Authors: LS Hawker
IRENS AND THE
scent of strange men drove Sarx and Tesla into a frenzy of barking and pacing as they tried to keep the intruders off our property without the aid of a fence. Two police cars, a fire truck, and an ambulance were parked on the other side of the dirt road. The huddled cops and firemen kept looking at the house.
Dad's iPhone rang and went on ringing. I couldn't make myself answer it. I knew it was the cops outside calling to get me to open the front door, but asking me to allow a group of strangers inside seemed like asking a pig to fly a jet. I had no training or experience to guide me. I longed to get the AK-Â47 out of the basement gun safe, even though it would be me against a half-Âdozen trained law men.
“Petty Moshen.” An electric megaphone amplified the man's voice outside.
The dogs howled at the sound of it, intensifying further the tremor that possessed my entire body. I hadn't shaken like this since the night Dad left me out on the prairie in a whiteout blizzard to hone my sense of direction.
“Petty, call off the dogs.”
I couldn't do it.
“I'm going to dial up your father's cell phone again, and I want you to answer it.”
Closing my eyes, I concentrated, imagining those words coming out of my dad's mouth, in his voice. The iPhone vibrated. I pretended it was my dad, picked it up, hit the answer button and pressed it to my ear.
“This is Sheriff Bloch,” said the man on the other end of the phone. “We have to come in and talk to you about your dad.”
I cleared my throat again. “I need to do something first,” I said, and thumbed the end button. I headed down to the basement.
Downstairs, I got on the treadmill, cranked up the speed to ten miles an hour and ran for five minutes, flat-Âout, balls to the wall. This is what Detective Deirdre Walsh, my favorite character on TV's
always did when emotions overwhelmed her. No one besides me and my dad had ever come into our house before, so I needed to steady myself.
I jumped off and took the stairs two at a time, breathing hard, sweating, my legs burning, but steadier. I popped a stick of peppermint gum in my mouth. Then I walked straight to the front door the way Detective Walsh wouldâÂfearlessly, in charge, all business. I flung the door open and shouted, “Sarx! Tesla! Off! Come!”
They both immediately glanced over their shoulders and came loping toward me. I noticed another vehicle had joined the gauntlet on the other side of the road, a brand-Ânew tricked-Âout red Dodge Ram 4x4 pickup truck. Randy King, wearing a buff-Âcolored Stetson, plaid shirt, Lee's, and cowboy boots, leaned against it. All I could see of his face was a black walrus mustache. He was the man my dad had instructed me to call if anything ever happened to him. I'd seen Randy only a Âcouple of times but never actually talked to him until today.
The dogs sat in front of me, panting, worried, whimpering. I reached down and scratched their ears, thankful that Dad had trained them like he had. I straightened and led them to the one-Âcar garage attached to the left side of the house. They sat again as I raised the door and signaled them inside. They did not like this one bitâÂthey whined and jitteredâÂbut they obeyed my command to stay. I lowered the door and turned to face the invasion.
As if I'd disabled an invisible force field, all the men came forward at once: the paramedics and firemen carrying their gear boxes, the cops' hands hovering over their sidearms. I couldn't look any of them in the eye, but I felt them staring at me as if I were an exotic zoo animal or a serial killer.
The man who had to be the sheriff walked right up to me, and I stepped back palming the blade I keep clipped to my bra at all times. I knew it was unwise to reach into my hoodie, even just to touch the Baby Glock in my shoulder holster.
“Petty?” he said.
“Yes sir,” I said, keeping my eyes on the clump of yellow, poisonous prairie ragwort at my feet.
“I'm Sheriff Bloch. Would you show us in, please?”
“Yes sir,” I said, turning and walking up the front steps. I pushed open the screen and went in, standing aside to let in the phalanx of strange men. My breathing got shallow and the shaking started up. My heart beat so hard I could feel it in my face, and the bump on my left shoulderâÂscar tissue from a childhood injuryâÂitched like crazy. It always did when I was nervous.
