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John L. Thompson
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Corners

 

John  L. Thompson

 

Like a slow motion death scene

He found painful solace

under the wheels of a Ford.

The wife hysterical instead over lost pot.

 

The driver did not know

and was caught, then given several years

to think about his sins,

in some corner of Dante’s hell.

 

The grave is unattended in a far corner

of a backyard field 10 years now,

filled with an ocean of household trash.

The wife, hooked on meth, swigs a brew

and could care less.

 

 

The Big Nothing-1994

 

John L. Thompson

 

 

We lost one of our own.

The armored driver shot with an AR15

by two wannabes who hid in the hills

and he slumped over the wheel leaking.

 

The other fired off all his rounds,

into the hillside where he thought they were

but he was sleepy and missed.

The perpetrators vanished like apparitions.

 

The van was shredded,

Blood-soaked dollars blew lazily in the breeze.

The news crews all over it.

FBI played with the change in their pockets.

 

The years have passed

It’s a forgotten segment.

Never solved

and it evolved into a big nothing.

 

 

 

dogdays.jpg
Art by Aisling Kerins © 2012

Dog Days

John L. Thompson

 

          Summer time.  The sun’s burning bright, iced brews in the cooler by the swimming pool and the buzz has just kicked in.  Linda’s high as a kite from a few lines of coke.  She practices her old stripper moves using the patio overhang support as a pole to a Gordon Lightfoot tune blaring from the radio.  Rufus, a Heeler-Rottweiler mix, is bouncing around the yard chasing flies or whatever is crawling on the ground.  Life is good.

          The doorbell rings in rapid successions.

          I get up slowly, I’ll have to finish watching Linda doing her strip tease in a minute and begrudgingly answer the door.

          It’s Mr. Peterson.

          “You!”  The tone has a bad vibe.

          “I’m Sorry?”

          “Your mutt!”

          “Rufus?”

          “Yeah, you dumb shit!  Rufus!  I had to bury my cat after your dog mauled the shit out of it and the god-damned digging up my yard!  What the hell is it with this infatuation with my yard?  This is the third time!”

            El Dorado subdivision, where we live, is thirty-five square acres with only six houses built in it.  Rufus hops the fence at night and roams the area but for some reason he likes Peterson’s yard the best.  I built the fence five foot high, placed railroad ties at the base and still he manages to get out.  “I’m sorry, really.  I thought he was in the house all night.”

          “Bull shit!  He was out killing my cat!”

          “Look I’m sorry.  I’ll pay for the damages.”

          “You damned right and I’ll be calling the county dog catcher.”

          My gut tightens up.  “Look, really, I’ll pay for the damages…in cash.  Just let me run to the bank but please don’t call the county.”

          He fumes a few seconds, eyes me through those thick glasses.  “Cash.  It better be cash.  $1500 bucks to be exact for past and present damages.”

           $1500 bucks to keep my buddy Rufus alive.  “I’ll run to the bank and be right over.”

          I throw on my sandals, hop in the Jeep and haul ass for the bank.  Rufus would be just another mutt to any one else.  For some reason I had an attachment to the damned dog and there was no way I could let the county dog catcher get involved. This paying off Peterson would only last so long before he was banging at my door again and more money would change hands.

          Too many what-ifs.  Best to cut to the chase.  I get the money and drive back, but before heading over to Peterson’s, I stop by my garage.  Linda saunters in, hips swaying to some imaginary tune rolling around in her head.  “Whatcha doing, babe?”

          I find the new bundle of clothes line in a cabinet.  “Nothing doll.  Going down to the Peterson place and be right back.”

          She shrugs, eyes heavy and inhales on a cigarette.  “Make it quick, I’m coming off my high.”

          “Be right back.”  I take a knife, cut a section of clothesline, cram it in my pocket and drive over to Peterson’s.

