Who Killed Crazy Curt Cozy Mystery Short Fiction By Sue Pace

Who Killed Crazy Curt: Cozy Mystery Short Fiction By Sue Pace

In Who Killed Crazy Curt, Dolly is working on an island and finds a dead body.

(FIE: The Field Interviewer Evaluation Study)

After Dolly’s husband died of cancer, money was short plus boredom had never been her friend. She hoped that continuing her job would provide enough of a paycheck that she could move out of her tiny condo. Which explains how a fifty-year-old woman came to be peeing while squatting in a forest at the end of a dirt road on the far end of Claremont Island.

Over the years, Dolly had worked her way up through the ranks, starting as a field interviewer, so it wasn’t the first time she had to pee at the end of a dirt road. There was what she thought of as the Oregon Park Defecation Center; which was actually a dog park with plenty of parking space and not many visitors.

There was the Rain Forest Trailhead at the far end of Lake Quinault with snorting Elk herds and an overflowing Porta Potty. And there was the Iditarod Sled Dog Racing Track starting outside of Anchorage but, in August, the place was occupied with giant mosquitoes, snorting bears and a locked outhouse.

…Dolly had worked her way up through the ranks, starting as a field interviewer, so it wasn’t the first time she had to pee at the end of a dirt road.

            The current project was officially titled “The Field Interviewer Evaluation Study” and the main purpose was to be sure none of the employees were cheating on mileage or work hours. The secondary purpose was to weed out any incompetents. That meant Dolly, as a Supervisor, had to spot check the where, who, and when of five percent of the interviews. She had to drive, re-contact, and time the whole process to see if that matched up to the billing an interviewer turned in for payment.

FIE was an acronym that felt familiar. Dolly looked up the word on her smartphone and discovered that, originally, it meant disgust at a stench. Crouched amid a cluster of tickling fern and cedar branches, Dolly felt a deep understanding in that acronym and a deep anger that management demanded she waste her time checking on worthy workers. Fie, upon you, Dolly thought. Fie, upon you each and all!

That was when she saw the body.

At first she thought it was a deer or someone’s overgrown dog but in her experience, neither wild animals nor rural pets dressed up in boots and Levis.

Dolly sanitized her hands and eased her rental back up towards the Island’s main road. She checked the GPS on her phone, and called 911. The man who answered the emergency phone number explained it would take a good hour to get to her and did she have anything close to an address. When she gave the man the GPS reading, he sounded both relieved and perplexed.

“What are you doing out there?”

Dolly said the first thing that came to mind. “Peeing.”

Later that afternoon, she was interviewed by the County Sheriff in the office he shared with the State Patrol. It was also shared with the County road maintenance team and the Forest Service. The name on his uniform said Ken Gussenheight but she heard his underlings calling him Sheriff Sneeze. He brought her Hazelnut coffee with sugar and powered crème in a freshly scrubbed ceramic cup. He tore open a package of Oreo cookies and pushed it her way.

“You don’t seem very bothered by the fact that you were the one who discovered Crazy Curt.”

The sheriff’s voice was a resonating baritone.

“I’ve seen a lot over the years,” Dolly said.

“Dead bodies?”

She sipped the coffee and decided it wasn’t bad. In fact, it was quite good. “I was a Biology teacher for a few years and then I upgraded to become a Medical Social Worker in a VA hospital in Spokane for six years.”

“So you know about injuries and such.”

“A little”

Sheriff Sneeze stood. “I’d like you to come down to the County Morgue and check this guy out before they start cutting him up.”

“I’m sure they could give you a better reading than I can.”

“Over the past two years, a lot of funds were cut and since the island isn’t a heavily populated area, this one will probably go to the back burner. We won’t get written results for three months. You may have noticed he was shot.”

“It would be difficult to NOT notice that,” Dolly said, “even though he was face down I could see that half his head was gone.”

Sherriff Sneeze took a quick sip of coffee. “And no gun nearby. Plus, he wasn’t dead that long.”

Dolly grabbed a cookie. “How do you know that?”

“Predators would have started with the soft parts first, so his eyes and guts would be gone and then insects would swoop in. He’d be covered in all manner of crawlies if he’d been there more than a couple days.”

