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“This blood. God damn it!” Dan snapped. He did not care how slow Junior was. There was no way he could not know where the blood came from.

Junior froze when he saw the blood. In fact he appeared frightened once he saw the red stain. Junior shrunk from Dan as if shielding himself.

“Please don’t hurt me. I be good.”

Dan just shook his head and then grabbed hold of Junior by the arm and dragged the protesting youth to the squad car. Dan opened the back door and shoved Junior into the backseat.

Dan struggled to keep in mind that he could not wear a father’s hat in this situation. He was the sheriff. Right now, he had a murder to solve where the victim had lost a lot of blood, and now he had a young man in his squad with a lot of blood on his shirt that he could not explain. For him, Junior was his prime suspect. No matter how simple-minded he was. That did not mean he did not have the wherewithal to pull this off. There had to be a point where any human being fights back after years of being put down. Now he had to find out Junior’s relationship with Jason.

Dan glanced at Junior cringing in the backseat. It was hard for him to envision Junior doing that to Jason though. Maybe it could have happened in the heat of the moment, but he did not think Junior had that kind of anger in him.

Junior cowered on the other side of the backseat. He looked like a caged animal and Dan’s heart went out to him in that moment. But Junior was not going to make it easy for Dan.

“I’m not talking to you. You’re mean to me.”

Dan shook his head. “Junior, pipe down. You’re giving me a headache.”

Dan climbed into the driver’s seat. He started the engine and quickly spun off down the road.


Dan pulled up to the Sheriff’s office with its adjacent jailhouse. It had been built a century ago, and given the low crime rate in the county it was hard to justify building a new jail. There were four cells in the back and the majority of the time they were empty except for the day after payday at the mill when his men picked up a few drunks who did not have enough brains to stop drinking when they had had enough.

Dan got out of the squad and then opened the back door. Junior was still cowering in the opposite corner causing Dan to have to go in after him. Junior decided to be difficult and started kicking at Dan. His feet thrashed around, hitting their mark a few times until finally Dan managed to grab hold of Junior’s pants’ cuff and then dragged him out of the squad onto the pavement.

“You ain’t making this easy on yourself,” Dan snapped.

“Mean man,” Junior said, trying to roll away.

“You are a piece of work.”

Dan grabbed hold of Junior by his arms that were still cuffed behind him. “Now get up and stop fighting me.”

“You mean!”

Dan shook his head—because if Junior really wanted to see his mean side he could show it to him. As it was, Dan was handling Junior with kid gloves. Under normal circumstances, Dan would not have had as much patience. But he felt sorry for Junior. He honestly did not think Junior had the mental capacity to kill a fellow human being, let alone a fly. Not the way Richie was killed. Moreover, how would he get the body to the tall pines? Dan did not think Junior had a driver’s license, he always saw the boy walking to places. Then there was also the way Richie was tied up. Richie had knife wounds, but the fact he was tied the way he was, gave Dan the impression that Richie was still alive when he was left in that swamp. The more he struggled to free himself the more the noose around his neck tightened, causing his airway to be cut off. Not a pretty way to go. Whoever did that wanted the boy to suffer.

Dan guided Junior into the Sheriff’s office. Mac was sitting at the radio, where he always seemed to be. Mac Freeman was in his late sixties and well past retirement age, but refused to quit. Besides the pittance the county paid him no one was complaining because no one would take the job for the wages offered if Mac did give it up. Mac had become a fixture. He glanced up from the magazine he was reading and just stared at Dan and Junior as they walked in.

“It’s going to be another hot one,” Mac said, wiping the sweat off his brow.

“Tell me about it.”

“How was the vacation?”

“Not long enough,” Dan shrugged.

Dan shoved Junior over to the rack where the keys were on the pegboard. He reached up and took the cellblock key and stuck it into his shirt pocket.

“County womenfolk missed you.”

“Not you, too.”

“No shit, all of a sudden there weren’t any calls from the single women in town. It’s like all was right in the world. No loose geese on the run, no strange noises in the night. You got to go on vacation more often to give us guys a rest.”

“Very funny,” was all Dan could muster up to say.

Dan glanced over at Mac as he quickly hid the girlie magazine he had been reading. Dan raised his eyebrows and laughed to himself.

“Get Junior a shirt,” Dan said, motioning to Junior.

Mac opened his bottom drawer and pulled out an old T-shirt he kept there for when he watched the drunks on Saturday night. They never seemed to care on who or where they heaved. Mac handed Dan the T-shirt.

“Good, I want the one he was wearing checked for DNA at the crime lab.”

“You think he’s involved in the murder of that Ames boy?”

Dan shook his head. “He’s too simple-minded to do something that gruesome.”

“Then why bother?”

“If that’s Richie’s blood, Junior may know who did it. I want to make sure all the bases are covered.”

Dan held up the T-shirt. “Yeah, should fit.”

“Oh, before I forget, there’s a bunch of messages for you.” Mac handed Dan the pad.

Dan took the pad and flipped through it quickly and laughed. He then tossed all of them into the wastebasket.

“Mabel wasn’t happy with Conroy,” Mac added quickly.

“I thought it was her geese she wanted.”

“You know what she wanted. Conroy is married with three kids and a fourth one on the way.”

“Did Conroy find her geese for her?”

“Yeah, but now she claims they’re traumatized by the experience.”

Dan rolled his eyes while shaking his head. He took the shirt, pulled the key out of his pocket, and guided Junior through the door that led to the cellblock.

“You got your pick, Junior.”

“I want my daddy,” Junior responded, almost crying.

“Mac will call him for you.”

“Me don’t like you.”

“Junior you know me. I’m Kelly’s father. You went to school with her.”

“I like her. She my friend. You not my friend.”

Dan shoved Junior along, as he was reluctant to enter the cell.

“I be good.”

“It’s not a matter of being good. Right now I want to keep you safe until I can sort things out.”

“I go home,” Junior said as he tried to slip away, but Dan grabbed him from behind and pulled him along.

Dan uncuffed Junior and then quickly opened the cell door. But Junior grabbed onto the bars and hung onto the outside of the cell. Dan struggled with him to release his fingers.

“Junior, let go.”

“I go home. I no like it here.”

Dan finally loosened Junior’s fingers and shoved him into the cell.

“Now give me your shirt.”

“My shirt?” Junior hugged his shirt.

“It’s ripped and dirty, Junior. I want to send it out to get cleaned.”

When Junior glanced down he saw the holes and the blood. He quickly pulled the shirt over his head and handed it to Dan.

“Shirt dirty. Need it cleaned,” he remarked. “Daddy going to be mad, my shirt has a hole in it.”

“I’ll give it to Mac to have it cleaned, maybe we can have the holes mended.”

“Mac fix my shirt? Daddy won’t be mad.”