Vinnie Erikson was a big lug. Some said he was Bluffton's cop because he was a big lug.
Vinnie'd always wanted to be a lawman. County Deputy. Hell, that was his life's goal. With his daddy secure as Sheriff -- and Erik Erikson was secure, better believe it -- you'd think the job would have been Vinnie's for the whining.
Not so. Daddy wanted his boy in Bluffton. "You look after the homeplace," the Sheriff said.
Unkind folks said
Vinnie's daddy didn't want the big lug on the county roads every day, that he
didn't trust Vinnie'd be able to find the county seat on a regular basis. Others,
more unkind, said right out, "Vinnie? Bug-stupid's what he is!"
Now here it was:
Cream time for Vinnie! Hadn't been a murder in town since, what? Since 1948,
it was, when Al Capone's ex-chauffeur had moved to Bluffton with his spade chippy
and shot Nels Boyum fifteen times for looking at her over beers at the Riverside
Tap. That was it for recent murder. People just didn't do those things in Bluffton.
Leastwise, not in this part of the century.
Nope, Sheriff Daddy
never reckoned on his boy having to manhandle a murder case.
On the one side, it looked pretty simple. A crime of passion. Adolescent angst. Something like that.
On the other side, the Sheriff was chewing his fingers and getting pissy as hell. Goodhearted folks said he was worried over his boy. Unkind folks said he was thinking about his own reputation.
That was bullshit, though. Erik Sheriff Erikson was a man secure in his job. He was secure in his job because he knew shit. He knew all the shit, all the shit in the county, anyway. Okay...enough of the Rolling County big guys had vested interests in enough shit to made sure Sheriff Erikson was happy and secure. Enough said.
The Sheriff hoped that Vinnie, big lug though he was, would just do some damn fine police work and pick up the killer ahead of any embarrassing situations.
Eventually, the killer kind picked himself up.
facts in the case were these:
A very popular high school cheerleader, name of Sally Friedlander, was found sliced to death in her yard. Sally's mom found her, morning after. Sally's corpse showed evidence of some rough fore-, during- and after-play: Broken jaw, gouged eye-hole, choking bruises on her neck, couple of busted bones, the stuff big city law was used to. Everyone who had to look at the poor kid threw up right away. Her mom finding her in the back yard after a night of worry was the first. She didn't even recognize the heap right off.
When she told her husband there was a strange thing in the yard, the realization hit her and she got all crazy, then threw up.
There had been some sex stuff, too. The post-mortem revealed that. Most everybody had assumed it. This was Sally Friedlander, after all.
No one boyfriend, Sally regularly dated the senior, junior and sophomore classes. During the last month, she'd made social inroads with the frosh, as well. The suspect pool was broad and deep.
Sally was a beauty. No one could figure why she was such an easy time. Most guessed that she was just one of those who had to have it. If she had held back, even a little bit, made guys want it just a little more, work for it a little harder, she probably could have had her pick of some premium deals. On top of it all, she was smart, funny and a good buddy to pal around with. Could throw like a guy, too!
She was adopted. The Friedlanders were not rich but they weren't poor. Dad sold cars, mom stayed home. Sally was their life. Now she was meat.
What a waste, most people said. Her death and her life was what they meant.
gathered physical evidence like it said in the books.
He'd sealed the scene and kept it pristine. He'd
written the reports, catalogued clues.
Did a good job, too! He went over the photos that Hank Buey from the Mercury-Eagle had taken for both the cops and the paper.
tried to build a picture of the deceased's last day on earth, her last hours
in particular. Vinnie talked to the girl's folks, her teachers; he talked to
the doc who'd done the p.m., talked to her friends, talked to the boys. That's
when he hit it big. Or when it hit him big.
Vinnie probably had a lot of facts and details swarming in his brain or he wouldn't have gotten decked. Being such a big lug, he didn't get decked too bad.
He'd gone to Cowl Dengler's place to talk to his boy, Junior Cowl. Big Cowl was a fishing chum of Vinnie's, one of the few people in town Vinnie would have called a friend. They'd known each other since grade school. Cowl's old man had been Vinnie's daddy's best bud in the Army. They went way back.
