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Rated: 18+ · Fiction · War · #2262407
War affects military families as well.

“Hey Bear, Bear Greyridge! Who’s the deadbeat passed out in your car?”
I turned the counter stool I was sitting on, to stare at the speaker; who’d just come in the door. It was Dash Canning, owner and publisher of the town’s new weekly. He’d only been in town as long as the paper’d been in circulation, about six months. Dash had an engaging writing style, which meant the paper was being read by everyone that could.
I didn’t know him well, but he seemed to fit in. He came and sat on the stool beside me and ordered pie and coffee. The half-grin on his face stirred suspicion.
“What are you talking about?” I wanted to know.
Just so you know, Dash is a practical joker. Last week, he glued the forehead of some poor schlub to his keyboard when he fell asleep on it. I hoped he knew better than to try that on me, considering I don’t have much of a sense of humor since I came back.
Going to Vietnam mostly killed my laughter. I saw and did more than I could leave behind. I still like a good joke occasionally, but I don’t belly laugh like I used to.
“I’m tellin’ yah, Bear; there’s some guy in the passenger seat of your old Desoto and he don’t look too good,” Dash mumbled through his pie.
I started shaking my head, then I saw he was serious.

“I’ll settle up later, Emma. I gotta see what this fool’s talkin’ about,” I said as I got up and left, my lunch half-eaten.
I walked across the street toward the sheriff’s station. I’m Sheriff Borden Angus’ only deputy. Since the boss always goes home to his new wife’s cookin’, I’d decided to lock up and go to the diner for lunch.
I admired my reconditioned Desoto as I approached it, custom rims, paint job and all. It sat at the curb, as usual. As I got closer, I stopped.
There was a man in the front passenger seat. When I got to the door, I put on gloves and reached in the open window to check vitals. He wasn’t unconscious, he was dead!
I pushed back my Stetson to scratch my head. Opening the door, I crouched down to get a clearer look without touching anything that might be evidence. As I studied him, I developed a sinking feeling in the region of my gut. I knew this guy!
Taking just enough time to open the office, call the sheriff and Oril Hutch; both doctor and coroner to the town. I went back to my preliminary exam of scene. I’d have to get my kit from home to do a better job.
When I got back from Vietnam, I entered the police academy to be a crime scene investigator. But Burl Spanner, my uncle; convinced me to move out west and become his deputy. I couldn’t say no to the man who raised me like a son, I added crime scene course to basic police training then came out here.
Folks, including my uncle, expected me to run for sheriff when he retired. I’m not into politics, so I declined. Sheriff Angus is a good man to work for and a better politician.
RedRaw, South Dakota, population one hundred or so, mostly grain or livestock farmers. The pace is slow, but I’m pretty happy with it that way. But this death looked like it might be personal, and I don’t believe in slowness when somebody wants to get personal!

I was staring into the faded denim eyes of a platoon mate, my buddy and the guy that saved my life in Nam; Sergeant Driver Young. No rigor yet, so he must have died before my lunch. When I had time, I’d remember him and mourn his death so much time after we survivors had demobbed.
Searching his clothing; the old army fatigues that were like a second skin, I found a knife on his belt, still sheathed and an empty holster. Just like me, I knew he’d never have given up his sidearm without a fight. He’d fought and fought hard; but the hole behind his ear showed it wasn’t enough!
“Who’s your friend, Bear?” said a voice.
I looked up with tears to see Doc Hitch beside me trying to see in the open door that I was blocking with the linebacker body that had earned me the name Bear; that and the fact I still had more hair than most.
“Doc, meet Driver Young. He’s was like a brother and saved my life in Nam. I couldn’t save him!”
“Did you know he was here?” Doc asked as he moved me to examine the body.
When I shook my head, he sighed.
“How could you be expected to save him if you didn’t know he was in town? Are you able to help me carry him to my office? The sooner I start things, the better in this heat! Sully’s meat freezer notwithstanding.”
I lifted my friend and put him on my car blanket so it would be easier to carry him on my back. On the way back, I stopped to pick up my forensics kit.
“The crime scene’s deteriorating rapidly. I owe it to Driver to find his killer and get him justice.”
When I got back to the car, the sheriff was looking in the open door, open-mouthed at the blood and brains all over the interior. He seemed in a stupor, mostly because murder wasn’t common in RedRaw. In fact, the last one had been forty years ago, or so the town records maintained.
“Bear, what in hell is going on!” he wanted to know as soon as I got close enough.
I told him what I knew and that I’d make a statement later. Borden took one look at my hard eyes and clenched jaw and knew to leave me in peace to gather evidence and get my mind straight.
I found it on the floor, half-hidden by the seat. Red string tied in a special knot. It was a device we’d dreamed up to use in Nam.

