Messed Up Tattoo
By D. V. Bennett
Like a scythe, the moon cut through the thin cover of clouds. It
fought to glisten off the river and light up the dredging operation on shore, enough
to give the water and the looming crane a slight shine.
In daylight hours an ambitious construction crew worked to stay
ahead of the new highway. The shoreline was visibly changing, slowly moving
away from the roadway.
Mick McClelland stood forty feet from his vintage 1970 Chevy
Monte Carlo, a bottle of cheap bourbon in one hand while firing .45 slugs into
the air with a Colt 1911 in the other. My partner, Deputy Cooper Biddiscomb
tried to reason with him, but Mick wasn’t having any. He stared at Cooper
briefly before stretching skyward to pull the trigger again.
We were in a waiting game. Sooner or later Mick’s gun would
out of bullets, so Cooper gave up and stood next to me, leaning against our
patrol cruiser. Cheap entertainment. The only thing missing was the popcorn.
For me, the real show was sitting in the front passenger seat of
McClelland’s Monte Carlo. With its raised hood and glossy black paint, the car
would have been beautiful if some idiot hadn’t painted a gaudy Starsky and
Hutch white stripe on either side of it.
The stripe seemed to point to Kate McClelland. Any number of
other women would have been walking around on the roadway with their drunk
husband, screaming his name and trying to get him to stop being an asshole, but
Kate remained still, her eyes fixed on the river snaking by in front of her.
With her hair tied back in a simple ponytail, her face without
makeup and her quiet composure, she looked stunning. How she managed to end up
with this creep of a husband I couldn’t fathom.
In a stretch, I could see how Mick possessed a certain charm, if
you liked white supremacists. He worked out and wore shirts tight enough to
emphasize his muscle definition. He never seemed to have a job, but he owned a
nice home and enough money to drive beautifully restored cars and eat in all
the best restaurants in Charlottesville. He was good looking, but in a way
which kept pace with the seventies cars he owned. The only thing missing was a
mullet. Instead, he kept his hair high and tight so you could see the tribal,
racist tats on the back of his head and neck.
The magazine in the Colt didn’t appear to be high capacity,
we counted three shots while we were present and didn’t know how many were
fired before we stumbled onto the scene.
Mick took one last drink before throwing the empty bottle high
into the air to take aim. At the last second, Cooper and I knew the falling
bottle would bring us into Mick’s line of fire. We dove apart from one another to
land in the gravel as the bottle hit the ground and shattered between us.
Mick was laughing, pulling the trigger on the empty gun. We
dusted ourselves off and trotted over to disarm him. His laughter faded. After
a fifth of whiskey he was a handful. Once we got the cuffs on him and tossed
him into the backseat of the cruiser, I turned my attention to Kate, but she
wasn’t in the Monte Carlo.
I scanned the gravel parking lot and the waterline. Without a
word I ran toward the river. I watched as she walked down the embankment and
descended the boat ramp, wading slowly into the murky water until her head
disappeared below the calm surface.
I unbuckled my service belt as I ran, but I would be swimming in
laced boots. There was no time to remove them. I hit the water a good ten
seconds after she went under.
The current wasn’t strong, but it was fast enough to cause
problems. I could get close to where she went under, but I knew she would
already be moving downstream. I dove in and opened my eyes. No visibility. I
hoped my sense of direction wouldn’t betray me.
I spent a thousand hours swimming this river as a kid, but my
boots hampered my progress. I rose to the surface. Desperation made me jerk my
head from side to side as I got my bearings. I sucked in some air before going
Seconds dragged. Beneath the surface I kicked like a mad
dolphin. I was tired, fighting the desire to give up, but the instant I
believed Kate McClelland would die in this river, my hand clamped onto her arm.
She tried to jerk away, but there wasn’t any strength in her effort. I kicked
for the surface and broke through, pulling her with me in a classic rescue
I swam for shore fifty yards from the boat ramp while Cooper yelled
out my name. I sputtered out an answer to him. “Cooper, bring a blanket.”
My butt finally hit ground and we both crawled onto the narrow
shoreline to lie on our backs in the dank decaying leaves from the tall trees
lining the riverbanks.