Junior Cowl, was the spit and image of his old man. Another big lug. Maybe smarter than that. Hell, Junior was headed to the University next fall to study business administration and football. He was about the best linebacker Consolidated Valley High ever turned out. He was big, tough, and had smart feet. One of those kids, folks said, "has a future!"
Officer Erikson wasn't expecting anything when he knocked on his buddy's door and Junior Cowl opened it. Big Vinnie stood there with his dumb Uncle Vinnie look on his face and told the kid he had a couple of questions about the Friedlander girl. Junior smiled, nodded, put his head down like he did on the football line and gave Vinnie the quarterback sack.
For a half-second
Vinnie thought Junior was kidding around -- like they did -- rough-housing.
Then there he was: sitting on his fat ass in the mud. In a half second, Junior had grabbed the billy club from Uncle Vinnie's belt loop, and whammed him a couple three times, then tore off in the prowler. Vinnie's prowler!
To his credit, Vinnie put two and two together pretty quick. He rubbed his head where he'd been whomped, rubbed his shoulder where he been thumped, rubbed his tailbone where he'd fallen and got on the Dengler's phone. He put a county-wide on his own town patrol vehicle, last seen heading east toward County H at a high rate of speed, carrying one Cowl Dengler, Jr., aged 18, a suspect in the Friedlander homicide; suspect was armed -- Vinnie's town-issue scattergun braced to the windshield -- and, yeah, probably dangerous.
It didn't take long. The county brownies took him down two miles past the Bluffton line. Not a shot fired and that was that.
Junior Cowl was spitting mad, but became a pussycat when they stuck him in the cell over at the county lock up. More embarrassed than anything.
As it came out, yeah, sure, he'd been out with Sally the night she'd been done in. They'd gone to a few dark places and some places where he figured nobody'd be. Hell, he didn't want people seeing him out with that skank. Then they got a little booze in themselves and he tried to get some -- which was the point of it all.
First, she said
it was her time of the month. That never stopped her, he'd heard. When he ripped
off her pants and panties and proved to her it WASN'T her time, she still
Now, Christ, he couldn't have that. No sir. Jesus Christ who the hell'd the little whore think she was? Hey? Who the hell did she think HE was, anyway?
His lawyer tried to plead insanity.
Junior kept saying it was self-defense.
Half his team buddies, agreed. Any whore doesn't put out, that's big-time Fuck-You stuff. Guy's gotta defend himself. The other half of the team just laughed to themselves. Always figured Junior was a fag. She hadn't refused him, he probably couldn't handle all that woman, probably couldn't handle knowing what a pussy he was.
went down. Life. Frankly, his lawyer told him, he was
lucky. He'd be out in 15 years.
Junior wondered if maybe they'd give him the choice of going into the Army or the Marine Corps instead of jail.
"Maybe twelve," his lawyer said.
Vinnie was confused.
Now, he knew the kid; he knew the old man; his old man knew the kid's old man.
Cripes, he was embarrassed. Not about falling flat on his ass, knocked over
by a school student. Hell, no. The whole thing bothered him. What the hell?
He went to talk to Bunch. It was still that time of year when Bunch lived under the Slaughterhouse Road bridge.
Bunch said, "forget it. Anyone can get caught napping, get knocked down by a highschooler kid." Then he laughed.
"Naw," Vinnie said, warming his butt at Bunch's fire, standing in the muck by the river, getting his patent leather shoes all mud-crappy, watching the river flood past. "It ain't that; it ain't that. I can't figure this whole thing. Cowl raised a good kid. Damnit I know it. Junior was driven to that thing. I know it! But damn, it don't make no sense."
"Son of a bitch," Bunch said and tossed another DuraLog on the fire. "Women can do almost anything to a man. Make a man crazy enough to do anything!" Bunch had issues of his own. The two of them stood and thought.
