Murder Halloween Night …
It had been a quiet day in the small town of Meekerville. Some folks were now closing up shops and ready to head for home and supper in time for the onslaught of trick-or-treaters and to get those jack-o-lanterns lit.
Since it was Wednesday, other folks were just coming into town for supper at Mel’s where the best beef stew and homemade bread could be found in the whole county. The sun was just beginning to set and the wind was picking up, blowing crispy dry autumn leaves around. It was going to be a blustery Halloween evening.
The day had been quiet with no complaints or problems – until the sheriff’s phone rang and woke up the Sargeant at the front desk.
“Sheriff’s Department, Sargeant Cunningham here,” he answered in a dry and boring voice.
“Yes Sargeant, this is Beatrice Howell out on Bartley Road. You better tell the Sheriff to get out here
pronto! There has been a murder near the swamp, not far from my backyard,” she talked fast and sounded scared.
Cunningham’s feet dropped off the desk and he sat bolt upright, “Would you repeat that Miss Howell? You said a murder?” He grabbed his pen and started writing fast on a report form.
“Yes, I said murder and the Sheriff needs to get out here and do something about it!”
“Yes, Ma’am! I will get this into Sheriff Dent right away!” Cunningham tore his report off the pad and with pen still in hand ran into Dent’s office. Suddenly he was an efficient and professional police officer instead of a sleepy, bored man. Nothing like this ever happens in Meekerville, therefore he felt a mix of fear and importance to take such a call and deliver it to the Sheriff. He could already see the headlines in the morning newspaper, “Sargeant Cunningham of the Meekerville Police Department …”
Sheriff Dent had just put on his jacket and hat when the Sargeant burst through the door. “What is it, Cunningham? I gotta get home for supper and take the kids trick-or-treating.”
“Well, I understand, Sheriff. But, that would not be feasible,” Cunningham spoke with a tone of mystery.
“Feasible? Feasible? What the heck are you talking about?”
With a smug look on his face, Cunningham handed Sheriff Dent the report form and stood at attention. Dent asked, “What is this for?”
“It’s my official report form, Sheriff,” Cunningham said importantly.
“Well, what does it say?”
“It is filled out properly in its entirety, Sir.”
“In other words, you want me to read this proper report of yours. Is that right?”
“Yes, Sir. That is why I painstakingly filled it out in a formal manner.” Cunningham was getting a little frustrated that the sheriff was not taking the proper way of reporting and Dent was getting frustrated at Cunningham’s sudden change of procedures as if this was a big city Police Department instead of a small-town Sheriff’s office with informal ways.
Sheriff Dent let out a big sigh, took his hat off and read the report. He scanned it quickly, “Beatrice Howell… Bartley Road… get out here pronto … murder near the swamp, not far from my backyard …” He hesitated and backed up to read it again. “MURDER? Murrr-der?”
Dent glared at Cunningham and yelled, “CUNNINGHAM!”, and slapped the report against the Sargeant’s chest with such force Cunningham was knocked back a few steps. “There was a call about a MURDER and you just WASTED ALL THIS TIME with FORMS and PROTOCOL? You should have got in here fast and TOLD ME IMMEDIATELY!”
Dent stabbed his finger into Cunningham’s chest several times till there was a hole in the form and Cunningham was backed up to the door. The Sheriff stopped yelling and told the Sargeant, “Now, you get back to your desk and notify the patrol cars what happened. There are only two roads in and out of town, so tell Patterson and James to set up a roadblock at the east end and tell Weston and Booth to set up one on the west end. No one is to enter or leave town. Tell Martin and Kirk to cruise the town till further notice. That’s six men on the lookout and they are to check anything that looks suspicious then report it to you. Put all off-duty officers on stand-by. Tell Holt and Graham to meet me at the Howell farm on Bartley Road.” During all the orders, Dent was checking his pistols and rifle to make sure they were loaded and ready. “Call the radio station and Channel 6 news, tell them to announce that I want no trick-or-treating, everyone is to stay inside and keep their doors and windows shut and locked, that is all. I will give them further information when I think it advisable. Keep me informed of any updates,” He put his hat back on and headed out the front door to his Chevy Tahoe SSV.
