Cereal Killer

Part 1

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities between people living or dead is a coincidence, no matter how much these characters are like my family and friends.

I can’t believe all of this happened right here. Nothing ever happens in Hog’s Snout, Tennessee. Yeah, I know. I just live here, I didn’t name the place. Why do I live here? Well it’s peaceful, quiet, away from the hustle and bustle of big city life in Knoxville. You know, boring. Well, it used to be.

My name is Buchanan Justice Little. My friends call me Buck. Lived here all my life and planned on being here ‘til the day I die. That day almost came a little sooner than I expected. But, I’m getting ahead of myself here. Let me go back to where it all started.

The Town Hall meeting a month ago was tense. Well, tense for us. Just about the whole town was there. As police chief, it was my job to keep anyone from getting out of control. That can be tough when there are people smoking their pipes that seem to have something mixed in with the tobacco, and others have some jars with more than sweet tea in them. The town was dying. The place needed a gimmick. Something to put us on the map. I had to lay off one of my officers. It’s hard to be taken seriously as police chief when you only have a few officers. It’s impossible when there are only two of you. That was why we were all here. What can we do to make Hog’s Snout a place that could cash in on tourist dollars?

Old Man Hickory had the idea that we start up moonshine distilleries all down Main Street. He claimed to “know a few fellers” who had some recipes for some shine that would make the upstarts down in Pigeon Forge look like diet soda sellers. He wasn’t fooling anyone. Everyone knew he made the best shine in the county and had been looking for ways to stick it to the legal moonshine places popping up all around the Smokies. When it was pointed out that these places would have to pay some serious taxes on their moonshine, he didn’t want any part of that “government nonsense.”

Rita Lange had the idea for a series of Gentleman’s Clubs that would make Hog’s Snout the bachelor party hotspot for Tennessee, Kentucky, Virginia and the Carolinas. That was shot down by Reverend William Robert Jackson of the Snout Street Southern Baptists Church. Pastor Billy Bob wanted “no such dens of iniquity creating a blight on the holy reputation of Hog’s Snout!” Fortunately Rita shut him down before he could get a good head of steam going by asking about his condition. I don’t know what it was and some things are better left that way.

A group of ladies were gathered in the front row, waiting their turn to offer an idea. When Miss Brenda Sue McMurphy walked up to the mic, her timid voice was hard to hear in the back. Finally after turning the volume up to where it was squealing more than Bubba Davies’s blue ribbon hog, her words finally rang out. “How about a museum about something famous from these parts?” That wasn’t a bad Idea until people got to talking about anything famous that happened around here. The two-headed calf back in ’87 was about the best we could come up with. Did I mention it’s kind of quiet around Hog’s Snout?

The meeting ended with nothing really accomplished. It was like all our meetings. People talk and talk, and then argue, and then talk some more. See, we ain’t that much different than other parts of the country. It was in the parking lot that the real business got done. I wandered around, checking to make sure the kids weren’t getting into too much trouble. I saw a few teenager couples sneaking off to the river. Good for them. I remember doing that myself back in the day. The men sitting on the tailgates of trucks were passing around a bottle and laughing about how useless these meetings were. I stopped, took a pull of the really bad whiskey, and agreed with them.

“You know what we need?” said Alvie Sims. “We need one of them serial killers to come through and shake things up. That sure get us noticed.” Everyone laughed, including me.

The next day we weren’t laughing. I got the call at 7:45am while driving to the office. It was Betty Sims and she was hysterical. I couldn’t understand a word she was saying so I turned and headed out to Alvie’s place. That’s where I found him. Alvie was sitting in a chair in the kitchen, head back and frosted fruit rings crammed in his nose and mouth.

I couldn’t believe it. Someone was stupid enough to be a cereal killer.

 

Part 2

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities between people living or dead is a coincidence, no matter how much these characters are like someone you may know.

The Sims’ place hadn’t seen this much activity since the great chicken robbery of ’73. And that time there was more poultry than people clucking around. Now I was there along with my one underling. The mayor showed up to make sure he was seen surveying the scene of the crime. Of course all the gang from Lou’s Tavern was chomping at the bit to form a posse to find the no-good so-and-so who would do this kind of thing in our wonderful little town.