          Peterson is outside, leaning on a shovel, trying to smooth out the areas Rufus had dug up.  “I was debating about calling the county if you hadn’t showed up.”

          “I’m glad you didn’t.”  I show him the money clutched in my hand.  “Can I have a receipt for this?”

          He gives a thin smile.  “Come inside and I’ll get a receipt for you.”

          The inside of his house is immaculate, clean to the point of obsessive and the swamp coolers are running full blast.  He spent a few minutes looking through a desk and finally produces a receipt book.  He lives alone and I heard he owed back property taxes to the county.

          I hand over the cash.

          Peterson takes it, turns his back, thumbing through the bills and my gut wrenches tight.   Without thinking, I wrap the clothesline around his throat and give it hell.

          It took a few minutes longer than I thought possible.  When a person fights for their very life, they can summon up incredible strength they never realized they had.  I had a bigger concern for Rufus’ well being.  After several minutes, breathless, I’m standing over his corpse.

          “Sorry Mr. Peterson.”  Now what the hell to do next?

          I look out the back patio door and see the septic tank cover.  The idea forms like waves on an ocean.  He was small and thin enough.

                                                          ***

          A year later, Linda and Lorraine, her new friend, are doing a drunken strip tease to Canned Heat’s ’Let’s Work Together’ blaring from the CD player in the living room.  Their only audience is Rufus and me.  The door bell rings a few times with a degree of urgency.

          I open the door and it’s the new neighbor Mr. Bowes puffing on a huge cigar.  After Peterson disappeared, the county confiscated the property then put the place up for auction for back taxes.  Mr. Bowes, a retired Teamster from New York, ended up buying it.

          “Hey, your dog keeps getting out and shitting in my yard.  His piss and digging around just killed off a section.  I just had that sod laid in.”  His voice reminds me of a New Jersey mobster that you see on those mob movies and its got me scared.

          “Sorry.”

          “Well no sorry about it.  I got a landscaping crew coming out tomorrow to fix that mess then your going to pay them.”

          My gut wrenches tight like rubber bands. 

          He blows a thick cloud of cigar smoke in my face.

          “I guess I’ll have to pay.”

          “Good.  I expect that money tomorrow and you better keep your dog in your damned yard or its going to end up dead.  Capish?” I pause.  The rubber bands tighten up.

          He stabbed the cigar at me.  “You hear me?”

          “Yeah I hear you.”

          He stormed off like an ancient tugboat belching smoke in its wake, softly cursing.  I knew what I had to do.  I went to the garage, found a claw hammer and another piece of clothesline.  Mr. Bowes was a big man and he wasn‘t going to fit in the septic tank as neat as Peterson had.  I found a hacksaw, spare blades and a hatchet.

          Rufus sits there looking at me with those big orange-brown eyes.

 

 

shadesoftruth2.jpg

Shades of Truth

John L. Thompson

 

          The Los Lunas Police cars had blocked off the ends of the street. The area was taped off with crime scene tape just like textbook.  I flashed a badge and the perimeter officer let me roll on through.  The media wagons were parked on the outer perimeter.  The news crews were aiming their cameras around like loaded rifles firing off live images for the five o‘clock news.

          Parking the squad car, I exhaled a sharp breath and killed the engine.  I rubbed the corners of my eyes feeling the crusted sleet that had gathered in the corners.  They burned like hot sand had been poured over the dried orbs.  I had already worked a twelve-hour shift and this mess was along my way home.  The air conditioner moaned to a stop and slowly the outside heat began radiating through the windows.  This is the worst part.  This is the part of the job when I get to see victims at their last and worst moments of life. I get to see how they fought to keep what little life they had but it was taken from them by brute force.

          I stepped out from the car and winced.  The smell of rot hung heavy in the humid air like a thick film that covers ones soul and chips away at the innocence.  A street cop was standing nearby.  I knew he played on the Police Athletic League baseball team with a keen interest on helping the kids but now he was looking uninterested in what was going on around him.

