Authors: Jerilyn Dufresne
Luigi stuck out a weathered dirt-covered hand. It was obvious this hand had done a lot of work. I didn't think too much about him because I was so darn happy that Wilma had called me George's associate. It sounded so official, so professional. My happiness must have caused my vibes to tweak too, because I felt a faint shiver.
"Sam, are you going to let go of his hand?" George asked.
"Oops, sorry. I get lost in my thoughts sometime. It's a pleasure to meet you. Wilma's told me about you."
All three of them chuckled and I didn't get it, until Wilma explained, "You repeated exactly what Luigi said to you."
I chuckled then too. "Guess I was more lost than I'd thought." I indicated Clancy. "And this is my associate, Clancy." She sat and extended a paw, which Luigi ignored until he couldn't do it any longer. She'd sat a full minute and he finally gave in. But he didn't say, "Nice to meet you." I noted it.
I walked closer to the grave where a United Nations-like group of two males and a female were carefully removing dirt from the bones. "It's surprising how much more of the skeleton is exposed. Have you been working all night?"
As I asked the question I finally really looked at Luigi. His Italian good looks were notable and the dark eyes felt like they could bore a hole through me. However, his gaze was more directed at Wilma than anyone else, and that look was smoldering.
"No," Luigi answered. "Just a short while. Of course we are involved in archeological digs all over the world, so this is just an extension of what we do on our trips."
"Have you found out anything yet?" George asked as he pulled out his notebook again. "Can you tell approximately how long the body has been there?"
"You've been hanging around me too long," I said. "One question at a time."
Luigi smiled, "It's okay. We've found some interesting things, including what look like artificial, probably plastic, feather-shaped items." He held up a baggie to show what he meant.
George and I looked at each other and nodded, although neither of us said a word at that point.
"And how long has the body been there?" George asked again, taking the bag to give Jeremiah when he showed up.
"It's impossible to say exactly right now, but an estimate is about a year, give or take a few months."
Then Wilma said, "In this soil an entire body can decompose in about a year. The remains are pretty much completely skeletonized. Other than bones and teeth there's
only some hair left."
"And, as you notice," Luigi continued, "there's no odor. That's another sign that there's no other organic material left. Additionally we checked for insect activity, and there's none, other than normal insects burrowing around, but nothing specific to the skeleton."
"You provided us with a lot of valuable information," George said. "Is there any way to extract DNA from the bones to identify the victim?"
At the same time he asked that, I asked, "What color is the hair?"
Luigi chose to answer George's question first. "Sure. DNA can be studied from bones hundreds, even thousands, of years old. Barring unforeseen circumstances, it shouldn't be a problem."
Then Wilma answered my question by holding up some brown and red hair, causing George and I to exchange glances again.
Luigi pointed back to the body as he continued answering George, "We can take the body to the University where we can handle the tests, or I'm sure the state police lab could do it."
A very loud throat clearing stopped us. "Uh, guess you forgot that I'm claiming jurisdiction if it's an Indian burial."
"There are plastic feathers in with the bones. Plastic feathers! Doesn't that mean anything to you?" I couldn't help but raise my voice with him.
I waited but Barclay just stared at me with that damn cigar wiggling in his mouth.
I couldn't stop myself--"Didn't Native Americans use real feathers? Omigod, where is your brain? Plastic feathers. Plastic." Then I had a thought and turned to Wilma, "If this person happens to be Native American, but died only one year ago, would it still be Barclay's case?"
"Not that I'm aware of," Wilma said. "Anyway, I'm the only Indian in town besides my brother, Johnny. We've been here our whole lives and there have been no ceremonial burials during that time. Our parents are at the Ebeneezer Church Graveyard out by the old factory ruins. They were buried through the Crackertown Christian Church."
"I rest my case," I said to Barclay.
"Well, I'm staying anyway."
"Have it your way, but you aren't the boss of the investigation," I said finally.
"Neither are you," whispered George in my ear, so quietly that no one else could here.