“So Buck,” Mayor Silas Abernathy began, using that tone of voice that only small town mayors can perform, “what do you make of this?” Translation: “I’m clueless here but want to make sure I get the credit for being on the scene while making sure you get the blame for this if it’s as bad as Sherman’s march through Georgia.” Silas can say a lot with a few little words when he wants to. Usually he says a little with a lot of words on any other day.

“I think someone wanted to kill Alvie,” I retorted. Some people just don’t grasp the obvious. “And they ain’t all that bright.”

“Because they killed him in his own home?” he asked, a trace of hope in his voice. “Did you find a clue to the killer already?” Now he was getting downright cheerful.

“No,” I replied, leaving off the phrase: you puffed-up idiot. If people only knew how much I edit myself. “They heard the phrase ‘serial killer’ and thought it meant ‘cereal killer.’ I don’t think we are dealing with a Rhodes Scholar here.”

The mayor shook his head in dismay. “That’s too bad. I thought that Josh Higgins on the road crew would have been a top suspect.”

It took me a second to decide if he was joking or stupid. When he maintained his somber look, I realized it was the second option. This was not going to be an easy case to solve with this kind of help.

“Well, we can’t rule anyone out yet.” That perked him up. Sometimes it’s easier to humor the fool than to point out how foolish he is. Also, he signs my paychecks. “I am going to start asking a few questions, but I could use some extra help. Mind if I rehire Bobby for a couple weeks while I sort all this out?”

I could see dollar signs in the mayor’s eyes. Silas was considering the cost verses the fallout of seeming to consider the money before solving the crime. The political needs won over the budget issues. “All right,” he said grudgingly. It was like I was taking the money out of his wallet. “But just ‘til we get all this sorted out.”

“Thanks, Silas. I’m sure the good people of Hog Snout will be proud of you going out on a limb like this.” Before he could say anything else that made me question the collective brains of the electorate, I turned to Amy, the only other one in uniform. “I need you to keep everyone out of here ‘til I can get someone from Knoxville up here to do the whole CSI thing.”

“Sure thing, boss.” She always called me “boss” no matter how many times I told her to call me Buck. It was brown-nosing but it felt good. She had the yellow tape we use on traffic accidents already in her hand.

I pulled out my phone and made a call to a buddy in Knoxville. Roger Walker was one of the few cops from the big city that I liked. He was their lead homicide detective and helped out the outlying areas when we needed a hand with a killing. After a few minutes, he offered to help if I needed it and said he send out the forensics trailer with a tech who shouldn’t annoy me too bad.

Next order of business was the posse. There were about a dozen of them mulling around the fleet of pickups in the front yard of the Sims’ place. It was only ten in the morning but I had the feeling that there was a new bottle being passed around to replace the one that had been killed the night before. The cast of characters was almost the same as the tailgate team from the meeting. Looked like two were missing and about three more had joined. Make that one was missing and one was still sitting in his chair in the kitchen with fruit rings up his nose.

“All right boys, I’m gonna want to talk to each and every one of ya before the day is over,” I began. This wasn’t going to go well so I thought I’d just get it over with right away.

“Wait just a second, Buck,” began Jerry Coiler, the editor of the bi-weekly scandal sheet we call a newspaper. “You don’t think one of us had something to do with this do you?”

“We’ll see,” I said, giving them my best cop-stare.

“Is it true we have a cereal killer?” asked Bubba Peters.

“We have a murderer who killed Alvie with cereal, not a serial killer.” I tried to clarify for the masses.

“Ya’ll hear that? We got ourselves a cereal killer!” shouted Peters with more joy than you see at most murder scenes. I just shook my head.

 

Part 3

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities between people living or dead is a coincidence, even if you think I was hiding in your closet taking notes about your life.

Walking to my patrol car, I decided it was time to take stock of the possibilities. First option: Someone had come into town with a grudge against Alvie and had killed him with frosted fruit rings. I’m glad I didn’t say that out loud ‘cause it sounded stupid enough in my head. It wasn’t like Alvie was a criminal mastermind making meth out in the barn. After that thought I changed my direction and headed out to make sure the barn was only a place to store hay and farming equipment. It was.