Dolly put down the cookie she was about to bite into. She took a long drink of coffee and wished, desperately that she hadn’t quit smoking. “You called him Crazy Curt.”

Sheriff Sneeze munched his cookies, swallowed and nodded. “His niece is missing and so is her boyfriend. We’ve been trying to keep an eye on things but the county is having a hard time getting back to anything normal because of COVID and budget cuts.”

“You’re pretty sure this wasn’t an accident by some illegal hunter. You think it’s murder?”

He gave her a long look. His hair was white and so was his beard but his eyes were a marvelous blue with thick dark eyelashes. He reminded her of someone she’d once met. Someone who looked a lot like a fit and trim Santa Claus. Dolly smiled. “Do you have any relatives in Michigan?”
He smiled. “Yeah, I do. My cousin Jeff is a Forest Ranger in….”

“…the Upper Peninsula,” Dolly said.

He cocked his head. “How do you know that?”

“He let me stay at his place when I was working up there a few years ago.”

Sheriff Sneeze stared at her long and hard and then bust out laughing. “Winter of 2018. I remember him talking about that.”

The trees outside the window swayed in the wind and passing clouds marked their way with shadows moving rapidly over the adjoining sheds, long green grass and the gravel parking lot. Outside the roar of dump trucks and road graders rumbled while, inside, various offices buzzed with the muffled sound of voices and the whine of ancient office machinery.

Dolly sipped her coffee and wished she had a cigarette. The desire usually came during times of stress or certain memories but, after her husband died, she had promised their daughter that she would never again step back into the habit. The desire for nicotine was there, always lurking under the surface, but it was the one thing she could do against all the negative odds of a stressful life: keep that one promise.

“So, are you willing to help with the investigation? Unofficially, of course.”

Dolly thought about management’s FIE investigation. There were only a couple more interviews to check on and then she’d be going back to a lonely condo and annoying neighbors.

“I can’t pay you,” Sheriff Sneeze said, “but I can take you to lunch and dinner.” He pushed some papers around the top of his desk. “Plus, this time of year there are art shows and summer dances at the Grange Hall. You won’t be wearing a uniform, so folks might open up to you in a way they won’t to my officers.”

“Sounds interesting,” Dolly said.

Sheriff Sneeze handed her a file and said, “I have to make some phone calls and I won’t be back here for twenty minutes or so. Absolutely do not read this.” He winked and after he closed the door on his way out, Dolly took out her smart phone and snapped pictures of each and every form. She munched two cookies, then emailed FIE management.

“There’s been a murder and the county sheriff said the roads will be clear in a few days so I’m going to hang out at the Motel and work on my computer. I’ll get back to you when I’m ready to head back home.”

Fie upon you, Dolly thought and brushed cookie crumbs from her lap.

The next morning, Dolly and Sheriff Sneeze drove to the beach cabin that Crazy Curt had called home. She was surprised to see that it wasn’t that far from where she saw Crazy Curt’s body. The front door of the cabin was wide open and a window facing Puget Sound was shattered with most of the pieces scattered inside, over the floor and kitchen table. Dolly waited until the Sheriff holstered his gun and beckoned it was safe to enter.

He handed her some gloves and pulled on his own. Every kitchen container was broken or torn with the contents dumped onto the counter and the main room was filled with torn fabric and shattered dishes. The wood stove that served both as a heater and a kitchen necessity, was pulled from the chimney and tipped sideways.

The small bedroom at the back of the cabin filled with torn sheets, blinds, pillows and clothing. Even the mattress was flipped upside down and ripped open. Dolly snapped a few pictures and carefully stepped around the bedroom’s chest of drawers.

Sheriff Sneeze’s tenor voice ricocheted through the smashed window. “I’ve found her!”

Dolly followed the Sheriff’s voice to the outhouse at the end of the vegetable garden. Slumped against the outside wall, an emaciated young woman was hog-tied with various insects crawling about her face and hands. Dolly reached down and felt a faint pulse. “Call for an ambulance,” she said.

Dolly followed the Sheriff’s voice to the outhouse at the end of the vegetable garden.

“Already done.”

“Let’s get her out of this,” Dolly said.

“I’ve got to take crime scene photos, first,” the Sheriff said. “She’s real dehydrated. Get some water and see if you can find anything to warm her up.”

