First Responders Chapter 1


Verified Member
May 24, 2004
Bignoot County is the second largest county in the state, only a little smaller than Jeff Davis County but with a lot less people. Nobody knows exactly how many. Cutman is the county seat of Bignoot County and the courthouse is there as well as the office of Sheriff Elray Pfister, who also has a substation over in Bonham and one in Fairly Wells, where Pfister’s Chief Deputy Vernie Mills has set up shop, so to speak, in the old bus station. Greyhound Lines’ only scheduled stop now is at Cutman, although the drivers are pretty flexible about pulling over where needed.

If you take State Road 33 northwest out of Fairly Wells it is only a matter of seven or eight miles until County Road 8A branches off to the left and then maybe a quarter of a mile after you turn off you will reach Charlet and Daughter Mortuary and Car Wash on the right. There is a good-sized painted sign on the road to be sure you don’t miss it but a lot has changed in recent years. Berryman Charlet had been the only mortician in northern Bignoot County since right after civil rights, so when he passed away in 2001 they had to send him all the way down to Cutman for processing and the Charlet Mortuary died with him.

In spite of the impressive earning power of a funeral business Charlene Charlet had something better in mind. Charlene is the daughter cited on the painted sign and she has legally been Charlene Charlet Chevelle since her marriage right after Viet Nam. Within sixty days the walls of the viewing rooms had been knocked down and the stainless steel furniture and implements in the back room had been sold to a funeral director in Barfield County. The people at the Bignoot County Courthouse have allowed Charlene to renew the business license annually, mostly because the car wash is still in operation, leased to a man named Freeman, stepson of August Brice of Fairly Wells.

The big front room now has a bar and a number of tables as well as a bandstand large enough for a four-piece combo and a dance floor large enough for twenty-two large dancers or thirty smaller ones. The decor is semi-mortuary and features several coffins and a number of headstones. All the windows feature black velvet drapes. The back room has become a kitchen, with two cooks in the daytime and four at night. A number of local patrons refuse to order from the kitchen, declaring that the food tastes funny. There is no truth at all to the rumor about embalming fluid but you can’t tell that to some people.

Charlene was born and raised in the family living quarters on the second floor but has since built a fine house at the rear of the property. The upstairs is reached by means of a stairway tucked away behind some plastic pot plants and palm trees. The walls that used to define the viewing rooms in the funeral home apparently have made their way up the stairs, and now are back in service. The second floor, where Charlene used to host sleepovers in her bedroom, is now equipped with a series of much smaller bedrooms in which sleepovers are not allowed. Berryman Charlet would no doubt be horrified if he could see his funeral home today. As everyone knows, Charlene’s place of business is a sporting house with a fluid roster of attendants of varying talents, fee schedules and ground rules.

Some might have failed to make the cut at Hooters. No doubt some are students while still others might be just traveling and pausing to make some expense money. Without exception they answer to Charlene – boss, bookkeeper and bouncer. Before beginning any activity they come by her station to say ‘Mark me, Charlene, I’m going upstairs’. After nearly fifteen years of operation at the new Car Wash, this battle cry is known to a lot more people than you might expect and you can hear it on any street in Bignoot County and even beyond. And the former mortuary has been mentioned in more than three thousand wisecracks about stiffs, some funnier than others.

Now Charlene has a daughter of her own, a fine-looking child of some twenty years who is forbidden to show her face at the sporting house. Her name is Cherie and she works as a hairdresser and lives in a modest house her mother bought for her – on the far side of Fairly Wells. Cherie sings in the choir at the Special Deliverance Baptist Church and works out three times each week at the gym and maintains a well-stacked weight of a hundred and fifteen pounds. Charlene is rightly proud of Cherie.

Wednesday and Thursday are the slowest nights at the Car Wash, since many of the regulars are aware that Friday is the day on which they change the sheets. I don’t care what Charlene says. Anyway, on a Thursday night in October Chief Deputy Vernie Mills dropped in at the joint to speak to Charlene privately.