Second option: One of the local yokels had a gripe with Alvie, showed up to hash it out, realized he was having hash for breakfast so used cereal instead. That ain’t as farfetched as it sounded. The Sims family and the Hogan families have been nagging each other since Alvie’s grandpa, Cyrus deflowered Greta Hogan and ran over Jacob Hogan’s dog while sneaking away on the dirt road behind their place back in 1952. Greta was a little on the fast side, but the dog slow even though he was a good hunter. Jacob was ready to shoot Cy over the dog. The fact that Cy was playing around with Jacob’s sister was just icing on the cake. But all that had been sorted out for the most part in 1977 when Greta admitted to running over the dog. There was still some bad blood there about the deflowering, but nobody thought much about it anymore.

Third option – and the one I was most afraid of: Someone decided to try and put Hog Snout on the map by killing someone. That would sure get attention but not the kind I think we were wanting at the town hall meeting. Still, there were a few guys who had been sitting on the tailgates who… to put it delicately… didn’t have near enough branches on the family tree. Don’t get me wrong. There are plenty of normal, church-going, salt of the earth, intelligent people around Hog Snout. Doc Thomas is a real doctor and takes care of most of the everyday medical problems around here. Anna Lorens has a master’s degree in art history and works for one of the major art magazines in New York. We even have Sol Whitman, a retired engineer who worked over in Oak Ridge doing something with making nukes or nuclear power or whatever Secret City stuff they do over there.

But then we are like every place on the planet with our more colorful characters. Most of them were sitting on the tailgates, sipping whiskey and complaining about things not getting done. I had a feeling that I would discover the culprit was one of them. After all, they were the only ones who knew about the whole serial killer comment. At least, I hoped they were.

While Amy took care of the crime scene, I thought I’d look at the criminals. My top ten suspects from dumbest to smartest were Bubba Peters and his brother Larry, Jimmy Halloway, Barry Ranes, Nolan Smith, Tony Fornell, Bob Roberts, and the Gatlin boys – Andy, Randy and Sandy. They were all there last night and each one had a good reason to want Sims gone. Alvie was our local realtor and had helped each of their wives sell off their homes when there was a divorce. Yeah, we get a few divorces around these parts. Nolan has been married three times and still has the same in-laws. Really wish that was a joke. Larry married Bubba’s ex-wife, Donna, making Thanksgiving dinners something interesting around the Peters’ place. Just last year I had to go out and threaten to arrest the whole clan if the boys didn’t stop trying to sword fight with electric turkey knives. Not sure who Donna wanted to win that fight. I think she married Larry to make Bubba mad, and then realized she should’ve just moved on to another family.

Looking around, most of the trucks had headed home or to work, anywhere but around here. The only one left was Jerry Coiler. He was sauntering over to my car with that “I want a quote” look on his face. Jerry dreamed of being a writer but discovered that writing is a lot harder than reading. He settled for the bi-weekly paper, the Hog Snout Scoop. Everybody called it the Hog Snout SNOOP since he was always writing stories about all the people sneaking around on each other. We all know what’s going on, it’s a small town. It’s different when you see it on page 5 in the “Smelling with Snout” column. It kind of makes it a little more real, or at least harder to ignore.

“So Buck, what do we really have here?” He had a notepad, a pen and a hat that looked ridiculous.

I stood up straight, cleared my throat, and said, “Well, Jerry, it looked like we have someone who died here today. And you can quote me on that.”

Jerry tried to give me a look. You know the one you see reporters giving people in the movies where they have a disgusted stare that tries to get the person being interrogated to give them a little more. He really didn’t do it very well.

“You okay, Jerry? If you need it, they still have an outhouse by that barn.” Some things weren’t worth the fight. In Hog Snout, Jerry was at least two or three of the things not worth the fight.

“Funny, Chief,” he said, switching to his formal reporter mode. It was a cute attempt to look like Dustin Hoffman in All the President’s Men. It might have been like Robert Redford. Jerry is not that good at impressions. “Give me something here.” It was halfway between a plead and a demand.

“Well Jerry,” I said leaning in like he always wanted a “source” to do. “I think we have someone who wants to start a killing spree with people who own businesses in town. People like realtors, lawyers, doctors, and newspaper publishers.”

The intrepid reporter looked more like a tripped reporter because he almost fell over when I mentioned the publishers. He looked at me, not sure if I was serious or joking. He decided to laugh. I didn’t. I just stared at him with a better Redford gaze than he could ever hope to have.

