“You know yer in a
heap a trouble.” Patrolman Taylor Pitts said. “Jest wait
‘til the sheriff gits here.”
The cop’s words
didn’t register. The room smelled like someone had recently smoked a carton of
cigarettes and then worked up a good sweat, or vice versa. Brian Herring felt
nauseous. The fourteen stitches he received with minimal anesthesia from
Buncombe County’s medical staff throbbed. His right arm felt as if it were
broken. He’d been arrested several times for marijuana possession, but nothing
like this. The door opened, he looked up.
“Well, well, what do
we got us here, Taylor? A Yankee hippie…in the flesh?” With his eyes focused on
Herring, Sheriff Ewell Montgomery tilted his head as if examining a rare insect
species. He didn’t remove his hat. It reminded Herring of Smokey Bear’s hat.
“Ponytails is fer girls in Pine Cone. Ain’t that right, Taylor?”
The cop nodded. “Surely
“And will ya take a
look at that beard. Damn. Why don’t you shave, boy? You look like one of them
cough drop brothers…what’s their names…Smith Brothers. Yessir, Smith Brothers.
You remember them cough drop brothers, Taylor?”
This time the cop
shook his head. “Nope. Can’t say I do.”
yer too young I reckon. They was good.
Cherry flavor.” The sheriff fixated on Herring’s facial hair. “I’m gonna call
you Brother Smith from here on in. Whaddya think, Taylor?”
kernel-like teeth, Officer Pitts said, “I like it.” He turned toward Herring.
The grin vanished.
“This isn’t a joke,”
Herring said. “I’m hurt.”
Montgomery broke out
in laughter. Not the humorous kind. “Who the hell is jokin’ Brother Smith?” The
sheriff licked a finger, flipped through papers on a clipboard. “Ain’t no one
jokin’ here. We don’t take kindly to strangers attacking our women.”
“How’s she doin’?”
Taylor Pitts asked.
With as much concern
as he could muster, “Not good, I’m afraid. I’m waitin’ for an update from the
That got Herring’s
attention, “Is she up? Conscious? She’ll tell you what happened. You won’t have
to take my word for it.”
“Why don’t you tell
us what happened?” Montgomery asked.
“I already told the
officer that I was-”
“Tell me! Brother
Smith.” the sheriff shouted. “And what is a Yankee hippie with long dirty hair
in a ponytail and a dang Santa Claus beard doin’ in Pine Cone anyways? Can you
answer me that?”
Despite the pain,
Brian Herring took a deep breath. He was living a real-life Deliverance movie.
“Like I told Officer Pitts, I’m travelling down the east coast, from Maine to
Florida. I’m in no hurry, so-”
“I bet you ain’t,”
Herring ignored him.
“So, I decided to stop in North Carolina. I’ve never been to the mountains here
and I’ve heard they’re beautiful. I thought I’d take a day or two and
appreciate nature’s beauty. I took one of the mountain paths-”
“So you is one of
them tree hugger types?” Montgomery asked, his voice humorless.
“Probably one of ‘em
tree humping types,” Pitts contributed, hysterically laughing at his own sick
joke. His tone changed. “What happened? You got tired of the tree so you
attacked a woman? What you did to that girl ain’t right, hippie.”
Brian Herring stroked
his beard. “The only thing I did was save that girl’s life.”
“I was walking along
Herring touched his
head, felt dried, sticky blood. “I don’t know what it’s called. There was a
sign when I got there, but I don’t remember what it said. The path was marked,
so I took it, I walked about 15-minutes when I heard someone screaming for
help. I looked up, and I saw this poor girl in a fight with a deer. The deer-”
“That’s yer version,”
Herring eyed him.
“I’m telling my version of what happened.”
Montgomery offered. “We’re listenin’, ain’t we Taylor.” It wasn’t a question.
“The damn deer-”
“Hey! There ain’t
cussin’ in this office. You got that Brother Smith? Don’t let me hear you cuss
again. We clear?”
Herring wanted to
cry, not from the physical pain, rather the ludicrous situation in which he
found himself. He wouldn’t give the two lawmen the satisfaction. He bit his cut
lip, pressed on. “The deer was on top of her. It was awful. She-”
“Why on God’s earth
would a deer attack a human being? I ain’t never heard a that.”