Whenever we had information that should be shared between us, either of us left such a knot where the other could find it easily. Then we’d meet in one of our secret locations to discuss things and make a plan. What had Driver been trying to tell me?
I studied the knot through the evidence bag I’d put it in.
“Why red string? Maybe it isn’t string,” I muttered.
As I gathered particulates, fingerprints and blood evidence from the interior of the car, my mind kept going back to the string. Where had I seen that color of string before? As I took everything back to my lab, I wracked my memory.
Doc Hitch had talked Art Sands, the undertaker; into giving me a corner of his embalming suite as a lab. Since then, Art had gotten me everything I needed wholesale. He claimed he had connections and I believed it! I ended up with prototype analysis machines I’d never seen before!
Just about to call a day, I realized I needed to tell Driver’s family. I wasn’t looking forward to it, but better me than some stranger. I picked up my phone and dialed the number I knew better than my own.
It was just as bad as I expected. His parents were inconsolable, while his wife, Lori, was just plain angry.
“I knew he went to see you; claimed he had to,” she told me tearfully.
“Did he say why?” I asked.
“He wouldn’t say. Something about needing to give you information,” she told me.
“Why didn’t he call me?” I choked.
“I don’t know. You know as well as I do, he was never the same after Nam.”

I said I’d call again soon and hung up. What had Driver travelled halfway across the States to warn me about?
Back at my lab before first light; bleary eyed and tense from no sleep, I tested snippets from the cord ends and found it was antique fuse cord. Nothing like the det-cord we used in Nam, it was more like the stuff in old dynamite or firecrackers.
“Why would Driver use that kind of cord?”
Something tapped my memory, but I couldn’t get hold of it. Still trying to figure it out, I relaxed on the army cot in my lab and fell asleep. I woke to a feeling of suffocation as hands tried to choke the life out me. Kicking and twisting, I was desperate to breathe.
Unable to see who was trying to kill me, I was quickly losing consciousness. Just as I was about to black out, I heard Sheriff Angus shout: “Let him go, boy, before I blow your friggin’ head off!”
I lay sucking air and clearing my vision as the sheriff cuffed and read the Miranda to a familiar figure. Three days after an infirmary stay that Angus insisted on, I was back at work, waiting impatiently for the sheriff to get back from lunch.
“How yah doin’, Bear? Thanks for the statement, it was a big help,” he commented as he ambled in.
“Who was that trying to kill me?”
“Guess you didn’t get much chance to see, bein’ as he ambushed you,” Angus said as he put his boots on his desk.
“Never thought he’d have it in ‘im till I seen him sneakin’ in the back of the funeral home when I knew you’d be.”
Hearing me growl, he decided to give me a break.
“Dash Canning,” he announced.

“Why would a guy I met a year ago wanna kill me?”
“He knew more about you and Driver than you knew about him. Remember a corporal named Tyler Dane from Nam?”
Memories rushed in. Tyler Dane was a demolition expert in our company, who was forever playing with fuse cord. He was a world class scrounge and let his greed take away his sense.
When the MPs caught him doing a booming business on the black market with Government Issue, he swore that we had put him up it with threats. Luckily, our CO knew exactly what Dane had been up to and was the one who sicced the MPs on him. Our CO’s part never came out in the trial that led to a dishonorable discharge.
Driver and I testified, going into detail about dates and times because our CO detailed us to follow him, outside of patrol, and whenever he left camp and note his activities. We reported daily as ordered. After I told the whole sordid tale, I had to ask:
“What’s Dash’s relationship to the infamous Tyler?”
“Seems they were step-brothers,” Angus told me.

“Dash plum worshipped Tyler and when his big brother died by his own hand in military prison, he blamed you and Driver for the fact his brother was gone. He was determined to make you both pay, with your lives,” Angus continued.
I shook my head wearily. That had been what Driver had wanted to tell me, but Dash stopped him permanently before he could. Sheriff Angus and Driver saved me in the end.
Suddenly Art Sands burst through the office door.
“Angus, there’s some skinny guy sitting in your squad car!” he shouted.
“Is he dead?” Angus roared as he jumped up and ran outside.
Art and I couldn’t stop laughing. He’d picked up the anatomically correct skeleton from my lab and I’d lent him both keys, one for the squad car and one for my lab. We staggered out the door and headed to the diner for the lunch special; still laughing uproariously.
I just couldn’t resist making a joke of a near-death experience, like we’d always done in Nam. I wanted a belly laugh in honor of Driver. I figured the boss would understand… eventually… when I explained it to him…later… I hoped.

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