Holmes and the 65-Inch Big-Screen TV
Felicia Holmes was too slim and too tall for a woman, almost gaunt in others’ eyes.
She had steady gray eyes amid a long, lean, and chiseled face with a hawkish nose. She
was so tall, but so lean that she looked taller. Her whole being looked weathered more
than an old sailor.
Sheriff looked around the windblown farmland surrounding the house. The corn was in, and
the first snow was expected. The sky had clouded over. Overcast was common in the Midwest
winters. A winter wonderland? Not yet. A wintry wasteland, she decided.
homeowner and his missus came out.
“Sheriff Felicia Holmes,” she said.
Cleaver.” The homeowner shook hands with Sheriff Holmes. He had a hard face and short
gray wavy hair. Grimed fingernails. He was puffy-eyed and weary. He wore an old T-shirt
covered with sweat stains, blue jeans, and mud-caked boots.
to meet with you,” the Sheriff said.
“This is my wife,
she corrected him.
was in her sixties, a curly bleached blonde with dark roots showing. A pink sweater
with red ducks on it. Smoking, huddled against the rain, she wore her shirt sleeves rolled
up to her elbows.
want to report a burglar,” the homeowner said.
“And a break-in,” his missus said in a quiet,
ranch-style house was green clapboard, tucked in a quiet, wooded area on the outskirts
of the county seat. A driveway of bleached white gravel was slashed on the left side of
the yard. A two-car garage was attached to the house and a Dodge truck was parked inside.
A workbench in his garage stood out, too, alongside the old refrigerator that now just
held beer. Just beyond, trucks roared past on the highway, even though the road was
riddled with potholes.
The Cleavers were retired. They stayed up late, woke
up at ten in the morning, maybe eleven, sometimes not until noon. But they were retired.
Cleaver liked sitting with a beer in his lawn chair in his garage in good weather. “Just
watching the world go by.”
The Sheriff smiled. “It’s good to be retired.”
I had known…” Theresa Cleaver said.
But she stopped. Her brows knit. She had pulled back.
Sheriff played dumb. “Tell us how you were targeted.”
The Sheriff and her deputy followed the homeowner and
his missus inside.
“I didn’t think you’d come by yourself,
Sheriff,” the homeowner said.
“Just checking up on my deputies.”
sure they stay on the straight and narrow?” the homeowner’s missus said. She
was still digesting something sour.
The Sheriff said, “The first thing you saw when you came home
from the supermarket was your drapes were closed. Do you always keep your drapes open?”
homeowner said, “Well, when you live in the country… I grew up—you too
probably, Sheriff—we grew up without ever locking our front door.”
“You do lock your
Oh yes, I do!”
you pulled your truck into your garage.”
The Sheriff reconnoitered inside the garage.
where he kicked the door in,” Mick Cleaver said.
They went through a blue door.
the strong smell of furniture polish hit them.
“You almost have the door fixed and back on its hinges.”
can’t just have people walking in on you,” the missus said.
The Sheriff played a finger
across the new crack in the door.
“You only have that red truck, right?
The one in the garage, right?”
Sheriff,” the missus said.
The Sheriff examined the door from the garage inside the house.
that his boot print?” the Sheriff said.
“Uh-huh. And his kick broke the lock…”
you always keep this door to your garage locked, right?”
“I always keep it locked, yes, I do.”
you always keep your garage door open.”
“Well, except in snowstorms…”
the snow builds up inside, right?”
“Otherwise, I always keep it open.”
only this door between the garage and the inside of your house, right?”
“I always keep that
door locked and closed.”
“And the burglar kicked the lock in.”
the boot print, deputy,” the Sheriff said.
The missus said, “So you can match him with it
when you catch him?”
The Sheriff stayed attentive
to her deputies’ work.
Inside the living room a ketchup-red sofa was against one wall.
Two green leather recliners flanked the sofa on both sides. The wall opposite was where
the big-screen TV had been. A coffee table sat in the center.
summarized the scene of the crime.
“Your burglar came in this way from the garage by kicking
down the door to your garage and then he took your big-screen TV…”
took all the wires and the DVR. He took the wall frame, too, for the TV.”
“He did it fast,
too,” the Sheriff said. “While you were at the store.”
“We came home, and
it was gone.”
your house was broken into.”
