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One Good and Deadly Deed

One Good and Deadly Deed

A Sheriff Luke McWhorter Mystery
also available: eBook
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Chapter 1


The fact that none of the body parts was covered told me no one from the Dr. Konstantina Smyth’s office had arrived at the hangar yet.


Doc Konnie was adamant about not contaminating a victim’s remains. The fastest way to get on her bad side was to throw a plastic sheet or a tarp or a couple of towels over a corpse. Or over body parts.


And it wasn’t only our outspoken Greek-born medical examiner who was dyspeptic on the subject.


It was the law.


I memorized the statute word for word. This way, I could spell it out in no uncertain terms when people at a crime scene got careless about keeping their hands off the deceased. Or, for that matter, off the dead person’s possessions. I’d point out that anyone who—quote, unquote—willfully touches, removes, or disturbs the body, clothing, or any  article upon or near the body…shall be guilty of a misdemeanor of the first degree.


So in West Texas’s Abbot County, at a crime scene involving loss of life, even we law enforcement types waited for the M.E.’s white van to show up. Until then, we looked for clues elsewhere. Maybe close by. Maybe around the perimeter of the crime scene. Or else we stood around and waited. 


When I entered the hangar, that’s what a half-dozen persons were doing. Standing a few steps inside the door. Gossiping. Kibitzing. Pointing.




All of them were dressed like I was—in protective gear. But they were acting like they’d just gotten out of church. Now, clustered there in a group, they were enjoying a social moment before heading to the parking lot. 


Or maybe I was thinking that because I’d stepped out of a church building a few minutes ago myself. A church building where I’d been the preacher.


I was quite certain there were other sheriffs in America who preached. Because about anyone can run for sheriff. That includes country preachers, many of them self-taught in theology. Some of them preached every Sunday morning.


But I wasn’t one of those. This was the first sermon I’d preached since becoming sheriff nearly 17 years ago.


I had a copy of the church program jammed in my inside coat pocket. The cover offered the bare details of the morning’s activities.


Today’s sermon by Sheriff Luther Stephens McWhorter,
B.A., M.A., Doctor of Divinity
How heaven and your local sheriff view wearing a badge and carrying a gun …


But no one in this group was going to ask about any of that. They were too busy taking extreme care where they rested their eyes. I didn’t blame them. I’d never seen a crime scene like it.


Pools of crimson and body parts of all sizes littered the hangar floor.


In all directions.


But it was the plane that dominated.


I knew what kind it was. The twin-engine Beechcraft King Air 350i was an iconic plane from a lineup of aircraft with a distinguished pedigree. I knew all this because I’d always found the King Air 350i more princess than king.


Even at a moment like this, it looked like a piece of resplendent piece of metal sculpture as much as an aircraft. Walk around it, and the very nature of what you were looking at seemed to change before your eyes. This was a consequence of the craft’s exquisite, complicated design. I found the sight of one mesmerizing.


The voice came from behind me. “You ever see anything like this?”


A woman’s voice. One I knew well. It belonged to one of my deputies. One of my detectives, actually.


Detective Rashada Moody.


Detective Moody was my department’s only woman deputy. Only African-American deputy. Only left-handed deputy. Only deputy who’d been a beauty-queen contestant. And the only one of us to have a four-year college degree in criminal justice. “Deputy Only,” we sometimes jokingly called herself.


At the moment, there was no humor to be found in Deputy Only’s voice. And I knew she wasn’t talking about the airplane.


I searched for the right words to answer her with.


Eventually, I found one.




She allowed herself one additional comment as an ordinary citizen. “Somebody didn’t want these poor fellows viewable at their funerals.” Then she returned to being the professional I’d always admired. “I was the first officer here—if you’d like to know what I’ve noticed.”


Her tentativeness was more than a courtesy. It hadn’t been that long since I’d been the first one to roll up on another horrendous crime scene. It had been sickeningly visible in and around a remote, abandoned house 30 miles west of town.


The smell of rotting corpses and the sight of buzzards devouring them had made me deathly ill. After several episodes of acute gastronomic distress, I’d managed to withdraw a short distance and summon help. Detective Moody was one of those who had responded. Now, here she was again, suggesting that we see if we could figure this out.


But before she could propose a place to start, I issued a directive to the others. “People, why don’t we vacate the hangar until the M.E. can get this sorted.”


Detective Moody turned to join the departures, but I caught her wrist. It felt warm. That’s how you can know a person-of-color is blushing. She’d embarrassed herself in not immediately recalling that I had seen this much ugly and more not long ago—and had been physically devastated by it. How could she ever forget the sight and smell of me and my vomit-drenched clothes and car.


I released her wrist and gave her a quick hug. “If we’re careful, you and I can walk through this.”


