THE BASIC INSTINCT
It felt soooooo good to have a man around the house again!
Cindy's pleasure showed in her contented sigh and the way she stretched her legs. Life hadn't always been so sweet, but ever since she'd killed a man, it couldn't be better!
She glanced at the clock from her comfortable position on the couch. Allen should be home in another hour. If it wasn't for dear, sweet Allen, why, she'd have been her old boyfriend Harley's victim instead of the other way around.
Cindy shivered. She and her old flame started out well enough. She was living alone then, was content to work only for the basic creature comforts. This left time for strolling through the park, or sunning herself at the beach.
Her few acquaintances were usually busy with jobs, families or both. Ginger was embarrassingly zealous over her work with the blind, and Mac had actually joined the police force. She couldn't imagine anything interfering with her own carefree existence until Harley came along.
Cindy first noticed him on the beach. She let him take her delicately boned face in his hands. "Hey, pretty lady. My name's Harley. What's yours?"
A week later Cindy moved in with him. Their relationship started out happily enough, so neither was prepared for their sudden crash to reality.
"I have to get a damn job, Cindy! Can you believe it?" Harley slapped the bills on his shabby desk. "Dad cut off my allowance!"
What could she say? What could he, except he'd take the job? That was the beginning of trouble. Harley's frequent caresses dwindled down to none. Cindy looked for work herself but found nothing with her limited skills. She kept the beach riffraff away from the house, and tried to be supportive.
She didn't notice Harley's jealousy of her carefree life, the life he once lived. The first time he hit her, Cindy was more surprised than hurt. After that, there was no doubt of pain.
Cindy left Harley without even a good-bye, but months of existence with him had taken their toll. Cindy was no longer the streetwise, self-sufficient drifter. She'd become spoiled; dependent on the man who hurt her.
How he laughed when she came crawling back, hungry and cold. Right then she decided to kill him.
At times Cindy didn't think she'd be able to last, but she had Allen to sustain her. Allen was another worker at the store where Harley worked. Sometimes he visited. Harley's only friend would laugh and flirt until she almost forgot her misery.
If only she'd met Allen first! She was young, and a survivor. She'd lick her wounds and outlive her torturer.
Plans for Harley's death constantly occupied her mind. Harley rode the bus, and had to walk the last few blocks home.
The last intersection Harley crossed was a busy one. Harley often impatiently crossed against the light. On this point Cindy planned her strategy.
Day after day she forced her aching, beaten body from the house. Screening herself behind people, she waited, hoping this would be the day. At the end of each evening she headed home, but the next again found her at her post. Cindy had learned patience.
Finally that patience was rewarded. The crosswalk light changed to 'Don't Walk' just as Harley stepped off of curb. Others retreated, but he hurried forward.
Cindy took in a deep gulp of air, then followed. Harley turned and spotted her, but it was too late. Cindy shoved him into moving traffic with every ounce of strength she had. Hatred flashed across Harley's face before a transit bus hit him.
Cindy almost cheered aloud. That huge bus had been a stroke of luck, a sign of vindication. She allowed herself one final victory glance before sneaking away.
She didn't return to Harley's place. That would have tempted fate. Her only regret was Allen. He wouldn't know where to find her, but food and shelter were her priority.
Cindy remembered the irony of eluding police at the scene of the "accident" only to find herself behind bars later for vagrancy and begging! She had no identification--it was at Harley's apartment. What a predicament!
Better to shiver in her windowless prison and keep silent.
A vagrancy penalty beat a murder rap hands down.
Cindy had been locked up for days when Allen appeared--Allen, who had found Cindy's I.D. at Harley's, and who figured out where to find her. She looked up, her eyes wide and moist, and Allen smiled.
The man in uniform unlocked her cage. "Now you take good care of her. She's been through a lot."
"That's over now." Allen drove Cindy home--to his home--their home.
Cindy pricked up her ears at Allen's car in the driveway. She hurried eagerly to the door until she heard another voice. Cindy turned and sat back on the couch.
"Cindy, I'm back!" Allen called. "Don't play coy now, come see your favorite guy!"
"Coy, hell!" swore the woman behind him. "She's jealous. Take it from one female to another."
Allen laughed, and tousled the silky hair of Cindy's head. "She hasn't a mean bone in her body."
The woman regarded Cindy with distaste. "Your precious girl can't stand me. The feeling's mutual."
"But this is Cindy's home."
"I'll be back when you decide between us!"
"Sweetheart, wait!" The slamming door heralded Allen's return to the couch.
Cindy remained quiet. Let Allen see who was the one worth loving.
"She'll come around, Cindy." Allen drew her close. "She just doesn't know you like I do."
