Author is a retired attorney having practiced for 35 years in Illinois who now lives in Texas and started writing stories about a year and a half ago.
MITCH BLADE PRIVATE EYE:
THE SOUND OF SIRENS
Sometimes Mitch Blade followed an ambulance. Sometimes he followed a cop car. Especially a cop car when its sirens were blaring and its lights were flashing like the one in front of him. He did this sometimes, like now, when he needed a case to keep afloat. The private eye business wasn’t exactly a big buck business.
Private Investigator Mitch Blade was tailing the County Sheriff. He wasn’t afraid of losing him in the dust of these county backroads. He knew where the sheriff was going. Only two places where trouble brewed regularly in this rural community and they were right next to each other, the Warnock farm and the Bailey farm.
There had been bad blood between the families for years. It all started when the patriarch Solomon Warnock died. Evidently this Solomon hadn’t been wise enough to leave a will splitting his baby, his 320 acres of farm ground, and thus his estate passed intestate to his son and
daughter. His son being Ben Warnock and his daughter now being Mrs. Newt Bailey. They couldn’t agree as to how to divide up the acreage and a partition suit followed in which County Judge Orville Parmentier decided who got what. Neither brother or sister liked what they got and Judge Parmentier liked to boast that he must have made a fair decision. After all neither one of them liked it.
Then the hatred just festered. Fight over fence lines, where they should be, who should pay for them, what type of fencing. It all ended up in court again after both parties would not accept the township fence viewers decision. Judge Parmentier made the fence viewers decision a court order. Again neither sibling liked it.
Then Newt Bailey tiled his north 40 that didn’t drain properly and brought the tile to the township road. Newt needed to tile sixty feet under the road to the drainage ditch on the other side. By law the Baileys owned to the middle of the road and then the Warnock property began. Thirty feet of Warnock property had to be tiled to connect to the drainage ditch on the other side and Ben Warnock wouldn’t let him do it. Newt offered him big bucks to buy a drainage easement. Ben wouldn’t sell him one no matter what the price. His refusal prevented Newt from draining his field and when there was a wet spring Newt still couldn’t plant his field.
Then Newt Bailey shot and killed Ben Warnock’s dogs. Ben sued for the value of the dogs but old Judge Parmentier ruled Ben’s dogs were chasing and killing Newt’s sheep and under the law one had a right to protect his property and shoot the dogs. In fact Newt shot his own dog he testified because it was running with the pack of Warnock dogs. His dog had got up the blood
lust up and had to be killed too he said. Of course some say he killed his own dog to pump up the evidence.
Then Newt’s hogs allegedly got out through a portion of Newt’s fence line and rooted up Ben’s hay field. So Ben rounded up the hogs and shipped them to market and sent Newt half the proceeds after deducting damages to his hay field. Of course some say Ben cut the hole so the hogs could get out and root, his hay crop having been cut a week before was moldy and ruined from a week’s worth of continual rain. Ben fixed the fence before anyone could see just exactly how and where the hogs got out.
What now wondered Mitch as he spotted up ahead the sheriff’s car parked next to the Bailey’s truck along the Bailey’s creek bottom land. Mitch parked behind them but at a distance. He didn’t dare enter onto the Bailey land for fear that a paranoid Newt would accuse him of spying for the Warnocks. To the west of the Bailey’s land was the Warnock property. The Warnock property was high up on a cliff that ran parallel to and above Coal Creek. All of Coal Creek was on the Bailey property.
An ambulance came, sirens blaring, skidding to a gravely stop. Paramedics jumped out, climbed over the fence with a ton of medical gear and hurried down the creek bed.
Mitch waited for about an hour before the sheriff came into view followed by the medics carrying a stretcher. On it was a small covered body followed by an angered Newt Bailey.
The body was loaded into the ambulance and sirened away. Sheriff Cassidy sauntered up to Mitch and got in his face. “Don’t even think about it Mitch. There ain’t no money in this one.” Mitch
said nothing. He didn’t believe in snappy comebacks. Last time he tried it the sheriff put him in jail overnight on some trumped up charges then dropped them and let him out the next day. Better not to antagonize the law. He couldn’t win that battle.
Newt Bailey came up to Mitch. “My step son, Reuben Johnson, my wife’s boy, he was hit on the head from behind and stabbed in the chest. Kid was just 14.” Newt had once tried to hire Mitch to dig up some dirt on the Warnock family but Newt didn’t want to pay the going rate. Mitch didn’t want to step into that pile for anything less.
“I’m so sorry Newt. Give my condolences to your wife and the Johnson grandparents.”
“I need to hire you.”