Jerry walked off, shaking his head while his hands seemed to be shaking for another reason entirely. Once he was out of sight, I laughed. It pays to keep people on their toes. Two hours later, it wasn’t near as funny when Tori found him sitting at his chair, shredded wheat crammed down his throat.

Okay, it was a little funny.

 

Part 4

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities between people living or dead is a coincidence, so don’t point fingers at your buddies when you read this.

It was not turning into a good day. Two murders before lunch. It was all kinds of wrong. Jerry Coiler may not have been the best guy around these parts, but no one deserved to die like that. It’s bad enough we have an idiot who doesn’t know the difference between ‘cereal’ and ‘serial,’ but to kill a man with shredded wheat is downright evil. That stuff is nasty on a good day. It looked like Jerry had been grazing on a haystack and choked to death. Checking his eyes, I could see the broken blood vessels that go along with suffocation. Death by shredded wheat. Not a good way to go.

Tori, Jerry’s “assistant editor” at the Scoop, was a basket case. She was pale, whining, and made it hard to maintain eye contact by wearing such a low-cut blouse that showed off what she referred to as her “store-bought boobs.” Unfortunately, this was pretty normal for Tori. She was not the sharpest tool in the shed and had a hard time using both of her brain cells at the same time. She just kept repeating, “I can’t believe he’s dead!” over and over. I wondered what would have happened if someone else wrote a story about Jerry’s mentoring techniques as he tried to develop Tori into a journalist. Something tells me he would be proud of himself. He was that kind of guy.

The list of suspects on this one was a lot longer than Alvie’s. Just about everyone had some reason to hate Jerry for something he wrote or implied in one of his articles. I knew I would have to stop by Hattie Sinclair’s house and chat with her. He had implied the seventy-two year-old was throwing the hottest parties for the retirement-age set in all of Hog’s Snout. Jerry even claimed to have pictures that would be inappropriate and stomach turning to publish for the “good Christian folk” around here to see. Jerry hadn’t been to church in thirty years and he still used that line in every issue. He was a piece of work.

Pretty much everyone on my list for Alvie had a grudge against Jerry. His article on the Peters boys’ marital woes made them top suspects. Jimmy, Barry, and Nolan all had been subjects of Jerry’s “investigative reporting” one time or another. Barry in particular had seen business fall off after Jerry reported about suspect substances in the meatloaf special at the diner. Turned out that Jerry’s substances turned out to be a clump of bread crumbs. Still, the retraction was buried on page 7. The whole paper only had 8 pages. I would have to stop by the diner for lunch and find out where Barry was this morning.

Bobby showed up, his uniform looked like it had been laying in the corner of his bedroom for a couple weeks. The wrinkles had wrinkles.

“Sorry, Buck,” he began. “I tossed the uniform in the corner when you fired me.”

Yeah, I’m that good. “No problem, Bobby. And I laid you off, not fired.”

“What’s the difference?”

“It’s easier to get sympathy from women when you say ‘laid off’ instead of ‘fired.’” It was the best explanation I could come up with on the spot.

He smiled a big fox-in-the-henhouse grin. “You got that right.”

Wow, I really am good. Who knew? “I need you to secure the crime scene. We have some forensics boys coming in from Knoxville to check out Alvie’s place. I’ll have then come here next.”

Bobby looked at Jerry’s body. “That’s a bad way to go. Not as bad as drowning or something, but this is just weird.” He looked closer. “Is that hay?”

“Shredded wheat,” I corrected. “Alvie died from cereal, too.”

Bobby looked somber. “It looks like a cereal killer to me.”

I just stared at the boy. Was he joking or just that dumb? He looked back at me with a look that was as serious as a heart attack. Dumb.

“Bobby, it’s not cereal, it’s serial.”

“That’s what I said, Buck. Cereal.” He was getting defensive.

“Never mind,” I sighed. “I’ll call Walker in Knoxville and let him know what’s going on. I am going to need some help on this. Don’t let anyone in here and don’t play around with the printers.” I knew he would anyway.

He looked offended. “I won’t mess with a crime scene.” He looked at the weeping Tori. “Besides, I am here to protect and serve.”

I looked over at the crying woman. She was vulnerable with big boobs and needed a shoulder to cry on. She was Bobby’s type. “Yeah, don’t do too much serving while you’re on duty.”