A pickup roared overhead on the bridge and its wheels locked, tires screeched. Vinnie looked up through the slats but his brain was figuring.
Bunch chuckled. "That's the fifth speeder you DIDN'T catch since you been here, Vinnie. Your cruiser up there, folks is probably reckoning you're taking a long lead on speed trap season."
Vinnie stayed pissy for weeks. He kept going over his notes; he even typed them. Putting down his thoughts, one letter at a time, helped get him focused. He kept looking at the photos, the autopsy report. He went over his typed notes and reorganized them, then wrote them out in longhand.
Over t.v. dinner one night Sheriff daddy lit into his kid. Chewed Vinnie's asshole and spit it out for the dog to gnaw. Said, "Gawdamn, Lardass. You get over this thing, now, you hear? And that's an order, there, Mister. Get over this or you and me is for real gonna tangle."
Sheriff Erikson grumbled through Wheel of Fortune, didn't even get the easy ones right.
The next night, Vinnie's dad tried being a pal. He punched Vinnie on the shoulder and told him it wasn't his fault, his buddy Cowl'd start talking to him again. Sometime soon, anytime now. Circumstances had put them on the opposite sides of the legal fence, there.
A month teeter-tottered back and forth like that. Vinnie kept poking, shuffling the pictures, going through the interviews. He started reading books on crime and criminals, books on the way crimes get solved and books on the way crimes get started. He read psychology, chemistry, biology, even though he didn't understand much of it. He read "Crime and Punishment," and fell a little in love with Sonia.
Then Junior Cowl got himself murdered. Raped and murdered in the prison shower. Being an officer of the law, Vinnie was privy to details civilians didn't hear. It happened pretty mean.
It all made him shake his head. The whole damned thing. He kept shaking his head. Everywhere he went, sipping suds at the Wheel, lecturing speeders, walking patrol day or night, eating pie over at the American House -- Eats: Vinnie'd sigh and shake his head.
Even the Italian Lady was pissed at him. She walked right up to him one warm night when the play was getting out over by the theater barn. Right in a mix of people, tourists and real folk, she said that he ought to get over this obsession. "People cannot stomach a sad policeman," she yelled at him.
The tourists stared.
their job is to be sad. Theirs! They are to be happy, unhappy, frightened. They
do not want their lawmen to be...emotional!"
She fixed Vinnie with her dark look that always scared him a little. Her nose holes opened full and he never knew if she was going to turn him into a gopher or what.
"If this is ambition, Vincent, then, damn it!" She punched him in the badge. "Ambition should be made of sterner stuff!"
"Huh," he said. "Ambition? What?"
"If you want to solve this case..."
"Case is solved," he shouted. "Solved and closed. Buried."
"If you want answers," she said quieter, leaning her head closer, "talk to those who know!"
He wondered about that for a bit. Hell, only dead people knew. That was the problem. Anyone knows anything, they're dead. He considered that for a long time.
Again, he was rewarded by accident. There were two guys who knew, both alive.
High summer had come to the bluffs. The heat crawled up from the river, mornings, like steam. It hung on the paths, the streets, it soaked into the tin roofs and brick sidewalks, the wood porches and steel sheds all sucked it up, bounced it back and forth, and breathed it out, nights.
Vinnie sat in the shade at Elysium Park. Thinking. Nothing was going on, there was no one to speak of in the park. Some kids were playing dead man by the creek, a few other folks sat in the shade of the trees. Then there was old Ken, walking over from the street. The old snake-hunter'd take a step or two then stop to breathe. Take another step, and so on.
He was moving toward Vinnie's bench. When he got within fifty feet, Vinnie could hear. The old guy was arguing, arguing fit to fight.
Now, everyone knew that Old Ken, blind since age eleven back in 1900-something or another, had recently been charmed into seeing again. Magic, psychology, whatever, he saw fine, now. Course, what he now saw, was the town like it was in 1900-something, back when he went blind.