“Charlene,” said Vernie, “I came to let you know that Roy Grant Barnes was killed this evening. Somebody hit him from behind with a shotgun and I thought I should come and tell you in person instead of –“

Charlene frowned at Vernie. “Who the hell is Roy Grant Barnes, Vernie? Do I know him?”

“Well, you likely don’t, because I believe he lives in Bonham – I mean he used to live in Bonham before he got shot.”

“Why are you telling me all this, Vernie?” demanded Charlene.

“Because right this minute he is in Cherie’s house and probably halfway to rigor mortis by now. I’m the onliest one that knows so far, but I got to report it and get the EMS people out there before much longer. I figured you needed to know.”

“Shit, gimme a minute to get my coat and get somebody to keep the book until I get back. What the hell was Roy Grant doing at Cherie’s house, anyway?”

“I don’t know for sure, Charlene, but I can tell you he was shot in the back and there ain’t any bullet holes in his shirt.”
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Verified Member
May 24, 2004
Chapter two

Chapter two

Charlene advised Vernie that she would need fifteen minutes with Cherie, after which he was free to show up and do his duty and off she went. For his part Vernie could have gone on down to his office at the bus station and spent the quarter of an hour working on the time sheets for his two deputies but the Car Wash was his preference by a wide margin. To be sure, he could serve and protect the local citizens there as well as anywhere else and was a frequent visitor. Charlene considered it good business practice to have the Chief Deputy of the county make periodic visits, and he enjoyed the occasional freebie as he did so. Both the occasion and the girl were by Charlene’s choice and she rotated the duty among them.

After the allotted fifteen minutes he returned to his patrol vehicle and headed for the far side of Fairly Wells and Cherie’s little house. He parked his unit behind Charlene’s Buick in the driveway and hurried to the door in case a neighbor might be watching. He entered without knocking and found mother and daughter drinking coffee in the kitchen and Roy Grant Barnes returning to room temperature under a beach towel at the near end of the hall. Vernie lifted the towel to verify that it was Roy Grant, a man he knew by sight, underneath.

“What the hell can we do, Vernie?” asked Charlene.

“Well, I’m here now and this thing is just beginning. I have to go out to the unit right away and call the sheriff and Dr. Bivins, the County Medical Examiner. Then I’ll come back and take your statements about what happened for my preliminary report, but you better understand that I can’t do nothing for you on this thing. Sheriff Elray Pfister will want to do the investigation hisself. You know we don’t get many killings here in this little town and he will take over and send me on back to the bus station. I’ll be back in about five minutes and take down your story and it better be good.” Vernie went back outside and spent ten minutes on the radio and then returned bearing a clipboard.

“Now then, the sheriff is already on his way and the doctor will be maybe fifteen minutes behind him. Cherie, tell me what happened to Mr. Barnes. Were you present when he was shot?” Chief Deputy Mills sat with ballpoint pen poised.

It was Charlene who answered. “Help us out here, Vernie. Should Cherie of been here when he got killed, or should she of returned home to find him dead on the floor? Whichever do you think is best?”

“No you don’t, Charlene, I’m working for the county now and I can’t give you no advice, except to recommend that you tell the truth and then stick to it. Anyway, Cherie is a adult and it won’t be your case, so I want to hear it from her. What happened, Cherie?”

“Well, Mr. Barnes is, aahh, was a fellow choir member at the church and he come by to visit me and he set down on the sofa, right where you’re at, and I was in the bathroom and I heard the gunshot and I heard the door slam and I rushed out and found him down on the floor, dead. While I was down on my knees trying to revive him I heard a pickup truck pull away from out front, but I didn’t get to see it. After that, aahh, Mama came by and seen Mr. Barnes on the floor and we covered him up and called you to report the murder.”

Vernie was writing on the clipboard. “Why did you cover him up, Cherie? What if he was still alive?”

“Well he was dead, Vernie. Shot in the back with a load of buckshot, how could he still be alive?”