He winked at me. That’s never a good sign. It was time to start grilling suspects so I decided to walk over to the diner. Besides, it was almost time for lunch. Pulling out my cell phone, I tried to call Walker. No signal. Cell signal is a little hit and miss around here, but I usually get a couple bars in town. I decided to try again after I talked to Barry.

Ruth was pounding on the kitchen door when I walked into the diner. “Open up, Barry! We got customers out here who need their food.” She pounded on the door again. I didn’t even know you could lock one of those swinging doors going into a diner kitchen. Isn’t there some kind of law against that? I really needed to brush up on my diner law.

The pounding continued as Ruth was getting angry. You don’t want to make Ruth angry. She will mess up your order and give you decaf out of spite. “Open the #&^%* door, Barry! I’m gonna count to three. One! Two! Three!” The door remained shut. Everyone sitting at the counter was stunned. No one ever let Ruth get past two when she counted. Even Ruth was shocked. It looked like she was trying to remember the last time someone had let her get to three because she didn’t know what to do now that she got there.

I walked up. “Let me try, Ruth.” I knocked. “Barry, it’s Buck. Open up for me.” I didn’t use a ‘please’ since I was in my official capacity. It’s one of the little things that you do as a cop in a small town. Everybody at the counter noticed it, too. “Barry, something smells good in there, but…” I looked through the little window. What I saw must have made me go pale.

“What’s wrong, Buck?” asked Ruth. She went pale, too. It seems it was contagious.

Stepping back, I kicked the door while drawing my Colt. The door gave way easily and I took a firing stance. No one was there other than Barry. To be fair, Barry wasn’t really there anymore either. He was sprawled out on the floor, his head buried in a big old pot beside him. He wasn’t moving.

I put my pistol back in its holster and lifted his head out of the pot. I knew it was Barry even if I couldn’t make out his face through the oatmeal. This was really getting ridiculous.

 

Part 5

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities between people living or dead is a coincidence, even though it is a lot like The Twilight Zone meets Hee Haw.

Three murders before lunch might be normal for a big city like Detroit or New York or even Knoxville, but around here that just don’t happen. I didn’t have enough people on my force to even handle this many crime scenes. The hungry folks were grumbling when I closed up the diner to secure the crime scene. I think the counter crew was more upset about missing the Tuesday Chicken & Dumplin’s special than Barry being dead in the kitchen. He wasn’t that great of a cook, but they could still show a little compassion. Instead they all walked across the street to the convenience store. Charlotte would be sold out of microwave burritos in a few minutes.

What did all three of these men have in common? They were all natives. They all had plenty of people who didn’t like them. They all served on… There was the key. They were all on the Town Council.

It was time to call in the big guns. When I pulled out my phone, it wasn’t surprising that I didn’t have any signal. This is Hog’s Snout after all. Hopping in my car, I drove the five blocks to the police station. You know you’re in a small town when the police station has a sign in the window that says: “Be back at 1:00pm.” I was early since lunch was pretty well ruined for me. I dropped down into my chair and dialed the State Police. Nothing happened. The line was dead. No cell service. No phone lines. I may not be Columbo, but even I know when some things don’t add up.

The mayor burst through the door. “Buck, we’ve got a problem. The phones are all out. I mean all of them. Cell and the one on my desk. What do you call the old fashioned kind?”

“Land lines.” He could never remember that.

“Yeah, those. Anyway, we need to get someone to go to Hook’s Valley and call in the National Guard! People’s dropping around here like flies.” Silas was really upset by all this. I wondered if he had put one and one together yet.

“Silas, have you noticed what Alvie, Jerry and Barry all have in common?”

“Well other than being on the Town Council, nothing that I…” It’s always nice to see a light bulb go off over his head. It doesn’t happen that often so I like to savor it.

“Yep. That means that you and Tony Evans might be in a little bit of trouble.” If they died, that meant the whole town council would be retired in a not-so-fun kind of way. “I think we better go check on Tony at the hardware store and then get you two someplace safe.” I rose and took Silas by the arm because nothing seemed to be working on his body. I’ll admit, I was a little relieved that his mouth was broken. It makes for a much nicer day.

“But… but… but…” stammered Silas.

“Get your buts in my car, mayor,” I shoved him into the passenger’s seat. It was tempting to put him in the back seat just to make people talk, but they have enough to talk about right now.

