Showing posts with label margaret karmazin. Show all posts
Showing posts with label margaret karmazin. Show all posts

Monday, August 7, 2023

Proper Disposal, fiction by Margaret Karmazin

The inspector uncovered the old septic tank, something the new owner wanted done. Apparently, this new guy understood the need for an up to code system, something the old timers around the lake had rarely understood and had often used buried barrels with sewage leading to nowhere, probably directly into the lake.

“Likely no leach field,” muttered the inspector. “Even if there is one, which I highly doubt; knowing these old lake lots, it wouldn’t be a hundred feet from the lake so wouldn’t be usable anyway. You’ll have to convert this thing to a holding tank. But let’s see what’s in it.”

He pried up the lids and was suddenly silent.

“What’s the matter?” said the new owner.

“Uh….take a look yourself, Mr. Kelly.”

What Mr. Kelly saw was the remains of a body. A most unappealing sight.

The inspector dug out his phone to call the police.

“I-I think it’s a woman,” Kelly said. “The shoes.”


Some four years earlier, Rich Rizzo, called up his friend Peter Kozak and said, “I’m selling the cottage.”

Shocked after all the work Rich had put into constructing it and knowing how much the man loved his weekends at the lake, Peter said, “What? Why?”

“San Palmians are moving in next door.”

“What’s wrong with San Palmians?” Peter asked. “We went there on vacation a couple of years ago and the people were great.”

“Pete, you know I own apartment buildings in Newark. I know what I’m talking about. For some reason, our area has had an influx of them the past few years. They have constant barbecues going in the parking lots and play loud music all day and night long, bothering the other tenants – sick old people, mothers with babies, they don’t care. Believe me, they’ll do the same thing here. There goes my peaceful cove and fishing!”

When Peter told his wife what Rich had said, Liz replied, “He’s such a bigot! Good riddance if he wants to move, who cares?”

Then “the San Palmians” moved in and started to work on the place.

“What are they doing?” asked Liz.

Peter, who rode around the lake road daily, kept an expert eye on things. Retired now, he had been a commercial plumbing contractor in New Jersey before moving to Pennsylvania. He had built their own home and loved the peace of living on Fisher Lake.

“His name is Fabio Braga,” he said. “Apparently, he’s turning that little cottage into a three-story affair with five bathrooms, a bunch of bedrooms and two full decks.”

“Whoa,” said Liz. “How many people are in his family?”

“I think he has brothers,” Peter said. “Maybe they’re all planning to come up at the same time, who knows?”

It turned out that Fabio Braga was building an Air BnB. And soon extended families and church groups were renting the place for weeks or long weekends.

“Oh my god, that horrible music!” exclaimed Liz. “It’s so loud and clangy and blares from ten in the morning to ten at night! If only they’d play something I like - soul or blues or oldies, whatever. I don’t think I’ve ever heard such annoying stuff!”

“I guess it’s San Palmian.”

“Well, I looked up San Palmian music on Youtube and it’s actually pretty nice. That crap they’re playing must be from the bottom of the San Palmian barrel! So rude of them to assume we all want to listen to that racket! I hate to say it but Rich knew what he was talking about.”

That wasn’t all the San Palmian’s were doing. They broke every rule in the book on how to get along with neighbors around a lake.

“Well,” said Peter to his next-door neighbor, “What happened to a peaceful summer night with the dark starry sky overhead? I like to sit outside and watch it – you see falling stars and what all. But how can we do that now with all their blazing lights on all the time? Looks like a freakin’ cruise ship over there!”

“Not to mention,” said the neighbor, “that they feel they have to set off firecrackers every Saturday night. I have fibromyalgia; I need my sleep. Aren’t there any laws to prevent this?”

An additional problem was that the new Airbnb had an extremely inadequate septic system. The former owners had had no real understanding of its faults and believed that just upgrading the septic tank solved the problem. They did that, but then all they had was a fancier septic tank without a leach field and with a pipe leading into the regular ground facing the lake.

“Two Airbnbs now,” one member said with exasperation at the next lake association meeting. Right next to each other, though I can’t imagine how the Johnsons who bought Rich’s house are doing being right next to that Fabio circus. His site on Airbnb describes it as a peaceful cove for a quiet weekend, but wow.”

“I don’t hear any noise from the Braga place,” said Wendy Miller who lived on the Braga side of the lake several houses down.

“Nothing?” said Liz. “Seriously? It sounds like a full volume band that never rests. Twelve hours at a time!”

“Don’t hear it,” persisted Wendy.

“I don’t either,” said her neighbor, with an insinuating tone, implying that Liz was making the whole thing up.

Peter stepped in. “I think the problem is that the sound travels directly across the lake. You people have trees between you and Braga’s that muffle the sound.” He didn’t like the smug expression on Wendy’s face.

“Well, we don’t have a problem,” insisted her neighbor.

“I think we could mention it to him,” Wendy said. “I am sure if he knew he was bothering people, he’d turn it off!”

“Somehow I don’t think he will,” said Liz, “but if you think so, we’ll talk to him. Then we’ll see if you’re right.”

Like most of the lake association members, Fabio Braga did not attend the monthly Saturday meetings. For one thing, the times he himself as opposed to his renters appeared at the lake were usually during the week, during which he continued to upgrade the property, now having filled up most of the small lot with the building and driveway which could hold six cars closely packed in. The offending septic tank was buried in the small space between his house and what was once Rich’s place. It was only a short distance from the well there, which was against state regulations.

Peter, association secretary, went to talk to Fabio the following week. “Sorry to bother you,” he said to the man who was covering what was left of the ground with fake grass carpeting. “Some, of the residents here were disturbed by that loud music the last renting group played all the time. A lot of us who’ve lived here for years enjoy the quiet of nature. You know, bird sounds, fish slapping in the water, the quiet tick-tick of someone reeling in a fish. Also, some of us are old or get up to go to work early and need our sleep.”

Fabio, who seemed friendly, said, “It won’t happen again. And they weren’t renting; they’re my friends.”

The two shared a few more words and Peter left to report to Liz.

“We’ll see,” she said, being of a skeptical nature. “And I seriously doubt that those weren’t renters. Otherwise, why does he advertise on Airbnb where it shows the calendar with the dates people are there grayed out?”

The skeptic proved to be right. It wasn’t long before another group almost as large were at Fabio’s house for a week and they played the same clamorous music morning till night. Little kids darted about on tiny motor bikes, scaring the hell out of drivers on the lake road. Fire crackers boomed in the night, kids screamed in the water, drunken men yelled at the top of their lungs.

Peter’s friend Manny quickly crossed the lake on his fishing raft and asked one of the people there if they were renters and the person said that they were.

A lake association board meeting that would evolve into a yelling match was quickly held after Liz sent out a sarcastic group email suggesting that if people are going to force their music down everyone else’s throats, could they please make it soul or blues?

“Why don’t we just give Fabio the courtesy of asking him to lower the music instead of going behind his back?” said Wendy, all huffed up and madly typing into her phone. She was tall and blonde, wearing false eyelashes and a crisp white blouse tucked into chino pants, though being probably fifty pounds overweight, she would be better suited to stretch slacks and a slimming tunic.

“He has already been asked and he ignored it,” said Liz.

Manny repeated this.

Tempers rose. Wendy scowled and worked at her phone.

“Peter and I are going to test the lake water near his home for e coli,” announced Manny. “If the lake association doesn’t want to pay for it, we’ll pay ourselves.”

“And,” added Peter, “while I enjoy swimming in the lake very much, I’m not doing it anymore until we get the results back. Not interested in getting ‘monsters inside me’ or skin eating bacteria.”