“Come on, Cherie, the sheriff ain’t going for that. How come there ain’t no blood on the floor? How come there ain’t no holes in his shirt? You’re a single lady and I don’t know if Mr. Barnes is married or not, but if he was naked when he got shot and if there is blood in the bedroom you might as well say so from the get-go, ‘cause it’s gonna come out in the wash. This ain’t gonna be no secret between you and me and your mama. You will have to come clean and you can do it now with me or later with the sheriff, but you can’t think about it until tomorrow or the day after. The mystery here won’t be what happened to Roy Grant Barnes, it will be finding out who shot him and finding out how you come to wait so long to call me. Is he stiff?”

Cherie lifted the beach towel and looked under it. “Not any more he isn’t. I guess you just as well write it down like you said. Me and him was in the bed and I’m lucky I didn’t get hit too. I was hoping it could be kept quiet, Mama being a local business owner and all and me singing in the choir, you know?”

“Now that’s better,” said Vernie, “get it out in the open, like. It ain’t such a big thing in this day to have company in your bedroom like it used to be. Do you know who shot him, Cherie? It would save a lot of time and commotion to give the sheriff his name so he could do what’s needed. And by the way, he’s gonna be here any minute.”

“I didn’t see who it was, Vernie, and that’s the truth. It all happened right when I was getting my Moment, you know, and it took a minute or two until I realized what had happened. If I had to guess, I would say it might have been my boyfriend Benny Brown. Benny’s married but he told me he would get a divorce so he could marry me, and he’s mighty jealous. I guess that’s what I will tell Sheriff Pfister if he asks.”

“Benny Brown, you say,” Vernie wrote it down on his clipboard. “A jealous boyfriend shoots a naked man in your bedroom, that would be in the paper for sure. Is that the Benny Brown who sells produce out of his old truck?”

“That’s him, Vernie. He said he was getting him a farm next year. And I suppose Boyd Conroy is prolly jealous enough to kill Roy Grant, too, if he seen him around my house. He’s another man I know pretty good. Boyd can be a wild man, I’ll tell you that and if it’s him I hope you catch him right away, but write his name down and mark it ‘just in case’, you know? I mean just in case it wasn’t Benny.”

“Boyd Conroy is a wild man alright, but I don’t think he’s our guy, because I’m pretty sure he’s in jail. He generally is. And that’s Sheriff Pfister now in the driveway.”

“Well, Vernie, if Boyd is in jail and it don’t turn out to be Benny, you might want to talk to Brother Ruth. I don’t know what his real name is, anyway, and I wouldn’t think he would shoot nobody, but he comes to visit now and then.”

“Anybody else, Cherie? The sheriff is gonna laugh.” Vernie stood up.

“I’m not gonna laugh, Vernie, and don’t nobody need to know I helped her get him dressed, either.” said Charlene. “I may have just opened a branch office. Stop by the place tomorrow and we’ll wash your car for you.”


Verified Member
May 24, 2004
First Responders, three

First Responders, three

Sheriff Elray Pfister entered the room, the heels of his cowboy boots making loud noises on the floor. He carried his right hand near his side arm and looked around the room as if the perp might still be present but undiscovered. “I heard what you said, Vernie, and I ain’t gonna laugh. And Charlene you and me need to have a understanding right now. This here is serious business. A human being is dead and another one is going to jail if he don’t get electrocuted and I don’t want to hear nobody laughing. Which of y’all can identify the victim?”

“I can,” said Cherie. “That’s Roy Grant Barnes laying there deceased. I know him from church, me and him sing in the choir.”

“I know him,” said Vernie. “Over to Bonham they call him Boy, but he’s named for his daddy, and I know his daddy too, a little bit. Roy Grant Senior and Junior.”

“Let’s have a look at Roy Grant. Is he under that towel? Hmmm, Vernie did you check to see if he was dead? Anybody know the cause of death?”

“Sheriff,” said Vernie, “Ms Charlet said it was a shotgun shot from behind him, but she did not see the shooter, as he ran away immediately. I tried to check for his pulse when I got here but his arm was already stiff. Mr. Barnes had been dead for a while before the witness and her mom decided to let me know.”

“Well, Cherie, you better tell me all about it and don’t make nothing up, either. Next time somebody asks you, the story better be the same one. I imagine I already know a few things about this crime, but I need to hear it from you. Tell me how you know Roy Grant and why he was here and how he got shot and how long he has laid here dead and why you didn’t call sooner and who you think might have shot him.”

