The following is part one of a short story that I wrote called Cold Justice. I will be putting up a new section every week for you to enjoy. Thank you for your time and interest.
Synopsis: Two graves and no corpses. That’s the enigma Sheriff Callahan and his deputy are determined to solve. Who is the man in the bearskin coat? And why would he steal two corpses? A young boy claiming the missing are his kin, is he a victim or is he a partner in the crime? Following a path of clues Sheriff Callahan and his deputy to the truth may take them straight to the heart of darkness.
copyright 2014 Kevin Hurtack
Sean Callahan shoveled a forkful of heuvos rancheros into his mouth, but he barely had time to savor the taste of the jalapenos before his office door swung open. He peered up and saw a young man with a lanky build and sparse beard on his dark brown face. The young man wore a sweat stained cotton work shirt and a pair of patched up canvas work pants along with muddy stovepipe boots and a weathered bowler hat. The only thing separated him from every other ranch hand in the valley was the tin star pinned to his chest and the Colt Army Model revolver strapped to his hip.
“This better be important,” Sean said between mouthfuls, “for you to be disturbing my breakfast.”
“Apologies, Sheriff,” the man said in a soft tenor, “but I don’t think this can wait.”
“I’ll determine what can wait and what can’t, deputy.”
The deputy approached Sean’s cluttered desk. “Yes, sir.”
Sean sopped up some green chili left on his plate with a corn tortilla. “Go on then, Joseph, I thought you said this couldn’t wait…”
“Well, you see I was out on patrol this morning when I passed by the cemetery and ole Rufus come runnin’ up to me madder then a scalded cat,” Joseph said while taking off his hat. “When I asked him what the matter was he say the cemetery been ransacked and two corpses be missin’ from their graves. I done told Rufus not to touch nothin’ and I rode back here right quick.”
Sean poured a shot of whiskey into his coffee mug. “It’s hard enough dealing with troubles of the living, and now I gotta deal with the dead?”
Joseph rubbed the back of his neck. “I reckon so, Sheriff.”
“Anyone else know about this?”
“Nah, just us and Rufus.”
“Good,” Sean said while getting to his feet and strapping on his gun belt which held a twin pair of Remingtons. “The last thing we need is Mayor Little or any of his bureaucrats mucking up this investigation.”
“Shouldn’t I at least inform the deceased next of kin?” Joseph said with a furrowed brow as he headed out of the office with Sean.
“Why? They’re dead, it isn’t like their kin’s gonna report them missing when they don’t show up for supper.”
“C’mon let’s get over to Rufus’ place.”
Rufus’ dilapated log cabin sat in the middle of the boulder strewn field that served as the town of Silvervale’s cemetery. Amongst the pear cactus and yucca that grew outside the cabin, Rufus had accumulated an assortment of shovels, pick axes and other tools of his trade.
“Rufus?” Sean said while knocking on the door that rattled on its hinges. “This is Sheriff Callahan, I’d like to have a word with you.
From the other side of the door Sean heard a scuffling sound followed by the clinking of empty bottles.
Sean knocked once more. “I don’t got all day…”
The door swung open and Rufus poked his mangy head out. “Morning, Sheriff. Suppose you here ’bout last night?”
“That’s right. My deputy told me you seen something or someone out there?”
“Yup, I was woke by a commotion and when I stepped outside I seen a man out there with a lantern and shovel doing some digging.”
“Did you know him?”
Rufus shook his head. “Nah, didn’t recognize him. Was a big fella in a long coat, maybe bearskin? Mighta had a beard, too.”
“Were you drinking last night?” Joseph said.
Rufus picked at the gaps between his yellowed teeth with a toothpick. “Of course I was! What else there to do? Ain’t nobody come round unless they is dead or looking to bury they dead.”
“So you were drunk and half-awake last night when this happened,” Sean said. “So isn’t it possible that you mistook a grizzly for a man?”
“Bears don’t carry no lantern, Sheriff.”
Sean nodded. “So what did you do after you saw someone down there?”
“I went back inside to get my rifle, but when I got back outside the fella was gone. I went on down there and I seen them graves was dug up.”