I didn't like that he was right.
Before I could start feeling too bad, Jeremiah and Marianne walked up, Marianne carrying a platter covered by a linen dishtowel.
"Something smells good," I said, and several others made similar appreciative sounds.
"I hope you all like muffins," she said.
As I started salivating I noticed that Jeremiah was toting a carafe and the faint smell of coffee leaked out. In his other hand he had some disposable cups.
"You guys are way too nice," I said.
"It's nothing," she replied and I expected Jeremiah to say, "Shucks, Ma'am," but he didn't. He just smiled. Then he set everything on a table the Mizzou folks had set up and turned back into his sheriff personality.
"Okay, fill me in," he said.
George began with what was going on there and said he would talk to him privately about our conversations at the convention. By privately, I hoped he meant me too.
Jeremiah nodded at George and then said to the group in general, "Wilma, you're in charge of the skeleton, as the county coroner you're already an officer of the court, so a deputy doesn't need to be present. Will you please supervise moving the bones to your office until we decide what to do?"
"Sure. We'll stay in touch, though. I might have some questions."
"Yeah, I know. This is new territory for all of us."
"Where's your office?" I asked. This was something we hadn't talked about.
He pointed past the cafe and motel, "About half mile down the road is the county courthouse. It'll look like a retail establishment, but the sign says 'Lost County Courthouse.' You can't miss it." He scratched his head, "Hell, just go with me. I'll bring you back to Marianne's after we're done talking."
The three of us climbed in his car. Marianne had taken Clancy back to her house because she said that "Fifi was pining for him." I sat in the back of the truck and felt a mite claustrophobic since the doors didn't open from the inside. While we drove, George pulled out the bag with the plastic feathers in it. The feathers had some dirt on them, but were otherwise unchanged.
I said, "They look like the feathers from the chicken suits at the convention."
"But we can't jump to conclusions, Sam," George said.
That was the only jumping I did. However, a lot of it was based upon my vibes and my intuition and not just impulsivity.
"I'll get a sample from a chicken suit and send them to the state lab for testing. Maybe I'll get a few feathers, and give one to Wilma to check so we can get a quick estimate." Jeremiah drove confidently as he spoke and we were there in a moment.
He was right. The courthouse did look like an old store, and in fact that's what it was. But it was decorated in a homey way, rather than the more sterile police department at home. What appeared to be the original wooden floor remained and the ceiling look like tin. It was a lot cozier than the name implied.
"So this is the sheriff's department and the courthouse?" I asked.
"Yep," Jeremiah said. "This lobby is big because it functions as the courtroom as well. My office is in the back, but I'm out here more often than not. And we have two cells in back."
"Just two?" That surprised me.
"Yeah, and they're usually empty. In fact I've never used both of them at the same time. If it ever became necessary I could use the jail in Hollister or Branson. Haven't ever had to do it before though."
"Gee, I hope this won't be the exception." And I ignored George's look.
George said, "Should we just sit here to talk?"
Jeremiah nodded, "There's no one else around. It's okay."
"We interviewed the Big Cluck at the convention." George opened his notebook, but didn't have to consult it. "You'll never guess who the leader is." He waited a beat but Jeremiah didn't say anything, just shrugged, so he continued, "It's Jim Bob." He waited for a response, and got one.
"Jim Bob? Well, that's a surprise. I thought he was here when the Bobs watched us around the grave."
"He was. Must've slipped away from the convention for a while. To my mind, anyone could leave the place without being noticed because they all look the same." George finally looked at his notes, maybe to insure he covered everything.
Jeremiah then asked, "Are you suspicious of Jim Bob?"
"Kind of," George answered.
"Maybe," I said.
I thought it was time to explain my weird semi-psychic proclivities to Jeremiah. "This is probably going to sound strange," I said, "but I get vibes about people and situations." I noticed Jeremiah's questioning look, but continued anyway, "You can ask George. I help solve crimes because I can tell who the bad guys are."
