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Bruce Harris
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A Lot of Tears

 

by Bruce Harris

 

 

     Bates and Krowicki, over 35 years combined service on the force, began vomiting in the abandoned lot behind the old school.

     Nearby were the bodies of three girls, eyeless, the result of hungry birds and rodents. Flies circled their remains. Worms weren’t amused or distracted by the sick cops and went about their business. It wasn’t until reinforcements arrived that Bates and Krowicki saw and processed the signs: four handwritten signs containing the scrawled words, “DIRTY BITCH.”

     The first sign was secured to victim number one’s mouth with a meat cleaver. It hung at an angle. Another had been stapled by what appeared to be thick, large roofers staples to the inside thighs of the second victim. The third and fourth were thumbtacked to the nipples of the youngest body. All were “signed” with a vertical line and an upside-down triangle.

     The two detectives stared at each other, each reading the other’s mind. “Jeez, I have daughters myself,” went unsaid.

     Among the flashing lights and a small but growing curious crowd, a woman wearing a baseball cap with the word “Police” across the crown sketched the enigmatic triangular drawings into a notepad. For the first time, she was having second thoughts about her chosen profession.

    Bates looked over her shoulder and with a circular motion, rubbed his index fingers against his temples. “What does it look like to you?”

     The woman continued sketching. “Reminds me of the cover of a Thomas Pynchon novel, you know, the one with . . .”

     “Who?” interrupted Bates.

     “Skip it. I don’t know, I guess it could be some sort of simplistic martini glass.”

     “Could be. Yup, I can see that.” Bates tilted his still-aching head to the right. “With the olives plucked out!”

      The woman looked back at Bates but couldn’t tell if his brief laughter was nervous laughter. Details of the crime scene weren’t released for a number of reasons, not the least of which was to spare the public from the gruesome images.

*     *     *

     The beast was born some two decades earlier on an early spring day.

 

    A few hours after winning the school’s annual spelling bee, Frank Puritan was given an early dismissal from school and he wasted no time taking advantage of his newly-found freedom. With the championship trophy in one hand, a signed certificate in the other, he raced up Maple Street, down Euclid Avenue, and onto Forest Drive. He burst through the front door at number 18 and ran up five stairs to show off what was to be the first of many scholastic accomplishments.

 

    But Frank stopped short.

 

   “You’re a dirty bitch, aren’t you? Aren’t you? Say it!”

 

    The voice was foreign, but his mother’s repeated screams, “Yes. Yes, I’m a dirty bitch!” sent him robotically backward like a windup toy.

 

*     *     *

    Months following his horrific discovery, Bates, the once-hardened cop, had become depressed, withdrawn, and took to drinking by himself at Pete’s Tavern.

    Oftentimes he became drunk and delirious. One early morning after emptying a couple of bottles from Pete’s stock, Bates woke Krowicki and started screaming about the identity of the girls’ killer. When Krowicki showed no interest, Bates switched gears and began cursing Pete the bartender. “The no-good bastard tossed my ass out,” he cried. Then Bates himself passed out at Krowicki’s door. Krowicki felt badly for his old partner. Doctors said he suffered from severe combat stress reaction.

     Bates lost a lot more than his lunch that fateful afternoon in the lot, eventually taking his own life. Following the suicide, Krowicki spent most of his free time at Pete’s looking for answers, speaking to everyone and anyone about Bates. Maybe his old partner was on to something that early morning when he had rambled on about the murders and the identity of the killer?

     Krowicki questioned Pete. “He must have said something to you about the killings? Anything?”

     Pete was on the wrong side of 50, tall and slender with old Navy tattoos on both forearms. Krowicki stared at their movement as Pete worked glass after glass with a white cloth. “I wish I could help you, but he never said anything about it. Jeez, he was like totally changed after those girls were found.”

     Krowicki winced, reliving the moment. “Think, Pete. How about the time you bounced him out? Anything special about that night?”

     Pete smiled. “Shit. Which night? I booted him several times. You know, now that you mention it, there was one night when he became very agitated and I had to physically throw him out.”

     Krowicki gave him a look that said, “Spill.”  