“Is this the niece?”

The Sheriff grunted and nodded. Dolly hurried to the cabin and managed to find a blanket that wasn’t torn to shreds and a dented but unbroken thermos bottle that she filled with water. By the time the deputies and ambulance arrived, the young woman was clinging to Dolly’s hand and wouldn’t let go. “You go ahead and I’ll pick you up later, at the hospital,” the Sheriff said. “Then we’ll have dinner and exchange ideas. Tomorrow, we’ll take the Ferry onto the mainland and I’ll drive you to the County Morgue.”

The EMT’s had the girl helicoptered to a hospital in Seattle and Dolly walked from the Fire Station to her motel room. When she signed into her work site, FIE management had returned her single paragraph email with three pages of drivel plus a reminder that she was to attend the FIE’s all supervisor ZOOM meeting at nine (Eastern Time) the next morning.

The three-hour time difference meant Dolly would easily join the Sheriff. She spent the rest of the day writing reports and wondering what to wear to dinner. She didn’t want to call him Sheriff Sneeze but every time she tried to say his real name aloud she ended up laughing. I’ll just ask him what he wants to be called, she thought and continued tapping away on her laptop.

That evening, the Sheriff and Dolly sat at a corner table in a restaurant overlooking the Ferry Terminal. He ordered local oysters with sweet potato fries and she ordered Dungeness crab soup with cornbread and a fruit salad. Most of the customers sat in the bar or dashed in for pre-ordered take-out so the dining area was almost empty. Dolly figured that was why he had selected the place. She like a man who thought ahead and found herself smiling.

He wiped his face and beard and leaned across the table. “My wife always told me when I had tartar sauce in my moustache or beard.” He raised a questioning eyebrow.

Dolly touched her chin and he quickly dabbed that area only to hear her chuckle. “Not fair,” he said but he was smiling.

“Where is your wife now?” Dolly said. “She could have come to dinner with us.”

“She died of cancer four years ago.” His face went serious. “Shall we get down to business?”

Dolly nodded and took out her work tablet. “First, does it bother you that everyone calls you Sheriff Sneeze?”

“Nope. Been called worse.”

“Well, I can’t do that. You have to tell me your first name.”

“James.”

“Okay, Sheriff James,” she said. “You talk and I’ll type. Then I’ll throw some possibilities at you and you can either play catch or bat them out of the ballpark. Start with Crazy Curt.”

“I was a Freshman when Crazy Curt was a Senior. That spring his drunken father drove himself and Curt’s mother off the Ferry Dock. It took three hours to get them out of the submerged pickup and by that time they were both dead.”

“Tough start for a kid,” Dolly murmured.

“Curt stayed with his grandparents until he graduated and then he enlisted in the Army.

He did a couple tours but when he came back from Desert Storm he was never the same. The theory is he was infected with whatever killed all those soldiers but nobody knows for sure and he never would talk about it.”

“And that’s why everyone called him Crazy?”

“Except, Janet, his younger sister. She’d gotten pregnant in high school and married a football player who beat her up regularly and then, one day, he just disappeared and she moved in with Curt.

“Where is she now?”

“She sort of disappeared a couple years ago.”

Dolly looked up from her tablet. “This is sounding like one of those icky Halloween movies that I never watch.”

“Most folks around here figure she just took off but I’m not most folks.”

“You don’t want to just solve Crazy Curt’s murder,” Dolly said. “You want to solve everything!”

The Sheriff counted off on the fingers of one hand, “Curt, Janet and her ex-husband and maybe their daughter’s boyfriend.”

“How old is the boyfriend?”

“I don’t know. The niece never really talks about him.”

“We don’t know if the boyfriend is dead or gone,” Dolly said. “Plus, we need to figure out who tied up the niece and left her for dead.”

“Did you get anything out of her?”

“Nothing official but a nurse let slip that the niece’s bloodwork showed some heavy heroin stats but they hadn’t decided if that was self-induced or forced upon her.”

Sheriff James didn’t look at her. “Except for the niece, the whole family had addictions of one kind or another.”

“Was the girl clean?”

“Yes.”