The family dog wandered into the room. He was very happy with all
the visitors and was hysterically wagging his tail.
stood in the twilight, in the Cleavers’ living room, her voice taking on a deferential
and overly polite tone.
that’s your dog, right?” A dog person herself, the Sheriff bent and played with
the big, friendly dog. “Hello, puppy, how are you? Oh, what a good dog you are!”
She roughhoused with it, ruffled its fur, and rubbed its butt. “Part of the family,
always goes where we go.”
“Part of the family,” the Sheriff said. She scratched
hard the dog’s butt and the dog’s tail was frantically wagging, almost hysterically
wagging. “Never knew a dog that didn’t love a good scratch here, eh, pup?”
dog loved the Sheriff.
straightened. “When you went to church, you took your dog with you because you always
always goes where we go.”
“Not a very good watchdog for when you’re gone,”
the Sheriff said.
“I guess not,” the homeowner said.
burglar saw you leave, drove across the highway, parked his truck in your garage, so no
one could see it from the road, and kicked your door in. Then he stole your TV.”
the kitchen, red chairs were spaced around an ancient stainless-steel table. Some dishes
were drying in a plastic rack. The tabletop was clear of all objects.
Cleaver did not hesitate to speak her mind.
“Do you think he had an accomplice?”
I don’t think so. One man alone could carry that TV, they make them so light these
days, but it was big and bulky for one man to carry, and you could see where he nicked
the corner of the garage door frame when he was leaving.”
“Oh! You sussed
that out, Sheriff!”
hope he didn’t damage your TV when he nicked the frame.”
Theresa Cleaver was glum. “It’s
his TV, now.”
maybe we’ll get it back,” the Sheriff said.
The homeowner was surprised. “You think so?”
wife was unbowed. “Do you think you’ll catch him, Sheriff?”
The Sheriff couldn’t
answer that. “Parked in your garage,” she did say, “no, no one could
see him from the highway.”
Theresa Cleaver said, “Any idea who did this, Sheriff?”
idea at all.” She reconsidered. “Anybody driving by more than once.”
would you say that?”
Sheriff pointed at the empty space in the living room. “When did you get this TV?”
proud of his purchase. “Brand new. Just got it. Last weekend.”
“How big was it?”
inches. Bought it at Costco.”
The Sheriff approved.
“Good place to get
one. But they’re a little expensive.”
“But you get all those extra features, Sheriff.”
you set it up right there in front of your front window, across from your recliner, the
sofa in-between, and your missus’ recliner.”
Sheriff pressed her fingertips together and closed her eyes to almost a squint. The deputy
wondered if she was holding back a laugh or was thinking too hard.
“Do you have the
serial number on the TV?”
Theresa Cleaver said, “Do you really think you can get it
“We won’t know we get it back until the
homeowner returned with the extended warranty documents.
The deputy took note of the numbers.
homeowner groaned. “We made it so easy for him.”
“And you will never do it that way ever again,”
the Sheriff observed.
The Cleavers left the room together. The wife had a
bone to pick with him.
The Sheriff and the deputy were left alone for a moment.
looked out the big front window.
The deputy said, “Always they left their front drapes open.”
mused. “As they always left their garage door open.”
“Could it be a homeowner’s insurance scam?”
a claim for theft just after they bought it?”
“Probably not,” the deputy said. “Right,
in the country don’t expect crime to strike them.”
“They made the burglar’s work easy enough,”
the deputy argued. “Anybody driving by their house could see into their living room.
Bad enough in the daytime, but at night that 65-inch big screen television glowed in the
dark like a flying saucer.”
“Easy peasy,” the
Sheriff agreed. “And they never close their drapes, do they?”
“They live in the
country,” the deputy said.
“When they went to the store, he closed the drapes but left
the garage door up?” The Sheriff shrugged over the logic. “He never closes
the garage door. That’s how the burglar always knew he was home.”
the Cleavers returned, Theresa Cleaver wore wool socks but no shoes. She was even unhappier,
and her husband looked freshly chewed out.
The Sheriff had a plan of action for the homeowner. “I want
you to stay up all night, as long as you can, Mick, and you can fall asleep in your recliner,
with the living room light on and your dog in your lap.”
about my shotgun in my lap?”
“I want you to stay home tonight,” the Sheriff said.
“Just sit in your living room with the lights on.”
I move my truck?”
leave it as it is in the garage.”