     “I usually asked him to leave to save him from himself. He was generally a quiet drunk. But that one night, he starts going crazy on this guy seated right over there.” Pete pointed with a martini glass toward the end of the bar. “I remember now. The guy ordered a martini. I asked him how he liked it, and he says kinda loud, ‘I like my martinis like my bitches. Dirty.’ Then, he starts laughing. But all of a sudden, Bates, who is way beyond three sheets to the wind, comes up to the guy and starts screaming, ‘You fucking motherfucker,’ and grabs him by the shirt and I had to throw him out and…”

     Krowicki felt like he had been slapped. “Are you sure, Pete? Are you sure those were his exact words?”

     “Sure, I’m sure. Bates was only a few feet . . .”

     “Not Bates. The other guy! Think. He said exactly, ‘I like my martinis like my bitches. Dirty’?”

     “Yes. I thought he was an asshole. . . .”

     “Can you describe him? Recognize him again?”

     “Sure, sure, that’ll be easy. I mean, I think so. Hell, he paid for the martinis with a credit card. Don’t get too many plastic people on a typical night in this dump. Man, what’s this all about?”

     Two days later, the young puss of a psychopath, Frank Puritan’s high school yearbook portrait, was front-page news.

 

 

Dirty Laundry

By Bruce Harris

 

     The first patrol car eased into the parking lot across from Suds and Duds Laundry.  Less than ten minutes later Hinton’s squad car arrived. Pena looked up from his newspaper and rolled down the window. “I hope you know what you’re doing.” The patrolman stared at the word, “JUSTICE” on the polished door of Hinton’s police cruiser.

     “It’ll work. If I’m reading this right, this isn’t the first time she’s pulled this crap on some fool thinking with his lower brain. Who the hell wants to get involved in a rape case? Let me answer that, my idiot married brother, that’s who. He sticks his dick in once, pulls out, refuses to pay her off, and now he’s in deeper than three fingers in a bowling ball. I know he didn’t force himself on…” Hinton stopped short. “Her!” He pointed to a slim blonde wearing short shorts carrying a large bag into the Laundromat.

     Pena tossed the newspaper aside. He whistled. “Nice! Man, I wouldn’t mind…”

     “Jackass!” The two cops stared across the street and waited. After a few minutes, she came out and headed toward her car. Hinton was already out of his vehicle making his way into a world of washers and dryers. Hinton found the washer that had just received the blonde’s coins. He pulled everything out, selecting six pairs of underwear. He threw the rest of the clothes back into the machine and shut the top. The water stream began as the machine again jerked to life.

     “Got ‘em,” he said to Pena. “I’m outta here. I’ll be in touch.”

     “Wait!” Pena looked around, saw no one. “Leave one with me. That red stringy one hanging from your pinky.”

     “You’re fucked up.” Hinton tossed the red underwear to Pena. “Have yourself a party.” As Hinton pulled away, he looked into the rearview mirror and noticed Pena lifting the garment to his nose.

          Pena read the sports section until the blonde returned. She was stuffing her clothes into a dryer when Pena entered Suds and Duds.

     “Shit!” It was the blonde speaking. “Officer, my underwear is missing. Can you believe this? Some pervert must have taken my underwear! They’re all gone!”

      “That’s why I’m here. We’ve had reports of similar thefts, but we’ll get the creep. Follow me. My car is across the street. I need to fill out a report.”

     Perfect timing. As Pena and the girl walked toward his car, his cell phone rang. It was Hinton.

     “I knew it. Mack at the lab just confirmed it. The five pairs of panties contain more fucking swimmers in them than an Olympic swimming pool during qualifying races, and all were shot from different cannons! She’s a low-life blackmailing whore.”

     “Yes, I see,” responded Pena nonchalantly. “I really can’t talk now, honey, I’ve got some paperwork to complete. Be a good girl and do your homework and when daddy comes home tonight he will give you a big hug and a kiss.”

     Once inside the squad car, Pena wrapped his hands around the blonde’s neck. Her heart began beating faster than she could spread her legs after a night on the town. “Okay, listen and listen good,” snorted the cop, “you’re going to drop it, right?”

     Panic stricken, she could barely get the words out. “What are you talking about? Drop what? Are you crazy?”