Cherie began to cry and Charlene patted her hand. “Just tell him what happened and how it wasn’t none of your doing. Tell him how you and Roy sing in the . . .

“Shut up, Charlene and let her tell me. We ain’t at the Car Wash now. If you’re a witness to any of this you can tell me later. Right now I’m asking Cherie.”

An EMS unit arrived, with lights flashing and parked in the street. The driveway was full, and the sheriff had had to leave his car on the grass. Dr. Perly Noonan climbed down from the passenger seat and trudged toward the house, medical bag in hand. Two EMS guys hustled to the back of the truck and unloaded a gurney which they maneuvered around the cars in the drive and into the house.

Dr. Noonan shook the sheriff’s hand and looked over the others. “Well I guess I know everybody.” Charlene gave him a smile and one of the techs giggled. Elderly Dr. Noonan knelt painfully by the body under the beach towel. He lifted the towel and looked at Roy Grant Barnes. He applied a stethoscope to the chest and made a note of the time in a small notebook. “He’s dead for certain, and I need his name.” Vernie gave him the name of the deceased and the doctor noted it in his book. “Load him up, gentlemen,” he said to the techs. He turned to the sheriff. “Elray, I had to catch a ride with the EMS unit – my daughter has my car, somewhere. Violent death, the law says I have to do an autopsy. Probably tomorrow. You can come and watch, or I’ll call you.”

“No, Perly, I ain’t going to watch no autopsy. I got an investigation to organize, and this whole thing is maybe six or eight hours behind schedule already. Miss Charlet says he was hit in the back with a shotgun, but I didn’t want to move the body before you got here.”

“Ought to be some blood from that Elray. I don’t see no blood at all.”

“In the bedroom, I guess. He didn’t get kilt here in the hall. I’ll know more in a hour or two. Mind them cracks in the driveway as y’all go. I wouldn’t want to see the boys unload that gurney real sudden in the drive. You give me your report when it’s ready, and right away if you find it wasn’t the shotgun that done him in.”

“I’ll do that, Sheriff. I’m gonna have me a good look at Roy Grant’s corpse. They’s more than just one way to die in a bedroom, you know.” Dr. Perly Noonan followed the EMS techs and the loaded gurney from the house.

“Now, where was I? Oh, yeah – Cherie, I got to have your testimony - you need to tell me all about this day and about you and Roy Grant and whatever y’all was “

“Come on, Elray, it’s not as if,” Charlene started in.

“Charlene, you got to go. I knew you was goin’ to be a problem. I will come to the Car Wash when I get done here and take your testimony. Vernie, escort Ms. Chevelle to her vehicle and see to it she leaves the premises.”

Charlene stood, throwing off Vernie’s hand when he tried to take her elbow. “You better remember, Elray, that you are gonna be up for reelection in the fall.”

“Charlene, you are up for reelection every damn’ day, and you know it. I can close up your ‘gentlemen’s club’ tight as a clam’s ass just any old time. I been protectin’ you from the Baptists for a long time. They would purely love to see all them cheerleaders on food stamps, and you too. I’ll solve this crime a lot better with you on the other side of town selling sin to the gentlemen voters. Now, git!”

Cherie watched with great interest as her mother stormed out. She was ready to speak. “Well, Roy Grant showed up right at one o’clock and it wasn’t no more than twenty minutes when I heard the gun go off and then the door slamming. You already know what we was doing when he got shot, and that’s why I didn’t see anything. I couldn’t hardly move him at all after he got shot, he was pretty much a dead weight you might say. At first I figured I should get rid of the body, but I needed help, you know?

Right at three o’clock Benny showed up and I thought about asking him what we should do, but I thought he might get mad, so I turned him away and he got mad anyway. He don’t know ‘till yet about the murder. So I sat around looking at Roy Grant and feeling sorry for myself, being in such a fix. Brother Ruth showed up at five o’clock and I run him off, too – told him I had the flu. What I really had was Roy Grant, getting stiff and ruining my bed. Brother Ruth is not the kind of guy you can get to help you get rid of a body, you know? He’s sort of a delicate type.”