Cindy watched through the window as she descended the stairs. She noted the unsteadiness of the woman's high heels on rough concrete, and filed it for future reference.
You never know when such information will come in handy.
She snuggled closer to Allen to cheer him up. Her new I.D. jingled against her throat. After a moment he played with her ears, her front paws in his lap.
Cindy wagged her tail contentedly. Distractions notwithstanding, it was soooooo good to have a man around the house.
A COUNTRY KILLIN'
(A Barn Animals Story - No dogs)
The ancient barn was a murderer's paradise, deputy sheriff Duke Harland thought. Between the axes, knives, pitchforks, scythes, and various other farm tools, no wonder Old Man Keller was dead.
"Can't someone calm these horses down?" The new head of the sheriff's department approached Duke. "They're ready to kick the walls down."
Duke rolled his eyes. Bad enough someone had murdered Old Man Keller at his annual family picnic. Even worse that Old Man Keller had thirty relatives, all of whom hated the family patriarch with his stingy, money grubbing ways. But the worst part was having Travis Robinson, city‑slicker, for a new boss. He was downright cantankerous when it came to dealing with farm-dwelling locals--and Duke was a farmer's son.
"The horses don't like the smell of blood," Duke said. "We've got to leave 'em in their stalls, or else they'll trample all the evidence."
Robinson looked at the old man laying on the barn floor. "There's not much evidence except the body. Looks like Keller was hit in the head with that funny‑looking hammer."
Duke sighed. It looked like he was going to have to do all the work on this himself, as usual. By rights he was supposed to have become head sheriff. Robinson must have greased some palms, because he sure couldn't have been promoted on smarts.
Duke pointed to the bloody hammer on the floor. "It's a farrier hammer," he told his boss.
"A what?" Robinson jumped as a yearling colt gently nuzzled his sleeve.
"A blacksmith tool. It's used to hammer nails into horseshoes."
"Oh." Robinson crouched and studied the blood‑stained tool, taking care not to touch it. "We'll have to dust it for fingerprints. I hope we've got some. The lab boys will be here in a few hours."
A few hours? Duke had no intentions of missing his wife's lunch while waiting for Robinson and his new‑fangled methods. She was cooking her specialty for him‑-southern fried chicken. He'd better solve this case himself.
"Let's go check out the other Kellers," Duke suggested. "Maybe we can get one of them to confess."
"There's exactly thirty of them out there!" Robinson said scornfully.
"We'll narrow them down." Duke reached down, and picked up a pail of bran. He poured big handful into his jacket pocket.
"Are you stupid or what?"
Duke blinked at the insult. "No, sir." He poured more bran into his other jacket pocket.
"Will you stop worrying about the animals and come on outside? I can't stand this horse smell much longer."
They went outside to the picnic tables. Duke saw the Keller children begging to eat. The adult members had no appetite, and stood around in hushed silence.
"I don't see any tears." Robinson didn't bother to lower his voice. "Any one of them could be the murderer."
"And why not?" one Keller spat out. "The Old Man had all the money, and all the land. He put us through hell for our miserly portions. I'm glad he's dead!"
Most of the other Kellers responded with nods. Robinson glared first at them, and then at Duke.
"I know this is probably a waste of time with you. But get to work. You have until the lab boys show up, sonny." Robinson's expression plainly showed what he thought Duke's chances were of success.
Sonny? No one called him "sonny" but his granny! At that, Duke had half a mind to let his new boss solve the case himself, but his wife promised to make him his favorite lunch, fried chicken and a fresh‑baked apple cobbler for dessert. He studied the Keller relatives, all thirty of them. The Kellers stared right back. One baby Keller wailed for his dinner. The mother reached for the baby bag to feed him.
"Hold it right there," Duke ordered her. "All you ladies leave your purses and things here on the picnic table. Then take the children out behind the house and stay there till I call you."
"You need a search warrant to check their purses," Robinson insisted, but Duke shook his head.
"I'm not going to search anything."
Robinson was puzzled as they all left. Within minutes only the adult men remained. Duke took a seat at the picnic table, trying to ignore his growling stomach and the Keller picnic fixings. If he skipped his wife's lunch, she might get it into her head to stop fixing them!
"You're going to start with the nine males first? Why?" Robinson asked.
"Why not? All right, you Kellers. Line up inside the house. I want ya'll to come see me, one at a time, every five minutes. Got it?"
The Kellers nodded, and started walking. They were all inside when the mayor drove up, slamming on his brakes and hurrying over. He had another deputy with him, and he didn't look happy.
"What's going on here? Old Man Keller's been murdered and you haven't found the murderer yet?"
