There was nothing but fields in all directions with the single dirt road cutting through them at an oblique angle like the whole thing was off-set and the body besides the road a way’s down. The body hadn’t been there long, least hadn’t been there the evening before when the manager of the property had driven through along that oblique dirt road. When he had again that morning, there had been the body of the Negro and he had gotten out and confirmed the Negro was dead and got in his truck again and ridden to the big house of the man who owned the land and made a call using the owner’s phone. Called Sheriff Eastland, and he was now in his new white Ford truck that he was real proud of with a rack for his shotgun and rifle in the backseat and was driving to check in on the body. The medical response would be delayed, the medical examiner and coroner was also the town undertaker and was a funeral that morning and that dead man was white and putting him in the ground respectfully took priority.
Eastland exited the new highway and didn’t bother signaling, no one else in sight and he’d be the one to write the ticket anyway. Was wearing a white sleeveless shirt and work jeans, had been wearing the shirt sleeping on his sofa when he been called and had only needed to put on the jeans and his gator-skin boots and his star and his sidearm to leave the house which was a shotgun affair with a dog-run and a tin-roof. If he spent more time in it, would’ve left him depressed but Eastland had other places to stay and didn’t see the need in wasting money on new digs having inherited these from his daddy which was the only thing that wretched bastard had left him. Had died while Eastland was overseas, was a Marine and had the emblem tattooed on his bicep during his time in Tokyo after the War had ended along with a severe blue-ink cross on the other bicep. Jap tattooist had used bamboo needles and getting the tattoo of a tiger across his back had been painful like surgery but looked damned badass.
Put on aviator sunglasses because the sun was starting to warm the world and with that warmth came an unpleasant brightness. Ran his hand through his hair which was still a flat-top and didn’t have grey in it, had been born with blond hair but his beard came in very dark and as he had a short beard now the contrast was striking. Behind the brown-lensed aviator sunglasses, had dark brown eyes with a resting mean expression, and below the glasses a strong nose and a large mouth with most of his original teeth and the first cigarette of the day.
“Ain’t this a way to start the day,” Eastland said and had been saying plenty since leaving through the backdoor of one of the places in town around two in the morning but except for a few words which had been more barked than spoken on the phone at six-forty-five had all been to himself.
The body was on the side of the road and he knew where it was before it came in sight because the buzzards were circling over it now.
Parked his truck in the middle of the dirt road because the only other man who was going to drive that way was the medical examiner and he was going to stop in the same place. Unless the man who had killed this nigger chose to return to the scene of the crime, which would be an unexpected blessing and then he wouldn’t mind his truck being in the way so he might break the bastard’s window, reach through, grab him by the collar and pull him through the window head first.
Killed the engine and stepped out. Body was on the right-hand side of the road so he walked around the front of the truck and didn’t bother closing his door. Flies had discovered the body how they always found decay and so there was plenty of them buzzing around and the smell was a mite unpleasant but the body hadn’t gotten bloated and heated in the sun how American bodies on coral beeches in the Pacific from Tarawa to Okinawa had putrefied like brine shrimp gone bad. Had left Eastland with a high tolerance.
Squatted by the roadside and didn’t recognize the nigger. Had punctures down his arm, some badly healed like the infection that sets in after using unclean needles. But, junkies weren’t known for being careful with their health. Had known boys had gotten the need in them after being wounded and the medication slipped into a dependency and eventually hollowed them out. Seeing as this nigger wouldn’t have served in combat, chalked it up to weakness, but hadn’t been the infection or an overdose had killed him. Supposed that lack of care for his health hadn’t really mattered so much in the end, real clean living wouldn’t have done this one an ounce of good.
Course, had the nigger lived better, might not have gotten the hole blown in his head.
Had a burnt circle around his temple from where the muzzle had been pressed against him, so the other man had shot him point blank. Yellowish sclera how some aging Negroes and bad alcoholics had, with bright fractured red veins. Last thing the nigger would have seen was the man who was pulling the trigger. Cold-blooded way of killing somebody, and not one for fucking around. No gun in his hand, and his hands were bound behind him. Tight rope with a serious looking knot and could tell the skin was torn from the rope biting into it.
“Well, unless’in he did that to himself, which ain’t likely, suppose we have got a killing.”
Checked his pockets and didn’t find identification. Not even an empty wallet. Had holes in his socks and nothing in his shoes. Were both places for drifters to hide cash.
Eastland stood up and searched the weeds around the body without much spirit. Found a .38 Special casing.
“Narrows suspect down to the entire fucking world.”
Had his own .357 Magnum holstered. Pearl-handled and vain. Had bought out of his own paycheck and used it as his service weapon. Liked the stopping power.
Were no footprints or tire-tracks, not much of a surprise as Eastland wasn’t leaving any either. Had been bone dry the last week and the surface of the road was hard as packed earth. Only moisture was the blood from the wound like a dulled violent halo splashed around the nigger’s head and that had dried overnight and was being baked into the road by the morning sun. Decided he wasn’t going to find nothing else of interest and went back to his truck and radioed what he had found on the two-way. Didn’t have a deputy but did have a secretary.
“Moira, we got a nigger killed out here sometime between last evening and this morning. Get Hamlin over here so I don’t have to roast my ass in the heat.”
Hamlin was the medical examiner and coroner and undertaker, and Moira said yes sir she’d be right on it. Was a plain girl whose husband had beaten her and the story was that he had been persuaded to leave the county.