Rufus belched. “Went back to bed, and didn’t hear nothing the rest of the night. Saw your deputy and done told him what happened.”
“Have you ever had anyone come around wearing a coat like that before?” Joseph said. “Maybe someone looking for a cemetery plot to bury a family member? Or somebody angry over the cost of the burial or the location of their loved ones grave?”
Rufus scratched his matted black hair. “Nah, ain’t had no body like that.”
“No troubles with coyotes or grizzlies?” Joseph said.
“Nah, I bury the dead real deep like so as they don’t attract nothing,” Rufus said, “It ain’t easy, I tell ya, what with this ground being mostly rock and sand. Ain’t nothin’ like the sweet dirt of good ole Georgia…”
“Okay, Rufus,” Sean said, “much obliged for your time. We’re gonna go check out the graves, we’ll be in touch if we need to ask you anything else.”
“Yep, I’ll be here,” Rufus said while rubbing his face, “don’t think I’ll get much done today, anyway.
“Do you think he’s involved, or maybe did it during some drunken fit?” Joseph said as they strolled across the rock strewn field.
“He doesn’t have any motivation to be robbing graves. If word got out his cemetery was getting robbed by body snatchers it would hurt his business,” Sean said before pausing to spit out a mouthful of tobacco juice. “Rufus is a drunkard. He can barely walk once he’s got a bellyful of that bug juice he’s always drinking, let alone dig up a grave or two and haul off the corpses.”
“So, who would do this,” Joseph said holding onto the brim of his hat while a gust of frigid wind swept down from the mountains, “and why?”
“I aim to find out, that’s why they made me sheriff.”
Joseph gave him a sideways glance. “And here I seem to remember it was cause the last one got himself killed.”
Sean smirked and spat out another mouthful. “So did the last deputy…”
The ransacked graves laid on the far end of the cemetery, near the edge of the forest. A few junipers grew alongside the graves along with scrub brush. The grave markers were primitive crosses made from sun bleached planks of pine. Someone had carved the names Ruby Kane, and Jack Kane into them. Pieces of the pine coffins laid scattered on the ground and piles of dirt were piled up alongside each hole.
Sean knelt down beside the first grave and peered into the hole. “Well, it sure wasn’t no grizzly or mountain lion or coyote that did this.”
“That don’t make me feel no better,” Joseph said while glancing around the grave site, “What sorta man would do something like this?”
“Back East body snatching’s not uncommon. They tend to sell them to doctors or scientists. Sometimes they sell the bones or whole skeleton to a college.”
“That ain’t right, the dead should rest in peace until Judgment day.”
“Whoever did this,” Sean said while he examined the broken coffin pieces, “is probably more concerned with payment day. They planned this out beforehand. These graves are furthest from Rufus’ cabin and the woods behind here provide a quick hiding spot or escape route. The way these holes are dug square and the dirt piled up they came with tools and took their time.”
“And these clothes?” Joseph said while pulling the blue calico dress and tan sack suit off the branches. “The suspects changed clothes after digging? I reckon they’d draw attention to themselves if anyone saw them covered in dirt later on.”
Sean peered at the garments and shook his head. “No, that was the duds the dead were wearing. See how threadbare they are? Starting to rot from being in the ground.”
Joseph dropped them like they were red hot coals and wiped his hands against his pant leg. “What in tarnation?”
“Who knows, maybe we got some necrophiliacs running around…”
Joseph’s eyes bulged and he made the sign of the Cross. “That ain’t right! That ain’t natural…”
Sean shrugged. “Either way, we should got talk to Doc Schwartz and see if he’s had anyone coming around lately with any propositions for corpses.”
As they turned to head back into town, a snapping of twigs caught their attention. Glancing over his shoulder Sean spotted a figure amongst the brush and Juniper. Had the grave robber coming back to the scene of his crime? Sean spun around on his heels while drawing one of his Remingtons. Joseph followed suit and drew his Colt.
“You got two choices, either come out of there real slow like with your arms up or come out of there as a corpse.”