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* * *

Dan stood next to the squad car with Billy Bob. He reached into the squad and picked up the radio from its cradle and clicked on the button

“Mac, Billy Bob is going on 10-77. You need anything, call me, I’ll 10-53 after I see Felix.”

“You better, he called two more times.”

“10-4,” was all Dan mustered up to say.”

Dan turned to Nancy as he pulled a cigarette out of his shirt pocket and lit up. He took a quick drag. It had been almost a week since he had one and for some reason he desperately needed it just then. He turned to Nancy and could see the frown on her face when she saw him light up. He quickly dropped the cigarette and stepped on it.

“I’ve been trying to quit.”

“It’s a disgusting habit,” was all Nancy snapped.

Dan was not gaining brownie points with the new medical examiner. He regretted putting the cigarette in his pocket that morning. It was Kelly walking in on him that morning that caused him to hide it in the first place. Dan did not know why he let himself be bullied by his daughter. He turned to Nancy.

“What’s your assessment?”

Nancy shook her head. “Whoever did this definitely wasn’t leaving him alive.”

Nancy turned and stared at the men working on the body that lay on the ground. The black bag looked ominous as it lay open alongside the body. This was her job. It was a job she did well, but it was always hard when the victim was young and even worse when it was a violent death.

“Be careful bagging the hands,” she yelled over to the men working.

Nancy turned back to Dan. For some reason she liked him, but she didn’t know why.

“I’m having the lab boys take an impression of the tire tracks near the body,” she shrugged. “Might be nothing, but then again the body had to get here somehow.”

Dan glanced down at her. He was having a hard time concentrating on anything other than Nancy. “How long has he been dead?”

“A good twelve hours for sure.”

“Can you tell us anything else?”

“You’ll have to wait,” she frowned.

Nancy turned to the men bagging the hands and watched them carefully and then she turned suddenly and walked away. Dan just stared at Nancy as she approached her car. Billy Bob poked Dan in the rib as he laughed mockingly.

“I think she likes you.”

“With those fangs, how can you tell?”

Billy Bob grinned. “She took your picture.”

Dan turned to Billy Bob, who raised his eyebrows and nodded. Dan secretly liked the idea for some unknown reason. He had spent the past year avoiding the women in the county, but Nancy Davie was different. She didn’t blatantly chase after him. At first she came across as not interested, but now that she appeared a little interested in him, it kind of made him feel good.

“No shit,” Billy Bob said with a broad smile across his face. “I saw her do it, too. I think she likes you.”

Dan laughed and then glanced at Nancy as she backed up the county car and drove away. Before she headed off down the road, she quickly turned and took one last look at Dan. Her cheeks turned red with embarrassment when she saw Dan and Billy Bob watching her.

“She is a looker, better than Chambers any day,” Dan remarked.

“Yeah, and she definitely seems to like you.”

Dan walked with Billy Bob over to his squad. Billy Bob nervously fidgeted with his holster strap and finally Dan could take it no longer. He turned to Billy Bob.

“Is there a problem?” he asked

“I’d take it easy around Mac today.”

Dan was taken aback for a moment, so engrossed was he in watching Nancy driving off and mesmerized by the dusty trail she left behind. He shook his head for an instant, not quite catching the switch in the conversation.

“Why, what?” Dan asked.

“Mac. Weren’t you listening?”

“What’s wrong now?” Dan asked, not really caring because he knew it was not going to be serious. It never was when it came to Mac.

“He and Ester are on the outs again.”

Mac had been seeing Ester, an elderly widow who ran a local café in town, for going on as many years as Dan knew him. It was hard for Mac to commit and Ester was getting tired of waiting.

All Dan could muster up to reply was, “It’s the full moon in a few days.”

Dan continued watching Nancy’s vehicle as it disappeared over the rise. All that was left was the dusty trail left in her wake.

“I can see where your mind is.”

Dan snapped his head back sharply and pointed a finger at Billy Bob.

“Don’t even go there.”

Dan walked over to his squad and got in quickly. He turned on the engine and sped off down the dusty trail. He picked up the radio.

“Mac, I’ll be stopping by Murphy’s. If something comes up, Billy Bob will be back on patrol in fifteen minutes.”

The crackling of the radio was all Dan heard. He tapped the radio with his finger, but still there was static.

“Are you there, Mac?”

“Yeah,” the voice on the other end finally came on. “Can’t a guy take a potty break around here.”

Dan looked at the radio and mimicked an old woman jabbering.

“Anything I should know?”

“Mabel Wilcox on Old Mill Road called to say she’s missing a flock of geese.”

Dan rolled his eyes. Ever since Kay passed away eighteen months ago he had become the target of every single woman in the county. Mabel was widowed five years ago and was twelve years his senior, but that did not stop her from trying to get him out to her farmhouse every chance she got.

“If you can’t reach Conroy then send Billy Bob,” Dan said, laughing to himself.

“She ain’t going to be happy. She asked for you personally.”

Dan raised his eyebrows. These were the perks for being the sheriff. He could be selective on the calls he went on. He had no problem doing his job but when it came to the lonely ladies of the county, the sight of Conroy or Billy Bob was like a cold shower. Everyone knew both deputies were married.

Dan finally responded to Mac. “Then it can’t be that serious.”

“She has a big farm, you could be set for life,” Mac said.

“Shut up.”

Mac laughed before continuing. “Just telling it like it is,” he joked.

“This is the third time this month she’s concocted something to get me out there.” Dan hesitated for a moment before continuing. “It’s Conroy or nothing. Over and out!”

Dan put the radio back in the cradle. He stepped on the gas and knew what he had to do next was not going to be as easy as holding the women of the county at bay.

* * *

Dan would have liked to send Conroy to handle the hog problem, but given his history with Felix Murphy he felt it was important for him to handle this call personally.

When Dan saw the mailbox he put on his blinkers and then put his radio on his shoulder clip. Before he could stop the squad Felix Murphy rushed out of the farmhouse and almost tripped on the old coon dog at the bottom of the porch steps. Felix hurried over to the squad as Dan slowly got out. The old, fat coon dog slowly got up and walked lazily over to Dan. The dog sniffed Dan’s leg and then walked back to the bottom of the porch step without an inclination to bark or alert his master. He just curled up in the same spot he was in moments earlier.

Felix snapped. “It’s about time. What took you?”

Dan shook his head. “You’re not the only one with trouble today. There’s been a murder up near the tall pines.”

Dan glanced around. Felix’s land butted up to Senator Maxwell’s. He knew there had been trouble between the two. Felix had a tendency not to get along with people. It was something he did well and with little effort.

Dan turned to Felix. “Did you see or hear anything suspicious last night, maybe around ten?”

“Ten o’clock?” Felix laughed. “That’s two hours past my bedtime.”