A Short Who-dunnit by
Sean Patrick O’Mordha *
Small, rural towns are notorious for knowing what’s going on with their neighbors. The smaller and further removed from “the big city,” the more people know as if living in the same house. Secrets carried on the winds of gossip proliferate proportionate to the community’s size and distance. With a population of 387 and 25 rural miles from the County Seat of 86,000, Lyman smokes the competition while remaining ignorant to deeper, darker secrets.
Town Marshal, Clyde Petersen, sat at the counter in Bev’s Diner sipping a perpetually steaming cup of coffee. Bev prided on never letting a cup get below half.
“Well, would ya lookie there,” the rail-thin owner said, topping off the not quite half empty cup. “Looks like Jessup McKuen’s worked last night again.” Petersen rotated the stool sideways to look out the window as a tall, blonde kid shuffled past the diner. “Looks to be hungover, too.”
“Or high on pot,” Petersen said, turning back to re-visit his cup.
“Ya should do somethin’ about him, Clyde.”
“What? He’s not breaking any laws and has sense enough to not get behind the wheel and drive like some.”
Petersen swiveled back to watch the nineteen-year-old manage one foot in front of the other until reaching the next intersection and turn left. He worried about the boy and privately sighed relief, unconsciously thinking, “Good. Looks to’ve remembered his way home this time.” There had been a few times that was not the case and he or another gave him a lift like the barrel-chested farmer entering the diner.
“Mornin’, Clyde,” Gottlieb Zeiler said, taking the seat next to the Marshal. “I swear . . . ”
“Not in here, Gotti,” Bev teased, filling his white porcelain cup. “The usual?”
“Ya. Don’t know why we spent all that money to build a walk over the tracks and highway. That dummkoph McKuen don’t use it none. If’n I weren’t turnin’ this way, I’d’ve sent him flyin’. Didn’t even look. Jist moseyed across the highway like a loose cow. You outta talk to that boy about bein’ more careful, Clyde.”
“I have. More than once, but when he’s drunk or high there’s a disconnect in that brain.”
“It’s fried like Gottie’s eggs. Sad. Real sad,” Bev put in. “He were a nice kid before his ol’ man up an’ shot his self right in front of him,” Petersen shrugged agreement.
“Right hard worker when sober and good with tools. Can fix most anything,” Gottlieb said.
“He’s kept me open many a time, but that tool he’s usin’ nights will get him in a heap of trouble someday,” Bev said, refilling cups before heading off to fetch Gottlieb’s breakfast.
* * * *
Nineteen-year-old Jessup McKuen rolled onto his back, sprawled crosswise on the unmade bed. Eventually waking, he sat on the edge, looked around, again wondering how he’d gotten home. Running fingers through a rat’s nest of long, blond hair, he checked his watch. One p.m. Tossing jeans and boxers toward the dirty laundry pile, he took a shower. Mrs. Wessel’s pool needed cleaning today. “Good money. Maybe something extra, too, depending.”
Coming around to the back of the palatial house on Pohrman’s Lake, he went straight to work, thinking he should have started a lot earlier to beat the heat, feeling like cow horse rode hard and put away wet. Pushing ninety, he began pumping out sweat just plugging in the vacuum hose. Mrs. Wessel’s conceited fourteen-year-old son, continued swimming laps until Jessup switched vacuuming to that side. Getting out, he cast an insolent stare at the town handyman before plopping a bikini-covered butt on a lounger.
Mrs. Wessel appeared in a string bikini with a glass of iced lemonade for Jessup, rubbing a breast against his arm as he drank. “You picked a bad time of day for this,” she said. He shrugged, staring at her mostly exposed breasts. “My husband’s out of town this week. Some meetings or whatever. You doing anything when finished here?”
“I could use one of your massages.”
He smiled. “Be glad to.”
“I bought you a present. It’s on the table. Why don’t you put it on? It’ll be cooler. If you want more lemonade, just let me know.”
Working in boxers wasn’t anything new, here or at a couple other places. Staring at the thong, he smiled. She sat on a lounger to tan and watch as he slipped it on and resume work. Finished, he plunged into the water until cooled down—outwardly. Deliberately exiting the far end gave him time to stroll toward his client, capping the preview. Passing Gaylord with a towel over his lap, Jessup wiggled his eyebrows. The boy pulled his knees up.