I spotted Earl Peters, Bubba and Larry’s dad, and waved him over. “Earl, I need you to do me favor. Drive on over to Hook’s Valley and call the Knoxville Police. As for Detective Walker, use my name. Tell him we have a serial killer loose and need anyone who can come help up out. TBI, State Police, Boy Scouts. Whoever can come, send them before we have more dead than living in Hog’s Snout.”

Earl looked at me and nodded. He spoke in a slow cadence that always made me wonder how many I.Q. points he had lost thanks to his love of cheap whiskey over the years. Or how many he had in the first place. “Yep. I’ll do that for ya, Buck. Walker in Knoxville. I think we need to have a bonfire in the street and burn up all the Captain Crunch to stop this cereal killer.”

I didn’t even try to explain the serial thing anymore. It didn’t do any good. “Not a bad idea. Just get going and hustle on back here when you get through.”

“All right,” said Earl, ambling toward his rusty pickup. I had second thoughts about sending him as I watched him go but didn’t have time to find someone else. I needed to get Silas someplace safe before he had a stroke thinking about someone killing him with Fruity Pebbles.

“Relax Silas. We’ll find Tony and then get you two tucked away until reinforcements arrive.”

“But… but… but…” continued the mayor. I punched him in the arm. “Ouch! Why did you do that?”

“Your needle was stuck,” I replied. “You need to start thinking again, Silas. Who has the council made mad lately?”

“Well, no one really. We haven’t done a whole lot. That’s the whole idea: Let things happen.” He sounded proud of the philosophy.

“I’ll make sure that’s on all your headstones,” I replied. Sometimes I just can’t help it. “So basically everyone is a suspect. Great.”

We pulled up to the hardware store and banged on the door. I had a bad feeling about this. Either Tony had closed due to the killings, or closed because he’d been killed. I forced the door after a few minutes and started looking around. It seemed like the place was deserted but you never know. I had my Colt out just in case. If I found him with something in his nose… It was raisin bran.

 

Part 6

The following is a work of fiction. Any similarities between people living or dead is a coincidence, but not really surprising.

Now I’m not normally a paranoid kind of guy, but something about four people being killed all around me makes me a little jumpy. I’m funny that way. Looking at Tony lying there with raisins stuffed up his nose makes me question mortality, the meaning of life, and whether this killer is brilliant or stupid. I spun when I heard a noise. Candy Evans shrieked when she saw my Colt pointed at her midsection.

Lowering my pistol, I tried to calm her down. “Easy there, Candy. It’s okay.” She looked down at Tony’s body and shrieked again. “Well, that might not be okay.” I went over to her and did the whole comforting thing that I’m supposed to do at times like this. Not really my thing, but I can fake it well. That may have something to do with why I’m still single.

“I need you to go to your sister’s and stay there, Candy. I’ll send someone by to check on you, but for now I need you to stay safe. There is a killer on the loose and I don’t want anything happening to you.” She nodded with a terrified look on her face. I didn’t have time to deal with that right now. I walked to her car and made sure she could drive before heading back to my cruiser.

There was a note on the steering wheel from Silas. I’m going home and locking the door. Call before you knock. I’ve got my shotgun and I’m shooting anyone getting close. That sounded dangerous. Silas wasn’t a good shot, but if he’s using the twelve-gauge he doesn’t need to be. I figured I’d better put up crime tape and then go and make sure he was still alive.

“Hey Buck,” came a drawling voice from the street. It was Earl. He shouldn’t be back already. Something told me this day was getting even worse. “Did you know there are a couple trees blockin’ the road to Hook’s Valley? I’ll have to get my boys to help me clear them off ‘fore I can get your message out.”

Definitely not good. “Take the other road to Jones’ Corner and call from there.” I had a sinking feeling that road would be blocked, too. At least Walker knew what was going on and would ride in the save the day when he realized the road was out. I just hoped there’d be someone left to tell him what happened.

Crime scene tape up, I headed back to my office. Amy had a high tech satellite phone in her desk, if I remembered right. She said it would be handy in case we ever got snowed in or something. This qualified as something. Rifling through the desk of a female coworker is not something I’d recommend. I learned things about her that I really didn’t need to know. In the bottom drawer under a box of tampons – don’t get me started – was the phone. I turned it on and saw it had no power. After discovering more things I didn’t want to see, I gave up on finding the power cord and decided I’d go ask her about it after I checked on the mayor.