The EMTs came in after the sheriff.
“Where is he?” one of them asked. I pointed behind me to the right, up the stairs. They trooped up there carrying their cases. The house felt too tight, as if there wasn't enough air for all these Âpeople.
Sheriff Bloch and a deputy walked into the living room. Both of them turned, looking around the room, empty except for the grandfather clock in the corner. The old thing had quit working many years before, so it was always three-Âseventeen in this house.
“Are you moving out?” the deputy asked.
“No,” I said, and then realized why he'd asked. All of our furniture is crowded in the center of each room, away from the windows.
Deputy and sheriff glanced at each other. The deputy walked to one of the front windows and peered out through the bars.
“Is that bulletproof glass?” he asked me.
They glanced at each other again.
“Have anyplace we can sit?” Sheriff Bloch said.
I walked into our TV room, the house's original dining room, and they followed. I sat on the couch, which gave off dust and a minor-Âchord spring squeak. I pulled my feet up and hugged my knees.
“This is Deputy Hencke.”
The deputy held out his hand toward me. I didn't take it, and after a beat he let it drop.
“I'm very sorry for your loss,” he said. He had a blond crew cut and the dark blue uniform.
He went to sit on Dad's recliner, and it happened in slow motion, like watching a knife sink into my stomach with no way to stop it.
“No!” I shouted.
Nobody but Dad had ever sat in that chair. It was one thing to let these Âpeople inside the house. It was another to allow them to do whatever they wanted.
He looked around and then at me, his face a mask of confusion. “What? I'mâÂI was just going to sitâÂ”
“Get a chair out of the kitchen,” Sheriff Bloch said.
The deputy pulled one of the aqua vinyl chairs into the TV room. His hands shook as he tried to write on his little report pad. He must have been as rattled by my outburst as I was.
“Spell your last name for me?”
“M-ÂO-ÂS-ÂH-ÂE-ÂN,” I said.
“No,” I said. “We're from Detroit originally.”
His face scrunched and he glanced up.
“How'd you end up here? You got family in the area?”
I shook my head. I didn't tell him Dad had moved us to Saw Pole, Kansas, because he said he'd always wanted to be a farmer. In Saw Pole, he farmed a sticker patch and raised horse flies but not much else.
“How old are you?”
He lowered his pencil. “Did you go to school in Niobe? I don't ever remember seeing you.”
“Dad homeschooled me,” I said.
“What time did you discover theâÂyour dad?” The deputy's scalp grew pinker. He needed to grow his hair out some to hide his tell a little better.
“The dogs started barking about twoâÂ”
,” I said. “At approximately two-Âfifteen
our dogs began barking at the back door. I responded and found no evidence of attempted B and E at either entry point to the domicile. I retrieved my Winchester rifle from the basement gun safe with the intention of walking the perimeter of the property, but the dogs refused to follow. I came to the conclusion that the disturbance was inside the house, and I continued my investigation on the second floor.”
Deputy Hencke's pencil was frozen in the air, a frown on his face. “Why are you talking like that?”
“Usually I ask questions and Âpeople answer them.”
“I'm telling you what happened.”
“Could you do it in regular English?”
I didn't know what to say, so I didn't say anything.
“Look,” he said. “Just answer the questions.”
“All right. So where was your dad?”
“After breakfast this morning he said he didn't feel good so he went up to his bedroom to lie down,” I said.
All day I'd expected Dad to call out for something to eat, but he never did. So I didn't check on him because it was nice not having to cook him lunch or dinner or fetch him beers. I'd kept craning my neck all day to get a view of the stairs, kept waiting for Dad to sneak up on me, catch me watching forbidden TV shows. I turned the volume down so I'd hear if he came down the creaky old stairs.
“So the dogs' barking is what finally made you go up to his bedroom, huh?”
“Those dogs wanted to tear us all to pieces,” the deputy said, swiping his hand back and forth across the top of his crew cut.