Had a western dime novel in the front seat, a double-ended book where half of it was one book and the other half which you flipped around to read was another. Both were westerns, though, and he liked there being two books because he was going to have be waiting for a time. Amused himself by flipping from one to the other whenever he got bored with the one he had been reading and finding his place again exhausted seconds of slow time. One of the westerns was about a sheriff who was taking on the corrupt ranchers who were against making the territory more modern and developed, bringing it into the future was what the townspeople pushing for statehood kept saying, and Eastland liked the style of it even if the story was standard and frankly ridiculous. Sheriff might have struck an agreement with the ranchers and let everyone live how they had been living, ranchers were only doing what they had always done and being modern wasn’t such a hoot-and-a-half. Meant more schoolmarms and children having to go to church on Sunday, hardworking Scandinavians and Germans breaking their backs tilling the soil, being made a state and sending Senators to Washington so they could sell out their constituency, all that instead of respectable Confederate exiles living on horseback and making some nice money for themselves and no need for any goddamn lectures about the future and its possibilities. The future was a dead thing, dead as that nigger by the road, did not exist now and when it arrived it wouldn’t exist either because it would be trapped by actuality. Were no possibilities except that which actually occurred, were all trapped by the great determinative causality of the world and most men couldn’t accept this because they were frightened by it.
Were no possibilities, only men becoming what they already were. The actualization of an inner state, the teleology of the individual soul.
The other story was about a bank robber who enjoyed robbing banks and had an attractive blond girlfriend with an ample bosom on the cover, and Eastland preferred that story because it was more honest. Knew it would wreck that honesty by making the bank robber die at the end to pay for his crimes, but was a dime novel and like a Hollywood movie there were conventions had to be observed. Couldn’t show a man ultimately profiting from his crimes because that would send the wrong message to the impressionable youth and slower adults. Frankly, Eastland doubted the youth was impressionable enough be so badly misled, excepting those would grow up to the slower class of adults and there wasn’t much to be done regarding them.
Occasionally looked up from his reading to check that the body was still there. Never did surprise him and he made good progress in both books before Hamlin came down the road in the wagon for the body. Parked so close to Eastland’s truck that Eastland had wondered if the man had the pair of balls to damage his nice new truck. Would’ve necessitated a conversation.
Put his book down and was dog-eared in two places.
Hamlin got out of the wagon and he was a nervous man with thinning blonde hair he oiled and glasses with grease on them from the hair oil. Peered over the body and looked like he might spit.
“Why you hurry me over here?”
“We got a killing in my county.”
“It’s a nigger.”
“Yes, I can see that as well as you can. If we telling each other damned obvious things we both already know, it is a killing in my county. Is also a body already stinks and likely stank when it was numbered among the living and will only get to stink worse longer is out here in the sun.”
“Why you feel the need tell me all that?”
“Only explaining to you why I hurried you over,” Eastland said sounding politely exasperated and put his boot on the running board and rested his arm on his knee looking like he was in a Western picture. Hamlin looked at him like he couldn’t tell whether he was being fucked around with or the other fella really was that much an idiot and settled on the latter which was better for his self-worth.
Handled the body and took some photographs and put the dead tortured shot nigger into the back of the wagon.
“Suppose you ain’t going tell me nothing useful,” Eastland asked.
“Besides the nigger being shot, what would you like me to tell you?”
“Well,” Eastland rubbed his chin like he was pondering, “could tell me who popped a cap in the nigger’s head, although that would surprise me some.”
Hamlin closed the back of the wagon and said he wouldn’t know much more after getting the body on the table. Man was sweating heavy and wanted to get gone.
“I think I’ll leave you to handle the case of the dead junkie nigger. Might be the case gets you in the Atlanta papers.”
“Naw, even if the papers gave a good goddamn, don’t think I’d care to read about myself. Being a simple kind of man, prefer reading about other sorts of people. Interesting folks. And besides,” Eastland added as Hamlin opened the driver side door like he was trying to leave, “this might be a hard one.”
“And why’d that be,” Hamlin asked because he was trapped by social niceties.
“Well, typically, we got a killing, either is a family member or a drunk sitting near the body with a shotgun still got smoke coming off the barrel wailing about how he didn’t mean to do it and was all an accident. This ain’t that.”
“You sure do work hard for your position.” Hamlin had never liked him much and Eastland didn’t much give a damn.
“Earned my star by being only slightly less decorated than Audie Murphy and real personable.”
Was so personable that he left the service at the same rank he walked in. Had some money in his pocket when he came back from his service and had considered going into business for himself before finding that didn’t much suit his star. Set his sights on becoming sheriff because was a real sweetheart of a position and the previous incumbent elected not to run again. Had won the Democratic primary waving the flag and his decorations and having come to an arrangement with the county big man who owned this land.
“I recall you having some, what was it, bone spurs kept you out of the service?”
“I was overage, you goddamned jackass.”
“They’s always peacetime service.”
Hamlin said he supposed that wasn’t his calling and shut the door and backed up and the rear of the wagon was off the road and in the field and then the wagon was able to turn without hitting anybody and drive along the oblique dirt road.
“Mighty rude,” Eastland said to the back of the wagon and considered discharging a live round to see if it would make that little bitch-boy hit reverse and come back like a dog showing submission or floor the gas. Would be in the nature of an experiment, getting to the deeper psychology of one man. Shrugged and decided might another day.
“Ain’t looking to make life hard for anybody ain’t earned being fucked over, and I try to be forgiving. Suppose that is to my nature.”
Eastland had started talking to himself sometime in the Pacific and habit had stuck with him. Found he had a great many things to say and unless he was willing to find a professor of philosophy or some other kind of faggot ain’t nobody seemed to understand what he was getting at, so he figured would keep talking to himself and least he understood what he was saying and might be could drag some other folks into a clearer way of looking at things.
© V.N. Ebert 2022