“Find evidence proving Warnock killed the boy so my wife can sue him for wrongful death and get a judgment. Get his land. Just called my lawyer and he said we don’t need a reasonable doubt like a criminal trial, only evidence that it’s more likely than not that he killed the boy. Also find evidence absolving me of anything and everything connected to this murder. Warnock will probably hint that I killed the boy, since Reuben was literally the proverbial red headed step child. When he does, I can then sue him for slander. Gives me another shot at his farm.”
“What reason would he have to kill a fourteen year old? It doesn’t make any sense Newt.”
“Sure it does. Why everyone knows that old Ben Warnock has gone looney crazy the past few months. Dementia setting in and he’s been drinking heavily. More than usual I hear. Got drunk. Worked himself up and had the boy killed to get back at me and my wife. I want justice for her and her son.”
“Sounds more like you want money Newt.”
Newt said nothing and stared into space.
Mitch broke the silence. “Well your lawyers will be making the money here not me. Last time you tried to hire me you wouldn’t pay the going freight.” Mitch paused. He was hurting for business, fishing for an offer. “Maybe Newt we can work something out this time.”
“Last time I didn’t offer you a piece of the pie. Five percent of what we recover from the Warnocks. Could be thousands. How’s that sound?”
“Sounds silly Newt. It’ll be years before there’s any money, if any at all. One fifty a day for three days minimum.”
“Two days at one hundred a day. You wouldn’t be out here Blade if you didn’t need the work. Think about it a hundred bucks a day is a hundred bucks more than no bucks a day.”
Right now a hundred bucks was big bucks to Mitch.
“Here and no receipt,” said Newt stuffing him a hundred dollar bill in Mitch’s shirt pocket. “Half now, half when I get my report on Monday. Reuben was killed down by the slag piles where the old coal mine was.”
“Was he by himself and what was he doing there?”
“By himself to the best of my knowledge and you know how the creek and the old mine ruins attract kids. Just screwing around back there to the best of my knowledge. Get back to me forty eight hours from now, one p.m. Monday,” said Newt as he turned his back to Mitch and left.
Mitch hoofed it the half mile along the winding creek to the crime scene. That dumb sheriff and the medics had tracked it all up with mud and sand from the creek bed. Foot prints were everywhere obliterating any that might have been there before. No way of knowing if the kid had been there alone or not. Mud and blood in one big spot. That’s all there was.
Then Mitch saw something. There on an old post sticking out of the ground, a remnant from the coal mining days, the initials R.J. and today's date carved in the post. There were fresh wood shavings at the base. The kid had just carved them before he was killed.
There’s got to be more here thought Mitch. Something else that goof ball sheriff overlooked. Then he saw it, a log. It looked out of place laying there all alone. It was freshly cut, chainsawed at both ends, about four feet long and about six inches in diameter. Looked like it was from a osage orange hedge tree and was oozing sap at both ends. And there was a brownish reddish spot on one end, ever so faint and it was blood, dried blood.This wasn’t some old piece of driftwood that had floated down the creek and washed ashore. No it had to have come from the cliff above. Mitch’s eyes scanned up the twenty foot embankment.
He lifted the log. Weighed at least forty pounds. Someone would have a hell of a time wielding this log and using it as a weapon. Mitch lifted it up on his shoulder and carried it back to his car, put it in his trunk and started back.
The Warnock homestead loomed ahead and there in the middle of the road was planted big Ben Warnock furiously ranting and raving for him to stop. Mitch tried to slowly drive around him but Ben suddenly darted to the driver’s side, grabbed hold of the door handle and pounded on the rolled up window. Ben was drunk. Mitch stopped.
“Need to hire you Blade,” slurred Ben.
“I got a job Mr. Warnock for a couple of days. Thank you anyway.”
“I’ll pay you double whatever that penny pinching Newt Bailey is paying you.”
“Newt’s paying me one fifty a day,” said Mitch hoping to discourage Warnock.
“He’s not paying you that. The most that little weasel would pay is a hundred.”
“One twenty five soon as you’re done working for Bailey.” Warnock’s head bobbd up and down his body swayed as he tried to steady himself against Mitch’s car.
Mitch wavered. He lacked the guts to pass up more work. “I’ll talk to you Monday. See what we can work out. Can’t to talk to you until then.”
“I’ll be at your office then with cash money,” Ben again slurred his words as he regained his balance and backed away letting Mitch drive off.
When he got back to town and Mitch decided to call it a day, too exhausted for his usual Saturday night dredging for clients at the bar. Tomorrow he’d go talk to Sheriff Cassidy even though he knew it would be an exercise in futility.
