that. I also ’membered— nally—what 10-50-an’-a-half meant.
“Do tell. You jus’ hang tight till I get there.” I turned back to Nina, but the magic had leaked outta the moment. She was gatherin’ up the leavin’s of our picnic, an’ shakin’ out the blanket we’d been lyin’ on.
“Stop by for dessert if it ain’t too late,” she said matter- of-factly. Her tone reminded me of the doc tellin’ me to be sure to get my tetanus booster.
“Aw, Nina, I’m sorry.”
She shrugged. “Guess I’ll have to get used to it.” She handed me the blanket. “By the way, what’s a 10-50-an’-a half?”
“That’s West Wheelin’ police lingo for a corpse.”
I burned up the highway gettin’ to the scene, but it seemed like half a Boone County was way ahead a me. Festus had his cruiser angled across the road, blockin’ the scene on one side, but that left the other end open. Assorted pickup trucks an’ a big ol’ white Lincoln Continental lined up on the shoulder behind Handy Taylor’s dredgin’ rig.
Handy’s the contractor the county hired to dig the sand—what the highway department dumps on the roads in winter—outta the ditches so there’s room for next winter’s dump. It’s a pretty good deal ’cause Handy’s contract don’t specify what he’s s’posed to do with the dredgin’s. Usually he picks up a couple bucks sellin’ it to people who need sand an’ a bundle sellin’ the rest back to the county. Anyway, he’d left the motor runnin’ an’ the amber safety lights ashin’, an’ he was standin’ just outside the police line, chewin’ the fat with half a dozen locals, includin’ the mayor; Nate Williams, the barber; an’ councilmen Cramer an’ Andrews.
They was all behind the line, but I could see by the tracks every one of ’em had been down in the ditch to see the body. So much for securin’ the scene. I didn’t see no percentage in makin’ a federal case of it at that point, so I just said, “Afternoon, Mayor. Boys.”
There was a chorus of, “Afternoon, Sheriff.” I just nodded and said, “You-all had your look. Now clear out.” Then I tole Festus, “When I get back from viewin’ the body, we’re gonna run in anyone standin’ ’round who don’t have evidence to give.”
Most of ’em muttered about unfriendly peace of officers an’ started driftin’ towards their wheels.
Festus looked at the mayor an’ swallowed hard. Festus is young an’ he’s been crippled all his life by his ma namin’ him after a Gunsmoke character. Personally, I allus thought Festus Hagen was a straight shooter. An’ Deputy Reagan is eager an’ honest. As Nina’s pointed out, at least he wasn’t named for no dead president.
The mayor’s small an’ feisty as a banty rooster. “I expect a report first thing, Sheriff,” he said.
I could see he’d started puffin’ hisself up for a jurisdictional dispute. I just said, “Yessir.”
He couldn’t tell was I bein’ smart or not, but we’d locked horns on previous occasions an’ he knew I won’t back down. When I fixed him with my best State Trooper stare, he started headin’ fer his car. I went to look at the remains.
That was a good description. Remains. Weren’t no question they was human, but they was nothin’ left ’cept disjointed bones, heaped in a pile like pick-up sticks. They was lyin’ in the ditch, half buried in the sandy bottom, with grass an’ the weeds that’d took hold since spring growin’ up between ’em. There weren’t no sign a clothes or personal effects that might help identify ’em. The grass was trampled in a circle all ’round, an’ the same tracks I’d seen up by the road—gaper’s tracks—was showin’ in the sandy patches. Whoever’d dumped the body was long gone—mebbe since spring.
I got down on all fours for a closer look. The bones was dry an’ yellow as old dirt. Far as I could see, none of ’em was showin’ any breaks, scrapes, saw marks, or bullet holes. There wasn’t no sign they’d been gnawed by critters. The skull was face up, grinnin’ at the blue October sky. It had teeth wore down like a old dog’s, but no cavities or fillin’s.
Festus come up an’ said, “This what they call a ‘John Doe,’ Sheriff?”
I stood up and dusted off my hands. “Yeah, ’less it’s a Jane.”
Handy was still waitin’ up by his rig. “Where’s your truck an’ driver, Handy?” I asked, meanin’ the truck he hauled the dredgin’s with. “Al Holland, right?”
“Al didn’t feel too good about hangin’ round no dead body, Sheriff. An’ he about had a load anyway, so I sent him to call you, then finish up an’ go home.”
Which meant by now he’d told his story to everyone in Boone County who’d listen. And he’d prob’ly embroidered it considerable.
I nodded. “How ’bout you tell me what went down?”
Handy kept shootin’ quick looks at the ditch. “Was he murdered, Sheriff?”
“Can’t say, Handy. What happened?”
“Well, we’d worked our way down this side’a the road, when I had to take a leak. While I was standin’ there, gettin’ my business done, I happened to look down an’ spot somethin’ funny in the ditch. Naturally, I climbed down for a better look. That’s when I seen it. I yelled for Al to come look. An’ he near-to passed out. I figured it’d be best to send him to call you. I’s about ready to think no one was comin’ when Festus showed.”
“You got any idea who this might be?”
He shook his head.
“Much obliged, Handy.”
“I kin go?”
“Shore. Jus’ come by my office tomorrow an’ fill out a statement.”
Soon as he was outta sight, I give Doc Howard a call on my cell phone. Doc’s the Boone County coroner. He used to just be the local pathologist—when Nate Williams was coroner. But when Nate got back on a deadbeat customer by declarin’ him dead, it riled Doc up enough to run against him in the next election. By that time, the story’d got out. An’ there was so many folks scared they’d be dead before their time, Doc won by a landslide.
When Doc come on the line, I explained the situation. He told me to take lots a good pi’tures an’ bring the bones on in. “Ain’t you gonna come take charge a the body?” I asked.
“Doesn’t sound to me as if there is a body. I trust your judgment, Homer. Pictures’ll be good enough.”
So I sent Festus off to scare up a box, an’ I got out my camera. First a roll of just the bones from every angle, then a second roll with a ruler next to the skull, and everything that looked like it might be evidence marked with numbered cards. Time I was done, it was nearly dark, an’ Festus was back with the carton a satellite TV dish come in. We collected up John Doe, an’ I headed fer the morgue.
Copyright © 2016 Michael Allen Dymmoch.
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Michael Dymmoch is the author of ten novels, including the John Thinnes and Jack Caleb mysteries. Michael ventured into romantic suspense with The Fall and M.I.A.. In preparation for a writing career, she took classes on law enforcement, “Gunshot and Stab Wounds”, crime scene investigation, and screenwriting. She's attended autopsies and worked as a baby sitter, veterinary assistant, medical research tech, recycler, and professional driver. Michael has served as President and Secretary of the Midwest Chapter of Mystery Writers of America and newsletter editor for the Chicagoland Chapter of Sisters in Crime. Michael currently lives and writes in Chicago.