From his tone of voice, Dolly knew he wanted to close that line of questioning but she’d been a high school teacher, a social worker and an interviewer for years so she was used to pressing forward. She took the last bit of butter and smeared it on her corn muffin then dotted it with the packet of honey. “Why are you sure?”

Sheriff James looked at her sternly. “You don’t give up, do you?”

“No, I don’t.”

“You’d set a great example of how things are supposed to be done. Maybe you could come and do some training with the deputies. They could use it and I might be able to dredge up some funds to pay you. Not a lot but we could use a professional to help with getting things on track.”

“I also am not easily distracted.”

Sheriff James looked out the window. The sky had turned dark and their reflections were mirrors of his consternation and her curiosity. “I’ll fill you in on everything tomorrow,” he said. “After you’ve given me your opinion of Crazy Curt.” His cell phone rang and he stood and walked away to take the call. When he came back his face was no longer that of a lean and fit Santa Claus. “His niece might not make it,” he said. “Sometimes I hate my job.”

Dolly reached across the table and took his calloused hand. “Let’s get out of here,” she whispered. He said to the man at the cash register, “Put it on my account,” and they left with her arm around his waist and tears brimming in his eyes. They sat in the Sheriff’s car for an hour while he worked on breathing and Dolly worked on keeping her mouth shut. Sometimes, words can’t help but compassionate silence almost always can.

Finally, he started the motor to take her to the motel. As she got out he leaned forward to say, “Thank you and can we take your rental car tomorrow?” She nodded and then he said, “I’ll come by at nine. Wear something practical that can be turned into something swanky.”

“You have a plan?”

“I have a plan.” Then he tapped his horn and drove off.

The next morning, after a stupid two-hour Zoom meeting with FIE management whining the whole time, Dolly took a quick shower. She stepped into the bright blue pantsuit she had laid out the night before, then stuffed dangly earrings, high heels and a slinky blouse into her large purse. When Sheriff James tapped on her door she almost didn’t recognize him. His beard was gone and he wasn’t wearing the tan and green uniform.

“Sheriff James?”

He grinned. “I thought about dying my hair but that probably would be a bit much.”

“You’ll tell me the plan, right?”

“I might want your reactions to be more spontaneous and genuine.”

Dolly folded her arms. “I might decide to not drive my rental and you’ll be stuck with your cop car.”

“I know where we are going,” he said. “I’ll drive and tell you plan once we get onto the Ferry.”

“So, no turning back,” she said and he nodded.

The Ferry ride took half an hour. During that time Sheriff James talked about life on an island where boats could come and go twenty-four hours a day, every day of the year. He talked about neutral waters abutting Canada with easy nautical transportation from Alaska to Northern California. He talked about the variety of ways to avoid Custom Officials and about boats, both small and large, that carried millions of dollars’ worth of illegal drugs into and out of the United States. Some of the information Dolly already knew but the localized, detailed specifics were not, as the saying goes, in her wheel house.

“Crazy Curt had a beach house,” she said.

“That he did.”

“You think that was what the mess was all about.”

“It’s one option.”

Dolly looked at him. With his beard gone, his profile was strong and he looked less like Santa Claus and more like a hero in a movie with cowboys and cattle rustlers. He, of course, would play the hero. What role would I play? Dolly wondered. She felt her face bloom a bright red and quickly looked out the side window. Clouds scuttled over dark water with their white crested waves. Behind the clouds, the morning sky was pale blue with all manner of birds soaring and dipping. “Is that an Eagle?” she asked.

“I think it’s an Osprey,” Sheriff James said. “Are you a fan of birds?”

“Sometimes I envy them,” Dolly said, “except when I think about their eating habits.”

His laugh was deep and rich. “After you see the body, I’ll take you to lunch.” He glanced her way. “Unless you think it would be better to eat first.”

“I’ve already seen him at his worst,” Dolly said. “I’m not sure what I’m supposed to look for.”

“I think a fresh pair of eyes could be helpful,” he said. “No pressure. Just tell me what you think and why.”

The County Morgue was in the basement of the County Health District’s building. The room where the autopsies took place, was brightly lit with grey walls, a plethora of shiny metal equipment and a drain in the middle of the floor. Two metal tables were in the center and along one wall were labeled doors for lockbox corpse coolers. In the adjourning office, all manner of cupboards, files and boxes (along with various items of office equipment) were stack from floor to ceiling.

