New Pulp Press

"Bullets, Booze and Bastards"

Sample story from In The Pines

May 9, 1959

In the outer office of the Gideon police station, A.W. Stokes, a pasty, pear-shaped man with thin sandy hair and bloodshot eyes, was on the phone with the chief medical examiner. The M.E. was a Chicago fellow with a Polish name who spoke like he was in a big hurry and Stokes was only catching every second or third word he threw out.
“Say again?” Stokes said. “I didn’t hear—”
“Arsenic trioxide,” he repeated. “We found significant levels in her liver and kidneys.”
“Arsenic?” said Stokes.
“White arsenic.”
“I’ll be damned.” Stokes paused to wrap his mind around this new information. “How much you say?”
“A lot. A gram, at least. Maybe a bit less.”
“Damn.” Strokes pressed the receiver to his ear. “Yes sir, that sure sounds like a lot.”
“That’s because it is. Oh, and her stomach was empty, which isn’t exactly surprising considering all the arsenic she ingested.”
Stokes leaned heavily against one of the patrolmen’s’ desks and stared out the front windows of the station. The windows were newly washed and the harsh morning sunlight flashed off the chrome bumper of a red ‘56 Chevy pickup and slammed Stokes square in the eyes. The chief squinted and turned away. The truck belonged to Fred Eggemeyer and the retired farmer parked it there every morning while he made his rounds: first to the diner, then to the barbershop and finally—if Jenna Hellebusch was in—the office of the Greene County Herald-Tribune. Fred had a serious crush on the Herald’s sales manager. Everybody in town gave her grief about it.
Stokes picked up the phone and carried it to the window, cradling the receiver between his neck and shoulder, and dropped the blinds with a dusty crash.
“Chief Stokes?”
“I’m here,” Stokes said. “It just don’t figure. That girl weren’t but sixteen. Good family…No sir. It don’t figure at all.”
“She was seventeen,” the medical examiner corrected him. “I take it there wasn’t a note?”
“Suicide note.”
“Oh yeah. No, I don’t believe so. It didn’t come up. Anyway, her father would’ve mentioned it, I expect.”
“Don’t count on it.”
“Yeah? Maybe you’re right.”
“I can tell you this much. She wasn’t expecting.”
That hadn’t occurred to Stokes, that she might’ve been pregnant.
“First thing we check. Well one of the first things. She was a virgin too. That ought to rule out quite a few things.”
Stokes hadn’t thought of any of that. But then he didn’t get a lot of seventeen-year-old girls turning up dead. Save for the rare car accident victim.
“Her folks will be glad to hear that.” Stokes said, and paused. “Well now ‘glad’ probably ain’t the right word, is it?”
“Probably not.”
Stokes shifted his weight from one sore foot to the other. He could feel Delores Campbell’s eyes on him from across the room, awaiting the news.
“Anything else?” Stokes said.
On the other end Stokes heard papers shuffle and a cigarette lighter click shut. “I think that’s about it. I’ll call the funeral home so they can come pick her up.”
“That’s fine,” Stokes said. He started to put down the phone, but had another thought. “One more thing.”
“How long’s it take a young gal like that to die from arsenic?”
“How long?”
“Uh huh.”
“That much arsenic trioxide, I’d say about two hour’s sounds about right.”
“Two hours.”
“Maybe three, depending on what she had to eat.”
“Yeah. Thanks again.”
Stokes hung up the phone and stood thinking things over for a moment. Then he glanced at Mrs. Campbell who was staring at him intently. A puppy waiting for a treat. Stokes decided not to say anything. At least not right now.
He yawned and stretched his stiff back. “Suppose I’ll go have me a little chat with Doc Summers.”
“Doc Summers?” Mrs. Campbell said, her voice rising expectantly.
“Uh huh.”
A phone rang. Mrs. Campbell ignored it. She followed the chief into his office.
Stokes went to his desk and picked up the keys to the cruiser and a pack of Lucky Strikes and his sunglasses. On second thought, he decided against taking the cruiser and tossed the keys back on his desk.
The phone continued to ring. Stokes lifted his eyes at Mrs. Campbell. “You going to get that?”