Truth or Consequences, New Mexico

Submitted by Warren Woods to Contest #8 in response to: Write a story about an adventure in a small town.... view prompt

The little mortuary sat on the corner with the parking lot squeezed in just to the west. In the tiny town it sat adjacent to a single-story hardware store on one side and a modest post office on the other as if to say that the services provided by the three businesses, alike in size and appearance, were of equal and regular utility to the townspeople.

The captain slowly rolled his four-by-four over the steep entrance ramp and into the parking lot, leaning forward over the steering wheel while gazing at the building’s windows with his mouth open and teeth showing. In the bright sun of the afternoon it was difficult to discern the presence of anyone inside. There were very few windows and they, much like the glass door entrance, were heavily tinted and were covered by black-out curtains.

He pulled into a stall, seemingly the only vehicle in the lot, and shifted the truck into park. He turned the ignition off and stepped out of the vehicle. He slowly circled the tiny brick building. He was looking for any parked cars or any indication that the proprietor or anyone for that matter was inside. 

The veteran sheriff captain needed to talk to the family of the boy, or young man rather, who was inside. Fate, as it had more times than the man cared to count, fell upon him yet again. For all of his career, the delicate domino of events that cast duties upon the man gave him purpose and verified his choice in career. Once more, fate commanded his will. The death of a 20 year-old local boy whose body was found along a creek bed in rural Sierra County was his most recent appointment with fate. 

Two days prior to this one, a rancher wandered off to eat lunch and take a cat nap under the shade of a Pinyon Pine along the river that ran through his property when he came upon the boy’s body laying face down in the sand. Based on the coroner’s report, the boy hadn’t been dead but a few hours and when the first on the scene flipped him over they saw two bullet holes in the boy’s stomach. His wallet and identification were still in his trousers. He had quickly been identified by local police as Anthony Lee Garcia. A local boy, no doubt. 

The coroner on call that day performed a swift and thorough examination of the young man and made a determination regarding his cause of death. This examination and subsequent conclusion were rarely performed on the same day but hey, that’s fate (the sheriff thought). Generally, with no family available to contact, the bodies of the unclaimed deceased lay in a cooler at the morgue for days, sometimes weeks. In neighboring Otero county, the captain once heard about an elderly lady who sat unclaimed by relatives for so long that eventually the funeral director got the go ahead to cremate and bury the body and he did it pro bono. It would turn out to be a similar case here in Sierra County. The man who owned the county morgue disliked seeing a young man (who had a completed autopsy and verified cause of death) sit alone in his facility, delaying the inevitable funeral and burial to which he is owed. The proprietor of the funeral home, who had just purchased the entity and moved to town from El Paso, felt likewise about what the young child of God was owed.

One officer on the scene at the river that day knew of the deceased boy and his family. This officer was made responsible for contacting the boy’s mother and sister, who also lived in the tiny town of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico. When the junior officer charged with this unfortunate task knocked on the door of the family’s home, he was a bit relieved to find that no such family was home. So, he contacted his chief, who was out of town visiting his son at Holloman Air Force Base. The police chief, unable to call on the family because of his absence, beckoned his old pal at the Sierra County Sheriff’s office to assist in contacting the loved ones of the deceased boy. The man who took the call (the old friend of the chief of police) was Mr. Wayne Porter, the Captain of Sierra County Sheriff’s Department. 

That brought us to this fateful moment in the Captain’s life. Now, he was out of the car and had completed a full circle around the funeral home and approached the front door where the words “Woodlawn Funeral Home” were etched into the glass. He pulled open the door and immediately felt the freon blast of cold air and death from the foyer. He removed his cavalry hat with his right hand and reached his left to turn the knob and open the second door. Inside he stopped a moment to let his eyes adjust to the aggregated darkness.

A half-wall separated the entrance from the main sitting room. On it sat several boxes of tissue and a vase with fake flowers. As the captain entered the main room his eyes became fully adjusted to the lack of light. Tiny cracks of sun shined through the windows where the curtains weren’t pulled tight together. Wing-back chairs, sofas and end tables surrounded the perimeter of the room. The carpeted room was empty in the middle and at the far end against a partition sat a closed oak casket on a metal stand wrapped in egg-shell white cloth with a dark grey crucifix embroidered in the center.

Any other lone body would have been startled by any sudden movement in the shadowy mortuary, but the Captain had been in worse situations with fewer sidearms. So when the proprietor walked through the back door behind the partition near the casket carrying a stack of ivory folding chairs, the captain said, “Hello...excuse me sir.”