“How should I know? Maybe it was rabid? It’s possible that-”
“How big a deer would
you say it was, Brother Smith?”
Frustrated at being
cutoff again, Herring paused. The pain in his arm acute, he needed to see a
doctor, but feared examination by anyone Montgomery recommended. “I don’t know,
average sized, I guess. Certainly not a baby.” He extended his bruised, cut
arms. “A small deer couldn’t do this.”
“Was she a buck?”
Taylor Pitts asked.
“Do you mean did he
have horns? No. She was a doe.” Herring wanted to sing the lyrics to Doe,
a deer, a female deer and educate Pitts, but thought better of it. “The
deer had the woman pinned. The animal repeatedly went up on its hind legs and
came down hard on the poor woman. I ran toward them, screamed, picked up some
rocks and twigs and threw it at the deer, but for some reason it wasn’t
frightened. The deer kept pummeling the woman. I saw blood on her face, arms,
and legs. I jumped the damn…sorry…I jumped the thing and knocked the animal off
balance. While I’m wrestling the deer, the woman-”
“She got a name, you
know,” Sheriff Montgomery interjected. “Hayley Dean. Name mean anything to
scrunched. “Should it?” The officers didn’t respond. “As soon as Ms. Dean
regains consciousness, she’ll back up my story.”
“Yup, you already
done told us that, Brother Smith. You got anything else to say?”
“Only that she…Ms.
Dean jumped me while I wrestled the deer.”
“And why would she do
that?” Montgomery asked.
Herring shrugged. The
pain extended down his arm. Wincing, “I couldn’t say. She…Ms. Dean might have
been delirious. Or possibly in a state of shock, or-”
“Are you a doctor,
Montgomery did his
best to get under Herring’s bruised skin. Herring pressed on, determined not to
give the unctuous Montgomery a single degree of satisfaction. “I’m an
entomologist.” Blank looks demanded further explanation. “I have a Ph.D.”
Montgomery said. “You’re no doctor, right?”
Herring took a deep
breath. His lungs burned. “Her experience was horrific. I can’t imagine what
she had gone through before I arrived.” Herring stopped, but Montgomery and
Pitts said nothing. “I was finally able to kick the deer a couple of times and
it finally took off. Ms. Dean attacked me, but I was able to subdue her-”
“Why didn’t you call
911 after the deer left?” Montgomery questioned.
“I couldn’t find
phone. I checked my pockets, but it must have fallen out. It’s probably still-”
into his pocket. “Might this here be it?”
“Looks like it. Yes.” He began reaching for it, but Ewell Montgomery returned
the phone to his pocket. He flipped through the clipboard again. “And that’s
when Officer Pitts come by, saw you on top of Hayley Dean, both of you bloody
and injured. That ‘bout right, Brother Smith?”
“My name is…never
mind. Yes, that’s when Officer Pitts arrived.”
“And thank the Good
Lord he did.” The sheriff nodded in Pitts’ direction, feigned thought.
“Interestin’. A deer you say? Can you explain to me if there was a deer, how
come there ain’t no trace of no deer at the scene? No hairs, no droppins, no
prints, no nothin’? My boys ain’t found nothin’.”
“I don’t know. It’s
not like I’m making this up,” Herring said.
“Did the deer have a
red nose? Maybe his name was Rudolph? Or was it Bambi?” Pitts interjected.
“I’ll tell you what
our boys did find,” Montgomery began. “Human skin under Hayley Dean’s
fingernails, and human skin under your hippie finger nails. Now what do you
make a that, Brother Smith?”
“I already told you I
had to struggle with Ms. Dean. Under the circumstances she understandably acted
irrationally. I worried most about the laceration to her-”
The door opened. A
sullen-looking uniformed officer unfamiliar to Herring walked in, stopped
inches from Sheriff Montgomery. The latter nodded. Herring didn’t like his
facial expression. It changed from one of sick amusement to grim. The one-sided
conversation lasted less than a minute. The man walked out.
Herring. “I got some bad news for you, Brother Smith. Miss Hayley Dean died in
the hospital. She never recovered. Probably jest as well, given the trauma and
all. God rest her soul.”
“On no,” was all
Herring could say.
Montgomery began, “I’m arrestin’ you fer the murder of Hayley Dean.”
“I demand to see a
lawyer,” Herring protested.
