You Owe Me A Fish

Submitted into Contest #37 in response to: Write a story that takes place in the woods.... view prompt


Mystery Adventure Thriller

A single gunshot can spoil the mood, as can a hungry wood tick. After latching on to your armpit or worse, nestling into your nether regions, ticks dine on your blood passing along disease. Removing one is easy provided you have a little Vaseline or alcohol—rubbing or otherwise. If not, a match will do; lucky for the Dick he’s never without one.

Private Detective Dave Diamond relaxed on the riverbank fishing; a hobby since he could spit. Dressed casually with his dark gray fedora tilted just enough for the breeze to cool his brow, he lit a Lucky Strike, exhaling his stress away. The flora and fauna was a welcoming contrast to the glitz and glamour (with an equal dose of crime and corruption) of downtown Los Angeles.

Diamond couldn’t remember the last time he kicked up his feet. There was always another case waiting in his inbox like the constant flow of traffic sitting bumper to bumper on the 405. His stalwart secretary, Angel Parrish, insisted he escape for the weekend. She wouldn’t admit it, but she needed a break as much as her boss.

* * *

Having gone all day without a nibble it was time for nature to take its course. The Dick laid down his rod and reel, and he did likewise. He'd catch a nap if nothing else. He closed his eyes and used his hat to cover his face. That's when he heard the gunshot.

His serenity—and vacation—interrupted, Diamond shot to his feet.

What the hell?

The sound echoed through the woods. He took a moment to get oriented.

Damn it, he thought, I’m on vacation!

His first thoughts were to let the local authorities handle it. After all, this was their jurisdiction, and he was supposed to be on vacation.

He positioned his fedora to its rightful place: centered on his forehead and angled slightly to the right, secured his .38 caliber Glock in its holster and took a deep drag from a freshly lit Lucky Strike. Exhaling and eyes narrowing, his second nature kicked in. He grabbed his gear and hiked back to his Porsche.

He guesstimated the shot must’ve come from downriver a mile or so. It was hard to judge, considering sound carries in the open spaces, bouncing off trees and traversing canyons and gullies.

Reaching his car he instinctively pressed TWO on his iPhone's speed dial (ONE was reserved for his girl, whose idea of getting back to nature was lounging at the Surf & Sand Resort in Laguna Beach) to talk with Angel. He wanted to make sure she was available should he need her services, which he usually did— she was blessing in a skirt.

The Dick pulled onto the two lane road deeply in need of repair and sprinted into third; cognizant that fourth or fifth was too quick when you're on the lookout for persons of interest and dodging potholes. He swerved down the mountain road that paralleled the river, his eyes peeled. He took advantage of a short straightaway passing a slow clunker but almost got clocked head-on by a speeding 4WD Ford truck heading back to town.

A wood tick would’ve been less complicated.

* * *

What he saw around the next bend had promise. To his left above the pines was a large trail of dust that was quickly dissipating. Pass the trees was a gravel road. He’d gone a mile or so, this must be it, and hung a left.

At the bottom of the rocky grade was a small cabin in the middle of the reddish colored gravel surrounded by trees. The river, and the fish unwilling to get caught, was a short walk behind the aged cabin.

Diamond stopped a fair distance from the front door and took stock: a Ford Fiesta sat parked next to the cabin; the gravel driveway was perfect in highlighting all the car tracks burned into the dirt, most of them had small tread; and a vacation ruining bullet hole through the front window. The Dick stepped toward the cabin but stopped short.

What do we have here?

Diamond bent down and used his handkerchief to examine the cigarette. It said Marlboro and had barely been smoked, a couple puffs at most. It lay in a tire impression not made by any compact he’d ever seen and it stretched out for good measure.

Someone was in a big hurry and they didn’t take time to enjoy their nicotine.

He combed the gravel around the vicinity for something more. There it was hiding among the rocks: a spent 30-30. It was time to contact Angel.

With Glock in hand the Dick approached the porch and spied the unlucky soul inside the cabin. He lay face down on a double bed full of blood. Holstering his gun he fingered the bullet hole in the window, checking the angle. The groove marks the bullet made in the double-pane window (a trick he learned on the Laura Palmer case) would help with the trajectory. After close examination the intersections he found in the glass and where the victim lay suggested the shot came from that direction. Turning 180 degrees the Dick eyeballed the spot where he found the 30-30. The technique wasn’t an exact science, but then Diamond wasn’t a scientist.

The sirens preceded the arrival of the Dodge Charger patrol car. It raced in kicking up dirt and rocks in hot pursuit of an already cooling crime scene.

“All right, mister, hold it right there!” commanded the one who’d consumed one too many cheeseburgers, fat sweating from his brow.

“Don’t shoot, don’t shoot,” said Diamond, his arms raised casually. “If I may?” Not sure how the two yahoos’ with guns would react, he moved deliberately in retrieving his ID. A woman exited the rear seat of the squad car. She looked middle aged and pleasant looking enough. She joined the party.

“You’re a private eye?” said the officer in charge.

“I’m Private Detective Dave Diamond, based out of L.A. I’m up here on vacation. At least I thought I was. I was enjoying some of your fine local fishing when I heard a gunshot. Naturally, I came to investigate, and you’ll be happy to know that I already…”

“…Is that right? Well, my name’s Sheriff Cooper. This here’s Deputy Horne. We can take it from here, I’m sure.” Cooper huffed.

“You’re a little late aren’t you? Ya see I’ve already found…”

“…the deputy was chasin’ down an errand for his truck when Norma here came runnin’ into the station in a panic. After the deputy took care of his 4WD problem we got over here pronto.”

Deputy Horne tipped his Stetson, clearly not officer standard, slightly bug eyed.

“Sheriff, please. He’s hurt!” dramatized the woman.