"No, Mr. Mayor," Robinson replied nervously. "I'm waiting for the lab boys. In a few hours I'll have this murder weapon checked for prints, and maybe by next week or so..."
"Next week? Sheriff Robinson, my wife's a Keller!"
Robinson shot Duke an accusing glance, but Duke shrugged. Everyone knew Mrs. Mayor was a Keller. He couldn't tell Robinson everything.
The Mayor spoke to Duke. "Please, Duke, can you find me that pond scum today? If not, there'll be no peace for me at home."
"I'll give it a try, sir."
"I'd be most grateful."
Duke reached for an empty bowl and filled it with baby cereal, then set it next to the baby bag on the picnic table. "Here comes our first suspect."
An adult Keller came out of the house and joined them.
"Your name and occupation?" Duke asked.
"Bob Keller. I'm a plumber."
"Where were you a half hour ago?"
"In the kitchen, helping the wife with the food."
"I see. You can join the women now. On your way, would you give this to the baby?" Duke handed Bob Keller the bowl.
"Sure." The man walked away, and joined the women and children.
"What kind of interview was that? Mr. Mayor, are we going to sit here and listen to this fool?" Robinson angrily asked.
"At least he's doing something," the mayor said. "Keep on doin' what you're doin', Duke."
Duke did. Seven more Keller men came and went. Each time Duke gave them another bowl filled with cereal, and each one went and rejoined the women.
"That baby's going to get fat with all that food," Robinson complained, but the mayor gave Robinson a look that shut him up.
The very last Keller came outside.
"Your name and occupation?"
"Ted Keller. I worked as a hand on a ranch outside of town, and I didn't kill the Old Man. I was with my brother setting up the picnic tables."
Duke nodded, then handed him the bowl. "Okay, Mr. Keller. Would you take this to the baby, please?"
Ted Keller nodded, and headed straight for the barn.
"There's your man, Mr. Mayor. He killed Old Man Keller," Duke announced.
Robinson stood there with his mouth open, but the Mayor quickly found his voice.
"Well, don't just stand there, Robinson. Go do your duty and arrest him!"
Minutes later a tearful Ted Keller was in handcuffs, the rest of the men, women and children watching. "He never gave us our share! I wanted my money. Was I asking for so much?"
Robinson looked from Ted Keller to Duke in amazement.
"How'd you know?" the Mayor asked as Keller was led to the sheriff's car by the patrolman.
Duke smiled. "Why, Mr. Mayor, it was nothing. All those killin' tools in there, and our murderer picked a farrier hammer to kill Old Man Keller. The Keller women aren't likely to kill someone with that small hammer. They'd use a knife or a scythe. Our murderer passed those by. I guessed he spent a lot of time around horses."
"But how did you know Ted was the one?" Robinson demanded. "How could you tell?"
Duke pulled out a box of baby food from the baby bag and poured some of the dry mixture into yet another bowl. "See this?"
"So? It's baby cereal."
"And this?" Duke removed a fistful of bran from his pocket and added it to the bowl, just like he'd done for all the other bowls.
"It's bran!" The mayor had caught on, and a big smile split his face.
"Sure is," Duke answered. "Bran and baby cereal look alike, but they don't smell alike. A horse man can smell horse bran right away. I filled everyone's bowl with bran, not baby food."
Robinson's jaw dropped as he too finally caught on. "You asked each man to take the bowl to the baby! The--baby horse?"
Duke nodded. "Yep. The one who took the bowl to the baby horse--that's foal in these parts--and not the Keller baby was our man. Sorry, Mrs. Keller," Duke said, addressing the baby's mother. "That's why I wouldn’t let you take the baby bag."
“I wondered why my idiot relatives kept giving me bowls of food.”
“It wasn’t them, it was me. My apologies, ma’am. You can tell the others they’re free to go.”
Mrs. Keller snatched up her baby bag in a huff and headed toward the house as the mayor faced Duke.
"You know, Duke,” the mayor said, “Maybe I was a little hasty passing you up for promotion. You'd make a fine sheriff."
Robinson's face looked awfully white, Duke noticed.
"In fact, I think we need to do a little rearranging. Perhaps you can follow me down to the office?"
"I'd like that, Mr. Mayor, but it'll have to be after lunch. My wife has fried chicken and apple cobbler waitin’ on me."
"Really?" The Mayor licked his lips. "I sure do love a good hot meal," he hinted.
"Sorry, sir, but my wife don't like surprises, and I sure don't aim to cross her. Maybe you can ask for an invite at Sunday church."
Duke didn't wait for any reply as he climbed in his squad car. Solving murders was one thing, but giving his meal to the mayor? Duke drove off. The new sheriff in town had to draw the line somewhere!