“We’ve been asking for more room,” said the coroner, “but money keeps getting shuffled to more visible county services.”

Sheriff James grunted his agreement then said, “I know you’re busy so let’s just get on with this.”

Wearing masks and gloves supplied by the coroner, Dolly and Sheriff James circled what used to be a man called Crazy Curt. He was still in his clothing and laying face up. “May I touch him?” Dolly asked and the coroner nodded.

Dolly lifted one of Curt’s stained hands and then the other. She sniffed the knees of his jeans and the looked at the bottoms of his boots. She leaned in to check the pocket on his shirt while Sheriff James checked his pants pockets. They were empty. “Have you checked under his nails?” Dolly asked the coroner who shook his head. “But you probably know what caused the stink and stain on his hands and arms and knees. But none on his boots.”

“Shit,” the man muttered.

“Human shit?” Dolly asked.

“Haven’t checked the origins,” the man said.

“Yet,” Sheriff James said.

“Yet,” the man replied. He didn’t seem excited by the exchange. “I suppose you want that first thing.”

“I want it in the next two hours.” Sheriff James turned to Dolly. “Do you need Crazy Curt turned over?”

“I’ve already seen his back,” she replied. “I’m ready for lunch.”

“Text me the results,” Sheriff James said to the coroner. “This is important.”

At lunch, Dolly reinvented her blue pantsuit to garb that some would consider swanky. They sat on the outside deck of a restaurant overlooking the mountains to the west. Sheriff James said he planned for them to attend an expensive bar on along the waterfront. Since he was now beardless, he was partially incognito and no one knew Dolly so maybe they could get some specific information about how the drugs were shuttled onto the mainland. But that was for later.             Dolly checked the menu and decided to have the crepes. Sheriff James ordered French Dip with coleslaw. He was, officially, on his day off so he also had a couple bottles of Pale Ale and she had a glass of Riesling. As the afternoon passed, there was a good deal of laughter along with deciding how to best approach the evening duties.

Dolly thought about a second glass of wine but decided one was enough. She smiled at the man she now thought of as Sheriff James. “Why did you shave off your beard?”

“And why are you so nosey…curious…interested,” he asked, finally settling upon a word that was more accepting.

“I asked my question first,” Dolly replied.

He finished his ale before answering. “After my wife died I just didn’t want any more changes so I kept everything that I could the very same as when she was alive. I don’t know if that makes sense to you but that’s how I felt.”

“When my husband died I couldn’t wait to change everything,” Dolly said. “I moved the bedroom furniture around and I painted the living room a weird shade of turquoise. I dyed my hair red and I swore I would never, ever love anyone again. Except for my daughter.”

“Did all that help?”

“No.” Dolly looked at the man whose profession demanded he kept things under control. “Did keeping everything the same help?”

“No.”

“How did your children deal with it?”

“We didn’t have any. That’s probably why I tried to look after the vulnerable ones on the island.”

“Like Crazy Curt’s niece.”

He nodded then stood and held out his hand. “Want to walk along the beach?”

“Can I take my shoes off?”

He didn’t answer because his cell phone vibrated. It was the County Coroner. He smiled at Dolly. “The lab results are human offal from a variety of sources.”

“We need to go back to Crazy Curt’s cabin.” Dolly stared at the man who looked like a movie hero and not like Santa Claus. “Are you sober enough to drive?”

“You can drive,” he said. “I’ll be the navigator. Let’s head back to the Ferry Terminal.”

“You want to go to the cabin now?” Dolly asked. “I mean, you had evening information plans.”

“Do you want to go to Crazy Curt’s?”

Dolly nodded. “I only have so much time to figure this out,” she said, “then I have to complete the last two interviewer reviews and return to the mainland and continue being a fairly decent supervisor but not being paid nearly enough to listen to the whining of my superiors.”

“You would rather listen to me whine?”

Dolly nodded and Sheriff James smiled. “Fine,” he said. “Let’s get back to the cabin.”

“Also,” Dolly had the wrinkled forehead that meant she was thinking outside the bounds of usual logic. “Do you have a photo of the niece’s boyfriend?”

