IN THE BUCKET
In my day, it
was Disney. Disney said some day my prince would come. I got over that pretty
quick once Otis started courting me. Otis was a hard worker and a good
provider. He always took his work boots off at the door so he wouldn't track
manure in the house. He'd say, "Ella, I'm a one-woman man."
My David was no
prince either. He married his high school sweetheart. The pair of them were
cross-eyed in love like Romeo and Juliet. Only their tragedy was a string of
miscarriages. But Sandy was stubborn. She put it all into trying to conceive
and had no more success than a mule until finally, when she was forty and ready
to give up, along came Janey.
Our Janey was
as stubborn as her ma and then some. She never had a lick of common sense. She
fell for the some day her prince thing hook, line, and sinker. By that time,
Disney had a slew of modern princesses of different skin colors who went on
adventures on their own and rowed canoes and carried swords. But Janey loved
the originals, the kind that spent half the story fast asleep. Sleeping Beauty.
Snow White. From the time she was little, she'd say, "Look, Gran, I'm
sleeping! I'm waiting for my prince to come wake me up!" When I pointed out
that her prince better not
catch her napping, or she might miss him, she said, "Don't worry, Gran, if
it's my destiny, I'll know."
graduated from Disney to country music, nothing changed. Those songs are full
of beer and whiskey, cheatin', broken promises, and broken hearts. Call it
alcoholism, adultery, and domestic violence, it's not so pretty. They can sing
about pickup trucks and lonesome trains all they want. But singin' lies so
sweet that young girls believe them is somethin' else. Men who are sorry for
real. Women whose forgiveness is rewarded. Men who actually stop losin' their
temper and usin' their fists when they get mad. Men who give up booze for the
love of a woman. Men who come back years after a one-night stand to take care
of the woman and their baby.
life don't work that way, Janey," I'd say. "Besides, you know all the
boys around here. Where do you think your prince is going to come from?"
"Away, Gran," Janey would tell me.
on his white horse and carry you away, huh?" I would ask, foolishly hoping
this time she'd see how ridiculous the whole thing was.
better, Gran," she'd say. "White pickup
It was from
her favorite song, a No. 1 hit for some singer who'd impressed Janey double by
being on Dancing with the Stars on TV
on top of her music career. Janey was a born believer. Santa Claus, the tooth
fairy, any tale you cared to spin.
"It's a story, Janey," I would say.
"It's Cinderella all over again, only some songwriter fixed it up for
country music. What have we told you your whole life about getting in a car
if it's your destiny, Gran? We're
talking about Prince Charming, not some pervert luring me into his clutches
with candy. I tell you what," she'd say, humoring me. "If he offers
me so much as a Snickers bar, I won't get in the truck."
about candy or no candy, if he invites you in his truck, you invite him in the
house to meet your ma and pa and grandma instead. That'll take the measure of
him right quick."
Gran, you don't have one speck of romance in you. Don't you ever feel sorry for
what you've missed?"
“Suds in the
bucket,” Anna Sue said. "There oughta be a law."
the police chief said.
“Suds in the
bucket.” Anna Sue dabbed at the trickle of sweat on her forehead with a faded
blue bandanna that matched her eyes. "Oh, I forgot, you're Not From Around
Here. New York, right?"
Anna Sue couldn't
help it sounding like, "Not from Our Planet. Outer Space, right?" She
felt sorry for that. The new chief wasn't stupid and surely must be better at
policing than at understanding the simplest conversation Around Here. From the
big O’s of their eyes and the bigger O’s of their mouths, the others letting
their breakfast go cold at the diner weren't so sure.
don't like country music?" Lily Ann said in her kittens and ice cream
simply mean. Lily Ann should mind her own business, which was waitressing and
keeping hot coffee coming.
“It's a song,”
Anna Sue said. “The kind of fairy tale song that turns the heads of young girls
like my Maylene. The girl's in the yard hangin' up the wash, hopin' her prince
will come along. And he does! They got no business putting that crap on the
radio." She gave a robust snort. "Life ain't like that, right?"
my experience," Chief Neller said. "Maylene is your daughter?"
