It's all your fault.
RIDING IN THE BACK SEAT of a police cruiser is a good experience for anyone who wants to be a writer. It should help understand how a perp feels when being hauled away. But watching others is good enough for me. I’ve had my share of such character-building experience. Like the futility of running from the sheriff, and getting pine needles stuck in my teeth.
And my hair.
And inside my clothes.
My bum shoulder was still aching from where I’d banged it into that tree, back on the hillside. So, I tossed out something to get a conversation going.
“It’s your own fault, you know.”
The sheriff glanced at her rearview mirror. “Think so, do you?”
“If you hadn’t sat down at my table tonight, I’d be in my room right now, minding my own business. I might be working a crossword puzzle, or I might even have gone to sleep.”
“Somehow you don’t strike me as the crossword puzzle kind of guy,” she said.
True. I didn’t have the patience for crosswords. I would more likely have been watching the History Channel and wondering why I was still here.
“I know you think I was lying.”
“Think so, do you?”
“Every word I told you was the truth. But I’m afraid I don’t have good impulse control. When I heard what your deputy said about finding another body, I couldn’t resist. I just reacted.”
“Poorly,” she said. “You’re what my grandmother used to call maux de tête.”
“Maux de tête. A headache.”
I bristled for all the good it did me. Mat Waterson had said that I was ‘giving him a migraine’ just before he grabbed that iron bar.
“So what now? You toss me in jail and throw away the key?”
“Sounds like a plan,” she said, but I heard a glimmer of doubt in her voice.
“But when it comes down to it,” she said, “You didn’t really do any harm and I’m inclined to forgive and forget. With strings attached, of course.”
“What strings?” I sat up and leaned forward.
“You agree to leave Pine Mountain. Go back home and finish that project you claim you’re in the middle of. Assuming that wasn’t a lie, too.”
“I told you, everything I said. . .”
“Yeah, right.” The sheriff’s lower lip curled to one side. “I know, I know, but I think you can understand why I might be a little skeptical.”
I did, but wasn’t about to say it out loud. That would only bolster her argument, and part of me wanted her to know that I really could be trusted.
It really didn’t matter if the sheriff trusted me or not, if she wasn’t going to lock me up. But, somehow, it did matter to me. Maybe it had something to do with that moment of vulnerability I’d seen in her at the crime scene. I wanted to appeal to that softer, empathetic side, but that was going to be a tall order now that I’d proven myself a liar.
And a headache. “Maux de tête, huh?”
“That’s right,” she said.
“Well, maybe I’m the kind of headache you need right now.”
“Think so, do ya?”
“I think you could use my help on this case.”
This got another glance in the mirror. “Oh, really? And just how is that?”
“You’ve read my books. You know how thorough I am. And you know that I know my way around a murder investigation. In fact, I can pretty much guarantee I’ve visited more crime scenes every month than you’ll see in your career.”
“I lost a friend tonight, so I don’t want to treat this like just another crime scene.”
“See what I mean? You’re too close. How are you going to be objective?” I paused to let that sink in, but not long enough for her to get defensive. “I also spent five years on the police beat for New York City. I’ve got a master’s degree in criminology and I have over a hundred closed homicides investigations.”
“What is this, a sales pitch?”
“Something like that.”
“If you’re all that good, how come you’re not the Police Commissioner?”
“Because I’m impatient. And I don’t like rules.” She stifled a laugh. “I can see that, plain enough.”
“So what do you have to lose?” I said. “We can sit down, you tell me what evidence you have so far, I’ll tell you what I think and everyone’ll be happy.”
The sheriff pulled to a stop in front of the inn and turned to look me in the eye.
“You really don’t have a very high opinion of me, do you?”
“Why would you say that?”
“I don’t know, maybe it’s your condescending tone? Like I’m some hick cop, put in office because I’m part Cherokee, just to demonstrate the county’s political correctness. I get enough of that from the mayor.”
“I don’t think that at all. I just want to help you find out what’s going on.”
“I know what you want, Mr. Butterworth. And I remember what you wrote in your last book about that sheriff in Oklahoma. You eviscerated the guy.”
“That was different.”
“Because he deserved it,” I said. “He was an arrogant, self-righteous moron, and too full of himself to realize he had no clue what he was doing.”
“Says you. Maybe he was just annoyed by some self-righteous New York City cop sticking his New York City cop nose into his small town business. Now that’s a feeling I can identify with.”
The sheriff put the car in park, then climbed out and came around to open my door. “What do you say we stick to plan A? You get out of town, I don’t put you in jail.”