by Bargis Tryhol on 20/09/11 at 5:21 pmHog Jaw Detective Agency
“Missed it Boss”
“Closer now, but it ain’t no cupie doll winning shot Boss.”
“Shut up Shorty. Hold the target a little higher so I can see it better.”
Shorty gingerly raised the cardboard and again closed his eyes. Thoughts of himself lying on an embalmer’s table over at Morton’s Funeral Parlor gave him a queasy feeling, especially after a big breakfast of greasy ham and eggs.
Even squatting behind the large log as shelter, every time a bullet whizzed past he was waiting for it to hit his exposed fingers. With his left hand, he reached into his shirt pocket and pulled out a sharp pencil. Sometimes you have to do what you have to do, he thought to himself as he listened for the next gunshot.
“Getting closer Boss!”
With a quick movement he poked several holes through the thin cardboard with the pencil.
“Good one Boss. Right dang square between the eyes!”
“Yours or the targets? I reckon I got the hang of it now. Sights are a bit twitchy, but it’ll do fine. Let’s finish up and git out of here.”
Feeling somewhat pleased with himself, Merriweather twirled the six-shooter around his shooting index finger to show off, only to have it fly from his grip and land with a splat in the red clay mud at his feet and go off with a loud BANG! The stray bullet made an odd thumping sound as it buried itself in the log barricade just as Shorty the human target holder was climbing over it.
“ Hey Dag nabbit !” Shorty fell backward landing butt first on the muddy ground. His first instinct was to feel his crotch to make sure everything was still in place since the bullet went right between his legs.
Figuring Shorty didn’t see the mistake since he was now getting himself up from behind the log, Merriweather quickly rubbed the mud encrusted firearm on his shirt to clean the debris from the grip and revolver flutes.
In a few minutes a smile beaming Shorty walked up admiring the recent paper ventilation practice by his boss.
“ Gull dang! That last one was pretty close, but good shooting Boss! The lemonade is on me.” Secretly, Shorty was hoping to get it over with so they could get back to the cool office for the rest of the day.
Lloyd Merriweather holstered his new, but somewhat mud stained, Smith & Wesson .357 revolver in a brand new all-leather shoulder holster, snapping the holster clasp shut as he reached for his jacket. Beads of sweat glistened on his brow from the hot July sun. He quickly brushed them away with the back of his hand.
“Well Shorty, I reckon we needs to git back to the office and see if Mizz Schuster called again. Throw that target in the backseat and let’s get-a-going.”
Shorty slapped the dust from his jeans and placed the target in the back as instructed. He also gathered up the loose brass from the ground and placed it into the vinyl bag that Merriweather kept his spare ammunition and targets in.
Getting back into the car was a bit of a trick just like it was getting out of it since the passenger door was long broken and the only way in was through the open window. With a few grunts and curses, he took a seat on the car’s worn Corinthian leather upholstery. The fake leather covered seat was so hot it felt like he was finding some kind of weird comfort sitting in Momma’s old black iron skillet! Merriweather slid in through the driver’s door that somehow still worked and, at times, sometimes closed without incident.
The old 1983 Cadillac Eldorado sputtered as the noisy starter motor engaged, finally in a roar of bluish smoke, the engine caught and started. Shorty secretly breathed a sigh of relief knowing full well that if it hadn’t started, Merriweather would have had him push the car until it did start…Or Shorty collapsed in a sweaty heap under the broiling July sun.
The Hog Jaw countryside consisted of gentle rolling hills broken by dry fields long abandoned after the spring’s crop harvest. An occasional old, sagging barn and long forgotten, derelict automobiles and pick up trucks in various stages of repair littered the old farms and farmland. Straggly herds of cattle could be seen standing under any available shade hoping to catch a breath of random breeze as the summer’s heat roiled up off the parched ground.
A large sign appeared off the side of the roadway…Hog Jaw Population 324 Established 1846. Shorty looked at the ragged bullet holes that peppered the sign, leading Shorty to believe some local shooters shot a hell of a lot better than old Lloyd Merriweather, but he wasn’t going to say a word, or he’d be back holding that fool target until the Boss could hit it properly, if ever.
Shorty was quiet on the ride back. The car’s radio was tuned to the popular country station K88 and he allowed the raspy voice of DJ Mike Henry to take the place of random conversation. The windows were rolled down since the AC system long gave up the ghost in Merriweather’s prized Cadillac Eldorado.