No big deal, the old blind snake hunter had always been loony as a summer lake. It didn't matter that he saw the old sawmill, when the old sawmill was gone since God knows when, that he'd see this when there was a that, see a vacant field, where now the Rexall stood. It didn't matter at all that he saw folks, dead for a half century and more. He could see what he wanted. It was a free country.
The guy he was talking to that afternoon had been part of the...the Dengler murder case.
Vinnie perked. Jesus Christ! His Dengler was not the first Dengler involved with mayhem and bloody murder in Bluffton. Back in 1900-something, when old Ken was a young guy, there had been Denglers in Bluffton. They were a big family and the head of it was... Vinnie was piecing this together from the one side of the conversation he could hear...was a guy named Lars Dengler.
Lars owned the Dancing Queen saloon, the place that now was that shithole boozer, the Riverside Tap.
One day, an employee, Mrs. Carrie Guttekuenst, a whore from La Crosse, took an axe to Lars. She didn't try to run, but stood in the bloody pieces and pleaded self-defense, saying her boss was being rougher with her than was absolutely necessary.
Old Ken sat in the park that day and argued a woman had a right to defend herself.
Vinnie was getting the distinct impression that Ken's dead friend had been on the jury, was a town constable, something to do with the case. The guy felt that no matter what, "that Guttekuenst hoor couldn't go around killing her boss! Where would THAT end."
The law was clear! Old Ken made the point that just from the standpoint of Lars damaging valuable trade goods with his fists -- the hoor from La Crosse, herself -- that Mrs. Guttekuenst was justified in stopping him anyway she could. She was her own stock in trade for crineoutloud!
After that, old Ken fell asleep with the heat and Vinnie didn't get any more information this source. It set him off, though. Vinnie took one quick swing around town and out by Bunch's bridge to make sure nothing was going down, then hung a right at County H and headed toward the library.
Vinnie hated the place. Dark, smelly, musty, the place and its moldy books always made him sneeze. The ceilings were too high, the windows too narrow. No light got in.
He stepped inside and it was yesterday. Just in the door it was the day in high school Vinnie had torn the black nudes from the back issues of National Geographic. It was only last week he'd set off the M-80 in the middle of the Webster's Unabridged on the wooden stand.
Why had he done it? He was mean, he knew that. Why, why was he mean? He was a child of privelege, he calculated that he could get away with it.
Bald Ruthie told
him that much. It was typical. Why typical? Ruth Potter didn't even have to
say it: He was a boy without a mother and a father with not enough time. Don't
get her started on that.
Even though his uniform was pretty crisp for August and Vinnie was -- more or less -- on official business, Ruthie still gave him her hairiest eyeball. She still asked him why, why, why every time he asked a question. Now it was about the old Blufftown records, about county history from the turn of the century, could he look through the back issues of the Eagle...
Hell, he hadn't
been in the damned place since high school and he still felt like a bull in
a china shop. Worse, soon as he saw old Ruthie Potter, he felt like he ought
to make fun of her bald spot to someone. It still made him laugh. Damnit.
Finally, Ruth Potter showed him the reader and shoved a box of River Valley Eagle-Republican microfilm spools, Jan, 1900-June 1913, at him. She'd check it all very, very carefully when she got it back, so he had better be mighty careful. Why, she asked? It'd be coming out of his pocket anything got ruined, she told him. Could it get worse, she asked? His father would hear about it, too, she answered.
Then he had it all to himself.
He squeaked through
the first half of the last year of the old century. Cool air swirled up from
the basement stacks everytime Ruth descended or returned. Everytime she passed,
she gave him that cold Ruthie stare and shook her head as though his life had
already been weighed and, in the balance, been found wanting.
Suddenly, there she was, Mrs. Carrie Guttekuenst, murderer, 1912, alternately referred to as a "hostess," "waitress" or "attendant" at the Hotel Dancing Queen in Bluffton. She was arraigned on the 14th of August for the murder of her employer, Mr. Lars Dengler of the same township... She existed. It had happened.
Vinnie cursed aloud, then remembered his manners and rolled the reader through the trial, week by week. It had been remarkably long for those days, running a full fall and part of a winter.