“You ain’t in no
position to demand nothin’. The only person yer goin’ see now is Johnnie Britt.
Taylor, go fetch Johnnie.”
After a delay where
neither man said a word to each other, Taylor Pitts returned with a tall, thin
“Johnnie, give our
hippie guest a haircut, right down to his soon to be convicted skull. Oh, and
make sure you cut off that Brother Smith beard. Careful. Don’t give him no
razor cuts. Those things hurt like hell.” He turned to leave, then, “Oh, why
don’t you shave them legs a his too. We want him lookin’ real pretty when we
lock him up. Taylor, keep an eye on things.”
“This is bullshit!”
Herring exploded. “We’re in America, You can’t-”
“What did I tell you
‘bout cussin’ in my office, Brother Smith? I ain’t gonna tell you again. And
another thing. You better show more respect when you talk about the Yoo-nited
States of America. Ya hear?” The sheriff addressed Britt. “Johnnie, do yer
thing. I’ll be right back.”
Under Officer Pitts’
watch, Johnnie Britt laid a sheet on the floor and began shaving Herring’s
head, facial, and leg hair. Humiliated, beaten, and afraid, Brian Herring remained
Johnnie Britt swept
Herring’s cut hairs into a dustpan before emptying the contents into a large
black plastic bag. He stopped. Holding a tiny deer tick in his palm, he said to
no one in particular, “Look at that bugger.”
“Let me see,” Herring
said, leaning forward. Britt dropped it into Herring’s hand. The latter brought
it closer to his face. “Ixodes scapularis!” shouted a suddenly excited Brian
“A what?” Johnnie
Britt and Taylor Pitts simultaneously asked.
“Nothing. It’s nothing.”
Herring repeated. “Only the evidence I-”
In walked Sheriff
Montgomery followed by a minister. The lawman stared at the bald, clean-shaven
Herring, “Now that’s much better. You do good work, Johnnie.” He placed his
hand on the minister’s shoulder. “This here is Pastor Walt.”
“What? What are you
doing?” Herring asked. “Listen, we found a-”
“The Pastor wanted to
have a few words with you. You don’t got nothing against that, do you?” Montgomery
“What? Wait!” Herring
didn’t know what to do. “I’m Jewish.” The words spilled out. “I want to see a
“A what?” Officer
“Yer Jew?” a puzzled
“I’m a Jew.
I’m Jewish, yes.”
“First you want to
see a lawyer. Now, you need a rabbi. Well, no matter. We ain’t got us no rabbis
here in Pine Cove. What you’ll really need is someone to pick you out a coffin.
Pastor Walt’ll have to satisfy your religious needs. Ain’t that right, Pastor?”
removed his Smokey Bear hat as the minister began. Without shifting his head,
Brian Herring tossed the blacklegged insect into Montgomery’s hat. When the
minister finished, the sheriff replaced the hat on his head.
“Oh, and one other
thing,” Montgomery began. “Lest you think we’re nothin’ but some backcountry
hicks, we ran a check on you on the computer. Seems like you got a history with
deer. One ran out in front of yer wife couple a years back and seems she
swerved to avoid it and ran herself into an oncoming truck that-”
“Any last words before
we lock you up, Herring? I can’t rightly call you Brother Smith no more, not
with that nice, clean shaven face a yours.”
Herring looked at his
Bruce Harris writes western,
crime, and mystery stories. His work has appeared in Mondays are Murder, Shotgun
Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and Over
My Dead Body!
well known that an artist becomes more popular by dying, so our
Cartwright is typing his bio with one hand while
pummeling his head with a frozen mackerel with the other. Stop,
Steve! Death by mackerel is no way to go! He
(Steve, not the mackerel) has a collection of
spooky toons, Suddenly Halloween!, available at Amazon.com. He's done art
for several magazines, newspapers, websites,
commercial and governmental clients, books, and
scribbling - but mostly drooling - on tavern napkins. He also creates art pro
bono for several animal rescue groups. He was awarded the 2004 James Award
for his cover art for Champagne Shivers. He recently
illustrated the Cimarron Review, Stories for
Children, and Still Crazy magazine covers. Take a gander (
or a goose ) at his online gallery: www.angelfire.com/sc2/cartoonsbycartwright . And please hurry with your response
- that mackerel's killin' your pal, Steve Cartwright.