“Nope. Nobody every saw the guy when he was skulking around at night.” Sheriff James shrugged. “One of the neighbors who caught a quick glimpse said the guy wore camo and was surprisingly short.”

“How short?”

“Shorter than you.”

“I’m not that tall.”

“That’s what the neighbor said.”

“So, the totally sober and drug free niece, who almost died of some type of heroin overdose and who also has a possible criminal boyfriend, is someone you can trust because…?” Dolly let the question hang in the air while waiting for him to respond.

“Because her biggest fault is that she loves – loved – her crazy mother to pieces.” He took a deep breath.

“Crazy mother?”

“Look, Janet wasn’t a good Mom. She bossed everyone and was always angry about something. She lost her temper, especially when she’d been drinking or doing drugs. Probably the kid’s biggest problem was that she always did whatever her Mom told her to do.”

“And now you decide to share this?”

“Is your family perfect?”

Dolly frowned and climbed into the driver’s side of the rental. After the Sheriff buckled his seatbelt and she pulled out of the restaurant’s parking lot, she said, quietly. “No one’s family is perfect. My daughter had some addiction problems but she went into counseling and is doing a lot better.”

Almost two hours later, when they reached the cabin, Dolly marched straight to the outhouse. The stench was still there but a light breeze kept it from making her gag. “Why do you think Crazy Curt was shot in the back?” she asked.

“Obvious,” the Sheriff said. “He was running away.”

“And his hands, arms and knees were covered in offal but not his boots.”

A wide smile burst across the Sheriff’s face. “So he was on his knees looking for something in the outhouse.”

“Not just in,” Dolly said. “Deeply within.”

“What would be down there besides crap?”

“I am only the idea woman.” Dolly’s smile was wide. “According to your Medical Examiner Crazy Curt had offal from a boatload of folks.”

“Whoever tore up the cabin didn’t find whatever it was and Curt was killed before or after the search.”

“Probably before,” the Dolly said and the Sheriff nodded.

“If this was a television show,” she said, “you could call in all manner of lab workers and aides to handle the down and dirty.”

“This is a small island and my deputies won’t volunteer or obey unless I, also, get down and dirty.”

“There are farmers around,” Dolly said. “Why don’t you get a tractor or something from one of the county folks who share your office and just dig around.”

Sheriff James chuckled. “I already texted my cousin before we got off the Ferry. Hear the rattle and growl? He’s just down the road and he has a dozer-digger so he should have this thing cleared out in about twenty minutes.”

The man who showed up was also gifted with white hair but his was complemented with a billowing mustache. Dolly and Sheriff James stood on the cabin’s back porch and watched the demolition of the outhouse. The wood was carefully pushed to one side and the Sheriff put on his gloves and went down to check the inside and underside of the planks.

He waved at Dolly and shook his head then walked back to the cabin and the actual digging began. Occasionally the wind changed directions, with the trees bending in unison, but mostly the cabin was upwind of the stench. After fifteen minutes the cousin stopped and motioned Dolly and Sheriff James to come see.

“I think you’ll have to get a professional evacuation team here,” the cousin said. “I don’t want to destroy any evidence so I’m heading home.”

Dolly looked down at what appeared to be a human skeleton. Half of the skull was gone. “Well,” she said. “I haven’t seen that before.”

“This is too big for our island enforcement,” Sheriff James said. “I’m calling the State Police. You can take the rental back to the motel and get on with your interviewing duties. You’ll have to give a statement in a day or two and don’t leave the Island until you get the okay.”

“I don’t want to leave you here,” Dolly said. “We don’t know what’s caused all of this.”

“Illegal drugs.”

Dolly nodded. “Probably, which is why I don’t want you alone here without protection and you don’t have your gun or badge or anything. I’m staying and we can wait in the rental car until the enforcement team shows up. Then I’ll go back to the hotel.”

Sheriff James took out his smartphone. “In the meantime, let’s both get some unofficial photos of this mess, but don’t actually touch anything.” He smiled at Dolly. “You do the outhouse lumber and I’ll do the stinky stuff.”

The buzz of Sheriff James’ cell phone startled them both. His face was a combination of grim and serious while he listened intently to the voice at the other end. He looked at Dolly. “Well, I think I know what the murderer was looking for. I just don’t know why.”