In the end, Carrie Guttekuenst was found guilty. There were pictures and all.
Convicted, she was sent to hang over at the county jail. Pastor Ingquist from the Bluffton Lutheran Church saved her soul before the hangman took her neck. She was buried in the churchyard on Eastside Hill in Bluffton. By her picture, Vinnie thought she was a handsome woman. She stood tall and strong, with thick, dark hair that flared out from her shoulders. Her eyes looked right at the camera and stayed wide open and alive, even in the half-tone reproduction process of the time.
She was very handsome. Yes.
When bald Ruthie a-hemm'd behind him to tell him the place was closing, he was still staring at that face. The front page of the Eagle-Republican from the week she was put to death featured a full-figure picture of Carrie, surrounded by the other characters in the drama: her judge, the members of the jury, Lars Dengler standing behind the bar at the Queen, himself--looking a lot boxier than his great, great whatevers, Big and Junior Cowl. Pastor Ingquist, who'd saved the woman and brought her to her resting place at the cemetery of his church, looked like a dishwater Swede, all muttonchops and steel-rimmed specs.
Vinnie thanked Ruthie and handed the box of microfilm reels back, organized neatly, tucked and folded. "Thank you, Miss Ruth," he said, and gave her a polite little nod before putting his hat back on.
It was still sunny and hot as hell. Hell, it was only five p.m.
Back on patrol, Vinnie cruised the streets in his afternoon rounds. Nothing. Nothing and more nothing. Too hot for anything. For troubles anyway, he figured.
When he found himself running slow past Big Cowl's house for the third time, looking at the big guy sitting in that sagging nylon chair out front, he figured he had something to say to the guy. Hell, maybe it wasn't that Cowl was one of the few people Vinnie would have called a friend; more to the point, maybe, Big Cowl was one of only ones in town would have called him a friend. Can't mess with that kind of stuff. He stopped and sat in the car for a minute, looking over some papers. Just passing time. Cowl ignored him.
Finally, he'd had it. He got out and slammed the door, stomped up the path to the bungalow where he and Dengler had gotten shit-faced, hell, how many times. He wished he'd brought a bottle of Stolli.
"Hey," he said to big Cowl.
Big Cowl looked up at him and didn't say anything.
That was damned embarrassing. "I was wondering."
"Yeah," Cowl said.
"Well, you know, none of this is my fault. I figure none of this is your fault. I just wondered. Wondered if we was still friends?"
Big Cowl squinted into the late daylight behind Vinnie. "Hell no, Vinnie. Hell no, we can't be friends."
That was that.
Then there he was, heading up Eastside Hill to the Lutheran Church. Trees shaded most of the old stones and bushes had sprouted over a lot of the topple-downs. Tannin, moss and old lichens upon old lichens had colored the soft limestone a dead green and earthy brown.
It took an hour of looking, but there she was: Carrie Guttekuenst.
A few feet off
was Olaf Tim who had shot his own damn head off in the backroom of the American
House -- Eats, back when he'd opened it. Vinnie figured this must be the disreputable
part of the burial place.
Her stone bore birth and death dates. That was it. She came, she went, she was alone.
Despite the sundown heat of August, Vinnie felt the chill of the place. Nothing shook, here; there was a stone and six feet below were the old bones of a beautiful woman who'd chopped a man to bits, one day, and thought she'd had the right of it.
Well, hell, Vinnie thought. It hadn't answered his questions about Junior and the Friedlander killing. It wasn't going to make him a county deputy. But it sure was interesting.
The sun was red when it slipped over the far bluff, and damn if Vinnie wasn't still there, hat in hand and starring at Carrie's stone. Carrie Guttekuenst. Just a few stones away, off where the sexton kept the graves clean and clear, were the mortal remains of Sally Friedlander. Two rows and a couple families down, were the memorials to the Dengler line.
"God damned," Vinnie said aloud to the red sun, "just think all they've got to say to each other down there."
