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Three Months, A Short Story
It was the same dream, a nightmare really and he’d been having it for about three months.
Bill Starr, three years retired from the Dismal, SC Sheriff's department didn't have it every night. That might have eventually lead to a numbing, an ability to compensate. He didn't have the dream consistantly, but lately it was coming with increasing regularity. Last week it was two nights, this week three and it was only Friday.
He rolled over, but didn't wake. He never woke up until the end.
Mary Joe Kimbrall was seventeen, one of those kids born to shine. Bright, energetic, with a ready smile that was as infectious as it was uncompromising. Mary Joe hugged her BFF of the month and walked to her Honda in the muted light of the shopping center lot. Her parents expected her home twenty minutes after her shift at the Chick-fil-a but tonight...
She started the car, turned the radio up, and then slipped into drive.
The man in the backseat was wearing a mask. Mary Joe had told Bill that early the following morning at the hospital emergency room when the doctor finished gathering worthless evidence with the rape kit.
In Bill's dream, however, the man wore no mask. He rose slowly, unnaturally, inch by inch. Bill could see his greasy hair in Mary Joe's mirror and as he watched more was revealed. First was the hair, then the wrinkled forehead, the eyebrows and then finally cold blue reptilian eyes.
Mary Joe looked in her mirror, adjusted it without seeing the man, and Bill tried to scream a warning. But Bill couldn't find his voice, his heart beat filled his ears, his throat, and as hard as he tried, he couldn't yell a warning. When Mary Joe moved her hand from the mirror Henry Rollins’ whole sinister face was there. He grinned...
Bill bolted up in his bed, covered with sweat, eyes wide and wild and he knew there would be no more sleep this morning. He pulled on a pair of jeans, a t-shirt and his favorite Justin boots then grabbed his light jacket.
Bill walked out to his car in the late March spring-like weather through leaves that had not been raked all winter and by Christmas decorations that had been unplugged but not taken down.
At last he had decided on a path forward.
Maxwell's House wasn't open when Bill pulled in front of the little cafe on Dismal's Main Street but when he knocked on the door Marge let him in and he locked the door behind him.
"You ok, Bill?" Marge asked.
He nodded, lay an old manila file on the counter, and took a seat on a red stool while Marge waddled around behind it. She stirred a carefully measured portion of grits into a mammoth sized pot of boiling water, then turned back with an expression that told Bill she wasn't buying it.
"Slim will be in to man the griddle in about thirty minutes," she said. "But I got the coffee ready."
She placed a steaming hot cup in front of him and shook her head to herself as Bill ignored her and began going through page after page in Mary Joe's file. He flipped through ten year old incident, supplemental, and investigative reports knowing there was nothing new to be found. He scanned the report from the SLED lab in Columbia showing the results of the evidence.
The suspect, Henry Rollins, was a non-secretor. Bill had served a search warrant on the man at two one morning, drove him to the nearest hospital where an ER doctor had grudgingly pulled pubic hair, drawn blood, and swabbed Henry's mouth. Bill had cajoled a chemist to put the case in front of others in line, but when the results came back there was no physical evidence. Even though the MO fit Rollins' earlier rapes and he was caught in a young girls's car at another fast food place a few weeks later, the solicitor refused to take the case to the grand jury.
Bill stayed close to Mary Joe's family after the incident in 2006. In fact, many in the department felt he was too close. Jeff and Sarah Kimbrell only had the one child and when she plunged into hostility, depression, and finally drugs Jeff went after a loaf of bread one night and never returned. They divorced the following spring and Jeff moved out of state leaving Sarah to struggle with Mary Joe.
Four years later, twenty-one year old Mary Joe died in a flop house in Charleston of a heroin overdose and Sarah later died of pancreatic cancer.
"You've lost some weight since you quit getting the free doughnuts, haven't you?" Marge asked. She began to refill his cup and splashed a little onto the counter.
"I've been cutting back," Bill said and closed the file, sliding it out of the way.
"Un huh," Marge said.
Bill and many of the other deputies ate at Maxwell's most days and every single one of them knew Marge's bullshit meter was a finely tuned machine.
"I'm cooking you some eggs and bacon," Marge said. "You can eat it or wear it, up to you."
Bill smiled for the first time in a while and raised both his hands in the air.
Charlotte, North Carolina was an hour north on Highway 521 and Magnolia Place Apartments was on the east side. Bill drove through the complex until he located the unit he wanted. He slipped on a pair of black leather gloves and got out of the car. Dingy off white sheets hung in the front window, the door was cracked from weather and multiple burglaries. Bill knocked and stepped to his left out of the doorway. He heard a television inside playing loud and wondered if his knock had even been heard. He was about to knock again when the sound went down and the door popped opened.
The image of the man Bill remembered and the Henry Rollins who appeared in the crack of the door were entirely different people. The guy Bill had questioned a decade before was heavy, not fat but headed toward chunky, with a full head of greasy dark brown hair.
This man was slim, almost bone thin and what was left of his hair had gone white. Dark circles bagged his eyes and deep creases cut across his forehead as he stared at Bill trying to figure out who he was.
Rollins's expression went from irritation, to alarm, then to fear in the few seconds it took him to recognize Bill. He tried to slam the door but this wasn't Bill's first rodeo. He shoved the door hard sending Rollins stumbling back into the den.
Bill's brain had not received the retirement memo and the Glock on his right hip was out, up, and locked onto center mass before Rollins could finish falling face first onto the worn carpeting. Rollins rolled over and stared up at him.
"Get up," Bill said as he pushed the door behind him closed with his boot.
Once Rollins was up, Bill frisked him and then pushed him roughly into a recliner. He holstered the Glock and took a Charter Arms revolver out of his jacket pocket. Bill opened the cylinder and slid home one .44 special hollow point. He spun the cylinder, slammed it shut, and stepped to the sitting man.