I hightailed it out to Silas’ place. The fool wanted me to call but forgot that the phones were all out. When I got there, I honked my horn and did a quick blast of my siren. Hoping that was good enough, I got out of my car and called up to the house. I said something about not shooting.

Susie Abernathy came running out the door, screaming like a banshee. “He’s dead! He’s dead! He’s dead!” she babbled over and over.

I sat her down on the front step and tried to get her to calm down so I could go and see what happened to Silas. She was sobbing and blubbering. Maybe it’s because I’m a cop, maybe because I’m not all that enlightened of a guy, or maybe it’s because this was about to be my fifth murder scene since breakfast, but I wasn’t feeling all that patient with Susie. I know, I’m a jerk.

Once I finally got her to calm down a little bit, I went inside and found Silas. He was sitting in his chair with his back to the corner. Shaking my head, I walked up to my old boss to take a closer look. There was cereal all down his throat and up his nose, but something else caught my eye. There was something a little red under the folds of his jowls. Yeah, he has the pudgy pig-face that made him the perfect mayor for Hog’s Snout. His nose had always been turned up a little, too. He always thought it was a compliment when I called him the “poster-boy for Hog’s Snout.” I hate to say it, but it was still funny even though he was deader than five-day-old road kill.

The red under his third and fourth chins looked like something had been around his neck. That was strange. I hadn’t noticed any of the others with that, but then again once I saw the cereal I didn’t even look further. It was time to go check the other bodies. I really hoped Walker would hurry up and figure things out.

I walked Susie to my car, asking her, “Were you around when Silas… where were you when Silas… ummm… where were you today?” Yeah, I’m not that good with words sometimes. Did I mention being sensitive is not my thing.

“Well,” began the red-eyed Susie, “I went to see how little Tori was doing. That poor little thing was heart-broken. I think there was something going on between her and Jerry.”

“You think so?” The town gossip mill runs through Susie. I’m pretty sure that’s why Silas kept running for mayor. She liked being on the inside.

Susie found her voice. “Oh, I do. I heard that she’s been staying over at his place most nights. Why Ruth, down at the diner, says she saw Tori’s car there for a few months.” It was amazing how gossiping helped her overcome that grief.

“Umm hmm,” I said, nodding like I cared. “When did you get home?”

“About a minute before you pulled up, Buck.” Made sense. She ran out when she saw Silas and heard my horn. But what didn’t make sense was how someone got to him without getting shot. I knew I was missing something.

When I got to Alvie’s place, I left Susie in the car. No need in her seeing another body. Amy was on the porch, pacing back and forth.

“When are them Knoxville boys getting here, boss?” She was obviously chomping at the bit to get back out there and help me find who was doing this.

“Road’s blocked by trees. May take a while. Phones lines are down, too.” She nodded in agreement.

“Internet?”

I hadn’t thought of that. I’m not the most techno-savvy person. I don’t do that FaceSpace thing or whatever it’s called. Seems like a waste of time that could be spent fishing to me. Some people around here have that satellite internet like the TV. I knew I’d have to try to get a message to Walker that way. “Good idea. I think John Bingam has the satellite internet.” She nodded again. Amy is very agreeable.

She followed me inside. As I approached Alvie’s body, I took a closer look at his throat. “See that? Somebody strangled him and tried to make it look like cereal. What is going on here?”

She nodded again. “I don’t know, boss. This is getting weirder by the second. You want me to stay out here waiting? Kimmy is staying at her momma’s ‘til we sort this out.” I’d forgotten about Alvie’s wife. Amy was smart keeping that psycho away. It was going to be bad enough dealing with her weeping all over town for the next few years. She would play up how great Alvie was even though they hated each other.

They hated each other! I am the biggest idiot in town.

 

Part 7 – Conclusion

“Where is Kimmy?” It all made sense now. This wasn’t a serial killer or a cereal killer. This was a group of women getting rid of lousy men. How could I have missed this? Kimmy hated Alvie and wanted him gone for the estate. Tori was probably tired of being used by Jerry and wanted him dead. Ruth wanted the diner from Barry. Candy would get the hardware store and Susie would get… What would Susie get other than the life insurance on the mayor? Ah, the life insurance worth a million dollars. That would be enough motive.