The only talking he heard was an evening bird chirping. That was it
was grumbly when Vinnie got home. It was later than usual,
supper was done and the sheriff didn't like to eat alone. Wheel of Fortune was
over and there had been nobody to bet with. Vinnie threw a couple of slabs of
ham on a roll and washed it down with a brew.
Then he told his old man what the story was.
The old man got quiet and strange. Then he got up and left. Half hour later he was back with a bottle of Stolli which he cracked open and set on the coffee table between him and Vinnie.
"Turn that damn thing off," he said about the television. Vinnie turned off the damn t.v.
"Okay. Now here's the rest of the story." he said. And he told his son.
When Carrie Guttekuenst went up to jail to await her date with the hangman she'd been a spitting vixen. She vowed revenge, revenge on everyone who'd done her wrong.
Given her popularity
at the Queen, that amounted to about every man in town. So her revenge was not
going to be, most folks figured.
Then she got religion. The hoor got the word of God brought to her in person by Bluffton's own Reverend Ingquist who was the official jailhouse preacher for all the county. So far, so good. Vinnie was feeling proud. He already knew this from his own research.
The old man cracked open the bottle and poured a stiff one over rocks and shoved the bottle into Vinnie's hand.
"Now I reckon you know that, huh? You, got it from the newspapers and from listening around, yeah?"
"Okay then. So here." The old man drank down the booze and drew another one. "She got religion all right. Now that Pastor, he was a smart one. He'd been watching the trial. He'd been following the ways some folks do nowadays with them big California murders. Somewhere along the way, he'd fallen, fallen crazy for that hoor. I don't know. Maybe he was one of her secret customers, maybe he just naturally loved tall hairy women, maybe it was in her scent. Anyway..." The old man was looking off, right through the television screen and into the back wall. "Anyway, that pastor, by God if he didn't get himself assigned to the jail as chaplain. He started going there and ministering unto them criminals and all before that Guttekuenst hoor was even found guilty. When she was convicted, and come up there, there he was. Her connection to God."
The Sheriff poured another big draught of vodka and handed it to Vinnie.
"Well then, she's waiting to hang. With appeals, she had herself a good time to wait for her date with the rope. Not like today, mind you, but a good long time. Nearly a year. Something like.
"That Pastor Ingquist..." the Sheriff snorted a kind of bitter little laugh. "That dirty little man, he sort of rammed the word of God right into her if you get my meaning."
Vinnie joined his dad, starring at the dark t.v. Screen. "So he had sex with her," Vinnie said. "Imagine that. A man of God and all taking advantage of a woman locked up! Having his way and all."
Sheriff daddy snorted again. "One way of looking at it," he said. "Another way is, she had her way with him. With him."
Vinnie and his dad starred at the t.v. The room got darker.
"I tell you this," the Sheriff said "Their couplings were famous. Through all the jail, Carrie Guttekuenst and Pastor Ingquist's love-making shook the walls. The very walls of the place. You seen the place. You know how solid it is. Shook the walls! Every prisoner in all the place just knew when the Pastor and the hoor from La Crosse were at it."
"Damn," Vinnie said.
"Then her appeals were done. That was it. She was going to hang. Then, one day, at the appointed time, she did. They dressed her; Pastor give her a proper send off. Did it professionally, I've heard. Respectful. She sang "When the Red, Red Robin Comes Bob, Bob, Bobbin' Along." And they hung her. Then Pastor took her body in a coffin and drove it back to Bluffton, himself, in his own wagon."
Vinnie was looking at his dad kind of slack-jawed. That was the drink. But he was thinking. Damn, he was thinking, she got out. Somehow. She got away.
"She was still alive," he said, pretty sure of himself.
