This is our fourth Sunday Blog Read, a glimpse into the working minds and hearts of Utah’s literary writers. Former Utah Poet Laureate Kate Coles was our inaugural offering in March, followed by poet Michael McLane, short story writer Darrell Spencer and, this month, fiction writer Larry Menlove. It’s a chance to read excerpts from works hot off the press, or in the case of this month, a work-in-progress.
So curl up with your favorite cup of joe and…enjoy!
Larry Menlove is a graduate of the University of Utah. His fiction has appeared in many venues including Weber Studies, Dialogue, Irreantum and Sunstone. His short story, “Petey Immigrates North, Then Moves West,” from which this novel in-progress sprung, won the short story category in the 2012 Utah Arts & Museums Original Writing Competition. A collection of his stories received honorable mention in the 2011 competition. He lives with his wife, children and an old cat in Spring Lake.
Nightshift Sheriff Works an Afternoon
a novel excerpt
One Thursday during an odd afternoon shift in April after a hard rainstorm, Frank was finishing up writing a ticket for some yahoo from down Juab County coming up to Salt Lake City the back way thinking he could just ignore the posted speed limit signs through Frank’s County.
He walked up real slow to the driver’s door, stood there looking over the piece of paper in his hand, then: “Here you go.” Frank handed the ticket through the man’s open window. He could hear Pink Floyd playing in there on the guy’s cassette deck, not real loud, but it was the song about putting homosexuals and people with spots against the wall. Made Frank grin as the man took the ticket and grumbled something about jackbooted thugs.
“Have a nice day.”
Frank got back in the Blazer and watched the man drive away.
He got on the CB and reported in. A gray Econoline van with tinted windows and California plates came up from behind and passed him. It was going the speed limit and moving on a straight course, but Frank’s interest jumped a little at the sight of it.
He turned off his overhead flashers and pulled out onto the road. He followed the van into Rush at a noncommittal distance, not close enough to make out a license plate number, but enough to see that it turned in at Jilleen’s place.
Frank hadn’t pestered Jilleen or asked for any explanation of the odd associations she had fostered in the couple of years since his big brother, Driggs, had brought her here to Rush and married her mom. She was hanging out all the time with Driggs, her stepfather, and the peculiar little Bart guy who lived out on the north end of town. Frank probably had a right to know a few things. Damn straight he had a right to know, what with the considerable time he and his step-niece, Jilleen, spent below each other’s beltlines.
His brother, Driggs, wasn’t one to stay on the law-abiding side of the road. Just how far off into the weeds and shady places of that other side his brother wandered he didn’t know for sure. He did know it was a conflict of interest: his oath as Sheriff to uphold the laws and established rights of the citizens in this County and his brother’s “unique” business interests.
As for that other, Bart. He’d looked him up. Nothing too serious. Some traffic violations. A retail larceny when he was just a squeak into adulthood. Frank had never pulled him over in the County. What made him uneasy was how cocksure handsome he was. He asked Jilleen once whether she had any interest in Bart, and she smacked him in the bare shoulder and laughed and said, she had no more interest in a box of rocks, because that’s about how smart he was. She allowed that he was easy on the eyes, but she needed some brains. She then had proceeded to screw Frank’s brains out.
Driggs had set Jilleen up in a house near the center of town in one of old fat Tyler’s rentals. The long driveway swung around to the backyard and was hidden quite well, so he could park in there at night and go right in the backdoor into her kitchen, and no one was the wiser, far as he could reckon. And he pulled his Sheriff’s Blazer in there quite regular at night, on-duty or not.
There were times when Jilleen disappeared. Gone for a couple weeks. The first time she took off like that it bothered him, and he demanded to know where she went. It was a quick and brutal discussion that left Frank understanding that he had no claim on her, that she was, really, nothing more than his step-niece and a beddin’ buddy. He was OK with that, so long as they were on the same page: two consenting adults who couldn’t keep their hands off each other.