Wetting nervous lips, she stood as he approached, eyes glazed, face flushed. After a salacious kiss, he said, “Sure could use another glass of lemonade.”
Gaylord walked pass wrapped in the towel that didn’t hide his situation all that well, gave a hateful look, and disappeared into the house.
When Larry Wessel’s interests shifted to a young secretary, and whoever when out of town like now, Jessup filled the void. There were others in town needing Jessup’s special services, too. Gloria Wessel always had work and paid well. Especially needy, she courted his needs with uncommon vigor. Gifts were a bonus.
He liked the air-conditioned guest house. Satisfied for the moment, she said, “Why don’t you stay the night?” as he sat up on the edge for her to run fingers up and down his spine.
“I’ll take the truck home and come back after dark. Don’t want it sittin’ out front. Give the neighbors too much to talk about.” Carrying cleaning equipment out to the truck, he encountered Gaylord. “Got that takin’ care of I see.”
“None of your business. I want you to leave my mom alone.”
“I got this service business. Whatever folk need, I take care of.”
At home, he showered, fired up a joint, and sat naked in front of a fan to dry. After dark, when folk hid behind doors in air-conditioned retreat, he walked around to the back of the Wessel house, greeted by a long, erotic kiss.
Gaylord stood at the darkened, second floor, bedroom window watching, his 12-year-old sister hugging his arm. He seethed with anger. “This guy is going to cause mom and dad to get a divorce,” he said, tightening his arm around the shivering girl. “I gotta get rid of him somehow.”
* * * *
An 11 p.m. patrol ensured all business were secure despite Lyman’s quiet reputation. The Anchor Bar closed at 1 a.m. Marshal Petersen didn’t worry. The ex-Marine owner kept things orderly which meant he could go to bed early. A heavy drinker, the older McKuen’s permanent departure ended trouble. Jessup had his moments now and then, but no more than any other testosterone-driven teenager, until witnessing his old man’s suicide. That’s when he slipped into drinking and using pot.
A natural with things mechanical, the boy started a handyman business at sixteen to help his mom pay the bills, doing well enough to buy a truck and tools at farm auctions. He rented the Schneider place when his mom left with another man. Petersen tried talking to him, steer him in a better direction, fatherly-like. Passive, Jessup nodded and said, “Yes, sir,” and continued down a bad road.
Morning coffee at Bev’s became a long-standing, social routine before starting a morning drive around town followed by his Connie’s breakfast of ham, eggs, and hash browns. Stepping out of the diner, he took in a deep breath of the cool, morning air. It smelled of new-mowed alfalfa. That would be Karl Weiss baling. Hand on the squad car’s handle he heard a bang, a pause, another, and then four more. The sound came from the direction of Elmer’s junkyard across the tracks to the southeast. Someone hunting this early? A couple folk with gardens behind their homes on Pohrman’s Lake continually complained of rabbits, but the spacing of the shots wasn’t right.
Deciding to check it out, he had to wait for a coal train before crossing over to follow the road circling east between the junkyard and lake homes and cabins. Passing Elmer’s main entrance, he noticed the chain link gate slightly ajar. Elmer didn’t open until nine. Parking in the drive, he got out to check. Elmer didn’t use a padlock. “If they need something that bad, they’re welcome to it,” he laughed. It was closed last night.
Elmer kept his pick and pull salvage business in neat rows allowing a person to easily find their needed part. Looking down the third row, he spotted something in the open space. Even before heading to check it out, he knew what it was. Looking down, he stared at the bullet-riddled body sprawled on the dirt, the blood not quite congealed. Face up, eyes and mouth open in an eternal surprised gaze, he needn’t check for a pulse. Reaching to his belt, Petersen raised the two-way radio to his mouth.
“Quentin County, this is Marshal Petersen. I got a dead body in Elmer’s Junk Yard.”
* * * *
The first deputy arrived fifteen minutes after the call, two more ten minutes later. He knew the undersheriff and first deputy from courtesy visits. The third man was new, but not someone he’d like to cross, a rarity in the county. Of African descent, he stood tall, broad-shouldered, obviously fit with close-cropped, black hair, clean-shaven, light chocolate brown complexion.