     Blondie tried to loosen the hands around her neck, but she was no match for the 4th Precinct’s arm wrestling champion. “I don’t know…”

     “The bullshit rape charge against Mr. Hinton. It was consensual. You know it. I know it. Drop the god-dammed charges. Got it?”

     She hesitated. “Okay. Okay. I’ll drop it.” The words came out in a whisper.

     Pena released his grip. “That’s a good girl.”

     She collected herself and thought about Pena’s wedding ring and his police pension. She looked the cop up and down, fixating on his crotch. “We could have had a good time together.” She licked her lips. “It’s Valentine’s Day, ya know?”

     Pena stared at her tanned legs. It was his turn to think with the wrong head.







monumentaldeath.jpg
Art by Bryan Cicalese 2016

Monumental Death

 

Bruce Harris

 

He pinched himself. Twice. Clyde “Cornstalk” Hyde looked out the train’s window. It was an effort to suppress laughter. He was that happy. No one could blame him. The six-foot, four-inch right-handed pitcher for the great New York Yankees, along with his famous teammates, sped northward to Boston and a 3-game series in Fenway Park with the Boston Red Sox. Hyde had come a long way from the Kansas farm in which he had been so poorly raised. His abusive and alcoholic father left home before Clyde started grade school. His mother’s reaction was to run around with everyone in the small town. Clyde had beaten the odds by virtue of a right hand that could throw a baseball 100 miles per hour. He spent years on minor league teams, rode in rickety buses throughout the Midwest and South before coming to the attention of a Yankees scout. Fast forward to the present. Teammates played cards, told stories, or took naps. Hyde couldn’t understand that. He hadn’t slept in what seemed like days. Adrenaline, like water through an open fire hydrant, gushed through his big frame. His mind took him back three days prior. From his vantage point in the bullpen, Clyde had watched the Yankees sweep the Washington Senators three games to open the 1949 baseball season in the cathedral known as Yankee Stadium. Scenery flew past the window. Hyde got chills as he thought about the opening game ceremonies and the monument erected to the Sultan of Swat, the great Babe. This was the beginning of his major league career.

“Kid. Got some bad news,” said the Yankees’ grizzled skipper as he made himself comfortable in the seat next to Hyde. “Doc says you ain’t quite ready to pitch.”

Hyde was numb, but recovered. “What? Whaddya mean? I feel great.”

“I know, I know, but it is just for a few more days. Promise. You’ll be ready to pitch April 26, second game against the Athletics back in New York.” The manager waited for a response, got none, so he pressed on. “Gotta send you back to New York on the next train. Got to fill the roster spot with someone else. Those damn Red Sox are tough. Can’t go in there short-handed” Hyde began to respond but was cut off. “Three games is all. You’ll be back in uniform after three games.”

***

It was as if Clyde Hyde had given up a game-winning home run in his major league debut. He felt sick. He kept telling himself it was only a temporary setback. He’d survived a lot worse. He questioned himself as to why he told the trainer that he had felt a twinge in his elbow after throwing a sharp curve ball during the final game of spring training. Exhausted from two long train rides, Hyde wasn’t ready to return home and face his wife. He headed into Muldoon’s on Eighth Avenue and drank. By the time he staggered home, the Yankees were taking the field in Boston. Hyde flung open the door and shouted, “Look who’s home, Ruth. Surprise!” He saw his wife, naked in bed with another man.

“Clyde! No! What are you doing…Stop that! Stop that! Do you hear me? Get your hands off of him! Stop it!”

In a drunken stupor, the big ballplayer had grabbed his wife’s lover and shoved him against the bedroom wall. Like a shortstop going into the hole for a ground ball, the man made a snap grab for his clothes and scurried out. Hyde turned his attention toward his wife. The manager’s news, the long train rides, lack of sleep, and the alcohol combined to cloud Hyde’s judgment. When he was finished, his wife was dead.

***

He was the first player to arrive at Yankee Stadium April 25. He carried a large duffel bag along with a shovel he’d found in the grounds crew’s supply room and headed out toward centerfield. He was alone in the cavernous stadium. The dirt around The Babe’s monument was still fresh and soft. He dug furiously, dropped the bag with his wife’s remains into the hole, and covered it up.