And then there were the occasional family members from California that came to live with her. They stayed quiet in her basement for the most part. Frank knew there was Latin blood in her mom’s side of the family. Driggs’ wife was Mexican, and there was no ambiguity about that. Jilleen didn’t look it so much. She was thin and blond, blue eyes. But if you took a good look at her and her mom, Aldofina, especially around the nose and mouth, there was no doubt. They were kin.
Frank drove on by Jilleen’s turnout and circled back up and around on Nob Street and pulled into the Mormon ward house parking lot. He rolled up into the shadows of the Chinese elm trees on the west end of the lot and turned off the engine, got out his binoculars and focused in. From here he could see the south end of Jilleen’s house and part of the backyard. The van’s front end was visible, the sunshine blazing off the chromed grill. It was the place he would park his Blazer at night and watch her place, before he would drive on down and up her lane. He sat on and watched. Soon a man fell into the grass and weeds alongside the van and lay there on his side, his long, greasy dark hair falling over like a sleeve across his shoulder. Hands reached down and grabbed onto the man’s arms and lifted him. There was no struggle, though the man did not seem to offer any help in getting himself up off the ground. Then Driggs was doddering past the space where the man had lain and across the lawn in front of the van, comically bent over, toe boots pointed up, his hands out in front of him like he was trying to catch a loose chicken. He stood up holding what looked like a grapefruit and walked back out of sight behind the house.
Frank suspected maybe these shadowy folks that spent time in Jilleen’s basement might have been illegals, migrant workers without the proper documentation, but he turned a blind eye to that. He’d never had any quarrel with the Mexicans traveling back and forth over the border, coming up here to bend and toil in the fields and trimming trees, picking fruit. It was doing the rest of America a favor. Lazy sons-of-bitches all getting fat with fast food and remote-controlled color TV. He wasn’t going to begrudge those folks coming and going. Being a duly-appointed sheriff, he supposed strictly speaking that he should uphold all the laws, but Frank, like any good man with a badge, wasn’t there to impose his will. He could let certain less-worthwhile violations fade off into the dry air and whisper over the cheat grass and die out past the scrub oak.
He drove the Blazer out of the church lot. He was craving coffee.
He parked out front of the only café in town: Cobb’s Stop. He turned his wheel into the curb. It wasn’t much of an incline, but Frank had his good habits. This was the only curb in town. The willow branches were swaying in the afternoon, fanning shade there on the side of the street near the curb outside of the sheriff’s Blazer. The sun felt good on his back. He needed that. It felt like a friend. He needed that, too. Whatever was going on at Jilleen’s he didn’t want to think about it.
The Mayor’s secretary was marching down the walk toward him in a tight yellow skirt. She had a purpose, so he just nodded and kind of saluted against the brim of his cap.
She said, “Sheriff.”
He said, “Madam Rutledge.”
He stepped up on the café stoop and pivoted, watched Mrs. Rutledge walk down the sidewalk and mount the three stairs to the doors of City Hall. He admired the cut of her skirt and hosiery and her well-developed calves that drove her tidy, voluptuous mass on dangerous heels up the porch and to the door. She glanced his way with a smile, like he knew she would, as she pulled back the door and slipped into the office.
He took a bar-seat in the café, his usual spot: second from the far end next to the pastry display. Joint was empty. He sat on the round naugahyde swivel chair.
He could hear Rose Jean in the back talking with someone whose voice he didn’t recognize.
“Rose Jean. That you?” he said and then cleared his throat.
Place went quiet. She swung through the saloon doors from the kitchen and wafted out to the bar in front of him.
“Frank.” She slapped the bar with a rag, her mouth held open. “What you doin’ here?”
“Rose Jean.” He sloughed off his cap and placed it in the bar-seat next to him. “I think I have every right to ask what you are doing here.”
“Workin’ the long shift!” She leaned down against the bar, slung a coffee mug from under the counter and placed it in front of Frank, pushed it a few inches toward him and put her palm over it. “Laws me, what you doing? You want coffee this time of day?”