Anna Sue said. "I'm bringin' her up because—well, because." Some
things you don't say right out, even if everyone knew them. "You got a
girl yourself, don't you? Bringin' her up alone in that big house since Old Man
only thirteen," the chief said. "So far, so good."
that bucket song all the time," Anna Sue said. "Waitin' for a looker
in a white pickup truck to come along and whisk her away to Vegas. Only good
thing about it is she's willin' to do outside chores. Never was before. They
got castles in Vegas? I never been.”
they've got the Brooklyn Bridge,” Chief Neller said, “and the Eiffel Tower and
“Naw, Maylene don’t
care about none a them,” Anna Sue said. “A nice McMansion where some farmer
smart enough to get out sold a couple cornfields, that's what I call a castle,
and so I told her. Can't kid her out of it, neither. My Maylene’s got about as
much sense a humor as a fence post. Gets it from her grandpa's side. The
Garveys never could tell a joke from gospel from an outright lie, not a one a
them. Hangin' out the clothes in bitty shorts and a halter top and paintin’ on
her toenails so she can put her bare feet up on the dashboard like in the
window," Lily Ann said. "The song says, 'out the window,' not 'on the
"I told Maylene,"
Anna Sue said loudly, interrupting Lily Ann, "any man worth a damn will be
lookin’ at the road while he drives, not at your toes no matter how you prink
’em up—nor sniffin’ at your cleavage no matter what fancy perfume you spray
She glared at
Lily Ann, who hovered over them with the coffee pot, until the waitress sniffed
and stalked away.
Chief Neller said, “is there something in particular you'd like to tell me?”
Anna Sue's face
crumpled. The chief had to lean in close to hear her murmur, "I'm not sure.
It may be nothing."
aren't you sure about, Ms Garvey?"
me Anna Sue, not Miz Garvey. I may be a granny, but I'm only sixty-one. It's
not like I make her tell me where she is every moment."
hasn't got her license. She won't turn sixteen till next month. And the car's
there. She can't have got far."
just hangin' out the clothes."
is Maylene, Anna Sue?"
What scares me is she might think
she's gone off with someone nice, but she still might've been taken."
understand," Chief Neller said.
mother," Anna Sue said, "so I reckon you do."
she'd been stupidly slow to pick up on Anna Sue Garvey's cry for help. At least
the conversation in the diner hadn't stopped dead when she walked in. Being the
town's first female police chief was one strike against her. Living as a
widowed single mom in Kevin's grandpa's house, an ex-NYPD alien from New York,
was strike two. Not finding Maylene Garvey, preferably alive and well, would be
with those who'd known Maylene, which turned out to be every soul in the town.
She rode along on every interview. She didn't want any detail overlooked
because a potential suspect had been the interviewing officer's babysitter or
Little League coach. She used every trick in the book to get each high school
junior and senior away from the supervising parent long enough to ask what she
really wanted to know. Maylene wasn't sexually active. She was kind of
old-fashioned that way. Saving herself for Mr Right, according to her best
friend Bette Jo. Maylene was kind, according to Tim, the boy next door. He'd
been trying to work up the courage to ask her out. Would a kid too shy to ask a
girl for a date have the guts to hurt her? Kidnap? Rape? Murder?
to the faculty and staff of the high school on her own. Ms Pierce, the
principal, said Maylene wasn't the brightest bulb in the chandelier.
the whole chandelier could use a good polishing and a set of replacement lights,"
she said. "The occasional sparkle invariably comes from away, like your
daughter, Chief Neller. The home product is lackluster by definition. That
said, Maylene Garvey is one of the dimmer bulbs. She'd be manipulated easily,
but it would be like shooting a rabbit. Let me rephrase that: a mesmerized
your teachers tell you," Donna asked, "if they suspected anything bad
were going on at home?"
abuse?" Ms Pierce tossed her ably coiffed head, flicking hairpins to her
shoulders and thence, bouncing, to the floor. "Domestic violence?
Impossible. Not in general. I'm not such a fool as to deny it wholesale, but in
Maylene's case, the family dotes on her. The father is a fine man."
Bending to retrieve her hairpins, she said, "He has contributed generously
to our building fund—we hope to have enough for a new, modern gym in two
years—but that is irrelevant to my commendation. I speak as I find."
that with a grain of salt. Might a passionate heart beat within Ms Pierce's
cameo-pinned breast? Might Maylene have seen something she shouldn't? She'd dig
deeper with Mr Garvey. She'd interview all the teachers, ask them about
relations with their students. A nice ambiguous word, "relations." It
would be interesting to see who got defensive when she used it.