Wendy worked herself up into a red-faced snit. “You people are horrible! Fabio is a nice person! He doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment!”

“Yeah?” said Manny. “If he’s so nice, why is he renting to crowds of people with a septic system designed for two and probably polluting the lake? How come he lies and says all those people aren’t renters?”

Wendy huffed out of the meeting while yelling something unintelligible and pointing at Peter and Manny.

“Does she never shut up?” Manny asked. “No wonder her husband never says a word.”

Peter, who continued his almost nightly drive around the lake, reported to Liz, “Wendy was at Fabio’s and the two of them deep in conversation. They were standing a foot apart and she had her hand on his arm.”

“Ah ha!” said Liz. “I suspected as much.”

“Why on earth did you suspect whatever you’re suspecting?”

“Just a hunch,” Liz said.

“She’s married.”

“To someone who never opens his mouth.”

Manny stopped by. “What the living crap?” he shouted. “That devil-woman called up the county regulations office and told them this whole thing was taken care of! Nothing more to worry about, she claimed. After all my running around government offices and figuring out where to report septic system abuses! I swear….now I have to do all that over again!”

“Devil Woman is a perfect description,” said Liz. “I’m imagining her right now upside down inside a septic tank. I mean since she thinks she knows more about them than you and Peter.”

“Good idea,” said Manny. “She’d look much better in that position than standing up with her mouth flapping!”

All of this (or most of it) would become known to the police after the unthinkable happened. They would hear it told by the main involved characters around Fisher Lake and those that weren’t directly involved but just enjoyed gossip. Except of course, the dead woman. No one would hear her version of things.


The two detectives arrived from Montbleu within the hour of the inspector’s and Mr. Kelly’s discovery.

“You’re lucky we were in the area,” said Lieutenant Char Perez. “The Sergeant here was just getting a root canal and I thought it best to drive him.”

Sergeant Booker, tall, black and resembling a movie star, had a numb mouth and slightly drooping lip.

“Feeling all right, Booker?” Char snapped and he mumbled in reply.

“Okay,” she said, looking down the hole, “the medical examiner is just behind us. She’ll get the vic out and off to her lair to perform an autopsy. I doubt there are identifying material on her but on the way, we found out who’s been missing around here for the past almost four years.”

“Yeah?” said the inspector. Mr. Kelly stood silently by.

She consulted her phone. “Wendy Miller. Or to be precise, Wendy Clattery Jamison Miller. Maiden name, former married name, etc. She lived at 79 Fisher Lake Drive. with her father, now deceased and husband, Kevin Miller. He has since sold the house and moved to Pittston. We have his number.”

Mr. Kelly looked more alarmed than he did a minute ago. “She went missing?”

Booker tried to talk but clearly his mouth wasn’t ready yet. Char shushed him.

“She up and disappeared on a Friday evening. Her husband was in Texas being trained for a position with the gas company here. He’s now living in the attached house next door to his mother. Anyway, there were several witnesses that he was in Texas at the time of his wife’s disappearance.”

“What about calls?” asked the inspector. “Weren’t they in touch by phone? If not, wouldn’t the husband be worried?”

“Apparently, they’d been arguing off and on and weren’t exactly speaking. He’d said things had been rocky lately. All this is public knowledge. It was in the papers back then.”

“I wouldn’t have seen it,” said Kelly. “We live in Trenton, New Jersey right now. We were hoping to retire here but now I’m having serious doubts about this septic system, not to mention rotting human bodies in it.”

“Can’t say I blame you,” said Char. “I’m curious about this system. Is this a holding or septic tank? My dad once explained all that stuff to me. With a septic tank, you gotta have a leach field, right?”

“The seller didn’t say anything about it,” said Kelly.

“So, you bought a place out in the country on a lake and never knew what kind of waste disposal system it has?”

“I just assumed-“

Char thought she heard Booker snort, but was afraid to look at him.

“Okay, who was the owner before?”

Kelly was sheepish now. Dulce Braga. She lives in New Jersey.”

“I’ll need her contact information, Mr. Kelly.”

A white van pulled up and out piled the CSI team, led by Char’s former nemesis, Robin Sloan. Lately though, Char had softened towards her since the medical examiner had lost her politician husband to Covid. The woman, usually meticulously dressed, now looked a bit disheveled. “Septic tank, huh,” she said. “Delightful.”

“Maybe they should pay you more,” Char joked.

Booker said nothing. Char knew he was feeling frustrated. His cheek was swollen a bit.

The crew raised the body out and laid it on plastic, then erected their tent around it.

Char and Booker sat in their car while Char ate a peanut butter sandwich and Booker looked miserable.

“You can drink, right?” said Char. She handed him a water bottle, which he tried to consume but a trickle ran down his chin and onto his immaculate cornflower blue shirt. Char refrained from chuckling.

After a half hour or so, Robin signaled for them. “I’m going to go out on a limb and say she was strangled. Almost breaking her neck. But so much has decomposed, I can’t be certain. She was blonde; there was still some hair. Sixty-eight inches tall. Dental records will enlighten us. Her teeth look good; she took care of them. Guessing in her forties by the looks of them. I’ll get back to you as soon as I can be more definite.”

Char thanked her and looked up Dulce Braga in Jersey City. “Well, whaddya know? She popped right up.” She pressed in the number, identified herself and described what was going on.

“I haven’t been there for almost three years,” the woman said.

“You and your husband owned it together?”


“Might as well tell me all you know. All I have to do is visit the courthouse.”

“Yes, Fabio. He is my husband - was, I mean.” The woman had a thick Hispanic accent.

“You’re divorced?”

“Yeah, finally. He left me back then, was in lust or something with that woman.” She said “woman” as if spitting the word across the room. Then for ages we couldn’t sell the damn place since I didn’t know where he was.”

“And now you do?”

“For a while, long enough for him to sign the place over and then he disappeared again. I think he went back to San Palma. I haven’t heard from him and don’t want to.”

“You bought him out?”

Dulce hesitated. “Well…we’d hardly paid off anything. There was a mortgage. There wasn’t much to sign over.”

“He maybe felt it owed it to you? After being in love with someone else?”

“Maybe,” Dulce said, so quietly that Char almost couldn’t hear her.

“Who was the woman?”

Dulce came back to life. “Wendy Miller, that evil bitch who worked on him till he gave in! Big fat American whore!”

“Wendy Miller,” repeated Char. She glanced over at Booker who was gingerly feeling his jaw.

“Yeah, thought she was Queen of the Lake! Always sticking her nose in other people’s business!”

“Thanks for the name, Dulce,” Char said. “I’ll be in touch if I need you again.”

“Wendy Miller?” said Booker, who was beginning to sound more normal.

“Pretty sure she’s the vic,” said Char. “Let’s go visit the husband. You feel alright?”

“Not a hundred percent,” he said, “but good enough.”

Her partner was the best, but she didn’t flood him with praise. She knew she was half in love with him, but better he didn’t know. One good thing, since he and his wife separated, he didn’t mind working overtime. Even though he had a large extended family, she could tell he was lonely.

“Longish ride to Pittston. I’ll call him now.”

Kevin’s mother answered the door. Though she must have been nearing eighty, she seemed vigorous. “Kevin’s on his way home from work,” she said. “Have some iced tea?”

They agreed. She motioned them to the kitchen and waved at the table for them to sit. Booker’s mouth had its feeling back and he looked ravenous. As if reading his mind, Mrs. Miller sat a plate of peanut butter cookies in front of him. “Eat up,” she ordered.