Two hours prior to game time, Clyde sat in the locker room putting on the Yankee pinstripes. He turned to the player next to him. “Jake, do you think Ruth is really buried at his centerfield monument?”

The veteran chuckled and stood up. “Hey fellas,” he shouted, “The Cornstalk thinks Ruth is buried in the outfield!”



eleventhframe.jpg
Art by Tim Ramstad 2017

Eleventh Frame

 

Bruce Harris

 

One man, Dennis Johnson, knew secrets. The two fingers, the affair, and the cup of sugar in the gas tank, but he didn’t know the body’s whereabouts.

The other, Malcolm Hutchins, knew secrets. The two fingers, the affair, the body’s whereabouts, but he didn’t know about the cup of sugar in the gas tank.

Dennis and Malcolm were friends and competitors. They shared a locker at Roll-A-Way Lanes just outside the city limits. Along with ninety-eight other participants, they competed in Roll-A-Way Lanes’ annual bowling tournament. The contest boasted the largest cash prize money on the east coast. And, just as certain that every September the tournament sponsor kicked off festivities proclaiming, “Gentlemen, roll your balls,” Malcolm Hutchins and Dennis Johnson finished one, two, respectively. Malcolm had edged out Dennis the past eleven years, always by margins of fewer than three pins; the outcome usually decided in the tenth and final frame. The result of this year’s competition, their last, was no different. Nor was the famous Malcolm Hutchins “thumbs up” gesture to the crowd following victory.

What should have been a celebration of another tournament win with drinks, and toasts, turned instead into a violent confrontation between Malcolm Hutchins and his wife, Fran. He didn’t miss out on the liquor, however.

“I saw the way you looked at him, Fran. Don’t deny it!”

“You’re crazy, you know that? And drunk!”

“Am I? Maybe, but I hired a man, a private detective. You know that?” Hutchins detected the slightest pullback of Fran’s head. “Who do you think you’re kidding? My guy saw you and Dennis go into the Starlight Motel on at least a half dozen occasions. How could you?”

Fran glared back and gave Malcolm the middle finger. “How? Because Dennis treats me with respect and spends time with me and listens to what I have to say and…”

“Shut up! And put your finger down. How dare you give me the finger!”

2

With that, Fran shoved her hand closer, and with an added oomph, shot her husband the finger again. It was all the alcohol-fueled Malcolm could endure. He grabbed the giant trophy, its plaque read, “1969 Roll-A-Way Lanes Tournament Champion.” Had this been the board game Clue, the solution, “Mr. Hutchins, in the bedroom, with the trophy,” was a winner. That wasn’t all. The booze took over. Enraged at her having given him the middle finger, Malcolm went into the kitchen, grabbed a steak knife and cut off Fran’s finger. He stared at the wedding ring purchased years ago and felt shame. Betrayal. He cut off her ring finger as well. Malcolm Hutchins carried the body into his car. After disposing it, he headed to Roll-A-Way Lanes. It was late, nearly closing time. Malcolm ignored the few remaining patrons. He opened the locker he shared with Dennis Johnson, removed the two severed fingers from his pocket and placed them into the two corresponding holes drilled into Johnson’s bowling ball.

***

Dennis Johnson also hired a man, a different kind of man, not a private detective, to tail Malcolm Hutchins’ shiny 1969 model Pontiac GTO, the new car Hutchins had purchased with his tournament winnings. The hired man was a professional. He kept his nondescript black Chevy at a safe distance and watched as the GTO slowed, stuttered, and eventually steered toward the side of the road. Sugar and gasoline don’t mix. The man touched the knife strapped to his belt and nodded to no one. He didn’t have to wait long before seeing Malcolm Hutchins on the side of the road hitchhiking, thumb out.


Brother Smith

 

Bruce Harris

 

 

“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 is, Ewell.”

“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.”

 ‘Ah, 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?”

Showing corn 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 hospital.”

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,” Montgomery interjected.

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’m listenin’,” Montgomery said.

“I was walking along the path-”

“Which path?”

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,” Pitts said.

Herring eyed him. “I’m telling my version of what happened.”

“Keep talkin’,” Montgomery offered. “We’re listenin’, ain’t we Taylor.” It wasn’t a question.

“The damn deer-”

“Hey! There ain’t no 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.”