“One, three and five o’clock, Cherie? Sounds a lot like a schedule to me.”

“Well, you know I’m a hairdresser, Sheriff, and I don’t want everyone coming at the same time, you might say.” Cherie almost giggled. “So I knew what I was supposed to do, and I called Chief Deputy Mills and my mom. She got here first and we drug Roy Grant out of the bedroom and did the best we could to get his clothes on him. I didn’t want everybody to see him naked.”

“And you’re telling me these three guys came to get their hair fixed? How much do you charge for that?”

“So far I’m still a amateur hairdresser, and I can’t charge for my work, but sometimes they help me with my bills a little bit. Roy Grant handled my electric and Benny was for the insurance. Brother Ruth is still a charity case, you might say.” Headlights swung by the front window of Cherie’s house, as a pickup truck tried to enter the drive. “Nine o’clock, Sheriff, on the dot. This must be the TV and the internet guy.”


Verified Member
May 24, 2004
Chapter 4

Chapter 4

The truck came to a stop at an angle, part-way in the drive and part still in the street. It sat there for a couple of minutes, engine running and headlights on. The driver did not get out.

“Vernie, go out there and see who it is. Get his name and so forth and send him along home. He don’t have to know nothing about this business. Tell him his appointment has done been cancelled.” Chief Deputy Vernie Mills left the house and seemed to be having an argument with the driver, but eventually the truck backed out and was gone.

Dr. Noonan left in the EMT unit with the techs and Roy Grant Barnes’ corpse. Sheriff Pfister and Deputy Mills and Cherie were alone in Cherie’s house. None of the first responders had even looked in the bedroom yet.

“Okay, Deputy Mills,” said the sheriff. “I want you to stay here and process the crime scene, and I don’t want you to miss nothing. They ought to be a roll of that yellow tape in your unit. Put it up around the front yard here. Wrap the carporch and both them trees and everything in the yard and tie it off. No need to go clear around the house – that tape don’t grow on trees, you know. I’m gonna take Miss Charlet with me to your office and we’re gonna make a statement. Lock up the house tight and bring all the keys with you.” Cherie and the sheriff got into his car and left.

“Cherie, how good did you know the deceased, anyway?” Even as he turned the corner onto the highway the sheriff knew it was a dumb question. The deceased had been shot in his naked back in Cherie’s bed.

“Do I know him good you’re asking me? Well, he practically sits right next to me at choir, that’s how good I know him. And he even visits me at home now and again, so I guess I know him pretty good, don’t I? And now he’s dead and gone.” Cherie began to cry and helped herself to a tissue from a box on the seat. The rest of the ride was quiet and at the sub-station they recorded her statement, including her responses to the sheriff’s questions. The dispatcher would transcribe it tomorrow and Cherie promised to come in and sign it.

At the house Vernie Mills was less than comfortable alone at his first murder scene. His first act was to find the roll of crime-scene tape in the patrol unit and string it up in the front yard. In spite of Pfister’s words it looked as if it were growing on the trees. He later discovered he had wrapped his own ride and had to take it down long enough to back out of the driveway. With a supply of evidence bags and envelopes he returned to the house. In the hall, where Roy Grant had reposed for most of the afternoon, there was little to collect. He swabbed a couple of small blood stains and picked up the contents of Roy’s pockets, which Charlene and Cherie had placed on the floor against the wall when they dressed him – loose coins, nail clipper, key ring and wallet. There were six lottery tickets that he thought might be missed, so he put them in the bag.

When he could not stall any longer, he went to the bedroom expecting to find a bucket of blood but there was less than he anticipated. Mostly it was on the bed, where the sheets had clotted and were stiff. Vernie wrapped them in a bundle and put it in the patrol unit. He took the pillows, including a half dozen small ones in various curious shapes. As he moved the pillows he found a bunch of fresh hand towels. If the sheriff wanted the mattress in the evidence locker he could send Bert and Ernie back for it tomorrow. He could find no trace of the shot. Roy Grant had taken the whole load. Huh! Man bites dog. From the dresser top and a bedside table he picked up a large bottle of lube and several vials of fragrant oils, some unidentified pills and a lava lamp with revolving pastel colors. He put it all in a cardboard box from Cherie’s closet. The windows should be left open for ventilation, but the sheriff wanted everything locked up and no doubt that included the windows.

