“Detective Kinslee, you have a visitor,” Sadie’s soft voice said over the telephone.
Jain rubbed her eyes. The clock in the corner of her screen read ten o’clock a.m. No wonder she was getting a headache. She had been staring at this case file since she came in two hours ago. “Who is it?”
“A Mrs. Ella Hines,” Sadie said. “She’s here with information on the Hebert Hines case.”
Hebert Hines, the man who was allegedly shot while tacking 4th of July bunting on the eaves of his house three days ago. He was her first homicide case since being hired as a detective in this small town. She thought moving thirty miles west of the city wouldn’t be much different, but she learned the error of that thinking quickly. The difference between city life and the country was startling.
“Send her in,” Jain stood up, smoothing her black pants and white shirt down. She had been studying the Hines files while she waited for Coroner Gravis to send his preliminary autopsy report in hopes of finding something to explain this bizarre case. Who would shoot a seventy-three-year-old man on a ladder on a Tuesday morning?
A short woman with a red cane bustled into the office. Her grey hair was impeccable, as was her makeup. Jain wondered how she kept it from melting in this heat and humidity. She reached out her hand. “Mrs. Hines, I’m Detective Jain Kinslee. I’m working on your brother-in-law’s case.”
Mrs. Hines smiled and shook her hand limply. “You’re from the city.”
Jain smiled. “How can you tell?”
“The handshake. We usually hug one another out here. Then again, we know one another around here, and this is the first time I’ve seen you.”
“I moved here a month ago when the former detective retired.” Jain motioned for Mrs. Hines to take a seat in the plush chair across her desk as she sat in her own chair. “I’m sorry for your loss. What brings you in this morning?”
“Is the autopsy done yet?” Mrs. Hines asked.
“The preliminary autopsy is done. Toxicology will take a few weeks. I’m supposed to get the preliminary report from the County Coroner any minute now.”
“I thought the detective on the case attended the autopsy.”
“Fiscal responsibility. My captain doesn’t want me driving to the city any more than necessary with high gas prices.” Jain opened her desk drawer. A bottle of pills, a notepad, and several mechanical pencils rolled around. She made a mental note to tell Sadie to order some pens. Her predecessor hated them, but he was gone now. It was time to bring this office and her office supplies more into the twenty-first century. She pulled out a pencil and notepad and slammed the creaky drawer shut. “Why do you ask? Is there something Coronor Gravis should have been looking for when he conducted it yesterday?”
“I know who killed Herbert. It was the Bastain boy.”
Jain blinked. “Who?”
“Jeremiah Bastain. He’s Bucky Bastain’s grandson. He wanted revenge on our family.”
“I’m not sure I understand,” Jain said. “Herbert fell off his roof at nine forty-three Tuesday morning. Neighbors reported hearing a gunshot, but there were no reports of anybody in the area.”
“They wouldn’t see anybody in the neighborhood if Jeremiah was sitting in one of the trees on the edge of the neighborhood and took his shot from there.”
“Did you see Jeremiah Bastain?”
Mrs. Hines shook her head. “I was leaving for my church circle meeting when it happened. I wouldn’t have seen it because I live a block down the street from Herbert. Jeremiah and his father liked to hunt. I’m sure they wanted to settle the score between our families.”
“Why would Jeremiah Bastain want revenge on your family? Is there a family feud going on between the Bastain and Hines families?”
“I’m not sure if I’d call it that.”
Jain rubbed her head, trying to press out the headache stretching across her forehead. “Perhaps you better start from the beginning.”
“That’s a good idea,” Mrs. Hines said. “It started when Herbert had that accident on Old Highway 4. He got distracted when he saw his father’s goat wandering along the road, and rear-ended Bucky Bastain.”
“When did this accident happen?” Jain asked.
The lead on Jain’s mechanical pencil snapped as she pressed it into the paper of her notepad. She took a deep breath and clicked out more lead. “How does this relate to Herbert’s case?”
“It’s simple. Herbert accepted fault for the accident but got out of paying the fine because it turns out that Bucky’s son had stolen the goat from Herbert’s father. The judge in the case was in a conundrum: a charge of theft for one party and a car accident for the other. He decided to waive all charges so as not to tarnish their names in the community. But there was more to it than a tit-for-tat exchange of wiping records clean. Bucky claimed he had back problems after that accident, and the goat died a week later. They wondered if the goat was poisoned or if Bucky’s son did something to kill it. That goat won ribbons at the town fair every year. The prize money wasn’t much, but it helped with the bills and qualified for state agricultural competitions with bigger payouts. I have a picture of it. Should I go home and get it for you?”
“I don’t need to see a picture of the goat,” Jain said. “So it is a family feud. Each resented that the other got away with what they did. Maybe the judge wanted to stay out of a personal squabble. Were the costs from the accident equal to the value of the goat?”
