Sheriff Andy Goes To Hell
Poor fella sure enough is dead.
The lanky, jug-eared sheriff gently nudges the body with the toe
of his boot.
He’s blocked northbound traffic with his ’67 Ford Galaxie. The
squad car is angled across the slurry sealed two-lane. The cherry
light is spinning but it’s a North Carolina August afternoon and the
cruiser’s siren is hardly visible in the sun.
The sheriff keyed the victim out of a holding cell late in the
morning after letting him sleep off another binge. There are now
tire tracks across the back of that shabby white jacket and across
the trousers above the knees. Poor old fella died just ten feet on
the right side of the corporation line … few feet south and the mess
would have fallen outside the sheriff’s jurisdiction.
He radioed for help five minutes ago. His deputy made the scene
like that. Now he hears sirens starting up from the firehouse
on the far side of town. The sheriff checks his Timex: seven minutes
to muster the volunteer crew. Good thing it’s no house fire. And
they’re of no use now: one of the volunteers is a
veterinarian, but the town’s token drunk is dead as can be.
The deputy has pulled together five possible eyewitnesses to the
The slope-shouldered, rail-thin deputy stands shaking his head,
taking notes, his back to the body. Deputy’s always been squeamish.
Not to say that these two come across many bodies on the job. A
typical day is spent rounding up the same drunk and disorderly usual
suspect (now dead). They issue the occasional traffic ticket,
usually to out-of-towners who grouse and mutter things about
Nope, this is … different.
Person who ran down this poor soul was headed into town.
Not much to drive to on the other side of the village … so signs
point to the reckless driver maybe being a local.
The sheriff tugs on his big right ear. He wishes it to be an
outsider, though his instincts are against it. Bad thing like this
could change a town forever.
The sheriff can’t stand it anymore. He opens the trunk of his
Ford cruiser. He finds the blanket and shakes it out, spreads it
over the body. He lights a few flares and spreads them around.
Good timing getting the body under wraps: here comes a kid on a
bike. He smiles and walks quickly toward the boy, before the
youngster can get a look at anything that might haunt him forever.
The boy has tousled red hair and freckles. His sheriff daddy left
his mark on the boy — those danged ears.
"Paw," the boy calls.
"Hey there." The cane pole vibrates under the latch fastened to
the boy’s Schwinn’s rear fender. "Catch any?"
"No, Paw." The boy frowns and scrunches up his freckled nose.
"Bad accident," the sheriff says. "Help’s on the way." Can’t have
the boy realizing he’s seeing a dead body under that blanket. He and
his son and his son’s teacher (the sheriff’s girlfriend) have shared
many picnics on that wool blanket. Well, not anymore … not on that
blanket, anyhow. "You head on home now, hear? Your aunt’ll have
dinner ready soon."
The boy nods reluctantly. His father says, "And hey, I’ve warned
you about riding on this side of the road … you should stay on the
sidewalk on this other side … our side. I don’t like you crossing
Main Street downtown."
The boy rolls his eyes. "I’ll cross now then, where you can see
me do it, Paw."
"Nope," the sheriff says, smiling but stern. "Crosswalks,
remember? We use crosswalks. Can’t have my boy seen jaywalking … or
jaybiking. Voters might say it’s favoritism." Gotta keep the boy
within the lines, so to speak. "Nope, cross up there at Main and
Jackson this one time. Look both ways and be careful. Now get on
The boy nods and bikes off, taking frequent looks back over his
The sheriff smiles and waves. He turns to his deputy. "Hey B.
What’ve we got from these fine folks?"
The deputy — his cousin — says, "Nothin’. Turnin’ loose most, I
’spect. Old Florence Budge over there, though — from over in
Raleigh, you know? — she was first on the scene. Mrs. Budge said she
saw a black car ahead of her. Thinks they may have been the ones who
did the deed."
"They?" The sheriff scowls. "There was more than one in
the car? And still they drove off?" His face grows red. Can there
really be such people in the world? This one is starting to look
thorny. Rare is the case he can’t wrap up in under thirty minutes,
"That was my word, ‘they’," the deputy says, looking at
his feet. "Didn’t get so far as to find whether there was more than
The sheriff ambles across the road, the tar sticking to the soles
of his half boots. Florence Budge is a town character back in
Raleigh. Stingy as can be. She’s said to walk Raleigh, picking up
sticks to burn in her fireplace come winter. She still has a rain
barrel and an outhouse. Now she stands by the side of the road,
sweat stains showing through her blue floral-print dress. White
shoes … white faux pearl necklace with "pearls" the size of mandarin
oranges. Cat’s-eye sunglasses. Her naturally white hair runs through
various tints in the course of a year — lavender now, for summer.
"Sheriff," she says. She’s leaning on the battered front end of
her ’58 Fairlane. The doors are dinged; the front end dimpled with
dents. The tail of Florence Budge’s Ford is flattened from backing
into various of the county’s dumpsters, phone poles and other Fords
(all the cars in the region, for some reason, seem to be Fords … yet
the only dealership in easy driving distance sells Chevrolets …
another unsolved mystery).
She’s 71, weighs 200 pounds and is not much over five feet.
Probably can barely see over the steering wheel and the plastic
Jesus and Mary statues glued to the dashboard.
Hard life she’s endured — gone through a string of husbands and
outlived all three of her children. All dead tragically
"Howdy, Mrs. Budge," the sheriff says. "Terrible seein’ somethin’
"Surely is sheriff. Surely is."
