Amateur Sleuth in the Desert, Five Point One

Written by Mark Wm Smith

An overeducated, blue-collar cowboy, Mark Wm Smith grew up on along the banks of the Yellowstone River in Eastern Montana. Raised by a long haul trucker and a bartending waitress, Mark learned the hard ways of the modern frontier, scraping life from the unforgiving high chaparral.

September 15, 2018

“Desert Miles” Scene 5.1

Miles left Juneau scrambling about in the car’s murky interior, while he crept through overgrown skeleton weed to the wide front steps of Konnelig’s place. He tiptoed up, stopping at the open doorway. 

The night was cool and the moon dim.

Raccoon or bobcat urine assaulted his nostrils. Covering his nose and mouth with a forearm, he slinked over the threshold. 

In the light of day, Konnelig’s long abandoned house appealed to Miles with its Victorian grandeur and easy access from Interstate 84. In the dark, with a flashlight that wouldn’t stay lit, Miles couldn’t recall the noble shape of the house against the sky. His flashlight beam skittered across exposed wallboards where large chunks of plaster were missing, brushing over the curled linoleum of the entryway. It stopped at a large flower pot filled with recently burnt ashes.

Miles circled the container. Every couple of steps he slapped the flashlight with his palm to bring it back to life. 

A four-day-old newspaper advertisement protected the floor beneath the vessel.  Tiny burn spots speckled its surface. Soot blackened the rim and bowl. Behind the stench of animal dung, Miles detected burnt sage. The remnants of a gnarled branch crouched inside the pot.

“The kid must’ve been crazy to burn this.” Miles flinched at the sound of his own voice. He prodded the branch with his flashlight. 

The beam disappeared. 

He cursed and smacked it hard. 

It blinked on. The milky shaft bounced off the far wall near the entrance.

Something familiar registered in Miles’s brain. He swept the light back around.

It landed on a large, white, human face.

Miles screamed. His heart banged his chest cavity. The flashlight slipped from his hand. He stumbled backward. 

“Hello, Miles,” Sheriff John Mentz’s voice boomed. 

A much stronger beam shot forward and punched Miles in the chest before centering in his eyes. 

Mentz sniggered. “Looks like I may have the wrong man in jail.” 

Miles shaded his face with his now empty hand.

The long barrel of the sheriff’s Colt poked a hollow, black finger at him from beside the carbon steel, police grade flashlight. 

“I—” Miles said.

“Don’t try and talk your way out of this, Miles.” Mentz tipped the pistol barrel up. “I can see where you thought some bum was trying to burn down the Miles Thurman fantasy with a nasty sagebrush fire, so you had to kill him.”

Miles jaw dropped. “How, how, how could you say that? I can’t kill anyone!” His knees liquefied. 

Sheriff Mentz guffawed. His blinding light grew larger with the crunch of heavy footfalls. 

Miles legs wobbled, refusing to break free from the trash strewn living room floor. Thoughts reeled. My chance! A name for myself. Not just Harry Thurman’s kid. My own man! 

“Miles,” the sheriff said, dropping the beam of light onto Miles’s vibrating pant legs. His teeth glinted in the ambience of surplus illumination. Mentz looked like he’d just thrown the winning pass at homecoming. “You have the right to remain silent. I’m not trying to force anything from you.” 

“What?” Miles squeaked. Now he’d just be the local murderer, hated by everyone. Especially hated by Emmaline! Worse than nobody! “I didn’t kill anyone!” Miles shouted in a girlish shriek.

“Well, here you are. Standing right where the kid got it. Looking for evidence that might convict you. Catch,” Mentz said, tossing the two-foot-long flashlight.

The broad yellow beam swept the high ceiling. 

Miles shoved both hands in front of him, hoping to prevent injury. The raspy cylinder bumped his fingertips, fumbled into his palms as he locked his grip around it. He fell to one knee with the tall flashlight pointing straight up. Heat from the bulb warmed the side of his face.

“Looks like I’ve even found the murder weapon, Miles. With your prints all over it.” Boot heels thumped across the hardwood as John Mentz closed in. Handcuffs rattled in his fist.

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