Herring shrugged. “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 you?”

Herring’s eyebrows 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, Brother Smith?”

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.”

“Whatever,” 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 my phone. I checked my pockets, but it must have fallen out. It’s probably still-”

Montgomery reached into his pocket. “Might this here be it?”

Herring squinted. “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.

Montgomery addressed 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.

“Brother Smith,” 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 elderly gentleman.

“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 silent.

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 Herring,

“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 asked.

“What? Wait!” Herring didn’t know what to do. “I’m Jewish.” The words spilled out. “I want to see a Rabbi.”

“A what?” Officer Pitts asked.

“Yer Jew?” a puzzled Montgomery questioned.

“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?”

Sheriff Montgomery 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-”

“Enough!” Herring said.

“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 watch. “Tick…tick…tick…tick.”


All that Glitters

 

by Bruce Harris

 

The thermometer showed triple digits. Tolerable, if not for the rising, oppressive humidity. The thirty some-odd gathered under the tent sat on folding chairs, sweating. Most fanned themselves with whatever paper or cardboard scrap they scrounged. The swirling heavy August air around their faces brought little relief.

“I hear he cures ar-thur-i-tis,” an elderly woman sitting in the front row said to her husband.

“Sure as heck couldn’t do no worse than Doc Pettigrew,” he replied. “Only-est thing he good fer is handing out a bill. He couldn’t cure a ham.”

A frenetic young woman cradling an infant rushed in, searched for a seat. A young man stood, waved her into his chair.

“Oh, thank you so much,” she said, breathing hard. “God Bless.”

“It’s nothin’, ma’am, I assure you. How old is he?”

“She’s a she and she’ll be six months next week.”

“I’m sorry. I didn’t –”

The mother, in her teens, didn’t hear the man. She was consumed with the child. “She’s burnin’ a fever. I tried everything. I’m hoping Father Huggs can cure her. I hear he’s got powers from the heavens.” She rocked the baby. “Good girl. You’re a good girl,” she said. “Father Huggs will take care of you, you sweet little thing you.” She craned her neck. “Where is he? When is he starting? This here heat isn’t helping none.”

George Huggins III billed himself as Father Huggs. Despite the heat, he looked fresh in a crisply pressed all-white suit, heavily starched white shirt, and white bowtie. The outfit’s color, in stark contrast to his coal-black eyes, was custom-made. The ensemble was one of three identical, made for Huggs by an Alabama tailor in exchange for the preacher’s promise of eternal salvation. Appearances were important to Huggs. A massive faux gold cross hung against his chest. An ostentatious gold-plated wristwatch indicated start time. He took a deep breath, found the tent’s opening and with hands raised, exploded onto the scene.

“Hallelujah brothers and sisters! Hallelujah! Let us pray!” He placed palms together, his long fingers formed a steeple, and lowered his head.

Everyone sat in prayer, eyes closed. Everyone that is except Father Huggs. As was his ritual, he scanned the audience through slit eyes, his out-of-control libido having taken over. He spotted her on an end seat, holding an infant. So young, he thought. So pretty. Yes, pure, but not too pure. George Huggins, this is going to be a good night.

“Who believes in Jesus?” his voice loud, surprising the crowd.

Some in the crowd raised their hands. Others screamed, “I do!” Many did both.

“He is our savior. He died for our sins,” Huggs solemnly proclaimed, before holding up his hands. “Shush…listen carefully…don’t make a sound…there… there it is…can you feel it? Can you feel the earth move? Can you feel it? It’s the Lord’s magic! It’s the Good Lord’s hands reaching out…to you…to me…touching us all. Do you feel it my brothers and sisters?” his voice a feverish high pitch.

“Amen!” screamed the tent dwellers. He continued sneaking glances at the young mother holding the baby. The arthritic woman in the front row stood. She repeated, “Amen!” and walked toward Huggs with outstretched arms.

Momentarily annoyed at having to divert his gaze from the attractive mother to the elderly approaching woman, Huggs recovered quicker than a lightning strike. His toothy grin elicited a perception of empathy, warmth. He said nothing. His eyes served as a baton. With a conductor’s skill, he directed the crowd to quiet down.

Huggs took the woman’s hand in his. “Tell me…tell everyone…how can the Lord help you today? Praise Jesus!” he shouted.