In the moonlight Kate’s face was a mask, but I could distinguish
her tears from the river water. She cried convulsively without making a sound.
If being married to a narcissistic drunken gun shooting white supremacist like
Mick wasn’t enough, I wondered what could have driven her to drown herself.
Ten minutes later I helped her into the passenger seat of her
car. I noticed a hospital I.D. band on her wrist and made out the abbreviation
for maternity. I didn’t ask how far along she was.
Cooper would drive Kate to the hospital in her car. I would book
her husband and pick up Cooper after. On the road, the waste of skin in the
back seat belched up some words, “Can you believe that bitch? Tries to kill
He droned on about her pregnancy, elated. Couldn’t wait to
daddy, but at four-and-a-half months, a routine ultrasound determined she would
have a little girl. Evidently the shit-stain in my patrol car disapproved. He
wanted a son and happily told me how Kate had miscarried their child.
The unbelievable pig was proud of having berated his wife in
front of the entire maternity staff for losing a child he didn’t want only
hours before. While driving her home from the hospital after losing the baby,
he decided to celebrate the event by getting drunk and sending lead into the
“I told the bitch to sit her ass in the car,” until
his fun was
over. I wanted to pull the cruiser to a stop and beat the fool to death.
By the time I handed Mick McClelland over to booking and changed
into dry clothes it was five a.m. and our shift was over. Cooper was waiting at
the front entrance to the hospital. We decided to drive to our favorite diner.
Over breakfast he told me Kate McClelland would receive a
psych-eval and be held over on suicide watch for at least twenty-four hours. “Before
I left her in their care, the nurse wanted to know how Kate’s stomach got so
We stared at one another for few seconds.
“I’ll go there tomorrow.” I slid him the saltshaker,
an appointment to talk with a doctor there. I’ll see what I can find out.”
“Deputy Bobby Coldiron,” I announced to the receptionist,
see Dr. Waddell.”
The hospital corridors were active with patients and personnel.
“Doctor will see you right now, Deputy.” I turned to
smiling young nurse about the same age as me, “You’re his first appointment of
the day. I’ll take you back.”
I kept the visit brief and to the point. Doctors are busy. I
asked the important questions and then found the ward Kate should have
been in. I told the attendant I was there on official business and she gave me
the rundown. Kate was released into her husband’s custody.
I called the Department to confirm Mick’s release.
“We had to cut him loose, Bobby.” Matt Pearson
is one of
our booking officers, “We didn’t like it any better than you do. He’s a
complete dirtbag but believe it or not he’s also a first-offender.”
“How is that possible? A prick like that? No way.”
“He’s got a good lawyer who knows somebody.”
I closed the call. I remembered Dr. Waddell’s words and I
what I wanted to do. I called our Lieutenant, Sherry Davidson and arranged for
some personal time off.
The McClelland residence amounted to a restored farmhouse
and six outbuildings situated among several stands of trees. By my calculation
the main house and the surrounding forest would be safe enough if I planned
A week after she
committed suicide, Kate McClelland worked at digging around in a rose bed in
front of her house. To see her shoveling and mixing manure into the dirt was a
bit of a surprise.
The breeze whipped some of the crap onto her face. She spat to
clear it from her lips while brushing it from her face with the back of a
glove. She kept working. When I saw the blackened eye and bruised face, my
fingers tightened around my field glasses.
I have a buddy in Phoenix with a 101st Airborne tattoo
on his arm. An Afghan insurgent sliced through the middle of it with a knife. I
told him it was messed up and he should have it fixed if he could. He wouldn’t.
He told me the tattoo was real now. I didn’t know what he meant at the time.
It’s shocking what you can discover about people if you have
right sources. I found out Kate has a sister named Jackie who lives in Benson,
North Carolina. I sent her a two-thousand-dollar cashier’s check in the mail
with an anonymous note, “Make sure your sister comes to visit you the
weekend of the 15th. The check is for you. Your brother-in-law doesn’t
need to know about it.”
On the morning of July14th I watched Kate load her
luggage into one of their cars without any help from Mick and drive away.
