Mystery and Crime Fiction posted January 19, 2013 Chapters:  ...27 28 -29- 30... 

This work has reached the exceptional level
the killer's been seen

A chapter in the book Along the Jericho Road

A Hoka Moon, Pt. 1

by Writingfundimension

PREVIOUSLY:  One person murdered and one missing has the Detectives of Granite Falls Mountain struggling to connect the dots among a random series of events stretching back a decade. A member of the Sheriff's Department's Task Force is conducting second interviews with the murdered woman's neighbors.


Detective Skeets Epstein sidestepped puddles on his way to Frankie Durbin's front door. He noted a rusted drainpipe lying atop a haggard bush beneath a side window. An obese tabby popped out from beneath the bush, startling the detective. It hissed, revealing its sharp teeth, then bolted for a nearby chain link fence. Halfway up, the cat lost steam and dropped to the ground.

A cat that's too fat to climb a fence is plain pathetic.

Skeets looked down at the inch of fat that lapped over his belt. Silently, he swore on his sweet mother's grave he'd eaten his last donut that morning. He buttoned his jacket to cover the fat, then knocked on the door of his final followup interview of the day. 

There was a faint sound of scraping metal followed by the door  opening the length of an interior chain bolt. A man with thick-lensed glasses peered through the gap. He blinked against the daylight coming through the door -- the magnifying effect of his lenses gave the impression his eyelashes were flapping wings. "Who're you?" he demanded.

"I'm Detective Epstein with the Granite Mountain Sheriff's Department."

"I'll need to see some I.D. 'afore I let you in."

"Certainly, Mr. Durbin."

Skeets produced his identification, which Frankie snatched from his hand and brought close to his face. The owl eyes went back and forth between the detective and the badge. Finally satisfied, the old man returned the badge and lifted the chain, opening the door wider.

"Follow me," Frankie ordered. The two walked down a short hallway. Skeets noted, in passing the living room, an oxygen tank leaning against a threadbare couch. The device's hose and nosepiece lay on a floor that looked far from clean.

They entered a small kitchen with a table in the center covered by piles of old newsprint and unopened mail. The sink was stacked with dirty dishes soaking in gray water, and the smell of layered grease hung in the air.

"Wasn't expectin' anybody today. Place's a bit messy," Frankie said over his shoulder as he filled a coffee cup from the machine on the countertop. He turned, cup in hand, and came to stand a few feet from the detective.

When it became obvious to the investigator that he was going to be offered neither coffee nor a seat, he ploughed forward.

"This shouldn't take long, Mr. Durbin. We have a new lead in the case of Mrs. Padget. We believe the person responsible for her death is passing themselves off as a nurse or health care worker. Do you recall seeing any unusual medical personnel hanging about on the day of the murder?"

"For crying out loud. In case you hadn't noticed, ninety percent of this neighborhood is over the age of seventy. We all spend too much of our time, and most of our hard earned money, hangin' around the medical profession. And if you ask me, they all look suspicious."

"I understand, but..."

Suddenly, Frankie was uncomfortably close. "I watch a lotta cop shows, and I know you fellahs have a window of opportunity that's about ready to slam shut. Why are you wasting time bothering a bunch of old people who can't hardly recall what they had for breakfast?" He jutted his chest forward, "The neighborhood's in a panic, and I'm not the only one huggin' a shotgun to my chest at night, Detective."

Frankie's elbows shot out from his side causing a chain reaction. Coffee from the cup in his hands splashed up and out, connecting with Skeets' tie. Frankie mumbled, "Sorry" and looked away as his victim grabbed a napkin from the table to blot the spreading brown stain.

The old guy was huffing like he'd climbed a flight of stairs, and Skeets suspected he was working himself up to continue his tirade.

He's scared and I'm pissed. I'll issue a warning about the gun and get the hell out of here.

"Mr. Durbin, grabbing a loaded gun when you're half asleep is a very bad idea." Skeets could tell by the man's false smile that he was going to get nowhere with his little speech.

The guy's probably a vet who risked his life for the right to bear arms.

Holding direct eye contact, he continued, "The best thing you can do is keep your doors locked and your eyes open for any unusual people or situations." He reached into his shirt pocket and retrieved a business card that he placed on the table. "Use the number on that card any time day or night. You aren't that far from the Sheriff's Department, and we can have someone here in less than five minutes."

Frankie slid the card off the table and squinted to make out the number.

Great. Can't see a foot from his face but he's gonna nail a target across the room.

Skeets suppressed the urge to roll his eyes. He slanted his body away from the angry man and said, "Thank you for your time, Mr. Durbin. I'll see myself out." Turning, he retraced his footsteps.

The old guy is right. Precious hours wasted and nothing gained. I hope the rest of the team's had better luck.

"An orange pickup," Frankie called from the doorway of the kitchen.

Skeets turned to face him. "An unusual vehicle, Mr. Durbin?"

"Yup. Saw it in the alleyway a coupla' days before Debra's... ah ... before she died and I ain't seen it since."

"Would you be able to positively identify it if you saw it again?"

"Hell, yes. Damned driver missed hittin' me by inches when I was puttin' out the trash dumpster."

"Anything else you recall?"

"Pretty sure it was one of them Japanese models. You know, the ones built for midgets."

Skeets' pulse pounded in his throat. "Did you see the driver?"

Frankie shook his head. "No, it all happened so fast. He was driving like a maniac."

"You've been a big help, Mr. Durbin. It's things like this that can make or break a case."

Frankie flashed a gap-toothed grin.

Hands on hips, Skeets looked at the floor to consider whether he should mention his new concern. He decided to follow his instinct. "I don't want to frighten you, but you will need to be extra careful. If the driver of that pickup is the murderer, you may not be safe. We can provide you with a place to stay until the case is solved?"

"Ain't goin' nowhere, Detective. Besides, Sally's the jealous type. If anyone gets too near, she knows how to eliminate the competition, if you know what I mean?"

It took a few seconds for Skeets to recognize Frankie was talking about his shotgun. A smile edged out his frown.

"In any case, I'm going to arrange for regular surveillance of your house. Just promise me you won't put a hole through one of my officers."

"I'll damned sure try, Detective, but you better warn 'em not to sneak up on ol' Frankie."

~~~ continued in part two ~~~


Hoka: Sioux term for badger and pronounced hohn-kahn.

Thanks to Deloralok for the use of her artwork.
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