Printed from https://www.writing.com/main/view_item/item_id/2283034-Flash-of-Lightning
Rated: 13+ · Short Story · Detective · #2283034
The second Installment of the Country Sheriff Series. A Thunderstorm spells danger.
Flash of Lightning

by Damon Nomad

Rufus jumped away from the window, "Wow! That was close!"

Sheriff Curtis Fleming leaned on the edge of Lucille's desk, "About two seconds between flash and thunder clap. Rufus how close was the lightning?"

Rufus remembered the discussion from a few years back, the sheriff said the speed of sound was how fast thunder traveled from the lightning bolt. The lightning rapidly heats the air causing a shock wave, that is how the thunder is created. He remembered it worked out to about one mile every five seconds. "Just shy of a half a mile."

He moved back close to the window the big dark thunder clouds were building up same as yesterday, "Gonna be another evening of thunder and lightning." He saw Thaddeus Monroe running from the library across the street, "Thaddeus is closing up the library early."

Fleming glanced down at Lucille sitting in her chair. "What happened with the Monroe Plantation? How did Thaddeus end up cut out of everything?"

Lucille waved a hand for Fleming to move, "Curtis, get your backside off my desk." Curtis moved off the edge of her desk and slid onto a small wooden bench along the wall.

Lucille twirled a strand of hair between her fingers, "I guess you were overseas that whole time, visiting professor. That was one long visit." She chuckled, Curtis and his wife were gone little more than a year, a few years before he retired from the university and became sheriff. She glanced up at the clock, she could finish the short story before leaving for the day.

"You remember them when they were younger, they must be ten years older than you and me. Arrogant both of 'em, just like their father, the only decent one in the family was their mother and she died when they were young. Remington the father was in bad health, you probably remember that before you left. The two of them Thaddeus and Hyram never got along, Hyram a two-faced liar and schemer, always trying to cheat people in some kind of deal or scam around town. Thaddeus, gambling and chasing women. Were you here when Thaddeus went out west?"

Fleming shrugged and shook his head, "No, what I remember before I left were the rumors that Thaddeus had taken up with Hyram's lady friend and there had been fights between the two of them at the plantation over that."

"That's right, Thaddeus left town with her, can't remember her name for the life of me. The two of them went out to Las Vegas, not long after you went overseas." Lucille rolled her eyes trying to remember the name, "Anyway Hyram started working on Remington to cut off money to Thaddeus while he was out there and the woman eventually took up with another man. Maybe six months later, Remington takes to his deathbed. That's when the real fireworks started, they sold off thousands of acres of old plantation land except about fifty acres where the mansion sits. When Thaddeus gets word of what is going on, Remington is dead and buried and his will rewritten. By the time he gets back to town, Hyram had millions of dollars in the bank from selling the land and the title to the mansion and plantation grounds." Lucille smirked with a disapproving frown, "Thaddeus got squat. When he got back he went straight out to the house there was a big fight, Thaddeus chasing after Hyram with one of Remington's golf clubs." Lucille snorted a laugh and then continued, "Not long after that Hyram had all the external doors replaced and windows changed out so that Thaddeus could never get into the place. It was a big to-do, big company came in from Atlanta, word is the windows are all bulletproof glass, and metal-clad exterior doors with locks like a bank. People were surprised Thaddeus stayed in town, has a degree in history, and got the library job. Rudest librarian in the history of Berry Creek. Lives in that little rental house over on Elm, stewing over Hyram enjoying the mansion."

Lucille stood up with a half-shrug, "That's how it all happened. You remember the bit from last year when Hyram was in the hospital, got that pacemaker put in over in the city, and stayed in the town hospital for recuperation. Obviously, the bad blood is still there, Thaddeus tried to kill him in the hospital. The plantation will go to Thaddeus if Hyram dies, Remington wanted it to stay in the family. Not sure about the money, but the house has to be worth a few million."

Curtis chuckled shaking his head, "He didn't try and kill him. He did slip an overdose of laxatives into his food and gave Hyram the runs. Thaddeus admitted doing it, we didn't waste any time charging him, so long as he stayed away from the hospital while Hyram was there."

Lucille waved a finger at Curtis, "What do you think running back and forth to the toilet could do to a man with a bad ticker."

