Harkness and the snake

Just an excerpt from my novel in progress. I’m posting for no other reason that it pleases me. Here, Sheriff Harkness is investigating the murder of a young woman at a local lumbermill. Today is her funeral and Harkness doesn’t do well at church.

As Theus predicted, the day dawned gloomy, my head throbbed, a steady rain pattered down, not the cells of showers and sunbreaks we usually got around these parts, but a sustained drizzle. Gloomy fucking day, indeed.

I cooked up some eggs and potatoes with onions for Donnie and told him to stop by and see his mama before the funeral. He seemed on edge, and maybe talking with his ma would help even him out.

My mood and headache worsened with the weather, so I drove the back roads for a couple of hours after breakfast trying to cheer myself. If this rain continued much longer, they’d muddy up and it would be hell getting to the boondocks until the next dry spell. Better check them now while I had the chance. Addision wasn’t one for the rain; dachshunds aren’t water dogs by any stretch, so he curled up on the seat next to me and slept. Up on the shoulder of Grizzly Mountain, I stopped to take a piss. The dog ignored me when I asked him if he wanted to get out.

This spot was just down the hill from where I discovered Ginny Kelly’s body. Feeling an awful urge, I hiked up to the spot where her body had hung from an ancient juniper. Usually the desert smells clean when the rains come, but here the hillside stunk of corruption. Maybe it was my imagination. There was no body here. Even my vomit had been washed away.

“Why you stupid shit.” A diamondback rattler lay stretched out under the tree, her belly swollen with her last meal, maybe a large rat or a small cottontail. I could almost feel her shivering in the rain. “You’ll die out here.” Sensing me, she tried to curl up into a strike position, but being a cold-blooded critter, her movements were sluggish.

When I reached down, she tried to strike anyway. I jerked my hand up and the top of her open mouth scraped against my fingers. Before she could pull back to strike again, I grabbed her behind the head and picked her up. She was long and old, fifteen rattles at least, chestnut diamonds on her back shaded with maroon.

Her needled fangs dripped with venom. Looking at the length of them, the world greyed out and I felt as if I would swoon. A sense of foreboding overwhelmed me. A vision danced in my mind’s eye, but when I came back, the memory of it was lost, just an awareness of something infinitely old remained.  I was still standing next to the tree, holding the torpid snake. This evil fucking place. Why had I come up here?

I carried the snake to a cairn of rocks. She could curl up there, sleep off her meal and be safe. When I put her down, she looked back, forked tongue vibrating, and then she slipped into the rocks. I looked up towards the top of the mountain, but a ridge obscured the crest. Rain pattered down on my new Stetson, syncopating with the pulsing ache over my right eye. Time to move along before the hat got ruined.

Back in town, I stopped at the Pioneer Park across the street from the Covenant to watch the mourners arrive. Addison wasn’t too pleased when I pulled him from the truck, but he did his business under a drooping elm. He sniffed around the spring flowers while I observed the church from under the tree. Bull Turco puttered out front, sweeping off the entrance steps under the awning, and then setting out a red carpet runner leading to the double doors. He waved when he saw me and wandered over to say morning.

“Peach of a day,” he said in a way of greeting.

“It’s gray and raining, Bull.” We leaned with our backs against the elm, side by side, both of us watching the street.


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