Shorty’s thoughts were mostly about himself and about him being an assistant private detective. The feelings were mixed. On one hand he liked the title and knew the girls over at Francine’s would admire a man of his professional position, even though he was ‘short of stature’ and somewhat embarrassed about his 5’1” frame. He was made to look even shorter when paired with the 6’6” Merriweather who towered over most other men from around Hog Jaw.
On the other hand, he missed working at the Briquette factory and having the responsibility and pay scale as the head charcoal ricker. He even took the ribbing that Sheriff Vernon Clay handed to him in a carefree manner when he applied for his concealed weapon permit. Though, he was a little red-faced when Clay called him a wannabe rent-a-cop and asked if his tin-plated detective badge came out of a Cracker Jack box.
In a few moments the sight of downtown Hogs Jaw changed his thoughts to a cool drink of lemonade from Lucinda’s. He hoped the Boss had similar interests, since he too looked hot and in need of a drink of something cold. Once again, Merriweather reached into his pocket and retrieved a fancy new cell phone and punched at some numbers on its face. Shorty couldn’t figure why his Boss went to so much trouble several times an hour when everyone in these parts knew there were no cell phone towers within 20 miles! Shorty figured it was vanity and the chance to look important.
“Let’s git us some lemonade, ‘sides I wanna talk with Lucinda ‘bout sumthin’s anyway.” Merriweather sharply turned the wheel causing the tires to squeal in protest as they fought against the superheated pavement. The rattle trap Cadillac bounced a few times and came to a stop in front of Lucinda’s Rest-A-While Luncheonette.
“Afternoon boys! Wha da ya have, the usual?”
Lucinda was bigger than life in personality, as well as, in stature. Hardly ever seen without her trademark dyed black beehive hair-do, pinafore white apron, and never without a steaming pot of coffee in her left hand, her booming voice could rattle tombstones clear across to Collier county. Some said Lucinda was quite a hot number back in the old days, with a cutting figure and boyfriends by the score. Certain gossipers even went as far as to say she was secretly married, though briefly, to old man Gleason, which was mainly for the money he had accumulated over the years selling live bait. Either way, 25 years and about 150 pounds were a certain life changing course for Lucinda Smith.
“Where you guys been in this here heat? Yer clothes look like someone mopped a shit house floor with them. Smells about right too!” She ended her inquisition with a hearty laugh that caused her ample bosom to jiggle like a plate of her famous lime Jell-O.
“Now, never you mind ‘Cinda. We’s just like a couple of lemonades and maybe a slice of that there pecan pie too. ‘Sides, I gotta ask you a question about Mizz Schuster. You reckon you gots a few minutes to spare?”
“Mizz Schuster? That old tidily-wink! I haven’t seen her in a coon’s age. Reckon we played bingo quite enough at one time, but ever since Cletus passed on, she hardly ever comes about ‘cept to attend another funeral or something. So, what’s grabbin’ ya by the balls ‘bout her anyway?”
Merriweather fidgeted with a packet of sweetener thinking about what to ask next, this being an official inquiry and all, he cleared his throat as a tall, sweaty glass of lemonade was placed on the table.
‘Well, last night I gets a call from Mizz Schuster saying someone stole her hog! I right never knew she even raised them critters, but she gave me a description and all, but I thought it was kinda strange that an 80 year old widder like herself would go to so much trouble, being as them critters takes a lot of work and all! ”
“Well Lloyd, you know the county fair is about a week away. Her husband Cletus won best hog prize for about seven straight years, I reckon he might be trying to win again, but still, how’s she even gonna get a hog of that size all the way from her farm way out on Cooterville Road, all the way to the fairgrounds. By herself! It just doesn’t make any cotton pickin’ sense a’tall.”
“Yup, we gots ourselves a real mystery don’t we.”
Merriweather picked at the sugary pie, thinking as he watched Lucinda waddle away towards another customer. He could hear her crack a tired old joke, then, subject her all too familiar customer to a good old name calling by referring to him as a ‘pudknocker sum ma bitch.’
The air felt cool and refreshing as they opened the door to Lester’s Hardware and Tanning Salon, the brass bell suspended by a thin piece of metal tinkled loudly as the door was opened and then closed behind them.
“Afternoon Lloyd. UPS left a package for you. On the counter next to the staircase.”
Shorty tipped an imaginary hat at old man Lester and followed his Boss to the staircase. He always liked visiting the hardware store. Old wooden and well worn floors were patched in places by randomly placed squares of sheet metal. Wooden shelving made of genuine chestnut that must’ve dated before the turn of the century held a myriad of objects, some of which he had no idea what they were or were used for. Above, an antique row of ceiling fans supplemented the rather new AC system, each turning slowly in quiet unison causing dust balls to float upon the floor in an eddy of confusion.