“Mrs. Miller, what can you tell me about your former daughter-in-law?”

The lady looked about ready to burst. She nudged the cookie plate closer to Booker who obliged her by stuffing one into his mouth to chew on one side, and sat down. “Never could stand her,” she said firmly. “She was a trouble maker from the get-go.”

“How so?” asked Char.

She saw Booker go for another cookie. Normally, he was reserved, but since he hadn’t been able to eat since early morning, she understood his behavior.

“A busybody, a know-it-all, batshit crazy. You know they kicked her out of some women’s club up in Montblue. I don’t know what it was but she was getting everyone riled up. I knew about her from when she was in high school. I worked in the office there a few years. If a bunch of girls were ranting and raving about something, you knew right off that Wendy was in the middle of it. When Kevin said he was involved with her, I tried to warn him. He was easy pickings after his divorce. I had already moved down here to be near my sister and couldn’t do much to stop it. They lived together a couple of years and then up and got married, a quickie thing, justice of the peace. Told me after the deed was done. His own mother.”

“Did you know about her affair?”

“You mean the thing with the San Palmian? The one running that giant Airbnb that got people all riled up?”

“That’s the one,” said Booker, now able to talk clearly. Good to hear his rich, deep voice.

“Of course, I know about it. Kevin was on the phone to me about five times a day. At first, he didn’t suspect anything, just thought she was defending the underdog to the bigots around the lake. Some of them were all pissed off about the giant hotel he had going with a septic system designed for a small family, not to mention the loud music and screaming kids. I don’t think they gave two hoots if the offender was San Palmian, Chinese or Martian, they just wanted the noise stopped and no sewage leaking into the lake. But she tried to come off as Miss Holier-Than-Thou and then, I guess she and that Fabio were together too many times supposedly working on the problem and one thing led to another.”

“Did Kevin leave her right away?” asked Char.

“He put up with it for a month or two and then took a job with the natural gas company. They sent him to Texas for training. He was down there for about five months. It was about four months in to that when Wendy up and disappeared, we assumed with Fabio. His wife claimed that wasn’t true. She kept running the Airbnb off and on for a little while and said her husband had had a nervous breakdown and was recuperating with his mother back in San Palma.”

“So,” said Booker, “during all that time, no one saw Fabio at the lake?” The cookies had disappeared but one.

“That’s right.”

“And Kevin can prove he was in Texas up till her disappearance.”

"We proved all that to the police back then when she vanished,” said Mrs. Miller. “I take it you two weren’t on the force then?”

“I worked in Easton then,” said Char, “and Booker was in Scranton. They hired us two and a half years ago when they expanded here. But I’ll check the records from back then.”

Kevin Miller arrived and told them the same story he'd told the police over three years before.

“Thanks so much, Mrs. Miller. And for the cookies,” said Char when they were done.

The old lady got up without a word, opened a drawer and took out a zip bag into which she dropped a pile of the cookies and handed them to Booker. He smiled crookedly and accepted the gift.


At the Spring Diner in Montblue, Char chowed down on a blue cheese burger while Booker, a health nut according to Char, ate a green salad with grilled chicken. “Okay,” she said, “Kevin checked out from Officer Wolfe’s notes. We could call Kevin's old bosses down there but I think Wolfe was pretty thorough. I think we can cross Kevin off as a suspect. Other likely choices are Fabio’s wife Dulce, Fabio himself and, if the vic was hated so much, other residents of the lake.”

“I hope the people who lived around the lake then still do now,” said Booker.

Most of them did. Especially the major players, Peter and Liz Kozak and Manny Bell. Peter and Manny were now eighty and eighty-one and Liz edging toward that. Char managed to round them up at the Kozak’s large, two-story house overlooking Fisher Lake. The five of them seated themselves around the Kozak’s large kitchen table

“Are you aware,” said Char, “that the body of Wendy Miller has been removed from the property recently sold by Dulce Braga to Randell Kelly?”

“No shit,” said Manny. “So that’s where the old bitch ended up. Fitting she should be buried there, haha.” His grin was so wide it’s a wonder his face didn’t split in half.

“Manny!” admonished Liz. “You’re talking to the police! They’ll think you did it!”

“Maybe I did,” he continued to joke.

“Maybe you did?” said Booker, fully recovered from his root canal and looking his usual spiffy self.

“Nah,” said Manny, apparently not the least bit afraid of the cops. “The woman was a demon from hell, but I’m not the murdering type. Prison wouldn’t agree with me. I need my easy chair and my dog. I don’t mind that she’s dead though. How did the harpy kick it?”

“Well, according to the coroner’s report, someone strangled her,” said Char.

“And what?” said Manny. “Buried her on Fabio’s property?”

“Not exactly,” said Char. “She was found in the septic tank.”

“Holy shit,” said Manny.

Char and Booker exchanged looks and she started in on Peter. “And how did you feel about Wendy Miller, Mr. Kozak?”

He was perfectly calm. “I didn’t like the woman but would never wish her an early demise and certainly not in that horrible manner.”

“They tell me you were a plumbing contractor?”

“Yep,” said Peter.

“You would know all about getting one of those septic tank lids off.”

“Along with half or more of the county,” Peter retorted.

“My husband is a kind and wonderful person!” his wife snapped. “He would never murder someone, geesh! If there is anyone who knows how to control his temper, it would be Peter. I’m the one who gets all worked up about things, not him!”

“Maybe you didn’t like Wendy much, Mrs. Kozak?”

Liz rolled her eyes. “Seriously? A little woman in her seventies is going to take down a big fat female like Wendy Miller, dig down and open a septic tank and dump her three-ton dead body into it? Get real. And by the way, my husband has arthritis of the lower spine and does not risk injuring his back by lifting things! Surgery is the last thing he wants.”

“Do you know anyone who might want to have done Wendy Miller harm?” asked Booker.

Liz guffawed. “Apparently, a lot of people hated her. Not just here but we heard she'd been asked to leave a couple of other organizations. Kept stirring up trouble, making mountains out of molehills, causing endless meetings that went nowhere. I can’t imagine how her husband stood her.”

“Tell us about her dealings with Fabio Braga,” said Char.

Liz and Peter looked at each other. “We don’t really know,” said Peter.

“Oh, hell, we do,” said Manny. “She was always over there plotting whatever with him.”

“But maybe it was just about the septic situation,” said Peter. “She was all for protecting him from us supposed bigots.”

“I saw them once,” said Liz to Peter. “I told you about it but you said I was imagining things.”

“What do you mean, you saw them once?” said Booker.

“There’s a dirt road that cuts off from Rt. 82. The kind of road kids go out on at night to drink beer and what all. It’s a short cut from 82 to another road closer to our lake. If it’s dry out, sometimes I take it on my way home from town.”

“I told you not to,” said Peter firmly. “You could get stuck out there.”

Liz shrugged. “I know but what would life be without little risks? Anyway, her car was parked on it, off to the side, partly in the weeds and he was in it with her.”

Everyone leaned forward. “What were they doing?” said Char.

“Just sitting there, but then they would have heard and seen me coming and changed position if anything risqué were going on. The question is, what were they doing out there together?”

“What time of day was it?”

“Early afternoon on a weekday.”

“Didn’t Wendy work?”

“Yeah, some kind of administration job concerning placement of foster kids. But she worked a lot from home.”

Booker’s finger danced on his phone and brought up her old job and title. “Relatively good position,” he said.

“So,” said Char, “they had things to talk about in a secluded place. Couldn’t discuss whatever it was at their homes, apparently.”