          “Where’s Joe?”  I asked.

          “Down with the vic.”

          “Male, Female?”

          “Female.”

          “Any other details?  All I got was that a body had been found and to stop here to help out if I can.”

          “Naw, nothing.”

          I walked down the incline to a group of detectives and crime scene guys huddled around the victim.  A crime scene tech was carefully working the area with a camera, taking photos of every possible piece of evidence.  Joe was there, knelt down beside the victim.  He was a good detective, rock solid on finding the most minute of evidence and catching the bad guys.  But under that tough guy façade was a man that was crumbling under the weight from years of collecting the visions of dead victims.  “Joe.”

          He looked up.  I could see the strain on his face.  “Mick.”

          “What’s the info here?”

          “A couple of joggers came by and saw the victim laying here.  They thought it was strange that the leg was folded up in the air and sticking out above the weeds so they called it in when they saw she was dead.”

          “They couldn’t smell the stench?”

          “I guess not.”

          Looking back up the embankment, I followed the trail of flattened riverweed and jungle grass that ran along the Rio Grande.  I was thinking she was chased down the incline, slipped and fell here.  Her killer must have chased after her, pounced and killed her.  I removed a pair of rubber gloves and pulled them over my hands.  “How long?”

          “About forty-eight hours from what I’m guessing.”  Joe could tell about these things.  He’d been doing this for a long time and knew what signs to look for to determine time of death. 

          “Any ID?”

          “Found this up the embankment near the road.”  He held up a plastic baggie with a New Mexico driver’s license. 

          With a gloved hand, I took it and read the name out loud.  “Alicia Plutero.  610 Tumbleweed Road.”  I look over at the victim’s face and compare the driver license photo with the dead victim in front of me.  I tried to ignore the water bugs crawling over her face and in and out of her open mouth.  Her cloudy orb peered off into the Rio Grande River and the flies buzzed about in an angry swarm, lapping at the last bit of moisture from the exposed skin.  It was hard to tell if it was her or not.  Since she was laying face down.  Most of her blood had settled in the low points in the body, which produced skin bruising.  It looked like someone had worked her over with a two-by-four.  I was sure though it was Alicia Plutero.  “Nineteen.”

          Joe looks at me with a puzzled look.  “What?”

          “Nineteen.  She’s nineteen years old.”

          Buzz, the other detective standing nearby, shook his head.  “Was.”

          “Joe, what about any signs of COD?”

          “Thinking maybe she was stabbed.”  Carefully with a gloved hand, he gently poked at several ragged tears in her sweatshirt.  He folded the edges of fabric over to reveal a hole filled with congealed blood. “Could be a gunshot, though.  It’s possible that the gun might’ve had a faulty barrel or it was just worn out and the bullets tumbled but we aren’t finding any shell casings.  We really won’t know until the coroner’s report.”

          “What about any indications of sexual assault?”  Buzz knelt down and poked at the pants leg.

          Joe stood up and walked off, shaking his head.  Buzz gave a puzzled look and then looked into my eyes.  “What’s wrong with him?  He’s still got a crime scene to process.”

          “Just feeling overwhelmed.  He’s got a helluva case load, give him a moment to compose himself.”  I stepped outside the yellow crime scene tape and lit up a cigarette and followed after him. 

          I found Joe standing by the riverbank, leaning against a giant cottonwood tree.  He was sucking deep on a cigarette.  The afternoon sun cast a dark shadow across his features and I couldn’t see anything but his one eye, which was narrowed to an unconcerned slit.  The orb rolled over and looked at me.  “I tell you what, Jack.  Half the time I wanna kill the sons of bitches murdering these girls and children.  If I could have a few moments alone with the killers, I’d make damned sure the bastard would pay the hard way.”  He flicked the butt away down into the riverbank’s edge.  The red end extinguished itself in the thick waters with an angry hiss.  “I’m about fed up with this shit, truth be known.  I been doing this damned job for fifteen years and I still remember every victim I ever saw.”