I remained hidden in the woods, waiting the eleven hours for
darkness to fall and walked to my Jeep. I put on some lightweight leather work
gloves, pulled out a syringe and a disposable phone for which I paid cash. I
dialed Mick’s number.
When he answered I spoke as clearly as I could, “Hey Mick,
outside. I’ve got something to show you.”
I pressed the button on a remote detonator. The barn and its
contents were obliterated. The charges I planted were directional and did a
good job containing the blast. The adjacent farmhouse was fine, although a
couple of windows off the kitchen were shattered.
I watched from behind a tree, waiting. When Mick slowly emerged,
stunned by the size of the blaze, he remained cautious. The barn was full of
chemicals. Along with being a racist Klansman wannabe, Mick also liked to cook
meth and sell it.
He pushed a 9mm Glock into the air ahead of him with both hands,
military style. Since the noise of my steps were covered by the sound of the fire,
I stayed low, covered the forty feet between us quickly and emptied the
contents of the syringe into his neck.
Mick McClelland hung in the air, twenty feet below the tip of
the dredging crane, his head three feet above the water. I stood on the bank,
eight yards away. He was finally awake, and I could see the moonlight
reflecting from his eyes, widening at the sight of his predicament. He flailed
his arms and swayed in the air.
“Did Kate beg you not to beat her? When you were causing
He wriggled from one side to the other, “You crazy asshole.
me down, man.”
“Oh now, you see?” I crossed my arms, “I might
have let you go
before you used such harsh language. Now, not so much.” I walked up the bank to
the crawler and stepped onto the track to stand by the cabin.
“Come on man…please…you’re not going to
kill me, are you?”
Mick hung by an ankle from a tight gap formed between the teeth
on the dredging bucket. Before he came to, I closed it above the joint until
his booted foot could not slip out.
“No Mick,” I opened the cabin door, “you’ll
take care of it
yourself if you’re not the coward I know you are.”
“You’re a psycho, man.”
“Maybe, but I’m the psycho who’s giving you the
There’s a hunting knife in a sheath on the back of your belt.” He reached
wildly around his back until he found it. “Don’t drop it Mick. It’s your
He carefully unsnapped the closure and removed the long blade,
am I supposed to do with this?”
“Options, Mick.” I pointed, “There’s a
tourniquet laying there
on the ground. I made it for you myself. In a minute, I’m going to ease the bucket
down until you’re in the water.”
I could hear the faintest of whimpers, “Who are you, you
crazy—I’m going kill you man.”
“I won’t put you into the water all the way. Maybe
a little past
your shoulders. Maybe mid-chest.”
He was crying now.
“You’re a man’s man, Mick. Right? Cut yourself
away and come get
the tourniquet. You can’t tread water if you’re upside down.”
His cries became louder as I climbed into the cabin and roared
the diesel engine to life. I lowered the bucket until Mick’s shrieks were
silenced by the water. He broke the surface to pull himself up and put the
blade to his shin, but I didn’t have to watch to know would happen. His kind
never have the guts. I knew he would eventually let himself drown. Kate might
not appreciate the irony, but I would.
My partner would tell you there’s always someone who thinks
can beat the evidence—outsmart the cops. It wasn’t a concern after my talk with
“I’m sorry to tell you this Deputy Coldiron. Your cancer
advanced. It should have been caught much sooner. My best advice to you is take
the little time you have left and live it out. Do what you want to do.”
Dr. Waddell told me I might have six weeks to live. As I walked
away from the river and Mick’s screams were silenced by the water again and
again, I figured I might have two or three weeks left. By the time Cooper and
the rest of my coworkers put it all together and look my way, both Mick and I will
be gone, and Kate will be free.
I gazed at the moon. One month has passed since Kate and I took
our little swim together. Like the harvest moon through the clouds, Mick sliced
through the intricate tattoo of her life, but that didn’t matter anymore. She
would be real now.
lives in southern Washington State,
enjoys spending time with his family and training in martial arts. He has a day
job, but writing is what keeps him up nights. You can find out more about him
and what he writes at https://www.dvbennett.com/