“Yeah,” said Manny with a sly grin, “spouses might have been there.”


“I am so hungry today,” said Char. She and Booker were back at the station making calls and doing “paperwork,” though why they still called it that, she didn’t know. It was convenient to have an old boyfriend in the Edison, NJ police department who still felt guilty for dumping her. Milking this for all its worth, she could get him to find out info on Jersey citizens.

“We just ate a couple of hours ago,” Booker said. “Your metabolism must run a hundred miles an hour.”

“But then why am I not skinny?”

“You’re fine,” he said firmly.

“Let’s go get a bite and decide how we’re going to interview Dulce Braga.”

To do so, they would need to drive to New Jersey. According to LinkedIn, the woman worked at a travel agency in Jersey City. They checked the agency’s hours and Char said, “Road trip tomorrow?”

Meanwhile, Char received a call from the medical examiner with her report. "Definitely strangled," said Robin. "Can't get any DNA from what's left of the finger nails. Teeth show it is definitely Wendy Miller."

"Thanks," said Char, then replayed the info to Booker.

They left at eight AM and were in Jersey City by eleven. Locating the agency was another matter but eventually they found a parking place and walked in the door. Dulce Braga was at her desk with her name plate in front. They flashed their badges and she stood up.

She was no taller than five feet, if that. Probably ninety-five pounds. Not likely to have the strength to strangle a much larger woman, bind up her body and pitch her into a septic tank. Let alone get the lid off and on. Unless she had help.

“We need to know where Fabio is,” Char said.

“I told you, I don’t know. We’re divorced and not in communication.”

“What about the kids? Doesn’t he care about the kids?”

“I-I don’t know. He sort of just left them.”

“Really? Well, it says here on this paper I printed out that he makes child support payments to you from a bank in Florida. He must have employment down there to be so regular with those checks.”

Dulce was silent while several expressions passed over her face.

“Seems he’s living in Miami, driving a truck for the Serrano Brothers Market. They’re having him brought in for questioning as we speak.”

“We-we’re not together anymore, we’re divorced.”

“So why are you covering for him?”

Dulce paused, then said, “If he gets arrested or anything, I won’t get any child support. I need it to take care of the kids.”

“I understand,” said Char, “but hiding a suspect or covering for him is a crime in itself. Maybe you’d better start being honest.”

Dulce called another agent to come back to the office and cover her while she went with Char and Booker to the restaurant next door. After ordering a glass of iced tea, she started to cry.

“It’s been a nightmare. I love my kids but if I'd known how things were going to be, I sure wouldn’t have married Fabio.” She paused, then went on. “He has serious mental issues. He didn’t explain it all until after we were married. I knew he took meds but I thought it was for being bipolar which didn’t scare me but no, it wasn’t. He is paranoid schizophrenic. Hearing voices, hallucinations, the whole thing. He had them under control, but then the meds stopped working and they couldn’t seem to get it straightened out. He started to be hell to live with, started spending more and more time up at the lake working on that damn Airbnb and wouldn’t answer the phone. Then he expected me to handle the reservation stuff and all that on top of taking care of the kids and working at the agency.”

“Did he threaten you in any way when his meds weren’t working?” Booker asked.

“That wasn’t a real long period, only about six months once that started. He was up at the lake most of the time. One time I took the kids and went to my cousin’s house, but then we went back home. He never really hurt us.”

“When did the affair with Wendy Miller start?”

“About a year after we got the Airbnb up and running. People on the lake started complaining about everything. Some of them were mean. We didn’t mean to pollute the lake; we just didn’t know about that stuff. We didn’t know when the people sold us the place that the septic system was bad. We have city water here and just didn’t think about it.”

“And yet,” said Char, “You sold the place to Randall Kelly knowing the problem.”

She looked guilty. “Well…Fabio was going to have the septic tank turned into a holding tank but then everything happened and he…” She trailed off.

“He what?” said Char.

She sighed. “He did something to Wendy and he said was going far away and don’t come after him. He said he would send money and he did, after a while. It was really hard until he did but my cousins helped us”

“Back up,” said Booker. “What did he say he did to Wendy?”

She looked away. “I don’t really know. I didn’t want to know.”

“Come on, Dulce.”

She shook her head. “He didn’t like it when women got aggressive. She was pushy.”

“Did he confess to you?”

“No,” Dulce said. “He just said he had to get far away.”

“Dulce,” said Char.

“Okay, he could get nuts. I was just lucky to get a divorce. He gave me the lake house. It took six months ago to get that all straightened out so I could sell the horrible thing.”

“Did you own a house here in Jersey?”

“No, we lived…I still do…in an apartment.”

Booker said, “If you had to guess, what do you think he did to Wendy?”

She sighed deeply. “Well, since I heard she disappeared, I’m thinking what you’re thinking.”

“And why,” said Char, “didn’t the police during the original investigation think that too?”

“I don’t know,” she said.

After what felt like a never-ending ride home from New Jersey and Char had dropped Booker off at his apartment, she stayed up reading over the former investigation. Why had they dropped it without a more serious pursuit?

According to notes left by Branden Wolfe, the officer in charge at the time, it was due to pressure from a now deceased judge who'd property on the lake and then Officer Wolfe suddenly died. An aneurism or something. She called Booker to tell him.

“Why did the judge want the investigation stopped?” asked Booker hoarsely. She must have woken him up.

“Wolfe mentions that the judge’s own cottage’s septic system was the old kind, in other words a bad one, and that several other people near him had the same thing and he was sick of all the ruckus whipped up by Wendy and the others we interviewed. ‘I come to the lake for some damn peace,” he apparently told Wolfe’s higher ups. Some of them had lake cottages too, though not at Fisher Lake and they didn’t want things stirred up either. ‘We don’t have the manpower for this kind of thing,’ Wolfe’s boss told him. Probably Wolfe had planned to continue on his own time but then he died.”

“Sad story,” said Booker.

“It’s nice that I’m pretty much the boss now,” said Char.

Booker laughed.

The Miami police arrested Fabio a few days later and had him brought to Pennsylvania for arraignment. Apparently, he had confessed.

“I’m taking you out for a good dinner,” Char told Booker. “We’ll go to Cooper’s and get some decent seafood.”

Booker didn't decline.

Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and SF magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK

Monday, July 12, 2021

Out to Pasture, fiction by Margaret Karmazin

Edward Michelson’s body lies in the mud in Dan Thorpe’s field where Black Angus cattle roam at their pleasure. Three of the cows have come to see what is going on, leaving their heavy footprints in the muck, one stepping on Edward’s ankle and bending it awkwardly. His denim jacket and plaid lumberjack shirt are soaked, making it difficult to see what is blood or mud.

Lieutenant Char Perez and Sergeant Maurice Booker stand in the morning rain, looking down at the body. The county medical examiner, Robin Sloan, and one of her assistants have retrieved a wallet and I.D. from the victim’s jeans pocket, and Char’s gloved finger now taps the driver’s license. “Just turned thirty-five,” she says to Booker. “What a place to be murdered.”

“One place is as good as another,” he says. “And a bullet is better than some ways of going. What else is in the wallet?” 

Char passes it to him, and he checks the rest of its contents. “A permit to carry a concealed weapon, not unusual in these parts, social security card - dumb of him to carry that, three credit cards - Visa, Lowes, and Home Depot, a CVS card, looks like a house key and two condoms.” He counts the money. “Seventy-nine dollars.” He slips the wallet back into its plastic bag and hands it to a uniformed officer.

“I’m not fond of those cows over there,” says Char, eyeing the fifteen or so Black Angus across the field, huddled under trees by the fence. “Are they temperamental? That one over there is looking at me funny.”