“She’s at her momma’s. I just told you. You okay, boss?” Amy was looking at me like I was losing it. I probably looked a little manic as I put one and one and one and one and one together to find five killers.

“Yep. I just have to go arrest some people. Come on.” It’s sad when you have to take in people you know. What happened to divorce? You’re in a bad marriage so you get a divorce. I know it says, “‘til death do we part,” but this is taking that a little too seriously.

I pulled my gun as I walked up to the window of the cruiser. “Susie, get out of the car nice and slow.” She smiled at me like I was an idiot. It is really annoying when people do that.

Susie opened the door and raised her hands. “Buck, you are smarter than you look,” she was teasing me now. “But you’re not that smart.” That was when I felt the gun on the back of my head.

“Take it easy, boss,” said Amy. “Drop your gun and put your hands on your head.”

I froze. At first I thought was she was joking. I hoped she was joking. A little prodding with her Glock convinced me she wasn’t. Disarming a person who has the drop on you is not like it is in the movies. You can’t just spin around and take their gun. You may get turned around enough to catch the bullet in your face instead of the back of your head, but I don’t really think of that as a win.

“What are you doing, Amy?” I know. It was a stupid question. It was obvious what she was doing. She was in on it.

“Sorry, Buck,” she said. And then everything went dark.

I woke up in one of the cells in my jail. That was so humiliating. Slowly opening my eyes, I saw Amy looking at me.

“He’s waking up,” she hollered. I wished she wouldn’t do that. The headache from her hit was bad enough without all the yelling. The tiny hallway beside the cell was filled with women. I say filled, but there were only six of them. Still, that filled the space. I could see them all: Candy, Tori, Susie, Ruth, Kimmy and Amy. Six women getting rid of rotten men. Can’t say I blamed them that much, but why me?

“I get it,” I said, trying to sound understanding to a group of murderers. Murderesses? “They we lousy men. Why not just divorce them? Or just find someone new Tori?”

They all laughed at me. Tori spoke first. “Buck, you are really dense.” Coming from her that really stung. Then I noticed that she didn’t sound the same. Her squeaky, little girl voice sounded like it had grown up a lot in the past couple hours. “This has nothing to do with them being bad men. They were lousy at running the town. It was time for some new ideas. Some female ideas.”

“Did you take some kind of smart pills this morning, Tori?” I was afraid I knew where this was going.

Kimmy explained. “The town charter says that next of kin can fill the remaining term of any town council member who dies in office. Guess who the next of kin are.” The five women who had lost not-so-loved ones this morning all put their arms around each other.

“Not Tori. She not–” I started.

“Remember that newspaper conference in Vegas last year?” asked Tori. “You gotta love those drive-thru wedding chapels.”

I was speechless. This was crazy no one was going to believe them, unless…

Ruth laughed at me. “Did anyone else see the light bulb going off over his head?”

Susie looked down-right evil. “I was so sorry to hear that the council had voted to fire you after the meeting last night. It must have been devastating.”

So that was it. “You know as well I do they didn’t do that.” They weren’t going to get away with this.

Candy began reading from a paper in her hands. “The motion was presented before the Town Council of Hog’s Snout, Tennessee, to terminate the employment of Buchanan Justice Little as chief of police due to dereliction of duty and mismanagement of city funds. The vote to terminate was unanimous. Mayor Silas Abernathy was designated as the spokesman for the council to terminate Chief Little’s employment immediately. A severance package will be offered.”

Ruth smirked. “That is from the official minutes of last night’s meeting that was on Barry’s computer. Notice the signatures of all the men?” They had each done a great job at forging the signatures of their insignificant others.

Amy looked me in the eyes. “I was shocked when the mayor told me this morning. Just shocked.”

The brilliance of their scheme hit me all at once. “I suppose there is going to be evidence at each of the crime scenes that will implicate me?”

“Mountains of it. You weren’t very good at covering your tracks since you assumed you’d be investigating it yourself,” snickered Kimmy.

“And you thought we were dumb enough to confuse cereal killer with serial killer.” Tori was delighted. “How does it feel to have been fooled by six women?”

And that is how I ended up here on death row and why Hog’s Snout is now called Peaceful Valley. So much for the first cereal killer. I wonder if I made it into the new museum.