Dolly was about to ask the obvious question when she saw a short person, in camo jacket and pants, step from behind the cabin, raise a shotgun and point it toward Sheriff James. “Drop!!” she yelled just before the double blast.

Dolly dropped behind the pile of outhouse lumber and dialed 911. “I have your photo!” she yelled over the sloping stack of rotten boards. “I just sent a smartphone video of you shooting the Sheriff!”

She heard the distant sound of sirens just before she heard the shotgun’s third blast and felt a searing pain in her arm. She screamed and, suddenly, there was the sound of a badly matched fight, complete with grunts and swearing. When curiosity got the better of common sense, she peeked around the rotting boards and saw Sheriff James with his knee on the back of the culprit while struggling to get handcuff’s locked on the wriggling, jerking wrists.

Blood streaming down her arm, she ran to help. “You have handcuffs?”

“I automatically shoved them in my back pocket.”

“You suspected something might happen,” Dolly guessed. “And where’s your extra weapon?”

“In the glove compartment of the rental.” That’s when he looked at Dolly, “You got shot!”

She sank to her knees, then slowly keeled onto the grass. “Oh, I did.”

She came to when an EMT was taking her blood pressure on the arm that wasn’t tightly wrapped in gauze. Standing beside the outhouse pit, Sheriff James was talking to a small group of uniformed State Troopers. Aside from the cotton wads stuffed up his nose and a black eye, he appeared to be hale and healthy. There was a good deal of gesturing but when he saw Dolly was trying to sit up, he left the group and rushed over to check on her. “You saved my life,” he said. “I owe you anything you want.”

“What I want,” she said, “is for you to explain how all of these professionals got here so fast!”

“Once you get to the hospital….”

“Now!” Dolly said. “I saved your life so tell me now!”

“I work in the same building as Claremont Island’s State Patrol. We only have a couple of officers but they are extremely competent and protective of me. Plus they’ve been monitoring Crazy Curt for months.” Sheriff James gestured toward the group of officers surrounding a short person in handcuffs and camo gear. “Turn her around,” he shouted.
Dolly cocked her head, furrowed her brow and then smiled when she saw the face of the middle-aged woman with grass stains, shot gray hair and her own black eye.

“The coroner found something during the autopsy.”

“A bank safety deposit box key,” the Sheriff said.

Everything tumbled into place and Dolly smiled. “Related to the drug trade,” she said.

He nodded.

“But not a money stash,” Dolly continued. “Something really important has to be in that bank box.”

The sheriff nodded again.

“Contact information?”

“Bingo!” He took her hand. “Janet’s husband was running a drug ring.”

“And addicted Janet or her brother, Crazy Curt, killed her husband!”

“We may never know which of them did the actual deed or whether it was accidental or on purpose. Dental records will prove the husband’s identity but we are certain that its his skeleton. Bottom line, when Janet’s husband disappeared, she and her brother took over the business.

“Why did Janet disappear?”

“She didn’t. She went incognito because the Feds were getting closer to figuring out the drug trade route. They regularly checked her apartment and then began checking the beach cabin. Fortunately, this time they were near enough to hear the shots.”

Sheriff James’ cell phone buzzed and the smile on his face almost brought tears to Dolly’s eyes.

“The niece is awake?”

“Yes! And she is blabbing everything. She saw her mother shoot Crazy Curt when he wouldn’t turn over the bank key. And when Janet totally lost it and, tied up her own daughter and forced heroin down the girl’s throat, that was the last straw! The niece is willing to testify!”

“Good!” Dolly’s lay back on the stretcher and closed her eyes. The ambulance rumbled down the dirt road and took her across the water to the hospital’s ER.

Two months later, the FIE Study was permanently shut down, Dolly’s arm was healed and Sheriff James was taking her to dinner. “You certainly earned an evening out,” he said when she opened the front door of her small condo.

“I probably should be doing this weekly.”

“Yes, you should!” Dolly said and leaned forward to give him a welcoming kiss.

*****

If you’ve enjoyed Who Killed Crazy Curt, you can visit our free digital archive of flash fiction here. Additionally, premium short fiction published by Mystery Tribune on a quarterly basis is available digitally here.

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