Lucille shuffled toward the door, "See you both in the morning, stay away from the window Rufus, you're gonna get struck by a bolt of lightning."

Rufus sat down at Lucille's desk after she left, "You know Clarence over at the hardware store?"

Curtis nodded, "Yeah sure."

"They do the express delivery as a side business for the store. He said that Thaddeus throws a bunch of money down the drain on model rockets, orders lots of them. Expensive ones, and lots of wire and other supplies. Can you imagine, he lives in that shabby little house and he spends money on model rockets, an old man like that. That is strange."

Curtis stared at the ceiling, "That is a bit peculiar, never seen them going up."

Rufus stood up glancing out the window, "I have a few times on days like this with big storm clouds, goes out somewhere near the plantation home and launches them off, seen him twice headed out there. Then saw some rockets streaking up later after dinner as it was starting to get dark."

Rufus headed for the door, "See ya in the mornin."


Early the next morning Curtis was at his desk, skimming through a fishing magazine it was a slow week. He saw Bonnie Dempsey come into the office and scurry over to Lucille at the dispatcher's desk. Lucille spends a fair amount of time on the phone chattering with her friends, but they don't come into the office. He slipped the magazine back into his drawer, the two of them were coming his way. He gestured to the small sofa in his office when they got to the door, "Hi Bonnie. You look a bit flustered, something wrong?"

Lucille and Bonnie sat on the small sofa, Lucille nodded to Bonnie. "Go ahead, Curtis will hear you out."

Bonnie shrugged, hesitating for a moment, "Curtis, I don't want to waste your time, you know I clean some homes around town, the people with some money. First place every day of the week is the Monroe plantation home. Been doing it for three years." She winced, "Only day off is Christmas day. Never missed a day, except when Hyram was in the hospital. Today when I got to the house, he did not answer the door and I called his mobile phone, no answer. His old car is in the garage, I checked. Not that he ever drives himself anywhere anymore."

Curtis nodded slowly, "You don't have a key?"

Bonnie chuckled with a look of surprise, "Goodness no! Hyram would not give a key to anyone."

Fleming tapped his fingers lightly on the desk, "How is his health? How has he been acting?"

Bonnie's mouth tightened into a frown, "He acts how he always has, pompous and a bit crazy, what do they call it? Obsessive-compulsive, OCD that's it. From what I know he eats the same thing every day at the same time, watches the same television shows every day, and reads his books at the same time. He takes these long salt baths every evening right before he goes to bed. Soaks for an hour from six until seven. I spend thirty minutes every morning, cleaning out that salty residue from that big ole bathtub. His father was the same with the salt baths before bed apparently. Has a copy of his daily schedule on his refrigerator, not sure why he needs a schedule. Like I say, OCD. It's been the same routine since I have been cleaning the home." She paused, "His health seems fine as far as I know, he is doing okay with his heart." She winced, "He never goes anywhere, this is the first time he was not home when I got there to clean, someone should check on him."

Fleming nodded slowly, "Okay Bonnie, you did the right thing coming to see us. Please keep this to yourself for now."


Later that afternoon, Lucille was in the library checking out three books on growing herbs in a home garden. She studied her fingernail polish as Thaddeus Monroe stamped the books checking them out to her. Lucille waved dismissively, "I know you and Hyram don't get along, but I should tell you that the sheriff and his deputy made a run out to his place this morning, see if he was okay."

Monroe's eyes came wide open and then narrowed, "Yeah, what do I care."

Lucille could see he was startled, "Just telling you, they got a locksmith and went into the place. Turned out he fell before getting into the bathtub for that darn salt soak of his yesterday evening and wasn't able to get up. Sprained his back pretty bad, sheriff says the doctor gave him some muscle relaxants and told him to make sure he got long salt bath soaks the next few days."

Lucille picked up the books, "Thought you should know."

Lucille went back into the sheriff's office, she put the books down at her desk. Rufus and Fleming were staring at her. She shrugged, "Did it just like you said Curtis."