I'd always wanted a little lapdog, one I could cuddle, but Dad favored the big breeds. Sarx was a German shepherd and Tesla a rottweiler.
The deputy bent his head to his pad. “What do you think they were barking about?”
“They smelled it,” I said.
He looked up. “Smelled what?”
“Death. Next I knocked on the decedent'sâÂ I mean, Dad'sâÂbedroom door to request permission to enter.”
“So you went in his room,” the deputy said, his pencil hovering above the paper.
“Once I determined he was unable to answer, I went in his room. He was lying on his stomach, on top of the covers, facing away from me, andâÂhe had shorts on .Â .Â . you know how hot it's been, and he doesn't like to turn on the window air conditioner until after Memorial DayâÂand I looked at his legs and I thought, âHe's got some kind of rash. I better bring him the calamine lotion,' but then I remembered learning about libidity on TV, andâÂ”
“Lividity,” he said.
“It's lividity, not libidity, when the blood settles to the lowest part of the body.”
“Guess I've never seen it written down.”
“So what did you do then?”
“It was then that I .Â .Â .”
I couldn't finish the sentence. Up until now, the shock of finding Dad's body and the terror of letting Âpeople in the house had blotted out everything else. But now, the reality that Dad was dead came crashing down on me, making my eyes sting. I recognized the feeling from a long time ago. I was going to cry, and I couldn't decide whether I was sad that Dad was gone or elated that I was finally going to be free. Free to live the normal life I'd always dreamed of.
But I couldn't cry, not in front of these strangers, couldn't show weakness. Weakness was dangerous. I thought of Deirdre Walsh again and remembered what she always did when she was in danger of crying. I cleared my throat.
“It was then that I determined that he was deceased. I estimated the time of death, based on the stage of rigor, to be around ten
this morning, so I did not attempt to resuscitate him,” I said, remembering Dad's cool, waxy dead skin under my hand. “Subsequently I retrieved his cell phone off his nightstand and called Mr. King.”
“Why didn't you call 911?”
“Because Dad told me to call Mr. King if something ever happened to him.”
The deputy stared at me like I'd admitted to murder. Then he looked away and stood.
“I think the coroner is almost done, but he'll want to talk to you.”
While I waited, I huddled on the couch, thinking about how my life was going to change. I'd have to buy groceries and pay bills and taxes and do all the things Dad had never taught me how to do.
The coroner appeared in the doorway. “Miss Moshen?” He was a large zero-Âshaped man in a cardigan.
He sat on the kitchen chair the deputy had vacated.
“I need to ask you a Âcouple of questions,” he said.
“Okay,” I said. I was wary. The deputy had been slight and small, and even though he'd had a sidearm, I could have taken him if I'd needed to. I didn't know about the coroner, he was so heavy and large.
“Can you tell me what happened?”
I began to repeat my account, but the coroner interrupted me. “You're not testifying at trial,” he said. “Just tell me what happened.”
I tried to do as he asked, but I wasn't sure how to say it so he wouldn't be annoyed.
“Did your dad complain of chest pains, jaw pain? Did his left arm hurt?”
I shook my head. “Just said he didn't feel good. Like he had the flu.”
“Did your dad have high cholesterol? High blood pressure?”
“I don't know.”
“When was the last time he saw a doctor?” the coroner asked.
“He didn't believe in doctors.”
“Your dad was only fifty-Âone, so I'll have to schedule an autopsy, even though it was probably a heart attack. We'll run a toxicology panel, which'll take about four weeks because we have to send it to the lab in Topeka.”
The blood drained from my face. “Toxicology?” I said. “Why?”
“It's standard procedure,” he said.
“I'm pretty sure my dad wouldn't want an autopsy.”
“Don't worry,” he said. “You can bury him before the panel comes back.”
“No, I mean Dad wouldn't want someone cutting him up like that.”
“It's state law.”
“Please,” I said.
His eyes narrowed as they focused on me. Then he stood.
“After the autopsy, where would you like the remains sent?”