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“Mothers are like that,” Dan said in Cassie’s defense.

“I got him the job with Senator Maxwell,” Charlie’s voice quivered. “Thought I was doing right by the boy.”

Dan turned to Mac. This was a new revelation. He turned back to Charlie.

“How long was he working for the Senator?”

“Richie and Junior both worked odd jobs for the Senator. They were both slow,” Charlie hesitated, a little embarrassed to admit to Richie’s mental capacity. “You know what I mean. The other boys used to pick on them.”

“Did he work yesterday?” Dan asked.

“I don’t know.”

Charlie turned to Jeffrey.

Jeffrey quickly spoke up. “Yes, I dropped him off around eight.”

“What’s a man to do?” Charlie asked.

Dan patted Charlie on the back. He could see the man was grieving for a lost son. However, he had to keep in mind he still had Jeffrey to look out for, and spending time in jail would not put food on the table for his family.

“You had no control over what happened. Right now you have to take care of Cassie and Jeffrey here. You let me worry about catching the bastard who did that to Richie.”

“I want two minutes alone with him when you catch him.”

Dan raised his eyebrows. “You know I can’t do that. He’ll be punished to the full extent of the law. I promise you that much.”

“It don’t make me feel any better. Bible says an eye for an eye.”

“We don’t live by those laws anymore. We’re civilized now.”

Charlie broke down in sobs. “It ain’t natural what he done to my boy. No civilized person would do that. He should be made to suffer.”

Dan turned to Jeffrey. “You make sure you drive him home.”

Jeffrey nodded as Charlie walked dejectedly to the door with slumped shoulders. Charlie hesitated a moment and then walked out.

As the door closed shut, it quickly opened again and Martha Witherspoon walked in carrying a paper bag. Martha walked over to Dan’s desk and dumped broken glass onto the newspaper lying there.

Martha’s face had fine crows-feet lines more noticeable in the corners of her mouth and eyes. Her jet-black hair was pulled back in an unattractive bun that added years to an already weather-beaten face. She had on a floral housedress that emphasized her overweight frame. Martha’s eyes were wild with anger.

“I want that little Joey McDuffy locked up!” she snapped.

Dan stared at the broken glass on his desk and then up at Martha.

“He’s only eleven.”

“That little tyrant has been terrorizing me for weeks now.”

Dan walked up to Martha and took hold of her arm. Martha just looked up at Dan with helpless eyes that fluttered for a moment. You could tell she was mesmerized by the man in uniform who touched her just then.

“Now Martha, you know Joey’s the best paperboy we’ve had in years.”

“I don’t care. This is the second window he’s broken now.”

“Are you sure?” Dan asked.

Martha appeared startled that Dan would question her. They had been neighbors for years and Kay was always the go-to-person when something was needed at the church circle.

“As sure as I can be,” Martha finally snapped. “I found the window broken soon after he delivered the paper. Both times.”

“Have you had trouble with any of the other kids in the neighborhood?”

Martha looked up at Dan and thought a moment. “There was only the Miller boy. But that was a few weeks ago.”

“Right about the time your windows started getting broken?”

Dan knew the Miller family well. They had a way of getting even with you if you called them out on anything. It went way back to when Dan was in high school with Clay Miller. For some reason the family motto was “We don’t get mad, we get even.” Dan avoided any confrontation with the family for that particular reason.

Martha looked up at Dan with a look of surprise. It was as if a light bulb went off. In fact it made more sense that it was the Miller boy instead of Joey.

“I just figured it was Joey doing it because I asked him to put the paper in the paper holder under the mailbox,” Martha said, smiling shyly up at Dan. “I don’t bend so well anymore.”

Dan caught Mac with a smirk on his face and gave him a quick frown. It boggled Dan’s mind that all the women who seemed to be pursuing him were at least fifteen years his senior. His plan was not to become some woman’s boy toy, at least not yet. Dan turned back to Martha.

“Has he been putting the papers there?” Dan asked.

Martha mashed her eyes up at Dan. “Why yes,” she said finally. “And to think I accused that poor boy of all this trouble.”

“It was an honest mistake,” Dan argued.

“You’re so good at what you do.”

Dan shrugged his shoulders. “I wouldn’t say that. On my way home tonight I’ll take a spin by the Millers and have a talk with the boy.”

Mac tried not to laugh, but the whole situation with Martha had become a joke around the office. She and Mabel Wilcox had been pursuing Dan with a passion the last six months, and if it were not for those two they might have had to lay off one of the officers because of lack of work.

“Did Kelly tell you I dropped off another tuna casserole?”

Dan cleared his throat nervously. Out of the corner of his eye he could see Mac snickering. He desperately tried to gain his composure before he too started to laugh.

“Yes. You shouldn’t be going through the trouble.”

“Why, Sheriff, it’s no trouble. It’s a pleasure cooking for you.” She looked up at Dan and smiled. “You spend long hours protecting us. It’s the least I can do.”

Dan walked over to the hat rack. He grabbed his hat and then hurried over to the door.

“That reminds me,” he said quickly. “I’m late for a meeting with the medical examiner.”

Martha just stared at Dan admiringly while he rushed out the door. Mac quickly busied himself with the radio so Martha wouldn’t find an excuse to sit and wait for Dan to return.

CHAPTER 7

Dan walked into the medical examiner’s lab. Nancy stood at the far end of the room near the examining table. The overhead light illuminated the table. Nancy turned and looked surprised to see Dan.

“Who let you in?” she asked with a puzzled look on her face.

“No one, the door was open,” Dan said.

“You can’t be here.”

“Why?” Dan asked.

Nancy motioned to the corpse on the table. “Isn’t it obvious?”

“Chambers always discussed the case while he worked.”

“I’m not Chambers and maybe that’s why he’s no longer here.”

Dan looked at Nancy a moment and then finally responded. “We both know why Chambers is no longer the medical examiner and it had nothing to do with me sitting in on examinations.” Dan hesitated for a moment. “Besides, you called to say that you wanted to talk to me. I would have thought you were done by now.”

Dan glanced at the clock on the wall and then turned back to Nancy.

“Something came up, and I called only to set up a meeting with you, preferably tomorrow.”

Dan took a step closer to the examining table. A sheet covered the lower half of the corpse.

“What did you find so far?” Dan asked, disregarding what she had just said.

Nancy shook her head and then turned to the table. “The body was unusually clean considering where it was dumped except for a few minute fibers under one fingernail.”

Nancy picked up the slide tray. “And I found this animal hair between two toes that the assailant missed.”

“Maybe it came from where we found the body,” Dan added.

“No. I doubt that. There was no indication any animal was near the body. I’m not sure, but I think it’s from a black bear.”

Dan looked puzzled. “When will you know for sure,” he asked quickly.

     

 

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