Bill dropped to one knee and shoved the gun under Rollins' chin. The two men locked eyes and Bill thumb cocked the .44 wheel gun.
"Please," Rollins whispered and shut his eyes tight. Instantly the madness in his own eyes were reflected in the lens of Rollins' glasses and Bill realized that the please that had issued from the man was meant as a "please do" not a "please don't".
Bill slowly lowered the hammer, stood, and stepped back. He hovered over Rollins in the chair.
"Figured you'd weasel," Rollins looked up. "I'm surprised you had the nerve to even try."
"What's happened to you, Rollins? You look like you've aged decades in the last couple of years."
"Probably same thing that's happened to you, deputy dog. You look a little rough yourself."
"Mary Joe Kimbrell," Bob said and it wasn't a question. "You've been dreaming about her."
"Always," Rollins said and the lustful look on Rollins' face made Bill reconsider letting him off. Then Rollins' expression darkened. "Things changed after I got out of jail the last time."
"I'm not a big fan of jail house religion, Rollins, so don't even bother..."
Rollins ignored Bill and Bill became convinced Rollins was talking only to himself, as if the talking could in some way make things better.
"I first got out I was at a halfway house over on Morehead Street," Rollins said. "then this place opened up... I guess three months ago." Rollins rubbed his hand over his unshaved chin. He stared at the tv without looking at it and then spoke again, quieter.
"Mary Joe showed up that first night I was here and she has not missed a night since."
Rollins shuddered when he said her name and Bill realized that for all the lies this man had told in his life, today the things he was about to say were as true as anything he was capable of telling.
"When she came to me that night, it was horrible." Rollins said. "Her voice, her face, her body, it all had changed. She was a demon. Blood and bones, death and disease! Every time I thought it was over, and I might sleep she returned. At first it was just at night, now she comes in the day time. She wants me. She wants me with her. I can't sleep more than a couple of hours a day..."
Rollins talked and talked and talked. The more he spoke the more Bill thought he had forgotten he was there. Rollins' head bobbed as he almost fell asleep. Bill stepped back, watched, listened but didn't interrupt.
"My mamma was a good woman," Rollins' words were barely audible as he slumped in the recliner and a single tear ran down his cheek. "I'd kill myself but she always said suicide was a mortal sin..."
Rollins mumbled something else but he was gone, he had finally given up and was sound asleep- probably for the first time in a while.
Bill watched him, watched his head loll to one side, watched his eyes rolls behind closed lids.
He pulled the suicide note he had typed on his computer and printed at home from his jacket pocket and put it on top of the TV. He unloaded the revolver that could not be traced back to him and put it and the single round on top of the note.
Bill locked the door on his way out. He took off his gloves as he pulled out of the complex.
Bill had no trouble sleeping that night or the two after that. This fine Monday morning he woke from a dreamless sleep and felt surprisingly energized. He put on a pot of coffee and drank about half of it. He raked leaves in his yard then took down and stored his Christmas decorations. After a quick shower, he headed over to Maxwell's House for a late breakfast.
He'd just finished eating when he noticed an unmarked police car with NC plates on it pull into a spot on the curb outside his window. A woman wearing khaki colored pants got out and slid into a navy blue jacket that covered her gun, cuffs, and badge. Then she reached back in and picked up a file folder. She was probably twenty years younger than Bill and carried herself with a certain sureness.
She opened the front door to the restaurant, scanned the four or five customers, and headed straight for Bill's booth.
"Just Bill, these days." Bill slid out of his seat and extended his hand.
"Detective Gayle," she said as took Bill's hand. "Charlotte/Mecklenberg PD. Your county dispatch said if you weren't home you might be here."
She slid into the booth opposite Bill's spot, and put the file folder on the table between them. She spun the folder around so that he could see Henry Rollins was printed on the file in neat small print.
"Henry Rollins?" Bill said.
"Self inflicted gunshot wound, left temple," she said. "Maintenance worker found him yesterday."
"He was an evil man." Bill said.
"Here's a copy of the suicide note," she opened the file and slid a page over. While Bill pretended to read the words, Marge brought a cup over for the Charlotte detective and then refilled his cup.
Bill looked up to see Detective Gayle staring at him. He recognized the look and alarm bells went off in his head. She took the paper back, put it in the file and handed him another. It was folded.
"This was hand written on the back," she said.
Unfolded, the scrawl read: Tell Sarah Kimbrell I'm sorry and thanks to Deputy Bill Starr.
"Why would he thank you?"
"I have no idea."
"Rollins was right handed," the detective stared. "Wasn't he?"
Bill knew where this was headed. A right handed person would not have likely shot themselves on the left side of the head.
"I think I hear Miranda calling my name, Detective Gayle." Bill slid the paper back across the table. “I’m being framed by a dead man.”
"Ease up there Deputy," she said. "We're just having a friendly little chat here."
"No, I think we're done." Bill looked at her and she smiled a challenge.
"One more question,” she said.
Bill rolled his eyes, eased out of the booth.
Knowing better, Bill sat back down and faced her.
"I want to interview Sarah Kimbrell before I drive back to Charlotte. Can you help me find her?"
"No." Bill said and got back out of the booth. "I'll walk you out."
The detective put the folded paper back into the file, shook her head, and slid out of the booth. She waited while he got some money out of his jeans and left it on the table. They walked out to her car and she got in and rolled down the window.
"Thanks for your time, sorry we got off on the wrong foot." She looked up at him after she started the car.
"You got a job to do," Bill said. "I understand that."
"I still have to find Sarah Kimbrell," she said.
"Starr," Bill said. "Sarah Starr."
"You're married to the victim's mother?"
"Was," he said."Sarah died three months ago."