Vernie was leaving as Sheriff Elray Pfister was returning Cherie so she could get her own car. They both went into the house with her, long enough for her to pack a bag. She would go to the Car Wash to spend a few days with her mother. They left a light burning in the house and another under the carport and drove away. Before 11:00 the excitement was over for the day.

Not so at the Car Wash, where the action would continue for three or four hours more. Charlene Charlet Chevelle failed to see her daughter come in and was visibly shocked twenty minutes later to spot Cherie on a bar stool, sipping a drink and conversing with a minister from a small church in Thoreau County. The parson was out of uniform in a softball jersey and ball cap and appeared to be gleefully planning a sin with his new companion, but it was not to be. Charlene charged over and snatched her away.

“How can you march in here and embarrass me like this?” Charlene demanded when she had taken Cherie into a corner behind a plastic palm tree. “You know this ain’t but just a small town and the only people who don’t know what you been doing already will find out in the next forty minutes. I must have been the last to know. For this I paid for you to go to beauty school? I been telling everybody you was a beautician when all the time you been turning tricks in the little house I bought you! How could you humiliate your poor mother like this?”

Cherie was having none of it. “Mom, how can anybody embarrass the madam of a whorehouse and car wash? I’m doing the same thing you’re doing and you’re just mad because a couple of my friends used to be your customers – and lemme tell you they won’t be coming back here. I’m an artist, Mama, and I know what to do. I showed Benny Brown how the chicken crosses the road, and he loves it. I do third and long for Boyd Conroy and you better believe he never punts. For Brother Ruth I do the other one, where you put one hand around in back while you . . . well anyway, Brother would have married me that same day, I guarantee you.”

By this time Charlene had sagged back against the wall behind the plastic tree and was hyper-ventilating. “Baby, get the hell out of here. Here’s a key to the house. You go on in and find the spare room and go to bed. We’ll take this up tomorrow.”

And fifteen miles to the southeast Wally Worrell was anticipating a call on his cell phone. It came on the stroke of midnight, as promised, and a woman’s voice asked, without preamble, “Did you do it, Wally?”

“Not to worry, Baby. I caught him on the nest and I lit him up and he’s a gone pecan. Now, let’s you and me do some high finance – you owe me some serious money, you know. I want my two G.”

“Just hold your horses, cowboy. I want to see it on the TV and read it in the paper. Day after tomorrow I will call you at noon and we can set it up. You’ll get your money.”


Verified Member
May 24, 2004
First Responders, Chapter 5

First Responders, Chapter 5

Elray Pfister marshalled his troops on Friday morning in the kitchen of his office in Cutman. The dispatcher, Tammy Faye Ogden, had the coffee made and due to a mix-up in the schedule both Deputy Bert Gallant and Deputy Ernie Moon had brought a dozen assorted donuts. The sheriff surveyed the group and reflected silently on the chance of solving any crimes while the pastry held out. He awarded himself three chocolate donuts and stacked them on a paper napkin by his mug.

“Okay, folks, this ain’t going to be no ordinary Friday in Bignoot County. Miss Charlet is coming over from Fairly Wells to sit down with me, and I’m gonna get a lot more information than I got from her last night. Vernie, you will be in charge of the crime scene. Tammy Faye is right now calling in a couple of them reserve deputies, and I want you to grab the first one that shows up here and post him in a vehicle in that drive way to keep the premises secure. Time and a half you can tell him. Nobody gets in the house today ‘cause that yellow tape is sacred. You can relieve him for a hour to get him some lunch, come noon.