“Howdy, Clyde. This doesn’t look good,” the undersheriff said while staring down at the body. “This is Deputy Chapman. He joined the department a couple weeks back.” They shook hands. “He transferred here from the State Police. Twelve years, the last four as an investigator. I’m gonna let you handle this, Craig.”
Chapman nodded acceptance. Taking out a small notebook, he began asking questions.
“Name’s Jessup McKuen. Has a handyman business here. I heard gunshots at 6:20 coming from this direction. Didn’t see anyone. Got delayed good part of fifteen minutes by a coal train.”
Turning to the other deputy, he said, “String tape to block off the area.” Turning to the Marshal, he continued getting background information before fetching a camera from his car to begin a copious series of photos of everything imaginable while asking more questions. “He normally run around like this?”
“Yep. Just jeans. Don’t believe he ever owned a belt so his underwear always showed. Nothing more until it turns cold.”
Chapman leaned over and lift the waistband. “No underwear. A quick exit from wherever he was? Where might that have been?”
“On this side would put him over by the lake. Does a lot of service things. Obviously, more than cleaning and repair, but never heard who. Would see him walking back some mornings. Didn’t use his truck. Discrete. No gossip and no complaints.”
“Well, someone had one. You say six shots?” He scanned the surrounding ground.
“Yup. Small caliber by the sound, not a .22.”
“I’m guessing a .32 or .38. Close range.” He finished with the scene as the coroner’s van arrived. With the body loaded and headed back to the county seat for an autopsy, he said, “Let’s visit the folks by the lake.”
Starting at the first home furthest south, most all of the summer cabins were vacant until the weekend. That left three cabins and six permanent residences along the east side.
* * * *
Dr. Wesley Gilbert served as Regional Medical Examiner for five rural counties. Semi-retired, it could get boring except for the country club golf course ten-minutes away. Dark-complexioned, bald except for a wreath of white hair and matching mustache, he tended to be blunt with a weird sense of humor.
“You have to laugh or this job will destroy you,” he explained.
Not so his intern assistant, young, thin, bi-speckled, and way too serious. He and a part-time helper transferred the victim from a gurney onto a steel table. Gilbert exited his office looking over the top of wire-rimmed glasses at the two in blue scrubs across the room.
Donning scrubs, apron, shoe covers, and a clear plastic face shield, he walked to the exam table. “H-m-m. What’s the story on this one?” he asked, pulling on a second pair of blue, surgical gloves while scanning X-rays pinned to a light board.
Corrigan read from a hand-written report. “Found this morning about 6 a.m. in a junkyard outside of Lyman by the Town Marshal. Suspected sexual encounter prior to death.” Gilbert checked the toe tag against the request form. They matched.
“Sorry this interrupted your game,” the diener said, shoving a plastic block under the victim arching the back to facilitate the carving.
“I’m not. Was off my game. Saved me ten bucks and a round of drinks. Nice looking kid. Hate when the young prematurely exit stage left.” He went to the long light board to view the X-rays.
“Well, let’s get started. Computer, go to exam lighting.” Thanks to modern technology, everything in the building was automated to voice activation. All lights adjusted to the pre-set illumination and the recording device activated. He started with who was doing what, when, and where at the present time along with the officer’s preliminary report and a description of the victim.
As the victim wore no shoes, he carefully inspected each foot. “Bottom of feet calloused. Apparently didn’t wear shoes much. Nothing to indicate being dragged or other injuries.” Cutting away the jeans, the doctor smelled the material. “Victim’s only garment is beyond thrift store value, but clean. I can smell laundry detergent . . . marijuana . . . and perfume. Lavender. Note that on the evidence tag, Peg,” he said to the diener who placed the garment in a paper bag.
A part-time helper, Peggy Dodge attended the community college ten miles away from where she worked on a mortician certification. Gilbert liked her and considered making the job full-time when Corrigan’s internship finished in four months, her degree perfect for a diener.
Next came a minute inspection of the entire body for any injuries, new or old, and hidden marks indicating heavier drug use. None. Corrigan followed as a double check. Gilbert found something, but said nothing to see if the intern would spot them. Peg looked over Gilbert’s shoulder, giggling softly.