"Old B. over there tells me you maybe saw the car what did it?
What kind of car was it?"
"A black one."
The sheriff smiles. "I mean, a Plymouth? A Chevrolet? Maybe a
"I don’t know cars, Sheriff." Florence Budge adjusts her
cat’s-eye sunglasses. "Gracious, they all look alike now." She waves
at a passing car, then frowns and asks, "Lord, was that a colored?"
The sheriff can just see his boy on the horizon, biking back
towards town. Mrs. Budge is watching him too. She must have a pretty
good set of eyes because she inquires, "That your boy there,
"Yes’m." The sheriff says, "Old B. tells me you couldn’t tell if
it was a man or woman driving that car that did this wicked
"Nope … couldn’t see a thing."
"Too far away to see a license plate, too, I s’pose."
"Mighty hot day, Mrs. Budge. Probably had the windows down." He
glances over his shoulder at Florence Budge’s open windows — sees
she’s got a nasty crack across the windshield. Medicine bottles are
strewn across the passenger seat. "Probably had his windows open,
like you do. Don’t s’pose that driver maybe had an arm out the
window, Mrs. Budge? Maybe you could see a hairy arm … a blouse
sleeve, or a suit jacket sleeve? Like to think it was a stranger,
maybe a salesman, who laid low poor Mr. Campbell."
"Campbell? That his name?" Florence Budge licks her lips. "Poor
man. So you know him?"
"See him about four times a week. Usually around payday. Old Mr.
Campbell, he liked to bend his elbow. A lot."
"Not much of a loss then," Mrs. Budge says.
The sheriff scowls. "Now, Mrs. Budge, that’s not very Christianly
"My father was an alcoholic, Sheriff. And a smoker. He got drunk
one night, fell asleep smoking, and burned up right there in his
vinyl lounge chair. Liked to burn down the whole house with him.
Mother got home just in time to call the fire department."
The sheriff shivers. "Why, that’s terrible, Mrs. Budge." He
pauses. "Well, okay then."
"Yes’m." He points at her windshield. "Get that fixed soon.
Winter cold’ll make that crack bigger."
"You don’t want me to come to the station, Sheriff?" Florence
Budge fingers her faux pearls. "Maybe look at some photos?"
"Been watchin’ too much TV, Mrs. Budge. We don’t have pictures.
Don’t think we’ve ever photographed anyone we’ve arrested. Thanks
for your time."
Florence Budge, seething, swings open the door of her big old
battered car. There are terrible sounds of grinding metal as she
starts it up.
The deputy, his hat sitting crooked on his head, shrugs and
sniffs. "Strange old bird, ain’t she?"
The sheriff nods. "Yup. They done broke that mold." He begins to
hum an old gospel tune: Let the Lower Lights Be Burning.
Florence Budge heads into town, instead of back toward Raleigh.
The deputy scowls. "Now, why do you think the old girl’s headin’
into our town?"
"She was headed this way in the first place, B. Must just be
goin’ on to finish up her chores." The sheriff smiles and slaps his
deputy on the back. "I swear, you are a suspicious sort. Probably
sort for bones in animal crackers."
The deputy’s chicken neck reddens. He toys with the single bullet
he carries in his pocket. "Telling you, there’s something not right
about her. That windshield crack looks new. And some of those
scratches on the chrome of her bumper? No rust. So they’re new, too,
"B., you’re a regular Sherlock Holmes," the sheriff says. "She’s
just clumsy, like Magoo."
Static from the cruiser’s radio. The sheriff leans in, grabs the
mic and clicks. "Over." It’s the sheriff’s Raleigh counterpart. He
hears, "Hit and runs … three dead … barber saw … Florence Budge."
The sheriff’s struggling with the door of his cruiser. Black
thoughts gather, like none he’s had before.
They’re lightened, just a little, by a single comforting thought:
his boy has had ample time to get home.
* * *
The red-headed boy is struggling to balance his bike, one hand on
the handlebar, the other gripping the double-dip cone he’s stopped
for at Crawford’s Drugstore on the way home.
The boy doesn’t see the big old car squatting fifty yards back …
the old, determined hands gripping the steering wheel.
Florence Budge knows this little North Carolina town too well. In
two blocks, boy’ll reach McNear’s Shears and the crosswalk. She’ll
be ready … itching to put her foot to the firewall.
She winces and squirms from the pain in her back and belly.
Precious time left: The doctor says the cancer has spread. That’s
forced her hand … messed with her modus operandi and driven
her to rare recklessness.
She’s always been so careful in the past … the arsenic … the
flypaper. Stabs at modest arson.
Now time is so short. So today is her "spree" … just like those
famous kids out in Nebraska she’d been reading about in the
Reader’s Digest. Go out and take as many souls with her as time
and opportunity grant her.
They’re rolling now: the boy on his bike and the old woman in her
big black battering ram.
Just a few yards more.
Then she’ll see if the jug-eared sheriff will hear her out —
accept her bearing witness — when it’s his own boy broke and
bleeding out there on the simmering streets of the town he’s sworn
to protect and to serve.
Craig McDonald’s short fiction has appeared in literary
magazines and the anthologies Dublin Noir and Best New
Noir. His previous Blip Magazine Archive story, "The Last
Interview" was selected to appear in The Deadly Bride and 19 of
the Year's Finest Crime and Mystery Stories, edited by Martin H.
Greenberg and Ed Gorman. Art in the Blood, a collection of
interviews with 20 major crime authors, is available from PointBlank