Bert, I’m gonna give you a list of maybe half a dozen individuals and you and Ernie are to look ‘em up and find out their alibis for noon to two o’clock yesterday. Take your clipboards and write everything down for me. If one of ‘em should confess, you can skip the others but that won’t happen. Nobody is charged with nothing at this time, but they should know I’m looking at ‘em. Keep in touch with me and none of you is to go anywhere near the Car Wash. I will be in charge of that. Now get to work.”

“Elray,” called Tammy Faye from the front desk. “Cherie Charlet just pulled up in the lot, and that Viola Huxtable is hovering, waiting for her to get out of her car. She’ll be telling Cherie that the people want to know. That’s her opening line.”

“Well, get out there and break that up, Tammy, I don’t want Cherie talking to that turkey vulture today. Bring ‘em both inside. Take Ms Charlet to the kitchen and give her some coffee and a couple of them donuts and tell her I will be with her shortly. Give her the ones with the sprinkles on top or maybe with sugar and cinnamon. Huxtable is to come into my office. No donuts for her.”

Viola Huxtable marched into the sheriff’s office and took off her jacket and placed a tape recorder on his desk. The green light was blinking. “Sheriff Pfister, a man was murdered last night in Fairly Wells, shot in the back with a shotgun. I saw it on Channel Four this morning. Tomorrow it will be on the front page of the Bignoot Democrat, and I will be interviewing all day today. First, I want to know what you folks are doing about it, and then I will speak to Cherie Charlet - and I’m expecting that to be pretty juicy – to see what her story is. I’m gonna want Dr. Noonan to tell me what he found in his autopsy, and then I’ll be ringing doorbells in the neighborhood and I already know what some of our subscribers think about the goings-on in Cherie’s little house. Also, I got a pair of scissors in my bag to cut through that silly yellow tape you have strung up around the place. Gonna be a busy day for me and a great story for the paper. I don’t mind tossing you a couple of tulips when I write it, Elray, but you got to come through for me. Now, then, tell me where you’re at.”

“Goddam, Viola, you put both feet in the trough, don’t you? My department is already on this homicide like a duck on a junebug, and you don’t need to be following my investigators around asking questions. They got work to do. You’re to come to me for your information and don’t you forget it.”

“Your investigators – that’s Vernie and the Whiz Kids I suppose!”

“Watch your mouth. We are all trained law enforcement officers and when this perpetrator has been apprehended you can come around and look at him.”

Viola rolled her eyes. “Our local sheriff can speak the language! Can I tell my editor you are hoping to bust the perp before the end of the day?”

“This here is a felony-level case and already I can see you turning it into a dirty story about a innocent young hairdresser. I can’t keep you from asking her your questions, much as I would like to, but you be careful what you put in the paper. I will get her formal statement this morning and then she is free to go – but not back to the scene of the crime. Nobody goes in there until I say so – especially you. I’m putting a deputy over there to guard my yellow tape from Nosy-Rosies like you.”

Viola shut off her little tape recorder and put it in her bag. “The people want to know, Elray, and I surely want to tell ‘em, but I need more help from you. I believe I’ll just wait here for you to turn Cherie loose.”

“I ain’t got a spot for you in here, Viola. If you want to sit on the steps out front, I guess that’s prob’ly public property. If it goes to raining I’ll have Tammy Faye lend you a umbrella from the evidence room.” The sheriff glared at the reporter.

“Don’t forget that you got to stand for reelection this fall, and the Bignoot Democrat will have a few things to say about that.”

“Huh, that’s what Charlene said to me last night, but I suppose that figgers, as the both of you are in pretty much the same business. But Charlene has better-lookin’ girls.”

Also on Friday morning, but down the road in Fairly Wells, the perpetrator was having an epiphany. Anxious to contact his customer about the two grand she owed him, he suddenly realized that he had no idea how to contact her, or even what her name was.


Verified Member
May 24, 2004
First Responders, Chapter 6

First Responders, Chapter 6

Like the good reporter that she was, Viola kept her feet moving. Pushed out of the sheriff’s office, but determined to get to Cherie Charlet at the earliest opportunity, she began doing interviews with everybody she could stop in the street outside Elray Pfister’s building. The killing of Roy Grant Barnes had been reported by Channel Four mostly because news was in short supply on that Friday morning and the mention of the town of Fairly Wells was the first in a fortnight. Few people in Cutman knew or cared about the individuals involved and Ms. Huxtable wasn’t having much luck.

