Jackson Tye opens his eyes and uses up a couple seconds of his life wondering what it is that’s making the horrible ringing sound. Whatever it is, it’s adding to his headache—an addition that’s about as pleasant and about as welcome as shit on a birthday cake. He hears it three more times before he realizes that it’s his phone. He reaches to the bedside table and lifts the receiver.
“Jackson, Sammy’s been put in jail!” The volume of the scream turns the throbbing in his head into an atomic-powered jackhammer, and the pain is instant and intense. For a second, Jackson has to fight his stomach back down to where it belongs.
“Good morning, Mom. Can you lower your voice a little? I have a killer headache.”
“Have you been drinking?”
“No, Ma, I haven’t been drinking. I don’t know what the deal is—just a headache. Now, what did you say?”
“Sammy’s been put in jail.”
“Who else do you know that goes by the name of Sammy?”
“Ma, Samantha Fowler? Is that who you’re talking about?”
“Yes!” She’s yelling again, and the pain in his head causes his eyes to cross—literally—and causes his ears to ring.
“Keep it down, Ma. Now, listen. I don’t know who told you that, but Sam’s not in jail, okay? You’ve been misinformed.”
“Her mother told me that. She called over here this morning. She tried calling you, but you wouldn’t answer the phone.”
“I’ve been asleep. What’s Sammy doing in jail?”
“She’s a suspect in a murder case.”
Jackson laughs. “Okay, Mom. Look, I’m sure this would be really funny any other time, but I’ve got this headache, see? It’s about to make me throw up. So, listen, I’ll call you later, okay?”
“Jackson, didn’t you hear me? Your best friend has been arrested for murder!”
“Halloween was yesterday, Mom. That’s when you’re supposed to do the trick or treat thing. Love you.” He replaces the phone, then turns off the ringer.
He tries to go back to sleep, but after a few seconds, he knows that the throbbing in his head won’t let him. He rolls out of bed and stumbles towards the bathroom for some ibuprofen. He opens the medicine cabinet and a sudden wave of pain thunders in his skull, dropping him to his knees. He grabs hold of the sink, and tries to hold onto consciousness. It doesn’t work.
Jackson wakes up to the sound of someone banging on his door. His head isn’t pounding anymore, which is a relief. He’s covered in cold sweat and drying blood, though, which isn’t such a relief. He stands slowly, using the edge of the sink as a brace, and looks into the mirror. What he sees staring back him isn’t as bad as it could have been, but it’s a far stretch from pleasant. His lip has a pretty big gash on it, and there’s a knot forming on his forehead. As he looks at the blood in the sink, he thinks about that joke about the fall isn’t so bad, but the sudden stop at the bottom is a real bitch. If you catch part of your face while you fall, it isn’t much better than the bottom. He spits into the sink, and thinks about cleaning up, but the banging on his door is really getting frantic.
He pulls on a pair of jeans and a t-shirt as he goes to answer it.
“What are you thinking?” his mother yells as he opens the door.
“Mostly about how cool it would be to see a monkey with a machine gun riding a unicorn through the grocery store.”
“I tell you your best friend is in jail for murder and you hang up on me! I come over and you make jokes! What kind of a child did I raise? What happened to your lip?”
“Answers, in no particular order: a bad child. I think I hit it on the bath tub. You’re kidding about Sam, right?”
“No, I’m not kidding. Why would I kid about something like that?”
“I don’t know—I figure I had to get my weird sense of humor from somewhere.”
“You get that from your Uncle Morty.”
“No, ma—the only thing I ever got from Uncle Morty was a major distrust of all guys named Morty.”
“Another joke? Oy, I can’t believe it! Your best friend is in jail!”
His head still feels strange. Like trying to think through a maze of those pipe cleaners he used for crafts back in Vacation Bible School. He doesn’t believe what his mother is telling him, not for an instant, but he doesn’t have the mental capacity at the moment to convince her that she’s wrong. Or that she has completely lost her mind.
“Hang on. I have to get dressed.”
“Wash your face, too. It looks awful. Your breath is even worse.”
“You’re not going to let me come in?”
“Hush,” he says gently, and eases the door shut. His head clears up considerably while he washes his face and brushes his teeth. By the time he has fully dressed himself, he feels pretty normal—except for he’s about to go to the Sheriff’s Office because his best friend has been arrested for murder.
“Ready?” he asks his mother as he opens the front door.
“Yes. What happened to your lip?”
“I think I bumped it this morning.” He opens the passenger door on his pick-up for her.
“Why are we taking your truck?”
“You don’t need to be driving right now—you’re like a step away from hysterical.”
“Well you don’t need to be driving if you’ve been drinking.”
“I haven’t been drinking, Mom.” He finally gets her lifted up into his truck, and he closes the door softly before walking around to his side.