Thaddeus left the library not long after Lucille left and headed home, he got his backpack full of gear and tools and tossed everything into his pickup truck. Storm clouds were climbing high into the sky again. He parked a few hundred yards from the plantation home and put on the backpack, and walked toward the old home. Moving through the grove of oak trees and then along the tall row of bushes in the formal garden in the back. He had a key for the padlock for the old cellar in the back of the house. It originally was a coal cellar for a coal-burning furnace, it was the only place that he could access at the plantation home, it had been converted into a utility room when he was a child. The electrical box, gas line, sewer, and water pipes all came into the home through the cellar. There was only a regular padlock on the cellar, there was no access from there into the home for a person, so Hyram did not protect it with the metal-clad doors.

Thaddeus got a spool of thick gage copper wire from his backpack and wrapped it several times around the cast iron drain line that came from the upstairs plumbing, wrapping electrical tape around the connection. He propped open the cellar door with a brick, and he spooled the copper wire out with it laying on a thick plastic mat he placed on the cellar door frame. He pulled the wire tight as the wire streamed off the spool while he walked toward where he had parked. He squeezed the wire in a narrow notch on the top of ceramic blocks already in place about every fifty feet, so the wire would not touch the ground. He was nearly two hundred yards away when he got to the spot near his truck. He looked around to make sure no one was watching and glanced up at the sky, the storm clouds were building. He got the gantry launch pad out of the truck and set up the gantry. He had been using this spot for months, he glanced at his watch, he was still good on time. He got a thin gauge of copper wire wrapped around a special spool from his backpack that would be attached to the bottom of the rocket. He connected the loose end of the thin gauge copper wire to the thicker wire running along the ground. He got a rocket and the launch control box from the truck. Then attached the thin gauge spool to the rocket and finished setting the rocket up on the launch pad. As a final step he put a battery into the control box, he just needed to wait to be sure the electrical charge was building up in the storm clouds. He would fire the rocket off when he heard the clap of thunder from a flash within a mile of the house sometime in the next hour when he knew Hyram lay in that bathtub full of salts.

He sneered with angry delight, "It's gonna work today, you'll get a real charge out of this." He thought it had worked yesterday, it was perfectly timed, but Hyram's fall had saved him. He wasn't in the bath.

He thought he heard footsteps coming from the house, but that did not make sense. He turned and saw Sheriff Curtis Fleming walking toward him from the direction of the house. Fleming waved a hand at him and yelled out, "I cut the wire!"

As Fleming got closer he pointed up to a big oak tree, "Get down before there is a lightning strike, you get the pictures?"

Rufus climbed down with a camera with a telephoto lens, "Everything since he got here, on the outside. I will get the remote camera from inside the cellar, to see what he did inside. I'm bettin it will all match up to your theory Sheriff."

Fleming turned his attention to Thaddeus, "He's dead, you got Hyram yesterday. Brilliant plan to use rockets to fire up into storm clouds, as a kind of lightning rod. The bolt travels down the thin copper wire streaming behind the rocket as it climbs near the charged bottom side of the clouds. Lightning researchers have been doing it for years, I read some about it a few years back. The lightning destroys most of the evidence, the bolt of electricity travels through the copper wire along the ground right into that old cast iron drain pipe, with those old cast iron fittings in direct contact with water in the bathtub. Most of the wire vaporized milliseconds after the surge passes through it." Fleming shook his head, "You must have tried this dozens of times the last few months before the timing worked out just right with Hyram soaking in those conductive bath salts. I saw flash marks on the wall inside the cellar near that drain line when we looked around after we found the body. A bit of flashover on the connection to the pipe when that copper wire burned up, and the doctor said that Hyram's pacemaker data stream registered an electrical overload. Rufus heard about you playing with rockets, I figured you might have been doing more than just playing."

Fleming rubbed his chin, "The only way I figured we could prove it, was to convince you that Hyram wasn't dead and get evidence of you trying it again. I told the doctor to keep quiet about Hyram being dead for a day, he moved the body into cold storage. Lucille must have done good with her piece. Gonna be hard for you to explain exactly what it is you have been doing for the past couple of hours. Two law enforcement officers as witnesses, with lots of pictures and all of this gear."

Fleming shrugged, "I understand there is no other family, I guess the house and land will go to the state as well as all of Hyram's money."

Thaddeus exhaled slowly, glaring at Sheriff Fleming, remembering he had been an engineering professor. "Why couldn't you just have been some country bumpkin sheriff?"

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