“I can’t see how the time of day matters, Rose Jean.”
“I shouldn’t be here’s all I know. That Jerrlyn calling in sick, I don’t oblige afternoons, but you, you in your uniform, you working too?”
“I am. Tom had to be at a funeral today.” He sighed. “And Rose Jean, I would love a cup of your coffee.” He gestured to the mug under her hand.
She huffed and pushed away from the bar, took up the carafe sitting along the back counter and poured, her free arm resting along the surface between her and him.
“How’s your brother been?” she said as the coffee roiled up in the mug in front of Frank. She stood and reached into the pastry display and placed a Danish on a napkin in front of him.
“Which one?” Frank sipped at his mug. Eyed Rose Jean’s oval face, saw she had a new hair color, a slight change in cut. Made a note to mention it before he left. Thought of his other brother, Jim, the middle-brother, moved off to California during the last decade at the tail end of the hippie movement. Frank hadn’t thought of him in years.
“Well, I reckon I was thinking of Dylan just now,” said Rose Jean. She leaned an elbow on the counter. “But I guess I wouldn’t mind a catch-up on all of ‘em.”
Frank smiled. He hadn’t heard anyone use the name Dylan in a very long time, probably not since their mother on her deathbed: “Help Dylan along, Frank. He’s your big brother, but he needs you.”
“Driggs?” Frank took up the Danish, frosting flaking in the afternoon, took a real big bite.
“Yeah, I suppose. I never liked that nickname. Driggs. Like something you’d find in the bottom of your coffeepot.”
Rose Jean stood on. Waited. Patience of a life-term short-order waitress before an endeared customer. Time of no worth other than in and of itself.
Frank sipped at the coffee and thought. I should run him in right now. Go find his sorry ass and put him behind bars. That would be the only way he knew to help him. “He’s doing as always. Got his own way I suppose.”
“He and that new wife of his gettin’ along?”
Frank thought of Jilleen’s mama. She was nothing like Jilleen. Fat. Quiet. Ugly. Thought of the old homemade donuts she always had on her kitchen counter. God-awful. “Yeah, I think so.”
Rose Jean rubbed at a persistent smudge on the counter with a rag. “Get you anything else, Frank?”
He thought, Yeah, a bus ticket out of here. He looked up at her and smiled. “Nah, this is good.” He took the last of the coffee in his mug and swallowed. “Like what you’ve done with your hair, Rose Jean.”
She tucked her chin to hide her pleased smile and muttered a thank you, rubbed at the smudge and moved on along the empty counter, clunked her pot into its spot in the coffeemaker, and said, “You see Dylan, you tell ‘im Rosie says, ‘Hi,’ won’t you?” She slipped back into the kitchen.
“I will,” he said to the flapping doors.
He dropped three dollar-bills on the counter and pushed himself off the stool and went out into the sunshine where he ran into Madam Rutledge on the sidewalk.
“Don’t put that thing in my sink.”
“Oh, come on, Jilleen,” Driggs looked around the kitchen, opened a cupboard.
“No.” She slammed the cupboard shut.
“He’ll get lost.”
“Then get a leash or something for it.”
“It, you say. He has a name, you know.”
“You named that damn thing?”
“Who names an armadillo?” mumbled the man who was sitting slouched, legs sprawled in a chair backed against the kitchen table. His hands were tied behind his back. His long hair fell down his face to the collar of his shirt, which was torn open. A tattoo of a bald eagle flew across his chest.
Driggs turned to the man, held up the little rolled-up armadillo. Driggs studied the creature in his hand, stroked his thumb across the little coarse hairs sticking out from the seams where it came together into a ball. He touched his nose to the skin of the thing, and in falsetto, “Ah you a cute little ‘dillo, aren’t you, Petey?”
He took the two steps across the linoleum, held out Petey to the man, pulled him back in against his chest and buried his boot in the man’s crotch.
Copyright by Larry Menlove, 2013
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