Authors: Larry D. Sweazy
Published 2015 by Seventh Street Books
, an imprint of Prometheus Books
See Also Murder
. Copyright Â© 2015 by Larry D. Sweazy. All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, digital, electronic, mechanical, photocopyÂing, reÂcordÂing, or otherwise, or conveyed via the Internet or a website without prior written permission of the publisher, exÂcept in the case of brief quotations emÂbodied in critical articles and reviews.
Based on the short story “See Also Murder,” Amazon Shorts, 2006
This is a work of fiction. Characters, organizations, products, locales, and events portrayed in this novel either are products of the author's imagination or are used fictitiously.
Cover design by Jacqueline Nasso Cooke
Cover image Â© Shai_Halud/Shutterstock.com;
Nic Taylor/Mediabakery; Korionov/Shutterstock.com
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The Library of Congress has cataloged the printed edition as follows:
Sweazy, Larry D.
See also murder : a Marjorie Trumaine mystery / by Larry D. Sweazy.
pages ; cm
ISBN 978-1-63388-006-1 (paperback) â ISBN 978-1-63388-007-8 (ebook)
Printed in the United States of America
To Carla Hall, Patrick Kanouse,
Cheryl Lenser, and Ginny Bess Munroe.
Without your efforts and support,
I would not have had the opportunity to
discover that I was an indexer or developed
the skills and experience to write this book.
Thank you. You opened a door that changed my life.
“We started dying before the snow, and like the snow, we continued to fall.”
“She must think everything out for herself with an occasional question.”
“Indexing as a Profession for Women,”
I saw a plume of dust through the window over my desk, and something told me trouble was heading my way. We weren't expecting anyoneânot that we got much company, and it was too far past planting season for it to be the new county extension agent coming to introduce himself.
I carefully marked the page proof I'd been staring at for an hour, put the lid on my shoe box full of index cards, and gave a thought to running a brush through my hair but decided I didn't have time.
Even from half a mile away, I recognized Sheriff Hilo Jenkins' battered pickup truck.
Hilo had seen me in worse shape than I was at the moment, and I knew this wasn't a social call or him checking in on Hank. The sheriff normally reserved those visits for Sundays, after church and a long nap. It tore Hilo up to see my husband bedridden, a tiny shell of the man he was before the accident, but Hilo always came anywayârain, shine, or subzero temperatures. Sometimes, I thought, just to fill me in on the latest gossip circulating around town; to remind me that I was still alive and that there was more to my life than nursing Hank the best I could and writing indexes for books nobody in North Dakota would probably ever read.
I took my reading glasses off, stood up, stared at the pile of papers on my desk, the stack of blank index cards next to my Underwood typewriter, then at the pile of books on the floor, overflowing from the shelves. I was in the midst of writing an index to
The Forgotten Tribe of Africa and the Myth of Headhunter Civilizations
by Sir Nigel Preston. I forced a smile. How odd was it that a farmer's wife in North Dakota would be responsible for such an important part of a book about headhunters? Life, I had decided not too long after Hank's accident, sure takes some funny turns.
With a chill rising up my spine, even though it was midsummer, I slid out of my book-filled officeâa spare bedroom that was once reserved for a child who never cameâas quietly as I could.
I peeked in on Hank. I could see his chest rising and falling. He slept peacefully, taking his afternoon nap. Nightmares were reserved for the middle of the night.
By the time I got to the front porch, Hilo was stepping out of his truck.
Our dog, Shep, a six-year-old border collie, didn't bother to bark at Hilo's truck. The dog knew the sound of the sheriff's engine from a mile away. Instead, Shep circled around Hilo, trying his best to herd him along to get a reward for a job well done. Shep was a good farm dog, more Hank's than mine since the two of them had spent more time together, but Shep and I had come to an agreeable understanding since the change of our fates. We'd had to rely on each other more than we ever had; he needed to obey me as well as he had obeyed Hank. And for the most part, he did.
The sky was crystal clear, blue as a freshly polished sapphire. No clouds, a little breeze, songbirds celebrating in the distance. It was about as perfect a summer day as you could ask for. Perfect weather was a rare gem.
“Hey there, Marjorie.” Hilo nodded and doffed his hat quickly, exposing a bald head with a few wiry white hairs poking out on the sides. Hilo had been the sheriff of Stark County for nearly thirty years.