“What are these purplish circles on his chest and neck?” Corrigan asked.
“Hickeys,” Peg said.
“Very good,” Gilbert said. “Sucking and biting marks. Judging by the number and coloration the lad one a hell of a going away party last night. Not the first time a hickey led to this condition. Now for the serious stuff. “Obviously didn’t frequent a barber or comb.” He handed Peg a hair sample.
She watched closely as Corrigan photo-documented each wound before Gilbert carefully inserted yellow plastic rods into each hole, three in the chest, one in the abdomen, and one in the upper left thigh. With the aid of another instrument, he measured the various angles of each. Coordinating with the X-rays, he determined the bullet’s depth except on the thigh which perforated.
“Alright, I think we have surveyed the territory. Time to start mining.” He switched to an imitation of James Cagney. “Alright, boy, open up and spill your guts about what happened.”
“Good impersonation, Doctor. You should audition for that TV movie,” Peg said.
“He should be fitted for a straight jacket,” Corrigan mumbled so not be heard.
Corrigan and Peg watched with awe as Gilbert wield his personal “butter knife” to lay the victim open from neck to pubic bone, clip the ribs, and remove the chest plate.
He sniffed the neck area. “That reminds me. The wife is fixing leg of lamb Sunday. Come by about five and I’ll fix some Bloody Mary’s.” Corrigan rolled his eyes and sighed. This was only the beginning of the doctor’s extraneous remarks. “This is an easy one. We won’t need the gutbucket. Just extract the bullets and identify the organ damaged. I’ll let you do that Corrigan.” Gilbert moved to the victim’s head and patted it. “This-a won’t-a hurt-a, son. Be a patient-a.”
“You are on a roll today, doctor,” Peg giggled.
“Did you stop off at the 19th hold before swinging out onto the greens?” Corrigan said, then mumbled, “I don’t believe I said that.”
When Corrigan finished rooting around to confirm internal damage and extract the bullets, Gilbert backed away and said, “That should do it. Pretty straightforward. Stitch him back up.” He removed the gloves while walking toward his office. “Swab the whole dick for DNA analysis.”
“The whole body?”
Gilbert stopped, but didn’t turn around as eyes rolled upward. “I should make him do that.” “No, Wrong Way. If he’d been exercising that crowbar between the legs before the unexpected demise, you might find something left over if he didn’t have time to wash up. Other areas that might be of interest.” Gilbert left to begin a report, shaking his head. “That boy’s way too concrete.”
Sometime later Corrigan entered the office. “DNA samples are ready for the crime lab. I swabbed the penis like you said, dividing into three areas, head, collar, and shaft, swabbed the pubic hair, and sampled it from either side. Each hickie, too. Peg’s suggestion. I also collected from the ears, nose, mouth, neck, and anus, and took scrapings from under each finger and toenail. Enough stuff there to grow a crop of sugar beets.”
“I wondered what was taking so long. Leave no stone unturned. You’re catching on. I’ll take them to the lab.”
“What are you doing, Dr. Gilbert?” Peg asked.
“Those rods I used and all those measurements are what you see on the computer screen. Along with the bullet abrasions, I can tell a great deal about how he was shot. The abdomen shot came straight on while standing. No power burns. The shooter was in excess of four feet. The second entered the chest. He was bent slightly forward. Those put him on the ground. The shooter moved closer, about two feet from the right foot and two-feet to the side. That’s determined by the angles of the chest and legs wounds, the bullet abrasions, and the light powder burns on his upper body. The two shots to the torso were surviveable. The leg shot perforated the thigh, rupturing the femoral artery. That actually killed him. Two to three minutes. The sixth bullet destroyed the right testicle. Dep. Chapman will need to find those bullets at the scene. The program crunches all the data and tells us the shooter stood about 5-4 to 5-6.”
Leaving to hand deliver the collected evidence, Gilbert noticed the body still uncovered. “We’re done here. Put him back together.”
“I would like to practice some stitching.”
“Inside or out?”
“Internal. Peg wants to practice the final closure.”
“Go for it, but leave him open so I can see how you did. And Peg, explain to Wrong Way the significance of hickeys. Have fun.”