Booker, dressed meticulously as usual in a tailormade suit and raincoat, says, “They don’t have horns.” 

“Yeah, but they could stampede.”

“You’re such a city chick,” he says.

“Like you’re country,” Char retorts. 

Booker, tall with dark brown skin, his hair trimmed close to his head and a diamond stud in his left ear is anything but rural looking. “I still don’t like that particular cow,” she says.

“Three bullets,” says Robin crouched over the body and undoubtedly, thinks Char, immaculate inside her PPE suit, as usual not a chemically treated hair out of place. Not even human, Char often comments bitterly to Booker.

“Are you jealous?” he’ll say, and she never replies to that.  

Can she be? Can a haphazard-looking bisexual with occasional bouts of depression be jealous of a sleekly together hetero woman with a perfect husband in state politics and two perfect kids in private school? Do they even have anything in common to remotely rile Char up? Maybe it’s just Robin’s smooth, blond, shoulder-length bob. Char’s own thick, coarse hair has a mind of its own and most of the time appears as if she has just returned from a weekend of drugs, booze, and sex, which never actually happens, so the look is deceptive. Good thing for those rubber thingies to cram it all into a ponytail. “Just got your hair done, boss?” one of the bad boy cops might occasionally tease, and she secretly wants to demote him but pretends it doesn’t bother her. One thing about her tall, handsome and meticulous sergeant – he never fails to show respect.

“Three bullets?” says Char. 

The body has been turned over before Char and Booker traipsed across the field. It’s now on its back, faded green eyes staring up at the gray morning sky. “He was originally face down,” says Robin. “One in the back, upper left, the other two in the front, side of the neck and directly into the heart.”

“What kind of ammo?” says Char.

“We’ll have to get them out, but from the size of the holes, I’d say .22. Pretty close range.”

“A woman’s choice,” Char mumbles, and Booker looks up.

“I don’t know about that,” he says. “I’d go more for a .38 in that area.”

“Who would use a .22 nowadays anyway?” says Char. “Not a choice that comes to mind when you want to take somebody out. A light choice, though not going to knock anyone over backwards when they fire, is it?”

“And for your convenience,” adds Robin, “there’s the gun over there. Or a gun. I’m just assuming. That’s your job anyway.” She stands up and signals to her crew that she is finished and for them to take the body to her examination room.

“The gun? How unusual,” says Char. “I mean for the perp to leave it at the scene.” 

With gloved hands, she picks it up. “I see it was dropped on the way back out of the field. Like the perp shot Michelson here, then turned and as he or she walked to the road, just flipped it over their shoulder.”

“Let’s look at those footprints to see if we can tell if it’s a he or she,” says Booker, who snaps several photos with his phone. “They’re mushy by now, and the grass covers a lot.”

“The damned rain isn’t helping,” says Char.

Booker checks out the gun. “Pretty sure it’s a Smith & Wesson K-22. They started making them again after World War II, but don’t make them now. Stopped in the nineties.”  He opens the barrel. “Three bullets still in here. Not very responsible, leaving something like that in a field. Some kid could come along.”

Char is thinking. “This is making me think the perp was a nervous wreck, not used to violence. So worked up that they don’t think about the risk to others, just want to get rid of the weapon.”

“This isn’t a gun you’d buy on the street,” says Booker. “It was probably in some old guy’s collection.”

Char thinks a moment and says, “Hand the gun over and let’s go talk to whatshisname over there and let the team finish here.”

By the fence next to the road stands a frightened-looking young man. As Char and Booker approach, she asks Booker, “Who do we have here, then?”

Booker consults his pad. “Jesse Villan, age nineteen. Working part-time as a farmworker while attending college.”

“That’s an unusual last name, like “villain.” Maybe it fits, and we have our perp?” Char jokes.

“Sounds French,” says Booker. “Canadian, maybe.”

Jesse Villan is tall and lanky. His gorgeous blue eyes peer through the dark brown hair that hangs over them, which he keeps brushing away. Char often wonders why people put up with hair in their faces. “Let’s hear what happened,” she says to the young man.

He is shaking and crosses his arms to steady himself. “I got here at six AM since Dan had to drive his mother up to Binghamton for some kind of medical thing and went out to check on Marilyn, one of the cows that was acting funny yesterday. We had the vet out, and something was embedded in her leg. So she took it out and told me to check on Marilyn first thing this morning to see if she’s okay. I’m almost out there and it’s raining like a bitch, but I kept going and saw this lump on the ground and I thought, what the hell? I went over, and it’s this mud-smeared body, and holy shit!” He stops because he looks like he’s about to cry.

“Just take your time,” Char says. “Seeing a dead body is upsetting. Don’t worry, just give us the details.”

The rain suddenly stops, and the sun peeks out behind some clouds. The cows slowly leave the trees by the fence and wander toward the south end of the field. The team has moved the body to its truck and set up tape around the scene. Whether this will keep the cows away is anyone’s guess but they’re taking samples and footprint casts. 

“Well,” Jesse continues, “I-I got closer to look, and then I saw the blood and he wasn’t moving, so I called 911.”

“You did good, Jesse. Now I need to ask you, do you personally know Edward Michelson?”

His face blanches. “Ed? That’s Ed? Yeah, I know him. Oh my god. Why is Ed out there in the field?”

“Well,” says Booker, “that’s what we want to know too.”

“Tell us everything you know about Ed,” says Char.

Jesse puts his hands into his pockets, probably still trying to steady them. “He’s an old friend of my boss, Dan. They knew each other from school.”

“Dan Thorpe, according to our information, is forty years old, and Ed was thirty-five. School friends?”

“Um, yeah, I don’t know,” says Jesse. “You’d have to ask him.”

They take down Jesse’s contact info for himself and Dan Thorpe’s cell number and return to the station to sort things out. 

Dan Thorpe answers two hours later while driving back from Binghamton. Hopefully, hands-off, thinks Char, as she decides it’s not a good idea to tell him what has happened while he’s driving. “We need to talk to you as soon as you get home,” she tells him. By the time they arrive at his farm again, he has taken his mother to her apartment and heard what happened from a very rattled, and at times, incoherent Jesse. 

“I can’t believe it,” are his first words when Char and Booker walk into his kitchen. The floor is muddy in spite of the mudroom at the back, and a rifle lies across the table along with boxes of ammo. It seems obvious that Dan has no woman living in the place by the looks of it and he is not nervous about exposing his weapon to the police.

“Hunting?” says Booker, eyebrows raised. He moves to inspect the gun, but Dan does not appear concerned.

“I was just cleaning my rifles, getting them ready. Right now, it’s bow season though. I was planning on doing some of that with Ed, but now. . .”  His face clouds up.

“You mind if I sit down?” says Char. “We’d like to ask you some questions.”

Dan pulls out a chair and joins her. He slides the gun and paraphernalia over, away from Char. Booker remains standing and leans against the counter.

How well did you know Ed?” Dan looks to her like a confirmed bachelor and not one who appeals to her, though he’s not bad-looking. But there is something about him — a set to his jawline and a steely expression in his eyes that she has seen before in hardcore right-wing men. The kind of men who generally don’t like people like her or Booker. 

“I’ve known him since school,” he says.

“There’s a five-year age difference between you,” says Char. 

Booker, meantime, has wandered into the next room.

“I was in the same class with his brother Mike. We were best friends.”


“Mike joined the Marines. He died in Iraq. I got to be better friends with Ed through that paintball place. We still play occasionally. . . well, not now.”