“The judge thought so, but he had a reputation for being a drunk. Each thought the other got off too easy. Then Bucky married Herbert’s cousin on his mother’s side. They were going steady. Everybody thought they’d break up after the accident, but darn if they didn’t go off and get married. They had twin boys and named them Joshua and Caleb. The nerve of them naming their sons after heroes of the Bible after marrying to spite their families. Nobody likes them. Joshua and Caleb got scholarships to that fancy university in the city and never came back.”
“Where is Bucky now?” Jain asked.
“He died of COVID two years ago,” Mrs. Hines said.
“Why did his son steal your father-in-law’s goat?” Jain asked.
“Bucky said it was a harmless high school prank, but things like that don’t happen here. It’s probably because Bastain’s are mean folks. Nobody likes them. They don’t even go to church. Bucky’s widow downsized to an apartment in the city near her sons. We thought the Bastains were gone, but Joshua got married and had a son of his own, Jeremiah. Jeremiah is going to Central University just outside of town here. Word in town is that his grandmother agreed to let him live in it the house rent-free while he’s in school.”
“I suppose that saves them a lot of money. College is expensive. Is Jeremiah enrolled in summer classes at Central University?”
“That house is in the neighborhood next to ours, so I can see over there because my house is at the front of our neighborhood. Jeremiah didn’t leave in May when classes ended, so he’s either in summer classes or decided not to go home for the summer. He has his friends over all the time, and I think a girl is living with him. It’s shameful and a brazen slap in the face to the Hines family. The Bastains knew everybody wanted them gone and were determined to get back at us one last time after Bucky died.” Mrs. Hines pulled a tissue from her purse and wiped her nose. “Now it’s cost my husband his brother. Herbert was the only family we have left around here. Our daughter moved out of state when she got married, and we don’t have grandchildren.”
“Mrs. Hines, we’re still working through everything we found at the scene. I hope Coroner Gravis found the bullet so we will have more to work with in tracking down the shooter.” Jain looked at her notes. “It is helpful to know this history. Do you know if Jeremiah Bastain is aware of the family feud?”
“I don’t see how he couldn’t know,” Mrs. Hines said. “It’s a small town. Everybody knows.”
I didn’t, Jain thought. She hated to be the one to perpetuate this any further, but she’d have to interview Jeremiah to get an alibi for his whereabouts at the time of Herbert’s fall three days ago.
“I’ll follow up on this. Is there anything else?” Jain asked.
Mrs. Hines blew out a long breath. “I don’t like to talk about my husband’s family secrets. I can’t believe we’re arguing over this. It was a long time ago, but it's a small town and memories linger. My daughter saw the news story about Herbert on her computer and kept nagging me to tell you, so here I am. Frankly, I think she watches too many of those crime shows on television.”
Jain smiled. “They’ve made everybody more aware of the work we do. Thanks for coming in.”
Mrs. Hines stood and made her way out of the office. Jain leaned back and closed her eyes, trying to remember if she had heard anything as absurd as a murder that traced back to a stolen goat fifty-five years ago.
Her computer chimed. She opened her eyes and straightened up. Coroner Gravis sent the preliminary autopsy report! She perked up and clicked it open, slinking back into her slouch as she read it. The throbbing in her head intensified as she picked up the phone when she finished.
“He wasn’t shot?” Jain asked when Coroner Gravis answered the phone.
“I didn’t find any gunshot wounds or bullets on or in Mr. Hines. All of his injuries were consistent with falling off the roof of a house. If the toxicology report comes back normal, then I’m ruling his official cause of death as a skull fracture from a fall.”
A loud bang caused Jain to jump. She turned to see a faded maroon Buick pulling out of the parking lot. “What was that?”
Sadie walked into her office. “That was Mrs. Hines leaving. She said she needed to get the car serviced. I just gave her the number to the mechanic on Highway 4.”
“I was leaving for my church circle meeting when it happened. I wouldn’t have seen it because I live a block down the road.”
“Detective Kinslee, are you alright?” Coroner Gravis asked. “I heard a loud noise and lost you for a minute.”
“I’m fine, sir,” she reached in her desk drawer and pulled out the pill bottle, thankful that her predecessor had the foresight to leave her one gift in that drawer that was useful. “I’m glad we live in the age of migraine medicine.”
Coroner Gravis laughed. “We all are in this line of work.”
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So does that mean that Mrs. Hines mistook her own car backfiring with a gunshot down the block?
Im glad you figured out. Was taking me a while of hard thinking there. Its also possibly what startled him and made him fall 🤣
That's what Detective Kinslee thinks: That Mrs. Hines assumed it was more family rivalry, but it was really an unfortunate accident that, sadly, she might have caused!