* * * *
Working north along the east side of the lake, Petersen and Chapman found the first nine cabins vacant. The tenth place began a series of permanent residents, this belonging to a retired couple who chronically complained of rabbits in their garden. Chapman contained a laugh when the woman said, “We didn’t hear anything this morning. Herbert snores so loud, a body wouldn’t hear a car backfire in the living room.” That brought to mind his own wife’s beef.
The next residence belongs to another retired couple who were out of town. Their college-age daughter, Terri, didn’t hear anything, either. Judging by the volume on her music player, she wouldn’t.
The Wessel place had all the amenities of wealth. Jake Wessel answered the doorbell.
“Larry, this is Dep. Chapman from the Sheriff’s office. He’s investigating a murder we had this morning.”
“I heard gunshots about six this morning coming from the junkyard. Somebody emptied a gun into Jessup McKuen.”
“Why am I not surprised. Knew that would happen sooner or later. So that was the noise I heard. Thought it was someone hunting rabbits, again.”
“Can we come in?” Chapman said.
They went to the kitchen where Mrs. Wessel was fixing breakfast. When her husband told what happened, her face went white as she stifled a scream. When able to speak, she said, “He was here just yesterday cleaning the pool.” Chapman noticed Larry’s left eyebrow lift as she slumped into a chair.
“I thought you were out of town, Larry?” Petersen said.
“I got all the way to Omaha and the S.O.B. backed out. Got home early this morning.”
“You say the McKuen boy was here yesterday. What time did he leave?” Chapman began.
Mrs. Wessel fought through tears to answer, “About five. He was such a sweet boy.”
“That gutter tramp?” Larry snarled. “He was a shiftless, pot-smoking, whorehound. Why’d you let him in our house? He probably was casing the place to rob us blind.”
“Jessup might have smoked pot, but he certainly wasn’t shiftless. Anyone who hired him will tell you he worked hard and got things done right the first time. And for stealing, he had plenty of opportunity over the years and never took so much as a dime, not once,” Petersen said. Wessel snorted.
“He does things for you often?” Chapman pushed ahead.
“He cleaned the pool once a week and fixed things. My husband is too busy at work.” The latter remark dripped with sarcasm.
“What kind of things?”
“The first time was when the convection oven kept turning off. A defective wall plug. Another time was the hot water tank. The pilot light got blown out by the wind. He restarted it. Things like that. Like I said, he came around once a week to clean the pool. He was also good at trimming the bushes and yard work. He’d take on anything that needed done.”
Walking to the next residence, Chapman commented, “So Jessup had a reputation for being a lady’s man?”
“There was something about him that attracted women, but like I said, no one complained until now. He’d come home in the early hours, usually high on pot, so I figured like everyone else, he’d spent the night in someone’s bed. He was discrete. I never saw his truck parked anywhere except where he lived or while fixing something. Saw it once after midnight. Folks had a broken water pipe. He fixed it, and then went to helping mop up the mess. Learned later he never charged them. They’d just had a baby and the father couldn’t work because of a farm injury.”
“Where’d he get his pot?”
“No idea. The nearest store is in the County Seat. Never knew him to go further than ten miles from here.”
“I’ll get a phone warrant. I want to check his place. Meanwhile, let’s see what others know.”
Working around to the west side they encountered a 32-year-old divorcee. Calming Laurie took all of Petersen’s grandfatherly skills.
“Yes, I knew Jessup. I’m not good at the things it takes to maintain a house. I know, it ain’t much, but . . . He’d drop by a couple times a week. He took care of everything.”
“I need to ask,” Chapman said, trying to sound comforting, “were you romantically engaged?”
“If you mean, intimate, yes. He’d stay on weekends. We talked about him moving in. He needed someone to care for him, too. I did his laundry, fix meals. He didn’t eat right. We both were lonely. We filled that void for each other.”
“Did you know he was seeing other women?”
“I didn’t care. They had needs, too.”
“Do you know who they were?”
“He wouldn’t tell me names or anything. He didn’t want them hurt by the gossipers. He was like that.” She began to weep again.