“Should I sit in my living room with my shotgun?”
a good idea. Might want to keep it unloaded.”
The missus was argumentative. “If the burglar
returns to the scene of the crime, why can’t Mick shoot him?”
would have to arrest you both for premeditated murder,” the Sheriff said.
“But my home is
my castle,” the missus said. “He’d be defending what’s mine, right?”
will still arrest you both.”
Theresa Cleaver said, “Well, he got my TV…”
I cannot defend your right to shoot him, no.”
“What am I supposed to do, Sheriff, if he shows?”
Sheriff said. “Just open your drapes and leave the lights on.”
said, “Thank you, Sheriff.”
“Just sit in that chair with your gun in your lap and the
lights on,” the missus said. She thought the plan was lousy.
sure the living room light is on,” the Sheriff said.
“With the drapes open,” the missus said.
can see I’m waiting up for him,” the homeowner said.
Theresa Cleaver gave an impatient eyeroll over her husband.
Sheriff added, “And some of us will stop by tomorrow morning before you go to church.”
the sheriff and her deputy walked to their vehicle, autumn leaves crunching underfoot.
deputy said, “I’ll get back to the station and start running files to see previous
burglars and MOs.”
Sheriff said no. “Probably a virgin thief.”
“Isn’t he a career criminal?”
not. Probably he stole it just out of temptation. Stealing it looked easy peasy.”
one last time they scoped out the crime scene.
“Our burglar sat over there in his truck at the auto dealership
across the highway and waited and watched until he saw our victim’s truck leaving
you think he’s watching us now?”
The Sheriff didn’t care. “I hope so.”
asked, “Isn’t that dangerous?”
him all night with a shotgun?”
“Not with the lights on all night,” the Sheriff said,
“and the drapes open.”
“But somebody took his TV already.”
can steal it again, right?”
Sheriff Holmes came by the next morning.
was your night?”
Mick Cleaver said. “Nobody came by.”
The Sheriff looked long and hard out the living room
slowing down when passing your house?”
“All of my neighbors did. They knew I got robbed.”
now on you’ll keep your drapes closed, okay?”
“Oh, now I should keep the drapes closed?”
you go to church today, close the drapes, but leave the garage door up.”
“We never close
the garage door.”
“That reminds me. Are you going to replace
“How do you live without a TV?”
it is hard, Mick. We’ve made them so much a part of our lives.”
“I feel like waiting
a while,” Mick said.
Sheriff said, “I think you and the missus should go price one today.”
“You do? Right after
Costco, right? That’s where you got the one that got burgled.”
“I did. Costco costs
more, but you get more features…”
“The two of you.”
want us to pick out a new TV today?”
“Shop for one, least ways. As soon as it’s dark.”
Costco is out by the Interstate.”
“You should check it out. See what they have. Maybe they have
one just like yours in stock.”
The missus was there.
“We know what TVs they have.” She wore a fancy citrus yellow dress. A Sunday
your drapes and go out after church.”
“I’ll never leave my drapes open again.”
time close the drapes and go out together. Take the dog, too.”
The missus was skeptical. “How
come you want us gone, Sheriff?”
“And give me a spare
set of your house keys,” the Sheriff added.
When the Cleavers returned from church, the deputies were bringing
out a beefy, angry man from their garage. He wasn’t resisting arrest, but he was
pissed that he’d been caught. He struggled, too, but was easily tamped down.
Sheriff interrogated them.
you ever seen this man before?”
“No. Is he our burglar?”
name is Brian Tolliver. Lives down the pike about two or three miles that way.”
Then Sheriff Felicia Holmes turned and pointed in the opposite direction up the highway.
“He works at Brimstone about five miles that way. And he drives past your house at
least twice daily.”
is he?” Theresa Cleaver asked the Sheriff.
“The bearded mechanic from the motorcycle shop.”
biker shop guy?” Mick asked.
“Twice daily?” the missus said.
how he always knew you were home,” the Sheriff said.
“He could see the TV every time,” the homeowner
whether your truck was in the garage,” the Sheriff added.
“We made it so easy for him,” the missus
Sheriff said, “Last night he drove past your house, saw the drapes open, the lights
on, your truck’s in its garage, and he figured you were waiting for him.”
what we wanted him to think,” the Sheriff said. “This morning the truck was
gone, the drapes were closed, and he figured you didn’t want people to know you were
gone. He stopped, parked in your garage so your neighbors wouldn’t see him, and then
he kicked in the door, figuring he would be in and out in a flash.”
we were in church!” the missus said.
