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Kansas Mourning

page three
by John Edward Gill


"I'm Sheriff Eris," the man said.

He had a deep voice and when he came closer, feeling Morris's chest and the sides of his trousers, he had liquor on his breath.

"Doesn't Miranda mean anything?" Morris asked.

"That's not your name."

Morris tried not to get angry, but it had been a tense week: calls from Larry Themis at a collection agency in Manhattan that there was a lead on Kimi; meeting in Chicago with Tom Consus, one of Themis' men, about phone bills showing his ex-in-laws had called Upton fourteen times since Evelyn vanished with Kimi; his taut vigils behind Parker's house; living out of suitcases on credit cards with cash advances and higher credit limits than he could afford; his worry about getting Kimi back in time for September classes and hospital visits.

Morris turned and saw two men. The one who'd spoken had a "Sheriff, McPherson County" badge on his chest and was thin, his face pinched and red, hands unsteady, with a blue uniform and mud on his boots. The man behind, framed in the doorway, was heavier and younger, with a wider face and skin reddened from sunburn, not liquor.

"I'm not dangerous," Morris said. "You can search my car."

"We already have." The Sheriff paused and sat on a stool before the counter. "Pictures of a child in your glove compartment. Couple of armbands, like you got on. Rolls of black crepe paper." The woman gave him hot coffee. "You can sit, Mister Jack Morris. Town's on edge 'bout Hutchinson."

"Just part of law and order in Middle America?" Morris didn't want to give him a hard time, but was nervous and angry.

"Don't be smart." He put out his hand and Morris had to shake it, weak from worrying about what they may have found. Custody papers? Airline ticket stubs? Addresses of Evelyn's relatives?

"Rebecca Parker's husband and I hunt together," the Sheriff said.

Morris needed time to think and calm down. Maps of Upton were under his front seat, with arrows and "x's", notes from different times he'd watched that house. "Do you think I shoot women?" Morris asked.

"Some folks might."

Morris looked at his thin, ruddy face with pink veins on his nose. How much did this man know, he thought? What had Rebecca Parker seen? "Do killers hang out in public?"

"They might ride slow through town."

"Why?"

"Lookin' for somethin' they want."

Did Parker know I was coming, Morris asked himself? All those telephone calls. His ex-in-laws had money. Could have private investigators on me. And Evelyn's family lives all over the country: Duluth and Minneapolis, Minnesota; Fargo, North Dakota; Baton Rouge, Louisiana; Cheyanne, Wyoming; San Francisco; cousins, uncles, aunts, friends. Kimi could be with any of them.

"I teach History and this is my summer recess," Morris said.

"That why you rented two cars?"

Morris ignored him, stalling, thinking. How can I find Kimi with the whole town scared? "After Chicago, the scenery changes. More open space. I'm a tourist."

"Ron Parker wants to swear out criminal trespass on you."

"Harrison Street belongs to everyone, Sheriff."

"His wife says you been writin' on pads as you drive by."

"Keeping track of mileage." Morris was relieved they hadn't noticed the bulge in his back pocket, a small notebook with sketches of doors and windows in the Parker's house.

"You're not goin' ta' find what you came for," Eris said.

Morris's eyes began to water. Was Upton another bust? He'd called motor vehicle departments in six states to see if Evelyn had bought a new car and had taken a second mortgage on his house, twenty thousand dollars, to find Kimi. Would he need that money to post bail?

Morris looked at Eris and saw how unsteady he was: eyes blood-shot, nose twitching under skin dry as parchment, an easy bluff.

But I don't want to bluff anyone, he told himself. Would rather just knock on Rebecca Parker's door and ask where his daughter was, and if she knew Kimi had trouble walking. What about her favorite toys? Teddy bears? Barbie Dolls? Friends to play with?

"You took Flight Two-Seventy-Four American Airlines to Chicago August seventeenth."

"My daughter's birthday."

"United to Wichita, Flight Thirty-Five. You have return reservations for two with open dates." Eris reached over the counter, put his hand on shelves underneath it, took out a half-filled bottle of Jack Daniels, poured some into his coffee. "She's not here, Mister Morris."

"That's what they said in Minnesota."

"Those women in Hutchinson fit descriptions of your wife."