“ startled me...hello, officer.” The proprietor said. This was the man that gave the last day and a half of his time and his venue for this kin-less young man sitting cold across the room.

“Apologies.” The captain said.

“Do you know this boy, is he your son?” The proprietor asked.

“ sir, I’m ‘fraid not. He’s ain’t your son is he?” The captain asked.

“No sir. I’m afraid the only father this son will come to know is that of the Father of Jesus Christ, our lord and savior. A real shame to see such a young sheep so lost.

“It is indeed. A real damn shame.” The captain said. 

The proprietor looked down with castigated eyes at the captain for cursing in the presence of the dead boy.

“Uh...pardon me. Has nobody paid him or you a visit yet?”

“No sir. It’s just been the boy and I since early this morning.”

“Well, I truly am sorry to hear that.”

“Have you tried the boy’s home yet?”

“Yes sir. Several times. Ther’ officers outside now, even. It looks like the family left in a hurry and I’m afraid they’ve no intention of returnin’ anytime soon.”

“Huh. A sorrowful day it has been for this young boy. Not only is his being a body-less soul but in addition he is now a family-less soul. A real shame.” 

“Damn shame…” The captain looked up into the proprietor’s eyes regretfully. “Anyway,” the captain went on “I’m not really sure how I recommend you proceed from here, that is, with the funeral and all. It seems to me no one has stuck around to see this boy be buried, I’m afraid.”

“Indeed. Regardless of the terrible cause of death in which this boy suffered, pistol shots to the abdomen and dumped like a dog in the river to eventually bleed out to death or drown or both, I intend to see to it that this man is buried tomorrow morning in the Santa Niño Cemetary.” The proprietor said.

“I understand, sir. Whatever this boy was caught up in it must have been some serious business. I wonder if the family or even the boy knew that this day was coming, you know, with whatever he was involved in. Seems like that’s often the case, I’m afraid. I talked to a man last week who had a brother who got caught up tradin’ drugs and got himself killed. The dead man’s brother said he always knew the day was comin’ and he thought it was his brother’s destiny. He said he even told his brother this, thinking it would make him change his ways and straighten out his life. But in the end, he died, possibly an avoidable death.” The captain said.

“I see. I don’t agree that the brother’s death was avoidable. Nor do I think that death was avoidable in the case of this young man sitting here in our presence today. It was the will of God for a greater good, wherein, we will never understand the true meaning of.” The proprietor said.

“Hm...I guess I see your point. I’ll have to apologize sir, I’ve not been a man dedicated to religion.” The captain said. “But I guess I certainly believe in the power of destiny. I have thought an awful lot lately about fate and destiny. I believe every crime, case and situation I get involved in was meant to be. I’ve always had that feelin’ when workin’ a case. I get the feelin’ more strongly than ever with the case of this young man here.” The captain pointed toward the closed casket.

“Certainly. It is the will of God that brought you here to assist in this case by seeking and notifying the family of this slain boy.” The proprietor said.

There was a pause, the room was silent.

The captain said, “Don’t you think, just for a second, that evil events, fateful and divine as they may be, are perhaps not an act of god, but rather that of well…”

“Go on.”

“...that of the devil?”

“Hm.” The proprietor responded, with his eyes wide and his hand covering his mouth as if in deep thought.

“Sometimes a fateful event occurs in a man’s life and it allows the man to change course before it is too late. Other times, the fateful event is a sudden and violent event and the man’s got no chance at ever even changing the course of his life.” The captain said.

“In your line of work, and mine too, we often see the events that result in death, violent or not. Therefore, I could understand how you would regard these events of fate as the workings of an evil entity. But I can tell you, sir, they are part of the design of God.” The proprietor said. “Even when they are not understood by mortal men. We are all players in the perpetual orchestra that is life and God is our conductor who, while we may not always understand the motions of, guides our lives through the playing of our instruments in unison. Together our song, beautifully composed, is that of our collective life.”

“Well put. Who is the audience then? Who is watching?” The captain asked.

“No audience exists. Man is both the audience and the participant. The symphony of life started before you and I came into this world and will continue after we are gone just like it has continued after the passing of this boy here.” The proprietor responded.

The captain decided the discussion, while worthwhile, had gone on for long enough. He reached out his hand and firmly shook the hand of the proprietor. “I appreciate your time, sir. I trust you’ll let my department know if you hear anything from the family.”

“Ofcourse.” The proprietor smiled and nodded.

The captain put on his hat and walked back out into the buzzing light. There were things to do, a family to be located, a hole to be dug, a boy to be buried and a hole to be filled.

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