And before George could say anything, I finished, "Okay, I'm not right 100% of the time, but most of the time I can point you to the murderer. And, by the way, I am indeed 100% convinced this is murder, plain and simple."
"Is this true?" Jeremiah turned to my George for confirmation.
"I'm afraid it is," George said, and he looked embarrassed as he said it. "I didn't trust her instincts during our first case together, but I do now. As Sam said, she may not get it correct immediately, but she can narrow it down to a couple of people, and then we can figure out which one it is. Well, sometimes that's how it works. Other times she..."
I felt I had to interrupt him before he said bad things about me and made me mad. "I get these twinges, upset stomachs, and just plain vibes when I'm around evil people. The first time it happened around a murder it scared me because I couldn't figure out what was going on. But now I understand it, and so..." I let it go at that because I wanted to see the sheriff's reaction.
"Well, okay then," was what he said, which surprised the heck out of me. He then turned to me and asked, "So what are your vibes telling you now?"
"I can't say."
"You can't say. Or you won't say?"
"Now, you're sounding like a cop, sheriff."
"That's what I am. Don't evade my question."
"Okay. I won't say. I don't want to point a finger at the wrong person, which is something I may have done in the past."
George cleared his throat, which is what he always did when he tried not to laugh at me.
I looked back at Jeremiah. "I am getting a few vibes, but one of them doesn't make sense at all. So can I wait until tomorrow to tell you?"
"Guess I don't have a choice. I probably can't arrest you for not telling me about your 'feelings.' But tomorrow, no excuses."
George said, "I'd like to get back to what we found out. Jim Bob was having an affair with someone called Missy Hen--a woman who legally changed her last name. We found out more than I wanted to about the sex lives of the chicken impersonators. What I didn't find out was why all chickens look the same at the convention. Why there are no roosters versus hens, for example. Anyway, Jim Bob is known as the Big Cluck since Missy didn't show up this year. He also said they broke the rules by having a sexual relationship outside of the convention. He will lose his position if anyone finds that out. I told him we'd keep it quiet if we could, but didn't make any promises."
"Hmm," Jeremiah said and looked thoughtful. "I just don't figure Jim Bob for the murderer. If it was a murder."
"It was," I said. "That's something I'm willing to tell you today. It was a murder and I'm sure Wilma will confirm it."
"Okay, Sam. For now I'll believe you, and we'll see what happens." He turned to George. "We need to look for Missy Hen and if we can't find her we'll need to get a DNA sample. I'll check on her last known address and phone number."
"I think Jim Bob tried to call her too--right after the last convention, and then again when she didn't show up this time. He didn't get a response, but I did get her phone number." George tore off a piece of paper from his notebook and gave it to the sheriff.
"I'll take care of checking her out, and seeing if I can find her original last name. George, I'd like you to stick with Wilma and Luigi. Let me know if you find out anything new."
"What about me?" I asked, feeling left out.
"Umm," Jeremiah hesitated. "Uh, you do something. Whatever you think is right."
That was his first mistake.
"Don't you say a word," I said to George. "I know what I'm doing."
"You always say that, sweetheart, but you get yourself in bad situations," he replied while giving me a hug and a quick kiss on the cheek. "So what do you plan to do?"
"I don't know. Wander around. Maybe take a nap. Take Clancy for a walk. Whatever." At that point I really didn't know what I was going to do, but I knew it would have something to do with the case. I wasn't ready to tell George that, however.
"Just be careful," he warned. "And if you're free, I'll probably eat at the diner for lunch. Want to join me? Say one o'clock?"
I looked at my phone for the time. It was 10:30 now, which gave me plenty of time to decide what I was going to do, and time to do it. "Sure. Sounds good. I'm going to start by taking Clancy for a walk."
Clancy greeted me effusively, as did Fifi and Thor. Marianne was busy in the kitchen as always. She wanted to know what was going on, so I told her what I could, while not giving away Jim Bob's secrets or telling her what my vibes said.
"I'm taking Clancy for a walk. Does Fifi need to go too?"