In Manhattan, stranger
murders made sense. Most encounters of any kind were stranger encounters. Here,
she couldn't help viewing the town as one big dysfunctional family. How could
they help it, rubbing up against each other day after day from cradle to grave?
If they wanted to see strangers, they had to drive to the nearest mall, ten
miles away. No wonder Maylene dreamed of Prince Charming driving up to her
was killed in the line of duty, Ruthie had been glad when Donna quit the Job. She
hadn't made a fuss about leaving New York, and Donna made sure her daughter had
as much counseling as they could afford before they moved. Donna knew that she
mustn't make Ruthie into a little adult to meet her own emotional needs. Ruthie
thought that was crap.
understand about boundaries," she said. "But I'm thirteen! I'm supposed to want
to want to grow up as
fast as I can. Talk to me."
yeah? About what?"
case. Are you getting anywhere?"
"I can't discuss
the case," Donna said.
else is," Ruthie said. "Maylene Garvey going missing is all they talk
about at school. C'mon, Mom. If a serial killer is targeting teens, it is my business."
know Maylene has been killed. And she's the only person missing. So there is no
have you got to talk to? I bet everyone who works for you is no more than two
degrees of separation from Maylene. Pretend I'm Dad. You always talked with
each other about your cases. I miss Dad so much. Don't you?"
lovey, all the time," Donna said. "Come here."
She held out
her arms, and they took what the New York therapist called a grief break,
crying some and murmuring things like I
miss him and It's okay to cry to
in town has an alibi," Donna said, blowing her nose. "No one in town
saw anything. So far, the police are baffled."
would say alibis can be broken," Ruthie said, "and people lie all the
time. Mom, do you think that Maylene's dead?"
know, lovey," Donna said. "I'm trying to get her back before that
happens. Her grandma thinks someone driving by lured her away."
guy in a pickup truck, I suppose," Ruthie said. "It's all this
country music they listen to."
what her grandmother says," Donna said.
And maybe not
other possibilities. Maylene could have crossed the path of a sex trafficker or
a pedophile operating on the Internet. Romantic fantasies aside, she was still
a child. If Donna were still in New York, she'd have a vast network of experts at
her disposal. She'd sent Maylene's laptop away for analysis. The family hadn't
must be good, right?" Anna Sue said.
The Garveys realized
by now that Maylene might be dead. But when Donna asked about chat rooms she
might have visited, they had no idea how such things worked and couldn't tell
her anything about Maylene's Internet use. Sex education at school? Information
about how to deal with online sexual predators? Mr Garvey was on the school
board and a deacon at the church, and if any such thing were suggested, he'd be
the first to vote it down. Donna hoped she'd never find a "clue" in
the form of Maylene's image on a porn site.
If she had a
body, she could ask the state police, who did have resources, to take over the
investigation. If she had two bodies, she wouldn't have a choice. She did what
she could. She sent her officers to the mall ten miles away to show Maylene's
picture to every person who worked there and everyone they could find who
admitted to being there within two weeks of the girl's disappearance. She had
them check every security camera they could find within a thirty mile radius
for anything suspicious, anything at all. She gave a speech at the high school
assembly and another at the community board meeting appealing to the whole
community to contact the police if they thought of anything, however small,
that might help them find Maylene. If they knew of any other girl being away
from home, even if nobody thought she was missing. If they heard anyone talking
about meeting or getting to know a stranger.
probably be somebody kind of interesting," Donna said at the grownup
meeting. "He might not even be that much of a stranger. Maybe just Not
From Around Here. Like me."
That got a
laugh, so the evening wasn't wasted in terms of community relations, even if it
didn't help her investigation.
Who was this
guy leaning his elbows against the fence all casual? He was a bit old but
plenty hot. He wore a white cowboy hat tipped over his eyes and a fancy pair of
cowboy boots that looked like they'd never done a lick of work around cows. His
long legs knew how to fill out a pair of jeans.
duvet covers look heavy," he said. "Want a hand with them?"
don't you take a break, come talk to me a while?"
told me never talk to strangers."
have a conversation," he said, "we won't be strangers. What's that book
you're reading? Say, I've read that book. Which sister would you rather be? I
bet you've thought about it. Any girl would, 'specially if she was smart and pretty
and sometimes made a bit a
really read it?" He thought she was pretty! She hoped she wasn't blushing.
thing, miss—what's your name? Now we're in the same book club, it's only fair
to tell me."
