A Country Crime

By Hy Conrad

“This is why I’m a city boy,” Sergeant Wilson said peevishly as he started picking hundreds of burrs off his pant legs. He and Sherman had just walked across an unplowed, bramble-choked field to arrive at the murder scene, the grassy bank of a river that separated two neighboring farms.

“I suppose we could have driven here,” Sherman said, ignoring his own burrs. “Like these other people.” He was looking at two vehicles, a pickup truck and a farm tractor, both parked on the grass just yards from the body.

“There’s enough contamination of the crime scene without us adding to it,” Wilson said. “Besides, you needed the exercise.”

The victim, a middle-aged man in overalls, might have been napping under the shade of the weeping willow, except for the telltale pool of red that had seeped into the riverbank. A bloody tire iron lay a few feet from his mangled head.

“That’s Earl, my brother,” said a similar-looking man in overalls. The man introduced himself as Billy Bob Lowry. Billy Bob and the deceased had run the farm and shared the rambling farmhouse with their younger sister, Glenda. Billy Bob and Glenda both stood on the grassy bank along with Amos Kinkaid, their neighbor from the farm across the river.

“When did you last see your brother alive?” asked the sergeant.

“I was in the barn on the far side of the house.” Billy Bob pointed past the unplowed acreage in front of them to the distant farmhouse. Sherman could see Sergeant Wilson’s car in the front drive and the top of a red barn behind it. “All morning I was working on the tractor,” added Billy Bob. “About nine a.m. I looked out and saw Earl getting into his pickup and driving off. There was someone in the passenger seat, but I couldn’t see who.”

“Man or woman?”

“Don’t know. I just saw the silhouette of a head above the seat.”

“As far as I know, we didn’t have any guests.” Glenda spoke softly and rubbed her hands up and down the neat, black surface of her skirt. “I was putting up preserves this morning when I ran out of jars. I needed to drive into town. I saw the pickup and walked over here to get it. That’s when I found Earl, dead like this.”

Wilson glanced inside the truck at the passenger seat. “I’ll have forensics vacuum it, although I don’t hold out much hope.” He turned to Amos, the neighbor. “How did you happen upon the scene?”

Amos pointed to his own pickup on the far side of the river. “I was driving along the river path when I heard Glenda calling for help. I stopped and walked across.”

Sherman noticed that the man’s trousers were wet from the hips down.

“That’s right,” said Billy Bob with a nod. “I drove up in the tractor at about the same time Amos got here. We used my cell phone to call the police. No one’s moved from this spot until you guys arrived.”

Wilson took his friend aside. “We’ll have to question them separately. Maybe we’ll come up with a motive.”

“I don’t know about motives,” Sherman whispered back. “But I know which suspect is lying.”

Whom does Sherman suspect?

What did the suspect lie about?

“I’m afraid I can’t take full credit for this one,” Sherman said with a modest smile.

“Course not,” Wilson snapped. “We’re partners—well, not in an official sense.”

“Exactly. And thanks for giving me the solution.”

“What solution?” Wilson demanded. “How did I give it to you?”

“You’re the one who pointed out the burrs on our trousers.”

“Well, yes, they’re pretty obvious. And annoying.”

“Anyone walking across that field would get his clothing covered with them, don’t you think?” He didn’t wait for an answer. “And yet Glenda’s black skirt looks perfectly neat and clean.”

Sergeant Wilson turned to eye the clothing in question. “You’re right. She couldn’t have walked across the field to get here.”

“And her clothing is dry, so she didn’t ford the river. I suspect Glenda was the passenger Billy Bob saw in the victim’s pickup.  That places her out here with him around the time he was killed.”

“I’m glad you picked up on my clue.” Wilson beamed.  “Sometimes it takes a city boy to solve a country crime.”