Sheriff Derek Hurley grimaced as he stood over the dead body of Mayor Ellison. Derek had seen a lot while town Sheriff, but nothing like this. The mayor’s partially nude body lay in a pool of blood just inside the dilapidated, abandoned farmhouse. Blood still oozed from a hole in his neck.
“Derek!” Deputy Harris ran towards the Sheriff. “We found her. We found the killer.” Harris stopped short and tried to catch his breath.
Derek turned around. “Easy, John, slow down. How do you know you have the killer?”
Harris regained his breath. “Follow me; this is something you have to see.”
Derek stood his ground. “Slow down, boy.”
“It’s Betty, Sheriff. Mia’s and Ron’s daughter. She’s in the barn.”
Derek sipped down the last of his lukewarm coffee. He scanned the room, but there were no footprints except the shoe prints from the front door. John stood by the front door tapping his foot.
Derek finally spoke, “Okay, John. Let’s walk over to the barn.”
Outside the faded, gray barn doors Deputies Sean Conover and Ruth Beaty stood guard. John led the way inside, and Ruth followed the Sheriff. Derek stopped short, and Deputy Beaty bumped into him. Derek turned around, annoyed. “I think you can wait outside Deputy.”
Ruth held her ground. “I’m sorry, Boss. I’m the only woman here, and I believe you are going to need me.”
Derek looked around the barn. Betty sat against the far barn wall with a pitchfork in her hand, covered in blood. A snippet of flesh still clung to the sharp tip. Her torn dress hung down to her waist, and she covered her exposed breasts with her free hand. Betty’s right eye was black and swollen, almost completely shut. A panicked look still found a way to express itself beyond the wound. Her underwear hung on one ankle. A blue and black fist-sized bruise showed on her inner thigh.
John stood between the Sheriff and Betty with his gun drawn. “Sheriff, she’s crazy and armed! Drop that pitchfork, or I promise you I will shoot.”
Before Derek could respond, Ruth walked quickly passed him and inserted herself between Deputy Harris and Betty. Derek swallowed hard. Ruth was within easy striking distance of Betty’s pitchfork.
“Get out of my way Ruth! She’s dangerous!” John tried to move Deputy Beaty out of his way with his hand, but Ruth would not budge.
Deputy Beaty looked John coldly in the eye. “You need to leave.” She looked past the agitated Deputy. “Sheriff, I think you should both leave. I’ll be okay.”
John turned to protest, but Derek held up his hand. “Save it, John. I think Ruth has things under control for now.” John shoved his gun in his holster in disgust and stomped out.
The Sheriff looked Ruth in the eye. “Deputy Beaty, you better know what you’re doing.” He turned on his heel and walked out the barn door.
Ruth walked away from Betty to the door. She looked out at everyone. “Don’t try to come in until I tell you.” She slid the door shut, took off her gun belt, wrapped it through the door handles, and buckled it.
She turned around, took off her badge, laid it on a bale of hay, moved near Betty, and sat on the dusty floor. “I’m not going to hurt you. I’ve locked them out. My badge is off. We’re just two women sharing a secret. Please tell me, honey, what happened.”
Betty held the pitchfork tighter. Her legs pulled in tightly against her body, “He attacked me. I told him to stop. I pushed him away, and he punched me.” Betty looked up at Ruth with her tear-filled eyes.
Ruth did not move but simply nodded her head. “Okay, Betty. You’re doing good. Can you tell me what happened next?”
Betty dropped the pitchfork and wrapped her arms around her legs. “I fell on the ground. He grabbed my underwear, and I kicked him. He hit me in my leg. I kicked him harder. He punched me in the face, and got off me, I thought he was going to stop, but he told me I knew better than to say no.”
Ruth leaned forward. “Do you mean he’s done this to you before?”
Betty slowly nodded her head. “He and Deputy Harris caught me smoking a joint once out in the woods near the school. They said they would arrest me unless I did things. Nasty things.”
Ruth slid closer to Betty but stopped when Betty grabbed the pitchfork back up. “Betty, Deputy Harris was with the Mayor near the school?”
Beaty nodded. Ruth pushed ahead. “Do you know why they were there?”