          “Everyone?”

          He paused, lit up another cigarette.  The small flame leapt to life from his Zippo and he inhaled deep.  “Every last one.  Including the kids that never had a chance.”  Smoke chugged from thick lips as he spoke like an engine with a busted piston ring.  “How the fuck you cope with this shit?  Every time we gotta work a case here recently, you’re as cool as ever.  Don’t seeing these dead people bother you?”

          I thought a long moment.  “I have developed a coping mechanism.”

          Snorting, he leaned forward.  “There ain’t no coping with this.  A few weeks ago you wanted to quit this shit and now you’re as cool as ice.  What gives?”

          “I picked up a new hobby.  There is a silver lining in shades of truth.”  I tilted my head.  Some things I was just not going to say. Suffice to say, I had found a coping mechanism.

          “Everything is hidden in shade of truth and everyone lies.  Just like fucking lawyers or politicians or big oil executives.  They all lie.”

          “Are you serious about getting your hands on these killers.  I mean, you said you would want to kill some of these murderers.”

          He thought a long moment, watching the sun’s rays reflecting off the river surface like diamonds shot from the end of a gun.  We had worked some damned shitty cases together and felt kinship in that we could talk about these things.  “Yeah, I would.  Just for once, I would like to make the killers feel just as helpless as the victims.  Prison is just a luxury resort and they don’t deserve that. You remember that twelve-year-old girl murder victim last month?  The one we found at that old campground? Or that two-year-old boy the parents buried in their back yard all because they wanted to get high on crack without a squalling kid around?  I’ve been thinking about them a lot lately and it bothers me.  What sick fuck goes and kills a kid?” 

          I knew about that one all too well, the twelve-year-old girl that is.  I had been working that case.  “Maybe you need to talk to the departmental shrink?”

          “Hey, fuck you.”

          I held up a hand.  “Just a thought, sorry.”

          “I ain’t having a paper-pushing shit bag bitch with a PHD to tell me I’m cracked, you understand?  I got a few more years of this shit and I’m done.”  He walked to the riverbank and blew out another lung full of smoke.  “We gotta catch this asshole.”

          I nodded.  I wasn’t sure of which ‘asshole’ he was referring to.  There were so many open cases at the present moment and each detective was overwhelmed with their own caseloads.  “Maybe pick up a hobby to help.”

          “Hobby?  Like what?”

          “Fishing or fixing up an old car or something.”

          “Is that how you ‘cope’?”

          “I have picked up a new hobby you can say.”

          “Like what?”

          I thought for a moment.  “It’s like an art project.”

          “Like what?  Painting?  Writing?”

          “Maybe you can come over later and see for yourself.  I guarantee it will inspire you to learn to cope with these homicides in a different perspective.”

          He looked out over the wide Rio Grande River.  “Maybe.  You got any Crown Royal?”

          “Always.”

          “I might have to take you up on that offer.”  He seemed to relax for a moment then changed the subject.  “Have you found anything on Ronnie Sanchez?” 

          I had been working on the Sanchez case for a few weeks now and things were coming together but like everything in life, it takes time.  I also knew this was a bone of contention with Joe in that a child was the victim.  “No, nothing but a few pieces here and there.”

          He shook his head.  “Another shit ball that needs to be caught and we gotta get to him quick.  It’s just strange that fucker just up and disappeared.  Anyway, Let me finish this shit up.  You headed home now?”

          “Yes, I have that art project I’m working on that needs some detail work.”

          “Okay, I’ll call you later then.”

          Walking back up to my squad car, I thought long and hard on current events.  Truths are often found at the end of a long night.  For some it’s found in old age within the throes of lung-clogging pneumonia in some nursing home while wallowing in a shit-soaked diaper.  For others it’s found at the end of a gun or the sun glare off of a steel blade.  Then again, sometimes it’s the gentle thrust of a needle loaded with strange concoctions and life floats away into the dark abyss.   