"Dead as a doornail," the Sheriff said. There was a moment's stillness. A moth whacked the screen door and fluttered. "Just a little outside the jailhouse, and I heard this from good sources, good sources, just outside the jailhouse, the pastor stops. He couldn't keep from thinking about his hoor, maybe I guess. Or maybe it was something they'd planned, the both of them all along. I don't know, but half way home, Pastor stops the wagon, opens the casket and there's Carrie. Dead. But he knows something... something's alive there. And now the reverend takes his knife and now he..." the Sheriff made a zipping noise and a ripping gesture with his vodka hand, sloshing a little, "...he rips her open and out comes this baby. His baby. The pastor's baby. A girl. Born right there on the road. Taken alive from her dead mother. The hoor from La Crosse."
Vinnie's mouth was slack jawed again. This time it was more than the booze. "And nobody knew...? I mean...they would have stopped the hanging, if they'd known. They wouldn't hang a baby with the mother. Not even in the old days."
"Nope. Nobody knew. She was a big woman. She hid it. Nobody knew. Except the hoor. And the pastor, I reckon he knew. She didn't want nobody knowing, I guess. Crazy, huh?"
Vinnie nodded. "So what happened?"
"The Pastor shared the secret with the undertaker. That was it. What the hell was a bachelor preacher going to do with a girl kid, a hoor's kid?"
Vinnie thought about it.
"Nothing to do. So he give her to the undertaker. And the undertaker and his Mrs. Raised her as their own. They never told the girl anything about her mom or about her birth, yet she grew up and went a little crazy on her own. In about 1920 something she had a little girl out of wedlock and hung herself in her garters. The undertaker and his woman took their grandkid and raised her until they got too old. Then she went to the county home where she grew..." The sheriff thought about it. "...until she got herself knocked up. She tried to hide it and died when she give birth to her daughter. It was a mess. I was just a kid when it all happened and I remember it being a mess."
The sheriff squinted over the coffee table at his boy. Vinnie squinted back. "Reckon you know where this here is going, huh?" Sheriff said.
Vinnie felt some idea bouncing in his head, but damned if he could figure how it all worked. He growled tentatively at the old man, squinting harder than ever, "That girl, the Friedlander girl? She's the great, great, grandsomething...something like that...of Carrie Guttekuenst?"
The old man nodded. "They're boy crazy. All of them women. What I've heard, every one of them women goes crazy with boys when it's their time; they get themselves knocked up, have a girl child and die. Damn them."
"So it all ends here, huh?" Vinnie said.
Sheriff stopped in mid-drink.
"Sally. Friedlander's the last of them. She wasn't pregnant. She wasn't a mom. She just up and got herself killed over sex. Or no sex."
Sheriff Daddy looked roundmouthed at his boy. "Yep," he said after a minute.
"And you think about this: She took the last of the Dengler's with her."
"Huh," it was the sheriff's turn to squint.
"I mean, there she was, a wild and crazy one. She gets herself a big reputation, then says no to Junior Cowl, known to be a hothead."
The Sheriff was growling, now. "Naw, naw, nawrr," he was saying. "That's crazy. Crazy."
"She says no to the last Dengler -- the only one looks like he's going to amount to a hill of shit, by the way, going off to school and all -- and..." He snapped his fingers, "And that's that. End of the Dengler's. End of the story."
"Christ," the old man said after a full minute and a half. "Christ. Jesus."
Vinnie almost glowed; drunk on his old man's vodka, having just put together all the facts of a case, an odd case, but a case nonetheless. He was busting his buttons. "Yep, her great, great whatsit makes a murderer out of the great, great whatever of the man who made her a killer." Vinnie smiled. "That's justice. Revenge anyhow. Cutting off the last of the Dengler line!"
"Aw, son. Son. Vinnie, goddamn it," the Sheriff said, "Cowl Junior isn't exactly the last. The Denglers is a big family. There here and everywhere. Hell, son, we got some Dengler in us through your mom's side. My side too, come to think.
Another moth whacked herself on the screen and flopped on the porch deck.
"Hell, son," the sheriff said, "Revenge ain't that simple. Real revenge just keeps going."
Vinnie took another drink. He wondered what was going on tonight around town, what Big Cowl was thinking about, alone in that house, up Eastside Hill where everyone was laying too close together. Vinnie figured, there'd be a lot to talk
2001 Lawrence Santoro