Entering Jessup’s house was another revelation. Dirty close occupied one corner of the bedroom, clean laundry in a basket, once folded neatly, now rumpled from rummaging to find something, the bedding a disheveled mess, and other items strewn about. A roach pipe lie on a bedside lamp table, a small baggy of marijuana in the drawer along with cigarette paper, and matches. Chapman expected to find this. The whole place reeked of the sweet smell. A calendar on the wall had names written on specific days.
Terri every Wednesday and a line from Wednesday to Thursday with an “L” over it. Laurie from Friday evening to Monday morning. There were other names with a notation of the work performed, a couple with an asterisk.
“Who is Jackie?” Chapman asked.
“Jackie Penzer. Lives on the north side. Teaches school.”
“And Terri would be the college girl we spoke with this morning?”
“Yes. Would appear she has regular need of a handyman, too.”
“If I read this calendar right, business was good.”
“Mrs. Wessel’s name appears once a week with “pool” by it, every other week, yard or some kind of work frequently accompanied by an asterisk and a dash linking two days with a “W”.
“There’s a line linking yesterday and today,” Petersen said.
“We need to have another chat with Mrs. Wessel,” Chapman said, “but I want to do it when her husband’s not around. For now, let’s talk with Terri, and then the school teacher.”
* * * *
Terri shed some light on McKuen’s drug habit. “He’d give me the money and I bought it for him? Was that wrong?”
“It’s legal in this State,” Chapman said.
“I don’t like the stuff. He used it when feeling depressed. He never did it here.”
“You two spend a lot of time together?”
She halted a moment. “If you mean, did we sleep together, yes. We went to high school together. My parents hired him to fix the kitchen faucet. He’d just started that handyman business. They didn’t think he was eating right and had him over for dinner a couple times a week. Afterwards, we’d go for a walk along the beach. We were both sixteen. There’s a private spot about a half mile from here. We’d sit and talk. One night, when we came back, he kissed me on the cheek and said thanks for everything we’d done. I jokingly said that wasn’t much of a thank you. We kissed for real. The next time we went to the private spot and kissed more than talked. Having sex just kinda happened. He came every Wednesday for dinner, but we don’t have sex every time, but when we do, it’s wonderful.”
“When’s the last time you saw him?”
“Last week. My folks are on a cruise. He came on Wednesday as usual. We fixed dinner together. He parked in the garage after dark.” She began to cry. Petersen took her into his arms.
The school teacher hesitated at first to admit the relationship. “He fixed my toilet. It kept running. He turned seventeen the month before and just received emancipation papers. I fixed him a special meal. It just happened.”
“You maintained the relationship?” Chapman asked.
Another on McKuen’s calendar adamantly denied any relations. Even Petersen could tell she lied. By now he’d become astonished at the socializing that went on in Lyman. And he thought his wife and her Tea Clutch knew everything that went on.
Sitting to dinner he asked his wife, “Didn’t you hire Jessup McKuen once?”
“The week you left to that police seminar I hired him to fix a leaky kitchen faucet. He had just started up that handyman business. Did a nice job and didn’t charge near enough. I lectured him on that. He seemed a nice boy despite that vile woman that mothered him and low life father. I don’t think they ever did get married, but how he turned out was inevitable. Apples don’t fall far from the tree. Thankfully, you take care of things around here. I wouldn’t hire him again and neither would the ladies in our afternoon tea club. We all agreed on that.”
“Did you know he was providing special services for some customers?”
“I’m not surprised. You reap what you sow. Shame it happened like this, but I’m sure whoever did it had good reason.”
“There’s never a good reason to murder another in cold blood, Connie.”
* * * *
All eyes in Bev’s Diner followed Dep. Chapman as he entered and looked around until spotting Marshal Petersen in a back booth. The McKuen murder happened five days back.
“Coffee deputy?” Bev asked across the counter.
“Yes, ma’am. Thank you.”
“What’s on the schedule for today,” Petersen asked as he slid into the booth.
He waited until Bev set the steaming cup down and left. “I got the preliminary DNA report from the Medical Examiner. He’s about the most thorough person I’ve ever met.” He pushed the report to the Marshal.
“Looks like we pay that visit you wanted. Larry Wessel left this morning in a hurry. Almost cited him for failing to stop at the railroad crossing.”