“Praise Jesus!” the gathered yelped in unison.

“It’s my ar-thur-i-tis, Father Huggs. I got me so much painful joints and elbows and fingers and knees and…oh…everywhere in my body.”

“And did you go see a doctor?” Huggs asked.

“I surely did,” the woman replied.

“And?”

She rubbed her hands together. “And I still got me my pain everywhere.”

The crowd grumbled. “Come closer,” Huggs implored. He engulfed the woman in his arms, gave her a hug. He pictured himself hugging the young mother. He stole another look at her pristine beauty. He had her, and everyone else’s attention.

“Do you believe in Jesus?” Huggs asked, his gaze boring into the older woman’s cloudy eyes.

“Amen!” she declared.

Huggs stared upward. “Do you hear that, Lord? Do you hear one of your devoted followers?” Huggs waited, then began shaking. His movements initially imperceptive. With sloth-like speed, he worked himself up into a gelatin frenzy, all the while embracing the woman. The two appeared to be engaged in some sort of a Kabuki theater, a macabre-like dance. They moved, as one, around the tent. When the pair returned to the front, Huggs released his hold and stepped back.

“Thank you, Jesus! Thank you for your healing powers!”

The woman began flexing her fingers, bending her knees and elbows. A wide smile replaced the serious look on her face. “I can move again! Look!” She moved every body part capable of moving. “There’s no pain! I’m pain free! God Bless you, Father Huggs! God Bless you!”

“Hallelujah!” Huggs shouted. “Don’t thank me, my dear, thank the Good Lord above. All it takes is a little belief…and confidence in Father Huggs…for great miracles to occur.” He looked over his flock. “Who’s next?” he asked as he escorted the woman back to her seat.

The young mother with the sick child stood. The preacher’s pecker did the same.

“The babies,” Huggs said. “The Lord’s miracles at work. He approached the young mother, extended his arm, and led her to the tent’s front. He liked her smell. The infant cried, her skin red. Huggs feigned deep concern.

“Brothers and sisters, this is a special case. This precious baby, this gift from the Good Lord, isn’t well.” Huggs sighed. “I fear this is going to take everyone’s effort, everyone in prayer, one voice speaking to Jesus. Close your eyes.” The congregants complied. “Now, pray like you’ve never prayed before in your lives.”

Huggs looked around. The young woman’s eyes were closed. He took the baby, admired teen’s chest. Huggs loves them jugs, he said to himself. Out loud, “Sweet Jesus!” he yelled. “Do you hear our voices? We put all our faith in you to heal this beautiful little girl as only you can do.”

The preacher could control a room, but not the goddamned little head in his pants. “Brothers and sisters,” he continued, “I must ask you all to leave, right now. This baby needs my undivided attention. Please, before you all go, stop at the basket and give what you can. The more gifts you give to God the more He will bless you and this beautiful child.”

The crowd stood. One by one, they stopped at the basket, dumped spare change and bills in. Some wished the young woman the best. Others stopped to touch the baby’s head. Most thanked Father Huggs. When the last person departed, the room became still. Huggs, holding the baby, stood next to the mother.

“You must have faith,” Huggs said to her. “Do you?”

She nodded.

“Good. Faith in the Lord. Faith in me. Do you understand?”

Again, the woman nodded her agreement.

“There is only one way. You must trust me completely. We must become one. The Lord will see the strength in our total commitment to each other.” He forced himself to avert his eyes from her chest. He gently placed the infant on the ground. “Come to me,” he said. “Come close…into my arms.” She complied. Their clothes were off in seconds. He entered her. Displaying no self-control, he went balls deep, pounding hard. The infant, sucking a pacifier, watched.

“It will take time for the fever to break,” Huggs said when it was over. The woman appeared numb, unaware of what just happened. She placed a few dollars into the basket. A satisfied Huggs smiled, nodded. He watched her disappear into the sticky night toward town.