“No, Ma’am. I’m afraid he’s a little more than hurt. He’s dead. I mean, I haven’t gone inside, but he sure looks dead from here,” said the Dick.

The Sheriff gives Diamond the stink eye and barges into the cabin with the finesse of a rhino.

“Jack! Jack!” said the woman, hurling herself on the bed.

“Ma’am, you’re contaminating the crime scene! And look, you’re gettin’ blood all over ya,” Said the Sheriff.

An eager Deputy Horne leaps into action and pulls Norma off the bed, holding her in a little too friendly of a manner. His shirt and tie also now spotted with blood.

“Why’d you drive to the police station to report the shooting and not call? Wouldn’t that have been quicker? Or were you running from something?” asked Diamond.

“I wasn’t running from anything! I-I guess I was too upset, or forgot that I even had a phone. I don’t know. My first thought was to get the police,” said Norma, her hands covering her face.

“Well, he’s got a lot of scratches on his face. Defensive I’d say. He sure smoked a lot considering the ashtray and pack of Kents. Hmm, yep, he’s dead alright: a single gunshot to the head. Damn good shot too,” was the Sheriff’s professional opinion.

“Those are mine,” said Norma.

“What are yours?” said Diamond.

“The cigarettes, and the scratches too,” she replied sheepishly.

“You smoke Kent’s? Sorry, ma’am, my name’s Diamond.”

“Norma Packard. My husband and I live on Delaney Street,” she said, shaking the Dick’s hand. “Yes, Jack never smoked. He tried to get me to quit. Bad habits you know. And, the…scratches…they’re from…we got kinda randy and lost control of ourselves. You know what I mean. Don’t make me say it.” She said, dry-eyed.

“So how do you know the victim…Jack you said?”

“Jack Hurley, that’s his car out front. We’re friends…good friends. We met at a social function and, well, you know?”

“That’s enough, can’t you see she’s upset,” said Deputy Horne, wrapping a comforting arm around her shoulder.

The Dick lit a Lucky Strike, right on point. He noted that Horne was a smoker, too. You don’t get teeth like his chewing Wrigley’s. But, maybe that’s all there was to do in this one-horse town: smoking and having affairs, with an occasional murder to liven things up. “Tell me happened?”

“C’mon, we all know what happened. Jack was taking advantage of Norma’s good nature!” said Horne, squeezing her shoulder tighter.

The Dick’s iPhone rang. While he spoke to Angel he noticed the look the deputy was giving Norma, and vice versa.

Why are they batting eyes at each other when her lover is lying dead?

“This has all the ear marks of a huntin’ accident,” said Sheriff Cooper. “We got lots of deer around these parts and folks get a little trigger happy sometimes. The same thing happened to Norma last spring. You know, wrong place at the wrong time, kind of thing. Bad luck I’d say. Norma was out at her lake house when a friend was shot through a window just like this. We figured a bullet simply got away from somebody. Like I said, we got lots a deer.”

“And this guy at the lake was taking advantage of Norma, too? Where’s your husband, Norma?”

“He’s away on business, out of state. He’s in real estate.”

Deputy Horne lights two cigarettes and gives one to Norma. She grins that kind of grin that says much more than just thanks.

“Sheriff, what kind of round killed the man out at the lake house last spring?”

“It was your typical deer huntin’ round, a 30-30 if I remember.”

The Dick takes out his handkerchief with the Marlboro butt and the shell casing.

“Now I got it on good authority that this is a 30-30, prime for deer hunting you say? I’ll bet you a fish from that damn river of yours that the rifle that fired this round and killed him came from the same rifle that killed Norma’s other male friend last spring. Does this cigarette look familiar to you, Deputy?”

“That rifle was never recovered. We figured it was thrown into the river,” said Sheriff Cooper.

If looks could kill the Dick would be six feet under with a full bed of daisies.

“Lots of folks smoke that brand,” scoffed Deputy Horne.

“The Deputy’s just being nice sharing a cigarette, Mr. Diamond. Why, he’s always doin’ favors around my house doin’ yard work and things. It’s easy because he lives next door. He’s cute, sometimes I see him taking a peek at me when he’s outside. He winks, I wink back. It’s a game.” Norma forces a nervous smile.

“And whoever killed this guy was a crack shot. He must’ve had a rifle and scope. Like the one I saw hanging from the rear window of your 4WD, Deputy Horne. I got a good look. You were rushing back to town and I was driving slow going downriver.”

“That don’t mean nothin’. Like the Sheriff said, there’s lots of hunters around here.”

“True. But how do you explain that sharpshooter pin on your uniform? Those are rather rare aren’t they? And what about your boots?”

“Huh, what about my boots?”

“The sides have a healthy dose of red tint to them. Stained, I’d say. Just like the color of the gravel outside. Not just on the soles like mine or the Sheriff’s, but further up on the sides. Meaning you’ve been here before, traipsing around like you were looking for something: like a 30-30 shell casing?”

The Dick smoked his Lucky Strike down to a nub and snuffed it out with this shoe; his eyes had a bead on Horne. The Deputy relaxed his embrace on Norma and pushed her aside, his arms loose at his side. Norma stared at Deputy Horne while Sheriff Cooper, who was never really fully engaged, was sitting on the bed next to the victim wiping his sweaty face with his stained arm sleeve.

A moment later Deputy Horne went for his revolver. The Dick, always expecting the worst, was already in the act.

“Hold it! I wouldn’t do that. Even if I was blind I couldn’t miss from this range.”

Deputy Horne dropped his piece. The Sheriff stood, flabbergasted. Norma began to cry, again, but this time with real tears.

The man who lusted after Norma, and wanted nothing more than to be one of her men friends, could now only daydream about her in the county jail.

“Sheriff, you owe me a fish.”


April 16, 2020 22:48

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