“It’s bad for your liver, you know,” she tells him as soon as he has his door shut. “It’s bad for your entire body. What do you think happened to your father?”
“Mom, it was bad for his body because it made him do things like crash into trains.”
“Don’t drink and drive, Jacky.”
“I don’t. I haven’t had a drink in over three months, anyways, Ma.”
“How did you get that busted lip? And that bump on your head?”
“I had a huge headache this morning. I told you that. I stood up too fast and must’ve got dizzy. I blacked out for a second, and when I woke up, you were pounding on the door and I was on the bathroom floor.”
“You better go to the doctor, Jacky. That sounds serious. Your grandfather had spells like that.”
“No, Mom, he had spells where he was drunk and tried to sit down on the toilet. There’s a big difference between knocking yourself out on the toilet tank because you’re too drunk to negotiate the trip down and actually feinting.”
“Don’t get smart with me, Jacky. Headache or not, I’ll cuff you hard enough to rattle your eye balls.”
“You’re kind of cranky this morning.”
“Peggy called me before I even had my first cup of coffee this morning, saying that her daughter had been put in jail! Then my son hangs up on me when I try to tell him! What kind of a son hangs up on his own mother?”
“The kind you give birth to. I told you—I was-”
“That’s no excuse, Jacky.”
“Quit nagging at me—we’re here.” It’s a warm day for October, but not warm enough to warrant the layer of sweat that forms on his brow as they walk across the parking lot. “Don’t be getting crazy in here, okay? I’m sure-”
“What do you mean by that? Getting crazy? What kind of thing is that to say?”
“It’s a perfectly logical thing to say. You’re a bit hysterical right now, and I don’t want you freaking out on Billy.”
“I don’t thin-”
“Just let me do the talking, okay? You go talk to Peggy and find out what’s going on.”
The combination Courthouse/Sheriff’s office is the tallest building in the small Texas town of Twilight, and although it's over a decade old now, it still looks brand-new—mostly due to lack of use. Jackson walks down the hall, looking through the large glass windows into empty offices.
“Hey!” he calls out, “Is anyone here?”
Before his voice has stopped reverberating through the metal and cinderblock corridors, there is the sound of quick footsteps rushing towards him. He assumes they’re rushing towards him, anyway—with the strange acoustics caused by nothing but paint and concrete, it’s hard to tell where any noise is coming from.
The deputy bursts from around the corner like a car through an intersection, trying—and failing—to stop himself on the freshly-waxed floor. He slides a few feet, his arms cartwheeling around like he’s on a cartoon or The Three Stooges, and finally manages to stop. Jackson immediately notices that throughout these shenanigans, the man has had his service revolver drawn.
“Stop right there!”
“Nick, dammit! This isn’t a jail-break! Put that thing away.”
“You’re supposed to sign in at the front desk!”
“There wasn’t anyone there.”
Deputy Nick glares at Jackson for a few seconds, then glares at Jackson’s mother, and then stares at Jackson again. Finally, he jams the pistol back into the holster. “What’s going on here?”
“These two were trying to sneak in, Sheriff.”
“Hey, Sheriff,” Jackson says to the man walking around the adjacent corner. “How ya doin’?”
“Not so good today, Jackson. I guess you heard there was a murder?”
“Sort of. Look, we need to sign in, right?”
“Yeah, you better. Nick, get over to that desk. What have I told you about leaving it unattended?”
“Sorry, Sheriff. Won’t happen again.” He glares at Jackson as he walks back to the desk.
“Doris, how you doin’?”
“Fine, under the circumstances. Where’s Peggy?”
“She’s back there waiting for Samantha. So, what exactly are you two doing here?”
“Mostly just came to get in the way,” Jackson says—a lame joke, but it serves the purpose of relieving a bit of tension. “You think you could fill me in a little?”
“Not at liberty to say much.”
“I understand. Mom, why don’t you go check on Peggy?” He watches as she walks into the office that the Sheriff points at, and then looks down at the sign-in sheet. “What do I need to sign, Billy?”
“Just right here.” He points at a line, waits for Jackson to sign in, and then leads the way back to his office.
Jackson waits until the door is completely closed before he begins speaking. “Okay, Billy, what’s the score? You arrest Sammy?”
“What? No. We just brought her in for questioning. Listen, Jackson, can I shoot straight here? Nothing leaves this room?”
“Sure thing.” Jackson is a respected member of the community. He didn’t earn this stature by waving money around, or by forcing himself onto the public with politics and false smiles. Instead, he has spent his life in Twilight trying to make it a better place to live—not just for himself, but for everyone. From starting a youth program to a fund-raiser to remodel the local nursing home, Jackson has done whatever he can to improve the standard of living in his small town. Although he is only twenty-six, he has accomplished a great deal in that aspect.