"Ex-wife."

"From a distance you might have mistaken them for her."

"Don't even know where Hutchinson is, Sir."

"Marine Corps says you fired expert. Company commander in 'Nam."

"I wasn't married then."

"Silver Star, Purple Heart...Made rank pretty fast."

"I was young. My number came up in the last Draft."

"Clear eyes, steady hands. Belong to gun clubs in New York?"

"I don't like the N.R.A."

"Blankets, poncho, military boots in your car."

"You got search warrants?"

"Citations said you took out machine gun nests at seven hundred yards."

"I was lucky."

"With just an M-sixteen, too. Semi-automatic."

"I asked a question, Sheriff."

"Oh, I could get 'em. Local judge owns the Amoco station where we gas up."

"Any witnesses in Hutchinson?"

"Somebody's been layin' out behind Parker's house. Advance reconnaissance, if you ask me."

"I'm not."

"We understand there was a trial."

"Civil charges, Sheriff. Divorce, alimony, custody...."

"It was for cruelty. And you coach wrestling."

"Civil is different from criminal, Sheriff."

"But still...."

"She wanted more money. The Court didn't give it to her."

"You won custody later."

"And a divorce on grounds of abandonment." He paused, trying to be nice again. "Look, if you know so much. I started a day care center where I work."

"Makes a nice cover, Jack." He drank his coffee and bourbon. "Why did they charge you with vagrancy in Minnesota last month?"

"Because they were scared."

"Wouldn't it be better if you just got into your car, or your two cars, and left? We'll even return your Geo to Hertz."

"I like Upton. Might buy a summer home."

"You still think she's here?"

"Mothers get custody easily in Kansas, Sheriff, despite the Uniform Child Custody Jurisdiction Act."

Eris took another sip of his coffee. "That's a mouthful."

"The law or your bottle?"

"Washington, D.C.'s a long way from here."

"Tell Bob Dole that."

"Go to the F.B.I., then."

"Lindbergh doesn't cover parents."

"We have different problems, Mister Morris. Ron Parker thinks you came to kill your wife and if you don't find her, you'll kill his."

"He's wrong."

"A man travellin' alone, with binoculars, too. We haven't been through your motel in Marquette, but I could get those warrants in an hour. Tryin' to save you trouble."

"And I'm trying to say I'm innocent. Do they have fingerprints?"

"Yours will do."

"How come?"

"Ever hear of 'police harassment'?"

"From newspapers and law books, yes."

"How about firsthand?"

"I'm not deaf." Morris couldn't hold back any longer. "Your sources on me, Sheriff. Did they tell you my daughter has a rare disease?"

"Your family doesn't interest me."

"But Wrongful Death lawsuits would. How much Jack Daniels will you need then?"

"I'm looking for a killer."

"So am I. Only it's a virus."

"I don't like threats, Mister Morris." He took another sip of his coffee and poured in more bourbon.

"Then call this a warning."

"Or a bluff."

"You have coroners here? County forensic pathologists?"

"Don't need them. Cause of death is up to me."

"You sign death certificates?"

"All the time."

"That's breaking the law in fifty states."

"Kansas has its own laws."

"You'd testify to that under oath?"

"Judges here believe me."

"Wrongful Death is federal, Sheriff."

Eris gulped more coffee.

"Ever hear of O. J. Simpson?" Morris asked.

"He had it commin'."

"Now who gets firsthand experience? Obstruction of justice, accessory to the fact, forging documents, unlawful use of your power... Ask your coroner friend."

Eris rubbed his eyes. With shaky hands, he drank more bourbon from the bottle. "I got work to do," he said.

"So do I."

Sheriff Eris stood up and swayed beside the counter. A John Wayne mimic, Morris thought, only with too much firewater. The Deputy put his hands on his hips, the loyal sidekick. Morris wondered if they had silver bullets. Spurs and lariats, too. Both lawmen put on their hats, big, gray stetsons turned up at the brims like Marlboro men.

Eris took out a silver dollar and put it on the counter. "I'll treat for coffee and tea." Then he and his deputy walked out.

"You're welcome," Morris called to him, then turned to the waitress. "Where can I get a drink?" Morris asked the waitress.



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Copyright © 2003 John Gill. All rights reserved.



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