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  • Mark Wm Smith

Short Story: Desert Miles, Scene 4


“He hates me,” Miles told Louise Fillman. They sat in an aqua blue booth inside Buck’s Diner.

Juneau sat on the outside window ledge, pressing his forlorn nose against the glass.

Louise laid a wine-stained hand on Miles’s sleeve. “That’s a word for strangers.”

Miles and Louise dated once in high school, earning the reputation of secret lovers.

“Good point. I’m a stranger to my father. He hates me. Now he is colluding with Sheriff Mentz to lock me up.”

“Dirk says Harold Thurman applies the same degree of materialist disinterest to everyone.” Louise’s husband, Dirk Fillman, had inherited his father’s hardware store, along with it’s debt. He spent more time with Old Man Thurman than Miles did. Louise had taken the county dispatcher job to sidestep loneliness.

“Harold should be Dirk’s father.”

“Sorry.” Louise sat back, eyes gleaming, abandoning Miles’s despair.

Miles gave in. “Let’s have it.” This was their common problem, not being on the same page.

“Clubbed,” she bubbled over. “Left there on the floor, right in the Konnelig’s abandoned living room.”

“The Walter’s boy?”

“Only he was seventeen, not really a boy,” Louise said. “Boys are still in school. And I mean grade school or high school, not like college. I don’t know why they say boy. Probably makes the crime more heinous.” She took quick breath. “Turns out he had a massive tumor in his brain. Made him crazy. Like looney or bonkers crazy. Ran away from home, stole a car in Walla Walla, and drove straight through to Konnelig’s. Stopped for sleep, I guess. You’d have to—”

Miles raised a finger to interrupt. “Brain tumor?”

“Made him real erratic.” Louise tapped her coffee cup with a manicured fingernail colored to match the wine stain. “A ‘barn swallow whipping around about,’ his mother described it in USA Today. Barn—”

“Sheriff found him?” Miles leaned his crossed arms on the carrot orange tabletop. “At Konnelig’s?”

“Dead as a brick,” she said. “Next thing you know, Sheriff’s dragging Whittling Jim in, growling how he’s guilty as—” She lifted her cup for a sip. “Well, you know.”

Miles shook his head. “Unbelievable.”

Juneau’s devoted gaze haunted him from the other side of the diner’s large window.

“And that new deputy,.” Louise shook her head. “Her father was killed, on duty, up in Seattle. A cop. Weird, huh? Guess she couldn’t stand to be around where he died. Headed south to Idaho.”

“On duty?”

“Rumor is, though that’s not my bailiwick, he was drunk. Real scandal. I’m surprised the sheriff—” Louise clamped her jaw tight like a bear trap.

Miles twisted in his seat to find the thing that could stop the flow of Louise Fillman.

Nordic and lissome Deputy Riley strode toward them.

Miles half stood.

Riley extended her palm. “Sit, Mr. Thurman. Make some room.”

Miles slid over. “Hello, Deputy Riley,” he said, staring at a blemish in the diner’s worn top.

“Sheriff said you’d be here,” she said in a satisfied tone. “Thought I’d stop by. Chew some fat.”

Miles managed a quick look. The slope of her cowboy hat prevented a clear read of her face. “Mighty thoughtful.”

“How are you, Louise?” Deputy Riley asked.

Louise stuck her chin out. “Same as before lunch.”

Riley smiled for a split second.

“We under surveillance or something?” Miles asked.

“Why? You do something?” Riley surveyed the menu. “Just following up on this morning, Miles.” She let the menu droop. “I can call you Miles?”

“Depends. Are we citizens or suspects?”

“I’m just helping the sheriff fight crime, Miles.” She snapped the menu straight again. “The chili fries any good?”

“You eat chili fries?” Louise blurted. She blushed, turning her face toward Juneau.

The inquisitive Beagle placed a paw against the glass.

Deputy Riley flashed her tiny smile. “Miles,” she said, laying the menu flat, “why do you want to meddle in a murder investigation?”

“Meddle? I’m just looking out for Whittling Jim.”

“Sheriff says he’s guilty, Miles.”

“How can Jim be guilty?”

Blue eyes glinted under the brim of her hat. “It takes fearless conviction to solve a murder case. Skill and training. Moxie alone won’t get it. You could fail, get it wrong. Make people angry. Somebody could shoot you.”

Miles’s face burned. He glanced into her steady gaze, but couldn’t hold it.

She kept on. “Finding the truth is dangerous. You sure you’re ready to own this particular bed and breakfast?”

Miles opened his mouth to tell Deputy Riley to go back to Seattle. Who was this brash rodeo queen, riding into their town, pushing locals around? He tried to glare at her.

Riley smiled, every tooth perfectly set. “Just think about the kind of person it takes to butt heads with a killer, Miles. If the sheriff has the wrong man….” She stood. “Well, you know. It’s dangerous.”

Louise and Miles stared as Deputy Riley waltzed out of Buck’s Diner.

“Unbelievable,” Miles said.

“I knew she wouldn’t eat no chili fries,” Louise said.

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