 

***

Like his father and grandfather before him, George Huggins III took to preaching early in life. Tent sermons gave way to services at small churches dotted throughout the south. But Huggins III, his avuncular appearance coupled with a booming voice that for some reason people trusted, began attracting more followers. He led regular weekday bible study classes in college before landing a job on a religious radio talk show. His reputation for sticking strictly to scripture morphed into fire and brimstone diatribes. “Every word, every page, every verse is God’s lesson that must be learned!” He became a frequent guest on Christian television shows. It was only a matter of time before a network signed him to his own show and he became the preacher America tuned into Sunday mornings, drawing the ire of pastors and priests who watched as their Sunday faithful stayed home to view Huggins’ television extravaganza.

He married and had a daughter. He swore to himself and to God to remain faithful. He tried. But the man who preached the gospel and criticized the craven men and women who turned away from The Lord was flesh and blood himself.

It wouldn’t harm to look, he’d convinced himself. In and out, he figured, necessary research for an upcoming sermon. He’d still have time to appear at his daughter’s sweet-sixteen party. Hell, my days of infidelity are past. The Lord will steer me away from sin, he thought to himself. I’m stronger now.

He’d driven by the place dozens of times, wondering of the debauchery within. The Lord understood his purpose for entering this day. Club Heat’s parking lot was nearly full. He turned up his collar and walked in. Darkness. Good. No one would recognize him, not that anyone in this sin den followed the gospel. Huggins took a seat against the back wall. On the circular stage, Misty, exhibiting Olympic-like gymnastic skills, twirled around a pole. Huggins diverted his eyes, but focused on Misty when the cheering suddenly increased. The now topless dancer swung her bikini top on one finger before tossing it into the crowd. It was as if a zookeeper hurled raw steak into a lion cage. Huggins prayed for the young girl, as well the men, now pushing their way to the stage, reaching out, stuffing dollar bills in the performer’s garter belt.

Huggins checked his watch, thanked God for the illuminated dial. He better split if he wanted to get to his daughter’s party. He’d promised her he’d be there. One dancer led to two, three, and then four. From the stage, the twenty-something stripper introduced as Skye, eyed him. Huggins knew he should get up and leave. He promised himself Skye would be the last performer. But following her set, she approached the preacher. In a weak moment, he bought her a drink. They talked. Under the pulsating colored lights, Skye sparkled. Her glossy pink lips mesmerized the normally confident Huggins. Maybe, he told himself, he could rehabilitate the young woman. God would reward him for saving her soul, he rationalized. But when Skye took his hand and placed it on her bare breast, George’s thoughts dive-bombed south, from his head down to the little horny brain between his legs. Skye led George to a semi-private room. The normally loquacious evangelist was momentarily tongue-tied. Skye convinced him to accept a lap dance. He asked for a second one. He needed more.

“How much money you have?” Skye asked.

The old feelings returned. Sweet Jesus, it felt good. “Plenty. Enough to make you glad you were born a woman.”

 “You’re filthy.. I like filthy men.”

The intoxicated Huggins wagged a finger. “Let’s see now. I got 7-inches ready to go down here,” he said, grabbing his crotch. “I’m 6-feet, and an inch. So…let me see…that makes me only 9.5 percent filthy! The rest of me is pure Christian!”

Father Huggs, also known as “America’s Sunday Moring Preacher,” completely forgot about his daughter’s birthday party.

 

***

 

Blue. Green. Red. Yellow. He also saw pink, purple and orange. It resembled rainbow dandruff. Father Huggs swiped at the glitter, to no avail. It was as if glue had secured the tiny sparkling particles to his shirt. If that wasn’t bad enough, “America’s Sunday Morning Preacher” reeked from Skye’s bodily fluids. He snorted, a feeble attempt to rid his nostrils of the unwanted invasion unleashed by her buck a bottle perfume.

“Father Huggs?” The motel clerk immediately regretted saying it. He pretended not to notice the man standing before him. “Let’s see, mister, I can give you room 110. Walk back outside, hang a right. Can’t miss it. It’s the only door that doesn’t have a broken or missing number.” His attempted joke fell flat.

“I won’t be long,” Huggs murmured. “I’m not spending the night. How much?”

“Um, that’s fine. Many guests here don’t require overnight stays.” The motel clerk told him the cost, grabbed the cash. “I guarantee you’ll find a Bible in your room. Yes sir,” he proudly said, “No room is ever without a Bible. That’s been our policy here at the Rose Shack Motel ever since this place opened.”