“War games,” says Char. “You’re good at shooting then?”

He sets his square jaw tighter. “A lot of people around here are ‘good at shooting.’ A lot of people hunt, so what? That doesn’t mean I’d have any interest in killing Ed. You can check that gun there and any other gun in the house if you want, be my guest.”

“So you and Ed were regular buddies then?”

“Maybe more in the past than now,” Dan admits. “I don’t have as much time anymore for socializing, not with running the farm and helping my mom. She’s seventy-two and had colon cancer. Supposedly they got it all, but you know how that is.”

“She doesn’t live with you?”

He shakes his head. “No, stubborn old coot. This used to be her and my father’s farm, but she was sick of it, and when he died, she said she was getting the hell out. She lives in an apartment in town.”

Booker stands in the doorway to what Char assumes is the dining room. “So, who would want Ed Michelson dead then?” he says. He wears a certain expression that she has seen on him before when dealing with someone he feels is racist. Dan Thorpe has said nothing that would lead one to think he’s a bigot, but Booker can smell one from thirty feet.

“I don’t know,” says Dan, not looking at Booker. 

Booker, not taking any shit, moves his six-foot-three body closer to Thorpe and says in a tougher tone, “Think about it. You knew Ed Michelson well, then you probably know who his friends are. Give us some names.”

Thorpe rears up a bit and says, “Well, sometimes he stopped in McGreevy’s after work, so he probably knew people there, and he had two women in his life.”

Booker’s pen is poised over his notebook. “Names?”

“Kelly Page. She was an old school friend of his.”

“And?” said almost threateningly.

“Sierra Torres. He lived with her a while back.”

Turns out Thorpe has their numbers, two for Kelly, which Booker writes down.

“Where were you last night?” asks Char. “The medical examiner says Ed was shot between eleven and two AM. Right in your field. If you weren’t the shooter, wouldn’t you have heard the shot?”

 “People shoot around here all the time,” Dan says. “I’ve occasionally heard shots in the night all my life. Best not to go out and investigate. Could be people jacking deer, and that’s the game warden’s problem, not mine. But I wasn’t here. I stayed overnight at Mom’s so we could get an early start-up to Binghamton. Her procedure was at seven AM, so we had to be at the hospital by six.”

“Do you know how to contact Ed’s family?” asks Char.

“His dad left his mother years ago, and he never knew where he went. His mother lives in Clearwater, Florida. I think she remarried. I don’t know her last name. I told you about his brother.”

They thank him and leave. “We need to get word to his mother,” Char says. She calls Linda Styles, her best “uniform” to handle that.

It doesn’t take long for Booker to check out Dan’s visit to Binghamton General, and he and his mother were indeed there, though of course, they couldn’t confirm what she was there for.

“Let’s do Kelly Page next,” suggests Char. The number she calls first is apparently a work number, the office for the local PennySaver, a weekly rural classified.

“She’s out on rounds,” the woman who answers says. She gives Char Kelly’s cell, which she already has. “What is ‘out on rounds’?” Char asks.

“Selling and renewing ads,” is the answer.

So Kelly can be anywhere in the country right now, Char figures, but calling the second number, it turns out that Kelly is only fifteen minutes away in the town of Hawago. “How about we get lunch there,” suggests Char.

Booker grunts an affirmative while writing something on his pad.

Kelly tells them to meet her outside Kruger’s, a grocery store in a little mall with a CVS, liquor store, and beer outlet. They spot her leaning against her red Toyota Rav4, a tall woman with long, streaked blond hair and navy slacks, a white top and a gray blazer. She is attractive and gives off an aura of almost military-like command. 

Char and Booker introduce themselves, and Kelly nods her hello. Char watches her face while Booker tells her about Ed. Kelly bends forward, hands on her thighs, and shakes her head. “No, no,” she says, her voice cracking. When she stands back up, her eyes are wet. “Not Ed. Oh, God. What happened? Tell me what happened.” She seems genuinely upset, but Char does not trust anyone in the universe other than Booker. She has watched too many liars.

“What was your and Ed’s relationship?” she asks. 

“Friends,” Kelly answers, her voice shaky. “We’re old friends. From high school.”

“Did you ever go out?” asks Booker.

She wipes at an eye. “Well, not romantically.”

“You weren’t interested in Ed romantically?” persists Booker.

She hesitates and flips a piece of hair that has fallen in front of one eye. “Not anymore. Maybe in high school, a bit, but I got over that real fast.”

“Why?” says Char.

“Oh, there just wasn’t anything happening,” Kelly says. “We weren’t like that. More like brother and sister.”

“You were in the same class at school, right?”

She nods. 

“Where were you last night between eleven and two AM?”

“Home. My neighbor was over and left around tennish, and I still had some work to do, but what really happened was that I drank another glass of wine and was out like a light.”

“Another glass?” Char says.

Kelly takes on an embarrassed look, but Char feels it’s put on.  

“Yeah,” Kelly says, “sometimes I have two glasses when I should keep it to one. Doesn’t always make for good sleeping because you wake up a few hours later, but amazingly, I didn’t.”

“What does your job consist of, by the way?”

“I sell ads for the PennySaver and two newspapers.”

“Are you dating anyone?”

An expression of pain flashes over Kelly’s face, gone in a microsecond. “Not now,” she says.

“Have you ever been married?” persists Char.

 “No, not yet.” Kelly makes an effort to laugh off the question.

“Okay,” says Char. “If we need you, you’ll hear from us. Oh wait, do you own a gun? Maybe have a permit?”

“I do have a permit to carry, yes,” says Kelly, “but I never ended up buying a gun.”

“Why those questions about marriage?” Booker asks as he and Char dig into their orders in the diner. Some people stare at them a little longer than usual. They’re in rural redneck territory, and these people rarely see many black men sitting cozily with a white woman. Though should anyone object, Booker, a solid mass of muscle with a black belt in karate and jiu-jitsu could make mincemeat of them in a few seconds. Char secretly would enjoy seeing that. Of course, he is somewhat happily married, so if anyone tries to start anything, he’d probably just show them pics on his phone of his wife and kid.

“I don’t know,” she says. “Just wanted to make sure Kelly Page wasn’t in love with the vic. Maybe a triangle kind of thing?”

Booker grunts as he digs into his burger with tomato, lettuce, and mayo. He doesn’t get the fries like Char but then sneaks a couple off her plate. “Just as long as they’re not the crispy ones,” she says. “You don’t want to ruin your healthy eating streak.”

“Let’s go see this Sierra chick,” she says when they’re done. “Sexy name. Lived with the vic for a couple of years, so she might know him better than anyone.” 

Sierra Torres works for a realtor and, fortunately is in the office when they arrive and not out showing properties. She is twenty-seven, short and compact, with wavy brown hair to her shoulders and flashing dark eyes, someone who knows she is sexy and how to play it. 

“I’ll bet she was a majorette in high school,” Char whispers to Booker, who responds with, “Not a cheerleader?”

“No, not preppie,” says Char. 

Sierra motions to two chairs in front of her desk, where clients usually sit and the cops sit down.

“I know why you’re here,” she says immediately. Dan called and told me about Ed.” She shakes her head. “I can’t believe it. He wasn’t the kind of person to get into trouble or anything. And it was a day after his birthday. How awful is that?”

We noticed that. Just turned thirty-five,” says Char.

“By ‘get into trouble,’ what do you mean?” asks Booker.

“You know, like hanging out with the wrong kind of people.”

“Are there many of those around here? Seems like a quiet rural area.”

Sierra smirks while sharpening a pencil. “Don’t let it fool you,” she says. “Where are you guys from, Scranton?”