The sheriff went to his kitchen and for most of an hour he shared coffee and donuts with Cherie, without adding anything useful to what he knew when he got up that morning. She and Roy Grant had been in bed when the shotgun fired, and for just an instant, she said, she had mistaken the impact for an added feature of the ‘moment’ she was experiencing. Roy had collapsed on top of her, ruining the moment, and by the time she could get free there was no shooter to see. Only the sound of a pickup truck in first gear in the street outside. It sounded like a Ford or Chevrolet but it could have been a Toyota or Nissan. Almost definitely not a GMC. The list of possible suspects she had offered the previous day increased by one, as she was able to recall a guy who had visited once or twice when Benny Brown wasn’t able to keep his appointment. She knew the substitute only as Poboy.

“Ms. Charlet, what about people at the church that knew Roy Grant, like the others who sang in the choir?” asked the sheriff. “Can you think of anybody that might have wanted to kill him?”

“Well, Sheriff, he sure wasn’t no songbird and sometimes he forgot the words to the songs, but you don’t shoot nobody for that. He was just a good man.” Pfister looked askance at her. “Well, I didn’t say he was the best, but he wasn’t bad. Not bad at all.”

Elray made notes and recorded the interview and told her she was free to go, but to stay away from her house until the inspection was over and to bear in mind that anything she said to Viola Huxtable would probably appear in the Bignoot Democrat. Cherie took her leave carrying a chocolate covered donut in one hand.

At the Car Wash, Charlene got up at 11:00 and went downstairs. There was a message from Viola on her answering machine, asking her to call, but Charlene deleted that with the touch of a button. At half past noon she crossed her front yard to the business to oversee the cleaning service and to make certain her maids were putting fresh linen on the beds. Then she sat alone at the bar and drank rum and Coca Cola. With all the lights off the Car Wash looked more like a mortuary than a whorehouse.

For the first time ever, she thought of selling out and moving on to a comfortable retirement as madam emeritus. Her only child had a trade now and could make her own way. She could work as a hairdresser, if only she would, but there was no thought of turning the Wash over to her. Cherie wasn’t smart enough to pour piss out of a boot, but it was much too late to try to tell her what to do with her life. Charlene left by the front door, pausing to look at the patio furniture on the big porch. She moved a chair here and a table there, and then took the long driveway back toward her house.

Almost immediately a small car turned in behind her. She turned without pausing and recognized Viola. She strolled on, keeping to the middle of the drive, and Viola continued in place some five yards behind her, unable to pass. Not a good sign – Viola recalled watching OJ leading a slow parade back to Rockingham. She braked the car and got out, walking with Charlene.

“Terrible thing yesterday, Ms. Chevelle, over in Fairly Wells.” No response. “Your daughter was there when Mr. Barnes was murdered, wasn’t she?”

“I know damn well you already talked to her today, Viola. Why are you asking me if she was there? For Chrissake, she lives there. It’s her house.”

“Well, we’d like to get a comment from you – a third party perspective, like. Don’t you wonder what Mr. Barnes was doing at your daughter’s house?”

“As I understand it they was having a short-handed choir practice. Couple of adult people, none of my business why he was there. I do wonder about the other guy, but I can’t help you with that. Now I’m wondering why the hell you’re here at my house. Don’t you have nothing better to do?”

“The people want to know, Ms. Chevelle, and that’s why we have newspapers. Some of the neighbors wonder why so many men visit your daughter. Got to be a reason for that.” The promenade was at its dead-end, Charlene’s front door. It would go no further.

“Most likely the same reason they come around to my place,” said Charlene. “It’s because they’re married to people like you,” and she was gone.

Across the town of Fairly Wells, Roy Grant Barnes’ widow was turning away the last of the visitors who wanted to cry with her. She had finished crying long before the others and was ready for a beer or two. But there was to be one more caller, one who was not there to weep. At ten minutes to midnight a Jeep came up the drive and went around the house and parked in the back yard.