Betty’s black eye had now swollen shut. Her good eye looked wildly at Ruth. “I don’t know why they were there. They were always around the high school. I guess they were looking for somebody.”
I think they found who they were looking for, thought Ruth. She asked, “How did Mayor Ellison find you today?”
“I don’t know. I always cut through by the old Thomas place when I come home from Lisa’s house. It’s usually safe. People think the house is haunted, so nobody comes around. I don’t know why the mayor was here. He told me to get in the barn because we needed to talk about what had happened near the school.” Betty started crying.
Ruth reached into her pocket, grabbed a handkerchief, and handed it to Betty. “You’re doing good. I know this is tough. How did you get the pitchfork?”
“I saw the pitchfork on the ground next to me. I grabbed it and told the mayor to stay away. He just laughed at me, dropped his pants, and tried to get back on top. I stabbed at him with the pitchfork. It poked his neck, and the mayor jerked back. Blood just started to squirt everywhere. He grabbed his neck and stumbled out the door.”
Ruth looked down at the ground and saw the unnoticed blood trail they had all trampled through. Bloody footprints went in several directions. She sighed and shook her head.
“Betty, I’m going to pull out my cell phone and call the FBI, okay?”
Betty sniffed, “Why would the FBI care about me?”
Ruth gently pulled her phone out of her pocket. “They have a special team of people who help children. Betty, you’re the victim, do you understand that?”
Betty shrugged. Ruth dialed the FBI office and explained their situation and hung up.
Ruth asked, “They will be here shortly, but I need you to trust me. Do you think you can trust me?”
Betty nodded her head.
“Good, I need you to throw that pitchfork over there away from both of us. That’s all I want you to do.”
Betty slid the pitchfork across the floor. “Can I get something to cover up?”
“Yes. Can I have the Sheriff bring it in? I need to tell him some of what you have told me.”
“He’s never hurt me,” whispered Betty.
Ruth walked over to the barn door, put her equipment back on, and hollered to Sheriff Hurley through the partially opened door. “Boss! I need a jacket for Betty, and I need you to come inside!”
“Let’s lock her up!” yelled John.
“No! Only the Sheriff can come in.”
“What’s going on. Beaty?”
Ruth could tell Derek was losing patience.
“I promise to explain everything when you come in.”
“You’d better, the ice under you is so thin a bird could break through it.”
Derek walked in, and Ruth shut the door behind him. He handed her the jacket, and she covered Betty’s bare chest. Betty curled up against the wall. Ruth told Derek about the Mayor and John. Derek nodded and frowned when she mentioned the FBI.
“So, the FBI is on the way?”
“Yes, Boss. I’m sorry I went over your head, but I don’t know who I can trust, and I didn’t want John to hear.”
Derek’s face relaxed. “You did the right thing Deputy. Betty, you stay with deputy Beaty. Consider yourself in protective custody, Ruth will keep you safe.”
“There is something else, Boss. John is the one who called this into us. I have a feeling, Betty and Mayor Ellison were not alone.”
The Sheriff leaned against a couple of moldy stacked hay bales. “I never thought something like this could happen in our happy small community.” Derek checked his watch. “The FBI will be here soon. I’m sure John is wondering what I know. Beaty, don’t say a word, not a peep. “
Derek turned, and Ruth helped Betty get up and fix her clothes. Deputy Beaty gave him the all-clear, and he opened the door.
“Are we takin’ her Sheriff?” John inquired. “She murdered the mayor.”
Derek looked back at Ruth. She discretely pulled Betty close.
Derek turned back to John. “Well, John. I do think we need to take somebody in for this.” In the distance, sirens could be heard quickly approaching down the country road.
Derek continued. “This is a serious crime, so I thought I ought to ask for some help. After all, Betty and her family are respected members of the community.”
Derek pulled out his pistol and leveled it at John’s head as the black cars with blue lights came into view. “John, I suggest you put your hands behind your head and don’t breathe. I would love to put you down like the dog you are.”
John fell to his knees and spit a wad of chewing tobacco at the ground by the Sheriff’s shoe. “I was just the driver.”
Derek removed John’s weapon as the FBI exited their vehicles and began to secure the scene.