Neither Char or Booker answer that. “We heard that Ed hung out at McGreevy’s occasionally?” says Char. “Any wrong kind of people there?”

“There are,” she says, “but smart locals avoid them.”

“Was Ed smart?”

“That’s debatable,” she said. “He had a little run-in once with the son of the owner, Zack Meade. The owner isn’t anyone named McGreevy – that was like fifty years ago. I don’t know for sure what it was over. That was after we stopped living together, me and Ed. But Zack left town. I heard he lives in Alaska now and has a good job in the oil industry. I think he even got married.”

“Why did you stop living together?”

She shrugs. “Oh, differences in style, I guess. Ed wasn’t into things I like. He didn’t care about sprucing up the place or going interesting places. He never wanted to take a trip anywhere good, just to drive up to his cousin’s cabin in New York State. I wanted to go to the islands or take a cruise. He didn’t like to read, and we never agreed on what to watch on TV. Also, he’s almost eight years older. You know, differences in what we like, music, movies, that kind of stuff. Besides, there was Dan.”

Char sat up straighter. “What about Dan?” she says.

A look flits across Sierra’s face like she might have said something she shouldn’t have. “Well, I mean he kind of has a thing for me. Even though he’s way older than me. It’s almost creepy.”

She’s getting herself in deeper, Char thinks, glances at Booker, and sees he is thinking the same thing. “So, what you’re saying is that Dan wasn’t happy when you and Ed were together. And maybe that put a strain on his relationship with Ed?”

“Well, no big deal. I’m not implying that Dan would hurt Ed or anything. I told Dan, Ed or no Ed, that I am not interested in anything other than friendship. So, he wouldn’t have any reason to be pissed at Ed. Besides, Ed and I broke up over two years ago.”

“Where were you last night between eleven PM and two AM?”

“What? You think I shot him?”

“How do you know that’s how he was killed?”

She rolled her eyes. “Well, Dan told me, duh.” She paused. “Actually, I had a friend over last night.” She smirked a little.

“You mean a man? He stayed over?”

She smiled.

“We’ll need his name and number,” says Booker.  

“Interesting about Dan having a thing for Sierra. Puts a new light on things,” Char says to Booker once they’re in the car.

“She asked me out,” he says.

“Who, Sierra? When?”

“While I was getting the number. You walked away.”

“What is she, a nympho?” says Char with distaste. 

Booker smiles, which never cracks his face. He is a close-to-the-chest person. “I’m irresistible, what can I say?”

Except to your wife, Char thinks. The woman is hardly ever home since their one kid, a boy, won a scholarship to a fancy private school. Supposedly, she represents some cosmetic firm but Char doesn’t know if she actually brings home any money to speak of. She feels that Ailene Booker doesn’t fully appreciate what she has, but of course Char never expresses this to her sergeant. Maybe he’s okay with everything though she suspects not.

“You know,” she says, “I forgot to ask Sierra something. I’ll be right back.” And she gets out of the car before Booker has a chance to respond. 

“Excuse me,” she says, “one more thing,” enjoying her Columbo moment. 

Sierra’s phone is next to her ear and she looks up with annoyance but ends the call. 

“Ed’s friend Kelly Page. What was the deal there?”

Sierra loses the annoyed look and takes on an avid expression. “Oh, she’s eternally in love, or was I should say, with Ed. She was like a fly buzzing around his head. I could’ve gotten jealous but I never did. I just felt sorry for her.”

 “So you’re saying that Kelly definitely had a romantic interest in her old schoolmate? And yet they never were a couple?”

“Well, I think he took her to their senior prom. But I know for a fact that he was never in love with her. She was like a sister or cousin to him.”

“Thanks, you’ve been helpful,” says Char and returns to the car.

Back at the station, she and Booker pay a visit to CSI. Cory Lightfoot has been promoted from Scranton and now runs the new department in Montbleu. They find him excited about the weapon.

“My uncle used to have one of these,” he says, nodding at the pistol laid out in parts on his worktable. He gave it to my aunt, told her it was a weapon she’d be able to use, lightweight and not a hard recoil, but she said the aim was off and could never hit a target. She did keep it in her nightstand, though, probably not loaded. Anyway, this is a Smith & Wesson K-22. Nothing like it registered in this area now, but that doesn’t mean anything. My guess is it never was registered. The user probably had it handed down from a relative. Dropping it in the field afterwards like that is very Cosa Nostra, isn’t it? It was wiped clean.”

“Well?” says Char.

“It was definitely the murder weapon. Assuming it was murder. I mean, maybe the vic was attacking the perp and they had to defend themselves.” But he laughed, figuring this was not likely. 

“I’m going to ask a few of the farmers if they knew of anyone who owned an old .22 like that,” says Char.

“But,” counters Booker, “why farmers? Could’ve been someone from Hawago or any of the towns around here, including Montbleu.”

“You’re right,” says Char. To Cory, she says, “How’re things going on the footprints?”

“Red Wing men’s size nine and a half from the 1990s most likely. A distinctive chunk missing from the tread on the right foot.”

“Men’s,” says Char.

“But a small size for a man,” Cory points out. “A woman, even one with size eight feet could wear heavy socks and manage with those. The fact that they’re roughly twenty-five years old would lead one to think-“

She breaks in. “That the boots had belonged some someone’s father or other relative, and the perp kept them.”

“Correct. So it sounds like maybe the person is a relative – son or daughter or grandchild or married to such, of an old farmer who has probably since died and left this stuff in the house.”

“Well,” says Booker, “that might apply to Dan Thorpe. He grew up on his farm and runs it himself now. Probably some old stuff in there. Did you notice if he has small feet, Lieutenant? Sierra’s stayover friend checked out, by the way. Unless they were both in on it.” 

“We’ll keep him on ice then,” says Char. “I did notice that Sierra’s feet are quite small, like the rest of her. So she’s not the wearer.”

She and Booker find Dan in one of his barns talking to the visiting vet about some of his cattle who were just diagnosed with IBR. “We need to bring them into the barn right now,” says the vet, a large, middle-aged woman wearing heavy boots of her own, about size nine, Char estimates. She glances at Dan’s feet and sees that they are large, possibly even a twelve.  He is wearing what looks like relatively new L.L. Bean clodhoppers.

She motions to Dan, who reluctantly excuses himself to the vet and walks over. “Just a couple of questions,” says Char. “Won’t take a minute. Does Kelly Page spend time at your house? Did she ever take or borrow any clothing from you?”

He looks at her like she is nuts. “Clothing?”

“Boots, for example.”

He impatiently shakes his head and glances back at the vet. “Look, we have a problem here, and I have to-“

“We understand,” says Booker, moving closer. “Just answer the question.”

“No, Kelly Page never took or borrowed any boots from this house.”

“That you know of,” says Char. 

“I have no idea what you’re talking about. I think I might run into Kelly like once a year if that. She was Ed’s friend, not mine. There aren’t any old boots in my house anyway, except for two pairs of mine, and as far as I know, they’re in the mudroom. Go look.”

They thank him, do just that and things are exactly as he said. Two older pairs, size twelve. “Of course, there could be more somewhere else,” says Booker, “but what’s the point?  We can see he keeps the place pretty empty, so it’s doubtful he has a bunch of old crap stored away. A hoarder he is not.”

“One more thing,” says Char. She motions to Dan, who once again has to leave the vet. It looks like Jesse, the farmhand, is starting to bring a few cows into the barn for her to start the procedure on their eyes.

“What?” says Dan with clear annoyance.