          For others it ends much worse.  Nineteen-year-old Alicia Plutero had found her end of the truth.  I went to the squad car, slid behind the wheel, and fired it off.  I let the air conditioner kick in for several minutes to wash away the stench of decay and the humid heat before throwing it in gear and pulling out into traffic.  I lit up a cigarette.  The visions of the past rose up through the thin twisting, tendrils of tobacco smoke.  My mind drifted to Ronnie Sanchez and the events surrounding those long weeks ago.   

          Jennifer was just the next-door kid.  Cute as a button, smart for her age and always loved riding her bike up and down my street.  Never bothered  a soul.  She was twelve years old when she disappeared and her mother begged and pleaded for her daughter’s safe return on the local television stations.  I had been handed the assignment but had the gut feeling at the time that Jennifer was gone from this world a long time before her mother’s plea went out over the air.  It was a gut feeling developed over years from working as a street cop and a Homicide Detective.  I promised, damn well promised the mother that I would find out who was responsible and bring Jennifer home.  Even though she was not related, it struck a deep chord within me.  If this were my daughter, I’d damn well do something about it.  Her father had gone to Iraq a few years back and died in some town that no one could pronounce from an IED blast.  The mother had it rough in a bad way but was just trying to survive and cope.  A few days later, we got the news and it’s the bad kind.  They found Jennifer in some weed choked open field, lined with cottonwood trees, that had once been a camp ground area back around the nineteen-thirties.  The evidence pointed right to Ronnie Sanchez because the idiot had dropped his wallet at the scene.

          Ronnie Sanchez was just another gear-jamming truck driver who snorted lines of white powder, guzzled booze by the gallon and banged the broads as fast as he could like the world was at its end.  He was a genuine party animal, it was said.  Somewhere along the way he took a fancy to young girls who were way too young.  He had resorted to kidnapping and having his way with them for a few days before disposing of them like yesterday’s garbage along the side of the freeway or long forgotten open areas that are in vast abundance here in New Mexico.  We had managed to connect the dots and figured out he had murdered three girls so far.   The hunt was on but days dragged into weeks and no one knew where Ronnie was hiding. 

          And then I caught the break I was looking for. 

          Under the breaking light of dawn, the red and blue strobe lights from my cruiser flashed throughout the night like a disco ball.  Only the visions of dead children were dancing in the shadows.   On that rain-soaked morning, just as my shift was ending, I got a call of a suspicious man in the neighborhood looking in on little old ladies through their bedroom windows.  I debated about taking the call but was glad I did.  I found him passed out on the banks of an irrigation ditch, stone cold drunk with an empty jug of Wild Turkey lying nearby.           

          The rain began picking up in momentum.  I stood over Sanchez with my Glock .40 leveled on him and finger ready on the radio button to call it in. I wasn’t doing anything but watching him when the idea began to take form.  What to do here?  I knew at that point, I had enough of child killers and dealing with the aftermath and screaming and crying parents.  Lines were crossed every day.  Politicians and fucking oil executives committed far worse atrocities on a daily basis than what I was thinking of doing.  The rain fell in a steady rhythm.  I was contemplating on what to do next but I was actually trying to get the nerve up to go through with what I was thinking.  I had visions of Jennifer riding her bike up and down the street singing a long forgotten song.

           This time around, Sanchez had chosen the wrong girl.   

          Perhaps I should have called it in just for moralities’ sake, but I knew what would happen on the legal end of it.  I couldn’t chance a parole release in ten years or even fifty.  Three dead girls was enough and there was not going to be a fourth.  I dragged him back to the squad car and popped the trunk.  Looking around, I didn’t see anyone watching and tossed him in and drove home.  I tied him up in the basement and cut the lights out to let him stew for the day until I figured out what to do next.  The actions were not long in coming.