“And you were waiting for him,” the homeowner said.
did he come back?” the missus said.
A deputy came and parked in the gravel drive.
like you said, Sheriff. There it was, in his utility room.”
“The serial numbers matched? That’s good,”
The Sheriff faced the Cleavers. “We have your big-screen TV.”
homeowners were both so grateful.
“Why did you want me staying up all night with my shotgun?”
dog stayed up, too, right?”
“Well, he slept on the sofa.”
he was with you all night.”
“Why did you want me staying up all night with my shotgun?”
didn’t want him coming back until I was ready.”
“How did you know he was coming back?”
I didn’t want you, or the missus, or the dog getting hurt. Let him drive by your
house, see that you’re home and leave you both alone.”
“But you knew he’d
come by today?”
he drove by your house and see the empty garage, yes.”
The weather was changing. The wind was howling.
snow tonight,” the Sheriff said.
They went inside the house. One of the deputies held up a camera.
boot will match both boot prints on the door,” he said. “Evidence of two break-ins.”
Sheriff played a finger on the new crack in the door from the garage into the house. “That’s
from the second kick.”
Mick Cleaver said, “Were you lying in wait for him now?”
Sheriff said yes. “My deputy and I waited for him to kick down the door again. He
thought no one was home. No car in the garage. When he kicked down the door, the deputies
were waiting, and I took photographs of him to use in the trial, and the deputies arrested
got him dead to rights?”
“Two counts of felony burglary,” the deputy said.
Cleaver now had a look of annoyance.
“How did you know he’d return to the scene of the crime?”
“The other night when he burgled, stealing the
TV, he left this behind.”
The Sheriff pointed to
the coffee table in between the TV and the fake leather recliners.
The remote control sat on the coffee table.
by Fred Zackel
I bought him brandy at Enrico’s
in San Francisco, and so he talked:
My name is Chuck Cody, I’m a fisherman, and I’m 59 years old,
but I look ten years younger with all my black, wavy hair. I have spent three years
growing my beard and I like drinking brandy.
I have epilepsy because I drink. My hair hides the scars from epilepsy. My hands
have large scars, too. The scars there come from stingrays. I got eight stitches here,
five here, one there.
That stingray, he slapped me, so I slapped him back with my other hand. He got me
That sound—that paddy
wagon sound makes me nervous. You know how Indians gets treated.
I am a Sioux Indian. I was born in
Texoma. Grew up on the Delta in Louisiana. Grew up fishing for catfish.
Before I came here to San Francisco,
I was in the Florida Keys. The sand fleas left me scarred on the knees. See?
When I fish for white bass, I make
$45 a day.
I still fish for shrimp. Fat
shrimp, that is. I won’t tell you my bait. But I go out to the mudflats. Two hours
later I got boxes. I caught 180 pounds yesterday.
I know how to cadge a meal. I know where to get loaves of bread
free or free steaks, too. A hundred years ago I would have been a pioneer. Instead, I was
a saddle tramp and a bum.
I drove taxicab in Chicago. Yellow Cab.
I was driving along Lake Shore Drive, got two little old ladies in the back seat.
I seen this jetty sticking out. Hell, I did it. I drove off the jetty into eight feet of
I didn’t get fired.
My boss, he couldn’t fire me. I owed him a hundred bucks. Boss ain’t gonna
fire you if you owe him money.
My wife—I was married for thirty-seven years. We worked the cotton
fields together. She’s dead now. She was riding her horse and my dog ran between
the horse’s legs. She fell off and started spitting blood.
She and my dog— When she steps on his tail, she would cuss him in
Indian and then in Italian. I don’t know where the Italian came from.
She likes drinking brandy, too. She’d come on to you, then say,
Can you give me a ride to the bus terminal? Then she’d borrow five bucks, but then
she would buy you a drink.
My dog was part wolf. Lemme tell you, you treat women like your dog. Not as some
souvenir, not as a pet. You treat her as a companion.
I get misty. I’m still repeating myself. I reach out in bed. Aw,
forget it. She was gone. I went out and looked at the full moon instead. Yeah, I get lonesome.