“I would have made some lemonade had I known you were coming,” I said, stopping at the edge of the porch.
“Sorry to barge in on you. How's Hank?”
“The same.” To most everyone else, except Hilo, I always responded that Hank was getting better every day. My lie comforted them, made them feel useful. I always smiled and looked into their eyes a little longer than necessary, so they wouldn't press further. It worked about a quarter of the time.
Early in grouse season last year, Hank had slipped. The shotgun he was carrying had the safety off. He tumbled forward and the gun went off, spraying his face with bird shot, blinding him in both eyes. The blast stunned him but didn't knock him out. He staggered forward and slipped again, this time into a gopher hole. Unable to catch himself, he fell backward.
The fall was the worst part of the accident. Hank fell on a huge rock, fracturing a vertebra and snapping his spine. He couldn't move or see and he was alone, a trifecta of bad luck. It was only by pure chance that Hilo Jenkins found him before he died.
I had gotten worried and called Hilo. We met at Hank's truck and, with a few other deputies, started looking for him. I was grateful that I wasn't the one who found him. I could never have gotten that image out of my mind. Not that I hadn't seen some awful things since .Â .Â . but that was the end of one way of life and the beginning of another.
The gloom in our house seemed to extend to the rest of the world a month later when President Kennedy was shot in Dallas. I was sitting in the hospital room when Walter Cronkite made the announcement and wiped a tear from his eye. I was cried out by then. For us, the accident was the end of Hank how I knew him, how I could love him, replaced by a different Hank. One that preferred dying to living. He'd begged for death to take him a million times since
fateful day, since waking to find his life so altered, but the Grim Reaper had been stubborn, deaf to Hank's pleas and my guilt-ridden prayers. If there was a bright spot to the accident, it was the fact that Hank couldn't remember a thing about the fall, the pain, or the fear. His memory, like the rest of his body, had been perforated by holes that had yet to healâand might never heal, as far as the doctors were concerned.
Hilo nodded again, his gaze lowered to the ground. “You got a minute to sit and talk, Marjorie?” There was a quiver in his voice that I'd never heard before. Not even on the day of Hank's accident.
“Sure,” I said, not moving. “Is something the matter?”
“Why don't we just sit, Marjorie,” Hilo said. He dug into his pocket, tossed Shep a treat, and nodded his head hard to the right, signaling the dog to leave him alone.
Shep was more a reader of people, hand motions and such, than a dog who obeyed words. Another sign that he was Hank's dog and not mine. Words were all Shep and I had. Hank used hand signals to communicate with the dog. I had never paid close enough attention to learn them all.
Shep took the treat, eased to the bottom of the steps after a quick pat on his thick-coated, black-and-white head, lay down, and enjoyed Hilo's gift of a half-dollar-sized bone from last night's round steak.
“I can put some coffee on,” I said. Hilo was making me nervous.
“No, that's fine. Mighty nice of you, Marjorie, but really, I can't stay long. I just have a question or two for you. This is police business I'm here for.”
Unsettled by the sheriff's surprise call and uneasiness, I shook my head and sat down on the wicker settee Hank had built for me on our first wedding anniversary. We'd watched many a sunset from that spot. It seemed like so long agoâwhen everything was fresh and new.
Hilo leaned against the house a few inches from the front door. A sliver of white paint peeled off the frame and floated to the floor. “There isn't an easy way to tell you this, but we found Erik Knudsen dead this morning.”
I felt the air leave my chest. That was the last thing I expected to come out of Hilo's mouth. “An accident?” I wasn't sure where the words came from. An automatic response.
Hilo shook his head no. “Lida, too. They were murdered sometime during the night.”
Before I could catch my breath, I asked how. It was the same question I'd asked when Hilo came to tell me he'd found Hank in the shape he was in.
You got accustomed to tragedy on the plains, isolated like we were. The Knudsens' farm was the next one over, ten minutes as the crow flies. Dickinson was a half-an-hour drive for us in the summer, two hours in the winter, if not more. There was usually no time to flower anything up. I had learned how to get to the point quickly from my father. Some people found it to be an annoying trait, and I'd embarrassed myself on more than one occasion by opening my mouth before I thought things through, but I just couldn't help myself. I suppose I didn't want to change. Didn't see any reason to smooth things over since I spent most of my time with my nose buried in page proofs, writing indexes, tending to Hank, and seeing to the farm the best I could.