The place had its own smell as well. It invited, yet stimulated people’s nostalgia of a simpler time, a less hurried time of days and values long past. The wafting aroma of sun warmed wood and stale sweat, dry heat and rusted metal, all mixed together to form old, yet familiar smells. A distinct but pungent aroma of burnt wood lingered from the ancient pot bellied stove that served as winter’s only reprieve from the cold winds that blew down from the northern plains. Above, flies slowly buzzed, drawing themselves closer to the amber ribbons of sticky fly paper that suspended itself from its cylindrical container hung precariously from the stamped metal ceiling.
“Shorty, grab that package and a couple of grape sodas from the cooler will ya?”
Shorty was surprised the package weighed so much. He struggled with it as he retrieved two Nehi grape sodas from an ice tub near the candy counter. Nearly tripping a dozen times, Shorty topped the staircase at the second floor landing. The frosted glass on the doorway was lettered …Hog Jaw Detective Agency Lloyd Merriweather Private Investigator.
The rather large office held two desks and phones, a computer screen on each desk, and several mismatched old filing cabinets. A large conference table and a worn leather couch with equally worn matching chairs next too a small refrigerator and water cooler rounded out the headquarters of Hog Jaw’s premier private detective office.
Shorty set the large box on the conference table near a dilapidated chain saw in some stage of repair. “Want me to open it Boss?”
“Well, who’s it from first? Can’t just go an open any ol’ package from any ‘ol person anymore. It might be from terrorists or sum other crazy person. Open one of those soda pops.”
“Sez…Acme Detective Supply over in Johnson City, Alabama.”
Merriweather took the cold bottle and held it a moment in his hand. “Great! That’s my detective starter kit just like they promised, Go ahead now, open it real careful like, hear?”
The phone rang and Merriweather picked it up on the third ring.
“Hog Jaw Detective Agency…Merriweather speaking.” Without waiting for an answer he tilted the bottle to his lips and coaxed the purplish liquid from the container.
“Oh hello Mizz Schuster. Yes, just got in ourselves. Yeah, shade on the hot side isn’t? Oh, you tried my cell number? Yeah, musta been a busy line or sumthin.”
Shorty slit open the package’s sealing tape with a sharp pocket knife, and carefully removed the packing material. Inside were almost a dozen other smaller boxes……
“OK Mizz Schuster, now you say you went out to feed Salome, right? That’s the hog’s name?
Then what happened and what time was it exactly that this all happened…..”
The first box was marked Acme Night Vision Binoculars. Shorty whistled to himself under his breath…’Boss went first class!’ The second box held two pair of high quality, regular binoculars complete with straps and storage cases. Another had a small magnifying glass and pocket knife.
“I see, so it was about 6PM. You went out to feed Salome. What exactly did you see when you discovered the hog gone and the pen door in a closed position? Footprints?
The third box had what looked to be a small transmitter attached to several thin cables. Loose batteries tumbled from a torn plastic bag. The directions called the device Evermore Covert Transmitter and Line Tap. Shorty smiled, he’d love to place this on May Waters’ phone line over in Drippy Dick Falls. He smiled to himself as he thought of some of the juicy gossip he’d here about what actually went on after midnight at Francine’s Place.
“Did you follow these footprints, I mean, you didn’t disturb them in any way, did you?”
The next box contained a set of lock picking tools on a key ring, an instructional VCR tape on how to pick any lock. The heavily styro-foamed box held a new fangled digital camera with a long lens, and the final box surprised Shorty because it had two pair of pink handcuffs engraved with the company’s name. He was surprised since he knew one pair was for him to carry. But why pink? He tried them on himself, feeling the ratchety-clicks of the locking device close around his thick wrists.
“OK Mizz Schuster, we’ll be heading over to your place in about ten minutes. Now, don’t forget to round up that photo you say you have of Salome so we can get us a poster going. Oh, and think about how much reward you wanna give too. OK, bye.”
Merriweather hung up the phone and thought about the five minute conversation. It still didn’t add up. The frantic rummaging by Shorty as he excitedly pulled packing material from the box brought Merriweather’s mind back to his office.”
“ What the hell you doing Shorty? ”
“Well, ahhh Boss we’s got us a small problem here.”
“The keys. I can’t find the cotton pickin’ keys!”
“Shorty, you’re a freaking idiot!”
end chapter one….Go to Magazine Section for chapter 2