          We’ve had a lot of fun since and it’s turned into a great coping mechanism.

          I maneuvered the sedan down my street, half expecting to see Jennifer riding her bike, and aimed straight for the front of my house.  I threw the cruiser in park, killed the engine and lit up another cigarette.  I’ve tried quitting countless times but due to the stress of the job, it’s just too damned hard.  I looked around.  The neighborhood I live in is pretty quiet.  It’s a slice of the American Dream where kids should be able to play without consequences, but unfortunately this is not the reality of things.  Occasionally the monsters find a way into paradise.  I opened the door to the cruiser and walked slowly up to the front door, fumbled with the lock for a moment before stepping inside and paused mid-step.

          I could hear him crying like a bitch, pleading and begging God to help him. I sat down in the kitchen waiting for nightfall and braced for the upcoming event.  Slowly I took off my jacket and duty-belt and hung them across the back of the kitchen chair.

          I inhaled a long, last drag off my cigarette and eyed the tool that helped me cope. 

          Picking up the straight razor off the kitchen table, I examined the blade under the dull yellow light.  It needed a good sharpening from being heavily used for the past few nights but it will do for the task at hand.  He cried out again and I went and opened the door to the basement, wondering if this was how he felt.  In full control of one person’s life to mold and direct as he saw fit.  I heard him bellowing in the darkness to be cut loose, but I had other things in mind.  I closed the door and let him stew a bit longer in his piss-soaked fears.  The first night I took off his toes, the second, his fingers.  I’ve done everything possible to keep the bastard alive for these past several weeks.  Last night, I cut a nice section of flesh off his back and left it hanging around his waist like a Scottish kilt. To keep him from bleeding out, I wrapped him up in saran wrap to help keep him alive for tonight’s festivities.

          Looking across the table where my duty shirt hung across the chair back, I watched the light in the room gleaming off my duty badge.  The words ‘To Protect and Serve’ blazed across the table like a hot knife.  At one time I believed in right and wrong, black and white.  I was known to have a strong ethical and moral stance on cases I was working.  But time has shattered all boundaries and the bodies and killers kept coming.                                                                                                                                                                   All it took was some dirty-assed lawyers and politicians to get in there and mix the borders creating large gray areas like a legal Picasso.  I saw killers walking free or serving a few years only to see them get out and kill again.  I guess I can cross the same lines and enter the shades of truth or grow old and bitter like Joe.  I winced at the thought of him living out his golden years with his meager pension, being haunted by visions of victims.  I knew he would come over soon, so I went into the kitchen, got the bottle of Crown Royal and a couple of clean glasses and set them on the kitchen table.

          If things went right, I was going to have Joe as a partner in this ‘art project’ for some years to come.  I think it might help him mentally in the long run.  The truth is, there are predators living in the shadows of society just waiting to snatch up a fresh victim to feed upon.  That’s just the laws of nature at work but sooner or later those predators will learn there’s bigger ones roaming the area hunting them.  I had plans to be the biggest predator of them all.  Half the job is going to be hunting them down and making them bastards feel the same way they made their victims feel during their last moments on earth.  I hoped that Joe would come along for this grand adventure.  

          It was time.  I mashed out the cigarette in an ashtray on the table.  I had to get things ready.  I opened the basement door, stepped through and closed the door behind me.  I held the straight razor with a tight grip while whistling a forgotten melody to calm my nerves of anticipation.  I would have to save Joe a piece of the action.  I knew he hated child-killers more than anything.  If things went right, it was going to be another long night for Sanchez and us.

 

John Thompson currently lives in New Mexico and has poetry and short stories published or forthcoming in Best Served Cold: An Eye for an Eye Anthology, Adobe Walls, Yellow Mama,  Heavy Hands Ink,  Indigo Rising Magazine, Camel Saloon, Science Fiction Trails and on the official Philip Jose Farmer web site.

In Association with Fossil Publications