She pointed to the plane’s starboard engine. This was the one on the right wing from the point-of-view of the pilot looking forward. “I think the poor guy hit by those propellers was shoved into them from the side.”


I looked from the propellers to the body parts I could see and then back to her. “You’re going to have to show me why.”


“It isn’t pretty.”


“Ugly is all I’m expecting to see today.”


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also available: eBook
tagged : literary, westerns
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William Moreland kept moving south. If the moon was bright he walked all night, wading through dry prairie grass. He was alone and carried his meagre belongings on his back. It was November and snow clung to the hollows and shadows, but that snow was old, dry, delicate as meringue. He had come down the leeward side of the Rockies and had descended into the rolling grassland that runs from Alberta all the way into Montana. Having left the only real home he had ever known, he was looking for the border.
Cold as the days were, the sun was intense. Every noon he boiled in his coat and every night he lay shivering on the frigid ground and whined like a dog. After four days and nights, his feet were very bad. He suspected they were bloody by now but he couldn’t bring himself to pull off the boots and look.
This was open country. To the east, long grass and low trees all the way to the horizon, and to the west, the land bled into the cloud-like silhouette of the mountains. Days ago he had lost sight of the ranges he called home, and now he paced alongside peaks he remembered dimly from long ago, when he was a younger man, a line of only half-familiar shapes, the faces of acquaintances. He’d stolen everything he could from a ranger’s station outside Banff, including a knapsack, a hatchet, matches, and a blanketcoat with ROCKY MTNS PARK stencilled across the shoulder blades and STN 153 on the chest. He’d found nothing useful for hunting. No gun, not even a knife.
The jerky he’d been eating began to fume right through the canvas of his knapsack and sicken him as he walked. Holding the bag to his belly he clawed through it, dropping behind him the last strips of meat. Then the reeking square of oilcloth in which they had been wrapped fluttered down to settle on a tuft of grass like a tiny umbrella. He took out the hatchet and considered dropping it as well, to get rid of the weight, but couldn’t open his hand. The hatchet had great utility, so he slid it back into his bag. He was god-almighty thirsty and dreamed as he walked, dreamed of a river, of drinking gallons of water from that cold river.
One afternoon he came upon a gully packed with young trees which turned out to be mostly dry, but he dug down and sipped at a muddy pool. Then he rolled onto his side under the cover of shrubs and slept hard. When he rose a few hours later it was getting on to dark and he was stiff and trembling.
That night he found himself on the road he had been looking for. He followed it until he was standing, as planned, outside the little guard hut at the Sweetgrass border crossing between Alberta and Montana. He stood by the lightless window and swayed on numb legs. A bright coin of a moon overhead and no wind at all. The world was utterly still, so quiet he could hear his own ears humming. William Moreland stood like an idiot before the hut and waited for the guard. He stared about with hollow eyes and slowly came to the conclusion that he should probably do something.
Beyond the hut was a small gabled house and an unoccupied corral. There was a motorcar up on blocks by the kitchen door, but no lights to be seen anywhere. Moreland tried to call out with his dry throat but all that came out was a thin hiss; his first attempt to speak in more than a week. The applicant to cross over simply waited there, as he should, trying to either speak to authority, or call for service, but could make no sound at all, while the guard slumbered somewhere out of sight.
A barn owl melted out of the dark and alighted on a gable of the house. They gazed unblinking at each other until the owl tilted off and moved without sound to the west.
The absurdity of the situation was not lost on Moreland: this was after all the border between two countries. But all around him was a sea of grass and rolling land and wind and animals and dust and seeds that flowed this way and that across the imagined line. A decade and a half earlier he would not have stopped, nor intended to stop, nor have approached the crossing station at all. He would not have given it the slightest thought, but gone his own, quiet, solitary way, neither wild nor domesticated, just alone. But now he had been so long among people he’d forgotten that part of himself. So it came to him very slowly that the natural world, having long ago defined its own precincts and notions of order, was simply waiting for him to become unstuck.
He cupped his face and pressed it to the thin glass. In the darkness of the hut he saw a wooden counter and a high stool. He wandered round to the rear and pulled open the door. Inside he found a shelf under the counter on which stood a few romance books, a clean plate and a fork, long-dead bees and bits of bee, and below that, bolted to the floor, a small metal box. On top lay a heavy padlock, twisted open, and the key was stuck in it. He gathered the padlock into his fist, lifted the lid of the box, and let it all sag to the floor.
Moreland stood for a long time looking down at the revolver. An army model, Colt single action. There were a few spare rounds in the box, some of which didn’t match the gun but seemed to have been put there for tidy housekeeping. He considered taking the pistol, but in the end he shut the lid of the box, put the padlock back on top, shut the door to the hut, and left everything as it had been. He looked across the road at the blank windows of the little house and went back out into the night, moving south, always south, wading through a vast nothingness of grass. An ocean of grass.

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