Rose! Now isn't that the prettiest name! Miss Sharon Rose, are you blushing?
somethin' else! I've got a book I bet you'd like. If you think your mama
wouldn't mind, I'd be pleased to lend it to you. Let's knock on that door and
ask your mama's permission right now before I say another blessed word about it."
all right." Talking about books like that, he didn't seem like a stranger.
He would never have offered to meet her mama if he meant her any harm. Anyhow,
she wouldn't get into the truck. "Let's
see this book of yours."
Maylene's body and those of two other girls in a gravel pit forty miles away.
Donna took off for the scene the moment she heard, her most experienced deputy
in the passenger seat. Will Bradley could handle the sight of dead young girls
and tolerate what Kevin used to call her crisis driving better than the rest.
really need the siren, Chief?" Will asked as the speedometer edged toward
eighty. "They'll still be dead when we get there."
ancient Greece," Donna said, "they used to hire women to tear their
hair and moan at funerals. Rip their clothes and howl."
like that about it, do you?" Will said. "Hmm. I reckon I do
It took a
while to identify the other two girls, Jane Lessing and Sharon Rose Marcus.
While all three had lived within a forty-mile radius of the gravel pit, each of
them came from a different county. Different jurisdictions. Similar devastated
families. Same taste in music.
I turn on the siren?" Donna asked Will as they started back. "As
hired mourners go, she's got a lot of heart. And I can't stomach country radio
Of course the
state police took over, now they had a serial killer with cases in three
counties. Except they didn't have this serial killer, and Donna couldn't stop
thinking about him.
He wasn't stupid.
Clever enough to look for a girl hanging out the clothes. Hanging laundry was
boring. It took time, one clothespin at a time. If she was hanging sheets, a
fellow who stopped to say good morning would be hidden from the windows of the
house. He might even offer to help. "Suds in the Bucket" might have
given him the idea. But he wouldn't be fool enough to use the same white pickup
truck every time. He'd vary the color. He'd change the license plates. He'd use
plates with different numbers, plates from different states. Next time, he
might not even be driving. And he'd be
smart enough to stay far away from where he'd been before. Most likely, he'd
already left the state. If he ever came back, she'd be ready for him. She'd
have micro spy cameras strung up on every clothes line in town and a GPS
tracker down every teenage girl's bra.
Smooth-talking son of a gun
those shoes off, darlin'," I said. "Put your pretty little feet up."
I gave her my
patented sideways grin and cut in in front of a poky eighteen wheeler, slick as
can be. She flirted those dewy eyes at me. Probably practiced in front of the
mirror at home. No books for this one.
that more comfortable?" I shivered with anticipation. Those bare feet got
me every time. "Where are we going, milady?"
She threw her
head back when she laughed. Probably practiced that too when no one was
looking. Smooth little throat, slim little neck.
don't know. I get to pick? Gosh, how'll I choose?"
enough to run away with Prince Charming, too young to cuss.
someplace you've never been."
never been to Vegas." She flirted her eyes at me again.
another slowpoke truck, this one packed tight with battery chickens.
thinking wedding chapels and wondering if I remembered that was the second best
known business in Las Vegas. We wouldn't get within two states of Vegas. But
it's best to let them feel as if they're in control at first.
dreaming girls. So many clotheslines. So much suds in the bucket.
Elizabeth Zelvin writes
the Bruce Kohler
Mysteries and the Mendoza Family Saga. Her stories appear in Ellery
Queen's Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock's Mystery Magazine,
and Black Cat Mystery Magazine, with another coming in Yellow
Mama in the fall. Liz also has a story in the long anticipated
anthology Jewish Noir II.
Keith C. Walker was
born in Leeds in 1939. He studied Ceramics at Leeds College of Art and the Royal College
of Art. In the late 1960s to early 1970s, he was Personal Assistant to Eduardo
Paolozzi. Keith taught at Hull College of Art and Leicester Polytechnic, which is now De
Montfort University. In 1994 he retired from Academia.
says, “Digital technology has made and continues to make big changes to all of our
lives: the way we communicate, the way we are monitored, the way we entertain ourselves,
and much, much more.
We now leave a digital footprint wherever we go, and with whatever
Do we already have one foot in an Orwellian
collages are an investigation, with a small “I,” on the impact of digital
technology and its possibilities.”