Amateur Sleuth in the Desert, Two

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.

August 25, 2018

“Desert Miles” Scene 2

Miles plopped into the leather wing-back chair opposite his father’s desk. “Sheriff Mentz is on the warpath. He’s got Jim in jail for murdering some kid out at Konnelig’s!” 

Harold Thurman was lean and balding, the roundness of his head giving way to the sharp lines of his face. Tendrils of smoke from the thin cigar twisted into a cloud above him. With the stylish, new horn-rimmed glasses, Miles thought he looked like a haloed gargoyle. 

“You don’t think crazy old Jim did it?” Harold asked.

“I know Jim didn’t do it!”

“Maybe you should be his lawyer.” Harold kept his eyes on the video terminal centered on the pristine desktop. “Of course, you’d need a law degree first.”

Miles made the whimper of a neglected dog. A butterfly got loose in his chest. 

A plate glass window took up most of the north wall. Miles stared into the Sawtooth Mountain Range cutting a jagged relief into the northeastern skyline. How many times had he begged his parents to take him into those wild mountains as a boy? If he had survival skills, maybe he could run there now, live alone in a cave until civilization got civilized.

He leaned forward. “I want you to call the sheriff and tell him to back off of Jim.”

Harold Thurman groomed the burning stub of the cigarillo in a golden disk on top of his desk, thickening its scarlet ring. “Whittling Jim doesn’t give a hoot about your bed and breakfast, son. Why do you want to make trouble for Sheriff Mentz over this?”

“Jim didn’t do it.” 

“Sounds like Jim’s going to need his money for the courtroom.” Harold crunched the cigarillo’s ember in the ashtray. “You should just go ahead and finish your accounting degree. I told you I’d pay.” 

“I’m not going to be a banker, Dad. What about a loan for the B-and-B? The town needs new business.” 

The older Thurman tapped at the terminal’s keyboard. He peered into the little green screen-of-death, where a keystroke could ruin a man’s world. “Looks like you’re a couple of payments behind on your mortgage, Miles. Not likely you’ll be getting another loan.”

Miles slumped back, crossing his arms. “Mentz still blames you for his dad’s death.”

His father’s head popped up. “How’s that?”

“You foreclosed!”

“I had no choice. I can’t carry—”

“His dad started drinking.”

“—every note for every farm—”

“Dad!”

“—in the country. I’d go broke in a year.” He resumed tapping financial riddles into the computer.

“Old man Mentz drank himself dead over that.”

“That’s my fault?” Tap, tap, tappity-tap-tap.

“Because of the foreclosure.” Miles spit the words out. He stopped, the weight of the next fact causing him to guess if he could lift it. “Tully Smythe didn’t see him.” 

“I’m sorry that happened.” Tap. Tap. Tap, tap, tap.

“It ruined two lives, Dad.”

“A drunk stumbles into the road, and it’s my fault? Don’t see it.” 

“A lot of folks say John had reason to come after you.”

“A lot of folks,” Harold Thurman echoed. “Still bank here.” Tap, tap, tap.

“Now I could be in danger.”

Miles’s father glanced over, eyebrows pulling together behind the horn-rims. 

“John broke Tully’s jaw for running over his dad,” Miles continued, “and he’s aching to toss me in jail for it. Revenge is what he wants. He nearly clobbered me today.”

The elder Thurman swiveled around and stared into the Sawtooth Mountains for several seconds. 

Miles thought he detected a grin at the edge of his father’s lips. Again, he leaned forward. “You chair the city council! Use your influence for some good for once.” He clenched his jaw, waiting for his father’s icy scolding.

Instead, Harold picked up the phone, told the secretary to patch him through to the sheriff’s office, and then mumbled into the receiver facing away from Miles for two long minutes. 

When he hung up, Miles jumped.

“He’s sending the Konnelig’s front door to the Boise crime lab to check for tool marks, along with a crowbar out of Whittling Jim’s truck. He swears they match.” Harold Thurman returned to the paperwork he’d placed his pen on when Miles interrupted, and checked off an item. 

Miles lumbered out the double, oak doors, barely hearing his father say, “My offer stands.”

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