On his way out to the scene, Dent called his wife. “Cher, I am on my way out to the Howell farm. Beatrice called and said there was murder out there – suspect on the loose. Keep the kids inside, no trick-or-treating! Keep all the doors and windows locked, curtains and drapes closed, all outside lights on. Keep the dogs inside. Call Sissy Beckett, tell her what’s up. She will get the news around the whole town quicker than the radio or TV news. I will call you back when I can. Yes, dear. I will be careful.” He turned on his siren.
Holt and Graham pulled into the farm not more than three after Dent did. Collin Howell had all the outside lights on and stepped out on the front porch when he heard the sirens wind down. He met Dent and the two officers as they approached. “Sheriff, boys,” he tipped his hat to the officers. “Can you believe this? A murder Halloween night! Talk about spooky!”
“Yep, a murder Halloween night is spooky alright,” Dent said. “We ain’t never had a murder Halloween night or any other time for that matter. You want to show us where it happened? Graham, you stay out front here and keep a sharp eye on things. Holt, come with me. Where’s Beatrice, Collin?”
“She’s inside with the dogs, Sheriff. She is too nervous to come out.”
“I can understand that. She said the murder was out near the swamp?”
They reached the backyard and Collin pointed to the area. “Bout thirty yards out there. We nabbed one of the
suspects and got him locked up in the old outhouse.”
Dent stopped and looked shocked. “You nabbed a suspect? How?”
“Beatrice and I were out there with a net to shake some apples down on. We saw what happened and I threw the net over him just as he was ready to take off then dragged him to the outhouse. You wanna come with me as I unlock the door and you can arrest him.”
“Holt, go out there and see what you can find.” Dent pulled out his revolver and followed Collin to the outhouse.
Collin took out his keys and reached to unlock the door. “Too bad we only got one. The others got away.”
“Others? How many were there?”
Collin opened the door and a crow flew out. “Bout forty, I’d say. They flew off due south over the swamp.”
With a stunned look on his face, Dent watched the crow fly away then glared at Collin. He clenched his teeth, “A murrr-der of crows! A murder of crows?” Dent put his revolver back in the holster. With hands on his hips, he asked, “Did Hiram Walter put you up to this?!!!”
A loud cackling laugh came from behind the outhouse and Hiram came out. “I wasn’t sure you would fall for this joke, Garth, but we sure got you good!” Hiram doubled over with laughter. He and Garth had always played tricks on each other when they were kids and Garth Dent always won. “First time I ever beat you!”
Sheriff Dent grabbed Hiram by the collar and pulled him close. “I have a good mind to beat you now. Beat you to a pulp! Do you realize all the trouble you caused? I got the town road blocked, I got all residents notified to stay inside and lock up, I canceled all trick-or-treating and had the radio and TV news notified to do an urgent broadcast!”
Holt came back and said, “Sheriff, there ain’t nothing out there. I searched the whole area for a victim and there is nothing!”
Dent was still staring into Hiram’s frightened eyes. He threw Hiram back and let go. Hiram landed inside the outhouse. Dent pointed at Collin. “You in big trouble, Collin!”
“Holt, call Graham out here. Call Cunningham and tell him to alert the other officers to remove the roadblocks. Have Cunningham call the news stations and tell them this was all a hoax and the perpetrators are under arrest for their ‘murder Halloween night joke’. Handcuff this one and the one in the outhouse and take them in for … for … just lock them up.”
Sheriff Dent got back in his Tahoe SSV and called Cher. “Honey, I’m coming home to eat then take the kids trick-or-treating.”
© 2019 Phyllis Doyle Burns