“Good morning, gentleman,” a middle-aged woman said as she sat next to Petersen. “We haven’t met. I’m Elizabeth Grey.”
“Elizabeth is our Mayor.”
“I’ll make my intrusion quick. I have a hair appointment in ten minutes. This horrible thing that happened, well, it affects a lot of folk hereabouts. A lot of good, decent, God-fearing folk. If that guttersnipe was messing with married women, whoever did it was justified cleaning the slate. Good riddance to bad rubbish. Why don’t you just close this and avoid causing folks a lot of embarrassment and pain.”
Petersen responded before Chapman had a chance and loud enough for others to hear. “Because Jessup McKuen was a human being. He had faults, but there isn’t a person in this town that doesn’t. More people than you know outside your little circle liked that boy and not just for what hung between his legs. He was caring and considerate. No one had the right to murder him. No one. And I’ll keep digging until I find who did it.”
“Then you may find yourself out of a job.”
“Mrs. Grey,” Chapman intervened, “I take that statement as an attempt to interfere in a criminal investigation, which is a felony in this State. If you or anyone else wishes to pursue that course, I will file a complaint with the County Attorney, do I make myself clear?” His black eyes burned with anger as he stared at the woman.
Mayor Grey turned pearly white as her mouth opened and closed like a fish out of water before getting up and hustling out the door as if on roller skates.
“Good for you,” Gottlieb Zeiler called out. “You find that murderin’ bastard. Jessup were a good boy.”
* * * *
“Howdy, Gaylord. Your mother home,” Petersen said.
“Yes, but . . . ”
“Where is she?”
“On the patio, but . . . ”
The Marshal didn’t waste time with buts and walked in. “Let’s find her.”
“Morning, Gloria. Can’t say that shiner compliments your looks. Larry?”
“We’re getting a divorce. I’m fed up with his affairs with other women.”
“And what about your affair?” Chapman stood back and let the Marshal take the lead.
“What do you mean?”
“Gloria, it’s standard procedure during an autopsy in cases like this and they collect DNA samples. Yours was found all over Jessup’s body.”
“How . . . ?”
“When you were picked up for that DWI a couple years back, the police took your sample. It’s in a database.”
She began to cry. “Larry began exploring other pastures several years ago. Do you know what that does to a woman my age? Jess filled that void.”
“He was here that night.”
“Yes. Larry came home unexpectedly. Gaylord ran in to warn us. Jess grabbed his clothes and ducked out the patio door.”
“Do you own a pistol, Gloria?”
“Yes. Larry got it several years ago when that pervert was raping women in Gregory.”
“Where is it?”
“In the lamp stand next to my bed.”
Now Chapman inserted into the conversation. “Gaylord, you show me.” Returning, he wasn’t pleased. “It’s not there.”
“It has to be. I saw it just last week. It’s next to my headache medicine.”
“I have it,” Gaylord said. “I took it to hunt rabbits. Mrs. Palmer’s been having problems with them.”
“You had no business doing that, Gaylord!”
“Where is it, Gaylord?” Chapman’s voice was hard.
“In my room.”
“And you didn’t say anything when we went to your mother’s room? Let’s get it.”
“Under the mattress,” he said when entering his room.
Chapman carefully retrieved it with a kerchief. A Beretta Tomcat, small, it easily fit in Chapman’s palm. Careful to not disturb any fingerprints, he checked the magazine. A seven-bullet clip, it wasn’t empty.” When did you shoot this?”
Chapman watched the boy’s body and face. That was a lie.
“Over by the junkyard. That’s where the rabbits hideout.” That was a truth.
“Why did you hide it under the bed?”
“I couldn’t return it. Mom and dad were fighting.” Another truth.
Downstairs, the deputy showed Mrs. Wessel the pistol. “This yours?”
“Yes. How many times I told you . . . ”
“Jessup McKune was killed with a .32 caliber pistol and I lay a wager the bullets came from this pistol.”
Chapman noticed a girl standing off in the shade behind Gloria. When he made that accusation, Gaylord flashed a quick glance in his mother’s direction before blurting, “I killed him.”
“He kept coming around and having sex with mom. He was destroying our family.”
“Are you sure you want to make that statement?” Chapman countered.
