Here’s my semi-finals piece for the NYCMidnight Flash Fiction contest. My prompt was Mystery / A cattle pasture / Scissors. If you want to read about my pain and suffering trying to squeeze a mystery into 1000 words, check out my previous post. Otherwise, enjoy!
The pasture was set and the entries paid, but Bessie, this year’s star of Cow Plop Bingo, was murdered at dawn. Honestly, who shoots a cow?
Lisa’s post as Sheriff in rural Ohio had been quite the change from her beat on the streets of Detroit, but this investigation of “cow murder” was a new level of Podunk, even for Butler County. Still, a crime was committed, and it was her job to find who shot Bessie the Cow.
The townsfolk accused Lisa of disrupting their annual Cow Plop Bingo contest by taping off the game pasture for investigation. “It takes days to set up that field,” they’d complained. “If there’s no field for the cow to take a plop, there’s no winner. If there’s no winner, there’s no one to ride the float on Thanksgiving day!”
“Never mind illegal discharge of a firearm and destruction of livestock,” Lisa grumbled as she plucked a Jerry’s Coffee Shack cup from the ground. It’d taken her hours to disperse nosey locals who didn’t understand the concept of crime scene tape.
“Did you arrest my brother-in-law?”
Lisa startled. She turned to see Mayor Sandberg behind her, hands on hips, surveying the scene.
“I’ve taken Joe in for questioning,” Lisa said, “but there’s been no arrest.”
“He’s not your man.”
“I found barber’s scissors at the shooter’s location.” Lisa waved toward a stand of tall trees beside the pasture, their leaves a rainbow of oranges, reds and yellows. “Positive prints, shell casings on the ground. He is the town barber.”
The mayor pointed at the cup in Lisa’s hand. “Was Jerry out here, too?”
“Jerry’s always going on about this contest being rigged.” The mayor frowned. “My sister needs Joe home for her shift tonight. Their daughter’s sick.”
“I still need to question him.”
“Question Jerry,” the mayor scoffed. “Anyway, it’s just a cow.”
“No,” Lisa said. “It’s a crime.”
Joe McDuff kicked his feet up onto the metal table that sat between him and Lisa. “I didn’t shoot no cow. And even if I did, is cow murder illegal? We all goin’ vegetarian?”
Lisa’s jaw clenched. “It’s illegal to kill someone else’s cow. It’s also illegal to fire a rifle in town. Where were you at 6:45 this morning?”
“Out for a walk.”
“With my dog. Now if you don’t mind, my wife’s shift starts soon.”
“Why were your scissors in the woods?”
“How should I know? It’s not like I carry the darned things around with me.”
“They had your prints on them.”
Joe rolled his eyes. “No kiddin’, woman. They’re my scissors! Look, you gonna charge me or not?”
“Do you own a rifle?”
“Everyone in this town owns a rifle.” Joe sat upright. “Look, Jerry’s been tryin’ for years to get his daughter on that float, and he thinks we’re up to no good ‘cause I keep winnin’. He came into my shop two nights ago, goin’ on about how it’s rigged. Go talk to him. I got no reason to kill no cow. I do have reason to get home, though.”
Doubt gnawed at the back of Lisa’s mind. The evidence pointed to Joe, but motive was weak.
“Okay, Joe. Go home. But don’t leave town.”
“I haven’t left this town my whole life.”
Lisa glanced across the road to the Cow Plop pasture before pushing through the door to Jerry’s Coffee Shack.
“Evenin’ Sheriff.” Jerry said from behind the counter. “What can I do ya’ for?”
“I’d like to ask a couple questions, Jerry. About Bessie.”
The cords in Jerry’s neck strained.
Lisa continued, “Joe said you think Cow Plop Bingo is rigged.”
“It is!” Jerry leaned on the counter. “I’m out a hundred bucks in fees. Every year, Joe wins because they cheat!”
“You can’t tell a cow where to poop,” Lisa said. “How do they cheat?”
“Dunno, but they do.”
“So then you have reason to be angry,” Lisa pressed. “Enough to shoot Bessie?”
“Didn’t you find Joe’s scissors?”
A single shot rang outside.
“What the–?” Lisa yanked her Glock from its holster and pushed through the door.
Another shot cracked in the fading daylight. Mayor Sandberg stood in the pasture, her rifle raised to the sky. “Jerry, get your ass out here!” she yelled.
Jerry burst out the door and stalked across the road. Lisa followed, holding her weapon down, but ready.
“What the hell are you doin’?” Jerry yelled in the mayor’s face. “Put that thing away!”
Mayor Sandberg didn’t back down. “You tried to frame Joe!”
“You put your niece on that float every year. Just once, someone else should have a chance.”
“This whole contest is a shit show. It. Needs. To. Stop!” The mayor punctuated her words with the butt of her rifle, thrusted toward Jerry’s chest.
“Both of you, stop!” Lisa shouted.
Lisa looked from Mayor Sandberg to Jerry, and it all clicked. “Mayor, I had evidence that placed Joe at the scene, but you wanted me to think Jerry’s cup implicated him. Where were you at 6:45 this morning?”
“Putting an end to this Godforsaken contest!” Sandberg shouted.
Jerry laughed, and Lisa turned toward him. “And you. With a clear view of the pasture, you could have seen the mayor enter the woods.”
“That’s right,” Jerry said. “Two days back, Sandberg came in here, tellin’ me to stop blabbering about how she rigged the contest. I said only when she quit riggin’ it! She said she’d put a stop to the whole damned thing. That’s when I saw her scopin’ the woods. I put two-and-two together. I could’ve called her in, but then Joe would get off scot-free. He’s in on it, too!”
The mayor’s mouth hung open. “How the hell does someone rig where a cow takes a crap? I’m done with it… with all the blame. Sure, I tried to stop the contest from happening by shooting the cow. But framing Joe? That’s over the line.”
“Killing Bessie was over the line,” Lisa said. “Mayor Sandberg, you’re under arrest.”
“I guess we’re probably both in trouble?” Jerry asked.
Lisa nodded. “Bingo.”