“Good to know,” Huggs said, smiling weakly, turning for the office exit. Skye’s aroma, the Chanel Number minus-5, or whatever the hell she wore, embedded into his pores like an ingrown hair cyst. The stench left a comet-like trail. Enticing and sweet an hour earlier, the odor now nauseated Huggs. He again tried wiping at the stripper’s glitter clinging to his shirt.

Room 110 was standard. King-sized bed, nightstand, double dresser, and bathroom. Huggins pulled open the nightstand drawer and grabbed the Bible. For several minutes he read scripture, Corinthians first. Flee from sexual immorality. All other sins a person commits are outside the body, but whoever sins sexually, sins against their own body. He flipped pages, stopped at Hebrews. Marriage should be honored by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Exodus was next. You should not commit adultery. Spiritually satisfied, he clutched the book to his chest before returning it to the battered nightstand. He stripped and showered. Now he needed to physically rid himself of Skye. He cursed the lukewarm water’s weak pressure as well as his own personal weakness. Huggins scrubbed his skin until raw, picking shiny particles off his balls. He then aggressively massaged shampoo into his scalp. George Huggins III stood in the shower over 30-minutes. He would have stayed longer, but the initially lukewarm water had turned cold. Huggins needed the cold shower hours before.

He sniffed his own skin. Satisfied, the preacher got dressed. It was impossible to rid his clothing of Skye’s colorful glitter. The hell with it, he thought. By the time he got home, his wife, Eleanor would be asleep. He’d toss the clothes into the bottom of the laundry basket, apologize for missing his daughter’s party, and slip into bed next to her.

“Is that you, George?” his half-asleep wife asked. “Poor dear, working so late. I’m tired. I’ll tell you all about the party in the morning. Sleep well, George. God Bless.”

George Huggins III lay still. It didn’t take long before he heard Eleanor’s rhythmic breathing. He pulled it off, he told himself. In the morning, he’d apologize to his daughter, Lillian. He’d buy her something special to make up for missing her big day. Huggins closed his eyes. He tried clearing his mind, but a certain Proverbs Bible verse played on a continuous loop in his guilt-ridden brain.

He woke to Eleanor’s muffled voice, on the phone in the hallway off their bedroom. Huggins looked at the clock, 7:00am. Eleanor had to be speaking to her sister in Mississippi, anxious to tell her about Lillian’s sweet-sixteen party. Huggins heard the sound of the washing machine. Eleanor had the laundry going. Perfect, he thought. Wash away the last bit of evidence off his clothes. He moved closer to the bedroom door, listening to Eleanor’s side of the conversation.

“…I don’t know. He wasn’t at the party. Oh, and get this, guess what I found all over George’s clothes…glitter. Can you believe it? All different colors…”

Huggins pressed his ear harder against the door. She knows, he thought. Bible verses ran through his brain. It was too late for forgiveness or repentance. Eleanor would divorce him. He’d sinned. Adultery! Huggins had broken one of the sacred Ten Commandments and his promise to God. He’d never be able to look himself in the mirror again. He listened.

“No, he doesn’t know I know…I’m going to tell…Oh, he’ll be surprised…”

Huggins put on a pair of slacks, grabbed his keys, and quietly headed toward the garage. Eleanor, engrossed in conversation, didn’t see or hear him.

“Where else could he have gotten covered in glitter?”

Those were the last nine words Father Huggs heard his wife speak into the phone before he drove out of his garage without bothering to fasten his seatbelt. The pesky Proverbs verse, But a man who commits adultery has no sense; whoever does so destroys himself, beating relentlessly in his head. He floored it. Death was instantaneous following impact with the tree.

Eleanor continued her conversation, “…He’s such a good man…Yes, I agree…Imagine, despite having worked late he stopped off at the party… He must have been so disappointed missing it…Yes, Lillian picked out the glitter colors herself…Ha…Yes, you should have seen it…right, the glitter was everywhere…it’ll probably take several washings to get it out of all our clothing…and God knows how many showers to get the stuff completely out of my hair.”

Bruce Harris writes western, crime, and mystery novels. His work has appeared in Mondays Are Murder, Shotgun Honey, Flash Fiction Offensive, and Over My Dead Body!



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