“I heard that you maybe have a thing for Sierra Torres. Is that true?”

His face reddens, but Char is not sure if it’s from embarrassment or anger. “That little whore? She likes to imagine every man for miles around has the hots for her when in reality, they’re more likely wary of her. She’s known for playing mind games and using men for whatever she can get. I warned Ed about her a long time ago, but he had to find out for himself before he believed me!”

“You’re saying Ed dumped her and not the other way around then?”

“Well, I don’t know who said or did what, but it ended. “I’m not really interested in other people’s private lives.”

“So you’ve never had a relationship with her?”

“Hell no,” says Dan. “I like women more my own age if I see any at all. Frankly, I’m too busy. I don’t really have time for a relationship. Takes all my time and energy to run this farm.”

Somehow, Char believes him. “You called her though. To tell her about Ed.”

Now Dan looked pissed. “Well, I felt she had a right to know. That’s the only reason.”

“I think we should visit Kelly Page’s place,” Char says to Booker once they’ve left. “She owns a condo in Montbleu, not far from the courthouse. We can also check in the station and see if Cody has anything new.”

“Or Robin while we’re in town,” says Booker, referring to the medical examiner and knowing he’ll get an earful from Char.

“Mmmmmm,” mumbles Char, but she ends up following her sergeant to see the hated medical examiner. “What’s up, anything?” she barks at her nemesis.

Robin looks up from the body she is working on, an obese man of about sixty, and nods toward another table, where Ed Michelson lies under a sheet. Smoothly, she sets down the tool she is holding and walks to Ed’s table where she pulls back the covering.

 “He didn’t put up any fight, no bruises on him, nothing notable under his nails. I imagine he was surprised when the perp drew his/her gun. Unless he was forced at gunpoint to move that far into the field and then he might have tried to disarm the perp unless it was a larger male than himself. No sign of that though. What were they doing in the field? Late at night in a pasture with cows around. It didn’t start raining till morning but still. Apparently, no one was afraid of the cattle, leading one to suspect that both parties grew up familiar with them and farms in general. I’d say the vic did not expect the attack. The attacker shot two times from about five feet away, Ed spun around, they shot him once again in the back and he fell face down and expired.”

“Okay, then,” says Char gruffly, “thanks.”

Once outside, Booker says to her, “Tell me again why you hate her so much. You sure don’t hide it.”

“I guess she’s everything I’m not,” says Char. She doesn’t like this too personal talk, even if it’s with Booker.

“And you’re everything she’s not,” Booker retorts. “Ever think of that?”

They were getting on dangerous ground.

“Just saying,” Booker continues, “and then I’ll drop it. Some people prefer your type to hers, okay?”

Char nods and is secretly smiling for the rest of the day.

Kelly Page agrees to speak to them in her home on the outskirts of Montbleu after work. They sit in her living room to talk, and as usual, Booker performs his ruse of “needing” the bathroom. The place has two bedrooms and one and a half baths. They already checked the floor plans online. When he returns, he comments on the old rusty windmill head he saw displayed on the kitchen wall. “Couldn’t help but notice,” he says. “I like old stuff.”

Kelly brightens. “Oh, that! Thank you. That was my uncle’s. He kept up my grandparents’ farm after they died. I have a lot of his stuff.”

Char perks up but tries not to show it. “Really?” she says. “I like old stuff myself. Can we see some of it?”

“Sure,” says Kelly, who stands up and motions for them to follow. As they walk through the apartment, she points out various things–a repainted milk can full of dried grasses, a black cat clock with a swinging tail, sawed off pitchforks arranged on the wall by the dining table, and a low metal bucket on a balcony off the kitchen filled with chrysanthemums.

“Nice,” says Char. “Do you still have some of the old farm clothing? Like your grandma’s aprons or something? I always remember my grandma making her pies and wearing embroidered aprons.”

Booker shoots her a look like maybe she is getting too close for Kelly’s comfort, but she bites. “Yeah, well, not so much from Grandma since my aunts took that stuff, but they didn’t want much from Grandpa, so I got some of that. Enough to remember him and those old times.”

“Farm equipment and clothes?”

“Yeah, basically.” Kelly suddenly takes on a wary look.

Char stands up, looking innocently satisfied. “Well, I think we’re done here,” she says. “You ready, Booker?”

In the car, she says, “She has largish feet, did you notice? I’d say size nine.”

“But why would she shoot him?” 

“I’m thinking it has to do with unrequited love,” Char says.

“But how would she get him into the field?”

“We need the boots before we figure that out,” she says.

A friendly magistrate gets them their search warrant, and they return to Kelly’s place that evening. She innocently opens the door, and her face falls when she sees them.

Booker holds up the warrant. “What are you looking for?” Kelly says, her manner almost cocky, but when they find the boots in her guest room closet, she loses the attitude. 

Char nods at Linda Styles, the uniform accompanying them, and Linda cuffs Kelly as Char reads her rights. 

“What I want to know is why.” Char tells Kelly back at the station.

Kelly hangs her head for a long moment but then grows defiant. “He lied to me,” she says, her eyes flashing. “We made a pact the summer after our senior year. Dan let us and some friends drink up in that field. The cows were mostly in the next field over, just two in that one for some reason, I can’t remember. They were milk cows then. The other kids had gone home; it was almost morning and we’d been partying all night. Ed and I, we made a deal that by age thirty-five, if neither of us were married, we’d marry each other.”

“And Ed turned thirty-five this birthday,” says Char.

Kelly is quiet for a moment as if she is off in some other world, but then snaps back.  “Yeah. I said to him, let’s go to Dan’s field for old time’s sake, and I took the gun–it was my grandpa’s–but Ed didn’t know I had it, of course. We had a couple of six-packs in a cooler, and we drank some and then I brought up the pact we’d made seventeen years ago.”

“It didn’t go as you’d hoped.”

“Well, I had my suspicions that it wouldn’t; why else would I bring the gun?”

“What happened then?”

“He said no, what do you think? He said he didn’t love me, not that way. He said nothing had changed, he thought of me as a sister. A freakin’ sister. You understand, I did everything to make myself hot for him. I lost weight; I can bench press a hundred pounds! My measurements are thirty-six, twenty-five, thirty-six. I am buff! Look at my hair!” She flips it with her fingers. “Halfway down my back, thick and blond! I’ve been told I could model! I can make a man beg for mercy in bed. I’m a gourmet cook; I know how to change the oil in my freakin’ car! I am everything a man should want! But what does that bastard do? He rejects me, like I’m nothing but a clump of cow shit in that godforsaken field!”

She drops her head in her hands.

“He asked for it,” she says between sobs. “After all those years, he asked for it.” 

“You want to get something to eat?” Booker says once they’ve handed Kelly over and finished the paperwork.

His wife must be away again. “A drink,” Char says. “I need a drink first. And then, I need French fries. Nothing else, just those two things.”

“You feel sorry for her,” he says as they climb into his car. They’ll come back for her car later.  

“Yeah,” she says softly, looking out the window. It’s raining again. “Life is lonely.”

He glances at her and turns on the engine.

Margaret Karmazin’s credits include stories published in literary and SF magazines, including Rosebud, Chrysalis Reader, North Atlantic Review, Mobius, Confrontation, Pennsylvania Review, The Speculative Edge, Aphelion and Another Realm. Her stories in The MacGuffin, Eureka Literary Magazine, Licking River Review and Mobius were nominated for Pushcart awards. She has stories included in several anthologies, published a YA novel, REPLACING FIONA, a children’s book, FLICK-FLICK & DREAMER and a collection of short stories, RISK.