“Get the hell out of here Mitch you big ape,” screamed Sheriff Hoppy Cassidy. Hoppy being the nickname that Mitch had implanted on him to get his goat. ”The case is closed. Well almost closed. Going to close it tomorrow. Can’t do it today. Don’t have a full staff it being Sunday.”
“Well there’s no harm in telling me then so that I can tell my client.”
“Newt already knows. He’s the one that cracked the case. Seems them Mexicans Ben’s got working for him, the ones living in his old chicken coop, they killed the boy. Warnock paid them to do it. Newt said they confessed to him that Warnock hired them. Newt’s got witnesses to the confession too he says. I’m going to get those two greasers in here tomorrow and sweat legal confessions out of both of them. Should have it all wrapped up before noon. Get them to rat out Warnock to save their mangy worthless flea bag hides.”
“The lad was stabbed with a small pocket knife, wasn’t he? Wasn’t a deep wound was it?”
“How the hell you know that Blade?“
“Seems to me a Mexican would use a stiletto or a switchblade, more their style, wouldn’t you say so Hoppy.”
“Well you see that’s where old man Warnock outsmarted himself. Had the Mexes use a pocket knife so it would look like the kid fell on his own knife. Everyone would think it was an accident but I caught on to that old trick. He can’t fool me none.”
“And the blow to the back of the head. That was a piece of coal slag to knock him out with before they killed him, right?“
“You got it Blade.”
“Hoppy you never cease to amaze me. I just don’t know how you do it.”
But Mitch knew why he did it. Why Hoppy had bought Newt’s story. Newt probably promised him a piece of the pie.
“Just doing my job which is more than I can say for you Blade. Now get the hell out of here.”
As Mitch got into his car than his cell phone rang. It was Newt.
“Well Blade heard that you just talked to the sheriff. Case is wrapped up. Don’t need you anymore so just give me what you got.”
“Not until tomorrow.”
“Your services are no longer required Blade. Quit messing with me. You been paid for one day. Give me my day’s worth. Or didn’t you come up with anything?”
“I’ll give you what I’m sure of. Reuben carved his initials and the day’s date on one of those old posts in the slag piles with his own pocket knife and he wasn’t knocked in the head with a piece of slag.”
Silence on the other end of the line, each party waiting for the other to say something. Finally Newt joked, “It’s a little short of exactly one day now but I ain’t expecting a refund from you Blade. Keep the change,” and he hung up.
Mitch called Mr. Warnock. “I just became unemployed.”.
“You’re hired,” said Warnock. “Meet with me at my place in thirty minutes.”
Mitch did. Warnock was sober now and slid two fifty cash across the table to Mitch which Mitch quickly scooped up. “Tell me what you found out so far.”
Mitch told him about the post carving and of his convoluted conversation with Sheriff Cassidy. “But there’s one more thing that Hoopy and Newt don’t know about. It’s in the trunk of my car,” said Mitch handing Ben the keys. “Have the Mexicans get the log out and bring it here.”
“Juan, Jose,” hollered Warnock. They came running. Ben gave them the keys and gave them their instructions in Spanish.
Back they came tossing the log back and forth between them like a game of catch, smiling and laughing all the while.
“What’s so funny Ben?”
“They say that this is the log that went flying over the cliff yesterday when they were chain sawing down hedge trees on my pasture ground. Said they cut that piece off but instead of it falling to the ground it got caught in some tree branches and then somehow the branches sprung back and catapulted the log over the edge to the creek below. They thought it was funny.”
“There’s nothing funny about it Ben. That log hit the Johnson boy in the head, knocked him out or killed him outright and he fell on his knife. You could be liable. Those Mexicans were working for you and they might be found negligent. The Baileys have got a chance at a wrongful death suit. Probably can’t get anyone for a homicide but if comes out about that log, and Juan and Jose talk, you are in for a long costly legal battle.”
Warnock paused, closed his eyes, and shook his head as he cursed under his breath. Then from his billfold he took ten one hundred dollar bills and looked at Mitch.
Mitch shook his head no. “I’ve already been paid.”
“Consider it a bonus.”
Mitch said nothing and took the money. Warnock had just bought his silence.
Well there weren’t any Mexicans sleeping in the chicken coop that night. They flew the coop. And the log, well it accidently got burned up that night.
Pot bellied balding Sheriff Cassidy wasn’t as stupid as he looked. He knew that Mitch had called his hand and on Monday he announced that the case was still under investigation.
The day after that the Baileys and the Johnsons buried. And on the third day Mitch Blade sat in a stupor, alone in a seedy dive, spending some of his hard earned big bucks, listening for the sounds of sirens.