I went to a funeral in Diego. Indian
funeral. Real rare Indian he was. He was going bald. Going bald for an Indian’s like
losing your manhood.
He sliced his own throat just for going
No guts to do that.
Bury me standing up and facing east.
I want the largest processional of Caddys they can find.
I want an Indian burial. It’s in my will that I’ll be
facing east. It’s insured. Eight feet down and two feet from the bottom.
Can you give me a ride to
the East Bay Terminal?
(He borrowed five bucks, then
he bought me a drink.)
I gotta get home. I’m supposed
to show up at Al’s Liquors in Oakland at 5 AM. I’ll be on the boat by 6 AM.
Want to know my secret?
Come by the Lorraine by DiMaggio’s
at Fisherman’s Wharf. It’s the third boat, the one with LA plates. LA is Louisiana.
My bait is a sardine can slightly opened
up. Sardine oil, that’s what brings the shrimp.
Come by and I’ll buy you a brandy.
The Charcoal Man
by Fred Zackel
trembling, wide-eyed, and she needed him to hold her
He came to her in a dream.
“The rough man,”
she called him. “The rumpled man. The raggedy man. No, none of those are right.”
“But it’s an r sound.”
“And he’s gray and charcoal and smudged and blurry, like a
charcoal drawing. Like seen through a telescope at night. Blurry figure of a man. All wrapped
in heavy winter clothes. A muffler around his neck covers the bottom part of his mouth.
But I know he’s grinning. He’s got his eyes on me and there’s no one
else in this world he is looking at. I am the only thing he sees and the only thing he
wants. His mouth is all teeth, and he is grinning, and it’s covered by this woolly
muffler and sweeps up behind his head and covers like, like a hood or a shawl. And it’s
all one piece, his coat and his baggy pants and his muffler and the dirty charcoal and
gray shadowy. . . .”
“What does he want?”
“He wants to touch my skin. My creamy
skin. That’s what he is thinking. The very words he is thinking. He wants to touch
my sides, not even an embrace, or a hug, and just rub his dark charcoal hand along my waist
on either side of me. He wants to touch my skin. I can hear his thoughts. He wants to touch
my skin, and I want to let him.”
doesn’t repulse you?”
no. He should. But I am mesmerized. I would let him.”
“What happens then? When he touches you?”
“I go away with him. I go willingly because he touched
where does he take you?”
“Into the shadows.
Into his shadows. Into the dark and I never come back.”
puzzled over that.
“What is he wearing?”
“Like two thick overcoats, one atop the other. A pair of heavy
overcoats. They make him look squat, bulkier than he might be. They make him look wider
than he really is. I think. I hope. I can’t see them distinctly, clearly, but he
has them buttoned almost to the top button. He might be wearing an old-fashioned hat, or
it might be the peak of a hood flattened out, I can’t tell.”
“Where does he come from?”
“Nowhere good. Nowhere people should be.
Nowhere people can live and breathe. . . .”
“How does he get through
from there to here?”
comes when we’re dreaming. Or almost awake. When we sit sidesaddle between waking
he is a nightmare?”
“How old is he?”
“He is old. In his
fifties, his sixties. Or maybe that’s just how he wants me to see him. Maybe he is
so much older than that. Maybe he is camouflaged, and he is younger, in his thirties.”
“But you can’t see him clearly, distinctly.”
like in a dark gray mist, a grungy charcoal gray mist. He is part of the mist, and the
mist is part of him. It oozes all around him.”
“Emanates from him?”
“He is the source of it, yes.”
“Is he a phantom?”
“He has . . . texture. Like cloth. Fabric.
Ashes piled together, smashed together, like a book you find afterwards in a fire.
Sometimes parts of him are white as old cigar smoke. But mostly? The color of the grave
. . . that’s what he is!”
“Where does he come
charcoal man?” She shrugged, confused, still disturbed. “The charcoal man.
And he is swirling, or the world around him, behind him is swirling. Not fast, but very
slowly, gently even, corkscrewing behind him, and he is at the center, and he is stirring
the cloud, the mist himself, so I don’t get spooked.”
he wants you.”
“If he gets me, he kills us both.”
“Us . . . both?”
She grinned. A very wicked grin. All teeth. Glittering and gleaming
like the carving knife she rammed up under his ribs.
Fred Zackel has published more than a hundred stories, poems & essays
and a dozen or so novels. Most all of his writings are on Kindle or the web.