He decided long ago that this is where he planned on spending his life. It isn’t glamorous, and it isn’t all that exciting, but it is his home, and he takes pride in it. The people who share this little section of the world with him realize this, and they respect him for it. Although he isn’t quite a local hero, he is someone that others turn to for wisdom, for advice, and for help.
He has not only earned their respect over the years, but also their trust. Which is why the Sheriff is able to speak freely.
“We don’t know, Jackson.” The Sheriff isn’t exactly a fat man, but he has a few more pounds than he should, or so his doctor says. There isn’t much crime in Twilight, but between the small-town politics and the supervision of the only law enforcement in the county, he has managed to work up quite a strain on his heart. Or so his doctor says. The extra pounds don’t help, and neither does all the barbecue from the place next door.
“Talk to me, Billy.”
“We got a dead woman here. Murdered. Sliced all up, right in the entrance to her home, door left open, no sign of forced entry. We’ve had murders here before, but it was always a clear-cut case. Maybe a wife-beater that went too far, or a bar-brawl that didn’t get stopped in time. Failed robberies, or discovered adulteries. This is the stuff I’ve seen and can deal with. I’ll be honest with you, Jackson—I’m not a good cop.”
It’s true. The Sheriff—although a good man—isn’t really cop material. He is fair and he is honest, but being the sheriff is actually only a step toward becoming county judge—which is where he would be much better suited.
“You’ll be fine, Sheriff.”
“I don’t know Jackson. I really don’t.”
“Who was the victim?”
“Kristy Brown.” Jackson flinches, and the pain in his head begins building. “Yeah—now you know why we brought in Sam.”
“She didn’t do it, Billy. I mean, I see why you had to bring her in, but you know she didn’t do this. You know she didn’t do this.”
“Hell, Jackson, I know that. But she’s the only suspect right now. I have the scene roped off—I’m not even lettin’ my guys in there—we’re waiting for the State boys to show up.”
Jackson understands what this means at once. To immediately admit defeat and hand over the case is a major embarrassment. Not only to the department, but to the Sheriff personally. “I just want this done right, Jackson.”
Some men would have screwed everything up trying to handle everything by themselves, even if they were way out of their league. Jackson understands what Billy has done, and at what cost to his pride.
“I appreciate it, Sheriff, and I think the town will, too, if they find out.”
“You think they’ll appreciate a Sheriff that runs with his tail between his legs at the first sign of trouble?”
“I think they’ll appreciate a Sheriff that understands the limitations of his experience and doesn’t let pride get in the way of solving the case.”
“Thanks for that, Jackson—I guess we’ll just have to see.”
“When do the State boys get here?”
“Thirty, forty-five minutes.”
“You gonna hold Sam until then?”
“I don’t know. Honestly, she isn’t being very helpful about any of this.”
“That doesn’t seem much like Sam.”
“Just keeps saying, ‘I didn’t do it, but I’m glad the bitch is dead.’”
“That actually does sound like Sam.”
“You think you could talk to her, Jackson? Just get her to answer some of our questions? We know her, and we know how to interpret her trash talk—the state boys don’t. And I gotta tell you, it’s gonna look bad, they start asking questions and all she’ll say is she’s glad the bitch is dead. It’s gonna look bad, too, if we bring her in and then just let her go, you know?”
“So she needs to answer some questions, on record, and then she’s cleared. But she won’t answer any of the questions because she always gets so worked up about Kristy Johnson. Is that basically the situation?”
“I’m going to ask you for a favor here, Sheriff.”
“Let her go out with me to smoke a cigarette, all right?”
“I thought you quit.”
“I did. But she didn’t.”
“Sam doesn’t smoke!”
“She’s been smoking for about three years—one of the best-kept secrets in Twilight. I want to keep it that way, so I’m going to ask that we be allowed to go out unsupervised.”
“Shouldn’t be a problem, as long as you can think up a good way to explain to Peggy that you get to go in and see her daughter while I’ve had her in that office all morning.”
“Don’t worry about it.”
“Easy for you to say.”
Jackson stands up. “I’ll go talk to Peggy, try to get her to keep her cool. One more thing, Sheriff, if you don’t mind a little advice.”
“You really need to get a handle on Nick. He’s clashing with Peggy, which is bad enough, but if he messes with the Staties, it’s going to be a real unpleasant time until this thing is over.”
The Sheriff takes his hat off, puts it on the desk, and runs his hand through his thinning hair. “You wouldn’t believe the morning I’ve had trying to keep those two from killing each other.”
Jackson takes the bottle of aspirin out of his pocket and drops it on the desk. “Not only would I believe it, but I’m guessing you need that more than I do.” He waits for Billy to get done laughing and then says, “Listen, I’m going to sneak out the back way and run down for some smokes. I’ll be back in a couple of minutes. Then we’ll see what we can do, okay?”
“Thank you, Sheriff.”