“I killed him, okay!”
“What are you doing?” Gloria nearly screamed.
The deputy snapped on handcuffs behind his back. “Gaylord Wessel, I am arresting you on suspicion of the murder of Jessup McKuen. You have the right to remain silent. Anything you say can be used against you in a court of law. You have the right to an attorney. If you can not afford one, you can ask the court to appoint one. Do you understand what I just said?”
“You can’t do this,” Gloria continued screaming, moving toward the deputy. Petersen stepped in front to stop her.
“Yes, he can Gloria. Better call your attorney.”
The pistol turned over to the crime lab and Gaylord book into jail, an attorney arrived on their heels. “I’m here to post bail for Gaylord.”
“Arraignment is at 4 p.m.,” Chapman said.
“You can’t interrogate him without me present.”
“Mister . . . Kruse, I’m not a rookie. I hold a degree in criminal law. You sit over there and I’ll let you know when we talk with the boy.” He made him wait two hours. Partially out of pure orneriness, but mostly waiting for lab results on the pistol. When that arrived, he had a long talk with the attorney.
“Okay, Gaylord,” Chapman began as he, another deputy, and the lawyer occupied a sterile room with only a table and three chairs. “This form lays out the rights you have as explained when I arrested you this morning. We will go over them again. This is not a confession. Then I will ask you to sign it once you understand. Your attorney will help answer any questions you have. Okay?”
Form signed, Chapman said, “This morning, in the presence of me and another police officer, you admitted to killing Jessup McKune with a Beretta .32 pistol belonging to your mother.”
“Don’t answer that,” the lawyer said.
“Let me tell you something about that pistol. When a bullet leaves the barrel, it picks up distinctive marks. The bullets recovered from McKuen’s body match those from that pistol. In addition, the crime lab does some additional tests. Your fingerprints are all over the gun. They also took DNA samples which will link you to the pistol as well.
“Let me get an idea how this came down. When did you see your dad come home the morning Jessup McKuen was murdered?”
“My sister saw him. We ran upstairs to warn mom. She jumped out of bed and put on a nightgown. McKuen grabbed his close and ran out the patio door.”
“You noticed he’d dropped his briefs. What happened to them?”
“I kicked them under the bed just before dad came in.”
“Mom and dad got in an argument. He accused her of seeing another man. He started looking for him. She unloaded on him about his secretary. He said something mean and she slapped him. He tried to hit her, but I got between them. He hit me.”
“That’s where you got the bruise on your neck?”
“Yeah. Mom went at him. I jumped on his back and put him in a stranglehold I learned in wrestling. He couldn’t get me off and finally dropped to his hands and knees. Mom told him she was getting a divorce and to get out. Mom and I went downstairs while he packed.”
“When your dad looked around the bedroom, did he look out the patio door?”
“But didn’t see McKuen. Where’d he go?”
“I told sis to take him our secret hiding place . . . ” Gaylord abruptly stopped.
“I’ve been a cop for a number of years. When you confessed to killing McKuen, I noticed something that leads me to believe you are lying through your teeth.”
“I killed him, alright. I shot the prick.”
“Gaylord,” his attorney interrupted.
“I shot him, okay? He kept screwing mom. Maybe she liked it, but it was wrong. I told him to stay away.”
“You’re pretty familiar with your mom’s pistol, right?”
“Yes. I use it to hunt rabbits, remember?”
“You shot him in the head twice and then emptied the pistol into his chest.”
“All nine times.”
“How did you un-jam it?”
“What do you mean?”
“That pistol holds seven shots. We account for six in McKuen’s body and one in the magazine that wouldn’t load into the chamber because the mechanism was dirty. By the way, McKuen wasn’t shot in the head.”
“You’re lying, Gaylord,” the attorney said. “You handled the pistol, but you didn’t shoot McKuen.” Gaylord’s well-tanned face turned a ghostly color.
“I’m pretty sure when the DNA results come back, we’ll know someone else also handled that weapon, right son?” Chapman said.
Gaylord began crying, repeatedly saying, “I killed him. I killed him. I killed him,” before burying his head in folded arms on the table and sob.
© Sean Patrick O’Mordha, July 27, 2018